Saturday, October 04, 2008

None for me.....Yet

I have not tutored a reluctant student yet. I have thought about this topic and I have wondered what I would do if I get a student who is not interested in improving his/her paper. I just hope I do not get Emily Petersen's student who does not see the value of college! My fragile state of mind might get shattered at such a suggestion. It was hard for me to participate in the class discussion today because most of the students I have worked with were excited to be there and excited to get some help with their writing. I did have one student who seemed pretty quiet. She did not respond to me very well, and I think she may have been overwhelmed. Either that or I forgot to shower that day. She just did not seem overly excited about working on her paper, but she was not really reluctant. She was willing to work through things and answered my questions; it just seemed that she would rather be texting. At least she still likes college. I think.

After reading the piece about reluctant students I kind of want one so I can try the mirroring tactic. That tactic appeals to me. Or would it be a strategy? I am not sure I know the difference between a tactic and strategy. But nonetheless, it would almost be like a social experiment to watch how the student responds to me being just as uninterested. In all honesty though, I would like to continue working with students who are excited to find the writing center as a resource, and who honestly want to improve their writing. It feeds my ego when students tell me I am smart and I always know just what to fix to make their papers amazing. That is what I am getting the big bucks to do right? Even though most of the time I just make suggestions and let them do all the re-writing work. Maybe I am just really good at asking leading questions. I do not know. What do you think?

But to conclude this on a serious note (maybe) I think I would feel ill equipped to handle a student that does not want to be there. I hope that I can work through the session using some of the tactics we discussed in class, and some of the tactics suggested by the book. And maybe I will get lucky, like Stephanie, and at the end I will feel successful because I was able to get the student engaged and excited about his/her paper. As teachers we all want to be the students' inspiration right? I know I have always wanted to be like Erin Gruwell; having the ability to inspire by my very looks. I will look to the rest of you for help when I encounter that student that drains me of all my tactics. Mostly I will look to you to tutor the remaining students for the day while I pick up my ego from the floor and dust it off for another round the next day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Reluctant, Embarrassed, Scared, or Royally Angry?

I’ve had quite a few reluctant students, (maybe it’s me?!) and I would have to agree with Michelle—there are definitely degrees of reluctance. It’s always fun to start a session when the first words out of the student’s mouth include “professor,” “forced,” and “brown slip.” Nice. I’ve been lucky enough to have students say this and yet engage in the session after a few minutes. I try to empathize with them enough to get at the reason behind the reluctance. Are they short on time? Overwhelmed with coursework? Is the paper perfect as is? Once you get them talking, you can usually get down to business. If this doesn’t work, offer them candy. Kidding.

Sometimes I think embarrassment may be part of the reason students are reluctant. I mentioned in class that I’d tutored a woman who whispered through the entire session. She was a returning student, struggling with the demands of homework, career, and family. She told me she felt incredibly old and slow and was embarrassed that she couldn’t “see” what others did in the literature assigned for her class. I don’t know if the reason for the whispering was an attempt to keep her ideas quiet--so no one else in the room could hear them—or something else.

A few weeks ago I tutored a girl who was very agitated. She walked into the Writing Center—and back out the door—two or three times. Then she got frustrated when the scanner didn’t recognize her card right away. I thought she’d walk again. She pushed past Greg, who was waiting to tutor her, and asked me to help. The assignment was a 1010 paper, but she wouldn’t pull it out of the folder. We talked about the requirements of the assignment for a few moments, and I thought she was beginning to unwind. Then she announced, “I can’t do this.” I thought I’d lost her.

As it turns out, the 1010 assignment was not the primary reason she had come to the Writing Center. She needed help with a letter. She had applied for a job in the security field, and was rejected because of her criminal background. The company had given her an opportunity to explain her “crime” in detail—and this is what had her so agitated. The crime was very embarrassing; her behavior suddenly made perfect sense. After we finished the letter she relaxed and brought out the 1010 assignment. No more reluctance.

Sometimes I think reluctance stems from fear. This week, when I was tutoring on the Davis campus, I noticed a girl sitting among the math students. She was clearly working on a writing assignment. Every now and again she would look over at me at the writing table, but would quickly look away. I tutored two students and read another chapter of Faulkner before this girl finally approached my table and asked for help. She was scared to death. She had been trying to “fix” her rough draft before I looked at it. She told me she knew her writing was awful and her topic stupid. This was one of the longest sessions I’ve ever had—exhausting and rewarding at the same time.

