Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Giving "Lazy" Students a Chance

Today I tutored a student who was very defensive about his paper.  Whenever I pointed out a problem with clarity or word choice, he would go into a long explanation about why he made the choice he did.  Dealing with him wasn't particularly difficult, however; he was open to my explanations about why his phrasing and word choice were unclear or confusing, and we worked together to find better ways for him to express his ideas.

A tutee who was far more difficult to help came in a couple of weeks ago.  I still don't know if he was reluctant or just terribly shy, though I suspect the latter.  Our session lasted about twenty-five minutes.  During that time, I think the tutee spoke perhaps five or six sentences and a few disjointed words.  He kept his hands beneath the table for the whole session and made eye contact only very rarely.

As we worked, I became increasingly frustrated at his lack of participation.  When I pointed out structural problems or grammar errors, he simply nodded his head.  When I asked questions, he shrugged his shoulders and stared at his hands.  I was sure that he was one of those lazy students we fear being paired with who only come to the Writing Center when required to do so by professorial fiat.

The session took a swing for the better as I pressured the tutee to become involved.  I stopped making marks on his page and asked him to make them instead, leaving my pen on the paper.  I kept the paper tilted towards him to suggest that it was under his control, not mine.  Whereas, at the beginning of the session, I would answer the questions I directed at him myself after giving him a moment to answer them, I decided that I wasn't going to answer a question until he gave some indication that he understood what I was asking.  He answered the questions dully and wrote changes derived from his answers on his rough draft.  I felt like he was only grudgingly participating until I asked a question he couldn't answer.

After a moment of prodding him, he raised his eyebrows, smiled, shook his head, and said, "I don't know."  I smiled back and helped him work through the problem.  He still spoke only minimally for the rest of the session, but after seeing this unexpected response, I felt that he was trying--he was just very hard to reach.


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