Thursday, September 20, 2012

Changing Expectations

It’s no secret that student’s expectations when walking through the door often differ from the way in which the Writing Center actually works. Some expectations concern what we do, what we don’t do, and what the student is supposed to leave with. Some students have no idea what we do, and we can easily change their expectations, or lack thereof, so that they have a positive experience in the Writing Center. The students who come in expecting one thing and cannot change their expectations or accept what we do are the students who leave frustrated.

The most difficult students to work with are the students who think we are an editing service. They assumes that we take their paper, mark it up, and hand back an A paper. These students do not want to learn and do not want to listen. Some of these false assumptions can be nipped in the bud by explaining what we do right from the start, especially if the student admits to not knowing what we do. “We are tutors not editors” is a point that needs to be emphasized. I once had a session with a student who would have been happy if I never opened my mouth and if she never had to either. When she was actually listening and paying attention, she cut me off in the middle of explanations, brushing them off saying “Yeah I know.” The problem was that, based on her paper, she clearly did not know. At the end of the session, the only time she actually made eye contact with me, she asked if she had an A paper. After explaining that I couldn’t promise her an A, she left angry and frustrated, although I’m not sure that that mood was any worse than the one she walked in with. She was a student who would not have changed her expectations even if I were able to have explained that we don’t just correct papers.

On the other side of expectations are the students who come in and don’t expect us to do anything for them. They are there for a brown slip and credit. It can be fun to change these students’ expectations. I once had a session where a student prefaced the session by explaining that he did not want to change anything, the paper was just how he wanted it and he was only there because his professor required it. This student’s paper was very well written and well organized, but I was still able to point out some areas where he could expand, some areas where his point wasn’t clear, and I helped him to refocus his thesis, which ended up not being the point he had made by the time he was finished writing the paper. Although his paper was good, arguable an A paper for the class level and assignment requirements, this student actually cared about his paper, and I was able to help him improve it. He expected to walk in the door and take nothing from the session but a brown slip, but he was pleasantly surprised.

Expectations can certainly hinder a session when they aren’t met, but we can change expectation for the better so that students can have a positive experience when they come to see us.


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