The first reluctant student I had actually turned out to be less reluctant than angry. Angry at his professor, his paper, and the university (and the universe) in general. He was in an upper division English class and had received a really low grade on his assignment. He was also an English major. Ouch. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I sat back and let him vent. He calmed down, we got to work, he remembered he was angry, we stopped to let him vent again. And thus it went. I thought the session was borderline disaster, but he came in the next day to say thanks. I’ve tutored him twice since then and the sessions have gone smoothly.

For now.
I had my first reluctant student Tuesday of last week. She said her teacher made her bring her paper in to the writing center and she needed a brown sheet. I said "Alright," and asked what she wanted to look at. She said she didn't know. I asked if she had any concerns with her paper, and she said no, she only needed the paper to prove she'd come in. I told her we would get her the piece of paper, but we had to "do" something. Before I could make suggestions of things we might look at, she told me to just do whatever it is that I do. I thought this was a good opportunity to explain what the writing center is and what services it offers. I told her "What I do is whatever you need my help with." In a fluster, she began slamming her things around and said, "Well, I guess you can't help me then," and left. I was definitely a little taken aback. I hadn't seen that coming. I knew she was agitated, but I didn't think she was a flight risk. I turned to the other tutors in the room, none of whom were occupied with tutees, and asked, "Did you guys just see that?" I explained what had happened to them and asked what they would have done differently. Then I asked them some questions about me, my demeanor, and my tutoring style, and if they thought I might have fascilitated what had happened. I wanted to make sure that I didn't come across as aggressive or intimidating. Then I went to Claire's office and told her what had happened and if she thought I should have done anything differently. This experience aggrevated me very much, and I've spent a lot of time brooding over it and what I should have done differently to diffuse the situation. I think I should have started making suggestions earlier. I held off on making suggestions because I wanted to student to tell me what she wanted. However, I think if I had given her a few ideas about things we could have done with her paper, she would have been happy to accept any of them. She didn't know what to suggest and I wouldn't make suggestions for her, and before I could bridge the gap, she became uncomfortable enough to leave. I underestimated her reluctance and was therefore unable to react in time to save the session.

"I Don't Know"

In "Inventing the University," David Bartholomae claims that "When the writer says, 'I don't know,' then, he is not saying that he has nothing to say.  He is saying that he is not in a position to carry on this discussion" (627).

Do you think this connects to reluctance or recalcitrance in students in the WC?  Can you use Bartholomae's argument to explain what Muriel Harris is describing?

College is Useless

I shared in class my one and only experience with a reluctant student. However, I will post the experience here as well and go into a little more detail. The student was an older woman who already had children. She was working at a preschool and getting educated in the profession in order to keep her position. She came with an attitude of, "I'm just here because my professor made me come." This started the session off badly.

I sympathized with her on the difficulty of making time for tutoring when she felt it was not useful. I told her we would try to move as fast as we could and make sure that we did what we were supposed to do before she got a signed sheet from me. I explained that I could not just give her a sheet, but that I could try to make the process less painful. This seemed to appease her, but as I began to ask questions and try to engage her, she gave me one-word answers and refused to fully participate. Because I was already trying to make the session as pleasant as possible for her, I became frustrated that she would continue to be unhelpful.

At the end of the session, which lasted at the most ten minutes, she said that she hated college and did not see the point in continuing. To her, college was a bunch of useless busy work. At times, I have agreed with her; however, this offended me because I love school. I grew up in a family that promoted education. My mom was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she did so after and having three children and being left by my father. It was not easy for her, yet she did it and always encouraged us to do it. My mom is a teacher, so her attitude comes from her profession. So, I did not know what to say to this student. I mostly kept quiet and tried to focus on finishing the tutoring session. I felt flabbergasted that anybody could have such "wicked" thoughts.

