Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tutoring Economic Class

Recently, we had a discussion in my WC about the (lack of) diversity on our campus. The campus is about 93% white, and during the daytime, the halls are filled with "traditional" 18-24 year olds. But by the evening, the average age begins to go up as more non-traditional students fill the classrooms. But the comment that really fueled discussion was when one person said our campus was mostly middle/upper middle class.

As far as I know, my school does not keep records on student income (or at least I've never seen any). Socio-economic status is a major factor in a person's lifestyle - but it's one that can remain somewhat invisible to others. Given the university setting, I can understand a person's immediate response that everyone they meet is economically stable, but I also know that this just isn't the case.

In her memoir Invisible Privilege, academic Paula Rothenberg discusses the role that economic class plays in her classroom. Teaching philosophy, she noticed a trend among working class students when discussing Descartes' claim that "I think, therefore I am." Although they understood the idea, they had little use for it. Of course I exist - I work all day and am sore and tired all night. Rothenberg had to reconsider the material position that led to Descartes' revelation. He was well-off and constantly ill - she imagines him laying in bed, wondering if he really exists. Workers in his time had no such luxury; aching muscles answer that question pretty quick. So she adjusted her discussions to take account of the material conditions involved.

Ok - so what's my point? Why am I prattling on about dead philosophers? Does any of this connect with our work in writing centers? I sure hope so, but if I can't find the connection, will someone point it out in the comments?

My question is this - does our WC practice take into account the diversity of material conditions students work from? Economic class isn't apparent in someone's face, and we're not likely to have them check a box and indicate their income when they walk in the door. But class does come up. I've worked with students who put off buying textbooks, who handwrite their papers because they've never owned a computer, and innumerable students who work full-time, often supporting families. How do I tell a single mother of three who works full-time that she should devote more time to drafting her papers?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Writing Center Blogs

Jackie Grutsch McKinney recently wrote to the writing center email list WCENTER inquiring about blogs that folks in writing centers make use of. Here are her results:

Hi all,

A couple weeks ago I asked if any of you were doing public writing center blogs. Since quite a few people indicated to me they were curious, too, I'm sending what I've collected.

Here are the public blogs:

Mercy Reading and Writing Center: http://mrwc.squarespace.com/center-and-margin/ (Jennifer Wells)
MTSU: http://processingthecenter.blogspot.com/ (Rachel Robinson)
St. Joseph College: http://ecaetutoringsite.blogspot.com/ (Judy Arzt)
College of Lake Country: www.clcwritingcenter.blogspot.com (Jenny Staben)
Wright State: btw2 (Beyond the Written Word) and writing.bytes. (David Bringhurst)
Ohio University: www.thewritersblockparty.blogspot.com (Talinn Phillips)

And, there are some wikis:

JCCC Writing Center: www.jccwc.pbwiki.com (Kathryn Bryne)
Saddleback College: http://saddleback-writing-center.wikispaces.com/ (Julia Bleakney)
Pomona College: http://projects.pomona.edu/writingcenter/ (Dara Rossman Regaignon)

Others have described internal blogs, like a tutor training course blog: http://english38840.blogspot.com/ (Claire Hughes) and University of Manitoba http://survivaltips.blogspot.com/ (Anita Ens).

Others have described starting to use a blog but struggling to get tutors to write for it.

And, of course there is the PeerCentered blog: http://bessie.englab.slcc.edu/pc (Clint Gardner) which is open for all peer writing tutors.

Thank you so much to everyone who responded. I'm working on a presentation for ECWCA on using Web 2.0 technologies in writing center work and having these examples helps me imagine different possibilities. If any of you have other creative things you're doing with Web 2.0 stuff, I'd love to hear about those, too: jrgmckinney@gmail.com.

Jackie Grutsch McKinney
Ball State University
(WCENTER posting, 3/19/2008, 9:13 am, http://lyris.ttu.edu)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Suggestions

I was thinking about something today during physics (which had nothing to do with physics) that I thought I would bring up on PeerCentered. This "something" goes beyond writing centers and into the realm of teaching. I realize that we have lots of English Comp. teachers (and other teachers), so, anyone, feel free to chime in.

This now very vague thing that I was thinking about during physics was the extent to which we (being teachers, consultants, friends, etc.) influence the writing of others (being the students we teach, work with, or are friends with).

