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October 31, 2007

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

For the longest (read: 6 weeks) time, I never had anyone bring up my major. No consultees were doing the "oh, so you're an English major" thing.

Over the last week, that has changed. I don't think it's anything more than a regression to the mean (people had to bring it up eventually) and I think it was pretty flukey that it didn't come up beforehand.

But anyway, yes: over the past week or so, I've had a couple consultees do the "so I'm assuming you're an English major" conversation, which is something we talked about a little while ago re: Meher and people wondering why someone from Design would (god forbid) be working with writing. I'm starting to wonder if it's not so much a misconception about writing (as in "people in other disciplines don't know how to write") as much as it is a misconception about English ("English is where we teach people to write"). I'm not sure how subtle of a distinction that is, but I think it's an important one. People assume that the English dept. is where the U trains its writers, so then it would make sense to have consultants coming from that discipline.

This obviously is not true. English does not teach writing. But I understand why people think that; it's what I thought when I declared English in the first place. I know now how stupid of an assumption that was (looking back, I should have been in Philosophy), but I just figured that "I want to write, so I'm headed to the English dept." (At least, once I ran screaming out of the PoliSci dept.)

English is basically Literature, with a dash of theory every now and again. But people don't know that to a large extent. I'm not saying that this is necessarily an either-or situation; people can also be morons and assume that Art students can't write. But: just as important is that basic English misconception. What we do about that, I know not. . .

October 30, 2007

Me with nothin to say, and you in your autumn sweater...

Since I think I'm the one who gets the most spastic about these things,

does anyone know ANYTHING about learning disorders? Maybe we could turn this nifty lil blogeroo into a forum where we can compile any knowledge we might have.

So Many Decisions

I have been thinking about our discussion in class about all the expectations that writing centers have to serve the public, as well as how many expectations we have as ourselves as consultants and even the expectations we have of students, who use our center. I think that our discussion really went beyond the surface of the issues presented in this week’s articles about racism, disabilities, and choices. I believe that it is imperative that everyone have expectations, as well as we also know when we are unable to meet a certain expectation or request that we direct our attention to other resources more able to help with the situation. It seems as if we all will always be in limbo about how to accommodate everyone, especially when it comes to working with students with disabilities.

From hearing accounts from other students about issues such as race that many times are obviously visible, one might not feel that the Center accommodates all their needs, mostly the issues of a level of confront. I can honestly say that I have not heard many complaints this year, which is good in relation to diversifying the staff and as well as knowing that all the consultants truly want to provide their assistance when called upon. On the other hand, other issues such as identifying students with learning/language disabilities may not always be so apparent. In this case, as I stated in class, I just believe that one knows how they feel when they are comfortable/uncomfortable, so maybe it is more of a personal judgment to find out how a person might feel upon being in the center.

As we mentioned, a complete stranger might not want to just reveal that they have a disability and what if they don't know they have one? This is where being careful with assumptions comes in heavily! The article suggests different methods of coming to terms with potential issues that arise in writing center with respect to these issues, but it is also to note that assumptions must be made with the purest of intentions as to not intentionally offend someone and their situation. I, like other felt frustration when reading the article, because I wish that there had been more tips about what to do in certain situations and how not to feel helpless. Referring students to other services that might be better able to help them or speaking with other professionals in the filed might be the appropriate way to begin to understand other populations using our center.

My suggestion of sending out a statement in the e-mail students get to notify them of an appointment, I do not see as really a disclaimer, but more of a statement that says if you have special accommodations, please don’t hesitate to maybe call ahead of time to the center and let the attendant know, so that way there is no face-to-face, risk of their perceived stigma to handle. I think it would be just like if someone was physically handicapped, we might have to move some furniture around to accommodate that person’s visit, so I believe any and all concerns should be expressed in order to tap into these “newer? areas of thought in relation to our center and its services to all students. Anyway, just more thoughts on this topic!

October 29, 2007

booooo, computers

i knew this was going to happen! my internet cut out before posting my blog entry. i was trying to be fancy and use the extended entry, so i copied that part, but i've lost my little intro. frustrating. here goes again, i think:

i feel like i've spent a lot of time thinking about the way that race is taught, discussed, and written about in a university setting-- one of my majors is designed around race and questions of social change, and i've t.a.'ed for a couple of classes that focused on race. but i am still a bit stymied by villanueva's main question: how do you respond to someone who says racism doesn't exist? i think villanueva's more suggestive than prescriptive in this essay, so here goes one attempt to draw it out a bit:

in classes i've taken, it seems like conversations about race tend to follow a pretty set pattern. some students engage in the kind of color-blind rhetoric that villanueva eschews; others point out to them, often in frustrated tones, how they are missing the systemic picture, how racism still exists. an uncomfortable silence follows, and people tend to jump on whatever next topic will take everyone back into more comfortable territory.

in classes i've t.a.'ed, i've noticed that the dynamic between instructors/t.a.'s and students who talk (or write) from color-blind assumptions tend to take on this same tone: a student says something in the "let's all be individuals" vein, and the instructor or the t.a. (oops, that's me) corrects them. and the student seems to be uncomfortable. i think from an instructor perspective, the student's color-blind rhetoric is evidence of their resistance: they simply don't want to think about racism.

i know that villanueva writes that we shouldn't be scared of conflict or controversy, but in these situations, the disagreeing seems to be done in a way that is counter-productive, in a way which makes the student shut down and check out, and in general, be less receptive to thinking about race in another way.

so what might be a way to disagree more productively? in the kinds of situations i talk about above, it seems to me that there could be a more concerted effort to assume the best intentions of everyone, even when they're saying really problematic things. following from this assumption of good intentions, disagreeing shouldn't take the form of correcting, which can make a person feel condescended to.

soooooo. now i've gone off on a tangent and haven't even begun to talk about what this means for us as consultants. i guess i think that there's disagreeing, and suggesting points for someone to think about, and there's telling someone what to think. even when that's what you want to do, it's maybe not the best way to get someone to reconsider what they're thinking.

and i'm thinking back to my own consultations...it's easier said than done to put these ideas into practice. i don't know that i've disagreed in a substantial way with papers on race, even when i kind of disagreed. and there's a whole set of practical considerations that go along with that: the length of a session, the degree to which i thought the student would be willing to enter into a conversation, etc.

i guess i think (i've used that phrase a lot in this post; clearly, i'm still figuring out what i think) that we should be willing to start dialogues and to question students, but also not to let a sense of urgency about these larger goals make us insensitive to the person and moment in front of us.


Does anybody else ever get words, or in my case, sounds stuck in their head??? I've been walking around campus for the past three weeks, swear to god, saying "boop!" in my head. Am I crazy?? Anyone know how to get rid of this brainworm?


Julie Neff's article about learning disabilities left me feeling...unsettled. I don't know if it's just the way I tend to read these articles, but most of the time after I read this theory I go crazy trying to think of answers for all of the questions they raise. They always seem to be missing bits...important bits that could lead to the MEANING OF ALL WRITING CENTER THEORY! After reading Neff's article and thinking about it for awhile, I've realized that I can't decide wherein the problem lies: with the article, or the fact that I don't yet know enough about C4W's policies. Still, I think Neff (I keep wanting to refer to her as a "him," solely because I keep thinking that the name is "Jeff") wrote this article with a gaping hole. There. I said it.

