Helping or Hindering

Hello, this is Susan from Boise State's Writing Center and ENGL 303 class. Last Friday (the 7th) I conducted a consultation with a student who was to write an eight- to ten-page persuasive essay. She brought two pages with her and was seeking help in finding more to write about to in order to fill the instructor's requirement. I felt I gave her quite a bit of information to ponder, focusing on the three main parts of the essay: introduction, body, conclusion, as well as a few extra things, such as background and personal experiences. I asked her specific questions regarding her topic, and in doing so, she was able to formulate the rest of her essay.

"So what is the problem?" you ask. Well, when looking over her notes, she realized she still had a lot of research to do. She came to the Writing Center on Friday and the paper was due on Monday. She was clearly dismayed. Even though I felt the session had gone well overall, and she had enough information to fill the needed requirement, I came away feeling a little dismayed myself. Why? I would have welcomed the extra information with open arms. But she didn't. Anyone else have a similar experience? Did I help her . . . or hinder her?


  1. Hi Susan. Lynn here from London Metropolitan University in the UK. In response to your experience, I'd say that a large proportion of my peer mentoring sessions have highlighted the need for further research, and quite often this has been greeted with cries of "Oh no!"

    My feeling is this; if you've identified that certain additional work is required, you're giving the student a free choice between doing it or taking a different path. You've raised their awareness and with it their range of possibilities. Of course, this may be seen as being quite burdensome, but you know what a wise man once said about the price of freedom being eternal vigilance, right?

    I'd be really interested to hear everyone else's views.

  2. Anonymous2:42 PM

    I don’t think that letting someone know what they need to work on is at all hindering them. I’m sure the writer already realized that she needed more research. It might be hard to hear sometimes, but what can you do? I think if you had told her that she had met all the requirements, you would have been hurting her more. One of the things that I have to watch most in consultations is saying that a paper is “good.” It is difficult for me because I really want the writer to feel good about their writing, but I am treading on dangerous territory when I make a blanket statement about the paper. Since I am not the person who will grade the paper, I try instead to find specific things to complement in the paper. I think what you did is you gave your honest opinion about what needed work in the paper; the writer can choose to take it or leave it. And it sounds like you gave her a lot of helpful suggestions! I don’t see how that could hinder her. As a matter of fact that seems to me to be a big help!

  3. I agree with Jenny.
    I think the student knew she needed help and if the paper was due Monday and she just now realized she needed to expand... then it's a good thing you were there to point her in the right direction. =)

  4. April Powers5:25 PM

    I work as the Tutor Coordinator at a writing center in Portland, Oregon, and I have run into this situation several times. I think that pointing out their downfalls and indicating areas that need more attention is crucial. Students must realize that writing is a process. They must realize that the first draft most likely will not earn them the grade that they are looking for. Pointing out the areas that need broadening or deepening, especially just before the deadline, forces the student to come to terms with the fact that he or she will need to put more time aside next time. In my experience, it has also prompted them to begin coming to the writing center earlier and sometimes multiple times for the same paper. They begin to embrace the process.


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