Recent Tutoring Session Reviews
"The student spent the session working on a paper due Friday for his English class, throughout which I made note of his strategies and weaknesses per my communication with his mother. He usually writes off-the-cuff, without making an outline beforehand, and he continuously revises his wording with extensive self-debating. He also made it clear that he writes best when it is most like making a speech. I had him start drafting his paper out loud while I recorded his thoughts. Halfway through our session, he decided to change the topic of his paper (from analyzing the architecture of one site in the Lord of the Rings to another). He had the superb insight that the architecture of Isengard reflected the One Ring that lies at the center of the book. We briefly outlined the rest of his paper around this thesis. He spent the last 15 minutes trying to find an opening sentence for his paper. Danny He that he cannot move on from this sentence until he is satisfied, and he continually revises it. He copied three iterations of this opening sentence in an email to me; we will continue to accrue and analyze these revisions in the hopes of pinpointing the features of a 'satisfactory' sentence. He will email me a draft of the paper to review on Thursday."
"This session with the student went very well. We worked on an assignment that she has due a week from now, in which she has to provide one-sentence, prompt-independent answers to nine questions concerned with Poe's short story, "The Black Cat." Each of these one-sentence answers entails her forming a brief argument and providing support for that argument, so they are fairly tricky to produce. For most of the session, I played the role of a reader who might encounter the student's answers, asking questions and expressing difficulties I had in understanding her perspective. I did this both to make the student put her own words on the page, and to model the kinds of questions that readers ask, so that she can get used to answering them and, in time, anticipate them. On the occasions when the student expressed really feeling stuck on an idea, I helped lead her out through discussion, in which I tried to use a direct modeling technique where I explain my thoughts and the connections between my thoughts as I work through them, again so that she might be able to mimic these thought processes over time. For the most part, the session was a marked improvement over previous sessions. She was much more focused on writing out her thoughts and answers, and was able to stay focused for longer periods of time."
"The student worked on her goals/reflection piece and responded to the questions I included in my edits. She expanded on the more vague points (who, what, when, where and how) and played with word choice across the board. The item I sought to emphasize most to the student is the notion that our writing becomes clearer and less assumptive when we ask ourselves the tough questions. This concept of bringing in how, why, when, etc., questions to ensure we've fully defined ideas we're trying to communicate or sentiments we're trying to convey came in handy during the main exercise of today's session. Before diving into this, to ensure that the student had a clear understanding of what distinguishes showing from telling writing, I had her complete two warm-up exercises. The first asked that she expand three sentences by taking a defining noun (e.g., "jerk") and painting a picture of the word (in place of the word itself). She did a good job here of using figurative language and potent adjectives to replace 'telling' language, language that leaves room for interpretation. The second exercise required her to select two to three traits or words from three lists of character traits (physical, emotional, etc.) and describe a scene depicting these words without ever using them. This exercise exposed the student's tendency to believe her reader can fully grasp her experience or take on something without being in her head. This is something that has popped up before and tends to surface most prevalently when I edit her work or collaborate with her on editing projects. What she wrote in response to this exercise was well written, but when she read it back -- read it out loud to me -- she was able to see how her writing might have been a tad presumptuous, as I was not able to clearly identify the traits she had selected, which had inspired the scene she developed. I complimented the student on her ability to write in a detailed fashion, incorporating metaphor and powerful action words along the way, but stressed the fact that this is not always enough -- that we are going to have to work at ensuring that the vivid pictures she is able to conjure up with ease are fully translated into her writing. We ended the session with a writing exercise intended to bring together several of the strategies she has been practicing and I have modeled. I explained to her that we would start out with a (seemingly) simple sentence and that her job was to rewrite this sentence based on a series of instructions I would provide, with the end goal of seeing how one can improve/edit a simple sentence (what tactics one might consider and employ) to the point where it's nearly unrecognizable, significantly more developed and vivid. I had the student start with the sentence "the music is loud". I then instructed her to rewrite this without the word "is" (Strategy 1: check your is/was/to be usage; verb choice makes an enormous difference in painting that 'action' picture). I then asked her to define the kind of music she was describing: "What kind of music are you describing"? (Strategy 2: Put yourself in the shoes of the critical reader; ask who, what, when, how, where.) From here, I suggested she highlight or box all nouns and find ways to make them more specific or replace them with description. (Strategy 3: We tend to fall back on comfortable or easy nouns, which usually don't do much to 'paint the picture'; e.g., using "music" instead of "hip hop" or "classical", and getting more specific from there.) I then asked her to underline every "the" present and eliminate them. (Strategy 4: We all have our crutches, common words we use as fillers, words that are not contributing to the greater picture; find and eradicate these.) At the end of this I asked the student to read the original sentence and then her final rewrite. I asked her if she could see and hear the difference. She was astounded by the vast difference in the writing, particularly because we only utilized a couple of straightforward strategies to get from Point A to Point B. To conclude our session and ensure her continued application of strategies to transform her writing from telling to showing, I asked her to create an informal checklist of some of the things she can do to make her writing that much more clean, supported and sophisticated. She was able to record most -- if not all -- of the ideas I brought into this session, which suggests the exercises we did really brought this idea home. What I liked about this last exercise, a mini-assessment of sorts, is that the student got to take the time to consider the tactics she saw in action and found most helpful and then regurgitate them in a way that made sense to her (in a meaningful way, in a checklist of her choice)."