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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is an "Ideal Text" a Completly Bad Thing?

I finished reading Thomas Newkirk's "The First Five Minutes: Setting the Agenda in a Writing Conference," and I would like to discuss his criticism of what Knoblauch and Brannon call an "ideal text." On a side note, I have not actually read Knoblauch and Brannon's work yet, so I will only discuss Newkirk's definition and perspective pertaining to the ideal text.

An ideal text, according to Newkirk, is the text which a teacher/tutor/consultant has in their mind during a writing conference with a student; "an image of the true version which this paper [the student's] should ultimately conform to" (308). Newkirk's main concern with an ideal text is that if a teacher has an ideal in mind, then they are likely to dominate the writing conference and not afford the student the opportunity to brainstorm, reflect and learn from their own writing and thoughts because the teacher will only be gratified if/when the student conforms to the ideal. If this is the case, then it seems obvious that there is no collaborative learning; the teacher will most likely always be disappointed, the student will ultimately need the teacher write the paper for them, and learning/research are certainly kicked to the way side.

Do all teachers have an ideal text in mind when it comes to conferencing? I should think so, and I wouldn't necessarily cast the ideal in such a negative light as Newkirk does. In tweaking the definition a bit, I would say that an ideal text largely consists of the experience and knowledge of the teacher. In other words, our understanding of composition, grammar, structure, organization, style, tone, etc. contribute to the creation of an ideal text. These things are not bad in of themselves so long as we teachers are flexible with them and use them sparingly as one of many reference points during a writing conference.

If our agenda is to impose our ideal text onto the writer, then Newkirk's concerns are correct. We will be bad teachers, the students will hate writing and be less apt to participate in dialogue, thus collaborative learning has been terminated. But if we are willing to use an ideal text in the likeness of an organ donor--that is, occasionally rip something (e.g. thesis, transition, etc.) out of our ideal body and offer it up as one of many potential examples, then an ideal could benefit the student's thoughts and writing. Newkirk's concern is simple: an ideal text leads to bad writing conferences, and bad wring conferences are detrimental to collaborative leaning. I would argue, however, that it is not the ideal which is bad, but instead, what we choose to do with it. On that point, wearing a "What Would Plato Do" bracelet might be a bad idea.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There's more?

We're kind of a big class, I'd like to think 12+ or so newbs that have invaded the BSU (Boise State) Writing Center. As one of the youngest, if not THE youngest consultants-to-be, I have such respect for everyone I interact with whenever I go into the Center. Even my fellow 303'ers seem bigger then life to me because they are older, wiser and more experienced. Here I am, a little 19 year old, not even a flippin' sophomore yet (like two credits away...) and I'm trying to fulfill the duties of something I find very respectable. A writing tutor. My major as an Art Educator seems slightly related to this experience, but I did it for mainly selfish reasons.

One: I had the best first year of english, ever, last year with Zach Koppelmann.
Two: As an education major, I wanted to get a taste for working with and helping students, however I can, before student teaching.
Three: It sounded like a screamin' good time! And a good opportunity to find that niche I've been in search for since my entrance to the university over a year ago.

So far; I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with students and all consultants as well as other English majors. I have found somewhere I actually like being on campus, and I have started to learn skills that I will find entirely too useful for the rest of my life. And I am having a very good and fun time. :)

I also wanted to ask any and all who read this if there are any other education emphasis anythings out there that would like to share experiences, and connections made with WC work into general or specific education work.
Thank you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thanks Everyone!!!!

My sincere thanks to Annie, April and Michelle who replied to my peer-tutoring questionnaire! Your feedback is all so great that it has me super excited to start drafting my research paper. (Only an English nerd would be excited to write an 8 page paper!!!) That being said, if anyone else would like to respond, I would be excited to hear from you! Click on the title for a link to my original post so you can add your feed-back! Like I said, I'm new to this and can use all the help I can get! :)

Wish me luck on drafting this weekend!

all things 303

In all things 303 we are learning about three effective and powerful tools. They are: active listening; facilitating; and wrapping up a session. One good way of wrapping up a session would be to have a silence and wait time where the tutor and the student take a moment to reflect on what has taken place so far in the session. Then you could easily go into a question like: "do you have any questions before we close?" that way signaling the end of the session without putting the student into a tense situation. I have not tried this personally but I have seen it done and it looks like it works.

My First Time

Yesterday at the Boise State Writing Center, two of our veteran consultants were sick, so a handful of us newbies got to do our first consultations, myself included.  I had been very excited for my first session, so of course, although I was nervous, I was eager to rise to the occasion.  So I want to tell all of you about it, because it will be a fond memory of mine for years to come!

