Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where I'm Supposed to Be

I was scared when I started consulting. But like, for real. How was I, a junior Communication major, supposed to help undergrads and grads of all majors with any part of their writing? What if I didn’t have the words to say? Or worse, what if I told them the wrong thing?

And then I just sucked it up and did it. And loved it. Scared freshmen with English 104 rhetorical analyses. International grad students working on their electrical engineering dissertations. Group projects and presentations and resumes and personal emails. I went to each session and gave myself to the cause: to help better communication and writing. I learned two major lessons: 1. teaching doesn’t have to be scary and 2. I love it.

Teaching seemed like the one career choice I never gave any thought to. (In truth, there are many career choices I’ve never considered; never have I ever had a desire to be an astronaut, for example). My best friend was on track to become a teacher and I always thought: that’s perfect, she can do that, and I won’t.

But something happened to me when I started working at the Writing Center. I found myself genuinely concerned with others’ learning. I felt responsible to share with others the information I had acquired over the years. And I realized that maybe not everyone knows how to effectively use a comma or organize a research paper. Maybe not everyone knows how to write a thesis. I went from feeling like I had nothing to give in a session to looking forward to using the resources I have been given. 

Giving classroom workshops only furthered my desire to teach others. I guess I never understood the point of speech class; my understanding was that one gives a speech in order to give a speech. What I didn’t realize was that a speech is used to convey information to an audience who needs it. Standing in front of a class and talking about the writing process, or how to avoid plagiarism, does have a significant purpose. It becomes my responsibility to give that information over to others. Learning that lesson took an enormous amount of pressure off and led me to really enjoy presenting. Through these workshops, I have fully realized my passion to stand in front of a class and teach

Working at the Writing Center has taught me I don’t need to (and can’t) know everything in order to teach others. Maybe that was the one roadblock I needed to break through in order to fully consider this career path. I am not afraid now to admit that I still need to ask for help in consultations and that I don’t have all the answers. Even more, I have realized that I can learn from the clients I serve! Learning truly is a two-way street.

Now when I stand in an elementary school classroom, I get a sense of my future, not just my past. I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned at the Writing Center to help others learn. I’m sure I’ll be nervous like I was when I first started consulting. But now I know that that’s where I’m supposed to be. Time to use what I’ve been given. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Working Alone for the First Time

Today I worked with a student alone for the first time. His name was M---- and he was required to be here for his class. He had a paper to work on about his Manifesto. He chose to write about his agnosticism. In the paper he discussed what he believes in, how people react to it, and how people should live life because of it.
I had him read the paper out loud and then I asked him what he would like help with. He wanted help with adding one page and also wanted to work on grammar. I knew we could not work on grammar and so I told him that his grammar was fine. It was fine as well, but I don’t know how to respond for the next time when someone asks me that (I know someone will ask me that in the future so I need to be prepared). I suppose I could explain why we don’t really work on grammar here at the writing center; well we don’t work on it until the very last step in the writing process.
I asked him how he wanted to expand. He wasn’t sure so I suggested that he talk about how he became agnostic. I also told him that I agnostic as well. He told me about his journey and I asked him questions like “How did your parents react?” “How old were you when you decided to change your beliefs?” “What caused you to question your parent’s beliefs?”
He said that all of this was very helpful to him and that he will include it in his writing. I then looked at his paper and asked him how he felt about his introduction and conclusion. He said that his conclusion was pretty much non-existent, but he could use the last sentence to start it. I pointed out that the whole last paragraph was a conclusion, but how he wanted to split it up would be up to him and his own style.
We also looked at the Library’s Databases and I showed him how to look up articles and how to cite them in his work. He had never seen this before and was thankful that I relayed this information to him. He said that he will not only use this in his writing class but in all of his classes as well.
One last time, I asked him if he had anything else he would like to work on and how the rest of his classes are going. He said that he didn’t have anything else to work on and that his classes are fine, but boring. So, I started to construct a session report. He got up to leave, but I asked him to stay and make sure that he agreed with everything I wrote down for his teacher. He said it was fine and then left quickly.

Helping Someone Makes Me Feel...