Sure, there's the intro of the article, then the "What is a Learning Disability?"/"What Do We Know about the Brain?"/"How Does This Theory Help Us Understand a Learning Disability?"/"Misconceptions about Learning Disabilities" background bit. Then, it jumps right into the case study. Which is fine. Neff gives great background into explaining what otherwise could be an inexplicable situation, "Barb had not yet used language which 'uncovered' the images before her eyes to build and access the images that would allow her to drive safely." In fact, I found the background on the learning disability fascinating. However, Neff makes it sound throughout the entire time that this is just ONE out of myriad learning disabilities, and god help us if we don't know how to deal with each one. I know that it's not her job to teach us each specific disability, but vague ideas like "...they need more specific help than other students." or "...students who are dyslexic and students who are spatially imparied may demonstrate many of the same problems..." make me focus on when that isn't the case. How are we supposed to really gain anything from such underdeveloped statements?? I understand that this case study only allowed for a deeper look into just Barb's experiences in the writing center, but in that case, it would almost be better to not attempt to mention any other sorts of learning disabilites--it seems, from Neff's writing, that there are too many in existence to go into any more depth. The differences between formats of consultations is equally as vague. "Self-cuing"? Are we supposed to know what that refers to and be able to implement it in a session?? Hope not.

Those ambiguities are just part of the gaping hole. I think the case study should've included more background information, specifically, on how a writing center prepares for situations like this. Besides reading this article, how are we as consultants supposed to deal with this new imformation? How would the time between the appointment being made and the consultation be spent? Would the consultant google the learning disability and quickly learn how they might direct the session differently? Or rather, would the consultant (or anyone in the writing center, for that matter) ever be notified that a student has a learning disability? And does this depend on what the specific disability is? If all I want to do is have a successful consultation by helping the student, what am I supposed to have learned from this article???

Kirsten, what's the protocol for consulting with students who have learning disabilities in our center? Obviously, they should be treated the same way as all of our other students, but then...where does that rule change? Or does it?


OK, let's talk about racism

One of the most fundamental things I learned in Intro to Cultural Studies is that everyone is racist. And of course, Crash was also used in CSCL as a form of media to show us just that. On top of Cultural Studies, my parents remind me often that if I don't get grades that are better than my peers, I'm less likely to be hired by a company if, say, a Caucasian performs just as well as I do. Like Villanueva says, even though we want life to be fair and equal, life often is not about merit. I agree with that. And I also find the whole "New Racism" idea interesting. Even though racism, just like gender inequality, is less apparent nowadays, it is still everywhere in some morphed, layered form. It still very much affect the way we think and the way we act.

This article also reminded me of Emily S's post a few days ago. Maggie had commented that she didn't feel comfortable giving "hints" on the content of the essay to students, and I disagreed. After all, I thought, what's wrong if I told students that 2+2 doesn't equal 3? However, after reading "Blind...", I'm having second thoughts on "Talking about the New Racism." Is it ethical to do it? I mean, to tell consultees that "No, you're wrong. Officer Ryan is very much a racist (in Crash)." This conversation might then turn into a full-blown debate between two people that have different ideas, perspectives, and experiences. In the end, is it really worth it to enter a debate that's purely composed of different opinions? But then, if I avoid the conversation, will I be labeled as another "ignorant" person by Villanueva?

And so, how do we not "avoid the large?" How do we "casually" converse about racism with our clients? Even Villanueva says that racism is becoming more and more of a taboo topic to talk about. Even if some of us might be comfortable talking about racism and its impacts on society, on media, on writers, and on writings, what about our consultees? Should we turn a 45 minutes one-on-one writing session into something that is...not about writing anymore?

Yet, Villanueva stresses that how we see the world is very much related to writing and the "language we receive and use." After all, for hundreds of years, the usage of "he" (instead of "she" or "he/she") dominated writings. We saw how African Americans were portrayed in Huck Finn, and we saw the horrid conditions that African Americans lived in even after emancipation in the beautifully written Beloved. Language, just like the media, subjects us to certain behaviors, interpolates us, and shapes our thoughts. And as Villanueva says, that's where the writing consultants come in. We're suppose to "teach the art of conversation, of civil discourse handled civilly." We're suppose to address controversies, fight against censorship, and be "bold."

Yes, racism indeed still exist, and yes, some people, as Villanueva describes, are "silencing" the existence of racism. However, how could writing consultants become the knights in shining armor? How could we, in 45 minutes, address these questions and convey to consultees that even though they claim racism doesn't exist, their language (shown through the Master's Tropes) really shows that it does (and at the same avoid offending the consultee in one way or another?)

Content or structure? Individual or society at large? Writing center or...?

October 27, 2007

Another site for the nerds xD


We gain knowledge, others gain food!

Rice Math!

October 26, 2007

sniff, sniff

Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes. The tutor in Neff’s article was so…um…well…(sniff), “When the writing advisor saw David lean forward, his eyes bright, she knew it was time to write something down.? (245). What can I say?
It just got better on the next page, “It’s fun seeing the connections in your mind unfold.?
And what is it with these disability essays always bringing up Edison and Einstein?

I really liked the Weaver article. She really did her research well on ASL. I studied it for a year and being a linguist (in training) I am glad to see it being presented as a language of its own. It is not signed English so deaf students need to be considered NNS students. I really like the way she figured out a solution to her “problem? (our problem, being audists) and helped her and maybe her prof just see things in a new light. Deaf people miss a lot of what is going on…we really take our hearing for granted, especially in an academic setting. All of the little cues, tones and afterthoughts that aren’t part of the powerpoint or caught by the ASL interpreter or even things that don’t translate. Deaf students are often frustrated. Anyway I read her article right after the (sappy) learning disability article. I’m not saying that learning disabled students shouldn’t get a little extra patience or a different way to approach (isn’t every student just a little different from the next in their approach and ability?) there’s no doubt or problem with that – its just the tone and approach of the Neff article seemed condescending (coddling and handholding) to the students while Weaver took a strong approach that worked with the student as an equal to help her be a better writer.

October 24, 2007

ok ok ok.

So I think my last post was tongue-in-cheek to such an extent – I think I had several other people’s tongues in my cheek at the time, actually – that I'm not quite sure who or what was being parodied, and feel a need now to blogificate a little more in my own voice and figure that out.

My post was full of overblown us vs. them rhetoric, of course, so from a certain angle I know it looks like a cynical commentary on the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Lutes piece – but it isn’t, really. See, I’m afraid that it’s mostly a work of self-parody, and that in some trying to be clever and shooting myself in the foot kind-of-way I was overstating things I do believe, and fears I do have.

So yeah, I definitely share with Lute a fundamental faith in the potential of writing tutors and other small fry to work for institutional change. We might have an innate interest in not rocking the boat that floats us, but that “conflicted subjectivity? doesn’t have to cripple us.