I think that I would be safe to say that by now in our educational careers we have all developed a very unique way of writing (and thus reading). Sometimes when I am reading articles, essays, or books I get hung up certain sentences, transitions, or styles because they feel entirely different than something I would write. It is like walking into an entirely new place; your eyes stutter a few times before becoming familiar with the area. This problem can carry over into working with students (and usually does). I have to stop myself constantly from suggesting changes to a student's paper that is simply composed in a different style than mine (that style being theirs). This can get rather frustrating as the line between how much I help the student's paper and how much I change the paper to the way I would like to see it becomes very blurred.

I think that this is especially the case with ESL students. Just today an ESL student asked that I re-write one of her sentences to the way I would write it; she wanted it to sound professional and native. Of course in today's example the student ASKED me to re-write something, but what about the days that we do this unintentionally?

I mentioned earlier that this problem pertains to teachers as well as consultants. I suppose the fact that I am a history major and will be doing lots of writing with and for professors in the future spurred my thoughts about this topic. One of my current history professors is eager to inform the class about the absolute right and wrong ways to write a paper, which I sometimes disagree with. But, is there irony in that eagerness and my disagreement with it? Do I do the same thing to the students I work with?

What do you think?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Race in the Writing Center

Yes, I am on Sping Break, and yes, I am posting to Peer Centered. I'm a geek and I have a problem - but at least I can admit it.

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Anyways, I have some questions I want to work out with the readers here. I attend a mostly white university (the student pop. is about 93% white). Most of the students come from similarly segregated schools, and for most, race is an issue that is never discussed or thought about. However, many profs here give composition students assignments dealing with race, and consequently we see their papers in the WC. My first question is this: Should writing center training include discussion of race and racism?

Personally, I think it should. (As a point of clarification, our tutors take a full-semester, full-credit course on WC work taught by our director, so I am working from the assumption that training has the time to address such issues). Race plays itself out in a variety of ways in university life. Maybe most importantly, I can see the ways universities serve as cultural gate-keepers by passing or flunking students based on their use of academic language - a form of English which is very exclusive. We see students who struggle with the comments made by profs, who are unable to acclimate or assimilate their voices, and as a result, interpret themselves as failures as students. Being able to recognize these structural forces helps me when I talk with students who are placing all of the blame on themselves.

But the more we discuss race and racism, the more clear and better defined our opinions become, and the more comfortable discussing race we become, the more likely we are to be vocal with our opinions. So my second question: Can race-related training interfere with students' ownership of their papers?

What I mean is, the more we work with specific issues in our training, the more likely we are to discuss them in tutorial sessions. So when we see papers dealing with race, and we are trained to discuss race, it gives us a one-up on the peer relationship, and perhaps we will be more likely to break down a student's thought-process/argument/thesis. Is this overstepping our boundaries, or is it good work, engaging the student and hopefully broadening his/her racial horizons?

There is a recent trend towards merging writing center work and anti-racist work - and I like this trend. A lot. But when does it become problematic, and how do we deal with that? Is it possible that if we make our centers explicitly anti-racist that we become ideological gate-keepers? In this case, would that be such a bad thing?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Suggestions

I was thinking about something today during physics (which had nothing to do with physics) that I thought I would bring up on PeerCentered. This "something" goes beyond writing centers and into the realm of teaching. I realize that we have lots of English Comp. teachers (and other teachers), so, anyone, feel free to chime in.

This now very vague thing that I was thinking about during physics was the extent to which we (being teachers, consultants, friends, etc.) influence the writing of others (being the students we teach, work with, or are friends with).

I think that I would be safe to say that by now in our educational careers we have all developed a very unique way of writing (and thus reading). Sometimes when I am reading articles, essays, or books I get hung up certain sentences, transitions, or styles because they feel entirely different than something I would write. It is like walking into an entirely new place; your eyes stutter a few times before becoming familiar with the area. This problem can carry over into working with students (and usually does). I have to stop myself constantly from suggesting changes to a student's paper that is simply composed in a different style than mine (that style being theirs). This can get rather frustrating as the line between how much I help the student's paper and how much I change the paper to the way I would like to see it becomes very blurred.

I think that this is especially the case with ESL students. Just today an ESL student asked that I re-write one of her sentences to the way I would write it; she wanted it to sound professional and native. Of course in today's example the student ASKED me to re-write something, but what about the days that we do this unintentionally?

