Thursday, October 04, 2007

Frustration setting in...

Yes, Yes, YES! I am so frustrated. The last maybe three people I have tutored seem to be so uninvolved with what is going on during the tutoring session. I hate those blank stares I get. Trust me your sentence sucks.

There, now I feel better. Now I dealt with the issue by trying to give extra evidence and keep reiterating my point on why something might need to change in a paper. I always try to remind the student that it is their paper and if they are uncomfortable with a change, to not go through with it. I am really tring to be kind, but I don’t understand why someone would come in here and then not want to change a thing. Oh wait, I do know. They are all students that were forced to come in to the writing center. I actually want to try that whole empathetic method, but the students never tell me they were forced to come in here till the end of the session. Sorry, I can’t pick them out yet. I just hate their attitude. The students who are forced to come in are all so defensive about their writing. And guess what; a lot of them did need help. I really don’t understand it. Its like everyone coming out of 1010 has only learned one way to write a sentence and that’s all they use. Again, and again; same sentence structure. That’s what I call tax dollars at work. Writing is not that difficult. If you sit down and spend some time with what you are writing and read the paper out loud, you can’t go to wrong. So why does everyone I am tutoring seem so…limited? I sound so mean, but it is how I feel. These students are not stupid, maybe they really are just intimidated by wrinting and because of that they don’t try as hard. I think it is so dense for someone to think they won’t need English. You need it more than math. At least with math there is always a clear cut answer, you never will actually need the complex stuff, and you can use a calculator! A person will need to be able to articulate an idea in a comprehensible fashion. I am never mean to the reluctant students, but drawing them out and getting them to talk about what they have written is so painful. How can i force someone who doesn't want to be there to be excited about a subject they hate? I really need to work on it. If someone hates English hopefully I can at least make them not hate the writing center. I want to help these students with their paper, but they have to play along to. I can’t give all the answers away as they nod and grunt from across the table. I need to make them meet me half way…

Do I get it now?

I came to college thinking I knew the discourses, but it wasn’t until Dr. Roger’s class that I actually started to get understand how a real college discourse works. I had no idea how awful I was at research papers. What did I learn my sophomore year in high school? I remember doing a research paper, and I remember getting an A on the paper. Are the expectation levels really so different. That year was horrible. My school got rid of the honors program for all levels but the freshman grade. I was in honors and felt I had learned a lot and then I was in the other English class. The same class with the two conspiring potheads, at least a small pack of girls who carry eye shadow to school (just in case), and a teacher with a backbone made of jelly. I hated that class. Sure it was fun and nothing was required for it but I literally learned nothing the whole year. We read Othello and I did not remember anything about the play until I studied it again at another school my junior year. So no…I don’t think I came entirely prepared for college. My first English teacher was the best. After him it was a sad steady slope into “Who cares anymore?” And I don’t like being discouraged about English. It’s the one subject I do like. My English 1010 course was just a continuation of high school. The whole class was just so…lame. There was oddly enough, a pack of girls who didn’t leave home without their tweezers, and a couple of guys who always looked high. I told myself, “It’s just because it’s a generals course,” and moved on. I just don’t like trying to go to a class where everyone shares this attitude like it just doesn’t matter. I find the whole thing depressing. I didn’t need a discourse really, other than the one I had been using since my freshman year of high school. And all my other courses didn’t require any writing. Not until the spring semester last year did I understand what was going on a little better. I love finding classes where you learn five times as much than any of your other courses combined. And that was what 2010 was for me. I remember the first essay I turned in for Dr. Roger’s. It was on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. Very difficult read by the way. Not until I saw red streaks through entire pages did I feel maybe I’m not getting this. Revise and rewrite…again, and again. And just this short time tutoring I feel like I understand what is expected from certain papers. I know what to do when I’m writing a research paper. I know I don’t understand everything, but I feel like I’m getting so much better. I don’t want to say I’m excited for the bibliographic essay because I’m not, but I want to see how well I get everything down now. Will I understand where I need to expand and will I know when I’m off track? We’ll see.

"There's a hole in the world tonight..." ~Eagles

So far I’ve only had one really reluctant tutee. It was at ASH and completely obvious he was being forced to be there. I walked around the room, asking the different athletes what they’re working on, when I finally found one who was working on a paper! I will proceed to tell the story Michael Style:

Me: Hey! Are you working on a paper?

Tutee: Yeah.

Me: (over-joyed) Fantastic! I can help, if you’d like! What have you got so far?

Tutee: (Turning his computer towards me, revealing an empty word document) This much.

Me: All right! Well, then, what’s the assignment supposed to be on?

Tutee: (Turning the computer screen back towards him) A life-changing experience.

