By Cassie Childs, Writing Studio Consultant
As both a writing studio consultant and literature course instructor I am often reminded—through conversations with my colleagues or grumblings from my office mates—how much time and effort writing instructors put into developing assignments and providing materials to assist their students to succeed with those assignments. We hope the modeling, classroom discussions, example assignments, and paper outlines offer our students additional and valuable resources to independently write a successful paper, one that follows the instructions and utilizes the resources we produced. And yet, in the Writing Studio, I often face writers whose assignments do not meet the requirements.
I have had multiple consultations with writers that resulted in returning to the assignment description itself. A recent session with a composition writer offers a case study for the way I handle the common situation of writers misunderstanding and not following the assignment requirements. This two-part blog offers some ways we, as consultants, can maximize a session with a student who needs to better understand the assignment requirements.
In Part I of this blog I will concentrate on the first 5-10 minutes of the session and how to make the most of a consultation in this initial time. In Part II, I offer strategies for consultants to use when faced with a writer who needs “big picture” help but has little time for revision.
The following scenario may feel familiar to many writing consultants. A writer—let’s call him Joe—in an introductory composition course books a session because his instructor’s feedback suggests he “see someone at the writing center for help.” My initial questions regarding the assignment and the writer’s aims for our consultation do not yield many results—he seems confused and unsure how to proceed with what he thought was an “A” paper. Joe has brought with him a full draft of his paper and substantial instructor feedback; the assignment description is also available. Though Joe tells me he wants help with “mainly grammar and style,” I can see from the feedback and assignment sheet that a larger problem exists: he is not meeting the assignment requirements; the paper does not actually follow the assignment prompt and is in fact an entirely different essay. Added to this, the student’s final paper is due in two hours.
In this situation, the first ten minutes are crucial to the writer’s success. Consultants should guide the initial time and utilize as many materials about the assignment as possible to frame the remainder of the session (see Part II).
You may do some (or all!) of the following in the first 5-10 minutes of the consultation:
- (Re)read the assignment. Does the writer have the assignment sheet available (either a hard or digital copy)? What questions does the writer have about the assignment? What is confusing or unclear to the writer?
- Refer to any available instructor feedback. Has the writer received any feedback on the assignment? Does the writer have access to the instructor comments?
- Find out what supplemental materials exist. Did the instructor provide any model essays? Did the instructor provide an outline or handouts on how to format the paper and/or thesis? Are there any websites (for the course) that provide additional information on the assignment or ways to approach the assignment?
- Discuss timing. When is the assignment due? What stage is the writer at—first draft or final draft?
- Propose a plan. What can you realistically focus on in the remaining session time? Based on the deadline for the writer, how much can he or she revise? On which instructor feedback should you focus?
A writer may come in thinking they need only to work on grammar—just as Joe expected in our consultation—but more often than not a larger issue presents itself. In this case, acquiring as much information as possible at the beginning of the session will benefit the writer, the writer’s work, and the remainder of your session.