September 23, 2004
she doesn't know what she wants
I just had a student who wrote a paper last night and just wanted a second opinion on it. "Are you having any problems with it that you'd like to talk about?" I asked. "No, I just want a second opinion." So I asked her what the assignment was and what her paper is about and whatnot, and she seemed to have a firm grasp on it, but then I asked her if she thought she fulfilled the assignment and she said she didn't know. So I read half of her paper out loud, told her a few problems that I saw, and told her I think she's on the right track. I mean, I'm pretty sure she's on the right track. But the problem is I'm not always positive that I'm on the right track. So I gave her my opinion. She's not really worried about anything in particular that I could help her with, so I found the few problems I could, but I wasn't really too worried about anything in particular either. And I feel like I'm editing if I'm just reading it and searching for problems rather then helping her work through the problems she's having. The bottom line is I did what she asked me to do, and she was satisfied, but I don't know if there is more that I could have done. I like it more when they have specific problems they want to talk about, and then they can guide the conversation. If they don't have anything to say about their papers, then I'm at a loss to do much besides edit. What do I do? I need some good open ended questions to keep on file in case I run out of things to say.
Posted by hoga0094 at September 23, 2004 3:54 PM
That sounds like a tough situation. You mentioned that you thought she was on the right track. Don't be afraid to tell her that, sometimes when students want a tutor to "look over" or in your case get a "second opinion" about a paper they might just be looking for reassurance. (But if you're not sure yourself don't forget the disclaimer).
Also, if I was in a similar situation, I may have tried probing questions, such as "do you want me to look at organization, arguments, transitions....." If I didn't get a response to that, well, then I might just have ended up reading the paper.
I think this is a good question. I wonder if anybody else has suggestions.
Agreed, a tough one. I think the request for a "second opinion" is often looking for a "rubber stamp" of approval, as Jeff suggests. And, that is when we are on dangerous ground. I think I would have held her on that "I don't know" about whether or not she was fulfilling the assignment. Often, when I probe about what the teacher has said in class about the assignment, what other students are writing about, what kinds of feedback has she gotten on papers in this and other courses, more comes about about this particular writer's struggles, confusions, and understanding. I'm curious if working with Jim today gave you some more open-ended questions to work with. He's the master at those, I think.
Oh, and check out my post from earlier today for some more theoretical thoughts about motivating students to do more than they originally planned. I do think part of our job is inspiring students to think more seriously and to apply more effort to their writing. What do you all think?
This is sticky. I had a roommate who doesn't like the writing center because of an experience she had as a freshman. She asked the tutor to look over her paper, and he told her it was a good paper. She got an F on the paper, and the grudge she got that day is still alive and well.
Because of listening to her and other tutors or students I've heard, I always try and put disclaimers on my opinion of how the paper will be graded. I hate it when people ASK the question. These people have been in classes with these people for weeks, and we're supposed to know better than they would? I know people want their ego/anxieties/insecurities stroked, but we can't know how another person will think.
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