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 :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23

Time is flying like crazy. It’s really freaking me out actually…
This week, I observed my first session with an ESL student. I don’t know how it took so long for me to finally observe this, but I found it really enjoyable! The main thing I noticed was how much it made me look at English as it really is, and how it must be broken down to someone laying fresh eyes on it.
English is freaky.

The session was with Kelsey and an economics major writing a paper that was fairly short in scope; it was a chapter summary and analysis, reaching just about two pages. The writer was very insecure in her usages of articles (or lack thereof), because in her first language, there are no articles at all. Dissecting where articles go, and which ones and why, really brought to my attention how daunting English must be for someone who was not raised speaking it frequently or at all.

Kelsey read through the whole paper slowly, stopping every time she noticed something that needed to be altered. With the paper directly between the writer and Kelsey, both of them could look on and really take in the words with clarity. The writer seeing what Kelsey was seeing at the exact same time was I’m sure extremely helpful in her understanding of why Kelsey stopped in the places that she did, and marked up the paper (lightly and in pencil) accordingly. Every time the writer said something especially notable in the paper, Kelsey always reinforced her good work.

The writer was very sweet and eager to learn, making this a very smooth and I’m sure rewarding session for Kelsey. Kelsey would always not only explain where articles belonged and which ones, but she went very in depth as to why, and I think the writer really understood.
Throughout the session too, the writer began to see her own mistakes concerning articles and capitalizations as well, as the paper was being read aloud before Kelsey could stop and point out the mistakes.

Then, (ninja move!) Kelsey shifted the writer’s attention from articles, her original concern in the paper, to how she could make her conclusion more powerful. By this point, the writer was all-ears, happy to have had her article issues addressed smoothly, kindly and sufficiently. The writer jotted down notes to herself on the margins around the final paragraph as she took in Kelsey’s suggestions.

Of the articles that we read this past week, I found “Talk to Me” to be extremely useful for all of us as consultants. The fact that the article highlights how different we all (consultants and writers) are as human beings really brings strength to the point that we truly cannot know why anyone acts or responds the way that they do without knowing them. While a writer may appear to be stubborn or unwilling to participate, he or she may just be painfully shy. For all we know, being in the Writing Center, and talking to this new person (the consultant) could be causing a writer a tremendous amount of anxiety. We just do not know another person, and cannot (hard as it may be to resist) make assumptions about what their body language, tone of voice, interest or lack of interest, or word choice really means.
I thought it very interesting that the article actually suggests that we may let a student go if they truly do not want to be in the Center, because this just ensures that the writer feels completely in control. I like this idea, but I like Melissa’s idea even more of seeing it as a “challenge.” Sounds exhausting, but rewarding.

The group activities in class were especially fun this time around for some reason. I worked with some people I hadn’t worked with before and we all made great teams if I do say so. My group’s (and then my own) subject was that on prepositional phrases, noun phrases and verb phrases. With Zach as a linguistics major, he gave me a slightly new take on the prepositional phrases I thought I knew so well, which was cool.
The time limits were actually really good for me. I like just diving in without time to really dwell on or question anything, or worry about how I could most effectively and perfectly present the subjects at hand. We all just had to DO it and hope for the best! Also, it’s amazing how our comprehension for grammar is so deep, yet many of us just forget what things are called (Adverbials especially comes to mind).

Good week! I’m going to try and score us some good coffee.

Candy store at Bown Crossing. Go!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sept 16

Hello, hello! Fun week it has been. So far, it has definitely been the most active week working in the Writing Center.
I observed two very different and each very interesting sessions. The first session was on Monday, kicked off by our own Melissa K. The session was with a non-traditional social work student.

He was originally very confused by the assignment page and the prompt he was given. He seemed sure that he was making it into “more than it is,” so Melissa took the assignment sheet and gave it a look. She clarified just what it was that was being asked of him. He had a paper in which he needed to write about each chapter in his textbook and how it relates to his own life. He simply had a hard time making a connection, but talking it through helped a lot. Melissa was constantly cheerful, saying very honestly (when the writer was afraid he was taking up her time) that this is the “best part” of her job. I noticed that she was always sitting on the edge of her seat, rather than sitting back. By doing this, she looked constantly attentive.

Melissa H. then showed up and continued with his session. Since he had more than one paper, Melissa told him to pick the one that he had the most questions about.
The paper was quite lovely, honestly. Melissa H. had a different style from Matt (who usually reads the writer’s work aloud), and she laid his paper on the table between both of them and had him read the paper aloud. This way, she was able to see the content of the paper as he was reading it, and how sometimes the way he would read something aloud was different than it was on the paper. This also made awkward phrasing, confusing sentences and structural mistakes more easy to identify. The writer also admitted to not really knowing the purpose of semi-colons. He had thought of them as kind of a glorified comma (understandable) and would just kind of throw them in randomly when he thought he had used too many commas. Melissa delivered a very concise semi-colon lesson, and the writer understood very well. This was actually kind of exciting! I knew he really understood what Melissa had just explained but that he never had before. I loved seeing this happen and somehow knowing that he was going to remember and understand semi-colons from that day forward.

