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Thursday, September 27, 2007

I'm sorry, I have no words to express what i know

in our intro class we've talked a lot about ELL students and how to manage the consultations in the most productive manner...i felt prepared. I felt ready. I got slammed with insecurities today. I had a student, who is from Russia, studying at bsu on a fellowship. He spoke English very well. When I'd ask questions about areas of the paper i found confusing he was more than able to articulate his intent to me. But, the writing itself was confusing and full of grammatical errors. Furthering the confusion on the sentence level, was his choice of phrases. He used "by the way of," in the the terms of "in consideration of." many phrases native speakers understand inherently. While his sentences were not incorrect, they were not "standard" English. As a tutor where do i stand? correct his correct sentences. I told him they were awkward phrases to native speakers, not normally used in the fashion he was applying them. But, he wasn't wrong...
of course there was the grammatical issues that native speakers have no problems with. He did not use articles in the proper way. I tried to explain, in a text book fashion why his use of them were incorrect, but i wasn't very coherent. Articles, the differences between that and which/of and for, ran throughout his paper. I had no intellectual means to help him. I found myself admitting that i didn't know why they were wrong, i just knew, and i simply told him when to use what...
i wonder if the simple fixing of errors that run throughout the paper, can be beneficial to the writer. It's possible that he himself can start to see the differences by observing the several cases in which each edit was made. Are seeing patterns enough to help the student, or am I convincing myself i helped when all i did was dictate?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just curious as to your thoughts...

Hello,

Well, I had my first and second consultations yesterday, and I think that they both went pretty well considering that I’m new at this whole thing and all. My first consultation was with a non-traditional student working on a journal entry for her ongoing class journal—each journal entry encompasses the class readings for the week, and is also to include her reflection upon them. She expressed that she’s had this professor before and always received good grades, but that this professor’s new graduate student grades the entries very critically. She seemed very upset about this and told me that she’s being marked down for her use of passive sentences. She then told me she didn’t know what a passive sentence was, and asked me if they are grammatically incorrect—this stumped me a bit. Passive sentences aren’t grammatically incorrect, but unless used vary the stylistic approach or to overemphasize something other than the subject, they can be tough for a reader to get through. I explained my personal viewpoint on this subject, and she looked at me like I made no sense (I’m sure I didn’t—I’m really bad at that sometimes), so we read through her essay a second time and I paused at every passive sentence (I think there was only five or so in the entire page and a half). We talked about why it was passive and how flipping the sentence around would make it more direct—an active sentence. I think that we spent 20 minutes of the 30-minute consultation talking about the passive sentences within her paper, when she originally came in to get feedback on the overall organization of the piece. Although we only were able to dedicate 10 minutes of the consultation on the organization, I think that we were both satisfied with our time spent together.

Throughout my discussion with her, I couldn’t help but get this "fix-it-shop" idea out of my head—I felt a fear creeping through me, one of fostering this stigma. I was able to put this fear aside only because we were discussing aspects that she was truly curious about—her questions drove the consultation, and I didn’t feel as if I was "fixing" anything. I felt that we were looking at how passive sentences worked within the context of her style, her message—her paper. And she made the only marks on the journal entry. What do you think? Have you had similar experiences within your sessions? Would you have handled this situation differently?

Just curious as to your thoughts on this…

Assignments

As a student and a new tutor, I can’t help but think about particular assignments that professors have given out to my peers and me. Sometimes I feel as though I have completed my fair share of essays and writings that have, in the end, led me to question what purpose was served to complete them. To make this feeling even worse, some of them become so structured and restricted that I feel like I am simply filling in the blanks like I would on a math test. When I am finished, I turn it in with my name on it and get some sort of grade for an assignment that I feel like the professor actually did more work in preparing than I did answering. It seems sometimes that some professors are giving out assignments that blatantly follow a set of guidelines and instruct you to do the same. Where is the productivity in that?
I know that we have all felt like this before, and will continue to feel like this many times in our life. It seems so easy to jump on the bandwagon and say that professors and the institution are trapping us in cages and taming our otherwise flourishing abstract and cultural nature into university standardized robots. It seems too easy to categorize many of the policies of the particular institution we attend or professor with which we study into an anti-progress, anti-individual expression, hugely boring bombardments of accepted rhetoric and pedagogies. I may even have been inclined earlier in my college career to jump right on and say, “Screw the assignments! We are all adults here, and we don’t need worksheet-type essays to go home with and fill in the blanks. We need the professors to give us ideas and let us roll from there, in which ever way or style we want.” I suppose this seems like a good idea, and I think it is necessary for some particular classes to let us go about this method. I am a huge advocate of individualized study and will agree that individualizing one’s work is an immensely important thing. However, when we get right down to criticizing everything the university does along with its professors, I feel like we forget the very simple fact that they are not stupid.
We have to bear in mind that professors and the policy makers are very well educated people. Most have about four to eight years of schooling behind them and are charged with a mission at the end of it. That mission is to teach. Unless a professor simply falls asleep through the class and honestly does nothing, I think we need to watch how critical we are of their assignments.
Anyways, what does this have to do with the writing center? I think that sometimes we may look at an assignment a student carries in and think how ridiculous it is that that student was assigned it. What does this have to do with this course? Why is it so structured? The student probably will agree with us on that. I just think we may need to realize that there is most definitely a purpose behind that assignment, whether we can see it or not. I remember a math teacher of mine in high school telling the class about the nursing program at BSU. Apparently there was a very difficult math class you had to take in order to graduate with a nursing degree. What the heck? Well he said that the class has nothing to do with the practice of nursing, but had everything to do with weeding out those who did not truly want to be in nursing.

