Saturday, October 03, 2009

Step one: Get a manual. Step two: Open the manual. Step three: Look up citations. Step four: Go to designated page number. Step Five:.......

My initial experience with MLA was in 8th grade Honors English. On the first day, my teacher, Mrs. Smith, announced the first assignment of the year, a 10 page paper on The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (our summer reading assignment), using at least 5 non-internet sources. She was very careful to tell us that we needed to use MLA format, but wasn't forthcoming about how we should go about that.

In hindsight, I realize that she was probably trying to weed out all of the little children who didn't belong in the class. At the time, I didn't know that this was an unusually large assignment for an 8th grade class. I'd been homeschooled up to that point, so I thought it was a normal workload. As I was conditioned to figure things out on my own, I went to the school library and asked the librarian if she had any books on MLA. She looked at me strangely, and said no, but suggested that I could find one at the public library. I went there that afternoon (since I only had five days to finish this assignment) and found my first MLA Style manual. I used it to figure out how to format my paper, how to do my "Works Cited" page and how to do in-text citations. Of the papers that she'd received, Mrs. Smith said that mine was the only one that had the MLA formatting correctly, high praise from the woman affectionately (or not so affectionately) known as the "English Nazi" within my Junior High.

I've never really had any problems with MLA or even with APA formatting. When I have an assignment, I break out my handbook (2007 edition, so it's mostly correct). The old habit of figuring things out on my own still kicks in whenever the teacher doesn't give me enough information (YES, that comment was also referring to the bibliographic essay that I'd like to start but don't know anything about yet, Dr. Smith). Whenever I cite something, or whenever I'm asked to help a student with formatting and citing, I crack open my trusty citation manual. Even if I know the rule off the top of my head, the student sees me (the tutor, the one who's good at this sort of stuff) looking up the rules in the textbook. I have the student look some of the citations up so that they become a little more familiar with the process of finding the correct model for their particular source. Hopefully, when the student leaves the session, they think, "Gee, well she had to look up her citations too. I guess I'm not stupid for not remembering the rules," or something like that.

I don't know the rules off of the top of my head. I do have a general idea, but when it comes to the specifics of where the comma goes while citing an essay from an anthology with multiple editors and perhaps a translator or two, I look it up. Even when I cite a simple novel, I double-check. I figure there's nothing wrong with being cautious. Remember, I'm the one who likes preparation :-)

Maybe we should go with APA?

I can't think of a major MLA rule that I looked up and saw that it was wrong. The most common corrections that I've had to make are when doing in-text citations. I couldn't remember for a while if it was (Smith 34), (Smith. 34), or (Smith, 34). Other examples that confused me for a while were how to write a quote in an MLA paper and, of course, the works cited section has been a problem at times. How did I find out the truth? It was in English 1010 class. We all used this book called....well...I can't remember. It was a horrible book though. Started with an "H" thought (maybe the "H" stands for horrible). But it was that book that first really showed me how MLA works.

The thing that I want to discuss in this blog is this: why do we mess up on MLA in college? Shouldn't we all kind of know this by now? We have books to help us, right? So what's the deal? I believe a part of it is that we have become so used to having to use MLA that no one really checks to see if it (the thing that is written) is right. Many college students don't care about MLA format. It's ok because we expect that. But one this that is troubling is that many professor don't care too much about how the student's MLA formatting is. Another part of it is that there are so many things said and taught about MLA no one really knows what's right and what's wrong. It's anarchy! "If it looks good, it's probably right." No one wants to look up and see if it's right.

Maybe we should go to APA formatting. Why do I say this? Have you ever noticed that not many people, when having to use APA formatting, don't make as many "dumb" mistakes on their paper. Why? Because since we don't use APA as much, we are forced to go find a guide book or go online to Purdue OWL or any other website to see if we got it right. We are not familiar with it, so we look it up. Should we treat MLA like APA?! I say yes! Let's stop pretending that we all know MLA because we don't. Some MLA rules are "situational" rules meaning it depends on the situation. It could be that we pretend to know MLA because we don't want to look dumb to others. It is here when we truly look dumb. I don't pretend to know MLA by heart, so I have a style guide in my backpack and I have one in my office. Then again, the things in those style guides could be wrong. It's all a matter of double-checking......all the time.

