December 5, 2005

the FINAL portfolio

I'm picking up on Claire's question in her blog (which typically I would just comment on), but, dudes, I need substantial posts myself. Take a peek at the purple syllabus, because there you will see that the final portfolio (which now sounds pretty ominously "final") has always been due next Tue 13 Dec as we close out the semester with food, drink, and merriment. Normally, I would be happy to offer extensions, but with since we are picking up and moving the entire Center during finals week, that just isn't possible.

When we meet in class tomorrow (Tue), I'll give you two options: (1) follow the syllabus and turn in your portfolio on the last class day (resulting in much merriment) or (2) request an extention until Thur 15 Dec at noon. You'll need to make your FINAL decision on that issue tomorrow, and please know that late portfolios will be downgraded. I must get your grades in before the move.

You'll see that I'll bring explicit instructions for the final portfolio to class tomorrow (as well as recap of all the grading criteria), so bring your questions and concerns (or, dang it, get more bang for your efforts, and give me a substantial comment here). And, let's make the most of these last two in-class consulting sessions to help your produce your best work possible. I'm confident you will!

Posted by at 11:40 PM

December 4, 2005

blog update

Having had a chance this weekend to catch up on your blogging activities, I wanted to let you know where things stand and clarify the grading criteria for this portion of the course grade (worth 10%). Please let me know if my numbers don't match yours:

Folks who have fully completed the blog requirement:
Adam (16 posts, 24 comments)
Claire (14 posts, 14 comments)

Folks who are almost there:
Rick (14 posts, 12 comments)

Folks who have a ways to go:
Jason (7 posts, 10 comments)
Ben (6 posts, 6 comments)
Brian (6 posts, 4 comments)
Elana (6 posts, 3 comments)

Folks who are psyched they aren't getting graded:
Kirsten (8 posts, 23 comments)

Last year, everyone pulled an A on this part of the course, but I'm thinking this year might be different. Here's the grading scale, and you'll see that with 100%=14, I have to skip some grades to make the math percentages work out. If your number of posts and comments differs, I'll average the two grades.

A+ = 15+ substantial posts and same number of comments
A = 14 substantial posts and same number of comments
A- = 13 substantial posts and same number of comments
B = 12 substantial posts and same number of comments
B- = 11 substantial posts and same number of comments
C = 10 substantial posts and same number of comments
C- = 9 substantial posts and same number of comments
D = 8 substantial posts and same number of comments
F = 0 - 7 substantial posts and same number of comments

For those of you who haven't been blogging, you definitely want to take a look at interesting questions raised in the new posts and comments. And, right now, the blog is an excellent tool to do some informal writing about all three of your essays-- working through your draft and revision ideas, and maybe even getting some feedback and support from your classmates. Like the class, the blog ends on Tue 13 Dec, so let your voice be heard!

Posted by at 7:22 PM

November 3, 2005

What do consultants need to read?

As we approach the end of the "reading portion" of our syllabus (just Joseph Williams' Style left), I need to hear from you all about what readings have been most beneficial for your own development as writing consultants. As you know, each year, I pretty significantly change both what we read and when we read it based on the previous class' feedback. So please take a moment to look back at what we've read in this course and then comment on this blog with your thoughts about...

(1) What were the most useful and thought-provoking course readings for your work as a consultant? and as a writer?

(2) Was there anything you would recommend I remove from the course?

(3) Was there anything you wished we read earlier in the semester? or later?

(4) Have you discovered anything in your own research that would be useful to add to the course readings?

I welcome your thoughts about any aspect of the course readings. Not only are you helping future writing consultants, but you are for sure knocking off one of your 14 substantial blog comments. Thanks!

Posted by at 6:16 PM

November 1, 2005

looking glass consultations

I'm still very much obsessed with the smart presentations I saw at the conference by our folks, so today I'm turning the lens to Mitch's presentation called "Through the Looking Glass" which talked about the Alice in Wonderland-like experience of working with a true peer in the writing center (in this case, fellow graduate students). Mitch talked about how these grad-on-grad sessions (yes, nice entendre) raised his own fears and anxieties ("will I fail my prelims too?" "will I be able to help someone older, further along?"), but also about how in the sessions he would construct and collapse hierarchies ("ah, I'm a successful grad student so I can help this person" vs. "who is going to help me with my writing? I'm doomed").

So, I'm wondering how much are our in-class consultations like looking glass consultations. Is it really different to work with a classmate on the same paper than to work with say a first-year student in a composition class when you are doing the 1:1 thing? Of course it is, but how so? My impressions during our last round of in-class consultations was that you were more invested in your student role than your consultant role (not surprising, since you are all invested in figuring out what you are doing with your inquiry papers). But, earlier in the semester, it really seemed to me that you were more focused on learning how to be consultants, so you were more invested in that role. Are our in-class consultations more truly peer experiences than working in the center? Is is hard to switch roles from student to consultant in the same hour? Is there a sense of competition as you work together?

