Can Stereotypes Help Us?

Disclaimer: This blog is only looking at statistics and stereotypes among men. There are many other statistics and stereotypes among many groups that we should continue to focus, but for the sake of this blog and the article written by Margaret O. Tipper, the focus is mainly with regards to men.

I hate stereotypes. Especially reading stereotypes that are being reinforced by research. It makes me cringe, and I get more upset the more people hold stereotypes true. That said, I can appreciate what Margaret O. Tipper is doing in her article, Real Men Don’t Do Writing Centers. Aware of the many stereotypes among men, women, and Writing Centers, Tipper decides to take a different approach. Instead of completely omitting stereotypes as a possibility to student behavior for visiting the Writing Center, she basically says, let’s pretend that these stereotypes are completely true. And if they are true, how do you address them and conform the Writing Center to these specific stereotypes? Most importantly, how do you uphold the mission and value of the Writing Center, while catering to the needs of male students.

By holding stereotypes among men to be true, Tipper is able to address high school, male students and their view on achieving academic success, and receiving “help” at a writing center. She also incorporates their competitive attitude, and their need for direct assistance rather than indirect. Tipper is then able to provide solutions such as group consultations, and having students stay in the center to work on their paper once they are given specific advice. For example, instead of simply telling the student to work on smoother transitions, and then ending the consultation, the tutor will have the student stay in the center to work on smoother transitions after the direct feedback is given. (35-37) Tipper has addressed stereotypes to increase the foot traffic in the Writing Center at an all-male high school.

But would Tipper’s process work at Pomona College? How would we address male students at a coed, liberal college? Can these male stereotypes be applied here?

Looking at last year’s reports, about 30% of students who visited the Writing Center were male. I’m not sure which of these students were forced to come to the Writing Center as recommended or advised by their professors, received the feedback and assistance they were looking to receive, or if they are repeat customers who totally defy all male stereotypes. Either way 30% is a pretty low number.

I don’t want to apply stereotypes, but should we, just once, pretend that these stereotypes do exist in order to effectively market, and communicate what we do at Pomona College’s Writing Center? What stereotypes do we look at? And how do we address these stereotypes? Most importantly, how do we defy these stereotypes?

What are your thoughts? What stereotypes to you feel hold more truth than not? And how do you feel we can address/defy these stereotypes in the Writing Center?

 

Tutor Identity

In The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors, Fitzgerald & Ianetta discuss identity and ways in which tutors need to be aware of identity, how to address identity, and how to “be concerned about tutoring someone whose identity is different from yours.” (111) They continue by discussing how identity for the tutor can also affect the tutoring session and “discomfort and even anger can arise when assumptions are made about someone’s identity based on limited (or merely presumed) information.” (113). I completely agree with this statement.

As a staff member of the Writing Center, I’m in a unique position in which I am neither a student of a particular discipline, or an expertise of a specific field. In fact, my position and similar positions throughout colleges nationwide do not require a college degree. I don’t know if Pomona students are aware that academic coordinators and administrative assistants don’t need a college degree, but I was definitely aware of this when I was in college. And in short, I thought I was better than any administrative assistant while obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree. It was a very egotistical and ignorant discrimination on my part, and over the years, I learned that I was wrong. My education does not make me a better person or smarter than any administrative staff. I digress, to a degree (pun intended).

I didn’t remember that I once held these preconceived notions when I was 20 years old until I had a particularly difficult consultation a few weeks ago. The student signed up for an appointment with me and when she sat down she asked me what year I am. I answered honestly that I am the administrative assistant to the Writing Program and working a shift this year in the Writing Center. Her demeanor changed with a short and downside, “Oh.” During the rest of our consultation, she wasn’t very much engaged and when I asked her to justify a specific sentence, she said, “We learn about this in college…” and continued explaining the historical data and facts about her sentence. I was taken aback a bit, (must’ve been karma) but continued asking her questions to get her to explain more details about why she felt this statement was important to include in her paper. At the end of the consultation, I felt uneasy and spent the next couple of hours reflecting on what just happened. A week later, it dawned on me that she might have assumed (like I did when I was in college) that as an administrative assistant, I may not have a college degree. And to that extent, am not an expertise to tutor in writing, and may not have any power or authority during a consultation. I’m still left wondering if I should have said something immediately after that, “oh.” And if so, what should I have said? What could I have said?

