Oh Really? “Real” Men?

I found Tipper’s article interesting in that it highlighted and examined a pretty real phenomenon that we tend to see in Writing Centers these days: writing tutors and tutees are usually female. She voices her concern that “there are many obvious and subtle ways in which we create and reinforce the ‘feminizing’ of our writing centers,” which is partly due to the trend that Writing Centers’ “selection of tutors is influenced by a preference for tutoring approaches which are more stereotypically feminine” (34).

Tipper goes on to explain that, as one might expect, this often dissuades male writers from seeking help from Writing Centers. After all, “reading, writing, sitting down and talking: these activities probably would not appear on most guys’ list of top ten ways to spend an afternoon” (34). Moreover, Tipper is keen to note that male students tend to seek less help since, to them, it often feels like a sign of weakness.

I was particularly impressed with the action-oriented plan implemented at Gilman in hopes of bridging the gender gap. For instance, Tipper explains that tutor training begins with outdoor challenges and team-building activities focused on the the dynamics of help, and tutors also began tending to supervised writing time during one-on-one conferences with students in order to give “more concrete ‘help,’ even though [the students] have made the revisions themselves” (37). These, I think, are tangible steps in the right direction — but I also think they have their limits.

While tutor training sessions with obstacle courses create a fresh and cooperative environment for tutors to internalize what they learn about giving and receiving help (among other great training topics, of course), these same sessions don’t bring the same level of awareness to (usually male) tutees. Sure, it’s great for tutors to better understand gender and power dynamics, but if the students to which the WC caters are still entrenched in their help-resisting attitudes, they still won’t come and seek it. I do think, however, that additional community-building activities open to the community on campus could add to the conversation and reel in everyday student writers — of any gender, really — who tend to resist seeking help.

Regarding the second point, Tipper explains that “rather than letting the client walk away with the advice to ‘smooth out the transitions,’ the client will actually spend time in the conference room or at a computer, writing transitions for his paper and running them by the consultant” (37). With this method, the student is able to see the immediate results, or the “action,” so to speak. But Tipper’s example seems almost too easy, especially since the main things writing partners dwell on do not necessarily consist of smoothing out the transition. We talk about ideas, the bigger picture, how the pieces of one’s argument fit together. Sure, we can talk about transitions too, but what happens when we sit there as the student re-writes his whole intro paragraph, shows it to us, and asks, “So is it correct now?”

And there’s one last thing. Although I understand that Tipper’s acknowledgement of masculine stereotypes better emphasizes the contrast between men’s versus women’s approaches to writing and the resulting gap in the Writing Center (as well as in attitudes toward the Writing Center), I do notice that the way in which she phrases her ideas tends to reinforce these same stereotypes. For instance, Tipper presents the following with a factual, absolute tone: “Guys like action. They can relate to it. They understand how it works” (36). Hmm… could this potentially imply that girls, on the other hand, don’t understand or don’t like “action”? As if girls and women are more wishy-washy? Also, in asking, “Is it too obvious to say that boys are competitive?”, Tipper gives us the impression that this statement is almost too factual, too “obvious” that perhaps it doesn’t even need mentioning. But there are competitive women as well, and laid-back, uncompetitive guys who would rather go with the flow. Perhaps my questioning Tipper’s word choice is besides the point of her argument, but in any case, I believe that tangents on perceptions of gender still warrant consideration.

All in all, I think there’s a lot of insight in the types of trends that Tipper brings up, especially since much of it comes from her experiences at Gilman. I also think there are some promising ideas here, but it’s nevertheless important to look at them with a critical eye. In my opinion, Tipper hasn’t reached a spark with pieces of flint despite her efforts — or at least she hasn’t done so just yet — but she has at least added some logs to what could eventually become a promising fire.

Editing Lin(e)ville by Lin(e)ville

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” — Native American or Chinese proverb

Fishing, in this case, is writing.

Linville aligns herself with the popular Writing Center philosophy that “teaching students to become effective self-editors is…vital” since it’s a formative and transferrable process that continues long after a student has walked out the doors of the classroom or tutoring space (117). In terms of the ESL framework that she later addresses, Linville takes takes this to mean that “tutors need strategies for spotting patterns of reoccuring errors, pointing those patterns out too the student, and providing rules about how to correct those errors” — which is easier said than done, given that “tutors will need resources beyond their native knowledge of English to carry out these tasks” (117). So… before we can teach someone to fish, we need to learn how to teach a someone to fish.

