Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Your Boy Friend Should Work at the Writing Center

Hey, ladies (and gentlemen).

In my last post, “Where Have All the Men Gone?” I addressed the stereotype that women are writers and teachers. Maybe this is why women are more commonly found in writing centers than men.

But why do we need men? Don’t they have cooties or something?

To be frank, the gender imbalance keeps us from offering the best services possible.

A study on sex published in A Synthesis of Qualitative Studies of Writing Centers shows that male students feel more comfortable with male tutors, and female students feel more comfortable with female tutors. Apparently, dudes like that their male tutors tend to take a more directive, grammar-focused approach, while ladies like that they receive more nurturing, holistic advice. Here’s the thing, though. When it comes to improving writing, both of these approaches are helpful. Sometimes, our clients need a gentle shove in the right direction, addressing more surface-level concerns, while other times, its best that we look more at the writer than the writing to assess skill level, degree of improvement, etc. Both of these tactics help make better writers, so let’s even out the consultant pool a little bit.

But you know what else? Maybe some males are more nurturing and holistic, while some females are more directive and grammar-focused. At least, that’s what Kathleen Hunzer’s article, “Misperceptions of gender in the writing center: Stereotyping and the facilitative tutor” argues. These ideas about the role gender plays in tutoring seem to be as much based on stereotypes are they are based on real, honest-to-goodness truths. As tutors, we know that we assess each session, each writer, and each paper on a case-by-case basis. We know that sometimes, we’ll have to be more directive, and other times, the writer just needs someone to tell them that they’re on the right track. However, if we have more female tutors, our clients have a greater opportunity to make these broad assumptions than they would if every time they came in, they had a tutor of a different gender who was able to help them in a different way, not because of his/her sex, but because of his/her gifts as a tutor. We can bust these stereotypes! In fact, as millenials, it’s practically our duty! But first, let’s get more guys tutoring.

So how do we reel in the men?

I don’t know about you, but I had several friends apply to the writing center just because I was gushing about it all the time, because, as we all know, it’s the best place to work on campus! I will shamefully admit, however, that these friends were all girls. Why?

Maybe we too fall into the trap of assuming that women are better writers and tutors, or that guys are interested in other things. We know that it’s not true, but let’s be more intentional about letting our guy friends know about the writing center, and what great opportunities they would have there. Just think about everything that we’ve learned from tutoring. I know that I’ve become a better writer myself, but I’ve also become a better teacher, communicator, and leader. These skills are extremely marketable in most career endeavors, “masculine” and “feminine.” Male or female, the writing center is truly a great place to work. Let’s let the menfolk know.

So, for the sake of writers everywhere, let’s get some more testosterone in here!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fond Memories

           As my first semester as a Writing Fellow comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect on all of my new experiences.  It took me a while to understand what goes in to a writing session with a student, why we said and did different things.  Then, it took me a while to get used to reporting back to the director and other Fellows about the experiences I had with the students of which I recently collaborated.  It just felt strange to put a policy and procedure behind something I felt would be a simple process.  However as time went on, I began to realize the importance of doing so.  This weekend, what I had learned went a bit farther as I participated in a writing center conference for the first time called The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing.

            Going to Tampa for the writing conference, I had no idea what to expect.  The only time I had done anything like this was while I was in the International Thespian Society.  When the troop I was a part of went to Tampa for competition, there were many workshops on playwriting, dancing, singing, marketing, and acting.  The environment was professional, yet insane as many of the participants would dress in costumes or break out into song.  Granted, those who attended were from high school.  The writing conference in contrast was quiet.  At first I was disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm.   My disappointment left me upon the first presentation I attended.  I was a bit worried when I walked into the room and sat down.  What more could there be said than what I had already heard at school?  The presentation was about the emotions writers felt before and after going to the writing center.  This topic was different.  It was a relief to find that the presenters had a sense of humor.  They were human and were struggling with what they found in their research.  Their struggle to me was magic.  They did not claim to have all the answers or be better than those listening.  They wanted participation.  Immediately, those who attended became important to their thoughts on what they spent months or even years trying to discover.  There it was, enthusiasm.  What is incredible about those who take part in writing is that they don’t have to openly display or “prove” that they love what they’re doing.  It just happens, slowly but surely, silently but effectively. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Student Athletes

This semester I realized the complications and responsibilities of being a student athlete, and the time management one must obtain to be successful in a university setting.  I meet with my student athlete, a member of our university’s basketball team, once a week for a half hour session.  This student has been given special permission from his coaches and the Director of our writing center to use his fellow session as one hour toward his required study hall hours. The student practices several hours a week in and out of season and has started the official basketball season.  Because he committed to having weekly meetings, we have been having difficulties finding time in our schedules to meet.  I like to believe that I offer my students a fair amount of time per week to schedule an appointment so I was having trouble deciding if compromising my schedule for his was a fair decision for either of us.  I set aside one extra hour per week in the evening to meet with this student specifically, a pretty big compromise!

