Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ohhhh geez

It's not even five AM. We survived 11-11-11.

This past week was insane! I was booked for all six time slots I think...

The one that I'm remembering the most was with an ESL student who had only known English for a year and a half and yet was now in English 102 writing lengthy photo essays.



When I asked him how long he'd known English, I was expecting for him to say that he had to learn it in Japan at a young age or something...
I cannot imagine how much of his energies over the last year and a half have been about nothing but this language we use everyday. It defines us. How his dreams and surely nightmares have included monsterous and battered English words chewing holes into his brain. (sorry. had to run with it) And he's had to work so unimaginably (unimaginably for me at least) hard to just be able to make it through classes. I am seriously blown away by him, but also I felt quite scared and he really getting what he needs? What's it like for him in his classes when a professor may talk quickly, or when he hears so many conflicting forms of English and wants so badly for one of them to just be the right one?
It made me crumble at the thought of how alienating and frightening just this language could be. Yes, he seemed to be doing really well with it, but crap...two years ago he didn't have a lick of it, and now it is what his college career is largely dependent upon.

The session itself was also extremely notable for me. I had never had a student exhibit such palpable nervousness before. And here was this writer, barely whispering responses, literally hugging his backpack and fidgeting with the zippers (for at least the first 20 of 30 minutes). As I expected, he had a very hard time with articles, and basically just ended up asking me straight out how they work. I was so glad he asked, and I didn't have to skirt around wondering if I was being insultingly obvious. I'm sure asking is what has gotten him as far as he has in English also. Like really, when you don't know, ask. You can't just figure out English if you aren't given the (weird) workings of it. I wondered if asking when you don't know is potentially a cultural taboo, but that he has maybe adjusted to our weird, sick American ways enough to be able to. i might be thinking too much...his direct question though really threw me off, especially remembering how Asian students at the community college in California I where I worked used to never want to ask anything, nor have most ESL writers in the Center.
Sooo I'm a geek and of course I love explaining articles. Which are necessary, which aren't, why whether or not something is countable or not countable matters.
I'm just so glad he straight-out asked me. I know it's small, but that gesture that I feel is probably culturally unfamiliar to him is probably really healthy to incorporate himself further into life in college in the US. And it was a required visit, but he definitely wanted to be there.

OH! So backpack hugging. Totally stopped hugging the backpack by the time we were almost done! It was still there on his lap, but no longer was he clinging to it, fiddling with the zippers. Yay. Backpack remained on his lap. But that's fine. He relinquished his hold. Yay again.

Ohhh and I SO knew he was going to ask me something when he did, and I was able to make him laugh which I think helped a lot! He asked me if I'd seen other students in this same class, and I said yes, I think I have. (I knew it was coming...) Then he asked me how his paper compares to theirs. I was like ahhhhh I KNEW you were going to ask me that! He actually laughed and turned a little red and asked again. I said that I definitely cannot tell him, and we ended on that note. When we were wrapping up and we said goodbye, he seemed so much lighter. I definitely did not "fix" his paper at all. Part of me feels gross because I know that there were still some English "mistakes" in it that his professor might take a red pen to. But we only had 30 minutes, and I got him to stop hugging his backpack, to ask me a straight-up question, and to LAUGH.

I've thought a lot about him since, and how cold and scary university life must be...just purchasing food or finding your way to class on the first day...taking lecture notes in an alphabet that doesn't come second nature...I could go on and on.
I sincerely hope he comes back.
He definitely seemed to me to be an extremely dedicated goal-oriented student. He wanted his paper perfect, I know. It was quite good I must say (as were the photographs), especially in terms of his development of ideas, but was it without error by the time we finished? No.

I really hope that the way I explained articles resonates and suffices also. He seems like the type of student who probably only needs to be told something once, because with his focus, I doubt he's going to let information just slip (like traditional college students tend to do).

I've gone on and on about him, I know. It was not a fairy dust session. I was nervous too, but really forced my body to be relaxed and open hoping that my mind would catch on. It was though, a thought-provoking, and overall very productive session. That laugh is what's resonating.