I also like the idea that non-traditional disciplines –Women’s Studies, GLBT Studies, Labor Studies, etc. – ought to apply their criticality to the 'apolitical' disciplines that surround them (although I do agree with Miranda, Wendy, and the Emilias that these disciplines can have their own kinds of groupthink). What really frustrates me though, is that the kind of meddling Lucas is calling for doesn’t go beyond rhetorical meddling. Partly it’s that I don’t share her belief that the way we talk to each other is what counts the most. I want critique that goes beyond how students are oppressed by authoritarian teaching styles and stifling academic writing standards. That stuff is a sideshow to me. I even like some of it.

So where does the successful critique and subversion of this kind of “mean talk? in academia get us?

It isn’t hard to see how an aeronautical engineering department, for instance, might be made more effective if its practitioners learned how to speak and write collaboratively, how to empower students by relaxing unexamined, unnecessary rhetorical standards, etc…etc.

What Lucas appears to be calling for (and this was touched on in class, I think) is an improvement of the academic disciplines via a revolution in the way they talk and write. Beyond that, perhaps, is a call for rhetorical democratization and for more inclusive institutions.

Ok, I know I’m getting reductive here…. but isn’t the U.S. military an almost ideal example of how an institution can make itself more effective by learning the rhetoric of inclusion? Race, creed, personal rhetorical style – none of these seem to have much effect on a person’s willingness to go overseas and shoot kids in the face. When the institution in question is a university, which is implicated in far subtler forms of destruction, can we expect things to be any different? Yes, it is really, really important that we open the doors of the academy. But when our critique of the disciplines is restricted to how they talk, and fails to address what these disciplines literally do – what they build, what they invent, what kind of passivity they engender – we can’t expect any progress. A cozy deathship to nowhere is still a deathship to nowhere.

So as we bring the work of those critical, non-traditional disciplines to bear on other areas of the academy, let’s not forget that while they do have a whole lot (ok a LOT) to say about how power is expressed through language, their analysis of how power is expressed concretely and physically is just as valid – even if (speaking of rhetoric) that approach is routinely undervalued by their theory-minded practitioners.

And now, time for something completely different!

Monkey attack!

The deputy mayor of the Indian capital Delhi has died a day after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys.

SS Bajwa suffered serious head injuries when he fell from the first-floor terrace of his home on Saturday morning trying to fight off the monkeys.

The city has long struggled to counter its plague of monkeys, which invade government complexes and temples, snatch food and scare passers-by.

Man, I hate when that happens. . .

October 23, 2007

Good Text Provoke Many Thoughts...

"...Do students' view of academic discourse change over the course of their college careers?..." is the line that really attracted my attention when reading the text about Learning to Read Biology. When I saw the title, I started to think about my own experience in which I could in fact read the text and comprehend, but was not able to really "master" the concept of writing a Biology report, according to my TA. I guess I feel that scientific writing is quite different from other areas of study, but that does not mean that one cannot learn, if they are given an opportunity. So, yes, my opinion of writing in different areas has changed due to my finding of other science courses and better TAs that get what it might be that others might not at the beginning. It is true when Hass describes the learning process of a research paper never really is mastered or gets old, because the reality is that each time we start a research paper, we are starting over! One way is not always the best way or nor is it the most effective for the project. Thus, the learning process always intrigues me, just wish I had more time to appreciate it!

Documentation is another issue! I know I've been doing some from of MLA documentation since like the 5th grade and now learning APA is really something else! Just the change in style really is different in the way that everything is set up. I've never really liked to read instruction manuals, so reading the APA style guide is obviously lots of fun for me! I do have to say that the text on documenting styles is helpful to have at reach to help explain to students during sessions.

Why do feminist make better tutors? While I don't agree one way or another on this topic, I will say that the proposing of the topic of adding gender to the mix creates research dynamics that propose new areas of thought. I also personally think that by reading into the article's meaning that it can be understood that it is more focused on Women's Studies and Gender Studies areas of study that might produce more writing intensive assignments that might help the consultant work on a variation of topics as a tutor. I think it is interesting to note the areas of study from which a tutor receives the bulk of their info, because their knowledge as we in class have discussed before can come as a benefit to the student during a consultation.

As far as the Style Guide goes, yeah, I'm a nerd, but I do enjoy reading it, because it brings back what I learned awhile ago about sentence structure and how to make words and language flow, which sometime we forget or omit based on time constraints or lack of direction in our own writing. The Style Guide is helpful for me in terms of having an easy-to-read reference to compare my writing style to and from which to gain more ideas!

October 22, 2007

To the Captains of Industry:

It's been a busy semester here at the Center for Writing (Lord knows you've been busy too), but not so busy that we'd pass up the opportunity to extend to you a small token of our support, if only to let you know that when the RNC rolls around next fall, you can count on us to be there for you, 100%.

Now, it's true you don't see us consultants doing the really important work – driving truck convoys of Iraqi oil, signing people up for new credit cards – but you know, we’re a positive bunch, and although we wonder sometimes why you permit this inefficient and unproductive business of "writing" to go on at all, we hope you’ll be pleased to hear a little about our work, and about what we’re doing these days to keep everything moving nice and smooth towards homogeneous global technocracy.

You see, as the 'friendly face' of the technocracy, we writing consultants have disciplinary powers that are largely invisible, and that makes us a terrific starting point for students who are still getting used to the idea of total subjection to rigid institutional power. We share your commitment to the regulation and standardization of human thought and behavior, and we're doing all we can to advance those shared ideals in both our daily consulting practice and in our research. The systematic pursuit of new ways to kill and control people is the motor of good research in all disciplines, and we are as committed as you to that spirit of inquiry.

Our commitment to the military-industrial complex is a personal one, too. For many of us the academy is a refuge from a boring and unpleasant world, so we think it fitting that much of the work done here should be dedicated to its ultimate destruction. Among the threatening phenomena that researchers at the University of Minnesota have been working to eliminate are non-standard English, animals that bite, momentary uncertainty about the date or time, different-sized ears of corn, and the Middle-East, to name but a few. We at the Center for Writing hope this kind of work will make it possible for all of humanity to experience the creamy florescence and well-defined social roles we are lucky to enjoy here in Nicholson Hall.

And what is the Center for Writing doing to realize this vision of a prison-world without escape? That's a hard question to answer in a few words, because the day-to-day work of the writing consultant is immensely varied. On a given day we might review the grad.school application of a future biological weapons technician, or help a student journalist learn how to dismiss and pathologize the “journalism? of our many enemies. But we contribute as scholars, too, and the writing center research we've been conducting will extend your benevolent system of discipline and surveillance into the very minds of our student writers.

We have our moments of worry and self-doubt, to be sure, often thanks to the incitements of certain alarmist theorists, who warn us that the 'subversive potential' of our position can be used to 'challenge disciplinary boundaries'. At these times it's the little things that can reassure us most. Sometimes all it takes is the look of silent shame on the face of a young writer who has just been robbed of his authentic voice to remind us of the power we have to destroy difference. And after all, what do we have to lose in defending the system that has served us so well?

We are your humble servants.

