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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Appropriation, Not so fast...

I had a consultation with an ELL student today who was very bright. She had a draft prepared and obviously knew what she wanted to say in her paper. The problem was not in her knowledge, it was in her lack of vocabularly and confusion on how to use articles. I have been researching appropriation for my end of term paper and have come to believe that when it comes to ELL students what was commonly thought of approporiation is not always so clear cut. As far as this student was concerned, her ideas were clear - I knew what she was trying to say, as I am sure would her teacher, but a clearer meaning could be reached by sharing some American knowledge. Sometimes I simply said that I thought a "the" or "a" was needed, other times I asked her, and other times (towards the end of our consultation) she figured it out on her own. This was also the case with certain vocabularly she used that was repeated throughout the paper, it wasn't that the word she chose was wrong, it just wasn't as clear as it could be. I suggested an alternate word and she decided to use it. I don't think this is appropriation. The meaning of her writing was never changed.

There was one point that I had to stop myself from speaking and let her figure something out on her own. I started to try to guess what she was trying to say, and I am glad that I stopped myself because she was going in a direction that was not what I had expected. While I believe that tutors should act as cultural informants for non English speaking students, I also think it is important for the tutor to take a step back and let the writer figure things out on their own. Turns out we don't always know everything : )

Monday, October 29, 2007

Writing Consultancy Projects and Links

Dear Friends,

I just joined this cool blogsite, so I have not read through all of the past posts yet. I am in a class for becoming a peer writing consultant at the University of Kansas. I am currently doing a project on online writing and tutoring, with extended topics of collaborative writing and collaborative work of all types. [removed] and [removed] are two sites I have set up for this project. I would love to have you all share your thoughts on any of the discussion questions or posts I have made on these sites. If you want to edit the wiki, you can e-mail me at [removed] and I shall give you the password. I need help making it more collaborative by gathering outside feedback.

Also, starting this week, I am going to be working on an I-Search paper--I am considering discussing the marketing of writing centers, the current mindsets of university members towards them, what has worked and what has not in increasing the number of students that come in, etc. If you have thoughts on that -- also, please post here or comment. Eventually, I will get this section put up on my sites as well.

Thank you so much for your opinions and thoughts.

Warm Regards,
Smita Desai

UPDATE: Smita notes that she is no longer involved in this project.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“How I Write” celebrates five years - The Stanford Daily Online

The Hume Writing Center at Stanford has an interesting project:
“How I Write” conversations interview faculty members, graduate students, journalists and visiting writers on their personal writing processes. There are two or three such events each quarter. “We want to discover the wildly idiosyncratic way of people’s writing,” Obenzinger said of the series." (“How I Write” celebrates five years - The Stanford Daily Online)
It would cool to conduct such a project but expand it out to all students, not just faculty, graduate students, journalists, or visiting writers. I'd particularly like to see peer tutors added to the mix. Perhaps this would be a good podcast episode?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Season 2 of the PeerCentered Podcast

We are kicking off PeerCentered Podcast 2.0 with a recording of a presentation by peer tutors from the University of Maine. It was recorded at last weekend's National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) held at Penn State.

Give it a listen!

If you are interested in creating a podcast episode, contact me at clint.gardner@slcc.edu.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the dual roles of teaching and consulting

I have been tutoring in writing centers for a couple of years, but this semester for the first time I am also teaching an English 101 class. I know that this is a situation a lot of English grad. students find themselves in, and wonder if anyone else has any reflections on this--I feel a little bit like I have a bizarre split personality. When I teach I try to look teacherly by wearing blazers and turtlenecks (because physically I look about age 12) and when I tutor I wear jeans and a hoodie. I knew that I responded differently to writing in these two situations but didn't realize how big the split was until yesterday, when I realized that a student from my Eng 101 class had scheduled a consultation with me. I hadn't told my students they were forbidden from conferencing with me in the writing center--I don't want them to be in any way dissuaded from using the center--but I hadn't prepared myself for actually consulting with them. He was working on a paper for his music history class, and the writing center visit was a requirement made by the teacher. We talked about the paper, and different directions he could go with it, but I felt like he was responding to me as a teacher, not a peer, and I was guiding him like a student, not a peer. Another weird twist to the situation was that he had actually been absent from my class that morning, so when he came in to the writing center and saw that I was the same Elizabeth that taught his class he proclaimed right away, "I was sick, but I slept it off." After we had finished discussing his music paper, he asked me what he had missed in class that day, and we had a mini-teacher/student conference. So--teacher/peer conference/consultation fusion--can it happen? should it be avoided? any awkward/inspiring experiences out there?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Assumptions... those nasty assumptions

I have been known to make some assumptions in my day. Sometimes these are well thought out assumpitions that prove to be true and sometimes they are just fly by the seat of my pants, all too often wrong assumptions. I experienced one of the wrong assumptions on Thursday in my second consultation wtih a student I wil call "Beth" who is of an older generation (what we often call a non-traditional student).

