Sunday, December 13, 2009
Knowledge does not occur in a vacuum; it cannot exist without interaction – human communication. The degree and quality of interactions are widely acknowledged to determine both acquisition and transference. This is truly a collaborative effort, though “collaboration”, it must be recognized, exists on a continuum.
I’ve come to understand “collaboration” as having many different degrees of involvement between partners…sometimes with limited focus and scope, and other times strongly connected in a broadly focused, wide scope. Dialogue is the connection factor, and dialogue can be verbal as well as textual. The interactions may be highly collaborative, or may involve a higher degree of direction from one of the partners.
I must be as flexible, intuitive and thoughtful as humanly possible, because each appointment is different in myriad ways. In a nutshell, it means being highly flexible and responding in-the-moment. It means doing my best to elicit the highest level of engagement I can from the student with whom I’m meeting, watching body language, looking into eyes, asking careful, open-ended questions, and responding thoughtfully. It is being an encourager, translator of professorial instructions, sometimes commiserator, and sometimes teacher or director – as opposed to peer – in our collaboration. It is using all of my senses, intuition, and knowledge to gage the support and assistance I can best bring to our work.
Friday, December 11, 2009
While doing the reading for class, it occurred to me that there is a difference between tutoring and consulting, between a tutor and a consultant. Knowing these differences can help us in our interactions with the students. And these differences can affect how the student reacts and responds when we are trying to help them.
Let’s look at the word tutor first. By definition, tutoring is to teach or instruct especially privately. Another word that can be used in defining what a tutor does is the word guide. A tutor gives guidance. All of these give the implication that it is a process, one that happens over time. Consistent, regularly, and scheduled also come to mind. All of this meaning that tutoring is more than just one session of meeting with someone. It is where someone is lacking in knowledge in a certain area, and needs to be instructed and given the information that they do not have to become efficient in the that subject. So in this case, a tutor is someone who is an expert, a teacher, someone who can instruct a person for a duration of time as in which the individual will be apt in their knowledge.
Here is a good definition of consult, “…to seek from a presumably qualified person or source advice, opinion.” A consultant is the one who gives expert or professional advice. And a consultation is a conference at which advice is given or views are exchanged. All of this gives the impression of a limited time frame. It also gives the collaborative feel that is a main theme in academic writing of what is done in the writing center. It also does not give the authoritative sense that tutor implies, where the instructor is superior to the person they are helping. It is mentioned over and over that the majority of students have fears coming into the WC. If it was expressed that they were coming in to ‘consult’ about their papers and writing process, would this not help alleviate these fears? Would this not insure that collaborative activities would be more likely to happen?
I am not ignoring that there is a need for tutoring, and that it can be done at the WC. But what if we gave the students this choice? If they felt that they just needed support for one paper at different stages, or in one specific area, then they could come in and get advice on that part. But if there was strong indication that they were lacking in knowledge of basic skills needed to be writing at a standard level, then tutoring would be offered on a regular basis with one certain person. So both services are offered separately, giving both the consultant and tutor a clear idea of the basic expectations of each session.
So basically, in the WC we are doing both tutoring and consulting. It just seems that if it were specified which one was needed and which one we were attempting, it would be better for all involved. Clarity is always a good thing, especially when it comes to writing, right?
Desperately in search of the reason that a group of future teachers could not seem to learn from their mistakes, I conducted an anonymous survey online to discover their thoughts. Initially, only three students filled out the survey, but after several pleas from the professor I obtained a reliable amount of data to reach reasonable conclusions, 50% of the class filled out the survey.
The first question on the survey was "Do you find the notes the UWA writes on your paper helpful?" with varying answers according to the student’s varying range of emotions on the subject. Overall, I realized about half the students read the notes that I write on their reflections and half do not. Next, I asked if any of these things may be more helpful: 1) A presentation on common writing errors, 2) Regular Office Hours that you can attend for writing, 3) Clearer comments on papers, 4) More comments on papers, 5) Nothing. An overwhelming majority of the students asked for clearer comments on their papers, more comments on their papers, and regular office hours. Some of the students even offered additional explanations for how they felt I could help them improve their writing. Therefore, as a writing consultant, what can I do to give them more and clearer comments on their papers? I feel that I try to explain myself in simple terms and include helpful links in their papers, but obviously if the students are having a problem understanding me, something must change.
