Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is this paragraph a TARDIS? Does your sentence have a Flux Capacitor in it? No? Then stop time-travelling!

We spent Monday talking about the vocabulary issues that might affect students interactions with you in the WC.* Which of those bits of language do you think is the most problematic? Is it more difficult to help a student with "flow" than it is to help a student with "grammar"? -- * WC=Writing Center, not Water Closet

The biggest issue I see in vocabulary is explaining the ideas to the tutees. I personally like people to assume I’m smarter than I am when explaining things to me, and if I have to ask them to slow down or “dumb something down” for me, I don’t feel bad. However, if they assume I know nothing about a subject and talk down to me, I get upset. I tend to do the same thing… assume others already come from a position of knowledge about the subject. I have to really be careful with this.
If I say that the paper is full of dependent clauses or that their verbs need to agree with the subjects, or the verb tense is inconsistent, they may have no idea what I’m talking about. As an English major, or at least someone who knows a little bit more about English than the tutee, I need to use the correct term but also be able to explain the concepts in a way that they can understand. People in the writing world have a lingo all their own and it can be very intimidating for people on the outside. I have found a few ways to aid in the lingo-usage. Instead of simply saying the verb tense isn’t consistent, I also say that the sentence is a “time-traveller. It starts out in the past and jumps to the present.” This usually gets a laugh, but it also lets them see why verb-tense is important.
Explaining why a dependent clause can’t stand alone is another one that can be tricky. Tutees should understand the term, but sometimes they don’t know what it means. I have to be able to explain the idea without using terms that are over the tutee’s head or words that are strictly found in an English-major’s vocabulary.
Some other bloggers have mentioned “flow” as being a term that causes some issues, and I definitely agree. It is such an open-ended term that it is hard to know what exactly the student wants. Here it becomes important to ask questions to learn what the student means by flow. If they can explain what they mean by flow then I can look for their flow, but I can’t assume their definition is the same as the next person I will help, or the last person I helped. If 3 students in a row need help with “flow,” I will have to ask and tailor my approach to each one individually. Despite “flow’s” ambiguous definition, sometimes it is the only thing the student knows how to ask for. If that is the case, we might be able to educate them in other terms so they can ask specifically for what they want and not be limited to one literary word.


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