Monday, September 23, 2013

Our Knowledge of Essays VS. The Students'

I entered college know, more or less, what was expected of me in almost any kind of essay paper.  However, it’s impossible for me to pinpoint a moment in time when someone actually taught me how to write an essay. I can remember some very clear lessons – the essays I wrote for AP English, for example – but most of my training in essay writing has been pounded into my brain since before I can remember. Writing comes very naturally to me, whether in fiction, journal writing, or essay papers, but it’s not the same for everyone.

I have noticed that, for the most part, the younger students I tutor know the basics about writing a good essay. The students that have just gotten out of high school, for example, almost always have an opening paragraph with a clearly defined thesis that they revisit in a concluding paragraph after they have written a supporting body. I have been very impressed by these students’ preparation, and I think there’s something to be said about the teachers and schools providing this preparation to our freshmen.
In my experience thus far, it is the non-traditional students that need more help as far as actually writing their paper goes. For many of these students, it has been years and years since they’ve written anything, let alone an essay. It’s usually these students that I have to coach through the organizational process of writing an essay.

One of the topics universal to tutoring is correct formatting. Even if a student can write an essay with an intro, thesis, body, and conclusion, they often have formatting errors – or lack of a format al together. I find myself going through MLA and APA formatting with every single student I meet with. Even if their professor is not looking specifically for a format, I review the basics of MLA to make sure that they know how to do it. I tell them that, if the teacher has not asked for a specific format, MLA is the standard.
Although I can’t pinpoint exactly when I learned how to write the essays I write today, I do recognize  that I didn’t learn it all at once. For example, although I knew the basics of MLA formatting from high school, I wouldn’t have been able to answer specific questions about either MLA or APA until I took this class! If my students haven’t taken this class, surely I cannot expect them to have as comprehensive a knowledge as I do now.

In summary, it has taken me years to be able to write the way I do, and I am an English major. I need to make sure that I am patient with the students that come in to the writing center, especially when it comes to the common errors of formatting and organization. My purpose as a tutor is to help the students I work with become better writers. Although many students come into the writing center knowing the basics of how to write an essay, our goal is to make sure that those who do not leave just a little more confident in their ability to write an essay. 

- Samuel Bartholomew


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