Monday, May 3, 2010

Jammin at the Writing Center

Jammed packed day today from the moment I walked in to the moment I left.

My first student with whom I worked with before, wanted me to check his essay for grammatical errors. I'm a tutor, not an editor I said to myself, the predominant position of a great deal of writing center pedagogy. However, I am also an adult educator and am closely attuned to the importance of scaffolding focused at the nexus of where a student is somewhat stuck and what he/she could accomplish with a little assistance. The student had previously worked with another tutor on this essay focusing on content, which was reasonably solid, but some basic, mostly minor grammatical/punctuation issues needed to be addressed. My "compromising" strategy was to make notations on the paper where grammatical errors were evident and to ask him to identify them and to fix up the paper himself. I worked with this fellow before and was gratified to see the progress he has made this semester. He's been plugging away at his writing as was evident in this last assignment of the semester for his developmental class.

I spent over an hour with the next student who had presenting me with her hand written, difficult to read essay, asking for help on writing a concluding paragraph. We reviewed her textbook notations on writing conclusions to get at what is expected in a conclusion, which she had previously read. She got the "theory," but still had no idea of how to write a conclusion for this particular paper. The short essay was a several paragraph assignment discussing the role of parental discipline in childrearing (the second time I had encountered this assignment). Like the first student I assisted last week with this same assignment, this student thought parents, especially of inner city youths had to take a firmer stance with their children in disciplining them and were basically failing to do so.

Fortunately my student had part of the essay written on her flash drive which helped us in our work together a great deal. As it turned out there was a lot of work to do before we could even begin to address the issue of effectively concluding the essay. The primary problem was that she was all over the place in discussing parenting issues and the various dangers (her emphasis) inner city children and youth were facing in terms of violence in the home and street, drugs, and popular media, and the necessity of effective parental discipline and guidance to help inner city children and youth counter these deleterious influences. One of the primary problems with the essay is that the student did not have these problems conjoined. Another problem is she added text that was off topic, which would either require additional elaboration or deletion.

We spent the bulk of our time addressing these issues, along with some focus on minor grammatical issues. The cumulative result of our work together is that by the end of the session she had a much tighter essay. Still, she did not have a conclusion or even a basis for one. I discussed with her the two major themes in her paper: the difficulties parents were having with enacting effective discipline and the consequences of not doing so. I suggested that she could conclude the essay by drawing out summary statements on these two issues, and that, moreover, at this point in her essay development, she might be better served by just noting what she would say before attempting to write full statements. As the rest of the paper was in fairly decent shape, she felt she was in a position to give this effort at least a shot. I recommended that she give a solid effort at writing a concluding paragraph based on the two points suggested and that she come in once again for me or another tutor to take another look.

This student felt that she made progress during our in-depth session as did I.

For the final student I could only spend about 20 minutes. She had a U.S. history paper focused on the theme of freedom. The problem was primarily a language issue in that the student was from Egypt and lacked native fluency in writing English. She said she knew what she wanted to say and when it "translated" onto the page in English, what she had written at least in sections of the essay was not exactly parallel with what she wanted to convey and would have if she were writing in her native language. My strategy was to probe into her meaning when I encountered text that was either not exactly clear or seemed to be off-base in some capacity. Through discussion I was able to help her better clarify her meaning in English prose. We got through a portion of the essay and had to quit. I encouraged her to come back to an afternoon session so she could more fully address the issue today (Monday) since the essay would be due on Wednesday.

There may have been another student with whom I worked, but if so, memory of that has eluded me.

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