Today I had the opportunity to help a walk-in student with the beginning stages of her paper. At first I could tell that she was nervous, but then after some time she was able to open up and feel comfortable with me. My goal is always to make the student feel as comfortable as possible. How would they be able to express themselves freely or do their best work if they’re not comfortable? Since I am just starting out in the writing center, I have many skills I have to develop; however, I am ecstatic that I was able to make this tutee comfortable. To me, that is the most important thing.
When we were done with the session, the tutee asked when I will be here at the Writing Center again. I was so surprised at this and I told her my schedule. She said that she would definitely want to come to see me for her paper again next week. This gave me a feeling that I cannot describe. I was so glad that I could assist someone and make such an impact that they would want to come and see me again! J
This job makes me feel amazing when I have helped someone. It makes me inspired to do the best I can and make sure that every student that comes in to see me gets the same quality experience. This is only my second day working here and I am anticipating what will happen next!

Session Reports: Who should write it?

                I have been observing many sessions in the writing center with different consultants. In general, they all have similar strategies for running the session; however, there is one thing that I noticed differs from to tutor. Who writes the session report? Should the tutor write it? Should the tutee write it? Should there be collaboration in constructing it?
                If a student is required to go to the writing center by a teacher, a session report will have to be written and emailed to the professor and a copy of it to the student. It serves a couple of purposes. It informs the professor how the session went and also serves as a record and reminder to the student when they work on their assignment later.
After each session, I ask the tutor why they chose what they did with making a session report. Here are some answers that I received:
“I always write the session report myself because usually the student won’t be able to tell me what we did in the session.”
“I like having the student write it because I want them to tell their teacher what they got out of the session. I could tell the teacher what we did, but that doesn’t mean that the student absorbed everything that we talked about.”
“I tend to write it with the student because we can both discuss it and it will help them remember it better when they work on it at home.”
None of these strategies are wrong and each has their pros and cons. Any strategy may be used and will most likely yield desired results; however, personally, I believe that collaboration is the route I will take. I think that it is important to let the teacher know what has been done from both the tutor’s perspective and the student’s perspective. Sometimes the student will not know what to put and sometimes the tutor will not be sure what the student got out of it, so talking it out is a way to meet in the middle.
Although writing the session report isn’t as important as the actual session itself, it still serves purposes and should be thought about in for the benefit of the student and to keep their teacher informed.

My First Session

                 I went into the writing center, planning to observe a session or two and take notes; however, when I sat down to chat with my mentor Bob before the student arrived, he asked me how I would feel about running the session. I hesitated before giving him my answer. I had never tutored before and I was quite nervous.  Would I know what to do? Would I make a fool of myself? Would my advice make sense and be relevant to the student? Despite my fears, I was excited as well. This would be one step closer to doing the job that I have wanted to do. I also remembered one of the quotes I live by that was said by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” This most definitely scared me!
                “Okay!” I said enthusiastically. Amy, the student, arrived for her appointment and sat on the orange couch to wait, which is customary in our writing center. With a huge smile, I found Amy and described the situation to her. Thankfully, she was fine with being mentored by me as opposed to her normal tutor Bob.
                We walked back to the pod and I asked Amy what I could help her with, then, in order to ease the tension, I told her and Bob that I was nervous. Amy confessed that she was nervous as well and then told me what she wanted assistance with making the paper “better” and more interesting for her teacher to read. I asked her if she could provide more details on what she meant by “better.” She was not able to tell me what she meant by that, so I said that we could look over her writing and discuss it afterwards and maybe work on some revisions.
                “Would you feel comfortable reading this out loud?” I asked.
                She hesitated, “no, I don’t want to.”
                “Oh, okay,” I said, not surprised, “well, the reason why I ask is because reading your paper out loud will help you find mistakes that you probably wouldn’t find just reading it silently to yourself.”
                “I don’t want to read it.”
                “Okay, that’s fine,” I replied, “Would you mind if I read it out loud?” She seemed okay with that and I proceeded to read her paper. I noticed that there were many grammatical errors and poor word choices, but I wasn’t sure if I should say them correctly along the way or to just read it exactly the way it is. I opted for the latter, which I found was a good decision since we had to do some revising later down the road, not to mention we are normally not supposed to focus on grammar in the writing center.
                After going through it once, I asked the tutee how she felt about the paper. She reiterated what she said earlier about how she doesn’t like this piece of writing and because of that there is no way her teacher would like it either. I asked her if there were specific parts that she would like to talk about. She didn’t have an answer for me.
                Panicking on the inside because I didn’t know what to do, I feverishly looked through the paper again. I tried to find something that I felt could be revised. Fortunately, I noticed that Amy didn’t have any sort of introduction or conclusion. I asked her if she had those included. She admitted that she wasn’t quite sure to go about writing them and so didn’t attempt to add them.
                I asked Amy how she might want to start the paper and she wasn’t sure so with Bob’s help, we discussed different ways that she could go about introducing her topic. She told us which ideas she liked and also contributed some of her own ideas. At this point I could tell that she was opening up in the session. Bob asked Amy if she would feel comfortable with doing free writing with us or alone. She preferred to be left alone to write, which seems to be the norm with most students. Bob and I left so that Amy was able to free write for about ten minutes.
                While Bob and I were away, Bob told me that he felt like I was doing a good job and that I’ll be an effective tutor. I needed this reassurance because I wasn’t sure if I was doing well or not. At this point I gained some more confidence in my abilities and looked forward to going back to the session with Amy.
                Ten minutes had passed and we returned to the pod. Amy constructed an introduction that I felt was strong and introduced the topic very well. She took my advice about not giving away too much information about the topic so that it leaves the reader wanting more. There were very few revisions for her introduction that Bob and I suggested.
                We didn’t work on the conclusion during this session; however, we discussed ways that Amy could narrow the focus of her paper so that was matched the expectations of her professor more closely. Amy didn’t like any of the advice that Bob and I had and expressed that our ideas did not bring the paper in the direction that she wanted it to go. This was fine, but the topic that she wanted her paper to feature was different from what the rubric called for. I told this to her, but she was adamant about her ideas.
                At this point, we only had a few minutes left so we started to write the summary of the session and a note to Amy’s teacher.  We also formulated a plan for the rest of her writing process. Amy told me that I was very helpful to her and that she will have to come back and show us how she did. Being able to help her made my day and gave me a good feeling; that is how I know that this position at the writing center will be a good fit for me.
                After Amy left, Bob and I reflected on what happened. I felt more confident in my abilities and was ready to run another session. Of course, I was ecstatic that my first try was a success and that I did most of my work without the help of Bob. In all, learned about myself and I also learned about the tutee. I will remember and refer back to this first session for the rest of my career at the writing center.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Perfection and the “One Big Grammar Mistake” Syndrome: A Shift in Philosophy