Let's go out there and, please, let's begin treating MLA like APA.

MLA Deficit Disorder

I hate to disappoint everyone, but I don’t have any odd MLA rules to report. In fact, I didn’t know any rules about MLA until just a few years ago. I was taking Independent Study classes through BYU--busy moms do that when they can’t go to school in person. My Advanced College Writing teacher wanted me to use MLA formatting. He wisely included written specifications in the course manual I got from the UPS guy. I didn’t really know what MLA was. I figured my instructor was just a little picky. Still, I did well enough on the papers to earn an A in the class. Life was good, and I was happy.

Now I am a tutor, and I am expected to remember the rules of MLA. How am I supposed to remember what I never knew to start with? Oh, and I need to know APA style, too. I am creating a chart for myself that compares APA and MLA. I am throwing Chicago Style in with them for good measure. I want to understand why there are so many styles, and why their users want those specific rules followed. I want that information to cement itself into my brain so I can describe it clearly to my students. I still have some work ahead of me. (My birthday is next month. If any of you feel so inclined, I would love a good used copy of the official MLA “bible.” I would wait until Christmas, but I’m afraid they would change the rules again. Please don’t feel obligated.)

I was wondering what style would be appropriate for the different types of writing required in my life. Is there a style for Post-It notes? Do I have to cite references? For example, when I write a message to my teenagers, “Clean your room now, it looks like a pig sty,” do I have to cite my mother as the originator of the quote? What is the preferred style for emails to teachers in lieu of parent teacher conferences? Do I really have to use those horrible new spelling rules when I send a text message to my husband during his History of Mathematics class? “DH ur SO hot!” I usually just type in, “XOXOXO.” If there are any other styles out there that I need to know, please just leave me a note…properly cited, of course.

I guess you could say the strangest rule I have learned is that there are actual rules out there. There are people in the world who are picky enough to want to be able to understand each other’s writing. Then again, maybe the strangest rule I have learned is that the administration of my high school thought my classmates and I could be fully prepared for college without knowing or ever using the “discourse” of higher education. Maybe it wasn’t such a good thing that I tested out of BYU’s equivalent of English 1010.

I am glad I “have to” be in this class. The information is interesting, the teacher is tough but fair, and the company is wonderful! Besides, where else could I learn about Dr. Horrible? (My kids loved watching him take over the Emmys!)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fat cats and falsehoods

They say that honesty is the best policy, and if I were to follow that right now, this would be the shortest blog I have ever posted. The reason being because I have no idea what the weirdest or most off the wall thing is that I have been taught about citations and all that jazz. I’m sure that there is a plethora of falsehoods I have been taught throughout my life, but none of them seem odd. In fact, I don’t remember ever formally being taught MLA, or any other type of citing for that matter. Most of my teachers had their own way they wanted it cited. It probably would have been nice to learn the ins and outs of citing when I was a lad.

Most of the stuff that I seemed ill-informed on was just punctuation and that whole scene. See what I mean, this is a boring blog, so I am now going to make up a bunch of wrong things that I wish I had been taught about citations in order to spice up this blog and make it come alive.

I wish that I was taught that you always put the book name before the author. That would be neat. Of course, I’ve seen that on many a paper here in the writing center. It’s not that weird, but it would be something fun to look back on and realize that my teacher was wrong.

The next falsehood that I wish I had been taught about citing would be that you never punctuate
on the works cited page. If everything were just one large conglomerate of words with no differentiation between them, I would be a happy camper. I can just imagine what my first paper in college would be like. Red pen marks all over the page like the paper was bleeding! Oh, if only my dreams were a reality!

