Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Blog 10: Reluctance is good

No instances immediately come to mind of students being overall "reluctant to being tutored." However, many sessions come to mind when the question is contemplated with more nuance, particularly in terms of reluctance to different methods within tutoring. For instance, many students have been reluctant to listen to my advice about certain grammar principles; or, other students have shown reluctance when it came to talking about the overall structure of their piece (as if they just wanted easy fixes made, weren't interested at all to the extent that I wanted to make them do work they didn't want to do); or, some students have shown reluctance to picking up their own pen--or even when they do, to using it all to make any marks on their page (as if I am the one responsible for doing all the marking when tutoring sessions are happening).

But, to be honest, what's far worse than a tutee being reluctant about certain aspects of the tutoring session, is having a tutor be completely indifferent to everything that happens during a tutoring session. Indeed, nothing is worse than a tutee who is just there to run out the clock--a tutee who just wants the slip, or just wants the minor grammar fixes marked, and wants to get out of there as soon as possible.

That suggests, perhaps--and maybe this is only my experience--that reluctance can actually be a good thing. Maybe it sounds weird at first, but signs of a student's reluctance have an interesting way of implying engagement in the session. If they are interested enough in what you're saying to not agree with everything that you're saying, it actually might indicate they are actually taking the things you say seriously, and moreover, might actually be learning things in session that other students wouldn't.

In the end, even if they don't listen to some aspect of your advice (to which they were "reluctant") or whatever, it really doesn't matter if they were listening to the other things you were saying, and integrated them into their future work.

I remember, in particular, one student vehemently disagreed with me about a way in which he used past tense improperly. There were a few instances of this student's misuse of this particular past tense way a phrasing something (in an otherwise present tense paper), and by the fifth or so time, I stopped marking his paper when we came across it because I didn't want to deal with the student vocally disagreeing with me. "Uh, yeah, are you sure?" became, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's right how I put it." To be sure, this was a pretty clear example of a student's reluctance.

But something interesting happened when I read through it and didn't mark it: instead of being defensive, the student questioned himself. He stopped me, "So, weren't you saying this was wrong?" "Yeah," I said, "But you seemed hesitant, so we can just move on." The student gave me a funny look. "Well if it's wrong I guess I should know it is," he said. "Want me to get a second opinion?" I asked him. After the second opinion came in on my behalf, the student apologized for not listening. And yet, without his initial reluctance--if the student had just dismissed my correction and never actually thought about it--he would not have learned in the end that he actually was wrong.

So, everyone: be reluctant about stuff. And don't assume reluctance is a bad thing.


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