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Facing the Center

For my followers who have enjoyed this inclusion into my private life as a student in Writing Theory and Practice, this will be my final scheduled blog post for this class. It has been enjoyable learning some of the various ways to approach tutoring and writing centers, in general. One thing that I have learned is there is always much to learn, about self and others. Some of the readings, I have disagreed with, some were…eh, but some were challenging and pushed me to wade through them. Yes, they centered on writing centers, but many of the topics, like those I’ll discuss in this blog, have carry-over into all parts of life.

The final book we are reading in our class is Facing the Center by Harry C. Denny. This book is proving to push the borders for those working in and around writing centers. Though I am not crazy about Denny’s personal inclusion of himself into this book, to the degree at which he does, I am not sure he could have written it any other way. In many ways Facing the Center is a personal reflection and a public exploration into identity politics for one-on-one mentoring.

The chapters that interested me the most were chapters three (class) and four (sex and gender); the latter of which I am using for my research project on gender roles in our writing center. I have enjoyed Denny’s way of singling out a topic such as class from the other influences that run so closely beside it, like gender, race, and ethnicity.

When thinking about identity politics and how all this fits together for the pedagogy of writing centers, we must include the politics that mingle with it. So, a definition of identity politics is a must, and forgive me for the source I use, I liked it best for its simplicity.

Wikipedia defines identity politics as “political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify. Identity politics includes the ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations.” If thinking about class, this would mean if you are a middle-class male that your class structure influences your how you teach in a writing center. Today it would seem that you need almost deny such to be able to relate to those, not of you class. However, Denny encourages using whatever class we are as a tool to learn about ourselves and our understanding of the world. To use where we come from as a means to be compassionate for others and broaden our scope to appreciate all classes. Denny used an example of how he encouraged a student to seek a Master’s degree, but the student did not want to abandon where he came from. The student chose to become an NYC police officer near where he grew up. What is challenging in this, is that struggle within ourselves where we feel like we have to cut off our roots or abandon our history to pursue something that interests us.

Identity politics grow even more complex when you add in gender roles. Take a moment and think about this in how you perceive the world around you. We all have an identity and identify with a group(s), and this affects how we perceive the world around us. These groups can be our friends at school, work, or the gym, our family, clubs we belong to, even our religious beliefs draw us to a particular social organization that believes the same as we do. Add in your gender, race and ethnicity, and the dynamics heighten. People are complex and highly interesting. Which culminates to the heart of Facing the Center where Denny addresses power, agency, language, and meaning. He pushes the reader to consider how they may be feeding cultures that are not promoting writing centers that are more inclusive and forward thinking and how they might work to change.

Thank you for joining me this semester. I hope you have found the material as interesting as I have.

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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Feedback on Really Rough Draft

Liz and I peer reviewed each others papers today. We met during our scheduled class time and took nearly the entire time to go over our papers. I must admit the pleasure I had having her review my work.

She had several good comments, many of which were structural, formatting, and style choice. The most helpful were her attention to my use of pronouns at the beginning and my volleying back and forth with verb tenses.

We found each others topics interesting and there was much talking about each. Each of us pointed out what we found interesting and where we had questions. This discussion was helpful as it caused us to think again about what we were saying and what was important to us to make clear in our papers.

Moving forward, I definitely need to address style choice and stop waffling between APA and MLA. Verb tenses must be addressed as does the confusion of pronoun usage. Better defining my audience will help accomplish this clarifying of pronouns.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Thoughts on the Everyday Writing Center

The Everyday Writing Center is designed to be informational and helpful for tutors and directors of writing centers. There are some really good points within the pages. There are also some things that fall flat (at least for me).

I’ll start off with the main attempt that fell flat for me so I can end my thoughts more positively. While chapter two, titled, “Trickster at Your Table” has some really good points such as crossing boundaries to reach and tutor students, the whole idea of a trickster seemed forced. This trickster idea keeps getting referred to throughout the book. So while I could see where the authors wanted to go with this idea, I felt like I was being dragged along rather than buying into it.This is not to say that the chapter did not have some great advice. On the contrary, there was an ingenious idea a tutor used to help a non-native English speaker with their vocabulary by playing Scrabble. Playing Scrabble is not exactly what you think would go on during a writing session, but the tutor took the time to get to know the students like, and Scrabble was on of them as was expanding their vocabulary.

