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Showing posts from December, 2007

Figuring it out... maybe

As we wrap up the semester, or in my case, as the semester wraps me up, (clearly struggling with a loss of control here) it is interesting to think of how my perspective as a writer and consultant has changed. It’s interesting how, after all of the texts, the theories, the peer discussions that have led to my evolution as a consultant, that the first image of my pedagogy (weird that I legitimately have one now) leads me back to the original Stephen North article, “The Idea of a Writing Center.” Once more the opening paragraphs to his theory, later irreverently dismissed by what I can only perceive to be an increasing disillusionment (man I loathe that second article), illustrates an image of writing as a lonely and frustrating struggle. I realize now, that for many students, writing is a task done in solitude where no conversation, no negotiation occurs—where support lies mostly in an MLA handbook (if they have one). It is from this notion of writing of that I found my pedagogy. I fee…

Curing the Writing Disease

Of all the writing center theory we have read, the emphasis we have placed on confronting “fix-it” shop stigmas seem, to me, to be an important task for writing centers. I find myself, in my own pedagogy, addressing the issue and insisting on being a support for my peers, not an authoritative writing know-it-all. So it will be no surprise to you when I disclose my EXTREME frustration with the circumstances of a consultation that completely undermined this notion.

When two ESL students arrived for their appointment (they didn’t realize that they were supposed to make two separate appointments) I sat down with them and was given an overview of their assignment. With this overview, the frustration began.

Both students whipped out a piece of paper for me to look at and sign from their professor, Dr. I Can’t Believe You Are Allowed To Teach. It was a prescription. A writing prescription. A DOCTOR’S PRESCIRPTION. For what you may ask? A writing disease called word choice. Not only did Dr. I C…

Merry Luda-crismas

Writing Center Randomness

To accurately reflect the caffeine-fueled, anxiety-riddled, psychedelic-Christmas light altered state that is the Writing Center during finals week, I thought I’d post a glimpse into the scattered images and thoughts bouncing off the walls here at Santa’s Workshop, er, I mean the Writing Center.

11:00a.m. My first consultation is going well…I explained what plagiarism is and I think (I thinnnk) I’ve figured out how to cite a Youtube video APA style. This could come in handy for my final paper for English 596.

11:34a.m. That peppermint mocha from Starbucks is hitting the bloodstream. Woooo! My mind is filled with rooty-toot-toots and rummy-tum-tums.

12:10 p.m. My next consultee is running late. Mike offers me a random ham sandwich. It comes in a brown paper sack, complete with an apple, a bag of potato chips, plus little packets of mayo and mustard, which are cuter than cute. I feast on the repast later, not knowing where it really came from. It is deliciou…

end of the semester thoughts

it's been a long and, at times, daunting semester. To see how far i've come as a consultant in the past fifteen weeks, is a little bit surprising, and yet exciting as well. At the beginning of the semester i found myself overwhelmed with "the ideal session." We had read many essays all claiming to have the one and only way to conduct a proper session. However, with each article i read, i found that i never fully agreed with every word in it. There was always bits from this one or a snatch from that one or spackle a speck of wisdom from the one over there. But never did i find that one fully encompassed how to conduct the perfect consultation.
While conducting sessions, i constantly found myself worrying if i was breaking one of the rules that North had laid out. I was terrified i was dictating papers and not guiding them. I found myself questioning every word that came out of my mouth, in fear that i was going to be punished by the great Deity of the writing c…

Consultants as Chefs

You know, we have been discussing the similarities to brothels and writing centers for awhile now, and it seems that it has become quite the topic of argument. I personally enjoyed seeing the possible relationship that could be created, and got a kick out of trying to find things to either reinforce the relationship, or tear it down. For the sake of all those in grave disagreement with the prostitute and brothel analogy, I thought I would throw another option I have been thinking on a little out there.

Now, don’t kill me. I haven’t been thinking this through for long, so it may be extremely easy to shoot the relationship down, but it seemed like it might allow for some engaging thought. What other things could you relate the work we do as consultants to? I jumped on the idea as consultants being likened to chefs.

A consultant could be thought of as a chef because chefs are used in various instances. If you prefer the term “cook” to “chef,” fine, I believe the relationship to be th…

Trusting Other Writers

I was also reasonably unwilling to visit the Writing Center, just as Sarah M., because, while I would have placed a great deal more trust in them than those in my classes during peer-editing sessions, I was always concerned that they would have their own agenda and not tend to the needs I wanted them to tend to. I also recognized that they were only human and may very possibly give me the wrong advise.

