Where Are the Professors?

This week’s readings brought up issues and questions that I ask myself in every one of my consultations.  I am always worried whether or not I am being too directive and am giving the student either too much help with structure and ideas, or if I am being too nondirective and am either leading the student astray or not giving them any real help at all.  I think that Carino’s solution, that a writing center should ideally strike a balance between “nondirective tutoring methods” and delegating levels of “power and authority” is extremely useful. (108)  I found it comforting that he saw the merits of both approaches, and called for teaching tutors “flexibility” (110) in training.

Yet his article seems to fall short when it comes to the issue of “[educating] faculty in the ways in which directive tutoring is not plagiarism, but help.” (113)  He seems more focused on the tutoring side of the issue, what tutors and writing centers can do to help students effectively produce the product of writing.  And that little comment aside, he devotes almost no time to discussing possible solutions for incorporating professors and administrators into the writing center dialogue, one in which, I strongly believe, they should more actively participate.

So much of what we have been reading in this class, from our unit on plagiarism to the the pieces about rejecting the notion of the writing center as a “one-stop fix-it shop” has been oriented around what we, as writing partners at the writing center, can do to fit ourselves and our students into the realm of professors and academia.

But I want to hear more professor’s voices.  I want them to weigh in on discussions of plagiarism and directive versus nondirective tutoring methods.  If any of this theory or these ideas are going to be implemented into practices at university writing centers, they need to feel as if they have a stake in it as well.



Can We Combat Plagiarism Through Community Building?

I think that I agree with the conclusions that both Adler and Martin come to in their work.  I absolutely think that “dangerous stereotypes” (Martin, 271) play a role in how we characterize plagiarism practices and I agree that “educators” must “successfully teach critical reading and citation conventions” in order to “revise our institutional policies” so as to “[reform] institutional policies” regarding plagiarism. (Adler, 244)  Yet I also believe that both parties fail to acknowledge something that is implicit in their arguments, the notion of community and the ethical implications of the community when it comes to issues of plagiarism.

I’ll give you a little context:

During my senior year of high school, the headmaster began a plagiarism initiative, one which would be more transparent with the students about the school’s policies and the procedures in which a student would have to participate if they were caught plagiarizing a paper.  After he announced his plans to our class, a slew of heated debates ensued.

One of my closest friends had actually just been accused of plagiarism at the end of her junior year.  She had written an art history paper in which she allegedly used language similar to that in a jstor article.  While she was forced to come to a series of hearings and committee sessions with the teachers and administrators of the school, she was eventually found not guilty of overt plagiarism and was let off with a warning. After hearing about our headmaster’s initiative, she became very vocal about the flaws in the schools policies and procedures.  She noted how easy it is for a teacher, based on their pre-conceived notions and biases about a student, whether because of their race, friend group, clothing choices, or demeanor, to accuse someone of plagiarism, an issue that has become more nebulous with the advent of the internet and widely accessible information, as Adler and Martin address.  She argued that the school needed to be less stringent about cases of plagiarism and that they needed to more fully acknowledge the flaws and implicit prejudices built into the system.

I had another friend, however, who adamantly disagreed.  Over lunch one day, she explained to me how she viewed an instance of plagiarism.  She saw our high school as an academic community, one in which social interactions and collaborations were meant to cultivate intellectual curiosity and discovery.  As members of the community, students are thus obligated to ensure that everyone is participating equally in the intellectual conversation and should make it their mission to better the ethos of the community rather than their own personal intellectual advancement.  She believed that when a student plagiarizes, whether through explicit copying or sloppy paraphrasing from a website, they are breaching the conditions of participating as a member of the school’s academic community and breaking that community’s trust.  In a sense, when one person plagiarizes, they rip off the entire school and not just themselves.

I see where both of my friends were coming from.  On the one hand, my high school should have done a better job of admitting to the flaws in the procedures.  Yet on the other hand, I fully believe in the idea of an academic community, one in which everyone benefits everyone else with their contributions.  I think if we frame plagiarism within a community framework rather than in a policy and procedure improvement one, students will view plagiarism as a breach of trust and not as a product of a bureaucratized system of power.

Any thoughts?

When You Just Want to Sit on a Reading’s Couch and Talk About Your Problems…

My first consultation at the writing center was also one of my most difficult.  A first-year student came in with an ID1 paper about a specific manga she had read in her class about Chinese and Japanese culture.  She had a fairly complete first draft, in which she explored how the manga’s female protagonist defied a variety of female manga stereotypes.  She was a superhero, one which traditionally “unfeminine” qualities.  And yet she also cared deeply about her clothes, her friends, and her personal life.  She proposed that such a combination was radical.  I remember being very impressed with the complexity of her ideas.  She clearly felt strongly about her topic, and the essay had a very clear line of ideas.