 By being an embedded tutor, I have the professor as a valuable resource in situations of this sort.  Although we openly discussed the idea of compromise, she was very clear about not adjusting my schedule any further.  She appreciated the fact that I was going out of my way to meet with a student when I didn’t necessarily have to.  When she discovered that he was in season, she was very strong with her suggestion for me to not change my office hours for this student specifically, but I felt that it was only fair because he was in season.  Throughout these last 15 weeks, our sessions have been getting shorter and he began to attend sessions unprepared. He has even gone as far as to ask me to email him a session report form showing that we had a session when he clearly did not attend.          

At first I was struggling with the issue of authority; I felt bad telling him that I was not here to be his friend and that he must attend the sessions to get participation points for his course.  By asking for the reports, he was basically asking for me to show credit for the program when he was not doing the work or gaining what he could from it.  He is a strong student, but with the help of a fellow I think he could excel in the course.  When talking with the professor about participation, she said there was no exceptions.  She is a firm believer in school first, athletics second.  She was able to see the issue first hand during this week’s class when he arrived to class late and then asked to leave for a pep rally.  Although he felt that this was part of his obligations as an athlete, the date of the event was not discussed prior to the actual event day which is extremely frustrating. The student’s reasoning for leaving was that his coach was mad at him and he could not miss this pep rally.  This is what sent the professor over the edge because she wanted to speak with the coach directly about not allowing her students to put academics first. 

As we completed the last full week of courses, I received an email, yet again, from this student requesting I complete a summary report form for his session.  He had not attended a session with me in about a month.  I did not reply to his request, but I did see the professor outside of the classroom.  We briefly discussed the issue at hand and she is now taking care of.  Yet again, the question as to why the students do not use this resource arises.  I guess the point of my reflection is to express how FRUSTRATING it can be to work with student athletes, and the expectations of the coaches whom I have never met.  Any suggestions for working with athletes?      

Road in the Rearview...

With a schedule brimming with English classes, this semester has been long, tedious, and tiresome, though the time I spent fulfilling my duties for this class was gratifying and enlightening. Though our texts were informative, it is safe to say that the most interesting and important things I learned took place within the classroom, within the many intelligent conversations that transpired between Clint Gardener, my classmates, and I.

Initially, many of the concepts we discussed were foreign to me but I now know of components of tutoring, how they can be applied, and so much more. From the Socratic method, to unconditional positive regard, to directive verses non-directive methods, to the importance of establishing a relationship and having an action plan, it is safe to say I have learned a ton regarding student tutoring, especially in tutoring writing. One conversation that took place that will never leave me was about “the yard care analogy” and I have come to my own conclusion regarding this topic: here at the student writing center we plant seeds, not trim hedges. We plant seeds in writers with hope that these seeds will germinate, grow, and blossom into something spectacular. People who want their hedges trimmed (writing proofread/edited) should take their writing elsewhere. We are not hedge trimmers, we are nurturers of seeds. Our main focus needs to be on improving the writer and not the writing itself.

 Though it has been a busy semester to say the least, after enough energy drinks and cups of coffee to kill an elephant, it has been a memorable and informative one. I wouldn’t take back any of the hours I spent in the classroom or in the writing center because I believe every minute of time that I donated to this course has benefitted me deeply. I must thank all of my classmates and especially Clint Gardener for contributing to such an intellectually nurturing experience. Though now we part, I hope that the discussions and debates we have had as a class will follow the rest of you as they will me. I wish you all the best of luck in your lives and college careers as you pursue the single most important thing in life: knowledge.

Magic in the Encyclopedia

obtained from
I may get a little choked up so be careful. I have now written four papers this semester about my volunteer experience helping grade schoolers with their reading and comprehension skills. Because of all that typing, I've really thought about what happened while I was in the classroom with the two children I was assigned to work with. Among other things, I have realized that children are cute, funny, in need of attention and leadership, and are not necessarily committed to learning. My experience with them has been a stark contrast to my experience with tutoring college aged writers. This doesn't mean I didn't have fun with them though. They would read books to me, and we would look at the pictures whenever they got bored to keep them engaged. I felt like a little bit of the magic that some of the books held for my kids rubbed off on me as we would read them. The last book one of my kids who I will refer to as A read to me was titled "How Much is a Million?" by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg. This book was magical, as you can clearly see. We read about how staggering the numbers million, billion, and trillion are. The book's illustrations were vivid, creative, and adventurous. I felt that the book really illustrated the wonder of knowledge that I had been trying all semester to instill within A and the boy (here named T) that I worked with.

