On Thursday I had a student come in with a law school application essay. He came in because his advisor had read his essay, and in a round about and encouraging way, she had told him that his essay was sub-par and that he should take it to the writing center. So he didn't really come on his own accord, and he didn't really think that his essay was that bad. But, in my opinion, he was wrong. His essay didn't really have much structure and was written pretty informally. I, practicing the technique I have been working on, told the student the good qualities of his essay and that he doesn't necessarily HAVE to make the changes that I am suggesting. After a while, however, I realized that he wasn't one to take a hint. I spent a lot of time explaining the sort of restructuring that would make his paper stronger, and then he says "So I should just, like, add another paragraph at the end that explains exactly what I learned through my experience?" He had already told me that he thought his essay was a little too long. "Yes," I said. "It would benefit your paper to add this paragraph at the end, but it's already too long and you say a little about what you learned in all of the other paragraphs. Maybe you want to limit the other paragraphs to one type of idea in order to save space." He didn't want to do this. He continued to ask questions which attempted to solicit a quick fix for his essay, which I didn't really see possible. Then he gave me a sob story about all the other stuff he had due for school, and he just wanted to be done with this pesky Law School Application. You would think that he would realize how imperative it is to make your law school essay as good as it can be, but I think part of the problem is he interpreted all of the positive feedback from his advisor and from me to mean that he didn't HAVE to do anything to his paper. It was fine the way it was. In his intro paragraph he quoted Webster's definition of the word "law." I told him that it might be a little cliche. "Yeah, that's was my advisor said too. She said everyone does that. But then she said that I relate it to myself in a unique way, so I figured I could keep it in there." I didn't know what to do. He wanted a quick fix, I attempted to give him one but strongly suggested that he spend more time on it. On his way out I said "I really think you should work on it over the weekend and bring it back in on Monday. You could even make an appointment right now." "Uhhh, I gotta get to class, but maybe I'll make another appointment later," he responded as he ran out the door.
To me, the point of positive encouragement alongside the suggested improvements is to let the student know that he or she is capable of great writing. But what happens when they interpret it to mean that they have already produced great writing? Do we then have to shift solely to negative feedback for the given student? How do you tell them that their essay NEEDS a lot of work without breaking their spirits? Or do they just need a broken spirit in order to move forward?Posted by hoga0094 at October 24, 2004 3:48 PM