Me: Ok.. (Pausing to think about it myself, then grabbing a chair and sitting down at the table) Well, let’s think about that. Are you close with your family? Was there an experience that made you close to them?

Tutee: No.

Me: Ok… Well, what about football? It’s obviously important to you. Do you remember the first time you picked up a football? Or how did you get into it?

Tutee: Football isn’t a life-changing thing, though.

Me: Oh. Well, then. (Thinking about it more) How about taking a common phrase like “Honesty is the best policy”? Was there an experience where you’ve found that honesty really is the best policy?

Tutee: I don’t believe that.

Me: Oh. Well, you could still do that with other phrases, though. Maybe instead of thinking of experiences and trying to think of a moral at the end of it, you should work the other way: Think of the moral and see if you can remember an experience that goes along with it.

Tutee: Ok.

Me: (stretching to feel like I’ve done something) And football wasn’t anything amazing?

Tutee: Well, I don’t think I can write very much about it.

Me: How long does it have to be?

Tutee: I don’t know. Six pages, I think.

It ended with another athlete asking if I could help him with his paper and the current tutee pushing me away, saying “Yeah, you go help him.”

But other than that, I’ve been able to get most quiet or reluctant tutees to eventually become more talkative and into the session. In one session, the tutee was doing the typical “reluctant tutee” body language: leaning back in the chair, arms folded, the pen I handed him was lying on the table. The session hadn’t even STARTED YET! So before I did, I leaned back in my chair, sighed and asked “So, how’s it goin’?” He answered good but tired. “Yeah, me too! Having a hard time sleeping these days. Has that ever happened to you?” He answered by telling me all the time. Still leaning back in my chair, his paper on the table, I asked him, “Well, what is the paper supposed to be on?” “Some experience we’ve had.” “Yeah? I had to do that when I was in the class, too. My biggest problem is that I like to talk, so when given the opportunity to talk about myself, I tend to go over board.” He laughed and said “Yeah.” I persisted (Laughing is ALWAYS a good sign) “So what experience did you choose?” And he FINALLY sat up, scooted his chair closer to the table (I did the same). The session turned out to be very productive. He picked up his pen and started asking me questions about what I thought on specific parts. Good experience!

So Yeah… That’s all

reluctant tutees

I’m probably going to jinx myself by saying so, and I will be plagued by an endless flood of unbelievably reluctant tutors who would rather be drawn and quartered than have a piece of their writing critiqued by a writing tutor, but I have yet to have a session where I felt that the tutee was reluctant to share his or her paper with me and receive my advice and suggestions. However, I know from personal experience as being a reluctant tutee of the Writing Center once upon a time, that having a session with a reluctant tutee is plainly and simply inevitable. Sooner or later, I know that I am going to have one of those freshman students who is required by his or her professor to have a paper critiqued. I’m pretty confident that I will be able to break through the barriers that the reluctant tutee will setup. It might be kind of awkward at first (talking to somebody I don’t even know for the first time always is), but I see myself as being a fairly friendly and easily approachable person and I am quite sure that I will be able to overcome a tutee’s fears within the first few minutes. My biggest fear in regards to reluctant tutees is that the tutee will allow his or her feelings about having to come into the Writing Center for an assignment to get in the way of my helping him or her to learn how to write more effectively and more clearly. This is my biggest fear because during my freshman year, one of my professors required us to take our term paper into the Writing Center and have it reviewed by a tutor and I remember vividly how much I resented having to have somebody else go through my paper and give me suggestions on how to make it better. ‘I don’t need your help, my paper is perfectly fine the way I wrote it and I chose those words and phrases for a specific reason. How dare tell me how to write my paper!’ I can remember thinking all throughout the session. I can’t remember just exactly what the paper was about or what the suggestions and the corrections were that the tutor advised, but I remember that I did not make the changes. I also remember that my grade on that particular paper was not my best grade on a paper I’ve received in my college career. I learned quite quickly that had I heeded the advice that the tutor had given me, my writing would have been much better and my grade would have reflected that. I wish I could find a way to reflect that experience to the reluctant tutees and help them understand that I, as a tutor, am here to help them learn not only how to get a better grade on a specific paper, but how to write better all around.

no reluctant tutees

I actually have not had any reluctant tutees yet. I have had some difficult sessions. I had one tutee who would talk and give a few ideas, but I could tell he just wanted me to give him the right answers. I had trouble getting him to answer my questions, but he was not reluctant to talk. He just dodged my questions by saying that he did not understand the material. He suggested that I read the material because it was really short, and then he thought I would give him the answers that I discovered from the text.