I mentioned earlier that this problem pertains to teachers as well as consultants. I suppose the fact that I am a history major and will be doing lots of writing with and for professors in the future spurred my thoughts about this topic. One of my current history professors is eager to inform the class about the absolute right and wrong ways to write a paper, which I sometimes disagree with. But, is there irony in that eagerness and my disagreement with it? Do I do the same thing to the students I work with?

What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Less Than Helpful Consultation?

A while ago, I had a consultation with a nontradition (older) student, who needed advice on how to write an essay. Last week, I had a similar student, but the outcome wasn't nearly the same. And I'd have to say, it was probably the most difficult consultation I've ever faced.

She wanted help organizing her essay into an outline. Sounds easy enough (she knew the basics of writing an essay). But it seemed like she was struggling with the content and didn't realize it. The problem was, I tried helping her revolve her outline around a thesis--but she didn't have one. She was supposed to write an analysis, but what she had was a summary. She needed a point, and I didn't see how she could outline anything without a main point to it all -- a way to connect everything together.

Well, we kept going around in circles and not getting anywhere. There was just something blocking our communication. She wasn't understanding me, and she didn't think I was understanding her. But then I thought, well, if she doesn't have a thesis, and won't listen to me, then there's nothing I can do about it. So, I tried to help her form an outline, but without a thesis, that was pretty challenging. So, I kept wanting to go back, and kept pointing to her assignment, asking her what her thesis was. It was pointless and very frustrating. The consultation ended up lasting longer than an hour (I didn't have an appointment after her, so I think we went over like 15 minutes), and I really don't know if I helped her at all.

She said I did help (but I really don't know how). But we also made her another appointment with someone else--(so she could meet with someone after writing an actual draft). But, I just felt bad. I didn't know if I helped a lot. She could've said I was helpful, just to be nice. I don't really know.

So, out of the whole time I've been working at the Writing Center, I think this was my only "bad" consultation. Has anyone reading this, ever had an experience like this? I guess it's impossible to have every consultation be perfect. But for some reason, it's those imperfect ones I seem to remember the most. Maybe it's because I always wonder what the outcome was: Did she finish her paper? Was it good? I'll just pretend I was helpful. :)

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.

Revival of the Live Chat.

Years ago PeerCentered started out as a live (real-time) chat session. Folks from around the world gathered to talk about peer tutoring and writing center issues. I am curious if anyone is interested in having a live chat session again? I suppose we could go all fancy and try a Skype event too, but perhaps we should just start simple with a chat on facebook. There is an application that you can add (Group Chat) that lets you go into the same chat room as other folks in the group.

Any interest?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Connecting to Escape...

I'm thinking a lot about the opposite of the escapist ideas that Sara W presents. I agree with Sara and Andrew that writing center consultations are a place to set aside our worries, and focus on someone else. When are we pulled back in? Do you find yourself ever sharing information about yourself in a session--educational, historical, opinionical, favorite foodical, romantical? When does such sharing lead to establish rapport between consultant and writer? When is such sharing ridiculously inappropriate? Your reflections on this topic are super-appreciated by me, as I work to form a connected study...:)

Awesome Consultation

The other day I had an extremely awesome consultation. I was working with an ELL student from Japan, and he was such cool guy to work with. His assignment was to write a paper from the first person point of view. He chose to write it from the point of view of his grandmother. She was in Japan when America bombed them during World War II, and it was extremely interesting to read. It was a positive story too; it was about overcoming and appreciating everything you had. There was absolutely nothing negative about it. This guy was the same way. He was working extremely hard to learn English (and he was quite good at it I might add), and I had a great time explaining things to him.
He was genuinely interested in word choice and different ways to use words. In a sentence in which he was describing faces sweating he said the “faces got sweat.” I had the opportunity to explain how nouns can sometimes become verbs and that in this case he would be able to use “sweat” as a verb and remove the word “got.” He was extremely excited and fascinated, and he asked me for further examples.
We were also able to talk about various Japanese customs due to references in his paper. It was truly fascinating and educational for me. I am excited to say that I believe he learned something too. He had plenty of questions throughout the consultation about word choice and methods. It is consultations that go as well as this one that remind you why you consult.

Are Writing Consultations a Method of Escape?

