Friday, October 14, 2005

Minimalist thinking

Since defense minimalism has been a big discussion in class and in our readings, I haven't used this method at all in tutoring, but that doesn't mean that I won't use it in the future if the need arises. I haven't had a problem at all in students being eager to work and willing to talk to me about their papers, and honestly, I wouldn't make this method my first priority when in a session because I am not a "mocking" person. I don't like making the students feel uncomfortable, even if they're making me uncomfortable.

Minimalism has its pros and cons, and it's effective if you really want a student to keep their attention on the subject at hand, but I somewhat believe in quiet periods of time. Sometimes a student needs time to think, and we're distracting them. We should be helping them think if they need the chance of a session to make some desicions.

I have had ESL students especially, where the temptation to use defense minimalism was especially strong. I sometimes wanted to implant my English skills into them so it would make them easier to understand what I was saying. Yet, this also gave me lessons in patience, and I knew that sometimes time should be on our side when tutoring and make the minutes I have with them matter. It's hard enough as it is to learn another language, let alone be assumed to write fluently as well. I have learned that ESL students also love time to think about their papers, and they will make the time to go over every sentence if it feels it will make their paper stronger.

All in all, I believe that minimalism should be used with the greatest care, and only if it's necessary to you to make that student listen, or get off their cell phones, or just zone back in to what both of you were talking about.

Maybe I'm thinking too much.

I did it without thinking yesterday. I don't know if I meant to or not, but I handed the paper back to the student when he was pushing it in front of me. I guess that counts as minimalist tutoring, eh? But I didn't have an intermission where I stepped back and thought "Ooo... He is pushing his paper in front of me; I bet that he is attempting to make me do his own work.... If I react in this way, then I bet that he will react back in this way... And then I will demonstrate minimalist tutoring which will be effective in this case because... " No; no; I didn't do that...instead, I just reacted and passed it back. I did it impulsively.

So what do you think? Was it right that I demonstrated this technique even though I didn't think about it ahead of time? If it means anything, he smiled when I pushed the paper to be between the two of us. And he was engaged, practically, the entire session. So, I guess in this case it worked.

I wouldn't be thinking about it even now except that we're discussing whether or not this techinique is effective or not and if it is, when tutors should use it. But what do you think? Should I trust my instinct? What else would I have done in this situation? Left the paper there where he can't see it as well as I can? Golly, that would be uncomfortable and I would feel like I was taking- over. And if I left it there, would the student get board? Would he have figured that I could take it from here and, heaven forbid, "slouch"? And then in that case, would it be wrong for me to slouch along with him? But-- oops--- I didn't think. I just reacted....

So... what I'm trying to ask is: Is this whole minimalist-tutoring-thing thought completley out or is it something that is instictive? Is it something that tutors do on a whim?--- Yeah, it depends, I know--- but what does it depend on?--- yeah, the student--- But I don't know the student. I don't know him enough to know what he is going to say or how is going to react. How can I decide if this is the right way to act in this session? Do tutors ever know?

I guess with experience I will know when or if it is appropriate or not. I think that it is always easier looking back to see if I acted in the right way or not. I think that maybe it has to do with comfort; when I am a more experienced tutor I will be able to practice this techinique with a little more confidence and then I will be a little more clear of whether it works or not. I don't know--- it depends.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Deadly Minimalism

I would say it's a very fine line made even finer by the fact that even if the tutor uses minimal principles with good intentions the writer might not receive the effects in a positive way. Of course, I would love to be able to say that as long as my intentions are good people can take my actions however they'd like. Unfortunately, though, I don't think that we can adopt that as an indefinite rule.

For example: some years ago my youngest sister--with only pure motives I'm sure--ripped up all of my flower seeds from their pot. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I do believe this experience can be applied. My sister did what she thought was best; she thought she was actually helping me. But regardless of what motivated her to do what she did, it was still the wrong thing to do.

Similarly, often as a tutor, I approach a student in the manner I feel is best under the circumstances, but if what the student actually needs is something different than what I'm giving him/her then I'm wrong in conducting the session they way I am.

But, in general if a tutor tries to engage a student by using this method, he/she can't be held responsible if the student disagrees with this method. Personally, I try just about every other way of involving a student before I try the defensive minimalistic approach. If I'm pushed so far as to try it, the student would have to be very nonresponsive.

And I also think that tutors have to be wise with this approach. Obviously, if a tutor goes so far as to mimick every scratch of nose, and every cross or uncross of leg the student has every right to be angry. I think the spirit of this approach calls much more for a transfer in energy than of action. One can tell if a student has turned off, so to speak. At such times, it is approapriate to disengage until the student recognizes this change. Certainly, there are ways of representing this disengagement with body language, but the energy is much more important.

everything can be "mocking" if you let it be

Is “defensive minimalism” passive aggressive? Yes. Does it run the risk of being counterproductive? Well, to answer that I’m going to have to give a horrible, but necessary, waffle answer: it depends on the student. Like any of the many tricks tutors can use in the tutoring session, each one has its limits and carries with it a potential of backfiring. When using defensive minimalism, or any other tutoring technique, the tutor has to be aware of the student’s reactions to such stimuli and be able to change approaches if needed.

