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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thanks

Well, it's almost the end of this semester, and I can say, with confidence, "I am so glad!" What a ride this one's been: four million credits, a zillion papers, two boys with endless baseball games and practices, a house that refuses to clean itself, and one very loud kitten, too. Okay, most of my excitement with the coming end stems from personal, non-writing center stuff, but the writing center is part of my personal stuff, too. I'm glad the semester's almost over, but I am sad that my time as a consultant is almost over, too...

I don't know about all of you, but towards the end of the last two semesters, I've found myself feeling a bit sad. This semester's been the worst, so far. I don't feel sad about getting those four million credits out of the way, or not writing another Sociology response--good riddens to all that--yet, I do feel sad about leaving the center, yet again. When inside the center, among nice people and interesting consultations, I feel comfortable. I like that. I feel like I can be myself there, and 'being myself' is okay, too. I guess that I am with Sara and Greg on the fact that the center is a place where my outside stuff doesn't matter. This isn't always the case--it can't always be the case--but overall it's a personal oasis, I think. When I hang my coat up, I know that my phone won't ring, my bills are exactly 8 miles away, my homework still waits for me atop my desk, and that my kids are safe at home filling-up on chocolate syrup and Twinkies. The only thing I have to worry about is my upcoming consultations, and they are rarely worrisome at all.

It does feel like an oasis to me for a different, non-escapish reason as well. I really appreciate that our center seems to be balanced mix of academia and writing. I like that, too. Everyone in the center is really intelligent, into school, into writing, and into keeping the center writer-focused. Unlike most places that I have worked, there's no gossip, no laziness, no blatant individualism. Everyone works as a team and helps one another out. If I have two back-to-back appointments, and I still have to put the finishing touches on an email consultation, I know that someone will enter my files into the computer. If a walk-in comes in, and someone finished-up their previous consultation early, they'll accept that walk-in, no problem; there's never issues with consultants dodging 'what's right," and I love that about the BSU center.

I guess that I am just trying to say, "You are all really great." The center's really great. I am so glad that I chose to do my internship with all of you. Thanks for putting up with me. We only have a couple of weeks together, and I know, for a fact, that they'll be enjoyable!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wandering in the weeds

I spend a great deal of time wandering around in the weeds of topics and discussions: I see the world in a different light. While that can be frustrating to those around me, I tend to find some great vantage points. On that note, I will take you all on a journey through the maze that is my mind and into the weeds on the edge of authority within the writing center. Be forewarned, this is a ramble; there will be no justification and there is no authority beyond "I said so."

This idea has bothered for most of my time in the WC. While I could ignore it the majority of the time, the more I work with writers and read WC theory and pedagogy, the more I am forced to look at authority in the WC. And I am convinced of one point: Consultants and tutors have authority. They may be titled 'peer tutors' or 'collaborative assistants' or any other title, but the fact is that we have authority and power. And I think this needs to be addressed because our actions are more powerful than we tell ourselves or admit.

To start with, the very nature of our position within the school gives us power. We are pointed to as the 'go to' people for writing. That means everyone who walks and everyone who sends writers to us view us and give us authority. Writers rarely come into the WC to just chat; they have questions and we have the answers! [I use roughly four '!' a year, and this is one of the few. Take that as you wish].

Because we have the answers, and writers know that we do, we are in authority. We hold the key to mysteries of writing. An no amount of fancy titles or clever rhetoric will negate the fact that we are not peers for the majority of the writer who walk in the door. We receive special training and instruction, not only for conducting sessions, but also for grammar, APA, MLA, punctuation, structure, flow, clarity, format. We are trained; we are placed; we are viewed; we are expected; we are authorities.

So what does that mean? Does this mean we should give ourselves fancy robes and hats to flaunt our betterness? Does this mean that would should treat writers as petitioners to the mighty power of the WC? Nope. It means that we need to be aware that we are authorities, no matter how hard we try to dodge the idea. Authority means power, which means expectations and responsibility. Yes, we have authority and by extension power. So how do we use the power?