My appointment was about 5 minutes late, which only added to my nervousness.  She showed up, tattooed arms and flustered face, and apologized for being late.  I told her it was fine, explained that I was filling in for someone who was sick, and led her to a desk where we sat down.  She filled out some brief paperwork, and then I asked her what we were going to be working on.  She said that she forgot the assignment sheet, but she stumbled her way through explaining the assignment: a 6 page English 101 paper comparing and describing a language community other than her own.  I verbally established that it was a brainstorming session, and tried to get her thinking about language communities that might be interesting to her, which got us nowhere.  So I tried to get creative; I knew I would need a roundabout way to get her thinking.  I asked her questions about what communities she belonged to, and which ones she doesn't.  We eventually came up with a topic, and then she offered up a suggestion to narrow her topic even more, which was great.  I loved that I could see her thinking.  She left with a list of topics to cover and a written-down game plan.  And now, for the best part: she said she felt like she actually had some place to start now, and that "it" helped a lot.  I was elated!  We said our thank-yous and goodbyes, and I went out to the main part of our center to tell another consultant how awesome it was.  I was bubbling over!  There's something very magical about what goes on in a consultation, and I was so happy I finally got to be a direct part of that.  I officially have the "Writing Center Bug"!

So now I want to hear about your first time.  Or maybe your first successful time, when you left the consultation thinking you really got it right.  I think with anything, once we get in the hang of consulting, it's very possible to lose sight of the initial excitement we feel in the beginning.  So I invite you to bring those memories back; I want to hear about them!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ben Reed, Reporting for Duty.

Another BSU writing intern ready to join the ranks of Peer Centered.

As far as a quick introduction my name is Ben Reed and I am a Senior at Boise State University. My major is a BA in English with a Literary Studies Emphasis and a Japanese Studies Minor. With all luck I'll be graduating Spring of 2010. When I'm not working or at school I usually am doing either freelance writing or playing one table top role playing or another with my friends. I am an author hopeful, having put together my first 600 novel manuscript. It still needs to be polished but I hope to have it on the shelves one day.

This week was an exciting one for me at the Center because I got to do my first consultation. I had originally expected to have a reluctant student in who "didn't know what this place is really for" but instead subbed for one of the veterans who became ill. I had been hoping to deal with a "tough" student from the get go but instead got to deal with a very nice student who had been in the center several times already. I started reaching out, analyzing what we had learned in class and trying to apply it to my own tutoring style. I find that I still mostly am a listener but when I get talking I can really keep a conversation going. In fact what was going to be a 30 minute consultation ended up being an hour because I still had time to talk. The student was very positive about the whole experience and appreciative of my help, I was also happy with how it went.

Normally working retail I found this to actually be less stressful of an environment, for whatever reason. Not to say I wasn't paying attention to the student but the environment was a more comfortable one and it was nice not having to wear a uniform. Anyways that's about it for me today. Feel free to comment on this or other posts, I'll try looking through the archives and starting up some conversations in the near future. Good to be on board!

At the Edge

Oh, no! Another new intern posting on this blog! Can you tell that one of the Boise State interns' assignments was to make a post on this blog by today? I'm actually glad this assignment was given by our lovely, wondeful, genius teacher, Melissa Keith, who has, thus far, skillfully guided us lowly interns through the confusing twists and turns of working in the Writing Center. Her passion and compassion is truly inspiring, and I for one have claimed her as my personal idol. Too much? OK, I'll stop now.

To be truthful, interning at the Writing Center hasn't been full of confusing twists and turns. Thanks to the friendly, welcoming atmosphere Melissa and the consultants have created in our center, it's been quite easy to settle in. I've really been enjoying my time there. It's been a month since I began working in the center, and the time has whizzed by. I've sat in on consultations, and have been furiously studying tutoring techniques outlined in the Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. I've been diligently reading Martha Kolln and learning grammar galore. Now, only a few short weeks separate me from my full integration into the world of tutoring, from my first consultation.

...Sorry, I just think I had a mild heart attack. I am absolutely terrified. It's not that I'm a stranger to writing tutoring (having two younger siblings and two busy parents meant I got to look over essays and homework). But suddenly, the idea of helping some stranger with a writing assignment is making me break out into cold sweats! I suddenly feel completely inadequate! I don't know enough grammar, I don't know MLA/APA/Chicago well enough, I can't even speak coherently half the time!

