Syndromes: Imposter, Authoritarian, Writing Partner…

Power and Authority in Peer Tutoring” got me to take a hard look at my experience with the “imposter syndrome” in regards to working at the writing center. Carino is pretty invested in the ethics of tutoring—whether tutors should use “nondirective” methods, whether they can assume more than the title of a “fix it shop” worker* whether maintaining the “safe house metaphor” contradicts with more authoritarian tutorship… it goes on (Carino 102)…

It struck me that these ethics are so challenging to navigate because they are in the context of “peerness” (Carino 97). Maybe things wouldn’t be so nerve-wracking if we were editing 6th graders’ essays on Atticus Finch’s moral compass, instead of commenting on insanely intricate explications of William Blake. But there’s this enormous pressure because the students we’re helping are in our same academic position. It’s hard to remind myself that being a writing partner is not about being as good of a writer as the student with which I’m working…it’s about honing skills to help that student! At least that’s what I think—correct me if I’m wrong Pam!

Carino helped me to consider some ways to rethink my feelings of being an imposter. I really appreciated his affirmation of authority in the context of a consultation, as authority helps “to transmit knowledge and power to direct the student for the purpose of helping him complete the task” (Carino 106). This idea helped me to understand that a student benefits from concrete advice and that a partner’s feelings of uncertainty or concern for impeding on a students’ individual progress can actually hamper the student’s progress.

I tend to phrase my critique to students as suggestions that they might use to better their paper. I often ask students their feelings about the suggestions immediately after I offer them. Do you all think that this is a good practice? Should I be more or less directive—should I wait for them to respond before asking for the response?

Carino points out “every tutor cannot be expert in all types of writing” (Carino 107), but he also stresses the importance that the theatre major shared her knowledge about the standards of a play review. I have definitely seen his first point hold true while working at the writing center. So often, the consultation evolves based on what the professor has established as the priorities. It seems that “types of writing” really translate as “types of professors” at Pomona—what is this professor looking for and how can you meet that expectation? I’m thinking that if each class and professor is so idiosyncratic in expectations of “types of writing,” no tutor is going to be a real expert in any type. With this mentality in mind, I’m more comfortable with assuming an authoritative role.

I felt a little like Carino’s theatre major during my consultation today. I told my student about one of my professor’s key questions—“what work does this do?” I consider this advice authoritative in that I offered a specific tool. But I think it worked because it was a piece of advice that I learned as a student myself. Maybe if we structure our authoritative tutoring around our own experiences as a tutee, the authoritativeness won’t come across as superiority.

 

 

* Where the heck did this phrase come from? Did North coin it?

 

Walk the Talk!

This week’s readings were honestly therapeutic. Something I’ve been struggling with as a partner has been offering suggestions with confidence, while also considering the sensitivity of the interaction. A couple weeks ago, I helped a senior with an op-ed. She felt very personally attached to the subject matter and I felt that every time I offered a suggestion, she received it as a comment on her subjective ideas, rather than their functioning within the paper’s context. I didn’t know how to maneuver between my assessment of the paper (it needed a more precise thesis) and hers (it needed organizational improvement). She came into the writing center looking for a “fix-it” consultation, as North would say. I saw a more pressing concern in her paper. The tension that emerged from these contrasting priorities eventually resulted in the student saying, “I feel like I’ve just hit a wall.” Yeah… so that was pretty hard to take.

Anyway, these readings were so helpful because they made me realize that this incident is not isolated. Moreover, conflicts regarding student’s self-identification with their writing are grounded in a much broader systemic pedagogy. That is, a structure that ranks discourse communities.

What really stood out to me was the idea of validating standards. Bawarshi and Pelkowski’s point hit home: students “are told what the standards for academic writing are in composition classrooms… without really being told why the standards exist in the first place” (Bawarshi & Pelkowski 54). On Saturday, Natasha and I went on a long hike with another friend and I brought this point up on the trail. We started to question whether there is a practical solution to this dynamic of students being told that their writing falls below the accepted threshold—without receiving reason for why this is the case. What do you all think? By entering a college that is fundamentally based on western standards of academia, should Pomona students be expected to learn based on these standards? Does Pomona claim to follow multiple standards…or any standards at all?