-The Center for Writing

I. don't. know.

There's a lot going on in "Why Feminists Make Better Tutors..." and in trying to find something to say about it, all I can really think is how weak I think some of Lutes' arguments are:

I have a friend who thrives as a chemistry major but who can also successfully navigate literary analysis. With this example in mind, I agree with Lutes that tutors should be wary of the ways they think about working with students from other disciplines. Yet, I can't help thinking that using the reflections of one tutor in only two situations doesn't provide a very stable base for what she finally says; tutors adjust their styles in reaction to discipline AND gender stereotypes. Could it be coincidence that the engineer was male and the com arts student female?

And further, I don't agree that Rajit's not-exactly-prideful view of his collaborative tutoring experiences is an indication that collaboration is considered a feminine approach (and thus unworthy). I think this could be a fair conclusion, but the reflections of one fellow are not sufficient evidence. It isn't far fetched to say that many writing tutors feel more confident about sessions they understand. Whether or not collaboration is more beneficial to a student than knowledge of discipline (and I think it definitely is in many cases), the way consultants feel after a session doesn't always reflect this. It's natural to feel better about things you have some control over.

Unlike this post, which is quickly getting out of hand. I'm not sure what I want to do with it. I do think this topic is complicated and am interested in Lutes' claim that interdisciplinary subjects like Women's Studies advocate more collaborative ways of thinking and learning. This is a smart idea and I can see bits of it in our own center. One thing I would have liked is if Lutes had further pursued the role of the professor in the writing fellows program. I think this is something we might look into having had a lot less contact with faculty members than the tutors in this essay.

I wonder how much of our own methods of collaboration are fostered by minimal instructor interference. I constantly feel like I'm jumping into a pool of god-knows-what whenever I begin a consultation and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the assignment is always new (with the exception of those pesky 1301/1401 kids. ha.).

So I guess I agree that feminists do make better tutors if you consider our own WRIT class. As a group of students jumping into a field we're not accustom to--a relatively new one--we've begun to think on fresh paths. Maybe this new-ness is what does it. I personally haven't seen the kind of gendered thinking Lutes describes in her essay, but maybe it is because our center is a place apart. Even SWS online is a new concept, something we're all trying to figure out. Maybe the reason it works is because we're all grappling with it. We have to start from the ground up and work together, without old rules, without professors.

I'm having trouble thinking through this. I'll just stop.

But, the book says!

I thought the "Learning to Read Biology" study was pretty damn nifty. There were a few interesting ideas that I thought came up; I'll see if I can kind of keep them straight.

First of all, there's the stuff about the nameless/faceless/authorless textbooks. That's something that always seemed superWeird to me in high school; I mean, someone had to write the thing, but who? Did they just know everything ever about chemistry and decide to write it all down? But, I'm pretty sure these were questions that never entered my mind before college. I can't imagine Little Shark sitting in 10th grade physics questioning the textbook author. So I do think that sort of journey into more critical reading is a real one.

Even more interesting to me was the role her freshman English class seemed to play. Since I spend most of my time now in English and Political Science, the sorts of author awareness that get talked about make a lot of sense to me. I've lived with a goodly sum of science majors, and I have noticed how many more factual tests they take. The whole system really is set up (at least, in the first few years of college) to reward the "textbook as authority approach" (I think the study even refers to the student's approach as "shrewd" or something because of the way her classes reward that approach), so I can see how that works.

I wonder if there really is a better way, though. I mean, it would seem to an outsider that a first-year pre-med student who spends all of her time questioning the motives of the people who wrote her bio book probably isn't the most efficient. At a certain level in the hard sciences, everyone has to get the widely-accepted basics out of the way. I think the responsibilty for considering author intent, etc. falls more on the instructors who choose the books. I mean, students come in to those early-level classes looking to get the basics out of the way, so what good is it really doing them if they stop and think "hey, who is this guy to claim that cells divide this way?"

The more critical approach is simply more useful/efficient when you get to upper levels and start reading journal articles, etc. Stuff that isn't so. . . widely accepted, I suppose. We have that whole system of peer review to filter out stuff that doesn't deserve to make it into textbooks. . .

Actually, I should stop here before I get into some incoherent rant about peer review systems. Besides, my shift here is almost up.

Round 2!

My second supplemental article was “Constructing Each Other: Collaborating across Disciplines and Roles? by Joan Mullin. This essay examines how collaboration and adapting to disciplinary borders plays out in a “writing-intensive situation,? where a writing consultant is placed as a writing fellow in a geography classroom. The article follows the journals and interviews of several people involved in the process: Joan, the director of a writing center, Doug, a writing tutor, Neil, the professor, Trish, the graduate assistant and Jason, a student.

This article might be really hard to explain without it being 8797 pages long, so I’m going to summarize the process of this collaboration, and focus more on the findings. The entire process was an exercise of collaboration, as Joan, Neil and Doug worked together to define Doug’s roles and Neil’s expectations in the classroom.

Through this semester job, Doug had to contend with many issues, such as resisting the urge to only talk about grading to the students, not separating writing from content, clarifying meanings of words such as “discuss? to students and determining his role as a “writing fellow.? Likewise, Neil learned how to refine his assignment requirements and to critically examine how his assignments determine the type of writing he receives.

Collaboration in this situation appears to be at its prime, as Doug, Neil and Joan compromised, negotiated, shared ideas and were honest to each other in their expectations, doubts and demands. Mullin writes that “everyone involved enacted “a reflective pedagogy critical to success in writing center tutorials, in writing center-teacher interactions, and in individual classrooms in which we are the primary facilitators? (205). They really perfected the art of collaboration through the process. Again, Mullin writes that “we learn as much from our apprehensions as we do from our misapprehensions, where we collaborate not toward consensus but toward understandings that allow us to reach a common goal? (205). Thus, everyone had to sacrifice a little of what they wanted—I wonder if this can be applied to writing consultations. Do writing consultants have to sacrifice what they want in order to effectively collaborate? Or is that going against what a consultation is?

The other aspect of the article focused on the different demands of writing styles between science courses and English courses. Jason, an English major, had to adapt to the different requirements of this science class. For him, “the writing process was largely a thinking process that allowed all of the information and ideas about the subject to coalesce and make a coherent whole. In the geography course, however, I found that I needed to be much more mechanical about writing—stick to the basics, research what you are told, and do not stray so far from the question….it was intellectually useful to force myself to write in the way expected by the course? (201). The difficulties of transitioning between these two requirements at first negatively affects Jason with lower grades, but as the course progresses, he adapts to the different requirements and challenges not only his writing style, but also his intellectual development.

I can relate to this view because it does not see the English format for writing a paper as bad, but as different. I think this clarification is crucial to make; instead of the different writing styles being a battle between the oppressed and the oppressors and the right and wrong way to write, I view the different writing styles as crucial for meeting the different requirements of each individual discipline.

This is loooong!

As a supplemental reading to the reading “Why Feminists Make Better Tutors…?, I read “The Politics of Tutoring: Feminism within the Patriarchy? by Meg Woolbright. Woolbright urges writing consultants to be feminist “spies? within this patriarchal society of academia. The characteristics of feminism, which I found to be helpful in actually defining terms, (I felt like the Lutes reading was really vague and ambiguous with some of its terms and assumptions) is its “vibrancy, its personal voice, its sensuousness and openendedness, set in striking contrast to the linear, objective, abstract, tightly argued prose of the academy? (68). In this rhetoric, the boundaries between author and the self, and the self and the audience are blurred. (I don’t really know who the author means by self, either. Any ideas?)