I began to realize that my comments must change their tone. Often, when writing comments on papers, instead of explaining in person, it can be easy to alienate the students by using direct language or academic jargon. Therefore, I have decided to eliminate all grammar "terms" from my notes. Instead of explaining that something is an appositive, and then explaining what an appositive is, I will simply explain to them that they are offering an explanation of a noun, that they are clarifying. Additionally, I will try to give more examples on their papers, rather than lengthy explanations about style or grammar.
After receiving the third and fourth rounds of papers from these students, I found that removing the technical jargon from my comments did seem to help them. I saw multiple examples of writing that was beginning to improve. Most of the writers had trouble using commas. They would either overuse them or never use them at all, so to explain when to use a comma I asked the writers to take apart one sentence from their paper and look for the subject and the action in the sentence. Using “subject” and “action” seemed to be a lot less intimidating to the class than “verb” and “noun.” They began to relate to my comments.
As an experienced UWA, it is easy to find yourself falling into a routine, but it is imperative that Writing Assistants remember every classroom is different and every group of students learns differently. Usually, if you are assisting in a class of seniors, they have been writing in their field for four years now and feel like they know what they are doing, so it may not be as easy to change their ideas as one may hope. Some classes will want to know the technical meanings behind grammar mistakes, but others will simply just want to know what “sounds right.” Some classrooms may benefit from presentations by the UWA or from independent office hours during which any student in the class may come in. So, it is the UWA's responsibility to explore every avenue to help these students better their writing. I would encourage UWA’s to implement a survey like the one I sent out because it allows you, as a UWA, to learn what the students expect from you and what they believe you can do to help them. Additionally, this survey may be best administered early on in a semester so that improvements can be made throughout the rest of the semester.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Writing. Writing what? For whom? In what context? Through what medium? What exactly does the word “writing” encompass? As a discipline, it implies much more than formal compositions or school assignments, and by no means is it limited to a specific context or audience. Whether we realize it or not, we write to communicate constantly. Any type of writing allows us to formulate our ideas, structure them, and express them in a way that is permanent.
Let’s expand our notion of writing even further. The final “product” of writing does not have to end with typed words and sentences. Writing can also be the backbone for audio and visual productions, as well as speeches and presentations. You could, for example, be writing a script that you’ll produce as a video. You could be organizing points that you want to highlight when presenting your research poster. You could be writing interview questions that you’ll use to create a podcast.
One of Texas A&M’s core-curriculum requirements states that students take two writing intensive courses, or W-courses, in their major field of study. The purpose of these courses is to teach students how to write appropriately in their discipline. Additionally, some departments have begun offering oral communications-focused courses, or C-courses, which may substitute for one of the W-courses. C-courses give students the option to produce videos, podcasts, webcasts, and/or give oral presentations. Personally, I eagerly support this change. The opportunity to create multi-media productions encourages creativity and stretches students to learn new communication technologies. (Talk about highly versatile skills that will be an asset in the workplace!) And furthermore, even though communications-focused courses no longer have “W” in their title, they still play an integral role in teaching students about writing.
So how do communications-related assignments impact us as writing consultants? The new challenge is guiding students, who are now coming into the writing center with their presentation slides, scripts, and posters, to write (and speak) in a way that is appropriate to the channel of communication they’re using. Initially this may cause a bit of apprehension. We may wonder whether we have the ability to help students in these areas, and question whether we need to invest our time into learning new communication software programs.
The answer to the first concern is a definite ”yes” – we’re more than equipped to handle consultations involving media and public speaking. As consultants, we’ve been trained to determine what constitutes good writing by a variety of contextual factors – audience, genre, academic field, and whether or not the content will be read or heard by the audience. We know that complex ideas have to be broken down and reiterated during an oral presentation. We know that the style of writing is more informal in a podcast than a formal composition. Yet we also know that the writing process itself applies just as readily to a bulleted list in a presentation slide as it does to an extended paragraph. We know the similarities and differences between “writing” and “writing for speaking”; we just need to explain these to students. In short, the large majority of our skills and approaches as writing consultants are easily transferable.
As far as whether or not we need to learn the technical skills of video-editing, podcasting, and webcasting, it is important to remember the balance between expanding our talents and sticking to the core of our work. If consultants can be involved in writing center media-productions such as promotional or training videos, then great! This provides an opportunity to learn about the nature of media publications while still providing a service to the Writing Center. It also encourages more consultant involvement and leadership. Yet I don’t think acquiring technical knowledge should necessarily be a priority for consultants. Our focus is on clients’ content – their actual writing. This writing may be in the context of a formal composition, business letter, or lab report, or it may be the precursor to a conference presentation or media production. As writing consultants, we’re more than equipped to handle any of these situations, even those that go beyond pen and paper.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This summer, I traveled to Buenos Aires, took a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course, and taught/observed English classrooms in high schools and businesses. Buenos Aires has an obsession with learning English, which can be seen by advertisements posted along streets, slid under doors, and even found on the subte (subway) steps.