Linville’s paper is refreshing because she provides concrete examples of the most common and important errors as well as theoretical scenarios to which one may apply specific tutoring strategies.

As an ID1 intern, I’ve met with the same set of students over the course of several essay waves, so I’ve been fortunate to see their writing progress throughout the semester — which is equally the case for the one ESL student as it is for all the other native English speakers. Having read Linville’s paper on specific strategies that pinpoint grammar errors, however, I realized that I had focused just as little on the mechanics of writing with Lea (the “name” of our ESL student here) as I had with the native speakers. I saw them all as equals whose struggles on higher-order writing (ideas and higher structure) were more of a priority than their spelling and subject-verb agreement. So I thought recently… in trying to be fair to everyone, was I really being unfair to Lea?

That is not to say, of course, that I had never addressed mechanical, lower-level issues during my meetings. Quite the contrary, in fact.

As an ID1 intern, I also have the special privilege of reading and scribbling comments on students’ papers prior to meeting with them. I understand that, like all the other writing tutors, I’m no copy-editor; however, if I come across small bits to fix, then I do so and sometimes add a quick comment explaining the grammatical reasoning if it’s a recurring error. But in the actual meeting with the student, I direct the conversation almost exclusively to higher-level thinking and writing — in the spirit of our Writing Center’s philosophy, of course! For Lea’s papers, there are of course more areas to fix grammatically. However, I simply apply the same process to her paper as I would for any other, and we talk mainly about content or structure rather than style or mechanical form during our meetings — once again, as I would for any other student. At this point, it’d be easy to conclude that I should simply fine-tune my feedback in a way that hones in on grammar more, but this puts me in another pickle. You see, we only have so much time…

The question is this: when working with ESL students in particular, how do we want to distribute the “type” of writing help we give (that is, form — in a grammatical sense — versus content) within the span of a single meeting? Drilling Lea with error-spotting and error-fixing practice would of course improve her grammar and spelling, but it would take away precious moments of potential idea-bouncing or thesis-tightening or higher order essay organization.

Maybe that’s why I’ve seen the ID1 students’ writing improve in terms of higher-level thinking and content — including Lea’s — yet, in truth, her writing on a mechanical level has remained relatively the same as it had been at the beginning of the semester. But on the flip side, focusing on grammar at least to an effective point — AKA teaching the student how to find the right bait — would risk turning the focus away from, well, teaching the student how to actually fish.

Luckily, Linville suggests, not just as a last resort but as a resort or resource in general, that writing tutors could “bring out the ESL referral sheet and point the student toward a class or lab that can help her learn the skills she needs” (122). This saves time, of course, but it also feels like a scapegoat for some reason. Maybe it’s an effective scapegoat, or maybe not, but it nevertheless feels like one. Reading the above sentence in Linville’s article also made me realize that Pomona doesn’t really have said “class or lab” geared toward ESL students. Hm…

My question, then, is this:

What are we doing now in our Writing Center to make space for ESL-directed tutoring pedagogy among Writing Partners/Interns and among students? And what is there more to do?

And, when we only have so much time during a meeting… what is the best way to guage, well, what to compromise? What’s the right ratio?

Power & Authority, Minority & Majority

Power and authority… Majority and minority…

The concept of power is a tricky one, especially when applied to both the tutor-tutee dynamic and the Writing Center’s place in the university setting as a whole.

I was at first skeptical of Carino’s position and his overarching promise to “sort out why writing centers have been uncomfortable with wielding power and claiming authority, how they have masked these terms in the egalitarian rhetoric of ‘peerness,’ how centers might gain by refiguring authority as a usable descriptor in discussing tutorial work, and how tutors might be trained differently to recognize and use their power and authority without becoming authoritarian,” all at once (pp. 97). Erm– that’s ambitious. 

After all, the point of Writing Centers’ egalitarian, peer-esque vibe is to bring the student from a comfortable, common ground, isn’t it? The classroom is already a space of clear authority, as freshmen gather ’round a PhD-certified, walking ‘n talking brain; in a way, then, the Writing Center creates space for another type of intellectual rapport that would otherwise be difficult to sprout in most academic environments. For this reason, I see the Writing Center — in its collaborative, egalitarian, and nondirective spirit — as a valuable gem in the university setting; it offers something that more hierarchical academic classrooms simply cannot, and as a result, students open up and interact in new ways.