The feminist classroom would advocate not knowledge as power, but understanding as power. The focus of the classroom, then, would be more of a conversation amongst equals, rather than it being a public debate between the know-it-alls and the know-nothings. Through this conversation, knowledge is left to be shaped by its participants. The teacher’s role in this setting is the “ultimate learner? (68) and his/her goal would be to “liberate the tortured voice.? Yet, this academic feminism must be acted out within a patriarchal academy, which causes many tensions.

Can I just stop here and insert my two-sense? I wonder, then, how the author imagines the ideal classroom? Would a feminist classroom be okay with the teacher conveying information at all, or is that domineering? If the classroom is a conversation amongst equals, how do students learn the various theories of psychology, the different systems of the body, or the events of the American Revolution if they are taking these classes to learn? I agree with the conclusion that the classroom should be one of discussion and an environment where students can ask questions and state their opinions, but I’m just wondering if the teacher has license to pass on knowledge that he/she has that the students do not?

Woolbright believes that the idea of a writing center and feminism pedagogy go hand-in-hand: both “advocate teaching methods that are non-hierarchical, cooperative, interactive ventures between students and tutors talking about issues grounded in the students’ own experience. They are, above all, conversations between equals in which knowledge is constructed, not transmitted? (69).

Writing consultants see the conflict between feminist discourse and patriarchy in their individual conversations with students. “In order to determine if our “hidden curriculum? suggests feminist values, Schiedewind suggests five process goals? (69):
1. The development of an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and community
2. Shared leadership
3. A cooperative structure
4. The integration of cognitive and affective learning
5. Action.

The rest of the article discusses a conference between a tutor, who identifies herself as a feminist, and a female student. The tutor says that a majority of what she wants to do in consultations “involves teaching feminist values? (69). She urges students to think and write coherently and in their own words. However, there is a conflict in her attempts: “she believes in teaching according to feminist practice, she thinks that the student’s success—which she equates with giving the teacher the traditional thesis-and-support format she wants—is her prime responsibility. For this tutor, there is a conflict between teaching feminist rhetoric and ensuring the student’s academic success? (70).

At the beginning of the session, the relationship between the two is one of friendship and openness, as they have an established relationship and are talking about personal details of the tutor’s life. This upholds the feminist criterion because it is more of an affective relationship, but as the consultation continues, the tutor pushes her view on the student and tries to force her to read the text as “a test of manhood.? The tutor did not help her view the story through her own experiences, but rather through the lens that the tutor found most important. The tutor begins to “write? the paper based on her interpretation of the story, and there is no shared-leadership. Consequently, “the tutor is caught between the conflict of wanting to teach feminist values but ever-mindful of the power structure in which she is working, doing so with the “correct? interpretation and in the “correct? form of the paper? (77). The effects of the tutor’s attempts to “liberate the tortured voice? in her consultation, writes Woolbright, is not of liberation, but “in deafening silence and alienation? (70).

Woolbright advocates action, within the tutorial session, and to talk about the battle between feminist values and the patriarchal society: “we can consider how and why different rhetorics and pedagogies come to be privileged and the implications of this privileging for how we both construct ourselves and are constructed by the institutions in which we work. With this naming, our students can be given power and the responsibility to negotiate between feminism and the patriarchy, between writing vibrantly, sensuously, in their own voices and writing the tightly argued prose of the academy? (78).

I agree with some of the author’s arguments about the importance for a comfortable, encouraging environment that does not tell the student what to think or influence his/her interpretations. I remember my one consultation with a student who was comparing “The Dream of the Rood? and some other poem. (This was the example of my really bad consultation…) I saw his essay in a completely different way; I so badly wanted to tell him how he could change his interpretation to make it stronger, but I held my tongue. It was killing me, but I’m thankful that I did not take away his voice.

While I understand and agree with the author’s desire to give students confidence and abilities to formulate their own opinions, I do not completely buy the author’s assumption that writing an essay based on a thesis-and-support format silences our voices. This form of essay draws its roots from philosophy, the basis of thought, where we assert a claim and then build it up with evidence. For me, this format gives me a framework from which to begin my analysis, and I can better organize all of the thoughts bumping around my head.

Of course, there are different ways to write an academic essay besides the thesis-and-support format. The problem is I don’t really know of any other way, and the author does not really provide me any alternatives to this type of essay. What are other ways in which students can write an academic essay? What does a feminist essay look like?

She talks a lot about feminist writing as affective, sensuous and unlike “the tightly argued prose of the academy? (78). However, these generalizations made me feel even more boxed-in as a female writer. By associating feminist writing as opposed to logic and filled with emotions, the author constructed this view that made women seem even more irrational and solely based on emotions. Perhaps I just took this statement wrongly, but I feel like there is a place for tightly argued prose, creative writing, essays that are openended, and not that one form of writing is privileged over the other, just that certain situations call for certain ways to write. (Take, for example, the differences in writing styles between sciences and humanities courses.)

Before this class, I would have never thought that there were so many implications to a writing consultation! The article was interesting and reading it (and blogging) challenged me to really analyze the process of a consultation and why advocating a thesis-and-support format could have gendered implications.

Love Jenna

October 21, 2007

SWS Online - is it really so similar?

While there were several interesting readings and discussions during last week's class, I found myself most compelled by Linda's visit to talk about the work-in-progress component of the writing center, SWS online. Members of the class brought up interesting points about how this service is inherently different than a face-to-face consultation: the emotionless, anonymous text, the struggle to make an online conversation "flow," even faulty technology itself. I found myself (as usual) playing the devil's advocate, trying to figure out how the cyber version of a consultation really wasn't so different after all. There was still one piece of writing involved, the chance to look it over and talk about it, the same rules about editing, and the notion that we are to help writers with long lasting ways to improve the skill instead of being a quick fix. I thought that some of these components of a good consultation were even improved by distance: the physical distance between consultee and consultant that might put both at ease in their personal surroundings, and the distance of time between when the paper was read by the consultant and the conversation about the work. All that said, I forgot to account for the distance between typed words and those that are spoken.

I still stand by my idea that a consultant might strongly benefit from reading the students work prior to a consultation, to have some distance from the words on the page in order to see a bigger picture and target the best tools to give the individual client. However, the more I reflected on my own personal AIM conversations and emails, I began to agree that the tone of the online conversation truly must lack the potential warmth of a face-to-face meeting. Phrases, ideas, and suggestions are difficult to fit into a concise, neat-looking sentence, and I wouldn't be surprised if a friendly push to expand a thesis might come across as an insult without an accompanying expression or tone of voice - because these are the same unintentional things that have happened to me with close friends over the internet.

Ultimately, along with my feelings about Appleby and Nicholson, walk-in and appointment based consulations ( which will show up in my glorious research paper...), I think that the choice to log-in is the same as the choice to schedule an appointment or hope that someone is available at a walk in. The similarity is that these three choices appeal to three different kinds of clients, and one meets their set of criteria more closely than the other two. I think I would thoroughly enjoy the anonymity and the clear, recorded feedback that SWS online offers - but that has a lot to do with my independent personality. Others might feel completely unsatisfied without a smile and an idea of what their consultant looked like while pouring over the pages of their work. As the world gets more and more complicated, I think that each of these components of the writing center exist to make us more accesible to students who have an array of needs, and an array of delivery methods that they are operating on.