As a Writing Center consultant at Texas A&M University, I was excited about teaching this skill in a foreign setting. I quickly learned that my students did not share my sentiments. In the high school classroom, I could insist they complete the assignment or receive bad marks. In the business setting, when students were twice my age, it was harder to obtain their compliance if they did not feel like reaching the word count I generously assigned. Time after time, I was told that their primary goal was to sound more native-like when speaking. What they failed to realize was that their written efforts allowed me to assess their overall level and progress. It was much easier to notice trends in their language if I could reference a writing sample.
One perennially troublesome area with second-language grammar is the use of prepositions. I had classes where students would be conversing in a semi-fluent manner, and I would be intellectually engaged in the conversation. Then they would forget or misuse a preposition. Few errors of such tiny proportions so brutally disown a fairly competent foreign language speaker. What is especially disheartening is the manner in which prepositions have to be learned – rote memorization. Sometimes they make sense. For instance, being in or on the floor clearly sends a different image to your native English thinking brain. It was easy to tell students that “in the floor” means part of your body is literally in it. But how do you explain the idiomatic uses associated with transportation, such as in the car and on the bus? What image does this send: “Greg is on the car”? A native English speaker thinks he is on the physical, outside structure of the car. But Greg is on the bus, and by that I mean inside. Many times I simply had to say, it is just correct, as my students sighed in frustration.
I found that my students loved rules. Phrasal verbs were a difficulty with my business students. Again, the random assignment of prepositions to certain meanings made reviewing them a necessary evil. I gave contextual examples, and successful sentences seemed to involve something they might tell their children. For instance, one student was talking about how he “pointed about” a system malfunction. When correcting, I said he might “point out” to his kids the chores they have. I cannot emphasize enough the effectiveness of tailoring the lesson around a context purposeful for the student.
In another class, we reviewed writing complaint letters. I began with basic vocabulary and then read a poorly constructed complaint letter requesting a refund. It was informal, as well as digressed largely from the point. While the students easily recognized the unprofessional attitude, I had to lead them into the discussion about how certain information was not useful to the matter at hand. This reminded me of Robert Kaplan’s diagrams about different writing styles throughout cultures. He found that Spanish writing tends to digress from the main point in a way that sharply contrasts the direct, linear style of English.
To address this issue, I simply asked the students to define their purpose. This applies to all writers who struggle with sticking to their topic, and the process is quite simple. Does the information presented further the topic? clearly contribute to what the company needs to know? if so, how? When the student responds confidently to that question, I am satisfied that information being included supports the purpose. With that, I also had to explain the cultural differences in writing style. My students’ tendency towards digression was not incorrect, it was simply not correct in the context of English business writing.
Though I was equipped with a TEFL certificate, the act of teaching really provided the most accurate instruction. This deeper understanding of how culture affects students’ needs translates directly to Writing Center work. Many unspoken norms constitute “correct” writing, and my understanding of these will help me to explain these differences to students during consultations.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
One of my recent tutoring sessions gave me some insight into a broader issue that we have been experiencing at our writing center. When tutoring very subject-specific lab reports or scientific papers, tutors often face the challenge of helping writers with papers whose subject matter is specialized and unfamiliar.
My session was actually with a good friend of mine, Liz, who scheduled an appointment with me to work on a paper for her advanced medical technology class. It was a research paper riddled with anatomy and medical terms, so in trying to help Liz make sure her sentences had clarity and effectively explained their purpose, I felt stumped.
Because the terminology was so unknown to me, I was limited to two tutoring strategies. The first one, zooming in on the details and fixing sentence-level grammar and syntax issues, seemed a frivolous approach to this seven-page paper. The second, zooming out and asking about the paper’s organization and structure, seemed more appropriate.
So I asked questions like “How does this paragraph contribute to the purpose of the ‘Discussion of Results’ section?” and “How does the reader know what the information in this table means?” I didn’t bother to ask what the information actually meant; I just tried to help her put the smaller pieces of the report together cohesively. But there were only so many of these bigger-picture questions that I could ask before our tutoring session, again, hit the wall of me not understanding the scientific terminology.
