You are slouched down in your chair, your notebook and pencils already put away in your backpack. Watching the clock, you idly wonder what the Caf is serving for lunch today and if it will be any good. The professor’s next words drive those thoughts out of your head:
“You are going to have to write a paper on this, and it will be due in two weeks.”
You suddenly sit up straighter and take the assignment sheet that your seat neighbor has handed you, scanning it desperately to figure out just what the professor wants. At first glance, it does not seem to make much sense, so you put it away in your backpack for later.
Hours later, you take the assignment sheet back out and study it. Only to find that it makes no more sense than it did the first time.
Situations like the one you have just run into are unfortunately common and, strange as it may sound, the teachers who give the assignment understand and are taking steps to help you.
One of these steps is Lunch & Learn, an event that partners faculty members and teachers with students like you who work in the writing center as peer tutors.
“Lunch & Learn” is an event sponsored by the library to promote faculty growth and communication with students. What first began as a small meeting in a cafeteria has grown to be accepted and endorsed by the Faculty board. When “Lunch & Learn” met on January 28 of this year, it included four English professors: Mr. White, Dr. Price, Dr. Jordan, and Dr. Melancon, along with a professor from the music department, Dr. Fortenberry of the graduate education and management department, and Dr. Meadors of the Philosophy and English department. As can be seen from the numerous types of departments, this initiative is campus wide.
To represent the student side of things, Christiana, Samantha, Casey, and I attended the event. I am glad to have had the privilege of being a part of this unique workshop because the experience was one of the best of my career as a tutor.
The proceeding began with food and small talk among the attendees. For me, the greatest part of this was not the food (though anything that gives me the excuse to eat cookies or Sun Chips is welcome) but the friendly environment. The students and the faculty mixed effortlessly, chatting like old friends rather than as teachers and students.
This atmosphere continued as the serious part of the conference began with Dr. Steve Price, an English Writing professor and Director of the MC Writing Center, sharing words of wisdom from Engaging Ideas by John C. Bean. Dr. Kerri Jordan, who is also an English Writing professor, then presented an assignment sheet from an English 101 class, and the student tutors gave comments on it and how it could be improved.
We found some of the wording to be vague and also remarked that the list of questions provided on the sheet would cause students to think that their writing had to be direct responses to the questions clumped together in a list format. These remarks were well received by Dr. Jordan and all of the faculty.
The last comment on Dr. Jordan’s evaluation would prove to be instructional for me, though, as tutors were paired off to work with various faculty members individually on specific assignment sheets.
My own session began with my faculty partner handing me an assignment sheet which I then read over and asked questions about. I was like any other student who might be given it in class.
Surprisingly, the biggest change that needed to be made had also shown up in the earlier evaluation of Dr. Jordan’s sheet. To avoid misunderstanding, both assignments had a list of questions for the students to answer inside of their papers.
If you are a student reading this or even if you are a teacher whose student days are long behind them, you may have encountered many such assignments. I can tell you that being given such a list is intimidating and makes a student feel like they have been handed a checklist rather than a prompt for a paper. So the natural response is to fill out the checklist, not write an argumentative paper.
When given a problem like this with multiple questions, however, here is what I do and what I did when I was talking to my faculty partner about the paper.
Look at the list of questions and group them as best you can by similarity. Using that, you can figure out the gist of what the teacher wants and form the thesis or argument of your paper from there.
By working together with my faculty partner, we realized that the list he gave was ultimately unnecessary and that there was an easy way to show what it was he was looking for.
That means that there is one less class, probably a few less given that there were other tutors working with faculty on similar sheets, that will land on the desk of a student like you and confuse you.
It is all thanks to the cooperation between faculty and students. Programs like Lunch & Learn are invaluable to both of these groups, and I hope that there will be more of them in the future.
If you do end up with an assignment sheet that is causing you to scratch your head, though, come visit the writing center to find classmates who have been there and can assist you in solving your conundrum.
We will always be there for you!