I also wish that teachers never said a thing about plagiarism. If that was the case then citing would be unnecessary and ridiculous. I can imagine the fury on a professor’s face when a paper was turned in full of neat quotes and intriguing information, yet no citations, no works cited no nothing. Boy would I have been in for it!

Of course, I say all these like I wish that they had really happened. In reality, I’m glad they never did. I would have hated getting terrible grades on my papers because I didn’t know how to cite. I was lucky in the sense that I was never taught anything that was too far off the beaten path (of course I don’t recall ever being taught much about the beaten path anyway). Luckily, I learned just enough to get me through my courses up until this point where I now know the truth about citations and most of the crazy rules that those fat cats in Washington, or wherever they are, have decided are necessary for the advancement of writing and pertinent for every student’s livelihood and well-being.

MLA and the Beautiful Bartholomae

I am in the process of making a grand flow chart that I cannot wait to scan in! (It's gonna be monumental guys.) So, MLA.
I, too, have never been formally taught the complexities of this universal citing style. I transferred high schools my senior year and my entire AP Lit class was in awe of me. Not only did I not know how to use MLA format, I had never even heard of it. Maybe Ogden High just has MLA education going on, but I feel that I am not alone in never being formally taught this vital bit of knowledge. Perhaps there should be a class centered around teaching this? Ha, nevermind. That would be dreadful.
I am quite grateful for the proper explanations of this style in the class. Being a tutor helps me to improve my own writing immensly. This class...has transformed my English-oriented paradigm into 360 degree vision.
Although my senior year classes were all college level, I feel that the paper-writing rules for my assignments were pretty lax, and I am embarressed to say that I have never, actually, written a paper in MLA.
My God, please don't fire me.
I feel like most of my teachers are so much more concerned with the content. Overeager students would raise their hands and ask what the desired format was, and my professors almost always shot them down with a, "I don't care, just make sure it's long enough. And on time." I guess that could be a funny experience with MLA formatting...the teachers that I have had taught me to disregard MLA entirely. Blessing? I don't know.

The two-part post last week included my flow chart (yet to be released) as well as a response to Bartholomae's idea of discourse.
I actually found Bartholomae's idea thought-provoking. It was kind of the other side to Murray's theory. Murray was so new and fun to read that perhaps some fundamental concepts of writing were left out, such as the fact that we are going through the inner process of writing in order to then create a product that reflects our voice that we discovered in the process.
It took some perserverance to get through Bartholomae's dry and dull writing, but I most certainly agree with this. I was reminded of an art class I had a while back. We were talking about messages in art and how we could not summon up the artist to answer any of our questions. The lesson was that we had to say everything we wanted to say in the artwork itself, because we could not stand adjacent to the viewer and explain why we included certain colors, brush-strokes, or details. This is similar to writing, we create something that we cast out into the world to thrive on its own. The creator gives no more nourishment to the creation.
Writing is a process, yes, but smart writers adapt to peering beyond the process, and knowing the product is what will be evaluated as a representation of the writer. Because the majority of what we write is persuasive writing, it would be foolish to not even consider the audience. Even when we are writing a research paper of some sort, we are attempting to persuade our audience (the professor) into believing that we know what we are talking about. I suppose this is why there is creative writing, and then there is writing with intent beyond personal satisfaction.
I agree with much of Bartholomae's comments on discourse. However, sometimes I cannot tell what it is Bartholomae would like to accomplish or change with his observations. Does Bartholomae believe that the invention and discovery that discourse prevents is what writing should be? Or do we need to teach proper use of discourse? (Yes, I copied this last paragraph from my Bartholomae response. Forgive meeeeee.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crazy MLA formatting