Working in the Writing Center, and with my peers in 303, has been very helpful for me. I am now more than willing to visit the Writing Center because I know how beneficial it really is. I also understand that while, yes, consultants are only human, so am I (funny how that works seeing as I personally fit in both categories.) The thing is, with work in the Writing Center, consultants can be trusted to have a certain amount of knowledge, and to also be willing to admit when they would prefer to hit the reference books. I think this is such an excellent thing. I think more than any pr…

Who's in Control?

This semester, I took a linguistics course called the Politics of Language. On the last day of class, the instructor split us into small groups and prompted us to think about how language is political. The overlying idea of my group was that the political-ness of language lies in the idea of power. As our discussion progressed, we began talking about writing, and the strict parameters set forth by high school instructors. I found myself tying the conversation to the Writing Center, because my last consultation for the semester ended with a conversation between me and the student I was working with about this very thing. She expressed the difficulty she had in college writing because those strict guidelines were not there. So, going back to the linguistics conversation, this came into play. But that was where it turned interesting.
One of the other students in my group asked an interesting question. He said something along the lines of, "Isn't the Writing Center ess…

My First Time as a Consultee

I have a confession to make. I used to be afraid to visit the writing center. In fact, until I became a consultant, I'd never been. I was pretty sure that consultants used some sort of mind tricks or something, and that there were indeed "right" answers to the questions asked . . . though I'd have to guess at them.

I was afraid that the paper they'd tell me to write wouldn't be the paper I wanted to write. I think I was still trying to find my voice then, over-protective of my writing and too easily influenced by outside sources.

Which I guess tells me that, as a consultant, I shouldn't play mind tricks by being vague, yet I should refrain from telling people what to do.

On to my experience--I was having a hard time getting a paper written, so I made an appointment. My trepidation over the paper overrode my fear of being a consultee. I found myself babbling anxiously, and asking "Does this make sense?" (Although I certainly didn't bot…

Unexpected ESL

I’ve come to appreciate ESL students on a rather selfish level. Yes, I recognize that the nonnative speaker undergoes significant hardship in learning the language and academic norms. But I have latched onto something in ESL tutorial sessions that makes my job as a consultant not only more fun, but also more challenging.

You see, in my experience, ESL students know more about the mechanics of English grammar than do native speakers. This undoubtedly comes from studying the complicated language on such a small scale, whereas native speakers take their grammar for granted.

Anyway, to get to the point, the very last consultation I had this semester was with an older lady who was from somewhere in the Ukraine. I found this out quickly because her paper was an ethnography on the Bolshevik republics before and after the dissolution of the Soviet union. It was such a complicated topic and the paper was nearly 20 pages long. The sentence structure in the paper was incredibly complicate…

Improvisation: Students Driving the Consultation

It is interesting what a schedule does to me. How seeing time slots next to my name colored grey instills a kind of confidence boost (whether it occurs out of hope or optimism I am still too confused to differentiate). The difference, to a greater extent, however, is having actual consultations with peers. Even the dynamics of class has changed because of it with the addition of personal experience to our learning process. It is always an interesting step to move from the 2-D world of helpful manuals and essays to “real life,” moving from discussing the possibilities of improvisation to a place that demands it for survival.I think now of a consultation I had a few days ago (how weird to say that!). A writer came in with a Health Science assignment, an opinion piece about whether health care is a commodity or a right. When I initially asked him what it was that we were going to work on, he made a statement I have come to recognize, “Editing and stuff.” I asked if there was anything spe…

Event More Deep Thoughts From Cassie

Today, I did my first e-mail consultation in the writing center. It was a little bit tougher than I thought. I remember doing one in the writing center class, but I guess that was easier, because I could take it home, think it over, and then write a response. But in the center, I only had 1 hour blocked off to read the paper, think about it, and then write a response. It took me longer than an hour. I’m not saying an hour is not long enough; I’m saying that I’m slow, probably because it was my first, real e-mail consultation. But it got me thinking about e-mail consultations, and how different they are from the other work I do at the writing center.At first, when e-mail consultations were introduced to me, I kind of liked them more than other consultations, because I could sit down, and write a really thoughtful response, and then the student could actually have something to take home with them, instead of going off a few notes or off of memory. But, then, after doing a real e-mail co…

More Deep Thoughts From Cassie

Today I had a pretty cool consultation, because I helped someone that didn’t get the right kind of help the last time she was in the writing center. Of course, that’s unfortunate that she didn’t get help the last time she was in the center—and I’m not blaming any consultants for that; consultations really are a two-way-road. Consultants can help as much as they can, but writers need to know what they need help with, and then take something out of the consultations. The first time she came in, I don’t think it sounded like she knew what she needed help with—hence, her coming back. But, anyway, it felt awesome to really help someone and know it.She came to get help revising some movie reviews she’d written. It was kind of a unique consultation for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t get to help people with reviews very often. Two, this consultation didn’t go in the same “routine” as most of my other consultations do.A typical “routine” would be reading the whole paper, correcting grammar …

Deep Thoughts From Cassie

From Cassie.

