Wednesday, November 08, 2006

That Wednesday Thing and Last Minute Mayhem

Okay, well, I wasn't present to hear the discussion that happened Wednesday. I'm kind of wishing that I had been, but circumstances being what they are, I've read a few of your posts, and I think I have some idea about what I want to say. To start with, since I was at OHS when this discussion took place, I'd like to say how very very very very very grateful I am that the students we tutor are not surrounded by their peers and in High School. The apathy that permeated that building could be felt when you walked through the door. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, apathy in general, whether fired by teen angst or college angst is awful. In tutoring sessions it is completely fatal. You cannot make any process-oriented work happen if the student is not willing to put in their part, but since several other tutors have chosen to write on this very problem, I'm going to talk about last-minute sessions.

It's poetic justice that I should get a lot of the last-minute students, (I've written so many last minute papers I can't even count them) because I can understand now why my teachers would hate me for doing that. The students who come in with last minute papers usually have a lot to improve on and no time to do it. As tutors we're taught to address global issues first, help a student understand what a thesis is, where a conclusion fits into the picture, and how they might best go about drawing the two together using as much of the original paper as they can, if they can at all. The process of addressing over-all organization in a last minute paper completely changes. I would liken it to working to diffuse a time-bomb. Instead of analyzing improvements that need to be made long term, you analyze strict assignment requirements, such as page length, first, and then quickly search through a piece with the student reading to figure out which improvements will give you the most bang for your buck; what, and there will almost always be something, you can help the student do to get this paper the highest grade possible.

Usually the tutor will will serve as a living breathing spell checker to start with. The tutor will say things like, "Did you mean us here," when the word is typed use, addressing the simple – because that may be all you get to. I’ve never wanted a session to be worthless, and since there is such limited time, by the time you actually get through the paper far enough to discern what can be done about overarching issues, (because the situation forces tutors to address the student work now as a whole unit which doesn’t allow the free-range movement that I would prefer in a paper, turning it from a series of ideas into one of those twelve squared slide-puzzles) it may be too late. The most frustrating thing about it is that if they even had an hour outside of the tutoring session I would be able to give them something that would really be worthwhile. The worst ones for me personally, are the ones where the student still really wants to improve the paper, they’re trying to improve, they seem like willing learners, they just don’t give a tutor the time. All you can do is answer immediate needs, try to give them something to take from it, even if it is just that we don’t always type what we think we’re typing, and tell them that we can help them on their next paper more effectively if they come in earlier.

Difficult Session

Now that it's been established that I am not brilliant with titles, let me say that I’ve been petty lucky, because most of my tutees are actively participating. In so many sessions I just feel like I am there more or less to observe the writers work on their papers, except for the occasional question or suggestion. I guess most of my tutees so far have been very motivated. And then they say that I helped them! I think most people just don’t realize that they are doing 99.9% of the work themselves; it’s a confidence issue or something.

Anyway, I guess this is supposed to be about difficulties. There are some. The reluctant writers are the hardest, although I’ve only had a couple. In one of the cases I was trying to explain to the student that making sure there’s a thesis is more important than punctuation, but she was adamant. “All I want is for you to make sure my grammar is OK. I am not going to make any other changes, all I want is to pass the class,” she said. I guess after she said that, I knew what I needed to do, so establishing a clear reason for coming in is the first step in these kinds of situations, and really with every student that comes. I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel it is my responsibility to do everything within reason to make the student feel that they got what they came for, plus what they clearly need, if it is possible to subtly tack it on.

I also had a session with a student who was very involved in the session, so involved that he would ignore every suggestion I made. I remember feeling frustrated because I felt that I wasn’t helping the situation that clearly needed some help. I remember giving him the basic essay structure before he left, which I felt would be most useful thing I could do. The paper wasn’t that bad, so it was not the end of the world or anything. When he left, it suddenly became clear that the reason he came, whether he realized it or not, was to clarify for himself what he wanted to say, and apparently how he wanted to say it. And I tried my best to give him a form of expression. So at that point my frustration subsided.

Anyway, it sounds like I get frustrated when people don’t listen to me. But the only reason I want them to listen is for them, not for me, if that makes it any better and makes me less of a controlling jerk. I think that next time I start feeling frustrated, I need to remember that being emotionally invested in a job is the same as being emotionally invested in the paper – it can be good or bad, depending on a situation. But viewing my frustration as unproductive I believe and hope will help me to let go. Gosh, if this isn’t a therapy blog, I don’t know what is! But Dr. Rogers, big “fan” of therapy sessions that he is, literally asked for it, so I wash my hand clean.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

If it does not work, then try something else.