But Carino presents the lack of authority in Writing Centers as more of an obstacle than a booster as he reminds us that “in terms of institutional positioning, the classroom held and continues to hold the stronger position, given that it generates credit hours and awards grades, the very blood of the university,” and that “writing centers have functioned more like a minority party, recognized as a voice but lacking institutional power, operating pedagogically somewhat clandestinely, while simultaneously attempting to work through the system through extended services…to increase their authority and power base within the institution” (pp. 101). While this angle is of course worth considering, Carino neglects the inextricable link and mutual influence between the Writing Center and the more authoritarian areas of the university. 

This is because, although it may be true that the work of Writing Centers have been acknowledged to a lesser extent than that of classrooms, this does not mean that Writing Centers have yielded weaker results, nor does it mean that Writing Centers are inherently less important in some way. In theory, if Writing Centers are effective in producing better writers and better writing, than that should translate into the classroom — which should then translate into students’ grades (as received, once again, in the classroom). They’re all connected, yet the ‘results’ are only expressed within the ‘authoritarian’ walls of a class. So the Writing Center is not the “blood” of the university after all– but perhaps it contributes plasma…

I do appreciate, however, the manner in which Carino gives a nod to the merits of the current egalitarian system; he uses potential variants of tutor-tutee interactions to demonstrate the nuances of his point and even draws a general conclusion: “more student knowledge, less tutor knowledge = more nondirective methods; less student knowledge, more tutor knowledge = more directive methods” (pp. 110).

What is more, Carino emphasizes that “peer tutoring should not be dismissed, but refigured  in terms of the way authority and power play themselves out depending on the players any given tutorial,” thereby admitting that different situations call for varying approaches scattered on the scale, with ‘directive’ and ‘nondirective’ at either ends (pp. 102-103). 

I end the reading, then, with more sympathy than I had begun with– And I conclude this: If grade-giving classrooms are indeed the “blood of the university,” as Carino puts it, then perhaps the Writing Center still contributes some important tissue, or muscle, or under-appreciated ligaments.

Some Thoughts: Feedback, et al

As Sommers (1982) so aptly mentions in her paper, students transitioning from high school to college especially tend to salivate at the prospect of checking off boxes and coloring within the lines. This isn’t a surprise considering the fact that satisfying the “rules” is what they — and our past selves — have been trained to do throughout high school, well into the SAT’s, and up to matriculation. If a student wished to go from point A to point B, he was to follow the rules– and it doesn’t help that the nature of teachers’ comments reinforces this pseudo-priority engrained in students’ heads. Put simply, teachers’ comments often fail to clarify the existence of a “scale of concerns,” or hierarchical layout of what’s most important in writing. The following is all too familiar:

“We have all heard our perplexed students say to us…: ‘Tell me what you want me to do.'” In the beginning of the process there was the writer, her words, and her desire to communicate her ideas. But after the comments of the teacher are imposed on the first or second draft, the student’s attention dramatically shifts from ‘This is what I want to say,’ to ‘This is what you the teacher are asking me to do'” (pp. 150). 

In fact, student’s engrained desires to fulfill concrete tasks and teachers’ tendencies to give mechanical, concrete comments seem to mutually reinforce each other in an unfortunate cycle devoid of more insightful, higher-level dialogue. Of course, that is not to say that all students feel this way or that teachers only scribble marks related to grammar; but, we are still speaking in terms of majority and priority (or, for the latter, lack thereof), which itself is important to consider. It’s also interesting to note that, besides their mechanical-type comments, teachers also tend to give “vague directives that are not text-specific” and that “could be interchanged [or] rubber-stamped…from text to text” (pp. 152). While I agree that this type of commentary can be far too vague (to varying degrees), I also think, based on my own experiences in writing, that they can provide some helpful guidance. That said, I’m more of a free-thinker who isn’t concerned with trying to execute exactly what I’m told; a list-checker, on the other hand, might have quite a different reaction. Even still, though, I agree that the middle ground between getting too specific (i.e. grammatical corrections) and too unspecific (i.e. vague comments) is both the most fruitful commentary to receive and most difficult commentary to give– and a lot of it simply has to do with the limited nature of time and resources. It is important to consider, for instance, that “a great deal of teacher commentary is produced under conditions of fatigue–not to mention frustration, impatience and perhaps despair.” (pp. 258). While the use of “despair” here might be a bit dramatic, Rutz seems to get at something very real: teachers are human, too. They have limited time and energy. But look, this isn’t a dead end.

