We will re-open on June 4th for the Summer Semester. Thank you and have a nice break!
Conferencing with Students
Students have a variety of backgrounds and prior communication experiences when they come to class. The following suggestions will help you work with individual or small groups of students.
Here are some suggestions for one-to-one conferences with students:
- Clearly "own" your messages by using first person singular pronouns: I, my. This stance conveys clearly that you are taking responsibility for ideas and feelings you are expressing.
- Make your messages complete and specific. Include the necessary context, the assumptions you are making, and the purpose for the conversation.
- Make your verbal and nonverbal messages congruent. Take care that your nonverbal communication does not contradict your verbal statements.
- Be redundant. Consider repeating your key point more than once. Do this by using a variety of channels of communication (pictures and writing as well as speech) for reinforcement.
- Ask for feedback concerning the way your messages are being received.
- Make sure your feedback is helpful and nonthreatening.
- Focus your feedback on the person's behavior, not on personality.
- Focus your feedback on descriptions rather than on judgments.
- Focus your feedback on a specific situation rather than on abstract behavior.
- Focus your feedback on the "here and now" not on the "there and then."
- Focus your feedback on sharing your perceptions and feelings rather than on giving advice.
- Do not force feedback on other people.
- Do not give people more feedback than they can understand at the time.
- Make the message appropriate to the receiver's frame of reference. Keep in mind your listener's prior experiences and levels of expertise as you shape your message.
- Describe your feelings by name, action, or figure of speech. Being descriptive will help communicate your feelings clearly.
- Describe other people's behavior without evaluating or interpreting. If you have a criticism, focus on the problematic behavior rather than on evaluation of the person.
Addressing Writing Anxiety
Writing anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways: a student may procrastinate, complain about the assignment, or write a tremendous amount in a futile effort to write a flawless paper. Your own experiences may help you work with the student. For example,
- discuss your own strategies for approaching writing.
- remind the student that writing takes time and that it is an ongoing process.
- suggest that the student break the problem assignment into a series of manageable chunks in order to gain a sense of accomplishment. Combining this strategy with a set schedule and specific deadlines is often very helpful.
- encourage students to establish an award system for themselves as they progress through the writing assignment that is making them anxious.
- stress that early drafts of the paper should be rough, with a focus on substance rather than style and mechanics. Only later should the student expend time on the stylistic aspects of the document.
Helping Basic Writers
Basic writers are likely to be uncomfortable with the form and content of academic writing. This is not to say that these students lack intelligence; in fact, they may demonstrate extensive understanding of the course material in class discussions. However, their prior experience causes them to see academic writing as a threat instead of a means of communication. They may operate with a set of grammar rules distinct from standard English, and they may not understand how to show relationships among the ideas they are trying to write about. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors suggests ways that tutors can support these students. Several of the tips are useful for discipline-specific teachers too.
- Recognize that these students are likely to feel very frustrated with their academic work.
- Discuss the function of drafts to help students understand that all drafts need not be flawless.
- Assist them in understanding how to make crucial message connections by explaining to them what you think they are trying to say. They will learn from your sentence structure, and you will clarify what they are trying to communicate.
- Suggest that they use a tape recorder, playing the recorded statements back to catch coherence and developmental problems.
- Comment on punctuation problems in the context of the clarity of the sentence.
- Select a few problems to target each conference. Too much information or too many suggestions can be overwhelming.
Working with Learning Disabilities
A learning disability is an interference to learning caused by some sort of problem processing or perceiving information. If you receive documentation that a student has a recognized learning disability, discuss with the student the learning style that has been effective to date and, to the extent feasible, use a similar style.
The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors suggests the following responses to specific strategies:
- If students function best using visual strategies, work from written material and encourage them to write down key points;
- If students work well using auditory strategies, suggest that the student read instructions aloud;
- If students work well with movement, encourage underlining or highlighting of notes, and promote physical outlining by having students write key points on post-it notes which they will rearrange for effective organization.
- In conference with these students, have them point out on the paper or in the text what you are discussing with them.
Cooper, P.J. Speech Communication for the Classroom Teacher. Scottsdale, AZ: Gorsuch Scarisbrack, 1991.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford Books (St. Martin's Press), 1994.