I once got into an argument while conferring with a young writer. I wanted him to revise an informational text he drafted about his dog. He thought his draft was fine and needed no revisions. I thought it lacked sufficient information. Our conversation went something like this:
Brian: "Perhaps you should talk about what your dog looks like."
Boy: "He's a pit bull."
Brian: "I know. You told us that. But what does he look like? What color? What kinds of features does his have?"
Boy: (sarcastically) "I think people know what a pit bull looks like."
Brian: "Do they? Aren't pit bulls all sorts of colors? Don't they all look a little different?"
Boy: "Sure. I don't know. Mine was just a regular pit bull."
He wasn't budging. So I moved to another page--a page in which he talks about what his dog ate every day. His page simply said, "My pit bull has two bowls. One bowl has dog food. His other bowl has water."
Brian: "Why kind of dog food does he eat?"
Boy: "I don't know." (With a bit of attitude) "Dog food."
Brian: "I know. What what's the brand of dog food? Purina, which is brown, looks a lot different than Beneful, which has chunks of green and orange for carrots and peas."
Boy: "I don't know. Jeez. Fine, BROWN dog food!"
Brian: "I'm suggesting these small changes because it makes it clearer for readers. If you want to inform your reader about what you feed your dog, it's important to be
Boy: "Fine. Whatever. What do you want me to do? Want me to just write Purina in there?"
Brian: "I really want you to care about the reader. But I'm not sure you do right now."
He was frustrated. I asked him to revise and he wasn't interested--which began to frustrate me.
I'm sometimes confronted with this question: What do I do with a writer who doesn't want my help? Typically, conferences are positive transactions. Through questioning, writers usually discover they can make tweaks or bigger revisions because they want their writing to sing. But, if I'm being honest, some conferences are battles. I'm battling a writer's fatigue, his disinterest, her lack of purpose and audience, his low self-esteem. I'm battling a desire to just get the writing done.
During these times I have to re-evaluate my role as a conferrer. If I am a guide for the writer-- a fellow writer offering advice--then should I make demands? Or, do I need to simply step back and say, "Hey buddy. This is your piece of writing. I'm just offering suggestions. Whether you want to use them or not is up to you. I'm just trying to help you see this from the viewpoint of a reader."
I know I'm right about his insufficient details, but do I continue to argue? He just wants to finish, so he argues that he's done. But does that make him right?
Sometimes conferring is presented as an enlightenment--an awaking for writer and teacher. And sometimes it's just hard, exhausting, mentally-fatiguing work.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.