It makes me think back to Fitzgerald & Ianetta’s anecdote when Anita Varma is constantly asked when she “learned to speak English,” and I wonder what does she do? What does she say? (113).

As we learn about how to be aware of identities, power and authority, forced assimilation for students outside the academic discourse, and all the different writing processes that fall in line, we are learning to be open minded, sensitive, and empathetic to each student. We are learning to not place any student within a box, but to understand where they and their writing are coming from. We go as far as reflecting back to how we tutor others, and whether or not our strategies are effective or not. We are learning to open our ears and offer our suggestions to assist students who seek our advice. But what do you do when the dynamics change and the student places you in a box? What do you say?

Pedagogy vs. Conduct

I love the idea that Linda Adler-Kassner, Chris Anson, and Rebecca Moore Howard speaks about the different ways of addressing plagiarism in their article, Framing Plagiarism:

  1. Preventing plagiarism by instituting a teaching culture that “…[focus on creating] a classroom environment in which students feel able to and motivated to do the assigned work.” (244)
  2. Controlling plagiarism by deterring students to plagiarize with the means of online tools such as turnitin.com. (241-242)

These are two different mindset in which the first doesn’t even give a student the idea of plagiarism, and the other gives the idea of plagiarism. Another way of looking at it, is that it is a way of preventing, versus a way of implementing fear and control. But when it comes down to it, it’s about how the professor teaches their class that determines whether or not a student is likely to plagiarize. While I find this article persuasive to addresses the need for a shift in teaching culture to prevent plagiarism and not control for plagiarism, I don’t necessarily agree that it is the teachers sole responsibility to prevent plagiarism, but also the students actions and ethical conduct that determines the act of plagiarism.

I was at a birthday party this past weekend and met a new teacher at Chaffey College-a local junior college in Rancho Cucamonga who is in the middle of her first year of teaching, and failed a couple students for: failing to show to class, incomplete assignments, and poor performance on exams. Instead of immediately addressing the students for their lack of interest or student work ethic, the teacher was the one being questioned and reviewed by her superiors. She now faces assessment with her department chair to determine if her teaching style is sufficient, effective, and caters to the needs of Chaffey College students-without taking any account whether or not other students, or even the majority of the students in the same class did well in the course. I was completely surprised. I’ve never taken her course, nor have I been a student of hers, but to see that the institution is immediately putting the blame on a teacher for a student’s failure is baffling. It’s as if the students are not being asked to take responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof.

As Adler-Kassner, Anson, and Howard state, “[G]ood teachers prevents or at least deters plagiarism…creat[ing] original assignments, work with students on multiple drafts, and engage with students in the work of a classroom.” (235) A teacher can do everything in their power to prevent cheating and students failing a class: they can meet with them on a weekly basis and discuss their assignments and give them extra credit for a chance to show what they have learned in class. They can talk to resource centers to find out what assistance is offered to help the students with organization, scheduling, and time management. And in special circumstances, they can extend the due date of a project or assignment so that the student can turn in their best work. But a teacher can only do so much.

If a student is not engaged, motivated, or even care about a particular class and its curriculum, they’re not always going to try. Or if there are other aspects in their life that prevents them from attending class, completing the readings, and finishing the assignments, that’s the student’s responsibility to communicate that with their teacher and/or advisor. And if a student is going to fail, cheat, or continue going to college without any work ethic or moral conduct, then shouldn’t that fall into the responsibility of the individual student and not the teacher? Certainly it is the teachers and institutions duty to communicate academic honesty policies, educate students what is proper citations, and what is expected of students. But why is it the sole responsibility of a teacher to prevent cheating, plagiarism, and academic dishonesty? Shouldn’t a student do the work that they are expected to complete? Shouldn’t the student hold responsibility?