I know I need to relax. I know that everyone gets the jitters right before a big transition. I know I need to breathe deeply and not break down into hysterics when my first appointment arrives. I know I can do this. Now that I'm at the edge of the cliff, I know I need to just jump off.

Maybe I just need a little push.

If anyone has a first time story that will not send me running away in terror, I'd love to hear it!

Any teachers out there?

Hey Peers,

I'm a new member of the Writing Center at Boise State University checking in. I'm an English major with a teaching emphasis and my goal is to teach writing to middle school students. When I applied to work in our university's center I thought it would be a perfect fit--a way of getting some experience.

On our campus we have a class that coincides with our first semester working in the center to help prepare us for the world of writing centers. At first our class covered a lot of theory and history about writing centers and it bummed me out a little. I really wanted to learn about the "right way" to approach writers who need help, not about the evolution of college writing centers. It hasn't been until recently that we've begun to tackle approaches to the actual tutoring process, but I can already see I am going to learn a lot of what I'm looking for.

I have been wondering though, is there anyone out there who teaches and has worked or does currently work in a writing center? What types of experiences or lessons have you found to be valuable? What specific knowledge should I be trying to gain from my class and my working in our center? Your responses would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks
-Ryan

Excitement

So I am a brand new tutor for Boise State; there is a ton of us on here right now isn't there! I have just finished my second consultation and I just have to say how excited I am to really dig in and get some tutoring done. My first consultation was on Tuesday, for a veteran tutor. This was a great way for me to get my feet wet, I think because I wasn't as worried about sending them in the wrong direction. Mostly because I knew they were already a strong writer. I am also in the unique situation to see how the paper turned out, for the final draft. He did an excellent job, and I was able to see how the consultation helped.

My second consultation was for an ESL student, and I loved it. From all the theory I have been reading in my tutoring class and from my lit classes, working with this ESL gal really helped me solidify the theory in my head. I had to reword and break down the theory and find more common words to explain what I wanted to say, so she could understand. I think the most rewarding part of the consultation is when I could see things start to connect in her head. The expression on her face went from a nervous smile to one of understanding.

I want to know what other tutors have been doing this semester so far. What new challenges are you encountering? What have you found especially rewarding? Do you have any suggestions on how to stay excited about working in the writing center? And what do you love most about your writing center?

Thanks for all you do to help the world write better one student at a time! :)

To My Fellow Peer Tutors:

Hi everyone!

I am a student at MATC in Madison, WI and am a part of a peer tutoring practicum course. This course is brand new to the college and is geared at preparing students to become peer tutors in our school's writing center.

For this course, I am writing a research paper. My topic is on "The Growth of the Peer Tutor," and I am trying to find a number of peer tutors to fill out a short questionaire on their experiences in the writing center. I would love to hear from some vetran peer tutors about how they have been effected by their time in the writing center. (Or even some of you newbies, about what you've been observing.) The following is a couple of quick questions that I would love your feedback on! If anyone has the time to respond, it would be greatly appreciated. Just post your answers in the Comments section!

Thanks
-Angie


Peer Tutoring Questionaire:


1) What is your name, and may I use it when quoting sources in my research paper?


2) How has your work in the writing center influenced your own academic growth?


3) What are the challenges of tutoring a student in a field of study you are unfamiliar with?


4) Professionalism: How do you balance being seen as a “tutor” or “authority figure” in the writing center with being a “peer” or “fellow college student” elsewhere on campus?


5) Has peer tutoring changed the way you approach your own writing?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If You Had it to Do Over

Hi Everyone.
I am Andrea. Much like the posts (bloggers) before, I am also part of the Writing Center at Boise State University--another new guy.

I have thus far listened in on consultations and had the opportunity to do my first consultation a little less than a week ago. I felt like my consultation went really well. I am nervous for the next consultation though. I have spoken with some veteran consultants from our center and they said that the second one almost always bombs; it's just Murphy's Law. I have also had the experience described as a rollercoaster, presumably until the newness wears off and everything levels out.

We have done some reading in our class to prepare us for the sessions, but I am curious to hear from other veterans out there in other centers. While I know that our situations may be different (i.e. small school vs. big schools etc.), I feel we are all in the same situation. If you had your first consulations to do over again, or if your now self was talking to your old self, what would you tell past you? What sort of advice would you give someone in my position? Are there particular pieces of scholarship that helped you when you were new? Are there certain situations you would cringe at that you had gotten yourself into? Did you experience the same sort of roller coaster as explained to me? It seems that you all are the best source of input for us newbies.