I never actually had a professor or teacher tell me anything crazy about MLA citations. I guess I have been lucky in that most of them just referred me to an MLA style guide and said "Make it look like that." On the other hand, as a grad student one of the first things I was told to buy was the MLA style guide and to use it regularly. I now cannot imagine my life without it. I recommend that everyone who is in English or any discipline that has to write a lot of papers go out and purchase this book immediately. It's worth the money.
I did however have a crazy experience with citations at my corporate job. I was working on a website that basically taught doctors which laboratory test to order for a patient and the order to order them in (if that makes sense). I worked on the technical writing side and was responsible for making sure the content was error free and properly cited. Our digital librarian gave me several citations and after I went through them all and formatted them in MLA style, she told me they were wrong. I then went through and formatted them in Chicago style with the Chicago Manual of Style sitting right next to my desk. She then brought them over and told me not only were they still wrong, but I was basically and idiot and isn't this what I did in college?
Needless to say, I don't work there anymore. However, at that point I handed them to her and said, "You do it then." You are using some crazy style that I am not familiar with, so you make them how you want. I don't know what to say in a situation where they want you to use a made up style. It was craptastic (my neologism for the day).
Since then I have been very happy to stick with the logic of the MLA system.
The last few days I have been explaining MLA to many tutees who are in developmental English. It has been interesting to listen to them struggle with the logic of the header and other aspects of MLA citation. However, to avoid the mistake of telling them something incorrect, I say, "Let's look it up to be sure." This allows the tutee to see that the tutor still has to look stuff up and it shows them how to look things up on their own. There is a two-fold value in it.
It was also very interesting to see that many of the style guides contained several mistakes in citation and that to be sure you have to return to the MLA specific style guide. This was good because it let us know as tutors that we cannot always trust things and established the standard for MLA citation.
I was also glad to know that I wasn't crazy when I said that I read that a citation has to be followed by Print. That made me feel better too. I had been doing it and I'm glad it's correct. To hear the reasoning behind it also helped me understand it, which is a good lesson for the tutees. Explaining the reasoning behind something often helps them understand why we do what we do.

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MLA Woes

I have to say, I don’t think I was ever taught anything severely wrong about MLA citation. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that I was never really taught about MLA at all. My first semester as a freaked-out little freshman landed me in my English 2010 class. I don’t know why, but this English class was and is still one of the worst classes I have ever had. We had vague assignment descriptions that, when we asked our professor to explain just a little more in depth, were repeated nearly word-for-word. It was sort of the same way with MLA. When we asked our professor to go over MLA citation, he briefly mentioned the first couple of listed items (author, title, etc.) and something about hanging indents, but told us to look up the rest ourselves. We had been required to get a sort of pocket dictionary of different citation styles. This spiral-bound notebook became my only known source of MLA help. I tried to follow it as best I could, but most of it confused me. I’d never had to look for a publication city, year, edition, or anything else while writing. Luckily, the handbook was a very clear one, though my mind was a little jumbled.
Through much frustration and clouding of mind, I finally figured out something that I thought should sort of kind of look like a paper in MLA format…if you looked at it sideways…and squinted…
Since then I’ve never had a straight lecture on MLA format in any of my classes. It was usually just assumed that we knew what we were talking about or had been taught by another proficient professor. I’m fine with it now, especially when I have a reference to look at (though apparently they differ on some important points depending on the year they were published…that may be problematic in the future…). I don’t think I’ve ever been taught anything particularly wacky. At least, I’ve never questioned what to put in a Works Cited page depending on my geographic location at the time…especially since I usually stay in one relative area while writing papers.
This class is actually refreshing because it’s the first one that has ever spelled out what needs to be in a citation bit by bit (Authors last name, first name. Single space! Etc.). Plus we got to look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I think I need to go find that book now…I can’t stop thinking about its potential awesomeness. And then I’ll be on to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
Wow! Random tangent! Anyway, I now know something a little bit more about how MLA works and I’m totally jazzed (well…more like Armstrong jazzed than Coltrane jazzed…but close enough).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oops. Sorry, I hope this is a little more readable.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

After unsucsessfully trying to come up with a flow chart displaying the “right way” to run a tutoring session, I eventually decided to go with what I know. Since no two tutoring sessions are alike, it is essential to be able to follow your animal instincts, laugh at yourself, and remember that a smile is a universal ice-breaker. So without further adieu, this is how I run a tutoring session.

