Category-Consciousness

While thinking about this week’s readings, I realized that our Writing Center takes demographics on race and gender, but not sexuality or socioeconomic status. Why? Are these categories “less relevant” in characterizing the writing process and/or the Pomona academic discourse? Do these questions make students feel uncomfortable? Wouldn’t learning more about the sexuality or socioeconomic status of students who visit the Writing Center allow us to make it a more inclusive and comfortable space?

I will focus on SES more than sexuality because I feel like I am better able to talk about SES. I agree with Bielski that SES is often harder to see. Assumptions—whether positive or negative, correct or incorrect, implicit or explicit–about race or gender are usually made when we first see someone. However, SES is easier to hide. People are surprised when I talk about identifying with the Quest community (which includes low-income and first-generation college students), but not when I talk about my identity as a Korean American. I apparently don’t look or act like I’m Quest, whatever that might mean. I don’t think I’m actively trying to hide my socioeconomic background, but it seems to be less obvious than my Asian and feminine physical features.

I’m also not sure how much my SES directly influences how I write. For example, my Korean American identity changes how I explain concepts; I often use a more roundabout or nondirective approach instead of getting straight to the point. However, I never thought about how my socioeconomic identity changes how I write.

Unlike Bielski, I was very lucky to have what I consider a well-informed high school education. Although my family is working-class, my high school was in an upper-class neighborhood with many resources and students with the goal of pursuing higher education (and families to support them in their endeavors). Also, my teachers were very dedicated to their subjects and effective in the classroom. I was able to learn what the dominant English academic discourse should sound like through my white, male, upper-class, abled, cis-gendered, heterosexual English teacher (although looking back, his classes pushed many of us to reject or exclude different aspects of our identity in order to fit the dominant discourse). Therefore, I never viewed my SES as a significant influence in my ability to read or write.

However, I am a special case. Most students who come from lower SES families do not get the privilege of attending a good high school. And maybe that’s the problem. It’s hard to identify trends within and across SES categories because each individual’s experience and spectrum of identification are different. But, shouldn’t this be true for all aspects of identity? There are so many nuances even within racial or gender identities. Is there a commonality between all students who identify as Asian American that is more apparent than students who identify as upper-class? What you yall think?

Am I Engaged?

When I signed up for this class, I didn’t realize how much we would be talking about interpersonal skills. Therefore, I think this week’s readings are very valuable, especially in acknowledging that there so much more to teaching than being able to transmit content.

I especially like Diab and friends’ emphasis on “embodied and engaged pedagogy” because I feel that helping others always begins with being present and involved in what they have to say. Especially as an introvert, being present with others, especially strangers, can be very draining. I don’t particularly enjoy making small talk and sometimes feel uncomfortable when obliged to do so. However, I often view my consultations as some of the most rewarding human interactions I have. Having an agenda during a specific time period allows me to very intentionally build a relationship with someone I may have just met. We also usually end with a tangible sense of future direction or growth as well, which is very rewarding.

I also really liked that Diab et al. and Moussu talked not only about international students, but also students who identified as American, but were multilingual. I feel like readings in the past often talked about assuming the capabilities of international students, especially from Latinx or Asian backgrounds. However, many students who were born in America or identify as American still learn English as a second language because their parents may be multilingual.

As an immigrant, I was put into ESL classes in elementary school. Because I was young, I don’t remember struggling much with learning English, and I now have a pretty innate sense of English grammar. However, I still struggle with putting words together in a way that might seem awkward or smooth to a native English speaker (especially with prepositions!). I’m also unsure of how my proficient, yet not always natural English skills relate to my personal identification as Korean American. According to my outer appearance, I’m stereotyped as foreign, and therefore, not as capable in English and writing. Although I refuse to be confined by the stereotype (and feel like it shouldn’t exist at all), I occasionally find myself wondering how others and I would view my abilities if I were Caucasian, born and raised in the US.

This nuance in my (and others’) racial/ethnic identity was well-explored by Suhr-Sytsma and Brown. Focusing on the multi-dimensionality and intersectionality of identities, Suhr-Sytsma and Brown really highlight the importance of viewing each student as a multi-faceted human being who cannot be summarized by a single category. All their descriptions of everyday oppression point back to Diab and friends’ “embodied and engaged pedagogy.” We can’t properly engage with those we are trying to help if we compartmentalize them before they get a chance to show who they are.

