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 >_<)