I missed the class discussion of Bartholomae on Wednesday, so I hope I am not too far off with my interpretation of his notion of discourse communities. I think Bartholomae is right when he says that students basically have to conform to the expectations of the teacher or the program in order to be sucessful students. This “Burden of Conformity,” as Bartholomae puts it, is knowing what your audience wants, and then producing something within those strict guidelines. This is a hard enough task to accomplish in one area of study, but becomes even more challanging when students have to be flexible enough to apply themselves to several discourse communities, which all have different rules and guidelines.
I have had to learn a new discourse as a zoology major. For someone who has always been more comfortable taking humanities courses, chemistry, physics and zoology is a huge adjustment. Not only do the sciences have an entirely different approach to education, but the rules are also completely different. This is where I can see the idea of discourse communities most clearly, as I experience the frustration Bartholomae discusses as students are expected to “work within fields where the rules governing the presentation of examples or the development of an arugument are both distinct and even to a professional, mysterious.”

About Bartholomae....

Discourse? What do you mean? I don't use the word discourse....ever! But I will talk about Mr. Bartholomae.

Have I ever tried to speak in a different manner in one of my papers? Of course! Who hasn't?! I feel that the composition writing class student is too stressed out by one thing: the grade. For many of them, it is all about the grade. I'm not a fool; I know the grade matters....quite a bit. But many of these students have never learned what it is to write in academia. Do any of us really expect them to learn how to write in high school? I don't. Personally, I don't remember anything that I was taught in my English high school class. All i knew was that I had to get my diploma no matter what.

When I reached WSU, I didn't learn any new discourses in 1010. I actually got a C+ in that class. Can you believe it?! But it was in 2010 that I had to learn a new "discourse". I took 2010 in the summer, so the class just focused on one subject: visual rhetoric. This is where I learned a new discourse because it (visual rhetoric) was a subject that I never knew I was good at discussing about. Persuasive writing grew into my discourse of choice and it still is today. From then on, my writing skills grew because I learned new discourses (I think of my English 3080 class). Eventually, I realized I didn't like literature discourses very much and I moved on to tech writing. It was the best decision I've ever made at WSU. I can't say that I struggled when I learned a new discourse b/c I haven't really struggled in my writing. Not that I am perfect but I do my research when I have an assignment that's not my forte (or that I'm used to).

I will say this: I do feel like we all reach a point when we b.s. a few things because we don't know what we're talking about. I'm not saying it's right but it happens. We naturally try a new discourse because we do not want to feel stupid in the eyes of our teachers and peers. This is a major problem but this problem begins before college. We can;t really stop it; we just have to try and help the student fix the problem.

Flowchart: Dr. Joel

To save time, I'm not going sit here and type a big speech on my flowchart. Besides, it's not like I do something completely different. So here is what I do when I help one of my students:

  • Greet them and sit down.

  • Ask them how his/her day is going? (trying to get them to relax)

  • Since I know my students (I have my regulars), I ask them how their classes are going. (again, just making them feel comfortable with me helping them out)

  • Ask them "what's up?" (how can I help them)

  • I ask them what kind of assignment is this paper that I am about to read.

  • What class it this paper for?

  • I read the paper.

  • After I read it, I ask them what is "their message" in the paper. I am trying to see if what they tell me matches, or even comes close to, what they have written on their paper (it's all about the thesis statement, subject, message, style, if it matches with what the assignment asks, and everything else that makes up an academic paper here). If what they tell me is not what they are saying on the paper, I kindly show them how their paper is not fully showing what they are really trying to say. This is the diagnosis portion of the tutoring session. From here, we work on how to improve their paper. This is when the operation portion. This is where changes, cutting a few things from the paper, focusing on a thesis statement, etc, will occur.

