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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Grammar? I JUST WANT TO DANCE

I have to say: I have had little variety in the center this semester as far as consultations go. It seems like the consultations I love—those that end up being more like fiction or personal essay workshops—have dissolved into the mist like Jane Goodall’s silverbacks. I realize to yearn for the comfort of a consultation like that is rather selfish; but, then again, they are so, so fun. To talk with a writer who cares truly for the craft enough to want to come talk to another craft-caring individual remains one of my ultimate joys.

But, as I said, these are a relative pipedream. The semester has yielded none, count-‘em, zero, goose egg worth of crafty consultations. And yet they all seem consistent, at least as per theme: Grammar. I know many consultants will cringe as they read the “g” word, but then again I cringe when I read the WHT word (William Howard Taft).

So, yes. I’d say 98 percent of the tutoring sessions I’ve dealt with so far this semester have been grammar-io-centric, consistent with nothing but gerunds and anaphors and run-ons and comma splices and verb/tense agreements and virgules and definitives and pronouns and all the rest of it. It’s enough to make, I’m sure, a large number of you cry; and, at first, it was for me, too. So I’m going to make a confession: I don’t care. Sorry—I don’t. I’m aware of the entire discourse surrounding writing center politics (high- to low-order concerns) but I don’t care. I actually ENJOY talking about grammar. And I think most of the writers who request that we discuss that topic do, too.

So I began thinking about it. If this is what a student is concerned with—particularly ESL or developmentally disabled students—why not cover only this matter? Who am I to tell a student that the content or flow or organization of his/her paper is inaccurate, particularly if they think otherwise? At what point am I required to force an idea onto a student as far as content goes? The answers, respectively, are true, no one, and never. So bring it on, grammarily declined. I will always be waiting.

5 comments:

  1. Grammar used to really freak me out, too. I'd grumble and groan (internally, of course), but I've found that I really enjoy it, now. I think that at first I saw it as a bit of challenge--a challenge that I felt not ready for.

    The more consultations that I did, though, the more that I found that I enjoyed them. So, with all that said, I do like grammar consultations.

    I really haven't had too many of them this semester, though. What's up with that?

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  2. I try to throw in a brief grammar gem no matter what the focus of the consultation--sometimes it only takes 4 seconds. I see my grammar knowledge as a Bedazzler, ready to snazz up any denim conversation.

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  3. Elizabeth -
    THE BEDAZZLER. AMAZING!!! That analogy should be expanded to the writing center as a whole.

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  4. I used to hate talking about grammar until I had a professor who taught me the core meanings of the prefect and progressive aspects. One day not long after we learned about aspect in my grammar class, I had a student who really loved using those -ing words. I was able to take what I leanred in class and help the student write a more accurate sentence.

    Anyhow, what I'm saying is this: in my experience, if a student is really committed to just working on grammar, then I work on it with them. A lot of times I'm able to sneak in those high-order concerns when they're not looking.

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  5. Dale...I think it's great that you enjoy talking about grammar -- even teaching it in a session, if I may be so bold as to assume that you help to demystify grammar for some writers. But, and, alas, there had to be a but...

    writing center pedagogy encourages tutors to help a writer identify patterns of usage and then help the writer to understand how to fix the error -- this helps the writer edit her paper and gives the writer skills. Writing center pedagogy, instead, warns against editing line by line, never identifying patterns or helping the writer to develop editing skills. There are tutors who are much better equipped to give tutorials in the editing stage of the writing process -- like yourself -- tutors who completely get grammar and can explain it in layman's terms.

    Be sure, though, that writers will convince you that they enjoy "hearing" about grammar if it means you'll edit their paper for them.

    Also, and more importantly, as tutors, we can point out that we have our own opinions about content without telling the writer she is wrong. I like to use "when I read that, I understood it to say ___________...what do you think?" This isn't, imo, telling the reader she's wrong to say that the female character (my memory is not serving me right now) in _The Gift of the Magi_ is really a selfish whore who doesn't give a damn about her husband (kid you not, I had this tutorial!).

    Finally, as skilled and good writers, aren't we are obligated, to point out structural issues? If the paper isn't an essay, or if the analysis doesn't analyze, or if there isn't an introduction or, even, a thesis, then fixing the sentences in a piece of writing only means the paper is grammatically sound, yes? Aren't we more responsible to the writer than that? Isn't this why writing center pedagogy warns against lower over higher order concern?

    Nita

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