Posted by at 3:46 PM

October 28, 2005

Are we allowed to be uncomfortable?

I'm titling this blog entry with the question that came up at the end of class yesterday, since it reminded me so much of Aaron's thoughtful presentation at the conference last week. I asked him to share his paper with me (you can see the entire thing in my extended entry), but here is just the conclusion:

"I am not suggesting we should artificially make sessions uncomfortable for either students or tutors; to do so would undermine the goodwill necessary for writing centers to work as educational spaces. Nor do I believe that consultants should have to put up with in appropriate student behavior, such as verbal abuse or sexual harassment. However, I think that equating uncomfortable to “hostile,” “victimizing” or “oppressing” is problematic; the latter terms have to do with a sense of safety, not necessarily comfort.
Additionally I personally think that striving for comfort denies an important reality of writing center work. Addressing students’ concerns with their writing often puts both them and us in uncomfortable situations, without having any inappropriate, hostile, or victimizing actions taken by either party. And lastly, I think that striving for comfort sometimes makes writing consultants feel like they have to be super human or deny their emotional responses in order to do their job well; understandably a little restraint is needed to help writers, but feeling like you can’t acknowledge your own emotions is quite draining and I am sure breed resentment towards the writing center on the consultant’s part.
So maybe we should stop thinking about writing centers being comfortable spaces; maybe we should think of writing centers as safe places for people to feel uncomfortable."

It seemed to me in our discussion yesterday that we expect a sort of super-human-ness for ourselves: being able to help a student get a better grade or denying our responses to a student's offensive content or an instructor's cruel feedback. I like the notion of "restraint" (not taking a student's writing or behavior personally, not indulging in an outburst about how stupid a professor appears to me, etc.) within being human (acknowledging something someone writes makes you uncomfortable, expressing empathy for writing to a hostile audience, etc.)

In addition to Aaron's conference presentation, I think you would also be interested in Steve Fletcher's teaching philosophy paper on "Tutoring the Enemy," which I'll put in your SWS mailboxes today. I was saving it as a model of that kind of paper, but it seems particularly appropriate in light of what we talked about yesterday. I'd love to hear what you think about Steve's conclusion too.

Continue reading "Are we allowed to be uncomfortable?"
Posted by at 1:47 PM

October 13, 2005

Man, I am lame

Okay, thanks for calling me out on my lame blogging today, because my number of posts was even lower than I thought, but if I don't get a comment on this one, I'll join Elana in the lounge crying.

My class comment today ("Don't let your schooling get in the way of education") actually comes a very circuitous route from Nelson Mandela to you all. In my consulting with a group of Poli Sci instructors, one told the story of an undergrad student in his 3-week summer class who called late one night and said he needed to leave town, couldn't talk about it, but he would be back in a few days. It turns out he was invited by Fidel Castro to come to Cuba and participate in some sort of council or event (and came back with photographic evidence-- meaning he was really there or a master Photoshop expert). When the prof explained that this student had missed too much class time, the student said, "Last year, when I was working with Nelson Mandela he told me not to let my schooling get in the way of my education." True story, but probably transforming into urban myth the more I tell it.

So why did I tell you all this? The post I've been mulling over is really in response to Brannon and Knobloch's article and the notion that we shouldn't let a teacher's agenda and final evaluation get in the way of a student's learning. I know that the grade weighs heavily on students (and motivates them to come see us), but I want to let go of evaluation as quickly as I can and get into a discussion about the writer's ideas, her process, and even the words on the page and what they say or don't say. To me, it's a more enjoyable experience (working with SWS clients and with you all) when we ignore the grades.

Posted by at 7:52 PM

October 6, 2005

Person(al) writing

Thanks, Claire, for a thoughtful discussion on the interpersonal issues around difficult tutoring sessions. Like I said in class, I’ve never taught these three pieces together before (and I haven’t taught the “Emotionally Charged Situations” article in a long time), so it was fascinating to me to see in my reading and our discussion how much they spoke to each other. Both the writer and the consultant are human beings (with biases, emotions, baggage, distractions, attitudes, etc), and the consultation is a situation where those human thoughts and emotions are exposed and potentially come into conflict.