Another slightly different session presented a few problems. I felt that my tutee might have had ADD. I did not ask him or say anything about it, but I felt that he kept getting off track. I tried to keep him focused on the material, and I could tell he was trying to keep focus by the different questions he asked. Sometimes he would talk about the problems he has with English, and then he would talk about good and bad teachers. I tried to sympathize but still keep on task, and I did have a problem with that. I can sympathize and I can get back on task, but I don’t make the transition very smooth. I am not sure if it is a big deal to transition smoothly. If that is an important trait to learn, then I am worried about that.

Something that I would have problems with is asking the right leading questions-especially when I do not know the answer or even a good direction. I have not mastered the quality of getting to deeper meaning in my own papers, so how am I supposed to lead another student on that path when the path is unclear to me? I don’t want to lead anyone in the wrong direction. And, I know that I hate going in for help and discovering that I know more than the person helping me, so I am terrified that someone will think the same of me. I can just imagine a good student coming in for help on the “bigger idea” he or she needs to connect to in the paper. That student actually has an idea of what to say, but does not know how to say it-or does not know the idea is actually there. I would not know how to draw that out. I do not know how to ask leading questions that help the tutee make bigger connections. I just know that the tutee will walk out disappointed that I was not a good help but rather a waste of time. I know how that feels and I do not want any of the people I tutor feel like that because of me.

I am also concerned about taking over the session. I feel that I can take over sessions easily with an actively participating tutee, but if I have a silent tutee that agrees with everything I say, I can see me forgetting the boundaries and doing the work for the tutee. It is so easy to cross the lines with a tutoring session because the students come in asking for help, and tutors are happy to give help. In fact, we like helping so much that we do a lot of the work so that the product looks good. This gives the illusion of help, but the student did not learn much, so really we did not help as much as we could have.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here I Come to Save the Day

I don't think I've had trouble with a reluctant tutee, but then again, the more I consider the question, the more I wonder whether I've been overtaking the sessions without realizing it. I'm getting better at explaining some of the grammatical errors, but I've been trying to remind myself that, with native speakers, you can't just start correcting stuff without suggesting any open ended questions to them. The tutee needs to come to a conclusion by themselves, instead of me simply saying what I think would be better and them agreeing with it, in an "uh huh" or "yeah" response. Thinking about it now, I believe I am overtaking the sessions. I suppose I still have a ways to go, but then again that's why I'm still in training. All of us have drifted off-course and over-corrected at least once or twice before, and I'm still learning that I am no exception.

But, thinking about it, I don't suppose I've had any problems with non-responsive tutees. I've only had one in recent memory that I can think of where the tutee was simply "yes" and "uh huh," but then again he was an ESL student and a very good writer to begin with, so there wasn't much else to say about the paper.

So I guess that my biggest worry about those "dark and handsome silent types" is that I'll just end up doing their paper for them, and not helping
them, as individuals, learn how to write better. But at least I'm aware of the problem, now, so that's the most important thing, I'm also mildly worried that I won't be able to help the tutee at all, because he or she will simply not tell me what he or she is looking for help with. I'm worried that the tutee will just walk off and get nothing out of the session, and the teacher and/or class and/or classmates will think the Writing Center is useless, and that conception will spread like a disease throughout campus, and the Writing Center'll be closed down, and I'll be out of a job, and...

Reluctant Writers/Tutees

Have you had any experience with reluctant tutees? How did you deal with it? If you haven't, what are you worried about with regard to these sessions?

Obviously, you should maintain the anonymity of the tutee.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Discourse Re-Runs its Course

I can't procrastinate this post any longer.

Over the past few days, I've been awaiting the voice of my muse; on the subject of discourse communities, she's been frustratingly silent. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure when the idea of discourse communities finally "clicked" -- the "click" may have been absent until we discussed Bartholomae in class.

Perhaps my awakening had its roots in middle school. Seduced by the poetic timbre of the romance languages, I began studying French. French, or any other foreign language, is a pretty marked example of how individuals, in order to interact with others in a speech community, must learn the commonplaces of that community. "Bonjour" is merely a beginning.

The importance of commonplaces later became evident in other subjects, as well. In high school, my peers and I realized that if we could mimic the historian's voice, we could get good grades in history; in literature class, the critic's voice; in chemistry, the chemist's; etc. Because our graduation requirements stipulated compulsory baccalaureate tests, which would be assessed by anonymous third parties, our teachers stressed time and again the importance of learning vocabulary. When writing about Germany in World War II, they said, be sure to throw in words like "Luftwaffe," "blitzkrieg," and "fuhrer"; when writing about literature, mention "irony," "paradox," and "archetype"; and for chemistry, "energy levels," "carbon bonding," and "valance."

We became master regurgitators. Our teachers evidently ascribed to the old repetitia est mater scienciae theory of learning, supposing that genuine understanding of the terms we used so liberally in our writing would, somehow, percolate in our young minds at some later date.

