Friday, September 27, 2013

Blog 5: Tears over Dover Beach

                I haven’t had any experiences with emotional writing during my tenure at the WSU Writing center. However, I did encounter one particular student at CLU who just seemed to buckle under stress during a tutoring session.
                She had been sent to me for writing and subject matter tutoring in her British Poetry course. She was assigned a 5 page paper analyzing how poets use language, sound, and structure as complementary aspects of their poetry. For the assignment, she had chosen Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. If anyone here has studied the poem, there are several areas where Arnold uses words with strong “S” sounds – mimicking the sound of waves crashing against rocks and retreating with the tide. Additionally, the structure of the poem itself seems to replicate the silhouette of the Dover Beach cliffs. These were the types of things her professor was looking for in the paper.
                However, this Chinese ESL student did not understand the prompt. While she was a Junior English major at this point, the uses of language and sound that exist in English were very difficult for her to grasp. The language barrier seemed to inhibit her from not only composing a draft but understanding what was exactly being asked of her.
                I began the session with walking her through the assignment itself. She had brought a detailed outline but I quickly realized she had not actually done what the assignment was asking her to do – a result of her misunderstanding. I proceeded to tell her that, while she had already put in work, it was not the proper kind of work and we would need to readdress the task at hand. This was the breaking point. The realization that her time spent working on this was for naught caused her to start crying and she excused herself for a brief period of time.
               I cannot say that I understand the struggle she was going through. While I have struggled with my own assignments, even in upper division French courses, I cannot truly understand the struggle of trying to grasp nuance in a foreign language. She was gone for about 10 minutes when she returned to my desk. She started to apologize and I told her that there was no need. She asked me if I could explain to her what the teacher was asking for. We then spent about 15 minutes rewriting the prompt in simpler language so she could understand it on her own. The last step was to explain to her what the teacher meant by language, sound, and structure.

                We never got to the writing tutoring phase of the session. It was clear she was overwhelmed and just wanted to understand the assignment before diving into composition. When handling the session, I always tried to remember that she was five times more frustrated than I ever could have been. Also, I tried to keep my tone calm and supportive throughout the explanations. When dealing with emotional tutees, it’s key to be an ally. Make sure they know that you are on their side and want to help them succeed no matter how long – or frequent – the sessions may be. 


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