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The Resistant Student

On occasion, a student will walk into the Writing Center looking for help, but only on certain things and in certain ways. The resistant student is often relatively confident about their writing and/or is uncertain of the tutor’s ability to help them. Here the Writing Fellow is called upon to be carefully assertive.

What characterizes the resistant student?

A student can resist their tutor’s suggestions for several reasons and this resistance can manifest itself in various ways. Sometimes the student is tired of writing the paper and wants the Fellow to do the work. These students will generally make demands like “can you just read it and see if it makes sense” or “can you just tell me which idea better?” Other students will want to focus on one thing, for instance their structure, and will avoid doing anything that has to do with a different aspect, like their thesis. Still other students will reject most of the suggestions you make, which can be some combination of frustrating and unsettling for the Fellow. These students are not trying to be rude or excessively stubborn (although stubbornness can factor in), they just have a set idea of what they want and may not see that there is more to the picture.

How can we help this student?

As tutors it is our job to expand that picture. Strategies will vary depending on the reason for the student’s resistance, but here are a few ideas. For the student who is tired of working, be equally stubborn about not wanting to work. If you need to say it blatantly, you can: “I know how frustrating it is to work on a paper for a long time, but I really can’t do any part of it for you as it is your paper with your ideas in it.” Try to come of as reasonable rather than critical. For the student who is stuck on one aspect of their paper, try to help them with that first, but if there is something really pressing you might point out that in order for their concern to be fixed they will have to work on a separate part first. However, if the student is very set on this one part and it seems like a reasonable thing to focus on then go ahead and work on it, as they did come to have that specifically looked at.

For the student who rejects your ideas, ask them if they see a better alternative. Take time to re-evaluate your suggestion and be willing to yield to the student as it is their paper. If it seems like your suggestion would help the paper along most, explain why you think it’s an important thing for the student to work on. Again, be reasonable without being too forceful, the student here does not seem to trust your opinion and thus wants to understand the base for it. If they still reject it, don’t push it, perhaps they are right to do so, or if they are wrong they perhaps need to learn that the long way.

In summary, be assertive but not pushy, and always be ready to explain your reasoning. In many cases the student will become more receptive as you persist in this, and in cases where they don’t recognize that you can and should only do so much to help.

See also Working with Problem Students.