Once in college, I was particularly drawn to the technical writing program. The first rule of that field, we learned, is Know thou thy audience. Every word and sentence structure that appears on a page must be tailored towards a specific audience's specific needs. This approach to writing made sense, but being born and raised in the United States, I simply assumed that as technical writers, we needed to make our customers happy. Our instructors certainly implied the concept of discourse communities, but they never summoned that idea to life by giving it a precise, scholarly name.

As I re-read the preceding paragraphs, I still feel that, until we discussed the Bartholomae article in class, discourse communities were merely allusive to me. Considering the volume of academic and pseudo-academic writing done by students at the university level, an awareness of these communities certainly eases the counter-individualistic shock that initially results conforming to officially canonized formats, methodologies, and lexicons.
We were talking in Honors Colloquium about those darn red squiggly lines that haunt every word-processing document, distracting the writer until they succumb into fixing the error. Not unlike processed meat, made from a variety of cows and squeezed into squiggly-tubed meat-lumps that look like red brains; we find the pure essence of thought "processed" by our word-processors. The residing teacher of said-class, Pro. Porter, explained how in certain class-sessions he would have students type with the monitor turned off, then print the documents (without looking at them), in the interest of experimenting with a possible method for 'processing the processor'.

More loosely writing-related-thought. I worked for a publishing company awhile, doing the grueling task of inputting corrected manuscripts into word documents. I thought that because the company had the coolness of being located at a refurbished barn, and because I loved to read anything, the task would be not so hard as it seemed. The thing about refurbished barns, is they're still drafty...and, when one is working at a publishing company, especially when one is doing something menial; pace and deadline dominates no reading as you go. I had the wonderful opportunity of doing several cookbooks wherein hours of correction taught me the difference between the three dashes (dash, en dash, em dash). It's really amazing how little you can learn in such vast amounts of time and effort. And now….for something completely random.

I have this burn on my tongue, and hey, you know about burns? I wanted to talk with somebody about having burns on your tongue, and I was thinking, "No...It’s not interesting enough," but then I thought, "Wait, when does something need to be interesting in order to be talked about?" Where did I cross the line where everything I say has to be extraordinary? Why shouldn't I talk about burning my tongue? It feels weird... taste buds regenerate quickly... what do smokers taste on their tongues? Can you taste your taste buds? Does one sense their senses; is that possible? Back to burns; it was the infamous cup of hot chocolate I burned my tongue on today in a moment of hastiness too late to regret. That's usually how it goes when you drink something. For some reason, no matter how much the drink burns down your throat, threatening to incinerate your esophagus; you find you don't have the heart to spit it out (the exception being that one time I chugged some buttermilk innocently thinking it was just a buttery-flavored milk)- which I recognize isn't quite the same since I was talking about hot drinks.

The Goings Ons

Today was the first day of fall where I wore a sweater because I actually needed it. I’m so excited for the holidays. It’s all my favorite holidays packed into three months, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course my birthday. And yes, I consider my birthday a holiday. But Halloween is coming up and this year I am going on a hay ride. For some reason I really feel like doing all those great things I did as a kid. Every year I would go on a hay ride and pick out a pumpkin. There was this one farm in Nebraska that had a kind of everything in one theme. The farm had like three haunted houses, a corn maze, a hayride, and all those great fall treats. Oh, I love caramel apples! I probably sound stupid, but I’m just feeling so nostalgic. What’s sad about Halloween is by the time you figure out all the tricks for the most candy you are a little too old to trick or treat. The last couple of years I lived in Nebraska, I learned to carry a pillow case, dump half your candy at home midway through trick or treating, and I had which houses to hit first down to a fine science. I need to find out how much That Frightmares thing is. There is nothing more fun that those incredibly cheesy “scary” rides.

Tutoring is going pretty well. A couple of the tutors and I were talking about how the Writing Center room is cursed because no one ever seems to get much homework done there. Not that homework is the intention or anything, but the fact that you actually can’t get it done between tutees is so frustrating. I’m actually really happy about this job so far. I really like everyone I work with. I’ve had a few bad jobs before…horrible, horrible people. The worst job I ever had was working, of course, retail. And to make it all so much worse, it was in one of hose mall kiosks. I hated it. I remember we had this stupid little board that marked how well everyone was doing so if you were like me and worked only ten hours a week instead of thirty of course your sales wouldn’t be as high. Seriously, how is that fair? And we also had those stupid little MVP cards, but my store just was not the kind of place that could sells those. It was a specialty store. So yeah, so far this job is great in comparison to that hell. The class is going okay for me…no more Plato though. How sad.