I imagine that this problem is present in most writing centers, and its solution is up for speculation. How can you tutor someone who has several years of collegiate education in a specialized field more than you do? I have a couple of ideas for resources that tutors could use in this kind of predicament, but I would love to get some feedback and advice from other tutors.
For one thing, using lab report rubrics that describe the requirements for each subheading (Introduction, Procedure, Discussion, etc) are a valuable resource for making sure the writer’s paper fulfills the assignment. This resource might be improved if a set of example questions for each subheading of a lab report were provided to tutors. I have provided some examples below.
Are all of the key terms used in this report defined, with background information given?
Is your initial hypothesis included in this section?
Is your hypothesis a testable prediction?
Is every step in the procedure listed?
Is the procedure, as written, able to be repeated?
Are all data tables and graphs appropriately labeled and provided with a description?
Are the trends in the data obvious?
What did you deduce from the trends in the data? Is this consistent with your initial hypothesis?
Do you have enough data to establish a conclusion?
Have you summarized all the data that is necessary to make your conclusion?
Do you accept or reject your hypothesis based on your conclusion?
Is there a real-world application of this experiment?
As I said, this set of questions might prove to be a useful guide to some tutors facing the problem I did, but I would appreciate any feedback or ideas for more questions like these- go ahead and post them in a comment!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Click Here to take survey
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
To paraphrase what I understand to be our mission: we aim to improve the writer, not necessarily the paper. Shamoon and Burns note that “…students at different stages in their education, from beginning to advanced, are developing different skills and accumulating different kinds of information, thus making them receptive to different kinds of instruction and tutoring” (178). This comment, reinforced with research in acquisition of cognitive skills, seem common-sensical. If our goal is to improve writers, and more directive approaches benefit students at various stages, why would we not utilize more directive models?
I believe that we are constricted by both the connotations and denotations of the term “appropriation”. It is an important issue; we do not want to be “ghost-writers” for students, resulting in plagiarism. However, that seems to be slippery-slope argumentation. Is it not possible to employ alternative practices in the tutoring of writing, as these scholars have demonstrated work well in other disciplines? I don’t see writing as so very different from music and art. If pedagogies have proven beneficial, is it not incumbent upon us, as writers striving for excellence in both writing and tutoring, to explore more directive models deployed in other disciplines?
I am brand-spanking-new to tutoring and the conversations around writing center pedagogy; I can make no claim to expertise. That said, I am not new to life and professional endeavors and have participated in process improvement groups, led small projects, and trained new employees. In reflecting on that work, I discover I’ve typically used a combination of modeling, collaboration and directive teaching to obtain the best results.
I would love to hear from other tutors who may be exploring, or have experience with, tailoring pedagogies to students.
Monday, November 09, 2009
I know it's been a while since my last post, but things are developing well at our high school satellite writing center. Since we started the satellite, we've had more students come for help on various types of writings. Students have grown accustomed to seeing us there and have responded positively to the experience.
For the National Day on Writing, 15 students from Pace came to STU and spent time in the UWC celebrating with us. After the event, they created a thank you card of how much they enjoyed themselves. Some of their comments were:
"I had lots of fun and learned new things. The small activities were great!"
"Thanks for letting us see the importance of writing and how much fun we can have."
"My first college experience! The best was getting to read my paper out loud.”
Last week we helped a student with her college admissions essay. She was very happy and told her friends about it. On Friday, she came back with a sheet of paper for us. She was so thankful, she had decided to create a sign for us letting students know about the services we had on their campus. Although we had signs, it was touching to see that she wanted to help us improve the signs that we did have so that more students could receive help like the one she did.
I'll keep you all informed on the progress we make.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
This last week, we read the story of a consultant's dealings with a student she was tutoring in the article "Whispers of Coming and Going": Lessons from Fannie" by Anne DiPardo. Although the essay had many different themes; preparedness for tutoring, technique, minorities, self-reflection, and more, I found something more. People are fragmented.
The student in this story had come from a Navajo reservation, and had been shuffled from one school to the next while growing up. She became separated from not only her family, but from her culture. Now in college, her goal is to go back and teach on the reservation. But her writing skills as well as her communication skills, are lacking drastically, and she is forced to go to the Writing Center to try to strengthen her abilities.
Throughout the essay, we see Morgan, Fannie's tutor, struggle to get the student to progress in her writing. At the end of the essay we see what the author's view was on this situation. "At semester's end, she (Morgan) still didn't know that Fannie was a non-native speaker of English; she didn't know the dimensions of Fannie's inexperience with academic writing, nor did she know the reasons behind Fannie's formidable block." Basically, if Morgan had got Fannie to open up by asking her questions about her background beyond what was on the assignment, she would have seen more of what was causing Fannie's struggles in writing.