I certainly think that these are good questions to consider as a writing partner, but I’m not sure how to really implement them in my work. Reger offers some suggestions: “tutor training should incorporate a number of practical strategies, with an aim toward explaining academic discourse and its expectations…” (Fitzgerald & Ianetta 506). Reger’s thoughts are theoretically sound, but they lack specificity. I know that his piece is not a training guide, but I would have liked to hear about his theories in practice. How would he have actually applied the strategies at Georgetown?

North seems to shy away from actual implementation as well. He romanticizes that the “style of live intervention” is the “best breaker of old rhythms” (North 443). He lists quite a few verbs, but doesn’t actually mention how to use them to break said rhythms: “I will say no more about the nature of this talk” (North 444).

Don’t get me wrong; the readings were definitely helpful in terms of clarifying some of my anxieties as a partner. However, I would have appreciated some more specific recommendations as to how to alleviate anxiety (my own, and the student’s).

Showdown: Form v. Content

So far this semester, we have read about a couple different approaches to writing based on models. Gaipa constructed his using cartoons, Graff and Birkenstein advocate for templates in the form of Mad Libs, Young champions personal style over any contrived standard. I thought that Winalski brought a compelling approach into our study of models, when considering her attention to grammatical details as a model in itself.

Winalski describes her early stage of college writing like checking off a grocery list: “I made sure I weaved in enough five-syllable words with bare nouns and verbs, and that my flowery, paragraph-like sentences were offset by short, declarative remarks” (Winalski 205). It is almost as if grammar serves as a model for her writing—if she has the scaffolding of carefully orchestrated grammar, then her paper is heading in the right direction. Winalski recounts how her approach evolved and how she learned the value of content over form: “One should only scoff at the grammar check if or she knows the meanings would be better expressed by ignoring the suggestions” (Winalski 306). I so appreciate this realization. I think that it supports a reoccurring theme in our discussions: college-level writing cannot be formulaic! The sooner that first-years discover that a perfect dynamic of syllables or sentence lengths won’t guarantee a perfect grade, the better.

Although, I’m not sure that Winalksi treats the intersection of form and content very fairly. Obviously, there are instances when attention to content is wrongly overridden by form, like with Winalski’s B- paper. (Random note: would Winalski be okay with my passive voice? Am I really getting my point across clearer or should I succumb to the grammar check?). Anyway, I’m not sure it’s entirely productive to think of form as an obstruction of students’ ideas. This semester, I have learned that sometimes form can actually stimulate content. In my art history class, my professor forbids us from using passive voice, but her reasoning is far from the snooty perspective that “these are the just the rules and you must respect them!!!” …an approach with which Young would be very displeased. She believes that by using passive voice, we tend to separate the productive action of the subject from his or her actual action. For example, the aesthetic effect of a documentary becomes disconnected from the work itself.

My professor’s rules help me to assume a very specific analytical lens—she instructs us to use the model of grammar in order to create content. I think that Winalski might benefit from sitting in on one of the classes to see that isolating her linguistic obsessions from her newfound focus on content and ideas may not be so productive. I wonder what Sommers would think of my ideas about merging content and form. Her study showed that professors’ comments are often too focused on stylistic errors of grammar and spelling. When these comments did focus on ideas, they were “not text-specific and could be interchanged” (Sommers 152). Sommers proposes the solution to this problem is professors commenting on content first, before advising on grammar in later drafts. I’m not sure that this approach is practical—I’ve observed that writing in multiple drafts is not a very common occurrence among college students. Perhaps professors could focus on how the problems of form are related to problems in content. This way, students could see how interrelated these elements are—and how one can help facilitate the other.

What do you all think about the relationship between form and content? How have you seen this dynamic play out in your professors’ comments?

