Recalcitrance, Resistance, and . . . Frustration

All writing center appointments and workshop groups go swimmingly, right?

A student comes in with a clear desire to revise her work, a copy of the assignment sheet, and a willingness to listen. She’s greeted by a tutor or workshop mentor who’s open, caring, and knowledgeable–who asks smart questions and makes useful suggestions–and they work together for a full hour, trading ideas and small talk and getting deeper and deeper into the draft until they’re both immersed in its arguments. After an hour, they both depart with smiles on their faces, having crafted a plan for revising that seems sensible and responsive to what the instructor asked. It’s so easy!

Of course, that’s an exaggeration. We may have lots of very successful sessions! You could probably point to a lot of times so far this semester when you know you helped someone. But many times they don’t seem to go very well–or they really crash and burn. And when they do it could be for dozens of different reasons. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina comes to mind: “”Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

So today, after our presentation from Jasmine, Gil, and Julie, we’ll delve into some role-playing to think through what we might do in tough situations. I think this will be a fun exercise. It’ll get us back into the swing of things, and as I’ll discuss toward the end of class it’s a good model for what I expect out of your next two observation papers.

This is volunteer-only! It’ll be organized like this:

  • I’ll lead discussion on the kinds of things that could make for a frustrating session in the writing center. Some from the readings, some from you all!
  • From this we’ll establish some inferences about what might be going on. What might tutees be feeling or thinking? What behaviors of tutors and mentors might contribute to the communication impasse? (We’re not going with types of people here; no stereotyping allowed. Instead let’s talk about feelings, emotions, or beliefs about writing or learning that could lead to unsatisfactory sessions)
  • We’ll end up with two columns: tutees, tutors/mentors.
  • Volunteer time! You can grab a partner and role-play a SITUATION you’ve experienced before, or you can select the role of TUTOR or TUTEE
  • WARNING! If you don’t volunteer I will step in. I would LOVE to play a tutee, and expect me to behave horribly or try to throw you for a loop!

But here’s the thing: after seeing a few minutes of a made-up session, all play-acting, I’ll stop it and ask you all to get into groups of 3-4. True to the spirit of a good peer critique, please work in groups to answer the following three questions:

  • DESCRIBE: What did you see? What happened and how would you describe it?
  • EVALUATE: How good or useful was the exchange? What seemed to go wrong, and when?
  • SUGGEST: What could the tutor have done? What could the tutee have done? What would have kept this session from running off the rails?

Use today’s readings when you can. I will too. Fun!


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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