October 19, 2007

For my fellow nerds

Check out The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

October 18, 2007

Syllabus Changes: Take Note, Bloggers!

We'll talk about this in class today, but I'm putting it here too... for added clarity. Stepping back and looking at our inquiry paper process, I think we need another day of in-class consultations to help you all prepare for the conference presentations, so I'm adjusting our plans for Tue 30 Oct and Thur 1 Nov. Here's the new plan:

Tue 30 Oct, read Neff and Weaver in the St. Martin's (cut Haynes-Burton) and read Villanueva (handout today), shifting our topic to "Diversity issues among WC clients and within WC consultations"
[So, bloggers, take note that you'll be writing about these 3 pieces for Mon 29 Oct.]

Thur 1 Nov, read Style lessons 8 -10 (as agreed upon last class) and bring your presentation materials (handouts, speaking notes, powerpoints, etc.) for in-class consults

And, from now until the conference (Tue 6, Thur 8, and Tue 13 Nov), it would be a great time for 1:1 conferences with me or SWS f2f or online consults with your colleagues. I can't require you visit, but it will count in the process part of your evaluation of the inquiry paper (hint, hint).

C4W Pet Peeves

A couple of things that are bugging me:
1. People are forgetting to log out of their email, facebook, blogs, etc when they leave a computer. I'm going to start changing your settings. If your facebook status says "is... a buttface," you'll know you forgot to log out.

2. Remember that your comments after a visit are public-- the student could request to see these. I've read a few comments that I would be embarrassed to have the student read. If you get frustrated with a student during a session (I know I do!), it might be helpful to wait until you have some emotional distance from the session before writing your comments.

3. Our blog is sadly neglected. What am I supposed to do while I sit all alone in Appleby on a rainy day?

October 16, 2007

Thoughts on "Experts"

I have to say that I really enjoyed our class discussion on last Thursday about the "expert/experienced" writing consultants in relation to the readings. I found the activity of writing disciplines on the board and going through their key characteristics really helped me to understand how interconnected disciplines are and how we all can work together to help serve a multiplicity of disciplines studied by students using our center. As far as the articles, I expressed in class my discontent with the "ignorant" tutor. As I explained, in my field of the Humanities (Spanish Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Social Justice) that the word "ignorant" refers to someone who is uneducated and so not in the loop with the issues such as race/ethnicity, class, gender, and so on. In this case, I can note how words and meanings change with the area of study. So, while "ignorant" might express how some people feel about tutors who are not majoring in every single subject that there could possibly be says a lot about how we should be work with each of writing that we see come through the center. I think it is important to be knowledgeable about many different areas, but also encourage a student to see a consultant that is in their field if it makes them feel better and if it is at all possible due to scheduling issues. Somethings looking for clarity due to a lack of experience is good, but then again it is all about approach. Some don't want to come in to give a presentation about their topic, they are here for help, which sometimes can be ambiguous depending on how the student interperts our services. Finally, I just wanted to say that I like the reference aspect that the Cuba text provides. This is good reading for everyone just to have on hand, which also adds to our knowledge as another tool to help us during consulting!

Thinking about Drafting

So, I was just thinking about drafting, yeah, I know, kinda weird, no? I was thinking about how drafting used to be a normal part of my life when things were slower and assignments were always piling up. Anyway, I thought about how I always write multiple drafts of Spanish essays due to the fact that something always happens such as that the computer I use doesn't support accent marks or that is is so easy to repeat the same word. I always go back through my work and find something wrong with it and have to tweak and tweak until I can't find anything else wrong. Wonder why I don't do this for my English papers? Yes, I do go back and proof read, but it seems that it takes so much to have to go back and try to find everything that in your thinking sounds right due to habit, but simply maybe it's the usage of another language that pushes one forward to really be accountable and have to fix all the small things just to prove that they know the language. Maybe this is how non-English speakers feel when they bring work into the center and their first few comments are apologies for not making this the "best" draft or that there are "warning, many mistakes." I don't know just a thought? *_*

October 15, 2007

Apologies for the delay...

In reading Pemberton's article on consulting over hypertexts, I was initially confused. I will admit...I don't really know what he means by "hypertext". When I thought of the online consultations that take place in the writing center I assumed they would all be electronic versions of face-to-face consultations. It hadn't even occurred to me that people might bring in HTML and web design as pieces of writing, and something they wanted help on. Realistically, I don't see that happening too often, at least not in our Writing Center. But as Pemberton points out, technology is expanding and we should be ready to meet it's new challenges should they come along. I think it's a good idea to be prepared, but that we should also keep in mind that most assignments we see in the Writing Center will probably be the writing we are accustomed to working with.

In the case of this typical style of writing within the online consultations, I don't see a need to go into extensive training. While the process is different, these are still consultations, and the main goal remains to work with the client on their writing, regardless of how we are communicating. I don't feel that the way we converse with our clients will change vastly once we move to a computer, nor do I feel the writing will be significantly different simply because it was sent as an e-mail. The only change I see that may happen to a client's writing is that they will review it a little more carefully, perhaps, before sending it in. That seems like a positive thing to me. I agree with James Inman's statement, "Consultants' general knowledge about textuality and investment in asking questions, listening carefully, and other non-directive pedagogical approaches is all they need to help clients, I believe, no matter the nature of their visits to the writing center." That summarizes my own view: while the process of the consultation may be slightly altered, the online consultations have the same goal as the face-to-face variety. We all want to help our clients write better, and since we are the same people who consult face-to-face and on the computers, we use the same skills and strategies in both situations.

Looking over The Guidelines for SWS.online, I feel that there is a good balance of familiarizing ourselves with the technology used for the service and guidelines for using it. I don't think we should try and change the way we consult simply because we can't see our client. It is interesting to see how we do the online consultations here at our own writing center; I wonder how differently the consultations are done at other writing centers. Our procedures seem to be perfect for the situation, but I bet there are many different ways that online consultations are approached.

October 14, 2007

Hypertext, schmypertext

As I began to read the Pemberton article in the St. Martin's Sourcebook, I couldn't help but wonder what all the fuss was about. As consultants, we deal every day with texts that are unfamiliar. A couple of weeks ago, I had a woman come in with a creative writing piece for her senior thesis. What I told her, and what I felt like telling Pemberton, was that while I've never written a short story, I sure read a lot. While writing consultants may not be trained in web design, we have all been using the internet for years and should therefore be able to help hypertext writers in the same way we help writers outside of our disciplines. I would, perhaps, feel more comfortable consulting on a piece of hypertext than I would on a lab report; I've certainly spent a lot more time navigating websites than reading or writing in the sciences.

Pemberton sort of makes this point in his article. While his conclusions are more exploratory than definitive, he appears most committed to the idea of including hypertext in tutor training. Again, though, if hypertext tutoring is not so far from tutoring across the disciplines, why do we need training in hypertext, but not in every other type of writing we may encounter?

Not the most coherent post. Oops.

Silly rabbit.. titles are for kids!