Beth came into the writing center the first time with a health sciences paper in hand, she had booked an hours so we took our time going through the paper, with my explaining APA citations as we went along (a particular concern of hers). In the paper she had stated some facts and cited the reference. I assumed since the information was not in quotations that she had in fact summarized the points and was citing them appropriately. The paper was fairly well written with just minor grammatical errors and errors in APA citations. This past Thursday however, after Beth revealed that she had basically gotten the information from the source, I asked her if she had summarized it or merely taken it word for word without using quotations. I assumed because she was an older student that she knew the difference between using a direct quote and summarizing. I obviously assumed wrong.

I delicately explained to her that if you use a direct quote, it must be contained within quotation marks. I also explained that it would be better if she summarized as the majority of her paper would be direct quotations and this was not something her teacher would appreciate. I don't really feel like she was plagiarizing since she was citing her sources, but she was definitely giving the impression that someone else's words were her own. After I explained things to her she was very willing to change the paper and we went through it and marked the sections that she took word for word to rewrite. We even rewrote one paragraph so I could make sure she understood what I meant.

This student plans to continue working with me on this paper, does anyone have any further suggestions on how to handle this situation?

Has it been that long?

Last week during a class visit, a student asked how many consultations I'd done. I told him that I had no idea, but that I was starting my fifth semester and had worked over two summers.

The question bugged me.

After doing some research, I found how many sessions I'd done:
Today I had my 500th consultation.

I'm not really sure if that means anything, but for all of those sessions, I've never regretted working in the center. I've never heard other consultants complain about work. And I can't believe I've been doing this so long.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sensitive Topics

This blog relates exactly to that of Sarah M., who posted a few days ago. I have consulted with this “Bob” she speaks of twice, he actually mistakenly scheduled with Sarah the week before last. His work was actually creative non-fiction, which was more bothersome to me than it would have been had it been creative fiction. I have been struggling with these consultations since the first one occurred. I have not been sure how to take them, but I too, was pleased with how they occurred in the end. I have talked with Mike about these consultations on several occasions, and he is kind enough to make himself available in the Writing Center whenever Bob comes in, should I feel need to bring him into the consultation.

The extremely sexual nature of his work can be rather bothersome. During the course of the consultations I have engaged in with him, I have felt perfectly fine, being able to distance myself from the content of the text and focus on the formatting, but I have also found myself in positions of discomfort. On the most recent occasion, he asked me if I would read the text aloud, and I tried to ever-so-slyly turn the reading back to him because I could in no way comfortably read the material out loud.

I am not sure what to do with the situation. I have managed to place myself in a position in which I do the best I can to help him. I have been able to refer him to three books over our two consultations, which he has actually purchased and begun to read. I was quite pleased to learn this, that I was able to help him in some way at least.

I worry though, about the other consultations occurring at the same time as his. During my most recent consultation with him, there were several individuals listening in, curious of the content that was involved, and also keeping eye, Mike heard the entire consultation from essentially a couple rooms over, and I worry a little about the other students that come into the Writing Center, and if overhearing might be uncomfortable to them.

Does anyone have any suggestions for ways to make the situations more comfortable, not only for the consultant, but possible other people who might overhear and be bothered?

Cheers to Boise State!

I want to extend thanks to all the Boise State folks who've been blogging about their writing center experiences. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My "Scribe" experience

I had a consultation straight out of a "What not to do while tutoring" manual this week. I walked into the center's waiting room sunshiney after a pleasant and rewarding global revision consultation and immediately became confused. Another consultant had helpfully given a file to who I thought was my next appointment. I waited for her to fill it out, and then walked with her to a small consultation table. After a long stint where she took off her shoe and scratched her foot she informed me that "Bob" would be coming in a half-hour, he was sorry that he couldn't make it. (It was a 60 minute session) I looked at the file and saw that it was, in fact, Bob's file. I asked if they were collaborating on a paper together, and she told me no, she was Bob's scribe, we should probably get started on going over the paper to make sure that it flowed smoothly and didn't have the words "it" and "but" in it.