Isn’t it interesting the zone we can go into while working with another student? We can be having the most horrible day in the world, but it can all truly be left at the door during a consultation. I have always stressed about bringing my problems to work with me. Life doesn’t seem to go right most of the time, which can drain you and make you a little more difficult to work with than you might be otherwise, and I truly worry about how that can affect my consultations. I find that I am a totally different person during a consultation. I feel alert and focused. I am so tired most of the time, tired enough that I don’t even know how I get any of my homework done, but somehow I managed to feel alert and often pumped during a consultation. Does anyone else feel this way? I will leave a consultation that has gone well feeling extremely feeling motivated to try to work on my own homework or writing, which is so beneficial with when I felt so tired before the consultation that I didn’t even want to take the energy to drive home. Does a consultation have an opposite effect if it goes poorly? I can’t decide if it truly has the opposite effect for me, or if it just leaves me feeling the same way I felt prior to the consultation. How does a consultation in which we shouldn’t get emotionally involved in still manage to affect our emotions so much? There are so many questions about how consultations can affect us, even if we don’t feel affected during the consultation, just after.

A question for you

Here is a question from Joyce Hicks from the Valparaiso University Writing Center:
Are consultants and writing centers finding new ways of addressing second language writers' concerns? Do typical writing center practices adequately address these students' needs or faculty requests? Are writing center practices changing as a result of increased numbers of non-native speakers?
Please reply via comment.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Religion in the Writing Center

This is a topic I have tried to give some some thought to for quite some time, but I never seem to get anyway with it. I'm hoping perhaps someone can offer some insight or possibly lead me to an article somewhere.

My writing center seems to attract people with a very wide, and by no means mainstream, religious spectrum. All of our current "senior tutors" have a different religious affiliation (atheist, Pagan, Christian, and Jewish). We are all aware of each other's beleifs, and sometimes we discuss them, but we never talk about ways our religions may play into our work as tutors. What seems to bond us is the shared beleif in doing good work here on earth, in making that direct one-on-one impact, but also that sense of tolerance, if not respect, for each other's faiths.

Maybe this all stems from attending a liberal arts univeristy, where "tolerance" and "diversity" are the buzzowrds of the day. Maybe we just got lucky in my writing center and things worked out this way. I don't know. But it isn't just this current batch of tutors; I know we've had a religiously diverse tutoring staff in the recent past as well.

So what about your writing centers? Does religion come up at all? and if so, how? Are tutors generally from diverse religious backgrounds, or do they represent the basic religious make-up of your campus? And taking this into the theory-based side of writing center work, does our pedagogy influence this diversity, promoting or marginlaizing it? Should it?

Wet, angry, and still without the words

Well, it seems that I've entered some sort of foggy cloud that's interfering with the writing of the actual paper for the RMPTC coming up. Truthfully, it surrounds all of my writings. It seems that I've encountered a mid-semester case of writer's block--the really black kind, the kind that looms over most of my days, thoughts, and dreams. It waits to rain, though, until I'm approaching some sort of deadline, and then all my fears, frustration, and doubt flood my thoughts. I'm left wet, angry, and still without the words that I need to complete the writing that I have to do.

I sound entirely ridiculous here, but that's only because I feel entirely ridiculous! What the heck's wrong with me? I've encountered this sort of thing before, and I'm sure that many of you have, too. What's different about this one, and this time, for me, is that the cloud won't go away. I can't seem to write my way out of it. I've tried everything. And, although the sun breaks through it once in a while--as it seems to be doing, here--the cloud's still around, grumbling and threatening another down-pour.

This RMPTC thing's really freaking me out. Because I sensed the black presence approaching, I attempted to begin the actual paper weeks ago. Needless to say, it didn't, and hasn't, since progressed. All I have at this point in time is the barest, of the barest sketch; I have the original proposal and some scattered notes...period. I also promised my writing group, in my Senior Seminar class, that I'd have a full draft to workshop with them this coming Thursday. I made that promise because I thought that by setting an early deadline, I'd leave myself plenty of editing time, and I'd get to have it read and considered by my group members. Oh boy, do I wish, now, that I'd never made that promise. My own, self-set deadline is hovering over the next three days.