As I have thought about this situation, I realize that not everybody thinks the same way I do. Perhaps, as a tutor, I should have been more forgiving and tolerant. My judgment of her in my head may have contributed to her feelings of anger toward the university. I did not say anything to offend her, but my attitude may have shown through. I probably could have handled this better by trying to lift her up a little or giving her some words of encouragement. Next time, I am going to try that instead of letting my own preferences and personality get in the way of being able to respond to a student in despair.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I Can't Learn For You

In my tutoring experiences so far, I have not really encountered an extremely reluctant student. I have had one who seemed to fade away as the session progressed, but it had begun well with him stating his concerns and telling what he would like to have accomplished. This vigor seemed to ebb, however, within a few minutes and towards the end he became largely unresponsive. When I asked him if he was alright, he claimed he was tired and left not long after. Although I have not yet worked with an extremely unresponsive student in the Writing Center, I have had experiences with some through other tutoring means. Many junior high students that I have worked with will calmly sit and stare off into space as I am explaining a concept to them. These types at the very least don’t seem to be doing it on purpose (although they aren’t obviously trying to focus either), but others I have worked with purposely ignore my cajoling because they are annoyed to have to be there. If pushed too far, in my experience, these ones become slightly more than irritated. The worst experience I have had was with a largely unresponsive student who, when I asked how his work was going, swore at me and walked out. This, of course, is a very extreme case of something even worse than unresponsiveness, but if bothered too much by the tutor, some students will not take to it nicely. Because of this, I have learned to not force the student to do anything they don’t seem willing to do, after initially urging them. Any kind of session for any subject needs to be student-oriented, and if the student is refusing to cooperate, it is not the tutor’s responsibility to force them to. Yes, the tutor should do everything in their power to make the session productive, but if the “vibes” emanating from the student don’t seem to be favorable to the overall peace of the session, then the tutor needs to back off. I really liked the reading’s idea of “minimalist tutoring” in that by mimicking the body language of the student, the tutor begins giving off the same attitude and feeling as the student is. Perhaps this alone would alert the student to his unfriendly attitude and might motivate him to change simply for the sake of civility.
Interestingly enough, my most difficult subject who I have had to tutor has been my very own brother. Although this doesn’t necessarily apply since the tutoring with him is done in an informal setting and the “sibling rivalry” certainly factors in, he is the epitome of a reluctant student in my mind. He serves as a sort of “practice tutee” for my experiences with real students. Often, my choices with him are to continue to encourage him kindly as he works, or simply shut off from him, myself, so that, in order for the help to continue, he must respond somehow. By effectively ending the actual tutoring, the tutor is able to place the student in the driver’s seat. Whether or not the session is successful depends on whether or not the student is willing to put forth the effort to make it so. If they aren’t, then there is simply nothing the tutor can do to make it otherwise. Learning is not something that somebody else can do for a student, but is an individual process that must occur on a personal level if anything at all is to be gained.

Different People, Different Techniques

I have not yet found anyone to be so indifferent that they were totally silent. As far as my understanding goes I don't think that I have had any students that were completely upset with me. I have however had some students with misconceptions about what the writing center does.

One student came in and said that he wanted his paper looked over. He handed the paper to me and immediately began texting on his phone. I sat in silence staring at his phone until he closed it, put it in his pocket, and acknowledged me. Then I asked him if it was okay if I could read the paper out loud while he followed along. He cooperated and the session went fine from there.

Obviously that particular student came into the writing center expecting us to correct the grammar errors and maybe a write a few helpful suggestions on his paper, without him doing much of anything. We talked about it in class a little bit, and I agree that the vast majority of the student body, and possibly some of the faculty, think of us as some type of proofreading machine. You bring your rough draft in, and no matter what shape it is in, we are expected to fix all the errors, smooth the "flow," and otherwise perfect the paper. With incorrect preconceptions like that, it is no wonder a student might come in a little disengaged at first.

Speaking as someone who lacks much experience in helping hostile and disengaged students, I think the best any of us can do is to find what works for us. For example, we talked about how Michael uses the minimalist approach, and how it always works for him. Some of us commented that we could never do that. So those of us who would not feel comfortable with that kind of approach need to find another technique that will work for them. Harris suggested that tutors evaluate themselves after each session for a little bit and figure out what worked well and what did not. By doing this a tutor will be constantly improving, and figuring out techniques that work for them in helping disengaged writers become engaged.

