So, on Wednesday, I had kind of an unusual appointment with more of a non-traditional student...she was coming back to school, after not having been in years, and she came in for a brainstorming session. She was to write a 2000-word essay, summarizing a course description. Instead of wanting ideas for content, however, she wanted to know how you're supposed to write an essay. You'd think such a simple question would be really easy to answer. But I really didn't know what to say. At this point, for me, essay writing is an automatic thing I just do, without thinking much about it--at least, not until revisions. But, she wanted to know how to get started, and how to write an introduction.
Of course, I explained to her how to introduce the topic, with the main point generalized in the introduction, then adding details and descriptions and such in the body paragraph, and then wrapping everything up in the conclusion. But just explaining wasn't really enough. So, I picked up that awesome MLA/APA style guide and we took a look at some of the sample essays. That seemed to have helped a little bit more, even if the essays weren't really the same kind she'd be writing. And then, when she got a better idea, we started really brainstorming. I suggested breaking down the huge course description (it was about 5 pages long--no wonder the summary was supposed to be so long), into pieces, and looking at all the key points, and figuring out what each section meant to her.
By the end of the session, I really felt that I'd helped, and she promised to come back to the writing center for another paper she had to do (which we also discussed briefly). I loved the way the consultation really turned around though. It was as though both of us were confused. I wasn't sure how I could help her at first, and she was didn't know where to start. Then, we came to an understanding...and then, the consultation ended with a good feeling, as though I actually helped. I like the contrast between thinking "How can I help? I don't know..." and then the promise that she'd be back to the center, and she now knew what to do.
It seems that a lot of my consultations go through that pattern...but I think it's been a learning experience...for both me and the writers.