I suppose that my only hope of escaping this cloud lies inside the group that I'll be working with for our RMPTC panel presentation. This is separate from my individual presentation. I'm excited about it. Oddly enough, am not worried about my ability to participate. I've never done a panel before, and I've spoken with most of the people that I'll be working with--Sara, Sarah, and Sam--and they, too, have never participated in one. They seem really excited about it, and that puts me at ease about the whole thing. Maybe the smoggish mess that surrounds me will dissipate in their warm optimism.

We meet to discuss the panel on Wednesday, and I'm looking forward to it. Maybe I just need to participate in honest, critical conversation with nice, genuine people. My current schedule has placed me into a solitary state. Maybe sheer lack of communication contributed to the blackness. I can only hope insightful conversation will be its undoing.

Well, I'd better get back to attempting to write my proposal. Maybe I can at least fatten up the sketch a bit. Thanks for reading this rambling, nonsense post. If any of you have any suggestions on how to get through this, or have any issues with your own presentations, I'd love to hear about them. Maybe we could help one another out?

To Blog or Not to Blog

So, I'm sure that those of you who post regularly are not very familiar with my name since it rarely appears here. You see, I am one of those people who does not visit my computer unless I absolutely have to. In theory, I love the idea of a blog like this one. I think it is an amazing tool for people to get together and discuss common issues across a discipline. But as I said, I do not like the computer. I am adamantly a face to face kind of girl.
So you may be asking yourselves, "if this girl hates the computer so much, why is she rambling on in a blog about how much she hates the computer?" Well, the answer is quite simple. You see, our director has asked us to post here. That, and we are hosting the RMPTC this year and I have been asked to join a round table discussion about blogging (I am the anti in case you hadn't figured it out by now. Anti just sounds so harsh. I'm really not anti; more like I'd rather not. But that sounds offensive too. Wow, do I feel like a self inflicted jerk) Okay, so before I completely derail from the point of this post, I'll get to it (go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief; this is almost over).
I want to express my reasons for not loving the idea of blogging and I would love to hear what you all have to say. Not only will it help me in my role for the discussion, but perhaps one of you can convince me to become a regular poster. So here it is in a nutshell.

Reasons for Sam not loving the idea of blogging:
  • It takes a really long time to sort through all of the posts and feel like I am in on the discussion
  • It is harder for me to have an honest conversation when I am able to edit my thoughts
  • I am an instant gratification type of person, so I don't like having to go back and check into an ongoing conversation over the course of hours or days
  • I feel like the conversation is oftentimes fragmented
  • It takes a really long time to sort through posts, and I hate being chained to a computer (yes, this one is a repeat, but it is the big one)
  • I feel like off-the-cuff conversation can yield more, and sometimes better results than conversation that is carefully scripted
So, basically these are the major reasons for the way I feel. I would love to hear what other people have to say, and I promise to eagerly read each and every post with an open mind. Thanks for reading.
Sam from Boise

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SCWCA Final Report

Today the conference ended with lunch and a some remarks in a fantastic building on OU. The remarks focused on how writing out loud can lead to a better understanding of the topic and can develop more sophisticated and detailed writing. In addition, Kevin Davis regaled the group with stories of his children and how they taught him lessons about writing and understanding life.
On such story that was particularly powerful was about his daughter. When she was young, they lived in CA and she had never seen it snow. She had seen snow, but only on the ground. To her, snow was like the rocks and grass: it was only on the ground was just there. They moved to Michigan when she was a little older. The first time it snowed, Kevin watched his daughter standing in front of the window as she stood enraptured by the snow. After a few moments she said, "Oh. So that's how it is." She understood the snow and what she had seen back in CA.
Writing out loud is a little like that. When we see it on the page, it just is; when we hear it or perform it or see it in some dynamic state, we understand it for what it really is.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hello from OU!

The trip to Oklahoma left a great deal to be desired, but the conference has not. Speaking as the lone representative of BSU and the person who traveled the furthest--within the United States--OU and the SCWCA conference is wonderful!

Granted, I have been harassed slightly about the BSU victory over OU in the Fiesta Bowl, but nothing too serious.

On more serious notes, there have been some insightful and fascinating sessions today. Following the theme of writing out loud, one presentation discussed how writing can become richer by thinking of it as a performance. Two other presenters demonstrated and explained the development of their "work matrix." It is a collection of adjectives that are arranged in a matrix by intensity and usage. It functions as a quasi-thesaurus for writers that they are familiar with but may not think to use. The mad-lib-esque demonstration resulted in a spirited discussion and collaboration of where work matrices can go and be used. Anne Ellen Geller gave provocative talk about what writing out loud really means and can do and how listening to out loud writing develops both the writer and the audience.

