Just curious as to your thoughts...


Well, I had my first and second consultations yesterday, and I think that they both went pretty well considering that I’m new at this whole thing and all. My first consultation was with a non-traditional student working on a journal entry for her ongoing class journal—each journal entry encompasses the class readings for the week, and is also to include her reflection upon them. She expressed that she’s had this professor before and always received good grades, but that this professor’s new graduate student grades the entries very critically. She seemed very upset about this and told me that she’s being marked down for her use of passive sentences. She then told me she didn’t know what a passive sentence was, and asked me if they are grammatically incorrect—this stumped me a bit. Passive sentences aren’t grammatically incorrect, but unless used vary the stylistic approach or to overemphasize something other than the subject, they can be tough for a reader to get through. I explained my personal viewpoint on this subject, and she looked at me like I made no sense (I’m sure I didn’t—I’m really bad at that sometimes), so we read through her essay a second time and I paused at every passive sentence (I think there was only five or so in the entire page and a half). We talked about why it was passive and how flipping the sentence around would make it more direct—an active sentence. I think that we spent 20 minutes of the 30-minute consultation talking about the passive sentences within her paper, when she originally came in to get feedback on the overall organization of the piece. Although we only were able to dedicate 10 minutes of the consultation on the organization, I think that we were both satisfied with our time spent together.

Throughout my discussion with her, I couldn’t help but get this "fix-it-shop" idea out of my head—I felt a fear creeping through me, one of fostering this stigma. I was able to put this fear aside only because we were discussing aspects that she was truly curious about—her questions drove the consultation, and I didn’t feel as if I was "fixing" anything. I felt that we were looking at how passive sentences worked within the context of her style, her message—her paper. And she made the only marks on the journal entry. What do you think? Have you had similar experiences within your sessions? Would you have handled this situation differently?

Just curious as to your thoughts on this…


  1. hi alisha,

    you didn't "fix" it, you helped someone understand passive voice. if you spent 20 minutes talking about it, then you can bet she's going to think twice about putting the object before the subject; or at least she'll be better able to spot those sentences and change them herself.

    i usually feel like, maybe i let the writer down by not working on what she wanted. but really, the writer doesn't always know -- you know what it's like when you've been working on a paper for long enough, you stop seeing the whole picture. so the fact that the real issue came to light after some conversation, seems to me like you did the right thing here.

  2. Alisha,
    Discussing grammar issues is not fixing a paper. Certainly there are higher order issues to address, but that wasn't where her actual concerns were for success. She, as well as you, understood that higher order concerns were very important, but as she was emotionally distraught over the low order concerns her teacher was complaining about, it was right to address them. Discussing them so that she knows what she is looking for, how to avoid it and, maybe even, when it is okay to use it in the future... that is NOT running a "fix it shop."

  3. Thanks to you both for your insight and comments. I sometimes tend to overthink issues--especially when I'm trying to what I think (or hope) is right. You both helped to reassure me that I'm on the right track.

  4. I agree with Katy and christie here. Passive language happened to be something that I couldn't get anyone to explain to me. I used passive language in an effort to have a variety of structure in my paper, not understanding what a passive sentence was, or the negative aspects of it. Finally, very frustrated, I bought book after book on writing, until I found one that explained passive language to me. I'm glad that you were there to explain it to her, when it was a problem I struggled with, I wish someone would have taken the time to explain it to me. The change is simple, it is knowing what to change and why that is the problem. I definitely think you made the right move.


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