But I saw more within this story than that. Fannie was forced to leave the only world she knew at a very young age, and then forced not to speak in her native tongue or embrace the parts of her culture that she loved and missed. When she returned home her family was proud of her, but did not know about the world she was immersed. She became fragmented.
Fannie's dream is to come back to the reservation to teach clearly came from the place in her that yearned to have been able to do the same as a youngster. She knows that she needs to get through college to be able to do this. But her resentment is obvious, and it shows up in the form of resistance, frustration, withdrawal, and self-doubt. All of which Morgan, the tutor, is not aware of, because she does not know Fannie's past.
Most people are fragmented in some way. Abuse, learning disabilities, hardships, disappointments, and tragedies break and shape who we are at each moment. Especially with ESL students we have no idea the background they come from, why they are here, and the feelings they have about the situation they are in. As tutors, we need to understand that this becomes a part of what we deal with in our little cubicles for thirty minutes, not just the written words on the paper. Writing is putting yourself on the paper our there for all to see.
Tutoring obviously is not a therapy session, I realize this. And with our time being so limited, even with returning students, there is not a lot that we can do to get to the exact problems of each person. But when I hear sessions that deal expertly with the technical problems of a paper, but make no personal connection, it makes me sad. What if this is the exact thing this student needs? Even a few words of encouragement, or feeling that the person who is helping them in an area that they are overwhelmed cares about more than grammar and form.
I will strive to remember the story of Fannie during my tutoring sessions. Hopefully I can help each student find their way to a better paper, but I will also strive to make a connection. Both are important, because like I said, fragments aren't only in sentences.
Friday, October 30, 2009
So, with a quick response, would you please outline the support you recieve(d) with your tutoring?
Such as preparatory classes, workshops, sit-ins, guidance from "veteran" consultants and director, GA or other staff, or any other kind of reflection activities?
Have a great halloween!
Never do I find this more apropos than when working with a "basic writer." As we discussed in our class yesterday, writers who begin at ENG 90 on the academic writing scale, cover SO much ground in regards to natural talent and capability, that is even daunting to just try and classify them all in one easily labeled sphere. These are the writers who have been told by others, or even themselves, that they just were not good enough. However, just because the quality of their ideas does not always translate well to pen or key strokes, does not denigrate the quality itself. Where do we get off in saying someone is not a good writer, when it is only the mastery of structure which alludes them? As consultants, I believe it is our duty to draw the distinction between talent in the form (which wears many different masks), and the structural means for which to display this talent to the "academic" world. Of course, it is our job description to help build the foundation for them to stand in the maelstrom of semicolons and independent clauses. Indeed, it is a vital piece to our overall puzzle. Yet, I hope to take it upon myself to try and not lose sight of what I feel is the greater goal-Everyone deserves to have confidence in their writing. I don't care if they are writing soliloquies , or OMG LOL text-speak. Writing is not an exclusive tea party, with pinkies pointed ever so slightly. It is for the common and uncommon, the heard and unheard, and it needs to stay this way (in my humble opinion, of course :) ).
A lot has happened since my first post several weeks ago. I'm now officially a full intern at the Center and have been involved in non-stop consultations each ninety minute block I'm there. I've worked with traditional, non-traditional, ESL, and even had my first experience with a bright gentlemen that was unfortunately struggling with a learning disability. All types really do come to the Center and sometimes I feel overwhelmed (today was a key one almost about to make me rethink my entire philosophy). Talking each week though with my fellow interns in our training class is a great relief to me. We share our successes and struggles and most importantly work towards a better understanding of our position in the Center.
We've started getting a lot of required visits, which has been fun because each time a student comes in I feel more prepared and able to help. I suspect it will only get busier as the weeks go on and I look forward to helping how I can.
One of the most enjoyable things I think I've done so far is e-mail consultations. Not only is it a fun challenge to read and put together a constructive response in an hour, but it took me back to when I first started helping friends and family with their writing. We commonly used the internet and instant messenger for this purpose so this was taking me back into a comfort zone. In fact I think I'm a bit more comfortable with it then I am with face to face. I don't want to give up face to face, however, because it's a unique and valuable experience to have that personal interaction. Did anyone else from my 303 class enjoy the practice e-mail consultation?