On an ironic note, I flew in from Idaho with clear weather, but Texas got six inches of snow, delaying some participants and presenters, including the keynote speaker, Anne Ellen Geller.

I hoped to have pictures to post, but that has not worked out.

More later.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Truth Hurts?

I read a very interesting and entertaining paper during one of my consultations today. It was about Seinfeld and some obsessive fans (not a huge Seinfeld watcher myself, I still found the paper hilarious). Not only was it interesting and intertaining, the paper was also pretty well written--organized well, flowed smoothly, had a clear focus, etc. For the most part all the components of a well written paper were there.

So what was difficult about this consultation?

At the end of the consultation he asked, "So, do you think this fits the assignment? Does it sound like an ethnography?"

I can't lie and tell him it does, because that certainly wouldn't help him, his paper, or his grade. But how do I nicely tell him that his wonderfully entertaining, well written paper probably doesn't quite work as an ethnography? I hate being the bearer of bad news. He had obviously spent some time on the paper, he seemed to really like the paper...and now I have to answer his question in the negative. It just kind of made me feel like the bad guy.

Anyway, I of course told him the truth. We looked over the assignment together, and fortunately his paper wasn't a total loss as an ethnography. Seinfeld fanatics can certainly serve as a group to write an ethnography about. In order to turn his essay into an ethnography, I suggested he include more scene in his paper. Instead of just telling the reader what his interviewees said, I suggested he show this to his audience by describing what this group looks like. How do they joke? What does their body language look like? How do they sound? Basically I suggested that he write some scenes that illustrate the five senses so that the reader can really start to see what this Seinfeld loving group looks and acts like as a sub-culture.

The consultation ended positively; in fact he never gave me the impression that he was upset with my remarks. Still, for a moment I felt like the bad guy. What do you do in a situation where you have real bad news? Like, what if the paper doesn't fit the assignment at all and you have tell the writer to more or less start all over? What's the best way to go about being the bearer of bad news? Sugar coated? Quick, honest, and to the point?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Introduction

Hello! I just joined this blog and thought perhaps I should introduce myself. My name is Andrew Rihn. I am a 24 year old undergraduate at a regional campus of Kent State University. This is my fourth semester working in the writing center here under Dr. Jay Sloan. My main writing center interests are our use of metaphors, and the more overtly political work of the writing center, specifically related to social justice, like anti-racist work or addressing social privileges.

Outside of the writing center, I am an English major with minors in Writing and Women's Studies. I like writing poetry and reading biographies. I am happily coupled with my significant other and we live together with a dog and a cat. A few of my idiosyncrasies: I can play the ukulele and I have an obsession with the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

Anyways, I love the blog, and hopefully I won't bring the content-level down too much!

The perfect paper

Very rarely does it happen, but sometimes writers bring in papers that I find really hard to comment on because they are just plain good. For example, a few months ago a student from Kenya came in with a personal research paper about her cat. Her cat suffered from a disease that was causing its fur to fall out, so the student started doing research about the possible causes. No, she didn't call it Mr. Bigglesworth disease, but she had found the disease, found what causes it, and began to implement possible treatments. While she read the paper out loud in the session, I completely forgot that I was even in the writing center. The paper was genuinely interesting, and her voice and her accent were somehow soothing after a long day. She blended personal experience with solid research in a very seemless way, which is what I try to teach my 101 students.

When I realized near the end of the paper that I really didn't have much to say about it except, "Wow. That was a really interesting paper," I got a little nervous. I had that "I'm supposed to be the expert here" panic attack. So, I scraped the bottom of my brain barrell, and came up with nothing. So, I just said, "That's a really good paper. I can't think of much to say about it. You seem to have nailed the assignment." She told me, "thanks," and then we chatted about Kenya for a little while. Then she revealed that she knew it was a good paper, and that writing was her passion, but that she had to come into the center to get credit for a class.

At first I felt bad about not being able to "improve" her paper. Then I realized that I had learned some things about writing as a result of the session. So, I chalked it up to providence, and now I have a great story to use as an example in my teaching: find a topic that affects you, that has personal significance, that might even save your cat's life, and it may lead to a more effective research paper.