I am researching the role of the computer in the carrell in SWS Nicholson. If anyone would like to share an experience using the computer during a session, or of a time when the computer's presence was clearly felt during a session, even if you weren't using it, or just your feelings about the computer's presence in the carrel, that would be excellent.

October 12, 2007

What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you get up and walk out on me?

The title really has nothing what I'm writing about, unless, perhaps, I'm writing out of tune?
Before this class, I never even considered that writing styles of various academic disciplines, and even of other cultures, are different…sweet! Hubbuch writes that “regardless of whether the paper is a critical study for a history class or a research write-up in biology, one of the basic characteristics of scholarly writing in all disciplines is that a paper will be self-contained? (27). Hmmm..but what in the heck does self-contained mean? Obviously it means clearly explaining one’s argument, but how does each discipline vary in reaching this goal? According to my English TA, it’s his specific way, but according to the other TA, it’s the complete opposite.

Hubbuch also says that “I cannot afford to be ignorant of the fact that, even within the restricted world of academic discourse, there are many modes of writing, each with an attendant style and rhetorical conventions? and then later, “I believe, for example, that all tutors must be aware that different fields have different styles of documenting sources, even if they don’t know the particulars of all these styles? (24). I totally agree with Hubbuch’s proposition. I think it foolish to expect to find tutors that are knowledgeable in every subject: the resources would not be available and I think there are advantages to help a student from an outside view of the subject matter and force the student to take ownership of his/her paper. However, if I do not need to know everything about every subject, then I would ask for more training on the nuances of the different writing styles of each discipline. There was one consultation that I helped with an engineering lab report, and I spent a lot of time asking questions, like “Ok, so for lab reports, are you supposed to do this?? I guess it made sure the student knew what he was doing and made him have to explain it, but I did waste a lot of time asking all of these questions and less time on his writing. I would feel much more prepared in helping an engineering student if I at least had a solid grasp on what his professors expected from a lab report or IT essay or whatever. (I guess I don’t really know if they have IT essays…)

This really shows me how subjective writing can be—in the department of English, I think there is a sort of ambiguity of how to write a paper. My TA for my Survey of American Literature 1 spoke to our class about the correct way to write a paper, as he was a bit disappointed after grading our first paper assignment. He said that most English professors and even professionals prefer papers to be spelled out, like saying “First, I will say…? etc. One girl interrupted and said that she had done that last semester, but her TA graded her down and taught her not to do that. We then had a completely useless argument/discussion about paper-writing—emotions were high, people were getting all riled up, and I just sort of sat there and organized my schedule. Anyway, he was saying that his way was “the right way? and that this is what is expected. So, is this true? Or is paper writing COMPLETELY subjective and it is all about appeasing the personal preferences of the teachers grading your paper?

Have a restful weekend!

October 10, 2007

Aren't textbooks supposed to be edited?!

I am posting twice in a row. ...Oh well.

I just finished reading a *required* chapter in the textbook for my drawing class (yes, we have a textbook). If it isn't silly enough that we have to try and apply a text to a subject like drawing, this is one of the worst textbooks I've ever encountered. It was actually kind of fun to read the chapter, not for the content, but for all the mistakes and horrible writing I found in it. I found myself wishing that the writer had come in for a consultation with me, or anybody really. Of course I would hope it was with me, I wouldn't want to miss out on that fun opportunity.

Aren't textbooks edited? And don't editors charge a decent amount to do their work?! I just can't understand how it was so horrible! I came across fun little tidbits like, "Twombly's drawing is a contemporary the Van Gogin use of invented and actual textures," and "The sixty engravings of butterflies, banana plants, and pea pods were so correctly rendered that they were often referenced by botanists in her day. ...The precise accuracy of these drawings is so fine that botanists reproduce and reference her work today," (with only two sentences between the last two). Besides these examples, the writer's verb tense jumps around from past to present to future to who knows what else. It's so bad that I couldn't understand parts because the writing was too unclear. The author (who shall remain nameless) also made many assumptions in their writing that made me ell oh ell when reading them. One of my favorites was within a biography section on Vincent Van Goh. The very last sentence of the sections reads, "In this last year of his life, the ideas of each painting came vividly to his mind." Of course this could be true, but how would the author know?! Did they interview Van Goh, or reference an interview with him? Because if they did, I don't see a citation...tsk tsk. I also found that sentence a hilarious way to end a biography. I'm left without a feeling of closure, dear author...please let me bring this biography to a mental close.

You'll have to excuse my rant on this textbook. Hopefully some of you, as fellow lovers of writing, can understand my frustration (and amusement) that this reading is required. At least I can't get too bored reading it...or can I ?!


October 7, 2007

Hee hee

I totally just did a consultation with my brother. He wasn't aware, but I was definitely consulting. I started out by saying "Come in, sit down," and he was like "Maaan, don't try that consulting crap on ME." After that I was more subtle about the process, but I was using all my skills. I asked him his assignment, and he told me, and then we looked over what he was having trouble with. It was kind of funny because since he is my brother, I didn't feel the need to be so formal or professional with him, nor did I feel like I had to tiptoe around his feelings. Poor guy. But anyway, I think he went away having been helped a little bit, which is very satisfying for me. Plus, since he's not too far away, I told him to come back after he's revised if he needs to. Awwww YEAH.


Random Rules: Cee-Fore-Dub Style

Based on a conversation with Grant and Wendy the other day: the idea is simple. You hit the "Shuffle" button on your iTunes (or equivalent jukebox program) and list the first ten songs that pop up. Then, you briefly explain/defend/disavow each one. It's a format done to great effect over at The AV Club; take a gander there if you want to get a feel for the format.

And, no cheating! Don't hand-pick the ten coolest songs you can think of (even though I know we're all too honest for that). If it isn't embarrassing, then it isn't Random Rules. Mine after the jump. . .

1. "Cut It Ya Match It," Dispatch
One of my old roommates was obsessed with Dispatch; I'll admit that I don't know them all that well or have much of a feel for them. It never really grabbed me. It seems like pretty standard folky-rock stuff, but then again I'm sure lots of people would call some of my favorite bands "standard" and "uninteresting." Glass houses, I suppose.

2. "Slow Blues," The Jimi Hendrix Experience
...what is there to say? It's HENDRIX, man. "Castles Made of Sand" has always been my favorite track, but you can't really go wrong.

3. "Unguided," The New Pornographers
I'm very much a late arrival to the TNP scene; that's kinda par for the course for me. I tend to be, at the minimum, a year behind on my cool hipster bands. I do think that Challengers is fantastic, though.

4. "Tommy Gun," The Clash
The Clash are awesome. Period.

5. "If I Had," Eminem.
I think Eminem sucks. Naturally, I thought The Slim Shady LP was awesome in seventh grade.

6. "Do Fries Go With That Shake," George Clinton
That's more like it. This is from the mid-80s solo period, I think. I am forever a disciple of the P-Funk. . .

7. "Hey Baby/In From the Storm," The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The danger of random, I guess. Hendrix is still awesome.

8. "Duppy Conqueror," Bob Marley & The Wailers
Who doesn't love Bob Marley?

9. "Diggin' Your Scene," Smash Mouth
Astro Lounge was the first album I ever purchased. That should probably embarrass me. Oh well.