What do you think? When is it the teachers responsibility to prevent cheating or failing students, and when is it the students responsibility to not cheat or fail a class?

But What Does It Mean?

After completing this weeks reading, I’m still unsure I fully understand the notion of mestiza consciousness, critical consciousness/critical affiliation, contact zone, and colonialism and postcolonialism in the Writing Center.

I understand the definition of each concept below (correct me if my definitions are wrong), but I don’t think I fully “get it.”  Here’s what I’ve gathered for each term based off of the readings:

  • Mestiza consciousness – “a consciousness marked by the ability to negotiate multiple, even contradictory, subject positions while rooted in dominant discourse.” (Bawarshi & Pelkowski, 52)
  • Critical consciousness (critical affiliation) – Being able to write in an academic world, but maintain one’s own culture, voice, and self.
  • Contact Zone – “A place where students can engage in the process of assessing what happens to their experiences—what happens to them—when they begin to master academic discourses. 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.” (Bawarshi & Pelkowski, 52)
  • Colonialism – Direct interference with students writing; directly changing a written piece, deleting a student’s own voice and dissolving a student’s ideas
  • Postcolonialism – not directly interfering with students writing, and maintaining ones ideas, voice, and style
  • I’m reading about these ideas and what they mean, but I don’t think I can relate, or have been in a situation or heard of a case with this type of experience. I guess it’s what like what Jeff Reger wrote in his essay, Postcolonialism, Acculturation, and the Writing Center, “Though I had studied postcolonialism, I had not yet made the connection between it and my work in the Writing Center.” (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 505)

Can you relate to any of these terms since you’ve entered college? What were your understandings of the definitions of each term?

What Do You Think?

Update: I wrote this blog immediately after I read North’s article, and before I completed the other readings getting a glimpse of what North’s colleagues think about his article (the idea of North basically explaining colonialism and imperialism within a Writing Center).

I originally started a blog post with a rant about Stephen M. North’s rant, The Idea of a Writing Center. I was going to post about how his post is sad and worrisome, and a total stab at a future career that I currently seek. I could’ve easily written 5 pages about how some of the things he writes is all wrong, based off of my experiences in the last 6 years at the Writing Center in Pomona College. But what good does a reaction in the form of another rant accomplish?

Instead, I ask these questions in search of answers to help identify the nature and cause of the issues North discusses; because if we understand where misunderstandings are coming from, then maybe writing centers wouldn’t have such a bleak future-as North puts it.

  1. Have there been research and data completed to find out what exactly are the views of writing centers throughout the nation, or at least among the top 10 universities that have a writing center? I ask this, because this article was originally published in 1984 by the NCTE. North ends his article with the fact that every effort to promote writing centers and change the understanding of what a writing center does will be pointless. (North 446) I’m curious to know if there has been a shift in understanding what a writing center does in the last 32 years. And if North is right, then oh boy is my future at stake.
  2. Why do teachers feel the need to “bring students to a writing center, to make sure they know that we won’t hurt them…”? (North 440) I ask this because I want to understand the strategic thinking behind a teacher for doing this. And more importantly, if they understand why this is wrong: forcing a student to seek assistance with their writing will not allow proper engagement in the discussion, implementation, and practice of the writing process.
  3. Why do people view the writing center as a copy-edit service? Even after many forms of communicating and educating institutions about writing centers, what is it that keeps someone for changing their understanding of a writing center? Why are many so reluctant to change this idea of what a writing center does? Is it because they aren’t paying attention? Do they not care? Do they feel that a writing center is useless? North writes that teachers have the concept, “You take care of editing, I’ll deal with invention.” (North 440) If this is the reason why people feel the writing center is a copy-edit service, where is this statement coming from? Are people threatened that writing centers will take over their job as a teacher? Or do they feel that writing centers will interfere with their class teachings and creative process?
  4. What is the response of this article when it was published? How do Norths peers view this article? Do they agree with his conclusion? Have they changed the way they market the writing center in their institutions as a response to this article? What steps have been taken to prevent the death of writing centers?

