Letting Go

Yesterday was my first day actually taking consultations. I wasn't nervous or uncomfortable, in fact I felt quite relaxed. Two of the three consultations were about APA formatting, which always has its own challenges, but were fairly straight forward and easy to address. My third (actually the second if we are going in order) was about an essay test. The student had a handwritten draft of the essay and was obviously frantic about the piece... I wonder if she was more stressed over the anxiety of taking the exam. She said she needed help, a lot of help. I asked her what specifically she wanted to look at and she said everything. She showed me an outline that another student (I am assuming a higher level student in her major) had given her to work from.

We started by reading her paper aloud, then I asked her questions about following the outline and how the paper didn't seem to line up that way and if that was intentional. She said no so we worked on that a bit. Then we were trying to work on the transitions between paragraphs and we ran out of time. At the end of the session I asked her more about the exam, if she was supposed to bring the paper to the exam already written? She said no, she had to memorize it. At this point I was thinking, "Why didn't you tell me that?" All those little details that go into writing a paper should be put on the back burner and just focus on the big ideas. Who cares if she has good paragraph transitions? (Well, I guess this is important, but in the context of an exam, I doubt this is what the prof is looking for). We should have focused more on the specifics of what she was going to include in her paper to make sure she was meeting all of the points.

Obviously, this really bothered me - of course I didn't really get to start thinking about until the end of the day when I was already at home. I felt bad because at the end of the session she was asking if I could help her more but she was already scheduled with two other tutors and the next time I would be working would be too late. In hindsight, I could have emailed the other tutors or talked to them in person to give them a heads up so they hopefully wouldn't get stuck in the same path I did. I think I did help her get some of her ideas more focused so I suppose I did do my job. But it still bothers me. I wish I would have had more time to work with her. Maybe we should set up some kind of notification system for students who we know are going to be returning to the writing center to get help from another tutor...


  1. I worked with the same writer today. To a large degree, we have to let them set the course and direction of the session, no matter how badly they are wrong :). There are limitations to how much we can help, and while that isn't easy to accept and work with, it is something we need to accept. Pushing the writer beyond their expectations and asking many questions is one way to guide the writer to the larger, more important issues. But if they resist, we can't really force them to do it our way. That wouldn't be very 'collaborative,' now would it?

  2. Thanks Zach. I appreciate your input. I heard from Sarah today that she and Greg worked with her too... guess it wasn't just me :)

  3. Actually, I sat in on the session Zach had (sorry, I'm really bad with names) . . .
    The student did have a certain mindset.

    Although the consultation did follow the path that the student set, at times Zach did ask some great thought-provoking questions about the content, and made comments that could help her develop her ideas. However, I think Zach sensed it whenever this caused her to start to hit a frustration point, and didn't push too far. I think she was feeling nervous and overwhelmed at the prospect of an essay test and trying to focus on a certain strategy she envisioned.

    Although Zach welcomed me to join in the consultation, I was unintentionally invisible. Perhaps it added to her sense of being overwhelmed, so she focused in on the authority figure (since I had told her I was learning to do what Zach does when I asked her if I could observe her session).

    Anyway, I'm sure that you both did a great job navigating the sessions. (If navigating is the right word.)

  4. Wow Jenny, that's hard to deal with—especially after the fact. I think that you did the right thing though. You handled the consultation the best that you could, given the information that you had at the time. Sounds like you attempted to address what she came to you for, and she did receive and except your input throughout the consultation.

    I also think that you're right in thinking that you could email other consultants to give them a heads-up. Sounds like you learned a lot from this consultation, and thanks for sharing it with me (us!)


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