Wednesdays and Fridays I meet with students from Nigeria who are here through the government sponsored program I mentioned in this previous post. While I was a consultant at SCSU’s Write Place I had several clients I saw on a regular basis and one developed into a twice per week appointment. It is a completely different experience to meet with someone on a regular ongoing basis as opposed to a one off appointment. Those one time only appointments can still stick with you and you wonder how the student did on their assignment but you never get to ask. You may work with them on a specific issue they have with their writing but you never see them progress through it and overcome that little niggling bit holding their writing back.
However, it is a privilege to meet with students on a regular basis. You get to know their issues and help them work through and beyond them. I have found that sometimes once the trust builds up, you can have good conversations with a client about why they may have used this word in a sentence. When it gets really fun is when the trust builds up over time and you spend time not just working on a particular piece of writing but questions about writing style in general.
Today I had a 90 minute appointment with one of my semester long regulars. We are coming to the end of the term and many assignments are coming due in the next couple of weeks. We had already met a couple of times about this assignment and he’s very motivated to learn, not just complete assignments. He completed the English Skills Program last semester and is now in regular university courses. Our first meeting a few weeks ago, we reviewed the assignment outline closely. The instructor gave a detailed rubric and examples on Harvard Referencing (yay! a new one to learn!). We went through the instructions in detail, I read them out loud and he asked me to stop and explain if he didn’t understand a term.
Then we talked about the length and structure of the paper. This paper was supposed to be about 6-7 pages long and he had never written a paper close to that length before. So, we focused on the structure of the paper so he didn’t feel overwhelmed by the length. I still find it helpful to only focus on sections at a time rather than thinking about writing the complete paper all at once. Anyway, I described in detail what each section should be like. What should or should not be in the introductions, conclusion and body of the paper. He felt a bit more at ease with the task when he left even if he was still daunted by the prospect.
So, today when we met he had the final rough draft for us to sit down and review together. He was over the word limit for the paper but he was turning in a paper copy so I thought we had a bit of wiggle room. We were able to trim a 1/2 page from the total length of his paper but he was still over the word count by a smidge. The main issues with his writing were verb tense agreement, wordiness, and run-on sentences, random capitalization, not quoting properly, and then some issues with the Harvard citiations.
As we were working on his paper it was a collaborative effort. We took turns reading his work aloud, but it is difficult when English is really only the language at school. He speaks four languages but really, English is used only for academics. Although he told me that his brother is in the US and it is his dream to move there. His assignment for when we see each other again is he has to tell me where his brother lives in the US because today he couldn’t tell me. So, he does have a motivating reason to improve his English language skills.
By then end of our time together today he was reenergized, while I was pooped! He told me that he’s never received good marks on his written work at university and today he felt hopeful. When he left he had to quick write a cover page and correct his reference page. I must admit, I’m going to be thinking about his paper for the next week and holding my breath until he gets his grade because I feel invested.