Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Writing Center Tutor

Yesterday was jammed packed from almost the time I got t the center to leaving four hours later. The first student had some beautifully crafted sentences in her short essay, though had some grammatical problems in some other sentences, particularly with run on sentences and fusing quotes within her text in a way that keeps a coherent sentence intact. I gave her some pointers on using ellipses and brackets as well as discussed the value of shorter sentences when needed. We discussed the value of longer sentences as reflected in some of her own work, but encouraged her to make sure that whether long or short, that each sentence was, in fact, a sentence and then consider sentence length a function of both style and specific intent in the formulation of each paragraph. The session involved both very close editing and stepping back and encouraging reflection on what the student learned and could take away from our session.

The next student was working on an extended essay on Michael Jordan, which included in his title "His Airiness," the reference being to Jordon's promotion of Nike shoes. We worked diligently on a range of issues for close to an hour on both the details of grammar and in clarifying what exactly he wanted to say in the essay, focusing on transitions, word choice, pruning and/or adding text where needed. He had taken the essay up through Jordon's college years and had to deal with his NBA career and his career as a marketer. The student had some intriguing language in his essay as reflected in part in the use of His Airiness in the title. I hope that I get the opportunity to read the completed essay.

The next student was asked to compare and contrast two poems selected from her course outline. Our focus here was (a) a close reading of the assignent to make sure that both she and I clearly grasped the expectations of the assignnment, and (b) to carefully discuss what to consider in selecting specific poems; namely, on whether the student (1) understood the poems, (2) found it interesting or significant, and (3) whether there was a reasonable basis for effectively comparing and contrasting the two poems. Among other things I emphasized the importance of being strategic in thinking through the selection process. The student gave some thought to the latest two poems on the list, perhaps because she had thought that was what the teacher was emphasizing, though I am uncertain as to what precisely she was thinking there. In any event, her understanding and interest in those poems were limited and interest level even less. Therefore, I encouraged her to go in another direction and to write on the poem she wanted to, which was Edgar Allen Poe's haunting Annabel Lee.

She gave some thought to comparing this poem to Langston Hughes' classic poem, Hope Deferred. She also had a sprightly poem by Shakespeare on love in spring, which might easily contrast with Poe's haunting vision of love lost through death and the almost perverse clinging of his vision of Annabel as a desperate act of imagination. The discussion went back and forth for some time. Finally, something clicked when the student realized that both poems (Poe's and Shakespeare's) were about love in which they were saying some sharply contrasting things. She clearly understood both poems as well which made it more likely that she would internalize the assignment rather than simply carry out something "expected" by the professor. She was satisfied with that recognition and had no need to continue our session. She was now ready to begin her essay.

The final student in a developmental course had a short piece to write in the form of a letter on the importance of parental discipline. The student's argument was straight forward and perhaps "simplistic" in its argumentative level which, rightly or wrongly I did not focus at the level of content. Rather, I focused more narrowly on helping him construct a more coherent piece based on the content that he had already written, which required the removal of a paragraph that was irrelevant to his main argument, setting up a topic sentence and arranging the three main points in the opening paragraph in the order that they would follow in the succeeding paragraphs. The teacher was going to let the students now the next day when the assignment was due. I encouraged this student to come back after he had inputted the changes he and I discussed and one of my colleagues or I could work with him again, perhaps this time to press him more on enhancing the nuance of his argument.

That was Monday. We'll see what Wednesday brings!

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