Chapter three dealt with how time is viewed and used in the writing center. The authors broke time into two sections: mechanical and body. Ultimately, this chapter is about how “tutors live time differently…” and how “[t]hings take as long as they take.” This sounds oversimplified, and it is, so I encourage you to read the chapter for yourself. Personally, I think some of the advice and insight the authors give would be good for anyone, not just tutors and students.

While chapter five focuses on writers as tutors and tutors as writers, the biggest takeaway I got from this chapter was a short sentence, “Identity is not static.” This stood out to me because much of what we discuss in class is how to keep a student from losing part (or all) of their identity, particularly those from other cultures and backgrounds that are quite different from the American Standard English and collegiate form of writing. This idea of identity being more fluid caused me to try to think of ways to teach that both, exposed a student to a new way of writing yet did not annihilate what and whom they brought to the table. Which brought me back to a quote at the beginning of the chapter and the best way I could think to close this blog post:

“The writers who come to our centers and the tutors who work in them bring us everyday gifts of themselves and of their communities of practice, communities where they live outside of “normal” school time (and where they experience that “eternal ‘now,'” places where writing occurs in epochal time).”

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Not So Quiet Voices

Each of the readings this week focuses on having a voice, particularly as a minority woman. There were aspects I identified within each essay as a woman, but I do not wish to take away from the impact of the message these women are attempting to get across as women of a minority.

Some of the places in which I identified were:

Near the end of Bell Hooks piece (chapter 3) of Talking Back, she quotes a young black female student, “I am not relieved by voicing my opinions…My fear is that I will not be understood…I will not be respected…they will disregard me” (17). As a woman, I’ve felt this from not only men but other women, particularly those who have some measure of authority over me. I think most of us at some point has had their comments dismissed or misunderstood. The harsh response of indifference or dismissiveness hurts, and it silences us. We get the message that we and what we have to say are not important. Why do we do this to each other?

This question leads me to the second article How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua. Her article expresses such inner conflict, not only with being a woman but also with how to identify herself by her language. She repeatedly mentions how depending on where one lives the language is different, and Chicano is an evolved language for a people that carved out their own place, not being Anglo nor Spanish; to claim an identity. She goes on to say, “There are more subtle ways that we internalize identification, especially in the forms of images and emotions. For me food and certain smell are tied to my identity, to my homeland” (83).

This hit home for me because as I read it, I thought about how roses remind me of my grandma, and pot roast of being at her house, where so many wonderful memories were made. These smells take me home to where I was loved and accepted. They remind me of who I am. It is strange, but I think this is exactly what Anzaldua was getting at. I think the overall impression is, how did we let the world or another culture take our identities?

Moreover, how can a writing center help students of other nationalities, and women find their unique voice? I do not have the answer for this. It is as complex as the number of individuals that impact a student.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Cultural Struggles and Learning English

This week’s readings were quite emotional, which made them more relatable and compelling. The first was Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle by Min-Zhan Lu; the second, The Achievement of Desire, a chapter from Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez (Sorry, I could not find a link for this one). Both were from the perspective of learning English as an additional language, and the struggle that accompanies it when learning as a child.

In both readings, English was encouraged by their families. For Min-Zhan Lu, her parents hired a live-in tutor, and at home, they spoke English. This is surprising to me for a family living in China at such a pivotal time in the country’s history, the 1950s.

Min-Zhan Lu spoke of how she thought of English as her family’s language. At school, she spoke Standard Chinese. Since she started at the age of four, learning came easily, and she attached one mean to each word she learned. She used the example of “red” meaning “love” for motherland at school and home for her mother, and how both “loves” meant how she felt about my mother. However, as she aged and with the dynamics of her country changing to socialism, in high school, she realized her home language and her school language were in conflict.  This conflict of discourse caused her to withdraw and become silent, and she felt a great lack of control.

Richard Rodriguez felt this conflict of discourse, but as a young man, he felt ashamed of his parent’s lack of mastery of the English language, even though they encouraged him. However, his struggle to find the discourse lead him to withdraw from his family and pursue academia. He read in a devouring manner to find the verbiage, to imitate what he learn in school, and he was praised for doing such. He saw himself as a scholarship boy. This ultimately took him to London where he was among the elite in his field of Renessiance study. As he sat in the British Museum, he also realized how lonely he was, and longed for home.

