January 5, 2012 / Street Scene, Ontario / Photograph by Frederic Mercnik / National Geographic's Photo of the Day

I work at the cutting edge of education. In other words, I teach in cyberspace, and I don’t just teach students. I am already at a level where I teach tutors. I need to evaluate their skills every so often, and I have realized one common weakness in some of my tutors: they can’t motivate their students to revise.

The way I see it, motivation is always linked to personal gain. A tutor or any person who wishes to teach his or her students something should be able to offer something that is valuable. This is where benefits come in.

However, most of the tutors that I handle at the moment are not experienced nor conscientious enough to notice this logic. They confuse benefits with functions. For example, they’ll say that a thesis statement is important because the thesis statement summarizes an essay. While that is undoubtedly true, it is totally a function and not a benefit of thesis statements. Just to clarify, thesis statements tell readers that they’re reading something worth while.

Think about it. Think about an essay that makes you think, “What is this guy trying to tell me?” If you find the answer somewhere in the essay — even if it appears at the end, which is not the best place for a thesis statement — well and good, but what if you already know what he or she wrote about? What if you find out that you were misled to read the entire article and never get what you were promised? You’d really think that you’ve wasted your time, right?

Functions just tell the students what a writing tool or skill will do. They are so self-centered that you’ll even notice that selfishness in their sentence structures; the subject will lend itself to a subordinating clause. You’ll find that a statement about a writing tool’s function will just fold back onto itself.

A thesis statement is important because it (<– This pronoun substitutes for “thesis statement.”) summarizes an essay.

On the other hand, benefits are generous little critters because they’ll  name who’ll receive them as gifts; the subjects will readily lend themselves to an object other than itself. It’s either the writer or the reader.

A thesis statement will tell the readers (<– This is where the recipient of the benefit is named.) what the essay is all about, making them figure out if they’d want to read the essay or not.

While this tirade is applicable to almost any kind of writing tool, I realize that a lot of students fail to write thesis statements, so here I am breaking another writing rule — the rule that says not to write and explain the piece of writing. I’ve had to explain this notion to three people already, and they say they get it. I just hope that when I start evaluating those people, they’ll prove to me that they’ve got it ingrained in their heads — that to motivate, they’d need to present benefits and that benefits are different from functions. Otherwise, I would have to slash failing marks in their score sheets. That brings a new meaning to cutting edge, doesn’t it?


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