Now I will go off on a tangent: a communications professor told me years ago that, “offense is not given but only taken.” Seems true. By this standard, everything the tutor does can be considered “mocking” towards the student.

The opposite of defensive minimalism is doing everything for the student. While many students may seem like they want the tutor to do just this, others may have put a lot of time and effort into their papers, and are adamant about the subject they are researching. So, to do everything for these types of people might come across as mockingly saying, “here you go, little freshman, I fixed that little itty-bitty rough draft of yours for you so that now you won’t fail.”

This doesn’t mean that you can never do some of the students work for him/her. In some tutoring sessions doing this creates momentum for the rest of the session. However, if you see that the student is trying to work with you, and that you are cutting off all him/her every time they say, “I think I…,” or, “Maybe we should…,” then you should stop doing this. It depends.

The same standard can be set for the use of defensive minimalism. Sometimes the student needs you to just back off and let them work. Other times this may be a disaster. Picture this: you have been tutoring a student for 20 minutes and they have not said anything. You can see that he/she is trying to come up with something meaningful to say or write, but nothing is happening. To make things worse, you answer every question, far away from the table, as, “I don’t know. What do YOU think?” Clearly they are struggling and have come in for help, but instead all they are getting is a tutor stuck with using the strict application of an educational theory. Not knowing this, the student would most definitely interpret this as mocking. Other students may just blow it off. It depends.

Just as with the example of doing all the student’s work, overdoing defensive minimalism will hamper productivity. If you find that the student is trying to make you do everything for them, then back off a little and let them sweat for awhile. If they are sitting across the table, about to cry because they just can’t find the one true word for that problematic sentence, make a suggestion. It depends.

So, to give my waffle answer to the question, I guess it depends. What do YOU think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dangerous apathy

The only way "defensive minimalism" could be counterproductive is if the tutor intended to mock the student. The true defensive action must come out of a desire to engage the student; if it comes out of frustration, then it would be as productive as disciplining a child out of anger.

It also depends on the student's motivation. If the heart of the behavior involves a complacent expectancy that the tutor will do all the work, then the student deserves a defensive minimalist.
Who really steps through that doorway without anticipating some form of interaction and participation?

"Defensive minimalism" then becomes another technique educators and tutors employ to rid students of their apathy, to help them grasp the importance of taking an interest in one's progression and learning. So much of crime is born from apathy, when someone knows that something is wrong or inappropriate but it ceases to matter to them anymore. The possibility always exists that if the student assumes the teacher (or tutor, parent, etc.) will eventually do it for them, that assumption can lead to actions with far graver ramifications.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Waiting Myself Out

I'm taking the class for writing tutors, reading a book on tutoring, writing papers on writing and tutoring students at the university, and I think that with this approach, I run a risk of doing too much dissecting of the tutoring process. As a remedy, I watch myself during tutoring sessions but I haven't had any real reluctant writers.

My first tutoring session was an ESL student. She had a few mistakes but she wrote very clearly. I waited her out a little so she could figure out a problem not realizing that I should help her more. I don't think she was hurt by it but I now know it's okay to give ESL students more help than I would give an EFL (English as a First Language) student.

I've had opportunities to tutor a variety of people from lower to upper level classes. I think there is a waiting period that can be sensed with the individual. Some people need to think for a minute and others need to act or they'll forget what they want to do or say.

My last tutoring session was with an ESL student. It was a challenge for us to communicate with each other altogether. We went through every sentence so I could explain to him why we need to do this or that and what makes sense and why something else doesn't. He has been in the U.S. for about four months and that's how long he has been speaking English. I asked him periodically if he was getting the help he was looking for. He kept telling me yes and nodding his head. We had to end before we were finished working through his paper and I wondered how much he got out of our session. I know that he picked up on a mistake or two that we found repeated several times throughout his paper. That was a small accomplishment that I think went a long way. I think he really learned something new. I only wish we had more time to work together. I know his little accomplishment will take him through to the next assignment because he is at least learning.

Today I went to my Intro to Ceramics class where we have been making Teabowls. It was fun as usual because the ceramics room is a happy place, but I was frustrated. I found out that our assignment is due Monday instead of Wednesday, and I was having problems centering my pieces on the wheel. I had to ask for help for the third time on the same problem. I was feeling really bad. I wondered what was wrong with me because I had learned to center once and did it okay, I learned to center again when I was having problems and I said "Now I have learned to center" with confidence, and then I had to learn a third time because I just couldn't seem to get "it" and hold onto "it".

