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Twitter Fail Whale: Error Analysis


The year was 1965 and you young tykes may have missed out, but for us old fuddy-duddies, though, the robot in the TV series “Lost in Space” said it best, “This does not compute.” Things may have changed in the world of television sitcoms, but my guess is that writing now is still pretty much the same as writing then. Some of the best error messages of all time still seem appropriate to describe the error analysis process, at least for me.

The higher-order concerns are behind us and now and it’s time in the tutoring session to move on to the later-order concerns. It’s time to actually read the paper. This is when I imagine I turn into the Twitter fail whale. You know the error message that appears when the Twitter service is too overloaded to work. The whale appears and the little Twitter birds
carry him (her?) off into the distance. Something tells me they aren’t going to come to my rescue and I’ll need to determine if the writer has been careless, or if they don’t understand the rules of grammar and punctuation. Where are my Twitter birds when I need them? I’m terrified of the paper that’s so overloaded with problems I won’t know where to start.

At this point, my only purpose in life is to avoid system shutdown—my second greatest fear. Is there a 12-step program for that? How to fix tutor shutdown problems. Troubleshooting tutor shutdown glitches.  Breathe. Breathe. I
imagine checking the clock and seeing our appointment time is done. Alright, time to stop fantasizing (evading) and get to it. My saving grace will be the grammar handbook that I’m sure our writing center has available. It does, doesn’t it? I foresee becoming hard-and-fast friends with that handbook, since I can spot errors, but may not know how to explain them. I’m looking on the bright side, though, there’s no chance I’ll be mistaken for the grammar police. 

Comments

  1. Love your use of graphics! Does the Student Writing Center even get into those finishing touches with grammar, spelling and punctuation? You might not even need to worry about it. Or you might just do a bang-up job of modeling how to look up the answers to those pesky later-order concerns. You could even tell the student, "Sure, I could fix this FOR you, but that's not what we do here at the writing center, and you'll benefit a lot more from having me show you how to find the answer on your own." ;-) Send the Fail Whale back out to sea!

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    Replies
    1. It's true that teaching someone how to look up the answer on their own can be a powerful tool!

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  2. I think it's good you're concerned about doing a good job, but I think to avoid a "system shutdown" you may want to pick the top three, or even two, biggest problem areas and focus only on those. Depending on how much time you have you could always mention other things you see need improvement, then have the student do the homework on those finishing touches, while you've covered more in depth the more prominent issues.

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    Replies
    1. Good point! Focusing on the biggest issues is a good strategy.

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  3. They say that half of teaching is learning yourself, if you think about it I think it is very good that we can learn ourselves as well as the students we are helping. The best way to learn is to learn together, by the way I do get your 'Lost in Space' reference..lol

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    Replies
    1. I loved that show when I was a kid! And your comment about learning from each other is very true.

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