Practically speaking, I’ve once again been reminded of the importance of engaging with others through asking questions that may seemingly have nothing to do with the writing itself. Questions like how was your day/week aren’t simply to make small talk; they may reveal a lot about the background and personality of the writer. Although I often try to avoid small talk and more extraverted interactions in general, I feel that getting to know and engaging with the student is a very important part of consultations. For me, this is and will continue to be one of the biggest challenges and goals for my consultations: am I engaged?

Pondering Plagiarism

This week’s readings have definitely pushed me to re-examine academic integrity and what it means to plagiarize, especially in Pomona’s context. I totally agree with Martin that cases of plagiarism need to be examined on a case-by-case level. For example, one of my friends was accused of copying a source he had never even seen before. His analysis essay of a book had contained similar ideas as an online review on the book, even though he had never read the review. Is this case still considered plagiarism? Is it the student’s responsibility to find and read every existing commentary to make sure their ideas and their presentation are original? Is it even possible to do this?

I acknowledge that this single case may be an outlier, but how many papers have been written about the same ideas, especially when it comes to prompts that are recycled by professors or standardized tests? Does plagiarism extend to brainstorming ideas or restricted to specific combinations of words used to present an idea? I guess a deeper question lies in how we can check whether someone has referenced an existing source before producing the same ideas as the source. Do we just take someone’s word for it?

In order to delve deeper, I looked up Pomona College’s Standards of Academic Integrity outlined in the Academic Honesty Policy and Procedures section of the 2016-17 Student Handbook:

The College expects students to understand and adhere to basic standards of honesty and academic integrity. These standards include but are not limited to the following.

In projects and assignments (including homework) prepared independently, students never represent the ideas or the language of others as their own.

Students do not destroy or alter either the work of other students or the educational resources and materials of the College.

Students neither give nor receive assistance with examinations.

Students do not represent work completed for one course as original work for another or deliberately disregard course rules and regulations.

In laboratory or research projects involving the collection of data, students accurately report data observed and do not alter or fabricate data for any reason.

I had several initial thoughts (mostly questions) upon reading through Pomona’s policies. First, I was reminded that plagiarism extends beyond essays and applies equally to problem sets and research projects. Why is it then that people more often associate plagiarism with writing assignments?

But more importantly, the policy does not explicitly mention the word “plagiarism.” I wonder why. Is it because of the negative connotations or misconceptions of the word that have been deeply engrained into students? Are they leaving the policy more open to interpretation? Does that mean plagiarism cannot be defined solely by objective measures (such as turnitin.com), but rely on subjective measures?

If plagiarism is identified subjectively, how do we make that judgment call? As Writing Partners, what should we do when we think a student who knowingly or unknowingly plagiarizing? If they write down a phrase we use to repeat their ideas back to them, is that plagiarism? How do we tell them without sounding accusatory or incriminating?

I invite you to join me in pondering plagiarism.

So, what’s the game plan?

I loved that all of this week’s readings were very explicitly interconnected, and I was especially intrigued by the pieces connecting colonialism and how we teach academic writing. I definitely agree with Bawarshi and Pelkowski that imposing a style of writing upon someone should not be the goal of a Writing Center. In fact, this acculturation into what’s accepted as standard academic writing is often unfortunately overlooked. Although Bawarshi and Pelkowski point out this very important problem, they don’t elaborate much on how it can be resolved or what it might look like in real life.

Therefore, I really liked that Reger wrote not only about the theories of postcolonialism in the writing center, but also gave concrete examples like Alison and Emma. I felt like I was reading an extended consultation report, which made the piece more relevant. I also resonated a lot with Emma’s perspective because I have also been penalized for writing in a more Korean discourse style. My mode of expressing or explaining concepts used to be in a distinctly Korean manner, one of its characteristics being long sentences with lots of phrases and clauses interjecting in between (which is not as confusing in Korean because Korean has distinct particles that act as markers for subjects, objects, descriptive phrases, etc). While I have learned to make my sentences more concise in English, I still default to longer ones.

From this experience, I’m not sure of the extent to which I have been acculturated or have been consciously choosing to use or not use this home discourse in my writing. How am I supposed to tell when I’ve bought into this academic writing acculturation? Is there any way to undo it? Because I’m still not sure how mestiza consciousness plays out in my own life, I definitely feel underprepared in applying the concept to my consultations.