Yet after I praised the work she had done thus far, she showed me a proposal she had written out for her professor the week before.  In the text, were a dizzy of red pen marks, scribbles, harsh words, and a final statement at the bottom: “You need to go to the writing center.”

I should mention that this student was a Japanese international student for which English was her second language.  After she showed me this paper she explained that writing in English prose, especially the prose expected and demanded of ID1 professors was extremely difficult for her, and in her body language and the manner in which she talked about her essay, I could tell she was very distressed.  It was hard for her to even articulate ideas that she had about her paper when all that she could think about was that one professor and how her grammar was not up to his standards.

Throughout this entire consultation, I was not sure what to do.  I very much had what North discusses running through my head, that I was not working within a “‘proofreading-shop-in-the-basement’” style institution.  (444)  My job was to help this student make her essay as full, fruitful, and personal to her as possible.  I was not here to be her personal grammarian, to make sure that every verb was conjugated and every adverb placed according to the strict rules of scholarly english grammar.  Yet since this student was so distressed about her prose to the point that she could not fully engage with the ideas of her essay, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I ended up looking through the first few paragraphs of her paper and gave her a series of models, essentially grammar rules that she could then apply on her own when reading back through her paper.  This way, I felt like I was appealing to the desires of both the student and the professor, while also working to improve her ability to fully dive in to her ideas without having to worry about grammar.  Coming out of that consultation, I was unusually angry.  On one level I was upset for the student, this smart, insightful student who had crafted a well-formed, well thought out idea for an essay with ample quotes and analysis only to have it deterred by a strict, unthinking grammarian.  On another level, I was furious at the professor, for many of the reasons that North enumerates in his essay.  I felt that to tell his student to just “go to the writing center” completely undermined my job description.  I hated that i had been forced to become a copy editor.

After reading through North’s piece, and even Sommer’s piece from last week, I feel less infuriated at that professor and more at the system under which he was operating.  Due to the sheer quantity of writing he must have to plough through every week, and the complexity of the demands of every student, it makes complete sense that he could be so careless and insensitive.  North’s piece just made me want to throw up my hands and praise the lord.

Yet I still felt as if I could have done something differently in that consultation, like I could have offered her more than just a simple formula list for her to use in her writing.  This is where I think Bawarshi and Pelkowski come into the picture.  In many ways, this student could have perhaps benefited from their ideal writing center, one which is  “transformed into another kind of space, one in which students such as Derek can engage in the process of assessing what happens to their experiences—what happens to them when they begin to master academic discourses. The writing center thus becomes not just a place in which students are introduced to academic

discourses and taught how to function within them, but also how to ‘describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’ (Pratt 36)”. (53)

Reading these two piece very much functioned as therapy for me, in the sense that one validated my thoughts and experiences while the other offered me a possible solution.  I am just so happy that I got both.