I posit that we lie to ourselves about our authority so we can easily ignore our power. If we understand that we have power, someone will abuse it. But it we hide the power under the rug--avoid our authority--then we are not tempted to use and abuse our power. Granted, we are not likely to take over the world or anything fun like that, but we can create dissonance within the student population. If we start exerting our authority on the writers that come in, we could start to replace their instructors. The students may like what we have to say and then drag the dreaded "We the WC said I should do it this way" into the classroom. We may give a writer flawed information or they may misunderstand what we tell them and then we look like idiots. Or, we could put on a front of 'peer-ness,' hide the power in the dark corners of a file cabinet, and work with writers as false peers.

One last point: When a writer comes into the WC and wants us to help her sound 'correct,' do we not have the power to indoctrinate her in the power dialect? Is that not what she asked for? But, do we give her a lesson in the power dialect with a preface of what we are doing, or do we forge ahead without acknowledging that she is 'correct' because we understood her, but that she is not using the power dialect? If we fail to acknowledge the separation between her dialect and the power dialect, are we not asking and requiring her to shift part of her identity? And since we are the WC, a part of the institution that has been granted the authority to answer writing questions by instructors and administrators alike, we can affect a change in her identity be not explaining to her the difference.

Is not the ability to change a person the ultimate power? Granted, she may not be changed much, but she will be changed and will not have actively made the choice to change. That is an abuse of power, and it is an abuse that can--and does--happen with in the WC without us seeing of understanding it because we do not acknowledge we have power.

Before miscellaneous debris starts to fly, I will point out that we should help students learn the power dialect because that is what school does, and since we support our schools, we should make every effort to follow our schools' goals and our WC's goals. That all being said, if we do not acknowledge that we have power over our writers, and if we do not understand what the power can do, we fail our writers because we are not being honest with them.

Oh look, a rabbit in a vest diving down a hole; I guess I will follow it….

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Economic Stimulus Package

Yesterday, I was offered a $10 tip after a 30 minute consultation. "Is this okay?" she asked. "I really don't know," I said, "so I must decline." Should I have taken it, purchased a round of drinks for my friends later at The Broadway? Should I have toasted, with zeal, the Korean exchange student? I really have no basis for ethical standards in this regard; and, suddenly, I'm standing at the precipice of an infinite existential dilemma, having declined the money. Your thoughts?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Busy Times

We are quickly approaching the end of the semester here at Boise State and tension is in the air. Students come into the Center with their stress levels high as they are scrambling to complete their final assignments, and look us to us for help - we are after all supposed to be an oasis, right? Yet, I am wondering if our stress levels as students, impact our experiences with the students we tutor. Having recently finished my culminating activity for graduation this May, I am actually feeling quite relieved and relaxed. I know that when I was in the midst of working on my Portfolio, I was very stressed out and I am sure that parts of that came across in my consultations, no matter how hard I tried to keep them at bay. I am curious if other tutors notice a difference in their consultation sessions during different points in the semester. I know we are supposed to leave our baggage at the door when we walk into the Center but I wonder how realistic that is. How can we ever let go of all of our baggage; after all, our baggage is part of what makes us who we are.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your semesters!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NEWCA Report

Hi, all!

This past weekend was the 24th Annual Northeast Writing Centers Association Conference, this year hosted at the University of Vermont, in Burlington, Vermont - one of the most beautiful (and biggest!) campus I've ever seen. It was quite a conference, and it made me realize just how much I missed by not going last year. We all had such a great time.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the presenters this year, and, along with fellow tutors and graduate students Tamara Lebron and Zahra Patterson, led a well-received panel presentation on our experiences having (audio) taped a tutoring session, then transcribing that session and analyzing it. Our work was prompted by an assignment given by our professor and Writing Center Director (and overall fearless leader), Dr. Patricia Stephens, who attended our NEWCA session with us and was able to offer insight into her reasoning behind having given this assignment as a means for tutors to reflect upon their tutoring strategies and techniques and to become better tutors. Participants kept us going until the very end with questions, and we were all pleased that our audience was so interested in our work.

