Improvisation: Students Driving the Consultation

It is interesting what a schedule does to me. How seeing time slots next to my name colored grey instills a kind of confidence boost (whether it occurs out of hope or optimism I am still too confused to differentiate). The difference, to a greater extent, however, is having actual consultations with peers. Even the dynamics of class has changed because of it with the addition of personal experience to our learning process. It is always an interesting step to move from the 2-D world of helpful manuals and essays to “real life,” moving from discussing the possibilities of improvisation to a place that demands it for survival.

I think now of a consultation I had a few days ago (how weird to say that!). A writer came in with a Health Science assignment, an opinion piece about whether health care is a commodity or a right. When I initially asked him what it was that we were going to work on, he made a statement I have come to recognize, “Editing and stuff.” I asked if there was anything specific he was concerned about, any parts of the paper he wanted to focus on, but he said he didn’t. As we read the paper together, I began to notice more issues with content, getting across to the reader what he really wanted to say, than with surface-level errors. Honestly, in my own mind, I was prioritizing what we discussed yesterday in class, those “global” issues as I read further through the paper. I felt this the perfect moment for a little improv, steering from our original agenda towards a more content-based concern. When we finished reading the essay, I approached the writer with my idea. I let him know about the things I was experiencing as a reader with some of the content and word choice. It was then that my improv went mildly astray as he delicately replied, “Well, it’s due tomorrow and really just want to make sure my grammar is right.” Although I felt grammar didn’t matter as much as what the writer was actually saying, the writer had shut the door to any other suggestions.

I was tempted at the end of the session to think the collaboration unsuccessful, but the writer left the consultation with exactly what he wanted, surface-level errors addressed. He was happy.

Our consultations, becoming even clearer to me now, are student led, they drive what we do for them. They don’t have to follow our suggestions or change preconceived notions about what constitutes a successful paper. For the writer, grammar was what was most important to him, so that’s where we were driven to focus. This certainly has not discouraged me from improvising or attempting to change course in the process of collaboration, but has made me more aware of the need to adjust my own expectations and priorities in light of the writer I am working with.


  1. Anonymous11:31 AM

    I remember one girl who came with with a paper already graded. The Professor had his students come into the WC to get help with learning why he made the corrections he did. This girl's paper was covered in red pen. I thought it was bleeding. After we went over her basic questions ("Colon, or semi-colon?") I asked if she wanted to go over those red comments the professor made in the margin because we still had a half-hour left. "No," she said. "I'm an English major, I don't need help."


    Whatever. At that point you just have to shrug your shoulders and figure they'll either learn their lesson...or not.


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