Even though I've experienced some pretty intense ups and downs these last couple of weeks I'm still keeping hope and still maintaining my desire to help. In other news it's starting to get cold down here, hope everyone keeps warm this winter!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I've only worked a couple of months in the writing center, and already I've got a couple of "regulars"--that is to say, I see them a lot more often than I see other students. Both have been living in the U.S. for a few years, and have a fairly strong command of spoken English. When I first started meeting with them, I was a little overwhelmed. Their papers were riddled with errors, and I wasn't even sure where to begin. My obsessive-compulsive drive to edit would flare up, and I would have to tear the pencil from my hand and replace it in the holder in order to stop myself from doing a sentence-by-sentence editing job. This seemed, in the beginning, however, to be what each student expected and desired. I took a suggestion from a fellow consultant and tried to break out of the habit. As I had more sessions with each student, I found various ways that I could put them in control of the session. For one, who was an international student, it was as simple as putting a pencil and a pad of paper in front of her and asking her how she would re-construct a particular sentence. For the other, who was a refugee and hadn't learned any English in her home country, talking it out and using specific examples worked best. After some sessions, I would have to berate myself for editing too much, but thankfully, I've learned to tell exactly when I need to put the pencil down.
Yesterday, I had my first real "SUCCESS!" moment. When one of the "regulars" came in to see me, I was able to think back and compare the paper in front of me with the one she had come in with the first day I met with her, two months ago. It was drastically different. She had used more sophisticated words and more complex sentence structure, and was a heck of a lot more organized and coherent than she had been in the beginning. I kept looking at her with awe during the session, and eventually said, "Dude, you seriously rock at life." I don't think she completely understood what I was saying, but she smiled like I'd just given her a medal. I like to think that maybe she gained a little bit more confidence in her writing that day.
I come from a large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. My parents were hippies. Religious hippies. Grumpy hippies (I’m looking at you, Dad). They fled California in the late 1960s and hiked around continental Europe carrying their backpacks, a tin campfire pot, some dirty laundry, and not much else. Dad was AWOL from the Army at the time—need I mention?—so he did four months in a German stockade after the excursion. Eventually they returned to the States, got a Volkswagen bus, some road maps, a cooking stove, and, sooner or later, six bewildered and codependent offspring.
I was the last of these offspring.
The house I grew up in was rough on the surface—raucous and busy. But it was quiet at heart, even melancholy. When there weren’t angry words and baseless insults flying around, there were a lot of heavy moods and empty gazing. If you talked freely you were setting yourself up for something. You watched what you said.
So I was an anxious kid, and got stressed easily. My ‘bedroom’ was actually the communal hallway off the living room (small house), so when I got stressed I hid under the kitchen table. Someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? I hid under the kitchen table. Someone laughed and I couldn’t figure out why? I hid under the table. Someone offered me a choice for lunch and I couldn’t decide? Hid under the table.
I spent a lot of time under there.
As I got older, I think I reasoned that my lasting social anxieties existed because of my large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. I then reasoned that I could avoid stress if I avoided people, social gatherings, and noisy, chatty places.
This is where the writing center comes back in.
The first time I sat in on a consultation in our writing center, I was pretty sure I’d signed my own death warrant. There were no walls in the center—only cubicle dividers. There was no privacy—I could hear every word being said in practically every consultation. I couldn’t listen to the consultant I was sitting with, couldn’t listen to the student. I was totally distracted. I went home that day thinking about my family, thinking about noise—thinking about trying to communicate or cogitate or make decisions with everyone talking at once, and I got depressed.
There’s something sort of magical about the writing center, though—about consulting. I’m not confident, and never have been. I’m not straightforward, I’m not decisive, and I’m certainly not tactful. These are deficiencies that silenced me in the past, made me afraid to speak, turned me into a writer—a writer strictly, with no room for dialogue. But it’s different at the writing center. When I go into that (minimally private) cubicle with another writer—with someone who’s written something or must write something—I turn into a conversation machine. It’s a bit of a show, of course, and it may always be a show, but if nothing else I am totally focused on the writer and the work in front of me. It’s a rare and beautiful focus. The voices—those ambient entities that melt my brain and make me want to crawl under a table?—they disappear. It’s almost surreal, the way the voices disappear.
So it’s trite, maybe, but true: My job at the writing center is teaching me how to make quiet out of chaos.
And P.S. to my fellow Boise State consultants: I totally love you guys, and I don’t want you or your voices to disappear. In this post ‘voices’ refers to the general ‘hum’ of the center—a hum that I am actually growing to love.