With each of essays, the writer felt conflicted between who they were at home and who they were at school. While Min-Zhan Lu ultimately was grateful for her conflicts and what she learned from them, Richard Rodriguez seems to have had more of struggle learning where he and his voice fit into the discourse around him.

As a much older student, I relate to their struggles. While my nationality does not separate me from the college discourse, my age, and background do cause a conflict. When having discussions in classes, I am aware of my separation from the others. Many find discussing juxtapositions of various essays and quoting Burke, or Chaucer, or expounding on the latest classical works they have read to establish themselves a place in academia; I am questioning why I am even there. A part of me likes the jargon used, but I know I can not use it outside the classroom. Moreover, when I am around my family and friends, I am careful not to use the language of academia, and since many of my friends are already past college they have no real desire to hear about what I am doing there; they merely tolerate when I speak about it. I, too, feel the pressure of silence and long for a place that doesn’t feel so lonely.

So while these essays were to shed light on how cultural differences can affect the individual learning to maneuver and struggle within the English language, I found they also have value for those who are generational separated in the hall of academia. I leave you with a quote Min-Zhan Lu that started her essay as food for thought:

“Men are not built in silence, but in work, in  work, in action-reflection.” ~Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Writing Centers and ELL Students

Have you ever tried to put yourself in someone else’s shoes? You know, walk a mile…

I ask because it seems the filter through which we see the world is limited to our own biases until something jolts us just enough to look to the left or right. I’ve tutored adults learning English, usually with limited or no English; they were my first jolt. This week I watched three videos called Writing Across Borders. They were about college students from other countries, learning to write according to American English standards. This was another jolt.

I considered this a jolt, not because I personally did not understand this was an act that took courage on an international student’s part, but because of the rigidness of some professors. Not that I am suggesting the standards be lowered. I think there is a level of comprehension and ability to convey thoughts that a student definitely needs to be able to express. However, the lack of instruction on how to do such is often left undone.

An example from the video was of a woman from China explaining she did not understand the need to cite sources. Telling her not to plagiarize accomplishes little when consideration for where she is coming from a culturally has not been explored. As the student pointed out, she comes from a communist country where everything belongs to everyone, using others words is a part of writing.

Just because someone from another country attends an American school, doesn’t mean they instantly know how everything works just because their feet are walking the halls. I highly doubt Americans would adapt any better if the roles were reversed.

This week, to go along with the videos, I also read Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva. This article was about how to prioritize errors, and meeting needs of the ESL student.

One of the comments that I thought fit with the videos was “…we also have to be aware that we might make unconscious judgments about others based on our expectations about such behaviors.” This was said in the context of looking for patterns in a student’s work, and how worthwhile it may or may not be.

I need to say, though, while I give this article leeway in using ESL (English as a Second Language) instead of ELL (English Language Learners) because it was written in 1993; I personally do not like ESL. For me, using it takes on a superiority complex that is false. It is Americans who are not fluent in other languages. Though this is beginning to change as we catch up with the rest of the world. Most other countries learn three or more languages; English is merely one of many for them.

Which brings me back to colleges, professors, and writing centers. We do a disservice to students (American or International), and our universities, if professors do not take a few steps in an International students shoes and try to understand what cultural differences may need further explanation. Universities could also improve on this as they integrate International students.  Finally, it does a writing center no service to send frustrated ELL students to their doors, who only want grammar help because a professor expects American articles to be included correctly in every sentence. After all, would we remember to remove them if we were attending a university in Russia?

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Research Project: Brief Proposal

After observing in the Writing Center, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the role gender plays during tutoring sessions. I hope to find the impact gender has on both the tutor and the tutee if any at all.

In class on Thursday, post-session write-ups were mentioned as being available for research purposes upon request. I plan to request the notes to see if there is any clues, data, or other information that could be helpful in my gender role research.

Historical data will be another resource that could prove fruitful for this research. It could offer a basis in which to compare any current data and note possible changes.

Finally, Scott suggested the idea for me to send surveys to other university writing centers to see if gender has any impact within their programs.  I will need to create these survey questions and send them out as soon as possible to give the universities time to respond and incorporate their data into my research paper.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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