I had been trying to cultivate a love of learning for A and T because I feel that a love for learning helps drive one's strivings for success. I feel like it would be so wonderful for them if they could sit down to read because they wanted to, if they were able to pick up their biology textbooks once they reached high school and could say "There is something fascinating in here and I'm going to find it."

Maybe it's just the fact that I'm in college right now and love all the cool things we get to learn about or maybe it's because I'm a nerd, but I think the real reason I tried hard is because I want A and T to go to college. I want them to be studious and industrious. I want them to be like a lot of the students who come into the Writing Center: committed. I tried all semester to help them see the magic in books, the magic in facts, in the encyclopedia. I spoke candidly with them about the value of information and the value of committing oneself to learning. I hope it stuck.

If any of you get the opportunity to tutor kids, I recommend it. This experience has helped me see more the value of what we do. As a tutor, I'm trying to increase a writer's academic competence and direction. I think that as we help students develop the tools they need to write a successful paper, we are improving their academic confidence, and helping them develop tools for success.

Reflecting on Mentoring

On September 7th, 2013, I joined a peer tutoring program called "Salt Lake Teens Write" which "is a community-based mentoring program [who pairs] local teens with adult mentors [in order] to motivate both teens and mentors to strengthen their writing skills for personal, academic and professional development." Over the last 3 months I was provided the opportunity of working with one 17 year old teen who is an immigrant from Burma trying to improve his reading and writing skills. During that time we discussed how to write music, lyrics, poetry, short stories, and college applications. We witnessed many accomplishments and look forward to many, many more as we both elected to continue with the program until its conclusion in May 2014.
The young man I have been working with has opened my eyes to a new world and way of writing. Likewise, he has shown me a new and better way of seeing the world and writing about it. The reciprocity I felt while working with him and the blessed opportunity to work within this program has dramatically effected my life for the better and I believe will continue to do so.
The education and mentoring training I received from my instructor helped me immensely. Without such collaborative insight from him, the other class members, and our various texts I would not have understood the importance of tutoring an ESL student -- or any student for that matter -- with respect, understanding, sincere concern, and gratitude. in fact, that last word "gratitude" is the best and only word I can think adequately to attribute to this last semester and, ironically, to its end at the end of this 2013 year. Every November we thank God -- if we believe in one -- and/or everyone else around us for the blessings which we may not recognize on a daily basis or throughout the year, but are there. In December, we watch as the snow blankets the ground while Christmas Lights light our city streets. In January, we see the beginning to an appropriate end and start anew. I am grateful as I exit this MENTOR WRITING 1810 course for not simply taking it, but allowing it to take me. 

