Today, both of the assignments she was working on were writing work. One, a reader's response to a short story, took us about an hour together. First, I needed to read the story to be able to discuss it with her. Much of the time, however was spent pushing her to do more. The format she was required to use (MELCON) is very specific. Main Idea, Evidence, Link, Conclusion. In and of itself, the format is fine. However, it has been presented very formulaically, using specific sentence starters, etc. My goal today was to push this particular student to do more than what she perceived as "required." We have had this discussion several times. Today was the day we needed to put it into action.
"Before we start writing, I want to talk about the story. I am wondering why the mother felt angry, than guilty, than angry, than guilty. What do you think?"
"Why would the man pretend to be poor and sell apples if, in fact, he has ample money?"
Both of these questions took a great deal of prompting and support. I believe she had answers but was hesitant to explain her thinking because 1) she was afraid she was wrong or 2) she did not have the vocabulary to express her thoughts clearly. We talked about these ideas for about 20 minutes, with me prodding with "Why do you think that?" and "Tell me more about that." With time, she was able to express her thinking and support it with evidence.
Finally, it was time to write. The prompt was based on which idea was she most interested in from the class discussion. We were able to narrow down two ideas she liked. We then sorted through evidence, determining which idea she could better support.
Up to this point, the work was similar to work we have done together. Now comes the actual writing!
"What is your thesis statement going to be?"
"I am supposed to start with the main idea."
"Thesis statement is your main idea. What is the premise of your writing?"
We work best when she can think aloud and I type. As she introduced a piece of evidence, I pushed her to explain, explicitly, how that evidence connected to her thesis statement. This required a great deal of support but that is what I do when I tutor....I offer specific, individualized support.
"How does this connect to your main idea?"
"Don't assume your reader sees what you see. Explain it to her!"
"Why would he do that?"
We did the first two paragraphs together. As she started the third piece of evidence, I asked her to add the additional support on her own. I reassured her that the work we were doing was hard and more than she had done in the past but I knew she could do it. It took time, and some leading questions, but she got there.
This session made me wonder a few things. 1) Why are reader's responses still perceived as a specific, formulaic response. Shouldn't we welcome a student's thoughts, presented in a way that feels natural to the student? 2) Wouldn't it be wonderful if every student could get the same individualized support my student got this morning? --I know, they can - if the teacher regularly confers!--3) Why is there so much stress put on doing it "right" and getting a good grade and so little support in honoring the writing process? Writing is a chore for most students because we don't allow them to experience regular writing just for the joy of it.
The other day, as I left the library after tutoring my other student, a patron stopped me. He commented that, as a junior high student, he had been tutored as well. He still remembers those sessions fondly; looking back, he is able to appreciate the growth surrounding those times with his tutor.
Not everyone can afford tutoring. It is a luxury. However, every student deserves support geared specifically to their needs. And every student will benefit from a close relationship with a teacher. I am thankful for my time as a tutor. It helps me reflect on my time with a class of students. Am I giving them the individualized support they need? Am I getting to know them as well as I know these two? I hope so!
Thank you Two Writing Teachers for this opportunity to share a slice of my life.