So, this is my first entry in my blog. I’m getting a late start, but better late than never, right? So far, this semester has been a real adventure in the writing center. I remember my first day—I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was scared of consultations (even if I was just sitting in, of course). But I quickly got used to consultations, and threw away my shy-and-scared set of mind.The one thing I did feel confident about when I started was a consultation with an ELL student, but I didn’t get one right away. In fact, I just had my first a little over a month ago. I think the only reason I felt so confident was because I’ve had experience working with ELL students at the International Programs Office on campus (where I work), but at the office, I never worked with their writing with them. It was more difficult than I thought.The first appointment I had with an ELL student was very grammar-and-punctuation oriented. I tried my best to explain each rule, and he seem…

Enough with the Prosti----- already

While I admit I was once intrigued by the prostitute-consultant analogy, not by what Scott Russell had to say about it but by some of the ideas we threw around in class the other day, I can honestly say, now, that I am beginning to move away from the metaphor. While I once connected prostitution and the writing center through their brief meetings and levels of intimacy, I now question the nature of those meetings and the levels of intimacy available, and like David said in class, I agree that the comparison is a stretch. Here’s where I struggle with a connection between meeting a stranger, a prostitute, for sex, and meeting a consultant at the writing center. Although the ‘client,’ ‘student,’ or whatever, meets with a stranger for a limited period time to meet a specific desire, the level of intimacy between sex with a prostitute and a writing consultation differs. It is my experience that consultations between peers can be genuinely intimate as one discusses personal thoughts—there i…

Us (as consultants)/Them (as consultants)

I think it’s funny how often we say “us/we (as consultants)” or “me (as a consultant)” in writing about writing center work.

Anyways, I (as a consultant) have discovered something that we (as consultants) may not focus on in our routine of working with writers. As I continue to work with students from all over the University, I feel as though the identity of the actual consultant becomes more and more blurred. Am I consulting or is the student consulting? Of course, in traditional terms, I am the consultant. I am the professional who studied in a theory course to sit with a student and…well…consult. But, to risk sounding cliché, what defines a consultant? Is it the theory course? The good looks? The awesome nametag?
According to the dictionary (did you ever notice that it is always “the dictionary,” and never “a dictionary?” I just realized that. I digress…) a consultant is considered a professional offering expert advice. I think the word “advice” is why we chose to call ourselves co…

Disinterest vs. The Tutor Who Cares

I’m working on developing my pedagogy for the final portfolio and have stalled. There is a certain notion I have about the tutor/writing relationship that runs contrary to the consensus of most other tutors: I think a tutor must distance himself from the writer. In workshop, I heard many classmates say that intrinsic to their pedagogy is developing a relationship with the writer. Scott Russell, in his essay “Clients Who Frequent Madame Barnett’s Emporium,” writes that “Tutors learn to distance themselves from emotional elements of the work” and that defenses we develop are “blanking out, retaining physical boundaries, keeping time down, hiding the self,” etc. Russell sees these maneuvers as negative qualities since it inhibits the tutor and prevents any sort of relationship from developing.I can understand that sentiments behind wanting to develop a trusting relationship with a writer. Writing is, by its nature, an intimate and personal activity that few people wish to share with othe…

Good ol'-fashioned medical metaphor

The Writing Center is a real, tangible place (or so I hear), and yet the temptation to examine it in terms of metaphors—its metaphorical space, if you will—is darn near irresistible. One such descriptive metaphor that has fascinated (and irked) many is the idea of the Writing Center as a “lab.” This particular metaphor has found itself in the crosshairs of those who bristle at the thought of the Writing Center as a space in which diagnoses are made and problems are fixed. Certainly there is something distinctly unpleasant about the “fix-it” association, but I am convinced that the medical metaphor did not emerge from the labeling of the Writing Center as a lab. Oh, no. The medical metaphor was created (and is still reinforced) by the actions of the Writing Center consultants that occur in the first two minutes of when a consultee enters the room. Before the session begins, two important questions are asked the writer: 1. “Do you have an appointment?” and 2. “Have you been in befor…

invasion of privacy?

