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Monday, June 16, 2008

the Writing Center 1/2 elevator speech

Last week I tagged along with our Writing Center director to Freshman Orientation, in order to 'represent' the Writing Center. After struggling to assemble a rather complicated poster contraption behind our folding table and admiring (coveting) the library table's schmancy set-up with lap-tops, a table cloth, and candy, we settled in ready to arm incoming students with Writing Center bookmarks and pencils.

The students rushed the room in big clumps. I attempted to give a bookmark to anyone that would make eye contact with me. A few times I almost forgot what I was doing and said "Vote for Change"...but it was not election flyers I was handing out, but a valuable summary of what the writing center is: information that defines my academic passion, my pedagogy, and my day-to-day work.

Most students opened their complimentary trick-or-treating bags just long enough for me to drop a pencil in and moved on to the Student Health Insurance table, which was giving out classy water bottles. But several students did stop, ready to absorb any information about the Writing Center I chose to bestow upon them. So I did my best: "We work with writers at any stage of the writing process," "it's always good to get a sounding board for your ideas," "we may not have brought candy with us, but we have quite a selection in the center." It was kind of tough. What is the most important information I can pass on in a clear way in a short amount of time? If you had to (or when you have had to) sum up the work of your writing center in two sentences what would (or did) you say?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

RMPTC Revisited

Brazen excuse time: Because of the hectic--hectic, I tell you!--spring semester, my bloggy presence was rather lackluster, if not bordering on the non-existent. But one of the topics that I wanted to blog about and didn't get to because of my incredible lack of mad organizational skillz was the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference that took place in Boise, Idaho. (If you like, you can easily jog your memory of this conference by scrolling down and re-reading the posts that were written about this event.)

I thought the conference was a huge success, despite my presence. That, my friends, is a clear marker of success. One of the pleasures for me (besides grazing at the stellar dessert table) was getting to meet other consultants and tutors from other areas of the country. Whoever came up with the "Game Night" idea is brilliant (no, it wasn't me), as it allowed the local BSU consultants to easily connect and socialize with those that had made the trip from out-of-town. Nothing really brings people together like losing spectacularly at "Last Word" (well, that's been my experience.)

The only difficulty that I had with the conference (and we should all have such difficulties) was in choosing which presentations I would get to attend. The list was diverse--I more than once struggled in choosing between equally interesting, but concurrent sessions. I felt the need, for example, to attend Miranda Burningham's "Breaking Down Writer's Block," but I was sufficiently intrigued by Jared Odd's presentation entitled "Grab Feet, Hold to Fire." (I opted for "Fire.") Upon reflection, I'm sure that there were no wrong choices.

Jared's style was engaging and inclusive. His main argument--that tutors need to ask the difficult questions of writers and not unnecessarily coddle them--had me reflecting on my own consulting style. Jared made the point that difficult questions could be posed in a tactful way, and would indeed benefit the writer. I think his presentation made me realize that, as trite as it sounds, honesty is still the best policy; don't avoid the difficult patches--confront them in a positive way.

Sharing the same session was Charlotte Clark from BYU, who was simply dynamic. Her effusive (infectious? irresistible? all of the above?) speaking style was perfectly suited for her topic: "Lessons Learned from Inspirational Teachers." Charlotte did have notes, but for the most part she energetically riffed off the crowd, encouraging us to share positive teaching stories with each other. All throughout her lecture she connected with her audience (seemingly, with little effort)--which only empahsized how important the role of inspiration could be in pedagogy.

One session that I missed was BSU's Elizabeth Chilbert's "When Roles Collide: On Being a Writing Center Tutor and Composition Instructor." Luckily, for me, it was published in the Spring 2008 edition of Praxis, and I was able to at least read it. If you're a fan of Seinfeld, it's mandatory reading. Check it out: http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/praxis/?q=node/211

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer Readin'

Ah, summer readin'... reading so relaxed you have to drop the "g." I just finished reading a great Tutor's Column in the March 2008 issue of The Writing Lab Newsletter. The article, written by Emily Plummer, discusses the importance of making "small talk" in a tutoring session. She brings up some insightful points that illustrate the positive benefits of small talk, not the least of which is using small talk to make a writer feel more comfortable, as well as establishing a rapport with the writer.

When I first started doing consultations, I didn't engage in much small talk. Engaging in the rhythms of small talk has never been easy for me. I'm too self-conscious. My feeble attempts (How bout this weather, huh?) sound forced because they are forced. Being a newbie, I was hyper-aware of everything I was doing in a consultation--to my own detriment. After a few months of doing consultations, however, I found myself becoming more comfortable with the entire process of consulting. I felt more relaxed, which, in turn, allowed me to turn the focus off of myself and the process, and more to where it belonged: the writer. It was then it really hit me: a little bit of small talk goes a long ways.

I don't know the percentage, but for a good chunk o' people (how's that for statistically exact?) who visit the writing center are doing so for the first time. There's a good chance they could be nervous, or possibly uncertain about the Writing Center Experience. A few small words, even if they do sound socially perfunctory, allows the writer to ease into the session. "How ya doin'? How's your semester going? Did you see last night's 'So You Think You Can Dance?" These types of questions (okay, maybe the last one is too much) can be integral in establishing rapport.

Being somewhat socially awkward, I was surprised at how a simple bit of small talk could help make a session smoother. In fact, I know feel like small talk is an essential component of a successful consultation.

My questions to my fellow bloggers: Is small talk a necessary part of your consultations? Or is it extraneous?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Summertime

Well, my series of posts on difference in the writing center kind of fizzled out. I have to apologize for that. After the ECWCA conference, things just got backed-up for me and unfortunately this blog hit the back burner. I really enjoyed the conversation from the posts I did get up (and from this blog in general). I never did write posts on gender, age, and sexual orientation, although I had planned to.

I'll be working reduced hours in the WC over the summer. Due to typically slow summers, we're only open a part of the time, and with less tutors. So just a quick poll today - is your WC open over the summer? If so, are hours reduced? And how about actual use? Slower, busier, or about the same?