Been having some really MASSIVE papers in other 30 minute sessions. 9 pager, a 12 pager, and a freaking 15 pager. Ieee! In those times, seeing that fat paper, it's so tempting to skimp out on rapport, but I'm forcing myself not to. The effectiveness of "So how's your day goin' so far?" and letting that carry on a little is terrific, and trying to get rapport in as we look at the paper has been good too. As well as "what are your biggest concerns with this piece?" I actually felt winded after some of these sessions, but holy crap, I've been learning a lot...
I've learned about the life of a Presbyterian minister, some of the logistics of the Health Care debate that I didn't know, the origins of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boise, the ethical concerns that a nurse must face on the job, and that listening to heavy metal music does not increase violent behavior in teens! Rad.

On a side note, I've really enjoyed being in the Center this past week when I wasn't on duty, so that I got to hang out with co-workers who aren't on the clock at the same time as me. I stayed late on Wednesday straight through after my shift ended to finish my Article Analysis. Just the right amount of seriousness with ridiculousness present for me to be able to hole myself up in the OWL to work, and then pop out for an anecdotal laugh every now and then.

WC is a beautiful place. Fo shizzle.

Friday, November 4, 2011


This past week brought a lot of questions to mind. In class we've been talking a lot about directive versus non-directive tutoring, and I've realized something that I tend to do when I feel the need to be more directive: I tend to say "we." By "we," I do not mean the dreaded "we" in terms of relationships and we we we, but in terms of "we're going to want to rearrange this citation a bit to make it correct." Is that bad? Is that creepy? It somehow feels too directive (although being directive) to say "you," but now that I think about it, saying "you" is probably much healthier because THEY are the writer and it is THEIR paper. I am not actually a part of any of it.
Hmm, self-exploratory note taken. Going to start saying "you," even though it initially makes me feel a little bossy. I'll just have to sugar-coat the tone.

I had a session that incited a bit of a personal dilemma for me - I read the student's English 101 exploratory essay, and honestly, it was QUITE strong. However, her professor dismissed the paper because her topic, "hip hop music," did not seem to appeal to him (at least this was the message she relayed back to me after her interpretation of her interaction with her prof). I personally, thought this was pretty absurd, and was swallowing my tongue to make sure I did not let her know that I thought this was ridiculous. We ended up opening up a discussion about how she could maybe morph her paper into something else - focusing on rap in particular and maybe how it is extremely similar to poetry. Admittedly, I threw out that idea, but she jumped on it and had so much to say. I asked again what the paper could be on and she said "anything that interests us," so I do not know why her professor dismissed her hip hop topic, when it was something that interested her. My only solution was to maybe make the paper more focused on academics, and a specific genre of literary art: poetry. I gave her lots of resources to consult to teach herself more about poetry and poetry theory (such as where to find the five steps of a poetry explication). It felt like a good session, but I felt a lot of struggles in this one - thinking about her professor's input, her interpretation of her professor, the validity of a topic that is supposed to interest someone, and balancing being helpfully directive but not too much, and being indirective when it's more beneficial to do so. The get-up and leave for a moment method worked great for this session. Me: "Why don't you write down a few ideas on how you think rap is similar to poetry, based off of what you know, and I'll be right back."
She had some really great points, such as language in rap songs can be both literal and metaphorical.
I suggested she maybe treat one of her favorite rap songs as a poem to explicate from start to finish, to hold onto her original topic just a little bit (rap being different then hip hop as a whole), but to demonstrate that it is indeed worthy to write about. Again, I asked if she was allowed to write about ANYTHING, and she assured me, ANYTHING that was of interest to them was open.
I asked if she asked her professor why specifically he didn't like the topic and she said that he said something like it just wasn't serious enough. (he said she said he said!?!?)
I hope I did okay. SHE seemed extremely confident when she left, and we had a great session mostly just comprised of talking things out and brainstorming. We had a good time, I'd say. I just sincerely hope that her professor approves of her re-done paper, and can see that the subject is valid. I encouraged her to make it back in before her due-date though because our revision plan was so global.

Taught myself a lot of APA this week! Crazy citations they've got going on. Makes MLA feel like home, but I'm getting more and more used to APA with all of these Comm papers.

