Thursday, October 06, 2011

Checklists and Reading the Paper Before Discussing It

Like Eric, I’ve found it helpful to read the student’s entire paper (when possible) before deciding what input to give. This helps me focus on the most important parts of the writing pyramid (i.e. structure, thesis, etc.) rather than getting caught up in comma-splices and minor typos.

The process usually goes like this:

  • After asking questions and understanding what the assignment is all about, I ask them if I can read their paper out loud. Most of the time it isn’t a problem. I can think of only two instances where they asked me not to read it out loud.
  • Before I start reading, I hand them a pen and say, “When someone else reads your paper, it’s a lot easier to see mistakes. If we come across anything you want to change, go ahead and mark it on the paper.” I’ve found that most students can catch a good amount of their own mistakes when I do this. By giving them the pen we put the responsibility for revision in their hands.
  • If we come across a pattern of errors they aren’t aware of, I’ll make a small mark on the paper. I explain to them at the beginning that I may do this and that it simply indicates a small issue we will come back to after reading the entire paper.
  • Once we’ve finished reading the paper and I’ve seen the conclusion, it’s a lot easier to judge what we need to spend time discussing. I simply move up the pyramid, covering wherever the biggest gaps are.
  • If there are problems with structure, thesis, or the conclusion, I’ll make sure they understand the basic concept and help them see what exactly it is they want to talk about. If it’s a smaller matter, like grammar or comma misuse, we go there instead.
  • Once the most-important things are covered, we’ll work back through the markings on the paper. If there is a recurring pattern, we’ll cover that.
This has really helped me avoid spending too much time fixing comma splices and verb repetition early in the paper only to discover there is no central idea of conclusion later on. It also helps the student see that structural issues are the most important and not too worry too much about things like comma placement, etc.
            Another thing I’ve found useful is the trick Gabby uses. This was mentioned in class a couple weeks ago. Basically she will ask the student what they need in their paper (or if the professor has a list of what he or she will be looking for, use that) and create a checklist for the student. After reading the paper, the tutor can check off each of the items or spend more time going over them with the student. This helps both the tutor and the tutee stay on track and focus on the most important parts of the paper.


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