I still have many questions as a Writing Partner. How do I shift the students’ focus from the grades to the personal writing process? It’s really hard to not cater to the professor’s comments, especially when your grade is on the line in a very success-oriented environment that often correlates grades with self-worth. Maybe Pomona as an institution should be more active in downplaying the importance of grades (which is especially hard for first-years, who often believe that their grades got them into college). A possible practical method would be to make ID classes P/NC. This would allow first-years to focus on exploring (emphasis on exploring, rather than adopting or learning) the academic discourse language and their identities as writers without the pressure of being judged for their every move.

How can I help students to think critically about this mestiza consciousness in a single, 50-minute consultation? Is this even possible? I think our Writing Center has already taken measures to help students feel more comfortable by hiring partners of very diverse backgrounds (and by offering tea/coffee/candy/pastries). However, 50 minutes is still not enough to explain the dynamics of writing acculturation and how to maintain our identity through it. What do you think are some practical steps to approaching this problem? What are some baby steps we can take to prepare students to think more about mestiza consciousness?

Responding to Professor Comments

In my ID class, all of us were required to write a page of comments (including a summary of the paper, 3 positives, and 3 points of improvement) for every one of our peers’ essays. Our professor gave us some questions to think about when peer reviewing: what do you think the essay is about? Are there any counterarguments that were presented in the paper? If not, what are some possible counterarguments? Are there any words or concepts that you were unfamiliar with while reading the essay?

He was trying to get us to think about revising each other’s essays–and therefore, our own–through a lens of meaning and content, instead of focusing on grammar or style. I still received many vague comments, or comments that could be “rubber-stamped, from text to text” (Sommers, 152), such as “this sentence in this paragraph sounds awkward.” How was I supposed to make the sentence sound less awkward? It sounded fine to me. But, this was a first-year ID class, an introduction to college writing. We were just being introduced to this new idea of revision, and I give us all a lot of credit for sounding like typical high school teachers in our peer reviews.

Reading Sommer’s “Responding to Student Writing,” I wonder if our professor was using peer reviews as a method to familiarize us with the type of feedback he would be giving us (or, the type of feedback professors should be giving their students). We were all very familiar with the too general or too specific comments that most high school teachers give. Therefore, our feedback to each other often reflected these not-as-helpful comments highlighting smaller components of the essay without addressing major holes in content.

Looking back at some of my professor’s comments (more like response essays) to my papers, I found that he really focused on my validity and support for my main argument. He mentioned using more primary sources as evidence for my points and focusing on a narrower time period and a single perspective to elaborate on instead of quickly glossing over many different topics for my research paper.

Furthermore, he always provided practical ways to improve my argument, instead of simply imposing what he wanted from me. When writing a paper about the role of evolution in the relationship between science and Christianity, he suggested that I clarify and define the nuances of the theory of evolution by encouraging me to think about the fact that “though evolution does apparently supply a materialistic explanation of the origin and evolution of species, it does not necessarily imply an atheistic view of the world, or even the lack of an interfering God.”

From the comment alone, it may seem like he was pushing his views upon my paper. In reality, he really was offering a glimpse of many different perspectives and even counterarguments I could explore through the paper. In fact, he clarified this point when I set up an appointment with him to discuss his comments. When I went to speak to him, I began to see that he really wanted me to shape my essay, especially because he genuinely thought that the topic I had chosen was interesting. It was about what I wanted to say, not what he wanted me to say.

I was lucky to have a professor who focused on clearly communicating our roles as students contributing to academic discourse and how to improve in the presentation of our contribution. Although Sommers’s original paper gives the impression that most writing teachers are vague or stubborn, Tinberg highlights that this is a stereotype that isn’t true for many teachers and shouldn’t be perpetuated. From my limited sample size, I would agree more with Tinberg than Sommers. What about you? What do your experiences with professors’ comments look like?

Thesis-less Analyses

Berggren’s push for anti-thesis (not antithesis) writing really intrigued me. If I wrote a piece without a thesis, would it be hard to navigate? (Have a just created a thesis by posing this question?) Will I still be able think critically and communicate these ideas? I’m so used to having some kind of thesis or topic sentence that I feel like it would be hard to just spill out my stream of consciousness without revising it to have a focused, map-like structure. Challenge accepted. (Please don’t try this at home if you’re trying to write an academic essay #perksofEng87blogposts (actually, it might be helpful for brainstorming, but probably not for the final draft).)