Reader-as-Writer-as-Writer-as-Reader-as-Writer-as…

This week’s readings got pretty meta, to say the least. I think that Ede and Lunsford might have benefited from some of Gaipa’s cartoon-making approach to clarify their thoughts on writer-as-reader/reader-as-reader/reader-as-writer, etc. That being said, I really appreciated the authors’ exploration of the role of the audience in writing, even if things did get a little complex. I have not considered the audience so in-depth prior to the two readings—possibly because prior to college, I viewed my writing as a formulaic process. I simply inserted my quasi-subjective thoughts into The College Board’s established rubric, fleshed out my trite ideas, and received an A on the other end. My writing was a wholly internal process until the end, when I received feedback from my teachers. Even then, I funneled their notes into the next paper’s brainstorming, instead of incorporating them into my writing process for the original essay. In this way, I virtually had no audience, apart from Spellcheck and my own judgment during the stage of red-pen-editing.

I found Ede and Lunsford’s recognition of “the equally essential role writers play throughout the composing process not only as creators but also as readers of their own writing” really compelling (Ede & Lunsford 158). In my writing experience, I have found that I tend to blend the lines between these two roles. I distinctly remember one time last semester when I sat down with the intention of producing another body paragraph and spent the entire evening revising what I had already written. I am still trying to figure out what is the most effective approach—reserving time specifically for producing writing and time just for reading your product with a critical lens. What do you all think? Do you have an approach that works for you?

Though I appreciate Ede and Lunsford’s emphasis on the reader’s own self-critique (instead of merely producing and then seeking feedback from others), I’m not sure I agree with their stressing the “internal dialogue” (Ede & Lunsford 158). The authors do not provide detailed techniques for accessing this dialogue or “conceptualiz[ing] patterns of discourse” (Ede & Lunsford 158). It also seems that their approach may be grounded too much in internal discourse and while self-critique is certainly valuable, I would have liked to read about how channeling this discourse through external resources (professors, your school’s writing center J, friends) relates to the “internal dialogue” (Ede & Lunsford 158).

Bartholomae’s commentary on Flower and Hayes’ ideology corresponds to my discomfort with how much writing “is rooted in the way the writer’s knowledge is represented in the writer’s mind” (Bartholomae 141). The author points out the importance of locating a writer’s problem solving within the context of “a field of discourse” (Bartholomae 141). I think that this emphasis on external contribution is a great addition to Ede and Lunsford’s beliefs. Ideally, we would be able to combine the deeply personal and somewhat narrow process of internal revision (playing both writer and reader) with the goal to make a difference in our respective fields of study. Maybe this should be one’s task as a writer: combining the priorities of making a substantial impact outside of your own psyche and appeasing the “created fiction” that is your psychic audience (Ede & Lunsford 160).

Aiming for a substantial impact, however, is inarguably vague. How can a student strive for this significance? What are the factors that indicate the value of an argument to a “field of discourse” (Bartholomae 141)? Bartholomae believes that in order to place “themselves within the discourse of a particular community,” students must practice “imitation or parody,” rather than focusing inwards on producing original material (Bartholomae 143). I understand that there are aspects of college-level writing that necessitate straightforward instruction (e.g. this is a style of citation that you have to learn to incorporate). However, this approach seems to generalize writing and underestimate student’s abilities to figure out the most effective ways of writing through trial-and-error, rather than mere copying of a pre-established model. What do you all think of Bartholomae’s concept of imitation? Is his approach more appropriate in certain fields, rather than others?

To (Literary) Criticize or Not to (Literary) Criticize

Mark Gaipa… we are going to need to talk some things out.

Kudos to you for actually brainstorming a way for college students to assume the role of an academic in their writing. We’ve spoken about this problem in class: how difficult it is for college students to find a breakthrough in the scholarship, to come up with an argument that is truly revolutionary to tenured professors. Though I appreciate Gaipa’s acknowledgement of this problem, I’m not sure I agree with his solution. He claims “An argument may be solid and interesting, but it will lack authority until its author clarifies its contribution to a larger critical community” (Gaipa 419). I think that Birkenstein and Graff would applaud the attention to the “they” in this scenario—students are challenged to present an argument that could have a significant impact on an intellectual community. But I’m not so sure about this emphasis.

Maybe my Literary Interpretation class is getting to me, but I’m thinking that Gaipa’s approach lacks grounding in the actual content from which the argument is based. So far, my greatest challenge in the class is slowing down and simply noticing the subtleties of the text. I tend to look at a text with a preconceived thesis or angle instead of observing simply what’s on the page. I suppose that Gaipa is aiming for a lesson in literary criticism, but I can’t help but think that his outline of writing steers attention away from the actual source and makes the argument more about Hemingway’s critics, rather than The Sun Also Rises, for example.