I also managed to get to a session on transgressive behaviors in the Writing Center, in which Pat Morelli, Director for the Center for Reading and Writing at the University of Hartford and member of the NEWCA Steering Committee, led a lively discussion on to what extent would WC administers and senior staffers protect their young tutors and tutees from potentially dangerous sessions.

On Sunday we had a first - SIGs were being offered! I went to two: "So You're Thinking About Grad School?" (although I'm already in grad school, I was interesting in hearing what other people were going through and was curious about the questions they'd ask), and "Technology in the WC," in which we all compared notes about what we were using in our own Writing Centers, technologically-speaking. Both were good opportunities to meet other folks who were in the same boat as we were, in both cases, and to compare notes and realize that we weren't the only ones either struggling with choosing graduate programs, or determining how we could update our writing centers.

My two co-presenters, Tamara Lebron and Zahra Patterson, made Long Island University proud when, as first time presenters, were co-recipients of the 2008 Robert J. Connors Memorial Scholarship Awards, which was fabulous, of course.

Can I tell you how lucky we were in our keynote speakers? The effervescent Anne Ellen Geller, Michele Eodice, Meg Carroll, Elizabeth Bouquet, and Frankie Condon - authors of Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice - gave what is probably the best keynote I may have ever heard. They were interesting, and entertaining, and I think everyone in the audience wished they would have kept going. (I had a real fangirl moment when I got an e-mail of thanks from Michele, who thanked me for having videotaped the keynote.)

Next year is our milestone year, of course - 25 years! We'll be returning to "where it all began" - the University of Hartford in Connecticut. I was fortunate enough to be elected to the NEWCA Steering Committee this year, so I'll get to help plan the conference, which I'm really looking forward to.

Look out, northeast!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

RMTPC Stats

Hello all!

I want to extend my heart-felt thanks to all of you that attended RMPTC this year. I have some brief stats to give you an idea of how it went from a quantitative view:

105 consultants/tutors and administrators attended
32 presentations occurred--not including the keynote by Neal Lerner
8 states were represented (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington)
17 schools were represented (BSU, BYU, Cochise College, ISU, Mesa State College, MIT, Naropra University, North Idaho College, NNU, Salt Lake Community Collge, USU, U of I, U of U, University of Louisville, WSU, Weber State University, and Westminster College)
100% of the attendees and presenters left smiling

Thanks again
zwk

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference PeerCentered Session

I am sitting in the Boise State session about their use of PeerCentered. It is just starting up with Alisha Kamph, Samantha Sturman, Sara Welch, and Sarah McGuire.

This is, therefore, meta-meta-meta-blogging.

Update 10:30--The folks have been discussing the benefits and drawbacks of blogging with the following questions:

The Nature of the Discussion
1. Are our posts on PeerCentered discussion that could not have been carried on inside the classroom or the center?
2. What post(s) are most useful?

Peers and Community
1. How important is the emphasis on peers and the open membership of PeerCentered?
2. Do we build a sense of community or is it exclusive?
3. Are there privacy issues to blogging publicly?

Tutor Training and Coursework
1. Does the blog serve as a tool for tutor training/development?
2. Is it limited to an Oasis that complements classroom training and writing center experience or could it replace teacher-student interaction?

The Technical Terrain
1. How do we feel about the physical aspects of the blog?


Feel free to discuss these questions in comments.....

I want to ask this question: How has having folks who do not work in your center influenced your learning about writing center theory and practice?

Report from ECWCA

Right now, I'm in Columbus, OH, and using my director's laptop to post this. We're getting ready to begin day two of the ECWCA conference. A few more sessions, lunch, the final plenary, and back home we go.