In Search of Theory

The Writing Center field is relatively new to me and I'm sure she will show me many more tactics and strategies for consultations and collaborative leaning, but as of now, I have not been satisfied with the way "theories" are being presented. I think my problem is that I have an image/definition in my mind about what a theory is (right or wrong), and it is not matching up to the "theories" within writing center publications for consultants. To me, a theory is far more than a quibble, or a call-to-arms. When I here the word "theory," I think of Kant's "Hypothetical/Categorical Imperatives," Barthes' "Dead Author," Said's "Orientalism," etc. I do not view North's opinion statements and proposals to be theory (this is not to say that it isn't valuable, or unscholarly - just not theory). Of all the readings that our BSU 303 class has examined, I would argue that there is no theory (according to my definition) in any of them thus far- Lisa Ede even mentions this in her article, "Writing as a Social Process" when she asserts that there has been no new theories since Bruffee's Collaborative Learning. Is this true, or is my definition of theory bankrupt? I don't mean to come off as a bully or some idealistic snob. I would just like to find some theory within writing center R&D if it is out there, or else, reconcile the two conflicting definitions of theory.

Do Theory and Practice Overlap?

Like Rachel and Rob, I’m also a newbie in the Boise State Writing Center, and I’m also concurrently enrolled in BSU’s English 303 class, Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing. For these first four or five weeks of class, we’ve been inculcated with the theory, as first formulated and articulated by the venerable Stephen North, that writing centers are not fix-it shops or skills centers, but are instead places where tutors or consultants dialogue with students about the students’ writing and thereby help the students to become better writers. To reinforce the Northian ideal, we English 303-ers have also been inundated with essays by scholars such as Lisa Ede and Kenneth Bruffee, all of which elaborate on North by describing the act of writing as a collaborative process and theorizing on the ways in which talking about things like sentence structure, organization, transitions, and revision actually help students to become better writers. While I have observed many writing-center consultations where the tutors have indeed put such theory into practice and have steered students into a productive dialogue about their papers, I’ve also observed situations where the students tried to push the consultants into merely “fixing up” the punctuation and grammar in their papers. And sometimes the consultants acquiesced! At first, I was a bit dismayed by this apparent disparity between theory and practice. Even though I was assured by our center’s director and by veteran consultants that it’s sometimes okay to focus on grammar and punctuation issues, especially if those are the issues affecting the quality of a given student’s writing, I was still suffering anxiety over the thought of putting Northian theory on the back burner, digging out the proverbial red pen, and circling misused semicolons and correcting dangling modifiers during a writing-center consultation.

If there are other newbies out there struggling with this same issue, I’d like to share something that I’ve observed in BSU’s writing center that has helped me overcome my anxiety over this apparent disparity between writing-center theory and practice. Now, I’ve made it a point to observe the methods of as many veterans in our center as I possibly can, and most of those I’ve observed do a pretty good job in steering students away from the repair-shop mentality. But one veteran consultant in particular has a very cool way of adapting theory to practice, especially when a student clearly wants nothing more than to get the grammar and punctuation “fixed.” When this veteran agrees to do some “red-pen” error correction, he talks to the student as the corrections are made, and he explains why a given faux pas creates a problem for the reader and why the correction he makes clears up that problem. So while he is, in effect, doing a bit of fix-it work on the student’s paper, he is also engaging in a Northian-type dialogue with the student about that student’s writing. In other words, this consultant is not abandoning theory, but he is instead molding it to fit a situation he regularly faces in practice. Some of his fix-it sessions have been the most productive consultations that I’ve observed, as I could almost see the light bulb blink on in the students’ heads when the consultant explained what he was doing and why, and there was no doubt that the students walked away from the session knowing a little more about grammar and punctuation than they had when they’d walked in. Isn’t this in keeping with North’s statement that the goal of a writing center is “to make better writers, not necessarily—or immediately—better texts”? I think it is. So when I’m finally conducting consultations on my own, this is the example I plan to follow when a student pushes for the quick fix. I’ll correct some of the student’s errors, true, but he or she will talk to me about what’s being done and why, and that student will definitely learn something about writing before the session is over.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm Sorry, Did You Want to Hold That?

