Learning From The Pros

Blake Reichenbach is a writing consultant-in-training. To complete an assignment for English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice, he reflected on his observation of a session in this blog.

As a new writing consultant and perpetual perfectionist, I was quite excited to be able to observe a session in the writing center that was led by a seasoned veteran. I planned on employing the cliché of “monkey see, monkey do” and pick up a few tactics that I could then replicate in my own session.

In watching Kristie Justice conduct the session, not only did a pick up a handful of tools for conducting writing sessions, but more importantly, her cool demeanor made it easy to recognize the bigger picture around writing assignments.

Arguably the most useful strategy Kristie used is perhaps so simple that it often gets overlooked: take a step back and don’t get overwhelmed.

When page requirements, citation specifications, and a series of twenty questions are all running together with the bolded word ‘essay’ leading their charge across an assignment, the natural reaction tends to include temple rubbing, sighing, and looking at your calendar to see if all of that could possibly be done in a measly two days.

Luckily, as Kristie gracefully displayed, it is not too difficult to subdue such wild prompts. Focusing on one part of the prompt at a time until each part is understood can make all the difference in getting started.

The other main strategy I gleaned as a writing consultant was to explain by having something explained to me. If something was notably complex in the prompt, Kristie would casually ask what it meant. As the writers she met with answered, she would provide clarity or correction as needed, and the writers would simultaneously clear up their own questions through explaining.

Even though the methods I was able to refine by observing Kristie seem all too obvious, I also know that when faced with a particularly complicated writing assignment, I’m more likely to flee to the mind-numbing realm of Facebook than think to do the smart thing and just break it into parts or talk through it with a peer.

Thankfully, it’s incredibly simple to have an “aha” moment (or perhaps an “Oh, duh” moment) when seeing someone else take on a task you have in common.  After all, monkey see, monkey do.

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