Each writer is different so there is not going to be a cure all for everyone. If we give our best efforts to focus a writer's attention to their paper and fail, we can not beat ourselves up. Just like each writer is different, each tutor is different so everyone needs to come up with techniques that work for them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

There are definitely degrees of reluctance in writers that come in. I have never had a student be downright hostile to me or the process of fixing their paper, but I have had many students ambivalent about what we are doing, especially 1010 students at the beginning of the school year. Just last Friday I had a girl come in who when I asked her about her paper and what she wanted to work on silently handed me the sheet her professor gave them. After we started going over her paper I found a few spots where she just had really funky sentences and word choice that really confused her point. The first time I pointed one of these spots out and explained why it was odd and what could be done to make it better she just sat silently through the whole thing. After asking her if she understood, she just sort of nodded a little bit. I asked her if she agreed with me and she just said she wanted the paper looked at. I realized she could care less about the specific revisions I was trying to make, and was only there because she had to be. So I handed her a pen and asked her which of the options I had listed she liked, or whether she had one of her own. Then I waited. And waited some more. Honestly, I had just about given up on this waiting for her to answer idea when she explained why she liked a certain word and it did seem to make her point better. She wrote it down and then asked me a question. Thrilled at even this minimal interest on her part, I had to carefully control my interest to rampantly run circles around her and fix all of her confusing sentences. After that point she became increasingly more engaged, asking questions, and even making suggestions of her own. Though it was never a great session, and I don't think she'll remember it fondly, nor look forward with joy to coming back next time her professor asked, it was nice to see her become more and more interested in her own paper.

Reluctant writers, though initially harder to work with, have been a part of some of my most rewarding sessions. The stark difference in their attitude and eye contact from the beginning to the end of the session has helped me feel like I actually have made a difference. Granted, there have been times where I have been unsuccessful at showing the writer why they should be interested in their paper, and those sessions are discouraging. Nevertheless, I like working with the writers who, though initially reluctant, secretly want to argue about word choice and thesis statements.

And because I would hate to disappoint myself or anybody who might be reading this who is wondering how I made it this far without mentioning the LSAT: look how early in the week I'm posting! That's a new record for me! I decided this week was just going to get worse, seeing as the test is on Saturday, and so I should get it done early. Hoorah!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reluctant Students

I asked, briefly, if any of you have encountered a reluctant or recalcitrant student yet.  Have you?  What was it like?  What did you do?
So apparently I'm no good at blogging. I'm on my computer every day, and somehow blogging escapes me. I have it on my list of things to do. I get on and read other people's posts. And I forget that I am actually expected to contribute on my own. Part of me wants to blame the LSAT, and I do think it is an accurate. If I get a blank look on my face in class, chances are I'm dreaming about the LSAT. When my friends want to get my attention and my name does not get it, they'll say "LSAT" loudly and laugh when I turn around. It was actually upon reflecting on this when I remembered that I had not posted on inventing the university.

Although it is different in that I am not writing an essay for the LSAT, I have had to play at inventing the LSAT. When I took the class Weber State offers on the LSAT, the professor teaching it mentioned that in order to do well on the test you need to learn to think like the LSAT. There are times where the answer is not what I would pick all things being equal. But as I have studied and taken test after test after test and learned about what sorts of questions I miss and what answers trip me up, I have gotten very very good at thinking like the LSAT. There is a system to the LSAT; there are distracting words that the writers put in hoping you'll pick it. When the LSAT asks about the "main idea" they mean something different than I initially thought. In order to be good at the LSAT, you either need to be naturally good at it, or you need to teach yourself to think like the LSAT writers. When I was thinking about this it struck me how similar it was to inventing the university. Nobody really teaches you how to do it, you have to learn through trial and error. I find myself thinking in terms of LSAT questions, and when I took a proctored test last Saturday I did the worst in the section that Dr. Guliuzza provided that was not made from "real" LSAT questions, but was like Princeton Prep or something like that. It was subtly different from the real LSAT, and didn't fit with the my invention of how the LSAT "university" works. drag myself away from my tortured obsession for a few sentences: I think it is necessary that students learn to write like an academic. Is it necessary that they learn through trial and error and without every really being taught? Probably not. It is strange that we are never really taught how to write an academic paper. But however students learn it, learning to write for the field they are studying is a necessary and fundamental part of education. I write differently for Political Science classes then I do for English. It does not bother me, and anymore I do it intuitively.