Reflection on My Semester in the Student Writing Center
    This semester in the Student Writing Center has seen me grow tremendously as a mentor, as a student, and as a writer. Over the last few months, I have been privileged to work with a diverse array of writers whose ideas and perspectives have not only brought me out of my cognitive sphere, but also have allowed me to survey it from an outside perch. In this writing, I will tell of this journey out of seclusion and into the wide world of writing.
     In telling of this journey, I first want to establish a context for the “place” at which I stood at the beginning of the semester by providing a brief history of my experience with writing…
     For the majority of my life, writing has been associated with one constant: solitude. From fifth grade through my senior year of high school, I was homeschooled, comprising the entirety of the student body for my grade; I had relatively few interactions with academic peers, and essentially always completed work—writing included—by myself. While this solitude did have its benefits, such as allowing me space for reflection and thus an acute understanding of the way I think about   and approach writing, it instilled in me a concept of writing as an inherently hermitic activity, and, in a sense, sealed me away from the influence of others. Up through my first year-and-a-half of college, I conceptualized writing in this manner, becoming fairly proficient in my strengths and knowledge but also rather uninterested in the perceptions of others and unaware of my weaknesses—I admittedly grew somewhat arrogant, and it is in this state of mind that I initially set out on my journey by walking into English 1810.
     This course was unlike any I’d been in prior in the sense that it was both small and largely discussion-oriented. Immediately, I realized that my comfort zone and level of experience in this area were going to be challenged throughout the course. As I listened to the ideas of my peers and the eloquence with which they expressed these, I felt somewhat intimidated, my assuredness in the completeness of my abilities beginning to falter. For a brief period, the pace of my trek slowed considerably; I began to retreat into my mind, but was met with doubt rather than assurance. It was then that I realized that I did not know everything, and, consequently, it was then that I became intentional in my journey, walking determinedly forward.
     This turned out to be the first of many growing experiences I would have in the course, serving as a precursor to what would soon follow—working with writers one-to-one.
     In the weeks following my commitment to this journey, I learned two integral principles: using a nondirective approach and “respect[ing] the writer”; these would serve as my guidelines along the way, and would provide the means by which my own learning was made possible. By asking myself questions such as “What does it mean to respect the writer” and “How do I respect the writer,” I began to think of how I wanted to be respected as a writer, and I began to ask myself the same questions about my own writing that I was taught to ask the writers with whom I worked—“Why did you do this?” “What do you want your audience to take away.” With the onset of this new, better introspection, I felt ready to begin my work.
     My first experience in-person came shortly after, when I observed five sessions between fellow tutors and students. These observations were quite helpful to me, as they allowed me to see different concepts and techniques in action. I was able to see what seemed useful to students and what could work for me. Moreover, talking with the tutors, I found that they noticed things in the session that I missed completely and that I noticed things they missed; this was immensely rewarding, as my confidence and my knowledge were both greatly enhanced through this exchange.
     After I had observed these sessions, the time quickly came for me to begin my own tutoring. In all honesty, this was still intimidating despite all of the education and practice that I had prior. However, as I introduced myself to the student and asked what I could help her with, I had a significant revelation: I was no longer alone on my journey. For these thirty minutes, the student was walking with me. We were able to discuss where she had been, where she was at the time, and where she was going, and I was able to help her by suggesting a route. Meanwhile, I found myself impressed with her tenacity (she came to Writing Center a full two weeks before her assignment was due), and observing how quickly she progressed in her writing  stirred a desire within me to try the same thing, to try developing an assignment long before its due date rather than waiting until just days prior. As the session ended and she walked away satisfied, I felt both a surge of confidence and satisfaction, knowing that she had learned something from me and that I had learned something from her. My perception of writing, of people, and of the world around me was greatly enriched by this.
     And since that point, each session has added to and enriched my perspective. My meetings with students have led me to places as diverse as a village in turmoil during the Rwandan Genocide to an evergreen forest in the thick of winter. Moreover, hearing about students’ varying cultures, ideas, and language usage has forced me to think more about my own culture, my own ideas, and my own language use in order to mentor them in their English writing. I have not only been able to pass through the borders of my mind and my culture, but I have come far enough that I can now look back on them, examine them, and transcend them, making me a more well-rounded writer and better person overall. It is my hope and sincere belief that I have provided such enrichment to the writers—the people, not the texts—that may also go further in their endeavors in writing and their exploration of the world around them.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Where Have All the Men Gone?

What’s up, girl? 

I’m assuming that you’re female, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there seems to be a lot more ladies working at writing centers than gentlemen.

Why is that?

Probably because people think women are better writers and teachers. I don’t think that women, by nature, are better writers. I also don’t think that women, by nature, are better teachers. I do think, however, that there is a stereotype that says that women are better at both of these skills. Maybe that’s why all of my English classes have a significantly higher number of females than males, and maybe that’s why when I look around my writing center, I see more ponytails than crew cuts.

I can hardly blame anyone for associating women with writing and teaching. I didn’t have my first male teacher until sixth grade, and he was my band director. In middle school and high school, the only core curriculum classes I ever had that were taught by males were math and science classes. I didn’t have a male English teacher until I came to college. Many of you have likely had similar experiences, considering that recent data from the National Education Association confirms that only 25% of public school teachers in America are male. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t help but to associate “teaching” with women.

But women aren’t just “teachers,” they’re “writers.” According to Forbes’ “Stem Fields and the Gender Gap: Where are the Women?” one in seven engineers is female, and women hold just 27% of computer science jobs, despite the fact that women hold 60% of all bachelor degrees. Well, Forbes, many of these missing women can be found in the liberal arts college writing papers for their sociology, English, anthropology, communication, and international studies courses.

Now is when you’re thinking, “Wait a second! Men are writers! They’re the ones who publish books!” and you’re right and wrong. Men are the ones who get their stuff published. For example, out of 106 Nobel Prizes in Literature awarded since 1901, only 13 have gone to women. However, this doesn’t make men “writers,” it makes them “authors” (stereotypically speaking, of course; I am a feminist after all). These words have awfully similar definitions, but different connotations. A writer is someone who writes a lot, and is good at it, but it’s a broad definition. A novelist, a journalist, and an English teacher can all be writers. An author sits behind a desk and writes books and articles for the New York Times. Stereotypically, men are the ones that get stuff published and go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact, maybe a “writer” writes quantity, but an “author” writes quality. In our minds, men are “authors” and women are “writers,” and “writers” work at the writing center. It’s in the name for heaven’s sake.

So now that we’re able to recognize the existence of these stereotypes, the next step is to address them in order to diversify our writing center staffs. Check out my next blog post, “Why Your Boy Friend Should Work at the Writing Center,” for my take on the importance of male consultants, and what we can do to get guys to apply for these positions. 

Your Written Voice Matters: Embracing Writing Language against the Standards of the Academy

In consultations as a tutor, I notice students struggle with their own written language based on the demands of the academy. Many students e...