 

I’m also thinking that Gaipa’s approach is a little abstract. He claims “students have to imagine a controversy in which their theses could be debated and perhaps make a difference” (Gaipa 421). Why is that students must frame this debate in the context of acclaimed intellectuals? Would it not be more genuine and compelling to hold this debate within the context of the classroom? These abstract directives extend to the conversation cartoons that Gaipa assigns to his students. By confining the dialogue of literary criticism to these contrived representations of academics, Gaipa is limiting his students from exploring the potential of their own thoughts. I’m all for visual aids, but I’m not sure that curbing a student’s argument to stick figure drawings is the most effective technique for facilitating intellectual growth.

 
How do you all think Gaipa’s approach relates to personal style? I’m inclined to say that his lesson is too structural: his models for literary critique practically organize a thesis for students. Not only does this limit student’s formation of a complex, self-originated thesis—it also limits their personal style. This brings me to Young’s article.

 
Young says “…there be more than one academic way to write rite” (Young 3). I am all for this argument. It really made me think about how certain classes or academic spaces are reserved for specific forms of discourse. For example, at slam poetry events on campus, students receive applause for their use of colloquial, informal language. And yet, if that style were utilized in a research paper, it would not be viewed as appropriate. I know that this is an obvious point, but I’m not sure I ever really questioned the origins of these expectations until I read Young’s article.

 
I think that this relates back to Bizzell’s discussion of personal style and discourse communities. How can we embrace personal style when it so clearly violates principles of formal writing that professors like Gaipa demand? How can we set a standard for a style of writing that meshes codes when code meshing is inherently subjective? What do you all think? Have you had any professors who demand such a specific format or stress the importance of literary criticism so heavily? If so, what was the experience like?

Revise Yourself Silly

This week’s readings each presented a specific viewpoint on the revision process of writing. Though I think that the processes and mentalities have their merit, there’s one thing that was missing from the readings. That is, how to ensure that you actually have the luxury to revise! I will be the first to admit that I have handed in many a first draft. I think that this practice started in high school when the structural point system of the AP gods virtually handed me over an essay template. I could easily spend just one night filling in that template with my selected quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Scarlet Letter. I figured out that this practice would not work at Pomona when I received those first few papers and realized that I really did not agree with what I had written…and I deserved the professor’s critical remarks. Had I given myself the time to wrestle with my thoughts for a week or so and spend time with my essay away from my laptop screen, I think those phony sections would have become visible and I would have had time to rework them.

I really do appreciate some of the revisionist theories included in the readings (YES NANCY SOMMERS!), but for any of them to be used, we need to figure out a way to get students to that first step of giving themselves the time to revise. Any thoughts of how to make this suggestion to stressed out students? Or maybe make a recommendation for the future to someone who has an incomplete first draft due in two hours?

I really appreciate Sommers pointing out how students treat the revising process as a checklist: “[they] decide to stop revising when they decide that they have not violated any of the rules for revising” (Sommers 383). Elbow would love Sommers’ distaste for such a linear approach to writing—I think the three of us would agree that revising needs more chaos! Just because your ideas are already in the format of an essay, it does not mean that the first draft cannot be drastically altered with the same freewriting liberty of Elbow’s first-order thinking.

Nelson’s “personal writer’s workshop” approach to revising was pretty inspiring (Nelson 291). I think that she does a great job of addressing just how personal writing can become. Nelson touches on her panic throughout the process of writing her paper and the moments of discovery and growth: “Now, like them, I was listening to multiple levels of textual analysis for the first time in my life and once again participating in the conversation of mankind” (Nelson 289). Her enthusiasm for gathering a task force of sorts to help her through the paper could definitely be beneficial to college students navigating writing. I think that a huge part of revising comes from getting your essay outside of your head, whether this comes in the form of a writing center, a professor, a friend, or literally explaining the ideas to yourself in the mirror. By assembling your own “workshop,” you receive a variety of feedback, you begin to see your paper in a more objective manner, and most importantly, you build a squad of support to help you through this frightening process of tackling Tolkien or whomever. How can we impress this idea upon students who visit the center?