I was a bit taken aback, proceeding without Bob, but I decided we should pick up and move to a bigger table since there would be three of us meeting when Bob arrived. I assumed that Bob's scribe was someone arranged through disability services--she had talked about it so matter-of-factly. But as our conversation continued (without Bob) and she consistently pushed me to proofread the paper in front of me, I realized that she was probably Bob's mother or something. I was completely confused and taken aback and instead of "Freeze-Framing" the session and calling her out on this paper that she outwardly admitted to writing that had Bob's name on it, I continued to allow her to force me to proofread. Finally, after 50 minutes, Bob showed up. (He had been talking about the paper with his professor!) They fought about things, Bob telling his scribe what she had done wrong, sometimes changing the pronoun "you" to "we" but always slipping back into "you" and the scribe taking offense to the offered suggestions, all the way pushing the paper in front of me to get me to search for more surface errors.

So after 55 confusing minutes I finally toughened up and told the scribe that I wanted to talk to Bob about his paper, and Bob had a couple of valid questions that we discussed, ignoring the comments of the scribe. Who had ownership of this session? Who had ownership of this paper? Who has ownership of my lost self-esteem and confidence? Augh! I felt completely unprepared, and completely (like Sarah) like I brought my this situation upon myself by not stopping it from the beginning. Before this session, I feel I was completely a go-with-the-flow, anti-taking-control consultant, but now I guess I've been baptized into the need for authority. Any suggestions for balance?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Are you really willing to take on any writing challenge?

Here I am posting about a non-event. I had a productive consultation. BUT.

We've talked about the possibility of encountering writers that are working on pieces that have viewpoints strongly opposed to our own, or writers that are developing skills that seem beyond our areas of expertise. I think I'm willing to take on any writing challenge. But I did encounter one that I hadn't anticipated.

The consultee, lets call him "Bob", warned me before our session began that his creative fiction piece was of a sexual nature and examined a social taboo. He asked if I would still be comfortable discussing his story with him, and was prepared to leave. I think this is when my retail customer service persona kicked in, and I thoughtlessly agreed as if I was, of course, totally glad to be of assistance.

Then I proceeded to get myself in deeper. We discussed how we were going to proceed and he left it up to me. So I told him that we usually read things aloud, and asked him what they had done when he had come in with an earlier draft. He said that he had read it aloud last time, so I suggested that this time I read aloud. Then there I was reading this, um, story describing a sexual taboo in a rather graphic way, aloud to a blushing Bob. And, really, I had brought it all upon myself.

After I had finished reading, we were actually able to discuss his concerns regarding the story with surprisingly few awkward moments.

There's not much to tell, and yet I feel like this is a situation that invites discussion. Is it because the nature of the story invites scandal? Is it because there was a possibility of things going hopelessly awry? After I'd jumped right into the session, I did feel like I was proceeding with caution, and that there were some aspects of his writing that I didn't want to delve too deeply into.

We often emphasize that the writer has choice. As consultants we have choices, too. Bob brought that to my attention by asking me if I would still be willing to consult with him after he told me the nature of the story, and by deferring to me about how to read the story. Although I was okay with this consultation, perhaps now I will be more aware of this choice if I do feel too uncomfortable during in a session in the future.

Any thoughts on my consultation with Bob?
Are you really willing to take on any writer with any writing?
And have you ever found yourself in a situation where this willingness was put to the test?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Place on the totem pole

