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Don’t Be Para-Fazed By It

, | Learning | July 22, 2016

(I work in a campus learning center as a tutor. One thing tutors commonly experience is students who want you to give them the answers or fix their work for them so they can turn it in for a better grade without doing any work themselves. This is one of the reasons we only help students for 15 minutes at a time with the sessions spaced out by rotation, so they don’t become dependent. I am helping a student with a simple reading comprehension exercise and explaining the instructions.)

Me: “Okay, so this exercise is about paraphrasing. The instructions tell you to compare these three phrases to the original and identify which one is the best, which one is too similar to actually count as a paraphrase, and which one contains totally different or incorrect information. Okay?”

Student #1: “Okay.” *pointing* “What should I put for this one?”

Me: “Let’s compare it to the original sentence and decide which one you think it is.”

(The student grumbles at this, but reads through and marks them all “B” for best.)

Me: “Okay, I think you misunderstood. You are going to use each answer once for each problem without repeating. And ‘best’ means ‘better than all the others’, so by definition there can’t be more than one ‘best.’ So let’s try again.”

Student #1: “So I have to erase it and start over?!”

Me: “Well, yes, the problem is done incorrectly. The instructions are to use each answer once. Let’s start by looking for the one that is too different. Which phrase is saying something the first one doesn’t?”

Student #1: *after reading through the phrases again* “This one?”

Me: “Good, we’ve eliminated one.”

Student #1: *marks down ‘B’ for best* “Okay, now what do I put for the next one?”

Me: “Um, you marked that one as the best.”

Student #1: “Yeah, I think it’s the best.”

Me: “…I thought we just agreed that it was saying something totally different than the original.”

Student #1: “Yeah, so?”

(I explain paraphrasing and the instructions again, pointing out the “B”,”TS” and “D” he is supposed to use to mark it. Finally, he seems to understand and marks down a “D”.)

Me: “Okay, so let’s look at the other two. Which one is too similar?”

Student #1: “I think it’s this one. It tells us all the same things as this one up here.”

Me: “Well, remember, it is supposed to contain the same information. If it tells us something completely different then it wouldn’t be a paraphrase. Try comparing the wording between one and two to the original phrase and see which is more similar.”

Student #1: *staring at the page for a moment* “But this is telling us the same things.”

Me: “Yes, a paraphrase is supposed to give you the same information, just worded differently. Does the other example also have the same information?”

Student #1: “I don’t know!”

Me: “Well, try reading it and see—”

Student #1: “Why won’t you just help me? After all that time making me go through the problem would it have been so hard just to tell me I was supposed to mark it as D?”

Me: “I am trying to help, by explaining the instructions and how to follow them so you’ll know what to do when you move on to the other problems.”

Student #1: “Well, if I understood the instructions then I could just do it myself!”

Me: “Exactly. That is the goal. That’s why I’m explaining them to you.”

Student #1: “I came here for help, but you just act like you know everything! I’m never coming back for tutoring and it will be your fault if I fail!”

Me: “I’m afraid your success is not our responsibility, especially if we are not involved. We’re just here to help you do the work, but your grade depends on your effort.”

Student #1: “Whatever. Thanks for nothing!”

Me: “You’re welcome. Have a nice day.”

Student #2: “Geez, do you get people expecting you to hold their hand all the time?”

Me: “I’m afraid my code of ethics prevents me from answering that question.”

Student #2: “Gotcha.”

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