Me as Reflexive Pronoun

I had a student come in the other day and ask specifically for grammar help. He even made it a point to say, “I am really happy with the organization of my paper. I just want to work on grammar issues.” He seemed to know the center’s MO before we began, and wanted nothing to do with it.

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s fine.” Grammar isn’t my favorite thing to do in the center, for reasons I’m sure many of you are aware of. I find it not only tedious, but also not in the student’s best interest. Focusing on a paper through the “grammar lens” leaves many things that I find more important up in the air.

So anyway, there we are looking at only grammar in his paper. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this particular student had a problem with comma splices and run-on sentences. Actually, it was pretty bad. Every-other sentence would be a paragraph long. I explained to the student just what a comma splice was, and how easy it is usually to correct. This was after reading just two of the paper’s ten pages.

He was reading the paper aloud, and I started to notice that he was becoming more aware of his comma splices. He would stop just a second after reading one and correct it appropriately. I thought to myself, “wow, have I done my job here!” At this point, I sat back for the ride, offering encouragement and advice where necessary.

BUT THEN MY GLORIOUS UNIVERSE WAS TORN ASUNDER! I realized I was offering the student non-verbal cues every time we reached a troublesome sentence; he would read something objectionable, I would barely flick my pencil in response. He somehow came to notice this and corrected the problem. At this point, I felt terrible. Although I had explained to the student in great, pained detail what a comma splice was, it probably never registered with him. The whole process had been subverted by my nervous, uncanny reflexes.

Oh did I just feel like crud for a little while after this consultation. Has anyone had a consultation similar to this? Maybe another instance when you thought you did one thing, in reality doing something completely different? How did you cheer up afterwards?



  1. Dale,
    That's a new one to me; I've never noticed if I give subtle cues about sentences I have trouble with.

    I would say, however, that the important part is that you aren't doing it intentionally. We all do little things from time to time that we don't mean to do, so I wouldn't be too hard on yourself.

    In the future, think of ways to limit your physical movement. Maybe don't hold a pencil. Fold your hands. Sit on them.

    While your non-verbal signaling was frustrating to you, it isn't the end of the world.

  2. Dale,

    I have noticed that I do things similar to this in my own consultations. My actions vary from nodding to leaning toward the student every time we enter a problem area. I do really try to be aware of my physical actions, and I limited them whenever possible, but sometimes those actions just happen.

    Like Zach said, don't be too hard on yourself. The important thing is that you DID explain what comma splices were, and the student did listen your explanation. I am pretty positive that the student will be more aware of them when writing in the future.

    Good luck, Dale...

  3. You might be judging yourself too quickly, Dale. The student writer might not have consciously picked up on the cue either. Even in he did, I think that the practice of recasting sentences would have some carry over into his future writing experiences.

    Let me put it this way: we learn to serve in tennis by actually serving, but we also have to have someone 1) explain how to do it, 2) show us how to do it, and 3) give us pointers after we try it ourself. Some of that is physical modeling. Perhaps when he is revising his work in the future or, in fact, while writing, he will remember you pen flicks. That sounds like learning to me.

  4. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I wouldn't be too worried about the non-verbal cues. In fact, I think they'd serve to reinforce the learning. Picking up cues from someone else is part of communication and may serve as a memory trigger for the student i.e. the student reading alone later might imagine "The tutor would squirm here. Oh! Let me look. Yes indeed, this sentence is 4 lines long!!!" We don't just learn by hearing words.

    Great reflection on your behavior. I think you're right, though, that we don't always do what we think we're doing in our sessions with students.

  5. Anonymous12:13 PM

    It's not even always about whether or not they immediately recognize there's a problem, but if they know WHY there's a problem. Maybe he did get a clue from the faint flick of your pencil, but a flick doesn't do the same as, "You have a comma splice here." If he got the idea there could be something wrong, and took initiative to fix it, that's far better than where he was in the beginning, right? Right. :)


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