Hello, peers. I'm another new member of the Boise State Writing Center consulting team, which means I'm also a student in the fabulous tutoring class BSU offers its writing center newbies (yay, class!). For whatever it's worth, I think I’ve learned as much about myself these past few weeks as I have about the theory and practice of tutoring writing. Among the things I’ve learned about myself, sadly, is that I am no darn good at hearing writing. That problem will be the crux of this post. I’m hoping to get a sort of tally on consultation tactics that might guide me over and beyond my instincts in the coming weeks.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got to hold the paper. If there’s a paper, I’ve got to hold it. You’ve got a paper? Give it here. Your paper = Mine to hold. I’m betting the reasons behind this instinct are many and varied, but the foremost reason is obvious: If you’re reading the paper and I can’t see it, I’m not hearing a word you’re saying. Even if the paper’s on the table between us and you’re reading it aloud, I’m not hearing you, and I’m not following along—even if it looks like I am. I’ve got to read the paper myself—in my own voice (or head)—in order to process it, in order to be useful in any real way.

During my observation sessions, I’ve noticed that consultants generally take the professionally recommended course of action: they ask the writer if they’d like to read the paper themselves, or if they’d prefer that the consultant read it. As writers vary, so do preferences. Okay.

So when I had my first one-on-one consultation (a walk-in), I presented the student the option of reading the paper herself. I got lucky: she wanted me to read it. The session went well. I offered my next walk-in the same option. This one stared at me for a perplexed moment, puckered her lips, squinted a bit, then haphazardly started reading her paper aloud.

Despite that my pencil was poised to take notes and that I was all rarin’ to go, by the time the girl got to the end of her introduction, I couldn’t remember a word she’d said. I actually had to stop her and say, “You know what, I was wrong—I’m going to need to read the paper.” She handed it over and I placed it in front of me—not between us—and I read it aloud. It felt ugly, especially since I’d offered the poor girl an option then yanked it away, but it worked. For now, that’s what works for me.

So I’m wondering, is this a person-to-person phenomenon—like, I learn and process things visually where someone else might not? Or is it a generally acknowledged “newbie” phenomenon, one that will fade with experience? Or is it case-based—are there some writing pieces that are more easily internalized through the ear than others?

I imagine that as the weeks go by I’ll get better at inching the paper toward the writer, so that it rests between us, at least, if not in his or her hands. But I would really like to know how veteran consultants approach the situation, and whether there are others out there like me, who need to touch the page in order to understand it.

Customer Service: The Neglected Aspect of Tutoring

I am a new member of the BSU Writing Center team and have only been observing the goings on for a few weeks. As a person who has in the past made his living from listening, helping and serving, I cannot help but write about a topic of which I believe I have ample knowledge: customer service.

Now, I know you’re thinking I must be nuts but follow me on this for a moment. We are, as “tutors”, providing a service. In order to prove our services worthy and necessary, we must be willing to provide the best possible service to our “customers” as we can. That is just good business.

So, as consultants, how do we practice customer service? Break down the process you use in your own center. A prospect (customer) walks in and what are they seeking? Guidance? Can we call that your “product”? So they want the best possible product for their “money” (in this case let’s say time is money.) The prospect is hoping for a good grade on their writing; which, we can look at as a “return on their investment”. Now granted, we do not guarantee a good grade but we can offer the best guidance possible to point the prospect in that direction.

Now think like a customer for a moment. If you walk into a place and you are about to plunk down some serious cash, what would you expect from the representatives? Quick attention? Warm friendly greetings? Honest and helpful guidance? Me too. So how do we provide those things?

First, whether there are eight of you in the center or you are by yourself, be quick to acknowledge their presence. If this is their first time in the center, they are probably nervous. We as humans tend to be at our most vulnerable when we are asking for help. Greet the prospect with a smile and friendliness. If you scowl at them like they are bothering you, more than likely they will feel this and not get that initial “warm fuzzy” to set them at ease. If a group of consultants are chatting when a person walks in, stop the conversation and all should be respectful of that person’s presence. I would suggest only one person from the group address the prospect directly though, as too many voices coming at a person at once could confuse them and make the situation tense.

If the person has an appointment, the assigned consultant should address the writer, introduce himself or herself and begin dialogue with the prospect. I like to tell my staff at my business, imagine this person is walking into your home. How would you make a guest in your home comfortable?

If the prospect does not have an appointment and there is an available consultant, that consultant should be willing to help the person. If an appointment needs to be made, explain the circumstances and walk that person through setting an appointment.

If for some reason, they are early or they must wait for their consultant to help them, offer them a place to sit and prepare their notes or questions. Maybe you can offer them some refreshment if it is available. No one likes to feel awkward just standing around with no clue as to what they should do until someone can help them. Who wants to look lost?