One thing I like in all the pieces is that they try to explore why these difficult situations or conflicts happen. Particularly in Harris’s “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers,” there is a real recognition of the many reasons why a session might not be going well and the importance of investigating that why question to figure out how to make it go better. I love how she talks about taking a “meta-moment”—essentially interrupting the usual tutor-tutee dialogue—to talk about how the session itself is going, asking the student what’s going on and how we can make the most of the time together. I think we are often afraid to interrupt our own sessions and expose ourselves by asking such a question. Instead we think, “I’m a good tutor; I’m going to make this work and soon this student will be blown away by what a great session we are having.” We’re probably not that different than the student who comes to see us, instead of her professor, because she doesn’t want to admit her own human vulnerability. I’d like to encourage you to try talking to students about the session itself—not just their papers and their writing process—just to see what happens.

As we get busier and get less time to chat in the Center, I hope too that you can use the blog to have some of those kind of meta-moments with us. When you have a bad session, can you do as Harris suggests and “let it go”?

Posted by at 5:56 PM

September 15, 2005

thoughts about consulting on personal writing

There are a couple reasons why I brought in the med school application essay to our class this week. Of course, it is the season of this kind of writing, so I’m hoping to get you more familiar with the conventions of this kind of writing and strategies to help students. But, I also think application essays are a deeply personal kind of writing—much like the literacy autobiography you are all drafting now. And, when we work with personal writing, I think we have to be especially sensitive to the writer’s ego and feelings. It takes courage to share any paper with another person, but I think it takes even more courage to share something so personal.

Thinking back to Ben’s first blog entry on the challenge of not slipping immediately into red-pen-wielding editor mode, I think that mode is even more problematic when the writing is personal. Likely the process of revealing oneself on paper (especially in 500 words or less!) has been pretty painful, and the writer needs some support and encouragement before getting into the things we find problematic or unclear. So, Jason is right on that re-telling facts that are elsewhere in the application is a problem (wasting valuable space that could be revealing more about the writer as a person), but starting there is likely to make the writer defensive. So, at the risk of stealing a little more of Rick’s thunder for our discussion next Tuesday, I think we do need to “learn to praise” (something that Ben’s editors and probably most of our teachers didn’t model very well for us). And, as Mitch said to me when he read the article the first time, it might better be called “praising to learn,” since without praise and encouragement, writers aren’t open to hearing either probing questions or suggestions for improvement.

I liked hearing on Tuesday your critiques of the sort of classic expressivist model of consulting, which assumes that the student’s voice just needs to be freed and that the consultant and tutor are on an equal power level (which, as you rightly say, they aren’t). However, another way to think about “peerness” is to think of that more as a rhetorical stance you are choosing to adopt at appropriate moments. Yes, I’ve read a lot of personal statements, read books about them, and talked to grad school committee members, but in an initial conference with a writer, I’ll often try to put that “expertise” aside and just give an honest reader response: “I’m very interested in hearing more about your football injury, since that seems to be such an important influence on your decision. Can you tell me more about that?” Forcing myself to withhold judgment and to resist the desire to point out problems or give suggestions, I often learn a lot more about what could be in the essay than what is actually on the page. So, I encourage you not to dismiss the power of non-evaluative talk. I’m struck again and again in sessions by how much I learn when I put the paper aside, something North reminds me to do.

Posted by at 10:29 AM

September 8, 2005

consultant as the "middle person"

Re-reading these articles and thinking about the blog prompt I gave you, I’m struck by how much I love the ideals of the “middle person” role Harris identifies. I so enjoy being in dialogue with writers, hearing their ideas, asking them questions, and figuring out things collaboratively. As a professional writing teacher (or at least I play one on TV), it’s wonderful to turn off my evaluator mode and really be a coach who sees potential in every writer, in every paper, and in every tutorial interaction. There’s something quite wonderful too in the fact that our writing center is elective, and every student we see was motivated enough to come in. With both consultant and student motivated, it is possible to be co-learners.

But, just as Harris inspires me, this article makes me consider the real challenges of being a “middle person,” particularly when it comes to “interpreting the meaning of academic language” (36). Yes, I know quite a bit about academic language, and I do think I do help students interpret assignments, expectations, and professor comments. But, I know too that both professors and students are naively assuming such an interpretation is easy. I don’t really know “what the professor wants” (although I might have a better clue than the first-year student), and I know I’m on potentially dangerous ground when I’m trying to be the conduit between two groups (teachers and students) whose communication is impeded. I know too that I’m just as liable as a student in bringing my own “legacy of schooling” to a situation, causing me to misread the situation. And, perhaps the longer I consult with writers, the greater risk I face in just applying my schtick, tutoring generically rather than responding to a specific student and her situation in the moment. Maybe we need a "Zen and the Art of Writing Center Consulting"?

Posted by at 3:08 PM

September 6, 2005


Hello, fellow class members. I'm re-learning how to blog.

Be sure to visit

Posted by at 2:31 PM