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Thursday, July 24, 2008

IWCA SI Days 3 and 4

To all the folks that missed the webcast: Boy did you miss out. I was great. But that was not all that happened on day 3, just the most public.

I had planned to write every night, but last night a group of us returned late--read 2345 local time--from a fantastic rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." As Brad asked, "What made it fantastic?"

Well, the actors did not really hurt the situation, nor did the lighting, music, setting, and the script seemed to be useful. To be honest, the actors performed brilliantly. The adaptation made parts of the setting more modern--such as dress and props--but the lines were more or less original. And the dancing at the end was really great, also.

The more academic--if anything can be more academic than Shakespeare--activities of day 3 included an opening session discussing how to prepare consultants for working with multilingual writers. As you can tell, multilingual writers are something of a theme for the SI, but for good reason. They have a different set of needs and expectations when they come to us, and we need to understand and respect their needs and expectations.

At this point I will rant. The most common point of discussion so far has been directive vs. non-directive. This idea was complicated with the addition of directing as a middle ground, but the basic premise still stands: How much do we tell and much do we ask for? There is no place that this comes up more than with multilingual/cultural writers. Here is were I feel we--as a field--get too caught up in our own theory and practice to stop and look at an assumption: the writer wants us to be non-directive. Working from this assumption, the debate is free to wax and wane in theoretical discussions and pedagogical experiments.
However.
What if this assumption is wrong? Yes, we can all cite North's axiom of "better writers, not better papers," and pontificate about authority, power, ownership, and collaboration. But what if the write does not want non-directive? What if they want directing? What if the want directive? Then what? Do we tell them, "Nope. We can not--and will not--do that. Sucks to be you"?
In this debate, the overlooked complication--in my view--is the writers' wants. We can tell them what they need all day, and they can ignore us for just as long. But what do they want?

Shifting out of rant mode, the next order of business on day 3 was the webcast, which you can go watch for yourself here.

After lunch on the town, I attended a session concerning podcasts in the WC. Brad and Nancy did a wonderful job explaining what they have done and what they plan to do in the future. I would highly suggest looking up their site and giving their work a listen.

The day ended--brain work-wise--with a thought provoking looking look at mass literacy presented by Deborah Brandt, a WU-Madison faculty and well known scholar in the her field. She pointed out how writing ability is rapidly becoming more important than the ability to read. It was truly eye opening, especially the socioeconomic ramifications and implications.

Which brings me today.
By this point many of us are starting to drag and arrive at the first session closer and closer to the starting point. So far Brad has not grumped at us, but I am not sure how long that will last.

The first session of the day was a brief look at OWLs and what they bring to, or remove from, the WC. The session seemed to create some new believers, but there are still a number of skeptics, for good reason. The question is not simple and the concerns are valid. But, I think, that a well trained and dedicated staff can produce high quality online responses that will serve the needs of the student, WC, and institution. In the event you disagree, please argue; I am getting lonely on this blog.

Following the OWL pelts, or snippets of discussion, we moved into a panel grilling, er, discussion, with some consultants and writers. There were many hard, layered, pointed questions thrown at this group of willing subjects, but handled themselves exceptionally well. I do not think they ever got stumped or were at a total lack of something to say. In fact, many of their answers were very articulate and thought provoking. One comment the stuck in my mind was made by a writer who uses the WC. She commented the she 'shopped' for her consultant. She said, "I tried them on. Some didn't fit right, others were just wrong." It got a laugh and points to the ever importance of rapport.

The last session I attended was about research in the WC. Neal, Paula, and Brad all outlined various ways to conduct research, were to find data, and how to use what is found. We were given many handouts; we discussed our personal research projects or dreams; we discussed what did not work; we discussed how to fund research. In the end, I think we left with a great place to start and encouragement to go forth and examine.

Here in a few minutes we are having an open mic event. For reasons that I am not going to explain, I will be reciting poetry. Think about that for a while BSU folks. Also, for the BSU contingent, they have a beer here called Fat Squirrel. It is rather good.

So long for now.

zwk

6 comments:

  1. Okay, lonely zwk, I'll argue with you. Here's a snippet of your post:

    But what if the write does not want non-directive? What if they want directing? What if the want directive? Then what? Do we tell them, "Nope. We can not--and will not--do that. Sucks to be you"?
    In this debate, the overlooked complication--in my view--is the writers' wants. We can tell them what they need all day, and they can ignore us for just as long. But what do they want?

    I think these are questions that wc literature does consider, and that is why directive v. nondirective approaches to ELL learners (I'm not sure about the interchangeability of multi-linguists for this term, since it would encompass many native English speakers) is debated.

    Of course we want to listen to what the writer wants, and writer needs and goals should be prioritized in a session. But you can't prioritize someone else's idea of what you do over your idea of what you do. Sometimes writers want us to 'fix' their papers while they run down the street for coffee. Sometimes writers want us to yell at them and tell them they suck because they have doubts about their abilities they want confirmed. We don't do these things, because it is not what we do or who we are.

    I don't have an answer between directive/nondirective for ELL sessions. I, like most current tutors, take sessions one at a time. I struggle to achieve a good, productive balance when working with each writer. I won't ignore her needs or goals, but I can't compromise my own tutoring beliefs and goals.

    We can talk about it more over some Fat Squirrel some day ;)

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  2. You make a good point, Big E, but where is the line? I see and understand your point--and I agree with you--but my question is how far do we go in either direction?

    You point out that we should take each session one at a time, which I also agree with. I would push that, however, and ask, "At what point do we serve our own needs and goals before the writers'?" Not an easy question.

    I do not think that we can answer the question in any meaningful way that can be applied in an overarching way. As you correctly point out, each session is different. My point, I think, is that we need to be flexible when working with writers, not stick to a single model, and be aware of what our actions really mean. There is a 'duh' element to that point, yes; however, I think the 'duh' elements need to be re-examined from time to time to make sure they are really givens and not unsupported, unreasoned, unexamined assumptions.

    zwk

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  3. I agree, zwk: the 'duh' element should always be reexamined, lest we forget. :)

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  4. At the risk of this comment falling into the black post-institute hole, let me just recast the directive/non-directive thing by saying the larger goal should be student learning. Sure, that's abstract, but whatever strategy we use in sessions should be in the interest of learning--that makes for a very blurry line between telling and showing, maximalist or minimalist.

    NL

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  5. Neal,

    This is a great point: "the larger goal should be student learning. Sure, that's abstract, but whatever strategy we use in sessions should be in the interest of learning. Yes, it is vague, fuzzy, and abstract, but it does bring us back to our real purpose.

    It seems that if the WC losses sight of our instructional role, it only reinforces the concept of the WC as remediation.

    The big question then becomes what educational framework can we use to arrange each session so it fulfills the needs of the student, our instructional role, our theoretical views of directiveness, and the institutional goals imposed on us? I call it an educational framework because no one idea will cover the possibilities, rather a conception of the interaction between these roles so consultants can situate each session--and themselves--in an effective manner.

    Yep. It's a black hole. But one that we should not ignore.

    zwk

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  6. I'm bummed that I missed hearing you read poetry! I'm sure you read it with confidence and grace...

    "a semi-colon is a blue window"

    --Alice Notley

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