Hi, everyone!  I had a weird consulting experience yesterday that left me with questions pertaining to the invasiveness of the work we do.  I had a consultation with a writer yesterday who was working on revising an essay.  He was very quiet and seemed somewhat lost, without any goals of what he hoped to accomplish.  (Signs that perhaps he had been forced into the center, I suppose).  We read through parts of his essay, and decided to work on issues of sentence structure.  I slid a pencil and notepad his way, so we could try out some choices for his sentences specifically.  He hid the notepad from my view and started writing furiously.  After about two minutes he looked back up, but he still seemed to be actively hiding the notepad.  
Was he embarrassed about the notes he had taken?  Had he been writing something that didn't pertain to our conversation at all?  Would either of these things have been any of my business?  I didn't ask him what he wrote and he didn't tell me: …

Prewriting Research

I have some questions that (if you respond) may help me with an I-Search paper I am writing for a writing consultancy class. Do respond.

What do you do before writing?
What types of prewriting do you use after you have written drafts?
Have you ever visited a writing center?
If you had to help someone with prewriting, how would you go about it?
What are some good research areas for prewriting?
What are some good web sites on prewriting?

Thanks!

Establishing Rapport

How do you initially build rapport in your sessions? For my final paper, I wish to explore this question and would appreciate any input.

For writers, areas of weakness can be difficult to expose. We have only a brief time to work with a writer, and often delve into some sensitive areas or deep topics during these sessions. How do we create a comfortable environment for our writers and establish rapport with them (through our language and behavior)?

In "Asking the Right Questions: A Heuristic for Tutors" The Writing Center Journal. [9.1 (1988): 28-35], Evelyn Ashton-Jones asks: "What are the students actions telling me about his or her attitude? . . . How is the student perceiving me? What kinds of messages am I unconsciously sending? . . . How can I put the student at ease? Establish rapport? Set the stage for this session?"

What are some answers to these questions?

Some ways I think we build rapport:
By greeting writers immediately when they enter our cente…

They Work Hard for the Money

For some reason--don’t ask me why--we were in our Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing class and the topic of prostitution came up. Yeah. I know. Well, our professor Mike, in his pedagogical awesomeness, found an essay in The Writing Center Journal on how writing center tutors were analogous to prostitutes. Yeah. I know. The essay, by Scott Russell, titled “Clients Who Frequent Madam Barnett’s Emporium,” actually managed to be a lot more thought-provoking than the actual jokey metaphor suggested. Sure, there are some obvious problems with this comparison. Both professions have their differences. One involves working with students to facilitate better writing. One involves sexual intercourse. I’m just sayin’.

Probably the most interesting (and most disturbing) aspect of this essay is the section that organizes different types of “clients” (we call them writers over here) into categories that are reminiscent of certain client types that might pay for sex. I’m a little uncomfort…

Background Noise

I was looking back through “Noise from the Writing Center,” one of the first books that we read this semester. I found myself drawn in once again to the amusing (amusing because it didn’t happen to me) story about how Dr. Boquet received a note from a colleague complaining about the rather distracting noise coming from the writing center on a Sunday night. The colleague’s point of contention was that it was discourteous for the people in the writing center to produce such a “racket.” Dr. Boquet eloquently (and defiantly) responds, making the point (among others) that the noise was a productive noise, and not the noise of party-goers. Reading along, I found myself completely sympathetic to the plight of Dr. Boquet. Once again, creative types—the writers—were being picked on by the oppressive forces of the powerful academic elite. I considered pumping my fist in solidarity at Boquet’s righteous retort. Of course, when I read this book, I had clocked in, oh, about ZERO hours in our Writ…

Your thoughts on ESL students

I was wondering if I could get some feedback for my final project/paper. I am writing about ESL students and the ideas of authority and appropriation and something very interesting was brought to my attention by Gail Schuck. As we all know, most ESL students come into the Center asking for help with grammar, and as the dutiful consultants we are in wanting to help the student with their request we focus our limited time on grammar issues; however, a problem arises because often times grammar is not the overlying problem. These students that come in asking for help with "grammar" are using this term as an overview for other things they would like to work on, in particular conciseness of ideas, clarity, and working the paper into "American" conventions.

What I would like to know (and this kind of goes along with Dale's post) are the following things: If you as a tutor follow the collaborative guidelines and do as the student asks and focus only on grammar or do yo…

Me as Reflexive Pronoun

I had a student come in the other day and ask specifically for grammar help. He even made it a point to say, “I am really happy with the organization of my paper. I just want to work on grammar issues.” He seemed to know the center’s MO before we began, and wanted nothing to do with it.

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s fine.” Grammar isn’t my favorite thing to do in the center, for reasons I’m sure many of you are aware of. I find it not only tedious, but also not in the student’s best interest. Focusing on a paper through the “grammar lens” leaves many things that I find more important up in the air.

So anyway, there we are looking at only grammar in his paper. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this particular student had a problem with comma splices and run-on sentences. Actually, it was pretty bad. Every-other sentence would be a paragraph long. I explained to the student just what a comma splice was, and how easy it is usually to correct. This was after reading just tw…