I have started wondering about certain connections that the consulting I do in the Center have to work I might do after I graduate. I have always been interested in becoming a high school counselor, and it didn’t take me too long to notice that I have a natural inclination to approach a writing consultation in similar ways that I might approach a counseling session. I am interested in how a student feels that day, because things like that directly affect a session. I am often curious why a student wrote something in a certain way; I’m curious what might be going on in that student’s life that would influence their writing. All of these things strengthen my belief that someday, I might want to go to graduate school for counseling. Does anyone know of any good articles about this subject that I could read? Or does anyone have any relevant experience or know of anyone who has taken the consulting- counselor route?
There’s another thing I have been curious about lately, though. I am wondering about the connections between the consultation we do in our writing centers and the jobs that editors do. It seems that the editor/writer relationship would be less interactive, but I suppose that depends on the editor. I am thinking that I would like a job as a magazine editor (or something) someday. But I wonder if I would be let down because it isn’t as interactive. Again, anything on this topic would be helpful, too.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Lila--student extrodinare at BSU
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Last week we had our the big cheese of our ESL department come in and speak and my view on ESL students since then has greatly changed, as well as the issues that I see they deal with and how we handle these issues.
I have been wondering how much of a Writing Center should go to helping language acquisition and how much of it should go toward Native English Speakers (NES)? I know that one of the fundamentally wrong things to do with an ESL student is to categorize them immediately and try to use a formulated plan toward them but I have just been playing with the idea of our resources that we do have and their relation to ESL students. I am fascinated by language acquisition and its affects on a student's writing. I'm also very interested in foreign language acquisition and native language acquisition and how the two differ.
But, my main idea I was wanting some feedback on from different WCs around the country was to see how they handled their ESL students and their needs and utilized their resources within their center and on their campus as well.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Let me say, coming into this experience, I felt a little apprehensive about where I would fit into the grand schematic of the super-spiffy composition community. My lack of organization, mixed with a general anxiety in regards to the "writer ideal" I have been privy to in the past, made me wonder if I really could make headway as someone who was supposed to "have the answers." My head is usually riddled with questions, from asinine to, well extremely asinine, and I still wonder if my "head in the clouds" persona can really touch ground with writers who really need a focused mind, along with a detailed plan to get them strumming along. However, after a little coaxing by those which shall remain nameless, I jumped over all my inhibitions, and gave this feigning expertise thing a go.
After a few weeks playing ball in the big leagues, I have come to a couple realizations. First of all, I need to quit with the blanket analysis. Sometimes it just pays to headbutt the wall, and see if you can find some hidden treasure through the cracks. Secondly, I really do enjoy my time spent collaborating with other writers. Although my pedagogy might encompass a lot of whirlwind philosophy and cheap dime-store inspiration, the concrete feeling of just HELPING is invigoration incarnate. I love playing around with rules, and disregarding them altogether sometimes. Yet, I am a firm believer in the fact of understanding the court structure in which you are playing the jester, in order to really understand why you are doing what you do. Every writer, despite whatever assumed skill level they might possess, deserves a chance to come to grips with their own version of voice in the written form. I feel very, umm, awesome, in knowing I will have a chance to play a part of that process for the students I am fortunate to consult with over the next undetermined period of time. Until next post...empathy and limited atrophy to all.
Friday, October 23, 2009
One thing I have been experiencing in my sessions as a consultant is the notion students have adopted in which they aren’t allowed to have a voice in their own papers. Students circumnavigate their pieces trying to avoid the “I”—its literal use as in “I think” and its underlying use, when the paper sounds like how they would speak. While “I” isn’t necessarily voice, all the time, I think it is a good starting point at explaining voice to newer writers. I understand for more academic writing, students need to follow some conventions, but the idea of having to write scholastically is where writer’s block comes for a lot of students.
They have this notion that the “I” is a bad thing. I know a lot of teachers I had in high school said that we weren’t ever allowed to let an “I” slip into the paper. Trying to avoid “I” and navigate the language was very hard. A lot of times people would use “one” as in “One doesn’t need to go to the store for milk” (may be a bad example). Students were then tempted to switch to 2nd person and say “you” which was equally as bad. The other great device is people would try to use the royal “we” as in “We the readers of this text…”
Permission to use “I” seems to be a fix for some of these problems. I think that teachers started pounding this into the heads of high school students (soon to be college students), and it stuck. The notion of not using “I” makes sense in some respects, however. Professors want their students to get away from their feelings about texts (i.e. this story made me feel sad) and want students to instead rhetorically examine texts. They want students to ask themselves questions like, “How is this writer using literary devices to get certain effects?” or “How is the tone of this piece important to the theme?” etc. The only way professors, it seems, could get around this overly-sentimental “feelings speak”, was by abolishing the “I.”