Had another interesting session this week (that I mentioned in class), where the writer really only needed me to read her syllabus aloud for her to have all of the information she needed! She kept assuring me that as long as she has an outline, she's fine, but that she's been struggling to just sit down and do the outline of what her paper will look like.
I read her syllabus carefully and we made sure that she addressed all of its points in her outline. Before I knew it, she had cranked out a complete outline and felt all ready to wail on her paper. I was briefly puzzled! Like, really?! You're all good now?! But you were all stressed out when you came in and all I did was read the syllabus and you outlined and now you're cool!?!?
That was a good one.

Learned a lot this week. Excited for e-mail consultations soon!



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week...I don't even know anymore!

This past week, I met with a student with a 12 page Social Work paper. Thank goodness he made his appointment for an hour, and also showed up early!
It took eons just to read through the thing, and I found a pattern that I didn't really know how to address for an entire paper...he tended to stretch sentences into many, many words when they could consist of much fewer. I ended up stopping at about page 3, really seeing a pattern, and stopping to ask him if he can see more concise ways of wording different sentences I would kind of fumble upon. His writing itself was very eloquent and precise, and I told him this, but that sometimes in trying to be too precise it gets redundant and excessive, which ultimately sort of loses the reader. He said that his professor had the same comment. I offered that when he writes, to not think of papers themselves in terms of size. That I know the scale of his paper was huge, but that it's much more important to make sure that each of his ideas are explained clearly, but not too much. Then I asked if after he "finished" the paper, if he felt like he had more ideas on the subject. He said he had a ton! So I told him that instead of writing in a way that takes up as many words as possible (i think he felt that this was the "right" way to write a long research paper), I told him to save some of that room for his own deeper ideas on the topic (as long as it's in line with the paper's requirements). I explained that the point of a long essay is not to stretch a few thoughts as far as possible, but to show a true expansion on those thoughts.
He seemed overwhelmed honestly, and I was too...
I just didn't know how else to explain it, so we grabbed some of his sentences, and I would say something like...I want this sentence to mean the same thing as you have here, but I want it to be much shorter. How would you make this same sentence shorter? Usually (thank goodness), he would immediately chuck whatever parts of it were redundant. I was so glad he saw this right away. The leftover sentences however, were far from short. We were talking four-line sentences getting cut to two line sentences. Still complex and eloquent, but not restating themselves. We then read the rest of the essay (9 more pages!) and he was able to really see where to cut back. All he wanted me to do was to make little markings where things could be condensed. He seemed truly grateful, and less frustrated, which was good because I had been extremely nervous on how to better the "problem" of overstating sentences, when the pattern was shown throughout the whole paper.

I told him to just always keep in mind exactly what he's writing about, and how whatever he's saying now relates. If it doesn't really relate, or if it does relate, but you've already elaborated on it heavily, he may want to rethink talking about it again as though the reader hadn't heard about it before.

Then, in the last ten or so minutes, we did an APA works' cited layout. Great practice for me, being much less familiar with APA than MLA! And good breathing room because seriously...that 12 page paper wiped me out. It also had the word "recidivism" in it probably 50 times, which is a very hard word to say 50 times :)

I also had an ESL Nursing student, who came in specifically for "grammar." I honestly loved her writing style. She wrote a very compassionate paper about ethical dilemmas in the nursing field, but had a really hard time with possessives and articles. Totally understandable because English is gnarly in those ways. I really felt like the HOCs of her paper were solid. She so KNEW what she was talking about, and the paper was gripping and concise.

I felt very comfortable spending a good amount of our session, not correcting her "mistakes," but instead having a very in-depth conversation about possessives and articles. Instances when they are used and instances when they aren't. Instead of marking up her paper, I scribbled some notes on the bottom of it and let her go through every few lines to see where maybe a possessive or article needed to be inserted. She skipped a few, but we basically just carried out this activity until the 30 minutes were over. I emphasized how weird English really is, and she laughed, agreeing. Not to make these sessions sound like some Nick at Nite special or something...they were extremely challenging for me. But I think the positives came through quite a bit, and both students were exceedingly grateful for our session.
Now that I think back on the nursing student's session though, I think it may have been beneficial to have asked her how in her first language, she would imply something belonging to someone. That could have opened up a good conversation, but I will remember that next time.