Last night we got to see keynote speaker Andrea Lunsford. She spoke about her own writing center, it's history, and especially about where its recent focus has been. At Stanford's WC, they've taken a keen interest in the performative aspects of writing. The spoken word collective uses the WC facilities, and so does another poetry group. They hold a number of reading per year in the WC, sometimes tying into campus events like Admissions Week or Parents Week. They also host a series which allows undergrads to give presentations of their academic work throughout the year. Lunsford presented much of this information through a 15 minute video she played, giving us a sort of virtual tour of her WC.

The sessions I attended yesterday were great - there was some intense and amazing discussion following each one. I presented yesterday, so today I can just relax and enjoy the show. My only regret is that I missed a presentation by Nancy Grimm. Next year, I'll be sure to read the schedule a little more carefully.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Entering Rainbows, Puppies, and Fuzzy Bunnies into the Conversation

Behind me there's a consultation that's become a heated debate. I'm pretty sure that they're not even having the same conversation.

Have you ever . . . had a consultee get defensive? Perhaps he takes offense to the accusation that his sentence is a fragment. But it's not an accusation--it's a fact. However, before you can explain why it's a fact, he/she sits back and his eyes glaze over and he puts his fingers in his ears and begins to sing, "Of course I know how to write a complete sentence, I'm not listening, I can't even hear you, la, la, la." Okay, well, minus the song.

So what do you do?
-I compare it to a good example in the paper to put the emphasis back on something they are doing "right".
-Consult a source (handbook, another consultant, the assignment), in case it has a clearer explanation or just because maybe he/she would rather listen to someone else.
-OR I talk to the hard stare until I reach a point where I gloss over it and move on (read: fail).

I can't say I'm especially fond of the last option. Any other suggestions? Perhaps I should add some snazzier choreography to my grammar dance?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reading or Not

There is a discussion on a writing center listserv about not reading the writer's paper in the session but using Socratic method to work through the paper.

In Wendy Bishops book, "Acts of Revision," she suggests a similar idea to revising that she calls "memory drafts" (13-27).

In some sessions, I have found it useful to ignore the actual paper the writer brought in and discuss global ideas sans the confines of an actual paper.

All that being said, I wonder if any of you have experienced/tried this?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Praxis: A Writing Center Journal

A new edition of Praxis: A Writing Center Journal has been posted. Articles for this edition range from tutoring theory and practice, to practical methods.

Friday, April 04, 2008

An Accessible Writing Center

When I first signed on to Peer Centered, I worried if my contributions here would be meaningful. I worried I would run out of things to write about, about topics of interest to WC people. Then I had the idea of posting on a theme. I figured I would connect my posts here to the research I enjoy - working with difference. So I've set a goal to post once a week with each post relating to one element of Beverly Tatum's 'Seven Categories of 'Otherness'" - 1) race or ethnicity, 2) gender, 3) religion, 4) sexual orientation, 5) socioeconomic status, 6) age, and 7) physical or mental ability. So far, we've covered religion, race, and economic class, and I've been very motivated and excited by the discussion taking place around each issue.

What I want to investigate is how both directors and tutors respond to these categories of Otherness. Does our training take them into account, and after such training, do we feel confident in our abilities? What about administrative practices (such as hours of operation)? And finally, what about WC pedagogy itself - is it designed to work with difference, and if so, are there gaps or limitations to it?

That sounds like a lot to absorb, but hopefully it is not overwhelming. My interest in the subject was sparked in part by an article by Margaret Weaver called "Transcending Conversing: A Deaf Student in the Writing Center." She describes her work with this student and how she kept hitting upon limitations to her WC practice, where so much is based upon oral dialogue. It's a fascinating article and I can't recommend it enough.

I found the article only after some searching initiated by my own session with a deaf student. At the start of the session, I thoughtlessly said something to the effect of "We typically have you read the paper out loud; a lot of students find this helpful . . . " She just looked at me, laughed a little, and jokingly said "That probably isn't going to work so well for me." While her humor helped diffuse the situation, I was completely embarrassed and I couldn't begin to imagine how she felt.

