Monday, November 18, 2013

Blog 10-The few, the proud, the belligerant

Blog 10: Resistant Tutees/Shelley Williams/Engl 3840

Not long ago, I had, for lack of a more benign euphemism, “bragged” that I had never had a tutee whose paper I didn’t engage with on some level. That is still true. However, recently I had to deal with a belligerent student whose writing I was barely allowed to see between, “You don’t even know what Linux is, do you?” and “It’s perfect [the paper]. I’m just supposed to come here to get a paper [the tan sheet} to show my teacher.” This student was a native speaker, but we weren’t speaking the same language at first, or so he thought.

The long and short of it was that he was very attached to his writing, though he pretended the opposite. He pretended it needed nothing because he seemed keenly aware of its utter inadequacy to fulfill the needs of the assignment because he’d waited until the last minute to complete it, let alone read it. As we did read it, scanning the largest components, though he warned me we only had twenty-five minutes and he had no intention of changing it before class, it was obvious he was able to catch some of his own errors. So much for the “it’s perfect” façade. 

Fortunately, I did not ask how he’d done on former assignments because I’m pretty sure he would have gotten more defensive. What I did do was tell him I couldn’t just hand him over a tan sheet without helping him. Then, large issue by large issue, question by question, praise to praise (on the smallest items if need be), I had him almost eating out of my hand. It helped that I was able to tell him exactly what Linux was and therefore what “Libre Word” likely was, his word-processing of choice.

I had to win his trust is what it amounted to, and I did it by acknowledging he had a preferred knowledge base (computer science) and that getting it right on the page was like trying to put words into “code.” By the end of our twenty-five minutes I was summarizing what was good about the paper and what areas could strengthen it even more, including coming in to us in advance next time so we could help him even more.

The student actually said (somewhat incredulously or perhaps sarcastically), “It is?” when I told him it was a good start.  I could tell that only getting the right answer directly out of the gate was acceptable to this student, and anything less was seen as failure. I therefore tried to emphasize writing as process. We’ll see if that works. If I ever see him again, I know we can make further progress.

In the meantime, the office assistant called me over after the session and gave me an “atta girl” because apparently this student has been problematic in the past. She said I handled him really well. I was pleased. We may not always tell students what they want to hear, but that is why we’re here—we tell them what they need to hear, always on the lookout for how they best can/will receive that.


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