Every time I am in a foreign country where I don’t know the language or culture, I immediately end up wanting to climb into a UPS shipping box and overnight myself straight back to my home in Texas. Back home, I know I can effectively speak and write in English (which ironically is my second language), and I don’t have to feel embarrassed every time I open my big, foreign mouth.  Struggling to formulate simple sentences is embarrassing. Staring blankly back at someone who is trying to explain something to me that seems so simple and yet is so complicated is humiliating. Having my grammar corrected every other word is enough to make me want to be mute for the rest of my life.
Let’s have a change of scenery and fast-forward to a typical day in the writing center—it’s your next session as a peer consultant is with an international student. You give a little sigh because you already know what’s nextall of the sudden you are listening to student struggle to formulate simple sentences. As you explain a one of those simple yet oh-so-complicated concepts, you see the client staring blankly back at you. As you read their work, you realize that every other word has some sort of grammar mistake.  Does this sound familiar?
                At some point in time during our years of schooling, we have all had to learn a foreign language, and we all struggled to communicate. According to “Being a Linguistic Foreigner: Learning from International Tutoring,” tutors can reflect on their own struggles of learning a foreign language and use these reflections to enhance sessions with international students. When we place ourselves in the shoes or our clients, our patience and compassion towards the students rises. Many of our international clients struggle with the same feelings of insecurity and frustration that we experienced, but we shouldn’t allow these feelings to affect whether or not international students use our services on a regular basis. If we, as tutors, can break down the barrier or frustration and humiliation that exist between a client and his/her paper, we can build a personal connection that allows the student to feel more comfortable during the session.
We also need to make a conscious effort to stop looking at these students’ papers as one big grammar mistake—if our attitude towards the paper changes, then our attitudes toward international students will also change. And when a student is comfortable in a session, he/she stops feeling judged or inadequate. Once we reach this stage collaboratively with our client, then the learning process goes beyond the perceived cultural differences to a more focused approach; we can focus on our mission of making better writers and communicators instead of making perfect language speakers.  Besides, if our language teachers had stopped believing on us when we made mistakes, would be have ever learned a second language? Being the motivator and source of encouragement for an ESL student is one of the best perks of our job, and we get to watch the circle of language evolve and continue.

Works Cited
Bergmann, Linda S., Gerd Brauer, Robert Cedillo, Chloe de los Reyes, Magnus Gustafsson, Carol Perterson Haviland,Brady Spangenberg. “Being a Lingusitic Foreigner: Learning from International Tutoring.” ESL Writers A Guide for  Writing Center Tutors. 2nd Ed. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers Inc. 2004. 195-207. Book.

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 ...