Clear Minds

I think that Mike Quilligan really hit something profound when he observed that “students…sometimes create a reading of an advertisement or a film in advance, and then fabricate evidence within within the piece itself to fit the interpretive vision they thought they were supposed to have.” (298) While I liked that he uses this gem of commentary to propose that critical writing seminars for college first years should make students engage in a set of materials that “is not a new one with a new critical lens, but a familiar one with a radically altered perspective,” (300) I also think this applies to writing on materials that are completely unfamiliar and foreign.
Since high school, I have loved writing history research papers. We had to produce one each year, one in the realm of ancient history freshman year, one in medieval history sophomore year, and one in american history junior year. I loved getting to devote an entire two months to becoming an expert in something about which only I knew. I loved reading sources within a topic and having that moment of discovery, when the ideas all fit together finally and I saw my line of argument. I recently went back into the depths of my computer files and found all of my old research paper materials. While I was embarrassed by most of what I found, I was struck by my american history paper in particular.
I wrote that particular paper on women’s magazines published in the early 19th century and how they contributed to the “cult of domesticity” that seemingly dominated the dialogue around women at the time. To support my findings, I also examined women’s diaries from around that time to see if their personal confessions revealed anything about how they were processing such texts and their place within American society. I must have spent hours and hours on that paper, cooped up in the library pouring over the manuscripts of 200 year old diaries, marvelling at the wafer-thin pages and soft leather bindings I was afraid would crumble in my fingers. I revelled in the texts of the magazines, gawking at their language, their seeming out-datedness, the melodramatic works of fiction scattered throughout the publications. I had never felt so interested or motivated by a high school assignment before.
Yet when it came time to write the paper, I found myself floundering. Before I had even started my research I had already developed a thesis I wanted to make, that women felt anxious and about the bombardment of conflicting roles and expectations portrayed in the magazines, which I was sure I would observe in their personal accounts. While my work had been exhilarating and I had found a multitude of evidence in the magazines supporting my hypothesis that the roles and expectations of women during this era were unattainable and contradictory, the diaries left much to be desired. They mostly discussed everyday life, social events, interesting sermons and novels, but never the hard-hitting, existential ponderings I needed for my argument!
I decided to consult my teacher, who has since become a close friend and mentor to me. After I had complained to her that my entire project was stupid and no longer valid, she laughed and told me to just look at the evidence.
“Look at the evidence,” she said “and then just describe what you see.”
“Just describe what you see.”
So instead of scratching my entire project, I went back to the drawing board. I looked back at the texts I had collected and tried as hard as I could to read them without any premonition or bias as to what they were telling me. In doing so, I realized that while the ideas presented in the magazines were contradictory and seemingly ludicrous, the women’s diaries revealed that the women did not think twice about them. These expectations had, in a sense, fused naturally into their conceptions of themselves such that they felt no need to mention them in their daily accounts. What my paper became was a study in how the magazines contributed a women’s culture so far reaching, that no one felt the need to acknowledge its existence.
Unlike the two earlier papers I had written, this one did NOT have a clearly defined thesis statement. Instead it presented evidence from primary sources, ones with which I was in no way familiar, and engaged in a kind of inquisitive discussion about what they said.
I think all students should read what Quilligan has to say about crafting arguments, whether they are engaging in texts with which they are already familiar or texts which they have never seen before in their lives. They will be all the better for it.

Ede and Lunsford Should Pay us a Visit

Whenever someone asks me what kind of work I do at the writing center, I am not quite sure how to respond. I tell them that in a certain sense, I am like a teacher. When I work with students, my job is to look at their writing and give them ways to make it better. The implication is that I have a certain kind of knowledge which allows me to improve others writing. But in another sense, I am a fellow student as well, a “partner” in the truest sense of the word. I feel like the most successful consultations are the ones in which the student and I work together, brainstorming off of one another and throwing out suggestions like collaborators on an equal playing field. This dimension definitely reflects the nature of a liberal arts education, in the sense that in reflects the kind of academic, intellectual ethos that a small, intimate liberal arts college creates.
Yet in another sense, I sometimes feel like an advisor, parental figure, or even a friend. I constantly find myself taking a student’s mental state into account, gauging how anxious, confidant, scared, tired or frustrated they are, which informs the approach I take to working with them. Oftentimes I spend a small amount of time just talking with a student, asking about their day, the classes they are taking, and their general level of stress. I had one student a few weeks ago who came in with a very structurally sound, interesting essay. English was her second language, however, and her professor had given her a series of very harsh, critical comments on a first draft, demanding that she go to the writing center immediately to sort out problems with her prose. In our consultation, she seemed very distraught and anxious, so focused on whether or not I thought her writing mechanics were good that she could barely focus on the topic of her essay. In that session, my main task was to build up her confidence in her ideas while also addressing the issues of her teacher and making sure that the student understood how intelligent she was while also working to improve the small mechanical errors she had made. (Needless to say, it was a HARD consultation.)
In summary, I essentially don’t have much of a clue how to define my role as a writing partner, and have been racking my brains as of late to try and come to an answer.
Ede and Lunsford’s piece provides me with a small piece.
When they arrive at their moment of reconciliation between the two philosophical approaches to audience, “audience addressed” and “audience invoked,” (165) they claim that the “self, friend, colleague, critic, mass audience, and future audience-may be invoked or addressed,” (165) all of which “will shift and merge depending on the particular rhetorical situation.” (168)
In a sense, our role as writing partners is to be the audience for writing in all of the ways Ede and Lunsford enumerate. We have to be flexible, embodying the friend who makes a student feel safe and comfortable, the colleague who engages and challenges the student’s ideas with our own analyses and becomes invested in their ideas, the mass audience who anticipates the reaction of the professor, employer, or selection committee, and the critic, who offers an opinion of what works in the paper and what does not. We have to be perceptive, making quick decisions as a student sits down at a table which role or roles to take on. We have to anticipate the expectations of the reader and also understand the process of the writer.
Our role represents the very “synthesis” to which Ede and Lunsford refer.