  • After we have finished the operation part, I review with the student what to work on from here (recovery and release portion). It is now up to the student to work on the rest of the paper. Not that I don't want to help him/her out more; it's just that I don't want to rewrite his/her paper. The student has to finish his or her paper on their own. Remember, it is the student's paper.

  • Finite


At some place in my schooling (I suspect it was high school, but you never know), I was taught that the city of publication in an MLA-formatted works cited page should be taken from the title page of the book. That's fine. I went on my merry way.

And then I came across a title page that listed more than one city of publication. When I asked which city I should use (New York? London? Boston?) I was told "You use the one that is geographically nearest to you." Through some sort of logic, that made a certain degree of sense to me—although for the life of me, I cannot imagine how it ever did. I went on citing books using this rule.

And then it occurred to me: what if I'm in another city and I'm citing? Do I choose the city closest to me then or the city closest to me when I am at home? What if I get the text through interlibrary loan? Do I cite the city closest to me or the one closest to the lending library?

It turns out that what I was taught was spectacularly wrong (the rule is actually quite simple).

In light of this little story, I now ask you this: what is the strangest thing you've been taught about formatting citations? Was it right or wrong? How did you find out the truth?

As an aside, this question reminds me of this episode of This American Life. The first act is about people who got a crazy idea in their heads as children and never really go back and question it—ideas that it would seem that no reasonable adult would ever think.

On Discourse

I posted this to my other blog by mistake. Ha ha! Silly tech nerd.

So. Flow charts.



My sessions vary, of course, but I find I have an outline I return to again and again.

1. HELLO, FRIEND! Introduce yourself, be friendly, be funny, all that good stuff. This is the easy part for me. (Because, you know, it's so complicated.) I focus on body language and appearing friendly, welcoming, but not creepy. It is a fine, fine line, my friends.

2. What're we looking at? I find I use this line every time without fail. I don't know why. Some sort of unfortunate tic, I guess. This is my way of taking command of the session and getting on track with the assignment without sounding like I'm reading from a script. (Too much.) After the student explains the situation, if I need more information, I ask.

3. Cool. So, do you wanna read it, or shall I? Initially, I was encouraging the student to read his paper, but I didn't think this through very well. After some gentle instruction, I stopped being a brat and modified my script to give the student the option. It works either way.

4. I'm just gonna stop you for a sec... Pen in hand, I oh-so sweetly draw the student's attention to the first real issue. We go through word choice, minor construction and grammar issues as they arise, and I've recently stopped marking after the first page or so, encouraging the student to do it instead. Claire's suggestion, of course.

5. That was really good! And here are several reasons why. Without being ingratiating or sounding fake, I try to point out the strong points of the student's writing, if just so he won't hate me later.

6. I think, though, that you could work on.. Major essay overhaul goes here. Big construction issues, conclusions, that sort of thing. Stuff that takes up the bulk of the session.

7. How do you feel about it? Another habit of mine. I like to give the student a chance to tell me how he feels about the assignment, rather than assuming I know better than he does. This is a good chance to check understanding, too.

8. Awesome. Well, good luck with it. Come back if you have any questions, okay? Giddyup, pardner.

So, now that that's out of the way. Bartholomae.

I was sort of disgruntled when I first read it. "An entire essay on the fact that students bs their way through college? Really?" But, I admit, after the class discussion, I got a lot more out of it. It's a subject that hits kind of close to home, you know? I don't know what I'm talking about half the time, and my professors know it, too. It's this delicate fabrication we both whole-heartedly embrace and never call attention to because, by god, that's not how academia works.

I'm great at faking it, though. My papers have always sounded more or less acceptable because I have a knack for picking up on the local jargon. This is great for getting stuff done, but I do worry about how soaking up the verbal stylings of others has effected the development of my own voice. When I'm alone with the information and something to say, I worry about who will really be speaking.

It's something to think about as I so merrily engage in my myriad of discourses. I hope actively considering it, even as I adhere to our unspoken social standings, will help foster my own personal development as a writer, a scholar and an independent thinker.