I think this dog is fake.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21, 2011

I'm surprised I even typed the date in correctly. This week has been nuts, but so has this whole semester!

On Monday, I had noooo appointments! It was sad. I did some filing, made a couple of walk-in appointments, and played candy fairy. On Wednesday, I only had one appointment, but it was immensely productive. I worked with a non-traditional native English speaking writer working on an essay about a rather short Henry James piece. She had a lot of ideas, but she backed up these ideas with the text very little, so we worked on that quite a bit. I read the paper out loud, and only lightly marked the paper where I saw grammatical errors, in case we needed to revise globally. Indeed we did! At least, we needed to expand quite a bit. I suggested that she actually read the text through all the way one more time, as it was short and she had ample time, so that she could remember specifically where her ideas were stemming from in the paper. She also needed citation help in general. This writer ended up asking me a lot of basic questions about grammar, which was actually kind of fun for me. I like writing out multiple examples of the same type of things and I ended up giving her these kind of make-shift fill-in-the-blanks worksheets that she could do herself (we had plenty of time). She struggled with the differences between to and too, was and were, and...something else that I don't remember. I explained "was and were" in terms of what is countable and what is not countable, as well as singulars and plurals. She really seemed to get it, and told me that she was very happy to work with me because I made it so clear :) I was buzzing with pride a little from just that one appointment.

Also this week, although I am not sure if it is directly WC-oriented or not, I worked with another non-traditional student outside of the center (though I found out about her inquiry on assistance from Alex) on a five page essay that she had written by hand. She needed a typist and somewhat of an editor. She was under a lot of pressure, because if she didn't get at least a B in the class, she could not graduate on time, and the paper was worth a very large percentage of her grade.
When I first met her, I felt that she was very tense, and unhappy to just be in the stressful position of writing a paper that she did not feel was relevant. However, as I got to typing while she dictated her paper to me, we ended up having quite a few laughs, and she seemed put at ease just knowing that it was getting done! Somehow, it would aaaaall get done, and I kept assuring her that she was fine and that what she had written was indeed very interesting and wasn't nearly the garbage she kept describing it as :)

Although it was technically outside of the Writing Center, it was very Dub-C-feeling in terms of how accomplished I felt really helping her (she last went to college in the '60s and simply could not type) and how relieved I gathered that she was that the completion of that horrific assignment for her was indeed doable.

Good week! Let's make sure we keep the Jack O' Lantern bowl between Kermit's limbs so that we do not risk any Writing Center muppet exhibitionism.

nom. leaf. nom.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


This week was insane! Second official week in the Center. While throughout the first week, we 303ers were only partially booked, we were fully booked this week (at least on Monday when the Center was bangin').

On Monday, I first had an appointment with a Freshman English 101 student living on Campus. She didn't have anything yet because she had started her paper before, but had scrapped it before coming into the Center. This was the first time I'd worked with someone on just brainstorming and trying to crank out a thesis and an opening paragraph! This was really fun, as her topic was a Pixar movie.
We started by bouncing ideas back and forth about the film (and how much we loved it, how it affected us, etc.) and she really got some great ideas about where she'd like to head. She wanted to emphasize that while the film was fun, and kid-friendly, that it also had deeper meanings, such as the loss of innocence, change is hard, etc.
After awhile, I asked if she'd feel at all comfortable trying to crank out a thesis while I got some coffee. She said yes and went to work for a few minutes. When I came back, she had an almost-awesome thesis that she felt comfortable with!

Honestly, this was tremendously difficult, to not feed her ideas or direct words too much. They had to be her own. So often, I would just repeat what she had said to me about the movie, and then say something like "that would make a great body paragraph, and it would tie back to your thesis really well."
She left, I think, really knowing where to go with her essay. She said she felt comfortable about writing in general, but that she was just having some kind of block about this one assignment. Her visit was non-required, and she said she'd be back.

Sooo, she was extremely easy. Up next was a very, very late student who was required to come for his math class. A lot of math students have been coming in with these 2 paragraph pieces on a famous mathematician. I asked if he thought we'd be able to get his needs met in just fifteen minutes, and he eagerly said yes. I really had to reserve my judgement, knowing it was a required session, and we just got to work on his paper. Toward the end of his session, I teased that we would have been able to kick way more booty on his paper if we'd had 30 minutes. He said he knew and claimed he would make another non-required appointment and be on time. Meh.

