Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Reflections on Kairos (in the Writing Center) Part II

In my last post, I wrote about my initial reflections of kairos. I used examples from all over the cultural landscape to explain how I understand the concept of kairos. It seems to be everywhere, and, to a certain degree, it seems to be contained in everything we do.

In this post, I'm still focusing on kairos, but instead of focusing on the role and influence it plays outside the writing center, I am going to focus on the role it plays inside the writing center when a consultant and a writer introduce themselves and begin a session.

According to Carl Glover of Mount St. Mary's University, the initial assessment of a tutor must balance several different exigencies, each one related in some way to the cultivation of kairos for that particular session. As a tutor or consultant, I need to quickly assess the following:
1. Time constraints.
2. The needs of the client (the writer).
3. The demands of the assignment.
4. The kairos of the paper itself.

If a student walks into a writing center at Noon with an 2000 word poetry analysis assignment due at 12:30, and he only has twenty-two words written down, it's not the sort of circumstance that will create an auspicious environment for kairos.

Kairos is subject to certain temporal laws of nature, just as humans beings are. A student who has not left himself adequate time to complete an assignment will probably be too psychologically distracted either from anxiety or from regret to experience a kairotic moment, no matter how talented a consultant might be. Thus, when hunting for kairos, a writing consultant must be aware of how much daylight he has left. If twilight is near, he must be realistic about his opportunities.

When a writer comes to a writing center, presumably he has needs that the writing center can help him to satisfy. Some of the needs or desires a writer may have can be elicited from him during the check-in process by asking some initial questions. For example, you might ask: "Have you ever visited the writing center before?"

This will indicate whether or not the student has any experience at all with the writing center and its philosophy. Another question that will help to clarify the needs or desires of a writer during the check-in procedure might be: "Have you ever been to the writing center for this assignment before?" This question can help the consultant avoid repeating material that the student may have already covered satisfactorily. Without this information, a consultant may unintentionally make a student feel uncomfortable by beginning the session in a place the student does not want to begin at. If the student is shy, polite, or intimidated, he may not speak up. Instead, he might get quiet and distracted thus undermining the potential for any future kairotic moments.

The consultant needs to understand what the student's assignment instructs him to do. If he doesn't have this information, it would be very difficult to cultivate any kairos. If the student is expected to examine two sides of a controversial issue and argue for one of the sides, then the consultant needs to keep this rhetorical purpose in mind. The consultant can help cultivate a kairotic moment by asking the student questions that are pertinent to the purpose of the assignment. The questions the consultant asks for this assignment will probably be different than the questions the consultant asks a student who brings in an assignment for a personal narrative essay. Knowing the professor's instructions is an important part of generating kairos in the writing center.

Sometimes a student may have his best ideas buried in the second paragraph. As the consultant reads the paper out loud to the student, he should looking for sentences or ideas that could be used to drive further discussion with the student. If the student's best ideas are expressed by a sequence of two sentences in the second paragraph, and if the consultant can identify this feature of the student's paper, then perhaps the situation would be ideal for kairos. Some students may resist the suggestion to wholly revise the entire paper, but some may be excited by the prospect of improving their writing by starting over.

A writing consultant must quickly establish the restrictions which impound any single session. These restrictions are, in the words of Carl Glover, "a balance between the abilities of the client and the demands of the paper" (16).  It is only after these contingencies have been assessed and understood by the consultant that the session can be expected to produce any kairos.

However, because every session is a dynamic enterprise of negotiation and interpretation, the mere satisfaction of a stipulated number requirements will never guarantee kairos. Its achievement can never be reduced to a set of instructions or directions. Instead, the consultant must always look for its beacon. Once the dim pulse is apprehended, then you must be ready to follow it.

After introductions have been made, reading a student's paper out loud is the preferred technique to commence a session at the writing center that I work at. This allows for both the writer and the consultant to actively engage the material the student has written.

Learning how to guide the process toward kairos is more an art than a science, but it does seem like focusing on grammatical mistakes or colloquialisms should be avoided. This recommendation may not hold in cases where a student is fixated on grammatical mistakes, but as a general rule it seems sound.

As the paper is being read, the consultant may pause occasionally to ask the writer questions. It's during these interrogative moments that the consultant needs to be on high alert.  Is the student making eye-contact with you? How long does the student take to begin to answer the question you have asked? Do you notice any change in the student's posture or in the student's tone of voice? Does the student seems perplexed by your question, if so, how does the student respond to this complexity? Does the student get quiet and disengage or does the student become more loquacious and engaged?

All these different questions have answers that affect how a consultant may diagnose the imminent likelihood of a kairotic moment. No consultant is perfect in his diagnoses; but, the goal of a consultant should be to improve our ability to diagnose as accurately and consistently as possible these potential kairotic moments.

Here's a link that could provide some helpful information.

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