I assume that we are talking about adult learners, right? Well, obviously working with individuals who are two to three times as old as me can be frustrating. Like we said in class, adult learners have gone to school in a different era; hence, they have learned things in a different way. Because I have grown-up learning how to use a computer, using Word just comes naturally to me. Most adult learners have not. Not only are they coming back to school where they have been away for so long, but they are stepping into a different technological world. So, I have found that actually showing them and letting them try to format in different ways works best.

In one of my sessions my tutee did not know how to analyze/reflect without, I guess I would say, plagiarizing. She used the thesaurus to substitute words that the author had used and kept the same idea. No, no, no! I did not know how to explain that this was very bad. I went over what plagiarizing is exactly, and she still did not understand. I knew that she was doing this because first of all she told me, and then she did not understand what she had written. I think that we all have been in the position of trying to summarize without plagiarizing. One thing that I do and can explain to my tutees is that I read a paragraph, or two or three, and then I write down the main points and ideas that I remember. This way I can remember details. If I return after I have read the entire essay (or whatever it is), then it is just too easy to rewrite the author’s sentences as my own because I have forgotten exactly what he/she said. Any other suggestions would be great.

Helping students to use quotes effectively is also frustrating. I remember learning how to do this was very hard, and it still is. Someone suggested the sandwich method (was it Claire?). I tried to teach it to a student and they may have given me this blank/confused look. Anyway, I told them using quotes is like a sandwich. The quote is the meat and your input/ideas/opinions are the bread that encompasses it. One of essays that we read stated that if a quote is taken out then the paragraph should not make complete sense. I love that because if the meat is taken out then it is not a sandwich anymore. I try to explain to students that quotes should not be strewn out over the page just to fill up space. They should be there for a purpose.

Monday, November 06, 2006

could someone please pass that squishy, blue rubber cube my way?

The most frustrating thing for me is when its very apparent that both myself and the student are frustrated with the way the session is going but I'm the only one trying to curb the problem. I understand that I'm the one with the authority due to my "vast" knowledge on the subject of writing and my little purple name-tag, never the less it really bugs me when the student won't make the same effort to move things along. This doesn't happen frequently (thankfully!) but when it does it almost always involves those non-responsive/ reluctant writers. And its not even with all students of that ilk. Being an introvert to some extent myself I can spot a dozen leagues away the students who demands time to think and a reassuring disposition. However, when the student just sits back and gives me noncommittal response (sometimes even with a smugness that not even their mothers would stand for) I lose my composure a bit and struggle to get it back. Normally this constitutes a pause, a few deep breaths, and more questions to the student about what they feel is important or needs attention in the paper. If this elicits more responses like "I dunno, your the tutor" I give then my observations with the prefix of "you might think about" and send them on there way. Terrible, I know but I think we all can agree that its better then having a scene where I stare for a moment, break a pencil/pen with one hand, and then give the student my real opinion. Its just so frustrating! During one session like this I was trying to clear up the matter of a convoluted sentence and asked the obligatory "What did you mean here? What was it that you meant?" and the student replied "I dunno." You dunno?- of course you know! To some extent you must know you wrote that sentence not me and not someone else because I recognize your word usage! Honestly! Quite a few deep breaths were needed that day but I'm proud to say I wasn't snippy. I was highly professional- although I did feel a tick in the eye start. So my solution is there are no solution because frustration is inevitable and can't be solved necessarily, however since it can be alleviated I still recommend the step-back method and, as Ryan advocates, patience. Although some sort of temperament detector at the door or button to push so the student's chair falls into a bottomless pit wouldn't go astray either.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

'one size fits all' thesis

During a bad tutoring sessions, frustration is always accomponied by a feeling of helplessness. What happens is that something happens that I don’t want to happen, and yet there it is, happening all the same, and there I am, feeling impotent. The specifics of this sitution usually involve a student struggling with some aspect of a paper, and I am unable to bring any resolution to their struggle. Sometimes this is because I can’t place the problem and only see symtoms, and sometimes it comes from being unable to communicate the solution. One example in which both these took place happened recently. I was discussing the thesis of a studnets paper with him. The thesis was something like, “Macbeth’s wicked nature eventually led to his fall.” Much of the paper however was devoted to describing the role Macbeth’s wife played in Macbeth’s destruction. I recomended to him that he include this detail in his thesis. He refused to change it, arguing that his paper wasn’t about Macbeth’s wife, but about Macbeth. We debated the paper for a few more minutes, and it eventually dawned on my that the problem didn’t have to do specific content of this thesis, but rather was one of clarity. What his thesis was trying to say was that it was Macbeth’s greed that began the chain of events that would eventually lead to his destruction. He had used the ‘one size fits all’ strategy of a vague thesis. Eventually I understood this, and I was able to explain my confusion, giving him new advice, which he found much more agreeable, but in the meantime the whole thing was very frustrating. I thought I understood what he meant, that I knew the solution, and that the student was just being beligerant. The moral? Patience, or something like that. Or perhaps it is realizing that frustration is inevitable.