What this does to students, however, is force them into thinking that they must think about the writing from a perspective that isn’t them (if that makes sense). They are taking on another persona to tackle responding to texts—a persona they think the professor wants them to be. What makes me feel sad is the abolition of “I” has transferred to other types of writing, for example, personal essays. How are they supposed to write personal essays without using “I”? In most situations, I have had to give students permission to be themselves. “You are the writer of this paper. You are allowed to have a voice,” I say. They look at me incredulously.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I read an article on IWCA's website that called my attention “Writing Centers in Professional Contexts.” The author discusses the 3 roles of a writing center director: administrator, trade worker, and revolutionary. Although I agree with all these roles within a writing center director, I can't help but wonder if maybe we're missing something? Is there something that has been left out, oversimplified, or just been completely off track?
What happens to those writing center directors who are also adjunct or full-time professors?
For now, I guess I have more questions than I do insights. But I would like to know what others think about this or the article.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
What training do writing centers provide tutors in reading theory and pedagogy?
We've read Gary Griswold's 2006 article in the Journal of College Reading and Learning called "Postsecondary Reading: What Writing Center Tutors Need to Know." Now we'd like to learn more.
Any practical advice you can offer? Any suggestions for further reading we might do about reading pedagogy, which might be particularly applicable in a writing center? Any resources you can share to help writing tutors become effective reading tutors?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
My first consult was a walk-in with an attitude. He had to be there because he teacher told him to, so he had an attitude. Rather than feed into his frustration I took him into one of our consultation cubes where he settled down and we worked on his paper. We were able to see mistakes that could be corrected and I felt like I was getting through to him--without violence! ha! ha! Even though his paper was long, we only took thirty minutes and I felt that he came away from the session feeling like it wasn't so bad afterall, and he might have even felt successful about it. I did. It was a great learning experience on how to keep your cool when others don't want to. :)
I’m a shiny new consultant in the Boise State University Writing Center—okay, maybe I’m not so shiny, but I am new—and as such, I just started “flying solo” and conducting consultations (i.e., tutoring) on my own very recently. One of my first few sessions involved an ESL student whose native language is Spanish, and though I’ve only had a couple of semesters of college-level Español, my limited knowledge of the language actually came in handy when I was trying to help this student. In addition to recounting the details of the session with some of my fellow BSU consultants, I also shared the info with our center’s director, Melissa, and she thought it was interesting and useful enough that she’s considering the idea of putting together some sort of venue where our consultants could share these types of successful tips and tricks for working with ESL tutees. Anyway, I figured if she was that interested in my story, then it might be something worth posting here at Peer Centered, too. So here goes.
I had actually met the student once before when I sat in to observe one of our center’s veteran consultants in action, so I was already somewhat familiar with his background and his level of proficiency with English, and I also happened to remember that his first language is Spanish. For my consultation with him, he brought in a personal essay that he was writing for an intermediate English class designed for ESL students, and his primary concern was grammar and punctuation. As we read the paper together, I noticed that he had consistently left out basic articles, and when I brought this to his attention, he seemed confused about what I meant by the term article. To define the term and explain the problem to him, I pulled a specific example from his paper to use as an illustration, and this is where my limited knowledge of Spanish, his native language, came in handy. In a section where he was writing about one of his high school teachers, I pointed to a spot where a needed article was missing and said, "In Spanish, you would say 'la profesora' here, correct?" After he nodded an affirmative, I said, "Okay. In your English version here, you have the profesora part, but the la part is missing. That missing part is an article." I could see the light go on in his head, and he promptly penciled in the missing the. Then, as we read through the rest of his paper, every time we came to a spot where a required article was missing, he penciled in the correct word without any prompting on my part. Realistically, it might take him a while to always remember to include the English articles in his future writing efforts, but at least he now knows what parts of speech the term article refers to, and it will therefore be easier to “remind” him about articles in future writing-center consultations.
Of course, some languages don’t have articles, so my specific example will not apply. But the point is, if you are tutoring an ESL student and you have a basic knowledge of that student’s native language, you may be able to draw upon that knowledge to make the consultation or tutoring session more productive.
Do any of you have similar experiences or tips to share?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 09, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
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
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.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wish me luck on drafting this weekend!