Saturday, November 15, 2008

Consultations to fulfill class/assignment requirements

Hello, this is Eric from the BSU Writing Center. We had a discussion in class the other day about students who come in to the writing center to fulfill a requirement for an assignment. In other words, a student gets points for turning in proof of a writing center consultation. Some tutors thought this was irritating because the student may show a lack of concern and involvement with the session, caring only about getting the proof of consultation form and not about learning or improving their writing. The idea came up that these sessions steal time away from writers who earnestly want help with their writing.

I am not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, though, because I can see some positive aspects of these sessions. A situation like this can make for a frustrating and unproductive session, but it could also be a means of introducing the benefits of a writing consultation to someone who otherwise would have never explored what the writing center has to offer. Personally, I never made an appointment at the center before taking this class and becoming a tutor, simply because I never thought I needed one, but once I had one, I realized how helpful it can be just to have someone else to read my paper and discuss my writing. I have experienced one or two of these frustrating sessions, but I also have had teacher-assigned sessions in which students found that they had benefited from the experience more than they expected. I can also understand that if a writing center appointment is required for an assignment, a student may feel uncomfortable or unsure about what to say or what to ask for help on. However, many students can be difficult and have unfair expectations. Whatever the circumstances, I think we should try to remain as helpful and amiable as possible. Worst-case scenario, the students don't come back and we have a frustrating session. Best-case scenario, we have a successful session and a student who would otherwise be unaware of the center's benefits may return for future sessions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Service Learning Reflective Writing Podcast

The Peer Writing Advisors (yes that's what they chose to be called many years ago) from the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center have put together their first podcast episode on service-learning reflective writing. The podcast can be found on the "Step ahead with writing" podcast page. Click on the link at the top labeled "StepAheadPodcast" to see the list of episodes. (There is only the one currently.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Helping or Hindering

Hello, this is Susan from Boise State's Writing Center and ENGL 303 class. Last Friday (the 7th) I conducted a consultation with a student who was to write an eight- to ten-page persuasive essay. She brought two pages with her and was seeking help in finding more to write about to in order to fill the instructor's requirement. I felt I gave her quite a bit of information to ponder, focusing on the three main parts of the essay: introduction, body, conclusion, as well as a few extra things, such as background and personal experiences. I asked her specific questions regarding her topic, and in doing so, she was able to formulate the rest of her essay.

"So what is the problem?" you ask. Well, when looking over her notes, she realized she still had a lot of research to do. She came to the Writing Center on Friday and the paper was due on Monday. She was clearly dismayed. Even though I felt the session had gone well overall, and she had enough information to fill the needed requirement, I came away feeling a little dismayed myself. Why? I would have welcomed the extra information with open arms. But she didn't. Anyone else have a similar experience? Did I help her . . . or hinder her?

Team Effort: Contrasting Collaboration

Howdy, Phil and Rick here from the BSU 303 class. A couple of weeks ago we had an irregular session (as if any could be regular), and we wanted to get some input from the peanut gallery. Don't let the third person throw you off...

A student had an appointment with Rick to go over grammar and structure in his paper. The student was an ELL writer, and came to the appointment having already worked with Phil on a similar paper. During the session, the student repeatedly reminded Rick that the paper was due in an hour, and that he just needed to know what was wrong and how to fix it. Rick resisted the idea of straight out telling him what to do. For awkwardly worded phrases, Rick decided to ask the writer to think about other ways he could word them, without telling him what the 'correct' way to phrase them would be. The writer became increasingly agitated with Rick, and was not engaged with the session. He asked several times if Phil was free, and if he could work with him instead. After about a half hour ( the session was scheduled for an hour), Rick decided to ask Phil if he could join the session. Phil was confused at first as to why the writer would seek assistance from someone other than Rick. While observing the interaction between Phil and the writer, Rick realized that Phil was a lot more forthcoming than he had been regarding the writer's grammar and word structure. As Phil's part of the session went along, he realized the writer just wanted him to write the paper for him. When the writer asked for help with his conclusion, he expected Phil to tell him explicitly what to write. Phil, aware of this, after explaining the concept of a conclusion, informed him, "I'm not going to write it for you." The writer insistently told Phil, "What do I need to write?" Phil had to re-enforce that he wouldn't and couldn't write the paper for him. The writer soon stormed out, obviously frustrated with Phil as well, because Phil wouldn't write it for him.

In the end, Rick decided his approach of trying to let the writer use the language that he had to revise his phrases may have been too distant. But the idea behind his approach was the same as with native speakers: that they should be the authors of their own work.

Phil uses a more forth-coming, direct approach in the hopes that the writer will begin to recognize where they can improve on their own as they go along. While he hasn't dramatically altered his approach, Phil has since become more aware of writers expecting him to do the work for them throughout the consultation.

How forthcoming can you be until it becomes evident that you're doing the work for them? Does your mindset change if you're working with someone without the same command of the language as you do?
Has anyone else faced a similar dilemma of having to seek help from another consultant in a session?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Philosophical View

Hello everyone,

Lizzy here from the elite and famous 303 class at Boise State.