Take time, for instance. There are only so many (working) hours in a day, and some might think that time can therefore be crippling limiting factor. However, perhaps the real question we should be asking is not “How much work can we do in x hours?” but rather “How can we optimize the work we do in X hours?” (By “work,” I mean the commenting or feedback process, but this could extend to a variety of related meanings as well.)

As it is now, Sommers notes that “As a means for helping students, [teachers]…are, in fact, disembodied remarks– one absent writer responding to another absent writer” (pp. 155). She goes on to posit, though, that “the key to successful commenting is to have what is said in the comments and what is done in the classroom mutually reinforce and enrich each other” in such a way that written comments become “an extension of the teacher’s voice– an extension of the teacher as reader” (p. 155). Our case as writing interns and partners, of course, is a bit different– but it still follows the same vein. Since we physically meet up with students, for instance, we are not a product of “disembodied remarks” and “absent” writers or readers; it’s an interaction, a dialogue, a medium through which we can bounce ideas back and forth. We are fluid and walking versions of… well, “feedback” !

So whether the situation is one like ours, or one that takes place in (and out) of the classroom, it all boils down to a similar picture: feedback and revision are, in their own respects, a process. Thinking anew, questioning oneself, changing, learning, growing, back and forth. In fact, “feedback” without this would just be “feed”– the one-sided commentary that we hope to steer away from in the coming years.

Still, We Aren’t Parrots

In “Inventing the University,” Bartholomae posits in part that a student “has to invent the university by assembling and mimicking its language,” and must “appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse,” whether in philosophy, economics, or physics (135.) In short, “he must learn to speak our language” — replete with all the ‘dialects,’ or languages of different academic disciplines, therein (135). This is scary.

It’s scary because we’re not talking about a single scholarly discourse community but rather a multitude of discourse communities with their own sets of conventions; this makes it such that a student must “write, for example, as a literary critic one day and as an experimental psychologist the next” (135). Every time we make these shifts, we shift not only audiences but also the positions from which we write. We’re a sort of kaleidoscope pattern embedded within a larger university kaleidoscope, if that makes sense.

While Bartholomae’s initial description of our need to shape-shift into various types of professions seems overwhelming, he tempers this with a healthy dose of clarification as he brings up a personal anecdote in his class. “I don’t expect my students to be literary critics when they write about Bleak House,” he says (145). Phew! Good to hear. I suppose if it were the other way around, college would be a place where matriculation involves already owning a diploma…

Bartholomae then goes on to explain how, despite this, he does expect his students to “approximate the language of a literary critic,” and finally, they “don’t invent the language of literary criticism but…are, themselves, invented by it” (145). Invented by it ! Bartholomae turns around the whole connotation of “assimilating” and “appropriating” and “mimicking” — words he used over and over again shortly before — and brushes over all that with the word “invention”! That’s a strong word. It’s also a smart one.

Bartholomae is sneaky. He primes this ‘Aha’ moment with a long spiel on how education has “failed to involve students in scholarly projects…that allow students to act as though they were colleagues in an academic enterprise,” which robs them of their own power to create, and he goes on to explain how “much of the written work that students do is test-taking, report or summary — work that places them outside the official discourse of the academic community” (144). In short, he spends all this time talking about how everything is all wrong because the education system has focused most on transforming us into information-retaining robots who aren’t able to proceed much beyond that. And then, as I’ve mentioned, he pulls out the “invention” card.

So yes, we’re “appropriating” ourselves into these lines of academic discourse through means of “mimicking,” but we’re still not parrots. And that’s because mimicking the language found in branches of the university does not involve learning what exactly to say but rather empowering ourselves with a vehicle through which we can say it.

And yes, there’s a long way to go. The proof is that I haven’t even gotten to touch upon the idea of audience much in this post — and, once we have this parroting vs. invention paradox demystified, thinking about audience is precisely the next big step.

Re: Young & Young Morgan Freeman

After reading Young’s piece, “Should Writers Use Their Own English?”, I thought back in particular to his statement on how “[William] Labov say that ‘in many ways [black] workingclass speakers are more effective narrators, reasoners, and debators than many middle-class [white] speakers, who temporize, qualify, and lose their argument in a mass of irrelevant detail” (Young, 5).

