I had two polar opposite consultations this Saturday morning: my first was with a young, male student who had absolutely no desire to be at the Writing Center (WC), and my second was with an older, female returning student who was very eager to be at the WC. We'll call the first student John and the second student Jane.
John arrived about 20 minutes late (he slept in). We sat down, and, noting that he had been to the WC before, I somewhat expected him to know the basic routine--he did not (or at least he didn't seem to). I asked him what he would like to get out of the consultation and if there was anything specific he would like to focus on. To which he replied "umm, I don't know. Not really." I tried to liven up the mood by joking with him about being at the WC on a Saturday morning--it didn't work. John didn't care what we discussed because he didn't even care to be at the WC in the first place; his professor requires students to come into the WC. If the student fails to complete a consultation at the WC, then the student fails that unit. Anyway, we doggedly read through his paper (I read it out loud) and discussed local errors along the way. I had to stop several times because many of his sentences didn't make sense. When I tried to walk through these difficult sentences with him, he would say, "Well, it's true" or "I don't know what I was saying. I wrote it at 3 in the morning." He just wanted to move on, but I didn't know if his sentence was true or not because I didn't even know what it was saying. After reading the paper and discussing many of the local errors, I asked John again, "What else would you like to look at?" John said, "Well, do you think it's good?" What he meant was, "Can I go now?" After 30 energy-zapping minutes, I just wanted to say, "Yes, it's good. Go home." Instead, I suggested we take a look at topic sentences and make sure each paragraph was moving his argument forward. I felt like I was torturing myself. I wanted to help John, to teach him something valuable, but he was as good as back in his dorm in bed. After a brief lecture (it wasn't a discussion because that would mean he was talking too) on topic sentences and argumentative statements, I sent John on his way. While I think he appreciated the time spent on his paper, I don't think he actually learned anything. I failed at just about every attempt to get him involved in the revision process. I tried to bring some energy into the conversation at every opportunity--John just didn't want to participate. I am left wondering, did I do my job? I mean, I guess you can't win em all, but this was still a sadly, dissapointing consultation.
Fortunatly my day ended on a much more positive note. Jane came in full of energy and eager to work together. She had lots of ideas (quotes and brainstorming webs), but she wasn't sure how to organize an 'A' history paper. She did most of the talking and I was a sounding board. I listened to her ideas and took notes on what stood out. Together we created an outline, discussed ways to transition, looked at a possible attention getter, and crafted a thesis. Her ideas were large, all over the place, and together we narrowed her focus. She left relieved and with a clear sense of direction. She left me reenergized and with a confirmation that I am good at what I do.
John was forced to come in (if he wanted to pass the unit), and I imagine the teacher's goal is to help students be better writers. The WC is a great resource for students and I think all teachers should encourage it. I don't think John learned anything today though. He sat there unresponsive with his head in his hands. I would be amazed if anything I said sunk in at all. Jane came in purely by choice (motivated by the desire to get a good grade). I do think she walked away with a better grasp on the basic format of an essay,with a clearer sense of how to organize ideas, and with a focus for her paper. This leaves me to wonder whether or not teacher's should force their students to come to the WC. Advertise us, yes; offer extra credit, great. Have their grade depend on it? I don't know.