Conversational Appointments

By Rachel Gintner - Sunday, March 25, 2012, 3:54pm

One of my recent writing consultations took on a very interesting focus. Usually when a student comes into the Writing Center, as a tutor I begin with the basics: we look at the assignment, establish the due date, see how far the student is in writing, and then I will ask what the student would most like to focus on. I think the last tactic of orienting the appointment around the student’s concerns is beneficial because not only does the student take the initiative, but they are also forced to prioritize their concerns.

However, the appointment I encountered last week was markedly different than the above process–which was interesting and refreshing. While we addressed the basics, the student took control of the appointment head-on. More than guidance, what she sought was dialogue. This varied drastically compared to the usual appointment. Many students come in specifically concerned about one particular thing: their thesis, or grammar. I would say another universal worry is if “the paper makes sense,” to which this student wasn’t immune. I am the same way–after working on a paper for endless hours it is easy to become desensitized to the clarity of your own writing style. Yet, this student wanted to talk out loud about her paper. While there were underlying concerns there about clarity and structure, the main priority was to simply talk through what she had written.

I think this appointment has something interesting to say about the better way to write. Firstly, something missing from the writing process from my own writing experience at St. Norbert and perhaps from others, is encouraged dialogue and discussion about papers. Albeit, one of the reasons writers are probably lacking in this conversational aspect is because of time constraints. College is demanding. Peer-review even during class is a rare and often unsatisfying endeavor. In my personal experience, I am often hesitant to ask a roomate or friend or classmate to look over my paper–even though I desperately need a second-opinion–because I know how busy everyone is. Probably the only opportunity for students is the writing center–where people are paid to look at student writing. (disclaimer: but we like doing it! mostly!) Sure, professors are usually more than willing to discuss a paper, but this can be another issue of time. The point is that there is not a lot of organic, open, and encouraged discussion about student writing simply between students.

It’s a pity that an atmosphere of engaging dialogue seems to be on a small level or missing from the student writing process. While the appointment went well, and the student was satisfied with simply having someone to talk to about what she had written, and researched, and what she was finding out: this was rare. I think there are elements in most Writing Center appointments that encompass the one I had, but I think the main priority of simply having a conversation, a dialogue, about the student’s writing was unique.

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