Giving Correction

I just worked on a picture for my drawing midterm; the picture is based off something my dad drew in college (back in '87). His painting has four houses, trees, mountains, and a fence. It took me a couple of hours to finish one house with a few details he added. I asked my dad to come and take a look, and when he did, he said, "Oh. Good. You've got the roof and the line below it going to the right vanishing point." That was the only good thing he had to say.

He started drawing lightly in pencil to help me correct it so I could see where the lines needed to go on the house. "You should have this line here and this one there and . . . " Then he drew a line right down the center of my drawing. "Dad! I just spent two hours on this! Don't draw on my picture!" "Well," my dad continued, "the center should be there. You should really start over."

He explained what I did wrong; he didn't get mad back at me; he just showed me what I needed to do and how to do it, but left drawing it again up to me.

I told my dad later how grateful I was for his help. I could've handed in that drawing no problem: I could tell something wasn't right, but I didn't know how to fix it.

This applies to tutoring. I realized I shouldn't be afraid or nervous about giving correction. This hasn't happened a lot, but I've seen papers that are far off from what the instructor wants and I've felt guilty about letting the student know they have to start over.

"All that work" I think to myself. "I don't want to tell them to start over. Maybe I can give them a few pointers so they can work with what they have already." Not a good idea.

I've decided that if the student has time, I will let them know they need to start over (and do my best to explain why I think that.) Yeah, it takes work, but it's better for them than handing in something that will get a low grade. Besides, starting over helps them learn to fix their mistakes and how to do it right.

My point is, giving correction is a good thing even though it's not what the student wants to hear.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Alex. I think it gives us real insight into a "teachable moment." Your dad was being direct and straightforward in his critique of your drawing, and you did, indeed, learn from that. Your initial reaction, however, shows how most of us react to such direct criticism of our work: emotional upset (what one might call anger.) I'm always an advocate clear response and telling writers one's true thoughts on a piece of writing, but some writers either have a difficult time accepting criticism (and therefore would respond angrily to being "told what to do" by a tutor, or might have very little self-esteem when it comes to writing and joyfully accept lock-stock-and-barrel everything a tutor might say, even if the tutor is just offering possibilities to the writer.

    Whether we "tell the writer what to do" or just give suggestions or options is at the heart of the non-directive/directive debate, and we may tread to carefully around the issue. I think, however, a clearly explained response (such as "can you explain to me how your writing fits your assignment" or even a much more direct "I don't understand how this fits, can you explain to me how?" does seem to involve the writer more than just "do this over" without explanation. Your Dad did a fine job of showing you why the drawing was off center and you probably were better off by starting over.

    I think one thing that you can take away from this experience is that you needed to draw the first failed attempt in order to draw a subsequent successful drawing. I think many writers miss out on that when they have to revise. Failed drafts are just as much a part of the writing as a successful direction.

    Here is an article that you might find interesting about a process of discovery and rewriting:

  2. "...we may tread *too carefully..."


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