What do you think? Are the lives of writing centers just beginning or ending? What was your view of the writing centers when you first came to college? Was that view changed, and if so, how did it change? What do you think the overall view of the writing center is among faculty and students?

Metacommentary: Y’all Should Practice This

The more I read Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say, the more I find myself agreeing and saying, “Yes, thank you!” I specifically had this moment with the introduction of metacommentary in Chapter 10 of their book.

Graff and Birkenstein define metacommentary as “a way of commenting on your claims and telling others how – and how not – to think about them.” (129) I don’t know about you, but I do this all the time.

Especially during a conversation, I constantly have a disclaimer of what I’m about to say, or redacting my previous statement to clarify myself. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m going to say it and I have no intentions of attacking or hurting someone. The great thing about this technique is that it helps prevent an argument and helps continue an engaged discussion. It helps people to keep an open mind to your next statement, and instead of reacting defensively and aggressively, people will try to understand the context of your argument and begin to ask questions.

There are moments where people will immediately react emotionally to a statement, but in my experience using metacommentary again and again will help ease the tension of the conversation so that the discussion becomes more meaningful and intellectual.

Graff and Birkenstein couldn’t have said it better when they state the purpose of metacommentary:

Even the best writers can provoke reactions in readers that they didn’t intend, and even good readers can get lost in a complicated argument or fail to see how one point connects with another…Because the written word is prone to so much mischief and can be interpreted in so many different ways, we need metacommentary to keep misinterpretations and other communication misfires at bay. (131)

Not only do I think the purpose of metacommentary is important during a discussion, but it is essentially important in writing. When reading an essay, article, journal, book, etc. one cannot have a conversation with the author to clarify arguments and statements (unless you’re working on peer review or holding a consultation in the Writing Center). Maybe that’s why people have conferences, talks, and workshops-to clarify the meaning of their writing/work.

Metacommentary should be practiced more often. A lot of misunderstanding from misinterpretation and miscommunication would decrease if we practiced this more often.

Do you practice metacommentary in dialogue or in writing? If so, tell me of a moment when it became handy. If not, tell me of moments you wished you practiced metacommentary. How important do you feel metacommentary is and how would you teach metacommentary when reviewing papers in a consultation?

 

Tell Me More, Mr. Young

Dear Mr. Young,

Although your paper, Should Writer’s Use They Own English was compelling, and delivered in a very creative way to display some of the themes you discuss, I am still a little confused. You jump from one thought to the next, and prove one idea, and then another. I don’t quite follow you and I find myself asking what your main argument was in the first place: Is it the attitude people have regarding formal/informal language? Is it that people are racist forcing others to use formal language in academia? Or is it because people should learn how to use descriptive language and continue to write the way they speak? Or is it because we should completely remove the idea of formal/informal language since people are code meshing anyway? Or is it that Stanley Fish is all wrong and just needs to be knocked down a couple pegs?

You constantly disagree with Stanley Fish, and blatantly display his hypocrisy with his own statements and actions along with the similar statements and actions that other people are committing. But could you tell me more about what Fish says and what other people who share the same views as Fish are saying? What were their arguments? What has their evidence attempted to prove? What have they said about formal language being the power of authority in academic writing? What has their attitude shown? Tell me more Mr. Young.

You say that it is the attitude that people have towards the usage of formal language/informal language in academia is what makes people “vulnerable to prejudice,” and that formal language, is the perception of authority and power. (1) But why does that attitude exist? How is this attitude displayed? What are people saying or doing to present this attitude? Why have the rules to use formal language in academia and the work place been set? (The last question is a different discussion, but one I feel needs to be addressed in order to understand your argument and determine the authenticity of this statement.) Tell me more, Mr. Young.

I find it interesting that you say one of the solutions to change this attitude is to not teach people a formal dialect of the English language, but rather to teach language descriptively. Especially since “no one can master all of the rules of any language or dialect.” (2) Growing up with two languages in my house hold, I fully agree with you on that aspect, but how would one teach language descriptively? What would the pedagogy look like? How does one scaffold and structure a syllabus? What are some exercises and activities that I can learn and practice to use language descriptively? Does code meshing count as using language descriptively? How can one use code meshing descriptively to prove their point? Tell me more, Mr. Young.