So, to Ede and Lunsford I say,


A Youngian Exercise?

In the wake of my completion of my dear chap Young’s treatise on the nature of dialectical and syntactical variations across a myriad of communal gatherings and their utmost importance, I found myself quite stimulated (This of course could have been the auxiliary result of a fine English barrel-aged night cap, yet I do not doubt my fine academic intuition, even under the influence of such a petite extravagance.

What particularly tickled my fancy was his rather well articulated notion that “code meshing use the way people already speak and write and help them be more rhetorically effective.” (Young, 5) (What a robust sentence, dare I say it!) For who is to say that my peculiarly distinctive ways of carrying my mien would be an effective conduit for the knowledge of a poet? a writer of the biological sciences? a reporter of the current state of affairs of this vast planet (speaking of which, I am simply nonplussed by the news of this divorce of one Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, quite a tragedy, wouldn’t you agree?) For despite my many talents and gifts, of intellect, refinement, sophistication, hunting, cricket playing, tea etiquette, and stolid English values, I fully concede that my god-given gifts are just some (many) of a vast number of gifts which all work towards humanity’s collective enlightenment.
Informal, standard
Barriers eroding now
People can say more

One way restricts thought
Need gateways open

I would dare to say
You are listening closely
Poems create space
Reading Young’s piece made me very happy and optimistic. I think that it opens up so much more room for inquiry through writing by valuing many different discourses from different communities. I love that his main message is that we can learn so much more and explore so much more through writing when we approach ideas with different vernaculars, writing styles, and syntax.

When we diversify our modes of discourse, we allow our writing to take on different tones, characters if you will, with backgrounds, inherent qualities, and historical contexts that help deepen the ideas expressed. A laudatory response to Young’s ideas through the voice and writing style of an old Oxford man naturally adds a perspective of hypocritical haughty superiority/false modesty, while a haiku strips away the fluff and highlights what is truly profound. Both lenses are important because they remind us that you can NEVER separate writing from the contexts in which it written. Writing through multiple lenses is also important for budding writers in that it gives them agility. To be able to switch your discourse/style allows you to match what you want to say to the perfect style in which to say it.

And with that, I say,

Tootle loo my cheery old chap!



The Long Battle with Self-Doubt: What Four Composition Theorists Fail to Read Between the Lines

Last night, I began my reading with Bizzell, trying to wrap my head around her two concepts of writing, language, and thinking as “inner-directed” (2) and “outer-directed,” (4) either “so fundamental as to be universal” and able to be distilled down into a teachable curriculum, or entirely dependent on “the social context that conditions them,” (3) and the conventions established by distinct “discourse [communities.]” (4) While both gave me much food for thought, the idea of outer-directed writing and thinking resonated with me in a way I was not expecting. It just seemed so obvious to me that a person’s language, writing, and thought processes would change depending on their social context. When I’m texting my friends about brunch plans, I try to sound light and casual, and don’t abide by the rules of English grammar and sentence structure. But give me a history paper prompt and you can bet that every sentence in there is formally directed towards a larger intellectual question, and every word from a page in Merriam Webster. Even in writing this blog post right now, I am very deliberately trying to strike a balance. I wanted to sound intelligent, incorporating citations and textual analysis, but not in an overbearing way. I want to sound funny, but not deliberately so, insightful, but not overly philosophical. And I guarantee that I wrote and re-wrote those sentences at least four times.

I constantly experience self-doubt in the writing process. I am always rewriting my own work, criticizing it, convincing myself that the other people who have to read it won’t like what I have to say or the manner in which I chose to say it. I always worry that my friends will think me over-eager if my texts are too enthusiastic. Sometimes, I will take more than ten minutes to write a simple sentence, a full two hours to construct one paragraph, all with the looming sense that the people for whom I am writing, my “discourse community” is judging and evaluating me. I don’t think Bizzell goes far enough when she describes the discourse community. Nor do I think Elbow does when he discusses the importance of both “unplanned narrative and descriptive exploratory writing” (Elbow, 56) and “conscious, directed, controlled thinking” and writing (Elbow, 55). Implicit in both is this idea that the psychological effects of the social contexts in which writing occurs matter, but by what mechanisms? How does social anxiety, the constant fear of what other people think, influence these theoretical concepts? Why do certain people gravitate towards what Elbow terms “second-order thinking and others “first-order thinking” (Elbow, 55)?