We are coming to the end of this grand semester here at BSU, and I'm starting to think about my end or term paper. We have to write a pedagogy about ourselves as consultants.
I don't know about my class mates, but I'm freaking out.
I decided to use the Brooks essay on 'Minimalist Tutoring' and pick out the good and bad things about it. Mike gave me an idea for an article to look at as well (now the name escapes me) and I would like to take this moment to thank him. :)

But... I'm having second thoughts. I really don't know.
I want to be the kind of consultant that teaches each writer I sit down with something new about writing. I want to spread my passion for writing with the world and get people excited about it.

Does anyone have any ideas for me? Any articles that fall on the lines of, "Saving the world, one consultation at a time" ?

I would really appreciate your input. :)

The one with the cupcake tattoo.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


A few weeks ago I helped make an advertisement video for the Boise State Writing Center to put on YouTube. Actually, I was in two videos, but one was a group shot, so I am part of a team, not myself.
The video I am in is to help prospective consultants understand some aspects of working in the writing center. A few veteran consultants and a consultant currently in training were video-taped answering questions. The questions were nothing strange, nor were they ground-breaking. But they did get me thinking.

What do we as consultants want out of our training and experience? There are numerous articles about how to train and what to train and what to expect; what do we want? Yes, we want to help writers, but we are all critical readers and know to look deeper than that.

This is an honest question: What do you want out of your training and experience in your writing center?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Antiracsist Writing Centers Blog

There is a new blog in the 'sphere that focuses on antiracism work in writing centers, appropriately called Antiracist Writing Centers. It comes from the work of both the IWCA Antiracism Special Interest Group (SIG) and the staff of the University of Illinois Chicago Writing Center. Check it out!

Monday, November 03, 2008

PeerCentered Podcast 3.2: Nancy Grimm Keynote

Over on the podcast, you'll find a new episode featuring Nancy Grimm!

Are WCs asking too much of peer tutors?

At his plenary wrap-up of the Joint NCPTW/IWCA Conference, writing center and peer tutoring legend Harvey Kail asked a simple question in response to the various ideas that came his way during the conference: "Are we asking too much of peer tutors?" Harvey was referring to specifically, I think, Nancy Grim's keynote challenge that writing centers take on new social realities and extend their project to important issues in social justice such as anti-racism work (among others.) (By the way, I only had the opportunity to record the tail end of Nancy's speach, and I will no doubt be podcasting it soon.)

After he finished his talk, Harvey had us write on 3 questions--all relating to the challenges that the conference threw at us as writing center folk. The table I went to sit at were very interested in Harvey's statement about peer tutors. One person thought it was a false dichotomy, as if there was one pure thing that we are asking of peer tutors and that was some how distinct, for example, from a tutor thinking of the effects of race, class, and gender in a tutorial and how that effects the writer. I tend to agree with that assessment, in that it seems that Harvey was defining tutoring only from the Brooklyn School perspective (something he readily admited to, by the way). To say that including other things other than response to the writing is "asking too much" begs the question of what peer tutoring is in the first place. Writing tutoring is about responding to student writers, to be sure, but that does not exclude other important work the tutor can be doing. Responding to the students writing alone seems to be just producing a better text, not a better writer and thinker.

It was an honest question on Harvey's part, I think. He also stated throughout that the conference had given him a great deal to consider and he was redefining his notions of writing center work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stray cats

No, I'm not writing about the 80's Brian Setzer band project, but about the cats that are wandering around the Alexis Hotel where the 2008 NCPTW/IWCA joint conference is being held. Today, as I was walking back to my room taking a break from being Lord Techmeister General, I noted the cats that someone had mentioned to me earlier that day or yesterday. They, of course, are not really stray cats (being that they never really had a home) but are true wild cats. They, no doubt, rome the Alexis grounds catching vermin and birds for a living. They may dine on the odd convention sandwich carelessly left on a bench, but hey, that's free food, and who is going to refuse free food?

Now what 's the point, you are asking yourself and me while you read this? I found these cats rather interesting. Here they are, hanging on to this resort--making it their own lair. They live quite well here. I came upon a crew of them in mid-cat-argument. One was strutting his stuff. Another was cowling in a corner. A third, who had fled the previously-mention strutter, was strutting-his own stuff across the way.

All hell broke loose, however, when I intervened. I generally like cats. I always have. It is not necessarily their aloofness that appelas to me, as much as their general indifferent friendliness. Generally if you pet a cat, it will pet you back, so to speak.

These cats, however, were having none of that. They skittered away from me quicker than Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Ok, you are now asking yoursef what the hell this all has to do with peer tutoring.

A whole lot, I tell you.

It is so easy to think that we know best. It is so easy to come from the outside and think that what we have to offer is what student writers need. The fear these cats displayed at my trying to be friendly reminded me of the general trepidation that is often reported about students before they come into the writing center.

Can we learn anything from stray cats or stray students?

Dear me...

Dear me, It's not about you, but it will affect you, this work. Expect that. Learn to embrace that--the fact that your writing voice ...