What Does Difficulty Mean in the Writing Tutorial?
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One year I tutored a student almost weekly. K wrote with little understanding of her topics and less of English grammar. In our first session the following year, she told me that she was enrolled in two third-year Sociology courses and was under academic warning: she needed a C+ average to remain at York. She wanted help with an essay in her course kit that she had volunteered to summarize in a seminar, but then found she did not understand. It was written in fairly demanding sociological prose, and I found a more readable essay in the kit and recommended she change to it. Then I went back to the first essay to see what in particular she didn’t understand. I asked her if she had looked up the word magnitude. “I don’t have a dictionary,” she said. “You have to buy a dictionary now, this minute,” I said. (When students bring in an essay topic they haven’t understood, because they haven’t looked up key words, I assume panic. It doesn’t occur to me they may not own a dictionary.) K did not return. During that last session what I wanted to say was “You have no chance of passing these courses;” instead I told her to get a dictionary. Did the difficulty lie in K or in me? Sometimes the student is recalcitrant, resistant, inadequate to the task. Sometimes the fault lies with us, tutors who make the process more difficult than it need be.