Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When you are your own worst example nothing quite compares...

My example about myself, which I mentioned in class, is the only real experience with emotional students and emotional writing that I have. My professor had asked for a 5 page response paper in place of a final exam and set out some stipulations for the sort of academic quality he expected in a paper that was replacing an exam. As I mentioned, I had some complicating life circumstances going on in my personal life. I tried for days to write the paper and ended up sitting down two hours before it was due and having an emotional meltdown on paper, which I then handed in. (Don’t worry, I made my emotional meltdown relevant to the class by concluding with a short paragraph about how the literature had expanded my views on the human experience and how that had made me more capable of handling what was going on in my personal life). From my experience as an emotional writer, I learned that it’s a good idea to let people vent because they probably won’t be able to concentrate on anything else until they do. However, we all know we aren’t therapists and we also can’t listen for a half hour while other people are waiting for tutors. The most emotion I’ve seen from students in the Writing Center up to this point is frustration over a professor or stress-out students who are overwhelmed by having to much to do (or feeling incapable of doing what was assigned). One girl I worked with was frustrated trying to understand what the professor wanted from the assignment and I could see that she had put a lot of hard work into writing a paper that didn’t fit what the professor was asking for. I tried to keep the conversation very simple and explain slowly – I also wanted to not just out and say, “Take this page out because it isn’t what the professor wants.” I tried to go through the explanation of the assignment and connect the requirements with what she had already written, focusing on comments like, “This paragraph fits really well with this part of the assignment…This idea responds to this part of the assignment…Now let’s connect these parts with the main idea…” Some students sit down and promptly point out that they hate English and don’t understand it and they know they can’t write but they need a better grade. I think there’s usually some emotion behind that, even if they aren’t demonstrating it openly. With one student, I tried to be a mini-cheerleader and point out all the things the tutee had down well on. We spent the majority of the session talking about what was correct and what fit the assignment than about what needed to be fixed. At the end, I made a list of three things for the tutee to “touch up” when he did his revisions. I think he left more confident in himself than when he started, though I’m not sure I handled it the best.


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