Tell me more about code meshing. This is a brilliant thought and idea that you defined and proven with many different tweets among “professional” men. You give many examples of how it is used in social media and interviews. In fact, you even code mesh in this paper you’ve written just now, but can you show me where code meshing is indeed used in academic writing? How would it look like in a thesis paper or dissertation? Can you show me how a code meshed sentence can be just as effective as the same sentence written in formal academic writing? Can you compare and contrast the power and strength of code meshing vs. formal academic writing? Tell me more, Mr. Young.

You’re on to something-not just something, somethings. You’re on to a great many somethings, and I want to know more. Please tell me more.

Sincerely,

Eager Reader

Training Wheels

In Composing Processes: An Overview, Patricia Bizzell argues that composition is a complex process, hierarchical, recursive, and allows for rereading, rethinking, and rewriting. (Bizzell, 66) And in order to teach students how to compose thoughtfully, and not just regurgitate information they read, it is recommended that schools follow the techniques suggested in the Position Statement on teaching composition by the Commission on Composition of the National Council of Teachers of English, by making “full use of the many activities that comprise the act of writing.” (Bizzell, 67) More recommendations suggest that teachers focus on creative writing, style, “development of students’ self-critical abilities, and writing should be the principal text.” (Bizzell, 67)

The purpose to even create these classroom guidelines to help students find their voice and be able to think and write, and think while writing before they even begin to write college-level essays, is due to the standardization that has been mandated in classrooms. And as we discovered in Nancy Sommers study outlined in Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers, students are so focused on the standardization, grammar, spelling, and word usage that an unexperienced writer does not view the writing processes as a composition or thinking process. Instead, “students view their composition in a linear way,” which is quite opposite of the hierarchical composing process Bizzell discusses. (Sommers, 383)

The point: students don’t know how to write college-level papers. Why can’t students write college-level papers? Bizzell argues in great depth that the focus in schools all these years have been the wrong focus, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that people started to realize that there was a need to radically change the way schools teach writing in a non-linear mode. However, I say that we don’t need to change the way schools teach writing. The current techniques taught in school are just the mere fundamentals that every writer needs to learn before the dive into much more complex techniques.

Think of the standard outline for a standard five paragraph essay as training wheels on a bike: the training wheels allow novices riding a bike to be comfortable and not too fearful about riding a bike. It allows them to use this tool to start learning the fundamental mechanics of riding a bike: balance, pedaling, steering, etc. Once a novice learns how to do this that it almost becomes second nature, they’re ready to remove their training wheels. (Sometimes people never feel ready to remove their training wheels, but you have to remove them sooner or later). Once the training wheels are removed, a person can hone in on their skills and ride a bike without any assistance. It will take lots of practice, and one will fall many times, but eventually one will learn to ride a bike independently.

Similar to training wheels, the standard outline allows a student to be comfortable and not too scared when writing a paper. Because let’s face it, writing can be scary, and sometimes we need reassurance that it’s going to be ok. The standard outline gives us that reassurance and allows us to hone in on the basic and fundamental skills of writing:

  1. Organizing thoughts and ideas in order to define an argument and know what one wants to write about.
  2. Structure a paper so that the argument isn’t all over the place and people can follow the point of the paper
  3. Finish a draft whether it’s in a timed essay or a paper to turn in

Now that the training wheels for writing are on, one needs to practice, practice, and practice until writing isn’t as scary any more. Once a student learns how perform these elementary skills in writing, than they can move on to the advance techniques on writing: composing, revising, thinking, thinking about writing while writing, etc.

Sometimes we just have to learn how to do things one step at a time. And learning the standardized approach is just one step to writing. It’s training wheels on a bike.

Tell me your experience. Did you have training wheels when you learned how to write? Do you still write with training wheels? If you don’t have training wheels, when did you take them off? How did you know you were ready to remove them? And most importantly, how will you guide your friends and peers in removing their training wheels? Would you just tear them right off? Or would you use the steps you used to remove them?