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I’m hoping this makes sense to whoever reads it. It is something I think about when I hear people in the halls say how worthless certain assignments or classes are.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Letting Go

Yesterday was my first day actually taking consultations. I wasn't nervous or uncomfortable, in fact I felt quite relaxed. Two of the three consultations were about APA formatting, which always has its own challenges, but were fairly straight forward and easy to address. My third (actually the second if we are going in order) was about an essay test. The student had a handwritten draft of the essay and was obviously frantic about the piece... I wonder if she was more stressed over the anxiety of taking the exam. She said she needed help, a lot of help. I asked her what specifically she wanted to look at and she said everything. She showed me an outline that another student (I am assuming a higher level student in her major) had given her to work from.

We started by reading her paper aloud, then I asked her questions about following the outline and how the paper didn't seem to line up that way and if that was intentional. She said no so we worked on that a bit. Then we were trying to work on the transitions between paragraphs and we ran out of time. At the end of the session I asked her more about the exam, if she was supposed to bring the paper to the exam already written? She said no, she had to memorize it. At this point I was thinking, "Why didn't you tell me that?" All those little details that go into writing a paper should be put on the back burner and just focus on the big ideas. Who cares if she has good paragraph transitions? (Well, I guess this is important, but in the context of an exam, I doubt this is what the prof is looking for). We should have focused more on the specifics of what she was going to include in her paper to make sure she was meeting all of the points.

Obviously, this really bothered me - of course I didn't really get to start thinking about until the end of the day when I was already at home. I felt bad because at the end of the session she was asking if I could help her more but she was already scheduled with two other tutors and the next time I would be working would be too late. In hindsight, I could have emailed the other tutors or talked to them in person to give them a heads up so they hopefully wouldn't get stuck in the same path I did. I think I did help her get some of her ideas more focused so I suppose I did do my job. But it still bothers me. I wish I would have had more time to work with her. Maybe we should set up some kind of notification system for students who we know are going to be returning to the writing center to get help from another tutor...

Hope, Optimism, and Awkwardness

Coming straight off my Noise From the Writing Center high, I arrived for my after-class shift at the writing center yesterday a little fuzzy. Should I be hopeful about my sessions today or should I be optimistic? How much control do I really have between the two?

My first session was my most awkward seesion ever. Perhaps I had been getting too optimistic about things, perhaps my optimism turned into blind pride, I don't know the session didn't satisfy the writer's or my optimistic outlooks.

The student was working on a complicated research proposal, and seemed well-acquainted with the center. I started to feel self-conscious right away, when he pointed to a veteran consultant and asked his name, so that he could make an appointment with him next time. Looking back, it really was a good question, he probably had worked really well with that consultant before (he's a great consultant) and wanted to continue with that dynamic. But of course, in the moment, I felt like the writer was already brushing me off, before our session even started. My awkwardness set me back, and I worked timidly through the consultation, not wanting to fail. (Perhaps my optimism trampled over hope and landed smack dab in some pessimism). We worked on revising sentence structure and proofreading errors even though we both seemed to want to move towards more global challenges with his research proposal as a whole. In forty-five minutes we never got there.

After the consultation I shook off my self-consciousness, my optimism, my pessimism, and just hoped for a good next session--and it was excellent. Was it my mind shift between optimism and hope? I don't know. Was it a fluke? I hope not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Writing Center Brings New Experiences

I knew coming into this semester that I would be faced with challenges and many new experiences. Starting my internship with the Writing Center would guarantee it. I anticipated meeting new people, interacting with peers in a different way than in class, and stretching myself between 19 credits, a part time job, and a dog named Lucy who requires constant my- hand-to-her-head contact.

My biggest concern coming into the Writing Center was assisting ESL and ELL students. In E303, I have paid great attention to discussions that center around this topic and struggled to believe whether I am qualified to help these students or not. Interestingly enough, my very first hour observing in the Writing Center I sat down with Melissa, a seasoned tutor and Tom, an ESL student. How serendipitous.

