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Today’s daily prompt is to blog about how to do something, something we love and know how to do well. 

I can’t actually think of anything I can do well that I also love. I mean, how do you teach someone to sleep?

But, when I read it, I was instantly reminded about the current assignment the English 100T students have to do. (A bit of background: I’m a writing tutor at my university. Students come in with their papers and we sit there and read through and talk about their papers with them. The English 100T students, being the remedial class, are required to come into the Writing Center at least twice.) This week’s paper in 100T is a process analysis paper. Basically, they had to write about how to do something they know well and love.

This last week, I got to spend many sessions learning about how to pitch a baseball or how to use a sound board. I got to discuss with the students extra details that they hadn’t put into their papers, details that would have made the whole process easier to follow. I actually now think I would be okay working a sound board. (Definitely not pitching, though. There’s not an athletic bone in my body. Well, okay, maybe a small bone. Like the ossicles.) 

I had no plans on becoming a tutor. I didn’t even seek out this job. But ever since I got to college, my parents told me I should become a tutor. (Actually, it was more like this: Dad: “You need to get a job.” Mom: “I think you would be great as a tutor! You should look into that!”)

I did nothing of the sort. In my second year, the job just kind of fell into my lap. My grammar teacher pulled me aside after class one day and said he was writing a recommendation for me to work in the Writing Center. As much as I didn’t want to actually work with lots of people, it was one of the best things to happen to me. I was given more hours than my previous job. (I worked on the Courtesy Assistant Team, working for the campus police, escorting people across campus from 7-Midnight.) Student employees are only allowed to 19 hours a week, and since we worked 5 hour shifts on CAT, I could only work 15 hours a week, tops. Now, I can actually work up to 19 hours a week. On top of that, being an English major, I’m actually getting experience in my chosen field. (Though, to be fair, I had planned on being a Law and Justice major when I worked for CAT.) The hours are also much more reasonable; the tutoring center closes at 9 pm.

Now, I love to tutor. I will admit that there are times when I’m working with a student and I’m having a hard time really getting into their paper, and I often prefer to work the front desk instead, but I do love to tutor.

And so, here’s where we get to the “How to” part. (There’s a lot more that goes on than these steps, but I’ll leave out the things that are our Writing Center specific.)

  1. When a student arrives, greet them with a smile. We want their first impression of the Writing Center to be good. We want them to want to come back.
  2. Introduce yourself. This helps to build rapport and makes the student feel comfortable.
  3. Ask them what they are working on. Have them explain the assignment to you in their own words.
  4. Find out if they have a copy of the assignment guidelines. It will be helpful to know what style the paper should be written in, how many pages it should be, what the topic is, what the teacher is looking for, etc.
  5. Ask the student if they have any initial concerns or parts of the paper they want to go over first. Remember, we are here to help the student and answer any questions the student may have. Try to address these questions first. However, students will often be unsure what exactly to look for in their paper. They’ll know they need work, but they may not be able to express that they need help organizing their ideas into a more logical sequence or building a stronger thesis or tightening their argument to stay related to the thesis. Often, they’ll just say they want to work on grammar. Now, it is certainly good to work on grammar, and that may be exactly what they want to work on, but realize that sometimes there are other big picture things going on that could be addressed as well. Go in ready to work on grammar, but be aware of other things going on.
  6. Ask the student if they are comfortable reading their paper aloud. It is useful to read the paper aloud because then you and the student will be able to hear problems. Many students will hear these problems on their own and fix them without any prompting. If they aren’t comfortable with reading it aloud, ask if you can read it to them. Every now and them you’ll get a student that is uncomfortable with either option, but that is rare. If it does happen, then just read it in your head to yourself.
  7. This step is one of the most important. As you and the student read through the paper together, ask questions. Always ask questions. Ask questions anywhere that doesn’t make sense. Ask them to explain what they meant to you. Often, they’ll explain it in a way that is clearer and much better suited to the paper. If you get to grammatical issues, don’t just tell them there’s a grammatical problem. Ask them if they’ve heard about “such and such rule.” If they haven’t, explain it to them and then ask if they can find where that rule would be applied. Point them to the general area. “In this sentence, we have a comma splice. Can you see where we could fix it?” (Side note: Using “we” is a good idea because it helps them feel as though you are in this together. Saying “you” makes them feel like you are attacking them. “You did this wrong and you need to fix it” seems more harsh than “Let’s fix this together.”) This process of asking questions is known as the Socratic Method. It’s useful because it helps the students figure out their own thought process and keeps you from inserting your own voice into their writing. We want to try to stay away from telling them what to write as much as possible. We are not in the students’ heads, so we can never know what they truly mean. Even just the slightest change of wording can completely change the meaning of a sentence. We want their writing to be their own so to convey their own thoughts. Also, using the Socratic Method helps keep us away from plagiarism. This is not to say we can’t suggest words and phrases. But always be sure to ask “Is this what you mean?” and explain the implications of the changes you suggest.
  8. Be sure to wrap it up by asking if they have any final questions and by giving a brief overview of the major revisions they need to consider on their own time. 
  9. If you want, you can end with something like, “Have a nice evening” or some other friendly phrase. 

And that, my dear readers, is how I procrastinate writing a paper. 

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