A couple of days later, Kelsey and I actually talked about this. It's something that frustrates her a lot. It didn't frustrate me so much, as just make me feel like I knew he was probably IN the session less than some of the other writers that come in, and I felt like he wanted the piece of paper more than he wanted the help. That's fine I guess... we did actually get quite a bit done in that amount of time, and he seemed to like working with me.

Right after him, came an ESL student that I had described in class. She was the one who I had seen Kelsey working with, who liked to flee after her grammatical concerns were addressed. We talked about articles a lot, and I showed her some examples of when they are necessary and when they aren't. Once her paper was "clean" though, she was ready for take-off. Next time I work with this student, I'm going to try and address global concerns as we go along, instead of completely focusing on grammar at first. Since that was what she had asked of me, I felt obligated to do this first, but from now on, I'm going to try and incorporate some ninja moves so that we can revise globally WHILE her grammar needs are being addressed.

I'm not quite a ninja yet.

The Center shockingly pooped out a wee bit on Wednesday. Deep breaths! The chairs are freaking awesome (sidenote).

Made a couple of appointments to some students who walked in and for some reason wanted us to make the appointments rather than doing it online. Maybe it feels more official to come into the Center to make them? :)

The Center is also rockin Halloweeny style.

Only had one appointment on Wednesday, and she came in quite early so I just took her right then. Another required math paper, but she was really engaged and seemed happy to be at the Center. I could be reading things too much, but she also seemed maybe surprised at how friendly the Center itself is. I don't know why but I got this feeling from her that she expected something more painful.
She came in saying that she knew MLA but that she needed a refresher. When I pulled out the sheets, she said she actually didn't really know it that well at all and that this seemed new! Just to show that when a writer comes in, what they say can mean ANYTHING. "I'm comfortable with MLA" could mean "I've heard of MLA," and "I don't know MLA!" could mean "Sometimes I goof up in my in-text citations." It's best to really let the writer kind of guide the session sometimes in terms of what they do or don't know. I just stayed extremely open to her questions and when we got to the bottom of it, she really needed MLA help.
MLA does seem like one of those things that we SHOULD just know as college students, but often don't, and that's fine! That's why there are so many freaking awesome handbooks :)

This week has been insane, and I really need to regroup my self and my brain. I'm feeling overwhelmed but not in a terrible way.

Lots of love,
Stephanie <3

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October 7, 2011

This week was my first official consultation, considering that the other one was a walk-in. It was with our very own Zach! While this should have been calming, it was actually somehow more intimidating because I knew he'd know my "methods." These methods though felt completely natural. Things such as eye contact, shaking hands, offering the writer to make themselves at home, sitting on the edge of my chair, holding the paper between us, and repeating what the writer has just said for clarification, did not feel at all forced. It felt like a very good, comfortable consultation.
Zach though, was a little bit flustered and pressed for time on his 393 paper (also, first actual consultation as an upper-division lit paper! yay! fun). It was on Death of a Salesman, which I was familiar with, so we were able to bounce ideas back and forth a bit. Zach and I are also each a bit zany, so brainstorming definitely took a fun direction.
I held the paper between Zach and I and read it aloud with his permission. Initially and instinctively, I began to grammatical mistakes as I went along, but Zach told me not to, as he had not yet proofread and he knew that he would have to tidy it up grammatically anyhow. When a writer really knows what they want, I think I'll generally feel pretty comfortable stepping back and not offering the insight where they say they don't need it. Also, I trust that Zach is at least fairly comfortable with grammar, because I know him, but if there were something he didn't know, that he'd always know where to look. I don't think I have to worry about him turning in a paper with heavy grammatical mistakes, but then that got me to wondering: is it right to judge a writer's abilities and their own methods as needing help or not? I don't feel like I'm posing this question properly, but it's something along those lines. At least as consultants, we can tell them what we know and they can take it or leave it (consultant vs. tutor type stuff).