After that initial stumbling, the session went fairly smoothly and was overall pretty good. But that beginning showed me how thoughtless I could be. Me, who tries to be conscientious and considerate - I could still be so careless and inconsiderate with a tutee. But for me, that session really drove home the importance of recognizing how oppressions overlap; if I could overlook someone's ability and embarrass her like that, how easily might I do the same to someone based on race, or sexual orientation, or anything else?

So I'm wondering, does anyone else have stories similar to this? Have you encountered people who are differently abled in the WC? How did those sessions go? Any advice or tips or things to avoid? As a secondary question - what about accessibility? Is your WC wheelchair accessible?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Warning! Warning! Rant Below...

The ability to write doesn’t come naturally—or supernaturally—to anyone. Despite the myths, one’s ability to write well isn’t created in luck. I doubt that it's a trait acquired through inheritance of the "writing gene," either. I'm not a geneticist, but I'm pretty sure that the "writing gene" is fictional. If this gene does exist, then I didn't inherit it, and I've never met anyone that has. Of course, writing's more difficult for some than it is for others—yet, I believe that putting one’s thoughts onto paper isn’t an easy process for anyone. I'm convinced that this "writing gene" is pure myth, a myth that's very popular and very dangerous. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve a student come into a session saying something similar to, "I’m a _________major…so, writing just doesn’t come natural for me." Statements like this one bother me a lot, and always make me wonder—does writing really come naturally for anyone? I’m an ___English___ major, yet writing, most certainly, does not come naturally to me. On the contrary, learning to write effectively has been one of the most challenging tasks that I’ve encountered. In fact, I chose to major in English, ironically, because I wasn't a "natural" writer. Writing’s something that I learned to enjoy, and I desired to get better at it. If I had believed in this "gene" myth, I have no idea where I'd be now.

How do I bust this myth? Is it my responsibility? Should it be?

Unfortunately, I’m not as theatrical (or as awesome) as Adam or Jaime, but I do believe that busting this particular myth is possible. When students muster-up their courage and finally enter the Center asking for help, I want them to walk away from a session with me possessing something tangible. I want them to leave with something they will always have. I want them to leave with not only their initial questions answered but also a heightened sense of what they're doing correctly—but how in the heck do I do that? Is it possible?

It's important that students are made aware of their strengths. So often students are being told only what they're doing incorrectly; therefore, many students envision their writing ability colored exclusively with red ink. As I stated earlier, I chose to major in English because I am not a "natural" writer—writing just happens to be something that I enjoy doing, and it's something that I’m passionate about. I didn't always feel this way, though. It took a special fifth-grade teacher to ignite the love of writing within me. One brief, positive comment changed my entire outlook on writing—Wow, you’re really great at descriptions—was, literally, all it took. Before that comment, writing only consisted of grammar and check marks. It was only after I heard those words that the negative stuff ceased to matter anymore; after all, I was great at descriptions.

I do think that anyone can learn to write well. Like most everything else in life, writing's a learned process—a process that anyone, skilled in any discipline, can learn. Everyone's different, and everyone's going to have different writing experiences—what's key to writing success, though, is to never give-in to self-doubt. Self-doubt is natural, yes, but it’s something that can be overcome; perhaps, this is why the "writing gene" myth is such a dangerous one. This myth tells students who aren't "naturally" skilled at writing—students like myself—that they'll never, ever, ever be good writers. You see, if a writer does believe in this myth, then that writer probably believes that he or she will never be a "writer". This myth obviously smothers potential for many students to realize their own writing ability. The fact that this happens, that this myth is held as fact, is very, very sad to me.

Well, I’ve blathered on and on about this myth, but I still haven’t got anywhere near finding a way to show students how false it really is. Sorry! But I have to ask: have you ever had a student that held similar beliefs? Have you found ways to bust it for them? This subject’s obviously something that really bothers me, and I suppose I was just wondering if it bothered any of you, too…