Tom, a junior standing marketing major, brought in a memo for his Business Comm class. Mostly concerned with sentence construction and grammar, Melissa began by reading the assignment sheet provided by the prof. She then had the student read his two page, handwritten memo aloud. Afterwards, she pointed out a few areas where the sentences didn't agree or wording sounded awkward.

Most times, Tom eagerly interrupted Melissa to correct his errors. For instance Melissa said "The word people is plural so..." Tom quickly chimed in "so it should be 'are', not is!". Sitting opposite Tom at the desk taking notes, I felt a sense of pride. I was proud of him for learning this second language that I take for granted. I mentally noted his junior standing and acknowledged his efforts to gain a degree in a language base other than his native one. It also reminded me of my time learning French. I suddenly didn't feel so separated from ESL/ELL students.

After Tom left, I went to enter his information into the WC database. His native language is Norwegian. His ethnicity is Asian. What challenges he faces daily in this English university. He conquers daily too, from what I saw.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Thoughts on the Issue of Control

Hello all,

While reading through Lundsford’s essay Collaboration in the Writing Center, I found myself very fond of the "The Center as Garret" model of the writing center—in love with its ideologies in fact—a true "Romantic" I suppose. I do strongly believe in "individualism" and "individual ‘genius’ (48). Perhaps this directly stems from my own experience in writing, in my previous conversations with writers, and in my deep-seated love of all forms of writing and its ability to enable individual expression—whatever the reason, I believe that I may be a true Garretarian. Now, according to Lundsford this poses a problem when attempting to foster a true "collaboration." As seen in her essay, Lundsford "challenges" the "Storehouse Center" and "The Garret Center" ideologies by offering up a third option for consulting, the "Burkean Parlor Center" (51). Although I agree with Lundsford’s idea of making a center’s overall ideology "Burkean," I tend to disagree with her underlying implication that the individual consultants under this Burkean umbrella must neutralize their individual beliefs in order to adequately fit this model.

Lundsford suggests that within the Burkean Model control is always "negotiated and shared" (52). Yet on the other hand, as is discussed on page 48, control within the Garret model is given to the "individual student knower" (51). Under the Burkean Model this appointment of control wouldn’t be appropriate; I personally believe that this initial appointment of control is needed in order to have a successful consultation—the paper is the student’s after all, and it’s important that they feel in complete control of it. Now, if that student feels that the control needs to be shifted back onto the consultant (me in this instance), in order to feel comfortable within the consultation, I personally would accept it in order to get at the individual’s confidence and at their personal interest in the piece. Yes, under these circumstances there would be a shifting of control, but perhaps it needn’t be ‘negotiated’ or ‘shared’ throughout the consultation if letting this control reside within one of the two persons warranted positive results for the individual and for the consultant.

What’s your personal stance on the issue of control?

What do you think about this ideology?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thoughts on . . . achieving writing agency?

In “A Cultural Studies Agenda” Marilyn Cooper writes, “what they [tutors] know about institutional constraints is true and important, they also need to help students understand that if they are to achieve agency in writing, they must learn how to challenge these constraints productively in the service of their own goals and needs” (MS 59).

At the conclusion of my literacy narrative, I had imagined that, in the sixth grade, “I learned that whatever your argument or perspective is, the right format can allow you to express it.”

Even if this were true, students often don’t have a lot of choice regarding format. At times, the challenge is to express yourself within someone else’s chosen format. Even when the assignment is fairly open to interpretation, it can be difficult to do just that. As a student you ask not only, “What do I want to say and how can I get my point across?” but also, “How can I complete the assignment most effectively?” (That last question includes concern for achieving the best grade.)

As I was looking through old assignments to submit a writing sample to Mike, I remember thinking, “These essays would have been so much better if I had just written what I really thought.” But they had still been a good exercise in writing. Perhaps you have to know the rules before you can break the rules? Can you ever really successfully break the rules in academic writing? Maybe you can manipulate them, or work within them to serve your purpose? I could critically examine what I’d written then and contemplate what I’d write today that would still meet the requirements of the assignment. It hadn’t even been the format that had stifled me, it was just that I was overly conscious of what I thought my argument was expected to be.

I can also remember having a conference over one of those essays with the professor, in which he asked thought-provoking questions, which I deftly dodged until he firmly said, “This is what you need to do . . .” It was what I needed to do, given my approach, but the whole approach was insincere. It wasn’t really my point of view and that’s why I was having that resistance. It wasn’t a matter of cultural differences, but of personal ones. When you come up against resistance in writers, how far do you question that? (Do you assume that they just don’t understand the requirements of the assignment and what they “need to do”?)