I haven't posted before now, because frankly, I was trying to sort through the consultations I have had and figure out what I can do to become a better tutor. My first consultation was two weeks ago with a business student who was using the COBE style manual. I had never heard of it before this consultation, and because of my lack of knowledge, I let the whole consultation slip away from me. Instead of asking the student how he wanted to structure the session, I dove into the manual and started right away with citation (which took me nearly the entire session). In the last few minutes, I asked if there were other problems. He pointed out his last two paragraphs, which had no logical connection to each other. I gave him a few suggestions on transitions, but I kept thinking, if his whole paper was like this, I just did him a huge disservice. This consultation made me really question myself and whether I was ready to take on this responsibility. If I couldn't even help an English speaking business student, how would I be able to help someone with whom I didn't share a common language?
This week gave me the challenge, and as a result, the confidence I needed to keep going. On Monday, I came in to work and checked my appointments. I had a consultation for a science paper right off the bat. A few minutes later, a man probably in his forties walked through the door and in broken English asked about making an appointment. I approached him to ask when he wanted the appointment, and he pulled out a piece of paper with my name on it. Now I got it. He was my first appointment of the day. My heart was beating out of control as I got him started on the paperwork. I am not a strong science student, and though I was able to communicate with the student pretty well, I was terrified.
I looked over the paperwork and saw that the student was from China and the paper we were working on was on molecular pharmacology. Talk about intimidation!!! As we made our way into the consultation, I was pleasantly surprised. There was no way that I could begin to understand the content of the paper. The concepts were miles above my head. But the student simply wanted to look over sections of the paper his professor had commented on and have me tell him if they were written in proper English. It was helpful to have the comments in the margins because I was able to see what questions the Prof. had. As we went over the sections, I was able to point out the difference in certain terms, help the student break down his thoughts into smaller, more comprehensible pieces of information, and improve the flow of the paper. He was very grateful for the help he received, and I was incredibly grateful for his patience and openness. At the end of the session, he gave me his card which informed me that he was a professor of pharmacology in China, as well as a director of and doctor at a major hospital. Boy, am I glad that was known after the session. It really made me think about my position on the totem pole. I am nowhere near as smart as this student, but what a confidence booster to know that in a small way, I was able to help him out. That was a great day!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Today some of the BSU students watched a video from Oregon State University concerning international students and their interaction with our very own, native, English language. I found that it was a particularly thought provoking movie, especially in the sense that we, as native English speakers and writers, tend to take our rhetoric to the writing centers where we consult and chat about papers. Just last week I was discussing an essay for a teaching position with a Spanish-speaking student who wanted to become a Spanish teacher in the United States. I found all sorts of mistakes and tripped over myself when trying to rush into all the things that he could fix, work on, or show improvement in. I feel as though I can justify my consultation because his audience was probably a set of teachers who wanted to see things done in an academic manner. But in the end, who is the writer? Who is the applicant? Who is behind the pen that the committee wants to see?

I think about this as I, myself am working on an application essay. I have been told time and time again to write for yourself, let the committee know who you are and what you will bring to them. Now what if it is not what they want to see? In the same respect, what if it is not what the teacher wants to see when you turn in your paper. You cant just write, “give me an A” 500 times or “accept me, I pretty much rock.” You know that the committee (or teachers, or your boss or whoever it may be) wants to see something. My foremost concern with writing my own application essay is how I will incorporate my shy sense of humor, my profound love of writing and history (with no real extra curricular activities related to those subjects, but that is a whole other story), my maturity as a student, what BSU taught me, and what I will bring to this specific institution and how I will benefit from being there. Oh yeah, 500 words tops, have fun!

Of course there is a reason for the word limit, articulation is huge in English—the movie agreed, Americans love short, to-the-point writing. Now, how do you show your creativity and intelligence by telling what could be your whole life story in a section of a 25-page application? For me that is the fun part, for a student who can barely manage to write an English 101 essay, that could very well be the end of the world. It seems to me that the students who are corrected, repaired and shaped up to learn English and its proper functionality just end up losing their identity.
This student that I was talking to was behind the pen at first. I could have taken it from him and fed this committee everything I would think they wanted to see (which may be everything they don’t want to accept, but again, that is something entirely different). I could do that on my own essay. I could write it to the point that I feel like I have presented myself as the promised student from up high or something. “Take me because I embody everything you want and look for. I have no mistakes, I have done everything you want, these are my achievements [a list of achievements]. I am flawless!” Now what did we forget? You. The student. The applicant.

I suppose this goes all the way back to the idea that as consultants, we should be objective and not totally interfere with the student. I think this may be exaggerated by the fact that some students have learned to write in a specific way from another country. If we end up in this situation, as I have, I think we may need to ask ourselves who we are to “help” a student, who, in his or her native language is just as intelligent as we are, how to write their essay based on the rhetoric we know that certain professors or committees want.


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This is basically all about students having to lose their identity to please certain people...something I experience myself. I see it all too often and I wanted to think a little about it.

This just in

"Susan M. Dinitz, senior lecturer in English and coordinator of UVM’s Writing Center, has won the 2007 Ron Maxwell Award for Distinguished Leadership in Promoting the Collaborative Learning Practices of Peer Tutors in Writing. The award will be presented at the 24th annual National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) on Oct. 20, hosted this year by Penn State University." (University Communications : University of Vermont)

Congratulations to Susan. I hope to record an interview with her at the upcoming NCPTW conference at Penn State.