There are several ways to center greenware on a wheel for trimming. The class learned two, and now I've learned about five. It is even worse to know that I still have a problem with five different methods of centering when everyone else seems to have none with two. I have been shown and taught and trained to change my perspective, to change tactics, to change focus, and I still struggle terribly. I decided it would be worth it to pay someone else to center my greenware. I wanted to cry. I need to hear the magic word that would be my "aha" and all of a sudden I could center. But it didn't come and I will be coming back during the week working hard to make sure I learn to center on a Potter's Wheel. During past classes I have worked and succeeded, and then worked on something new and succeeded again. Now I feel like I am in a rutty little place.

I look forward to going back to class because it is a subject I love, except this one headache, but I don't think I would if I was having that same kind of problem in something like... Math. I would be reluctant to try as hard and I would feel stupid. I would be torturing myself by making myself go to class. It would be a necessary evil only to get through to graduation.

I haven't tutored anyone who is a really reluctant writer but I think that we all need a boost sometimes through small accomplishments.

Defensive Minimalism

I'm interested in continuing our discussion of "defensive minimalism" in tutoring sessions. One of the things we didn't talk about today was the idea that it is awfully passive aggressive, isn't it? Don't you run the risk of mocking the student? Is it possible that this kind of behavior might be counterproductive?

Inventing the University Academically and Culturally

In my experience, inventing the university was less about academics in the classroom and more about the culture and lifestyle of college—but I will write a little about both.

Inventing the university in the classroom was (and is) progressive. Like Kassie said, we learn by trial and error. We do things over and over until we get them right. When we do something wrong, we trust the professor to correct us and we try to change. When we get something right, we hope for positive feedback and keep working in that direction. I wonder if there is any other way to learn? In my life it has always been this way—learning always involves failure and a little pain.

Starting college was a lot like starting a new job. Every time I have started a new job, I didn’t really know what to do or what to expect, but I knew I had to do it. The first few weeks, or even months, are always the hardest—lots of adjustments, new information, mistakes, new people, etc. But it always gets better—we learn, we grow, we improve, we get more comfortable—if that doesn’t happen, something is probably wrong.

Going to college is very similar. Entry-level classes are easier for a reason. The teachers don’t expect as much, the course work isn’t as demanding, and there is more room for failure. However, as students move forward into upper-level courses and into their majors, the classes get progressively more demanding and difficult. If we (students) accompany the progression we can survive, but if we fall behind, things can get complicated.

Because academic progression in the classroom was a lot like other learning environments, it felt more normal and natural to me. Learning the culture and lifestyle of being a college student, however, was more challenging. In high school, life is very structured and organized. Choices are limited. In college, the possibilities are much greater. The choices we have to make seem endless and increasingly more important—this is a good thing, but it is also challenging. Besides simply choosing a class schedule, which really isn’t so simple, students have to learn what general requirements are, where to park, how to get to class, where to get off the shuttle, where to buy books, where to pay for tuition, where the buildings and classrooms are, how to get help when they need it, etc. The list could go on and on. The process of learning to choose, to discover, and to manage time was more difficult than learning in the classroom because it was completely new to me.

Fortunately, my mom was very helpful in getting me started. My older brothers had already gone to WSU as well, so they knew how to help. Otherwise, I may have drowned in the sea of new information. But what happens to students who don’t learn how to invent the university? What is the result of not learning to choose, to discover, and to manage time properly in college? I don’t know if it’s possible to get through college without learning these skills!?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Another Day, Another Dollar

Yeah right. I missed Tuesday night for my cousins Going-Off-and-Getting-Himself-Killed Party and then the system is all wicky-wacky and I don't get any hours! but yeah, I checked meine accounts and I got paid. I just spent the money before I realized I had it.

And this cute boy always stops to talk to me and he started asking me if wanted a drink in Russian and I replied in German that was totally unrelated. Hey, what a co-winky-dink! This blog has no relevance. :)

I really hate this system of blog-whatever. Or maybe it's the computer because I can 't make a capital f unless I hit Caps Lock then F. Tha't stupid. and it only does that for the F key. That's the other thing I was going to tell you, but I forgot until just now. God, it stinks in the library. Like the stuff their putting on the walls. No, not the paint, the...uhh... putty? Umm, yeah, the white stuff. It reminds me of when we were remodeling our house. Yup, those were some crappy days.

And then I was wasting my time playing on the 'net instead of homework when I realized....uh....hmmm....what did I realize agian? Anyway, I'll tell ya later.

Anyways, I've decided that you can't go into a new situation, like college, with confidence. It's like you're blind and heading towards the stairwell and you don't even know it. I needed to come in hesitant and view the atmoshpere around me and then jump into the deep end. But NOOOO, I thought I could do it and be alright, but NOOOO.

I hope they let my doggy live with me. Too many twelve year olds on campus, then there's me who isn't 12, but acts like it. :)

And having no relevance at all, the other day the bus driver got behind this really slow guy on harrison between 16th and 20th, and he totally past him. It was awesome! usually it's the bus driver that gets past and flipped off, but not this time. No no.

Last night when I was doing homework, my doggy was lying on my lap with his head on my head and i could feel him breathing (hey george voice)! aww! He's so cute! I want a puppy doggy. But yeah, the homework was never completed. Is it ever with Stacie?