Wednesday, August 29, 2007

After an intense weekend of news editing and laying out, compre marking and the last couple of days of non-stop seeing of individual and small groups of students every hour on the hour with only a short lunch break in between, by this evening I was feeling like I'd been taking meds without actually having taken any.

The year 2 students are on study break, meaning no more formal timetable, but they arrange personal consultations with their subject tutors on a loose per-hour basis, first come, first served. Around this period in previous years, I don't remember ever being so popular. It's probably the nature of this batch, more of whom seem genuinely concerned about doing better about their grades than the earlier batches.

A couple of things I've been repeating today: Despite essay and compre papers looking like pen-and-paper exercises, if we treat them simply as intellectual exercises, we tend to be more interested in what we want to say about the issue rather than address the specific concerns of the person asking the question. We seek our own agenda among the questions offered and pick the one with the closest match, but fail to pay attention to what we are actually being asked. Hence we often miss out on the specific nuances that our chosen question requires us to address. That, in human terms, is just rude.

Instead, a good essayist listens to the questions like there was a real person asking them. Respect the inquirer, seek to understand the situation from the inquirer's perspective, address the inquirer's concerns, and reassure the inquirer that things are not so bad. Even if the essayist has no solutions to the problem, the essayist should at least know of which agencies are taking steps to solve the problem, and make referrals accordingly.

For GP students concerned about formalities like keyword definition, thesis statement construction, and the biggest bugbear, argument "balancing", perhaps the famous Prayer of St Francis might offer some insight and wisdom.

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