Least of all, do not just ignore the person! Consultants just jumping back into the conversation they were having may make the person feel left out or ignored. We want them to trust us. After all, they came to us for help.

When you are the consultant helping the prospect, be mindful that they may not have the technical jargon of writing that you do. Be patient and willing to explain concepts or words they may not understand. How many of you can explain a participle and why you don’t necessarily want it hanging out for the world to see? Imagine the confusion you first felt when your teacher first tried to explain parts of speech or what a FANBOY is.

In some cases, you may even ask them to repeat back to you in their own words the concepts you are explaining. This helps them understand it better and lets you know whether or not they grasp it.

EYE CONTACT! I can’t stress it enough. Look at them and let them know you are listening. On that note, ACTIVELY LISTEN! This is their time not yours, avoid distractions and getting off topic. Sometimes, they will try to pull you off topic but while they should drive the session, you should keep it on track.

When the session is over, offer words of encouragement. Be willing to answer final questions (provided it doesn’t cut into your next appointment’s time.) Restate what the goals were for the session and ask them if they feel you met them. If they require further help, help them set up another appointment. Maybe even with yourself if you have developed a rapport or comfort level.

Look. We are not here to become everyone’s friend, confidant or psychoanalyst, but we are here to help. We have all struggled with our writing in the past, so be mindful; be respectful; and most importantly- be helpful! Good customer service ensures continued business. Sometimes, your best advocates are your former prospects. But on the same note, remember, they can also be your biggest opponents!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Experiences in a High School

Hello everyone,

First, I’d like to say I’m glad to join this writing center conversation. My name is Denise, and I am an undergraduate student and a tutor at the University Writing Center at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida. This is my senior year, and my majors are English: Professional Writing and Religious Studies.


Recently, our UWC started a satellite writing center at Monsignor Edward Pace Sr. High, which is across the street from STU. Another tutor, Leo, and I visit Pace two days a week, once after school and on Friday mornings to help with the writing classes.


I had my first tutoring session at Pace on Friday morning, and I did not know what to expect. Although I have been tutoring at STU’s UWC for a year, this felt different–it felt like unknown territory. When we got there, we walked into a classroom full of students, introduced ourselves and started walking around and helping students with their assignments. They were working on writing either of two things: 1) a 250-word essay on what was important to them or 2) a poem on any topic as long as it was not more than 21 lines.

The students responded well to our presence there. They wanted our help and input. Some were very excited to see us. One student, Kaycee, (real name will not be disclosed in these postings) had a very creative imagination. He had so many thoughts running through his head that he could not stay on just one topic. Another student, Ally, knew she did not want to write an essay and thought the poem would be easier and faster to write. When I arrived at her group, I asked her group members what they were thinking of writing and on what topic. I explained that a poem did not have to rhyme; it just needed to have a flow when read and she seemed to understand (this reaction varied among different groups).

There were students that had easier times writing than others. One student asked me "How do I begin?" My answer to her was, "You don't begin—you just start writing." After explaining to her what I meant about that statement, she got the point. I was trying to tell her not to focus on the beginning paragraph if she did not know what she wanted to write about yet. Very Donald Murray.


I find that many students, especially freshmen, are so focused on following the format of a 5-paragraph essay that they lose focus of what they are writing. What often happens is that I have a student who doesn’t like writing and doesn’t know how to begin, so she has writer’s block because she is focusing only on the introduction, and she becomes frustrated with the assignment. This is a recipe for a writing disaster.


When this happens, my advice to students is to write without writing the introduction. In a traditional high school setting, this is not what students usually hear teachers telling them. Throughout my experience, I’ve seen that sometimes it’s easier for the student to write about the assignment without the introduction.


This is the way I see it: you can’t introduce someone you don’t know. The same applies to writing; you can’t introduce something that you haven’t written about.


Is it just me, or does it seem that when you ask a student to go outside the 5 paragraph box, they are somewhat lost on where to go or how to approach their writing?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We're famous!

Jackie Grutsch McKinney has mentioned PeerCentered in her new Writing Lab Newsletter column "Geek in the Center" (WLN, Vol 35, No. 1. 7-9. Print.). It is good to see that WLN will more prominently feature uses of technology in writing centers. That is not to say, however, that WLN hasn't always been at the forefront of exploring the uses of technology for and in writing centers. WLN, in fact, has pioneered much of the scholarship in the uses of technology in our field. I might note that this issue is teaming with tech articles, given that the lead piece is about podcasting. PeerCentered too has a podcast that needs a kick in the pants. Any takers?