Zach did not want a global revision, but I felt that might be what we should aim for. Instead, we settled on a sort of happy medium of re-arranging paragraphs, and adding the translations for some German quotes. Zach and his German...
The session was one hour long, and it was a really comfortable amount of time for what we had at hand. I felt like we could have stopped at 30 minutes, but that the real progress was made in the second half of the session. Kinda scary to see it like that! The extra brainstorming and time cushion really brought us to some new solutions for his paper without having to completely revise it on a global scale.

While I found the grammar activity on Thursday to be a lot (Alot) of fun, it was also extremely intense! I was the scribe and was really struggling to keep up to pace with the sentence requirements on the board. I think I was actually sweating, and I'm usually freezing. This showed me though how speedy we need to be at times! How sharp we must be, and also made me really understand why it isn't wise for a consultant to work too many hours in a row - this kind of thing really is draining when your brain is so constantly and heavily engaged. Really fun though!

Happy fall.

(I had difficulty posting this on blogger yesterday on campus for some reason >_<)

Friday, September 30, 2011

September 30

Well, this week was a big one! Although we are not put on the scheduler until this coming week, I had my first ever consultation on Monday. (I also just realized that I used an exclamation point in my very first sentence. Blogging somehow merits one much more for me than writing an actual paper or story does though.)
I didn’t really have enough time to be nervous because he was a walk-in writer and we were totally booked, so I asked if I could jump in and take it. I immediately introduced myself to the writer, and shook his hand. I feel as though just shaking hands established a connection already. We sat down with his paper for his English 102 class. I set the paper directly between both of us on the table, and leaned on the edge of my chair (although, I wasn’t really conscious of doing so…it was mostly because I was nervous, but I’m glad I did! I felt very alert and attentive. Like a consultant, in other words. ) I asked the writer what his main concerns were with the paper, while maintaining eye contact. He responded kind of reluctantly, not really knowing what it was he wanted help with exactly. He said he wanted help with his “flow” and to make sure that all of his ideas were cohesive. Good start. It was an exploratory essay about justice systems in Idaho.
I asked if he would mind me reading the paper aloud while he watches on so that he can hear how his own ideas flow. He said that would be great. As I read his paper aloud, slowly and concisely, I would pause whenever there was something that would catch my attention, such as a grammar, spelling or tense issue. I stopped and explained bits to him and he seemed to be really receptive and to understand right away. I felt kind of cheesy, but like it would be a good idea to throw in a bit of an ice breaker about how all words kind of start to look the same when you’re writing a paper for too long anyhow, and it’s easy to accidentally fudge over conventional rules. There was nothing really that he seemed to actually not understand, but rather, he just seemed so exhausted from having spent so much time with this one paper. When we were through, and a few areas had been slightly altered to be grammatically correct, I noticed that we still had fifteen minutes. Amazing! Thank goodness though, because he had sited absolutely nothing throughout his paper and had a totally not-MLA works cited page. I asked him what format his professor wanted, and he said MLA. Hooray for MLA handbooks and hand-outs to back up what I do know about MLA and to clarify the things I’m a bit more hazy on (such as the exact structure of a works cited citation). I’m so glad we had those fifteen minutes, because we were able to really give him a more solid works’ cited page (or at least the guidelines for creating one), and we went through his paper again, and I circled areas in which he would need citations (a.k.a. information about other people, organizations, etc. that he couldn’t have previously known about.)
It felt like a very thorough session to me. Another ten minutes would have been fantastic, but I did urge him to come back anytime he ever needs to and offered him candy which he gladly accepted. When we finished, I asked if there was anything else he would like clarification on, if the MLA all seemed clear, and if he felt like he knew where to go from here. He was extremely positive in his answers and thanked me twice. Yay. We quickly filled out the paperwork together and I gave him the slip to take to his professor. All good in the hood.
I’m sure he’ll be back…at least I hope he will be!
More exclamation points. I’m just so excited to start this upcoming week.
Super fun punctuation throw-down in class on Thursday. I hate to admit it, but we only chose the Commas over the Periods, because we knew we couldn’t win against Nick and his period-supporters. Nick was just owning it way too hard. In the end though, the Commas won in a spirited battle.

In the Center, Max and Maria and I did some self-solving on a question I had about Arabic numerals. It was a treasure hunt for answers and we succeeded and can now embrace our new wealth of knowledge.

Yay, Fall :)