Another session I observed was Matt with a writer whose paper focused on a poem in Honors English Literature. Matt was the perfect person for this session because he has plenty of experience reading and analyzing poetry. The writer’s paper was solidly constructed so far, so really, it just seemed like she needed someone to brainstorm with and to bounce ideas off of. This was a really pleasant session as well. Together, Matt and the writer came to many philosophical realizations about the poem, thus equipping her with much more material to draw from. Matt read the paper aloud, per usual, and the writer took notes as they both brainstormed together. Extremely collaborative, beneficial session.

As for the reading due this past Tuesday, I really enjoyed “Provocative Revision.” Maria and I got kind of a kick out of the whole idea of it being so riskay, so to speak, to focus on the revision part of the writing process in such great depths. I loved some of the suggestions about transforming the forms of the pieces, and I especially enjoyed and identified with the section about narrowing your topic down to something really small and to expand on it, rather than to have something huge that you have to try and condense. Huge topics on a small scope generally tend to be boring and/or impossible papers to write and to read. I liked the section on the young woman writing about one day working on a potato farm, rather than her entire working career. With this, the audience likely learns something he or she never knew about potato farming, or about life in general. Good read. Not always relevant to the student’s paper at hand, but a very valuable essay to keep on hand.

In class, I was really impressed with Keith's comparison of a sentence to a restaurant menu. Great example of where someone takes one thing that they know and know well and applies it to situations in the Writing Center.

P.S: I’m amazed at how quickly the candy gets eaten in the center! Fantastic!

Friday, September 9, 2011


This past Wednesday, I was able to observe Matt in a consultation with a student writing a personal narrative essay for his English 102 class.
The student agreed readily to allow me to sit in, and he seemed very calm being in the Writing Center. I did not get the feeling from him that he felt he "had to be there." I felt that he was simply looking for some valuable guidance in a professional, yet comfortable atmosphere (of course, I hope these were the things that the writer was thinking in coming to the Center ^_^).
His essay was mostly complete, but was lacking an ending. The writer's main concern was that the essay just needed "to end already" and he was afraid of dragging out the ending, even though there was still a lot of crucial information in his narrative to potentially cover.
I was surprised at how quickly 20 out of those 30 minutes went by! Matt read the paper aloud while our writer sat back and was able to hear his own tone throughout his paper. It was a rather excellent narrative if I'm allowed to say so, and Matt read it enthusiastically yet seriously. In having the essay read out loud, the writer as able to also identify some tense issues brought up in the paper, and was then able to apply the correct tenses throughout his paper when appropriate.
Body-language-wise, Matt was facing the writer, both feet on the floor, and giving him confident yet un-intimidating eye contact that seemed to me to just be saying "I'm listening and I'm engaged." (wow, that was cheesy, but that was what went down.)
While Matt was encouraging in his feedback where necessary, he didn't ever tell the writer exactly what to do. He asked the writer what he thinks would work better and still let him keep the integrity of his original ideas.
Matt pretty much had the paper in his hands the whole time, maybe seeming to kind of take the load off of the writer a little bit, and truly letting the paper be seen from someone else's perspective without the writer's physical attachment to this probably mentally-heavy piece of paper. I felt like that was significant somehow...simply Matt holding the paper so our writer can get it off of his hands for just a little bit.
Matt also marked up the paper where he saw fit (such as with the inconsistent tense issues) and was able to I think let our student come to his own conclusion about how to finish up his paper concisely but without missing any information vital to his narrative. I was sort of impressed. Of course though, I'd imagine that this was a relatively easy consultation. For one, the writer was extremely at ease in the writing center, had already written a mostly-solid paper, wasn't rushed for his deadline, and was all-around polite, alert and attentive to Matt's comments and questions. He seemed to trust Matt as a consultant, where Matt could also trust him as a writer. This consultation was very fluid, and very successful, and dare-I-say-it: fun!? Yes, it was enjoyable to have it go so smoothly. Plus, the writer already seemed to have a good grammatical knowledge, so when Matt would say something about "person" or "tense" issues, the writer knew exactly what was meant.
This consultation was the most helpful to me I think because I was able to, for one, see how quickly time gets eaten up in a session! Also, to see how Matt was friendly and engaging from the get-go with body language, facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact, etc. He showed himself as an encouraging person open to helping the writer with any potential concerns. Matt complimented the writer's paper where it was appropriate (the writer did have great usage of onomatopoeia) and was animated and interested throughout.
Although time went quickly, Matt didn't even glance at the time until the session was almost over, which I thought would be really important to a writer visiting the center. No one wants to think that their time is being counted down by their consultant. I know time is an important issue, but I'm pretty sure we do not want our visiting writers to feel that we are thinking about it too much. There are realistic time constraints though, sure, as well as a realistic amount of progress to make in a single consultation. I just don't think the writer should feel the time breathing down their necks, and I think Matt handled this issue of fleeting consultation time very gracefully and comfortably. Again though, I'm sure there are consultations that by nature, cannot go quite this smoothly. I look forward to next week!

-Stephanie C.

Sloth make-out!