This made me think about the following clip, which is my favorite scene of all time in The Shawshank Redemption. In particular, Morgan Freeman’s third and last response is a stroke of genius in terms of not only acting but also speech– expressed in Black vernacular and, mind you, in the most genuine manner of all.

Young’s argument on the merits of one’s own dialect is compelling to say the least. He brings forth the idea that “we need to enlarge our perspective about what good writin is and how good writin can look at work, at home, and at school,” and by “good writin,” he seems to mean not standard, correct English grammar but rather cogent arguments phrased in a variety of possible dialects (Young, 2). Of course, a person can say something that is entirely correct in terms of punctuation and subject-verb agreement yet trail off into extraneous details that weaken the real message at hand.

Young goes on to say that “instead of prescribing how folks should write or speak,” we should “teach language descriptively” (Young, 2). To do that, he suggests that “we should…teach how language functions within and from various cultural perspectives…[as well as] what it take to understand, listen, and write in multiple dialects simultaneously” (Young, 2). I think examining how different dialects function in various contexts is a great idea because by understanding such differences, we can further see how and why certain dialects and “languages” are prioritized over others depending on the social situation– and why there might be faulty logic therein.

Young seems to have offered us a solution on this matter that is related to how we might consider shifting academic instruction from prescriptive terms to descriptive ones. But even past teaching language descriptively, how might we be able to continue extracting the benefits and strengths of currently oppressed forms of vernacular, and how might we put this into practice? What do you all think?

An Open Letter to Outlines (Re: Elbow)

Dear Mr. Out L. Ine,

. . .

When I was a kid the size of a teenage Oompaloompa, I heard your name uttered for the first time. My teacher said your full title with such conviction that it made us all sit straight and listen up. We were ready to learn how to follow your rules; it had to be easy if we were already experts at Simon Says, right?

. . .

Over the years, your framework became second nature for most of us. In my case though, it was often hit or miss, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. I realized that when it came to note-taking for different texts, I was a pro at using your traditional format; it was a sound method that helped me understand over-arching ideas versus smaller details. But when it came to writing essays, I drew blanks far too often. In short, it was a lop-sided experience. Was I doing something wrong?

. . .

This past week, I stumbled upon something novel. Apparently, as Elbow puts it, “outlines are more helpful while revising than at the start of the writing process because there’s something rich and interesting to outline.” (58) Bingo.

. . .

As it turns out, it seems like my best bet would be getting some content before reaching the outlining stage. That said, Mr. Ine, you don’t have to be at the beginning of the queue in the writing process. The ice cream won’t run out at Ben & Jerry’s by the time you reach the register if you’re smack dab in the middle of a fairly long line. Mr. Ine, with all due respect, please chill.

. . .

In the recent past, I’ve found that my creative process leans heavily toward the free-writing tendencies that Elbow described as ‘first-order thinking’. Of course, this is a natural path for assignments that are creative in nature, but I’ve done the same thing for serious writing projects and heavier essays that, in their early stages, seem ridiculously piecemeal. But therein usually lies the spark of an idea that sets of a chain reaction of related arguments in my developing writing, and so the momentum begins. I end up scratching the more scattered thoughts, which, by the way, are not for naught, since they serve as stepping-stones leading up to more cogent and coherent ideas. I keep certain sentences, add more ideas, and revamp old wording, all while setting aside other scraps of verbiage on the table in case they come in handy for a sub-argument that I have yet to develop. It’s a messy process in the early stages, and I’m having a ball– all without the presence of a certain Mr. Out L. Ine, mind you.

. . .

At some point still relatively early in the process, I find that I have both compelling ideas to work with as well as withering ones to work on, and that the two still add up to something substantial enough to mold into a structure. That is when you can make your entrance, Mr. Ine. Yes, you still have your shining moment, and yes, this is it. But remember, you weren’t the first to appear on stage.

. . .

Mr. Ine, Elbow mentions that you belong to a class of thinking called ‘second-order thinking’, which is important. You sculpt ideas into something that the average scholarly Joe can digest, and you make things, well, make sense. You are the professional flower-arranger who knows what color schemes and patterns go well together– an art that requires attention to detail. But first, you need the flowers.

. . .

And before picking the flowers, you need to let them bloom. You need water, and fertile ground. I’m no horticulture major, but allow me to suggest that the mind, in the chaotic and creative glory of its first-order thinking, is precisely all that.

. . .

Sincerely,

Tiffany Mi