Monday, November 04, 2013

Horses, Plagiarism, and the Acquisition of Knowledge.

Hey Guys. :)

While I was working this afternoon in the Student Writing Center, I had a realization of gratitude. I was working with a student from Eastern Europe who we'll say is named Monika. Throughout the session as I felt like I had begun to know and understand Monika a little better, I noticed that she was very intelligent. She was quick to observe, quick to catch on, and could adeptly accept and apply new information in her own ways. Throughout our session, I found that Monika was educating me. I have had sufficient isolated exposure to American language, grammar, and rhetoric to be able to possess a degree of intuition with American writing but Monika knew what medium clauses and all that other funky grammar stuff was.

Since we work with a lot of non-native speaking students at our writing center, I have found that grammar, and specifically, being able to identify patterns of error within grammar as well as having a sufficient understanding of grammar to be able to accurately and confidently supply its rules and logic, is a considerable part of my job. That was a long sentence but what I'm getting at is that Monika was teaching me what I needed to know while I was identifying what she couldn't. This happened while we were discussing and learning styles of grammar that neither of us knew, together. I felt like it was a very efficient use of time, very satisfying. I sort of felt like a horse in the desert, carefully cherishing each drip of water pouring into his bowl in rhythm, while the sun ticks overhead. (kind of like an OCD something or other).

I've been reading also in the excellent book "ESL Writers" by Bruce and Rafoth, about identifying plagiarism. These two things correlate. Horses and plagiarism may not correlate, but anyways in this book it talks about how to approach plagiarism. If you suspect a writer, they suggest asking the writer about their knowledge of how to handle sources, or how they think sources should be handled in academic writing. When you ask those questions you leave the door open to discussion about citation practices and ethical standards, which can help a student add to what they already know about citation, rather than feeling like they have to throw away what they know and adopt a new method that their tutor is giving them.

I suppose the convergence between these two scenarios happens at the acquisition of knowledge. Perhaps its important to let as much of the writer or student into the session as possible, to focus on acclimation rather than delegation. Monika's intellectual competence and curiosity let itself into the session, and because of that we had an excellent discussion where both parties were engaged and we were meeting both personal and group goals. Whenever I'm working with a more timid or apathetic student though, I guess the Socratic method and the principle of encouragement/enthusiasm are the most robust tools in my toolbox, kind of like a hand-router and chisel. If anyone else has some super robust tools, I would love to borrow them sometime.


  1. Sometimes if a student isn't interested, it's not the tutors fault: Maybe they're tired from work or classes (or both); maybe the student stayed up too late the night before, or maybe they're just not interested in the subject they need help on. Humor is a good way to generate interest: Ask Kenyon :) (I vote Kenyon should post an entry on humor and tutoring!)

  2. In my sessions if I find the student to be reluctant, I change the subject to something unrelated to the assignment. I do this in an attempt to help them clear their minds of the session and the assignment. I ask the student what their favorite thing to do is and their hobbies. I had found that having a small break in between can actually really help a session. After spending two to four minutes engaging in a conversation that actually interests the student I realized that the student's attitude changes. After the conversation the student tends to be more interested in the assignment because having a conversation about something they like helps them relax . I also try use their hobbies and connect them to the assignment, which I have found helps the student even further :) .