I really enjoyed the Quilligan’s reference to the movie They Live. In the beginning of the semester, I was shown the exact clip described in the reading by someone telling me about the hidden messages of the culture around us. While I was reading Quilligan’s piece, the scene played in front of my eyes, and I had to snap myself out of the movie once the paragraph ended. I think the last part about putting on sunglasses and examining a familiar source through a different lens was very relevant to my own experience. I saw the movie clip not as a method of persuading or educating someone on how to tell the difference between expectations and reality, but a demonstration of how our culture subliminally shapes the way we think and act. Different lenses, same source. I also wonder if Quilligan is also implying that one lens is better than another. He implies that viewing Sesame Street through a racially critical (observant?) lens is more valuable than through a lens of child-like innocence (or is it ignorance?). Or maybe it’s identifying the subliminal messages that we picked up as children, but didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate. If that is the case, then are the ideas harvested through the so-called critical lens original (as Quilligan says writing should be) or simply better stated and made more concrete? How is originality defined? Is originality on a spectrum of completely new (i.e. inventing an airplane) to novel combinations or connections of existing things (i.e. ramen burgers)?

Okay. That’s too much of a tangent for me, even though I’m supposed to be writing without a clearly stated direction. Maybe I should move on from Quilligan.

As for the student essay, the topic at hand was very interesting, especially because we discussed many of the paper’s ideas in my ID class, Science and Religion. The paper was an adequate summary of several different views on the creation of the world. Emphasis on summary (although it was definitely hinting at some cool things about God somehow being present in all three theories, including evolution). The version of the thesis in the conclusion suggests a very interesting argument about how a god figure can be present in all theories and what that might mean for people who believe in one theory over another. The paper left the reader slightly more educated (maybe more reminded than educated for me) and curious. If the purpose of author (which may or may not align with the purpose of the assignment) was to summarize and get the audience thinking, this was a pretty effective paper. If the purpose of the author was to analyze familiar ideas after putting on a different pair of sunglasses (borrowing from Quilligan), this paper may want to elaborate a bit more. Furthermore, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. An audience that is craving a summary of the theories would be perfectly content with this paper, while readers wanting more about the relationship between or relevance of the theories may not be satisfied. What do yall think?

Envisioning Revision

I had done some peer reviews in high school. In fact, I was the one people approached for looking over their drafts because I could tell them where commas were needed, what words sounded better, when to stop run-on sentences. I was praised for my ability to pick up on the most minute errors. However, I was always so focused on the details that I often missed the main point. I never noticed logical fallacies or missing transitions. Like in Sommer’s study, I was the amateur who viewed revision as a cleansing or clarifying of preexisting ideas set in stone.

It was only after my ID class that I realized there was more to revising than pointing out technicalities. Writing peer reviews for every single student in my ID class, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the fact that there were fourteen other students in the class, that many of their first drafts already seemed flawless, that I still had to write a page of constructive criticism for each person, that fifteen (including the professor) other people would read and judge my paper.

But, what exactly did these peer reviews entail? First, we were advised by our professor to look for the flow of arguments by first summarizing the peer’s main points in our own words. This allowed the author to get a sense of how much the readers could understand what they intended to say. As we outlined our peers’ papers, we were also encouraged to note any confusing sections (especially when jumping from one idea to another) or words that needed clarification. With these questions in mind, we listed at least three praises and three points of improvement to send to the author, along with our summary and any additional comments.

Approaching peer reviews with a focus on semantics instead of grammar changed my role in revision. As I was reading my peers’ essays, I felt like I was helping them write the essays, not just calling them out for mistakes. I was no longer enforcing sentence structures or punctuation, but bouncing off ideas and even theses with the authors. Similarly, when I received my own feedback papers, I was amazed by how much care each person had put into trying to understand and discuss my essay with me, rather than telling me every little thing that was wrong. In fact, their willingness to genuinely review my essay allowed me to be comfortable enough to take my essay in a totally different direction. This communal and collaborative revision is one of the greatest lessons from my ID class, and a lesson that every writer should internalize.

Identifying a problem is the first step to fixing it. Sommers adequately characterizes the differences in understanding the revision process, but doesn’t necessarily propose ways to close the gap. Although I started viewing revision with a new perspective through my ID class, not all first-year writing classes (assuming they even exist) are equal. Even Nelson, Quilligan, and Winalski all present very different experiences of writing in their first year of college. So, how do we create an environment in which people can approach revision as a holistic process? Can a first-year writing course be standardized across colleges all over the country? How can high schools better prepare students for approaching revision as a discussion of ideas? Are students capable of addressing problems of argument and organization of they haven’t mastered grammar and logistics? Any theories or proposals are welcome.