I found Bizzell’s idea about “self-selected writing tasks” really compelling (Bizzell 54). I think that assigning yourself goals throughout the revision process could be really helpful—I often leave a couple of notes of potential ideas to explore or sections to improve at the end of a writing session. Though Bizzell’s tip certainly proves useful, I’m not sure that’s it’s safe to say that every student feels comfortable with creating a checklist for themselves. Bizzell talks quite a bit about how students may face different challenges in their writing based on their backgrounds—recognizing specific tasks to be completed in an essay may prove to be one of them. What are your thoughts on these tasks? How do they correlate to our discussion of students taking ownership of your writing? Do you think that it would be appropriate for us to help students to designate these tasks…or does this defeat the purpose of the tasks being “self-selected?”

The Perks of Being a Novice

Shout-out to Sommers and Saltz for hitting the nail on the head. I wish that they were there with me when I received my first essay prompt in ID1, to tell me that I am a novice and to embrace that inexperience. I so appreciate that these authors acknowledged the struggle that freshmen face upon their realization that “what worked in high school isn’t working anymore” (Sommers & Saltz 125). This understanding can dump an enormous amount of pressure and anxiety on students (it certainly did for me) and I think that if professors or orientation figures indicated that naiveté is normal and healthy, some of this concern could be alleviated. This got me thinking about how as Writing Partners, we could embrace this idea and use it as a tool of comfort for helping stressed freshmen visiting the Center.

I think that Sommers and Saltz make a great point that entering college-level writing (sorry for using this terminology Elbow!) as a novice is more than just developing a new form of writing—it facilitates a transition into a new form of learning. That is, engaging with content with a more personal approach of criticism. That is why writing papers is so important: it forces students to analyze their own way of thinking and interpreting, beyond the content itself. By writing papers, students are posing their own questions about the content, as well as their navigation of it. They are not “answering somebody else’s particular questions,” but their own questions (Sommers & Saltz 130).

I fully support the author’s claim that beginning to write in college can facilitate such valuable development in learning, but I also think that it’s important to take a closer look at how students’ perception of meaning functions in this context. A central point of this reading is that students will struggle, but eventually embrace the challenge of contributing to academia through their writing. I find this argument a little unrealistic. As the authors point out, freshmen lack the skills and breath of knowledge to engage with their discipline at the level of an experienced scholar. However, Sommers and Saltz believe that students will ultimately “embrace this kind of ambition by finding a genuine question in a source, a gap in the scholarship, the way experts do” (Sommers & Saltz 135). I think that intellectual fulfillment through novice writing does not come from an attempt to mirror an academic, but rather to engage with the content on a wholly personal level—to “see the ways writing can serve them as a medium in which to explore their own interests” (Sommers & Saltz 140). Do you all have ideas for ways in which we can communicate this idea to students at the Writing Center? Ways to help them see that there is potential for personal fulfillment as well as academic achievement in writing a paper?

This question relates to my thoughts about how trust may function in the role of a Writing Partner. How can we build this environment wherein students feel open to approach their writing as a personal process. In “Teaching Two Kinds of Thinking by Teaching Writing,” Elbow brings up the importance of revisiting one’s writing in order to escape the inner process of writing—that stressful mindset of “thinking about our subject but at the same time thinking about our thinking about it” (Elbow 58). To do so requires an openness to brainstorm or discuss freely. This is something that I’m hoping to encourage as a Writing Partner. I want to be able to build trust with students so that they feel comfortable with stepping back from their internal writing process and converse with others about it. Do you all have tips for how to do that?

More on this idea of trust… I’m a little worried about building a level of comfort with students at which they can brainstorm ideas and not feel judged or afraid to take intellectual risks. Bizzell says, “if our students are unable to have ideas, we should look around…for structural models of the mental processes that are not happening in these students’ minds” (Bizzell 390). I’m not sure I agree with Bizzell’s formal approach. Perhaps brainstorming should involve more of the personal exploration and ownership of ideas that Sommers and Saltz discuss. How do you all plan on helping students with brainstorming? Should we use structural modes of writing or help the student to navigate their personal involvement with the content or do something else? Excited to hear what you think!