10. "Lurgee," Radiohead
Off of Pablo Honey, an album I like (but not nearly as much as, say The Bends or especially OK Computer). New album on Wednesday; who's excited?

October 6, 2007

research for a sultry saturday night

I'm sure most of the cool people I work/learn with are doing much more interesting or cultural things as I sit in front of my computer, but I think I too have a touch of OCD and I am already getting nervous about how to research for our inquiry papers. Finding "secondary" documents seem easy enough, but it's the nitty gritty data that I need to retrieve that's got me worried. I think interviews seem the easiest way to go, but are there other methods you guys are considering - survey? observation? Maybe your ideas can help me find a way to approach my question, and also narrow it (hopefully). At least now you all know that I have a kickass social life...actually, I enjoy being a homebody - I'm proud of it!

Enjoy the weird weather!

October 3, 2007

approaching cultural differences (and especially our own culture) with a sense of inquiry

Today, I was clearly missing you all during my day-long conference with Minnesota Writing Project teachers because I kept hearing your voices in my head as we were reading and discussing articles on the "achievement gap." One quote from Julie Landsman (a local teacher/author who wrote A White Teacher Talks about Race) really resonated with me and our recent conversations about the American-centeredness of ways of writing and learning to write [my additions in brackets]:

"The best teachers are those who have explored how their own background and experience of the world is different from that of others, and have reflected on how that difference affects their beliefs, their personal reactions, and their teaching. Once white [or American, or Minnesotan, or middle-class, or female, etc. ] teachers, in particular, accept that their experience is just one of many experiences of being an American [or being a person, a writer], they become more open, more able to deal with cultural issues that come up in the classroom [or consultation]."

Part of what I was asking about yesterday when we were reflecting on recent consultations was what kinds of beliefs and assumptions do we bring to our discussions of writing? Are there ways we could highlight in our consultations the way those assumptions are merely cultural constructs? For example, would it make any difference to say to a student (even one who is native-speaking and American born) that "American academic readers typically expect the paper's body to defend the argument presented in the introduction" rather than "The body of your paper needs to defend your argument"? Are there ways we can call attention to conventions we understand as "good writing" as merely conventions-- rather than the "right" or "normal" way to do things?

An Ode to the Deskies

I thought this was fitting; courtesy of the always-essential XKCD.

October 2, 2007

non-native speakers have all kinds of style!

today after watching the videos and discussing a little bit about it in class, i realized that i find non-native speakers' ways of organizing essays refreshing and interesting. i suppose that in american culture we really value directness and brevity, and it is an excellent way of organizing your essay. i remember in high school when they gave us the "correct" way to format our essays. it was basically a mathematical formula: intro, thesis statement as your last sentence and contains all three subjects/paragraphs you will be talking about, conclusion that restates everything you have discussed in your paper and the thesis statement. disgusting, right?! ok not really, but i still find that it gets stale very quickly. when i was thinking about the video, especially the woman who said that someone from her culture would start a story with background and other information before getting to the main point, i found that method to be much more interesting. to be honest, i couldn't stand writing my papers to be in the "correct essay format" in high school. it made me a little ill to sit there and be like "therefore i think blah blah, and you can tell because blah, blah, and blah." replace the "blahs" with facts, and you have an A+ paper for high school writing assignments. where is the style in that? sure i know what you're going to talk about now, but i also think you're incredibly boring.

of course people can work with that system and still make their writing interesting. and it certainly is a very organized way of getting into any topic, and i guess in our fast-paced, impatient, orderly society, it's the best way of doing things. but i think a paper that gives me a twist to think about, or a paper that gives me rich detail and builds up background or a story for me is way more interesting. obviously i'm not out to change the way we write in america. all i'm saying is that non-native speakers have really cool ideas about writing. i loved hearing their different approaches from their respective cultures. i think it would be valuable to consider the way they are accustomed to writing when working with them. they can bring something really unique and fresh to their writing, and end up with something that stands out amongst the sea of regulated thesis statements. in standard american essay format, of course.

now all i have to figure out is how the two would work together.


blogging on the installment plan (there IS a part 2)

last night i tried twice to post a little ode to the 'style' book, and my internet kept cutting out after i'd composed the post...maybe fate was trying to stop me from complimenting joseph williams?

but seriously, that book is growing on me. i've found it creeping into my sessions, either by helping me figure out why a consultees' ideas are confusing, or by giving me some very managable, sentence-level tips to share with students who are concerned with their clarity. i just got done with a student who point blank asked me how she could write concise sentences.

our posts this week seem to center a lot around stories of being flexible and willing to try different strategies. williams has provided some useful ones...we never talk about 'style,' so i was just curious-- does everyone still hate it (excluding john, of course, who wants to buy williams a drink)?

....What do you when...?

After reading the text on "Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center," I was better able to intepert my feelings towards a few sessions. I always wonder what to say during difficult times. I know that the article has it's own perspective, but for me, I always like to take the text slightly out of context and relate it to my own expereinces. I have had a few sessions, all of which have been in Nicholson that just end up being difficult to navigate at first due to some cultural differences. I don't want to stereotpye of offend, but I will say what I need to say. I have noticed that is a MAJOR difference in the attidues between international students, immigrant/first generation students and even refugee students. My experience has been working with both pouplations and seeing how some international students will come in a totally take over and act like they know everything, but then again, if you knew, why would you come to the Center? Beyond this shallow thought, I just watch their mannerisms. I see how they are reluctant to shake my hand or how they just can' t get into the seat before DEMANDING something!!! One guy (I'm levaing out the origin) told me "just look and the grammar and touch nothing else!" I looked at him and spoke calmly, but also firmly and expalined the rules of the center and told him that if this is not what his is looking for, then he might need to find himself another service because I will not tolerate the attitude or the putting down of our Center. He finally understood that I was on his side, I'm here to help, not destroy. Again, people's perceptions and attitudes need to be more openminded, regarless of previous experiences, which is a theme this is hinted at in the assigned texts and our class conversations. I have others from similar origins that love to SNATCH papers and talk loudly just to assert power. Now, I being of many cultures try to understand this concept, but honestly there needs to be a line that says that culture is one thing, but all people regarless of origin can have an attitude. It is then interesting to work with immigrant students or first generation, or even refuguee students in both Nicholson and Appleby. They just have a more sincere approach to asking for help that at times almost breaks my heart, because they are too appolligetic (oh, no, where's spell check on this computer...? :D) Anyway, they are kind and thoughtful of their situations and appreciate the help, so I wonder is a question of origin with culture of just the nature of their status in society. Those that are grateful for an opportunity know how to express it, but when I guess one knows that they have the talent and that really the only thing in their way is a LANGUAGE BARRIER, they find their time wasted by coming to the Center, which is what one girl told me just the other day. Ay ay ay... So, I have more to say, but I'm much rather verbalize it so that people don't get the worng idea. Yeah, that means I should be more clear in my writing, but the reality is that is not about clarity as much as it is about understanding for oneself from where is feeling origniates. I've been working on my blog for the Friday meeting that really goes in depth about a consultation that seemed to be going to hell in a handbasket until I took more control and saved it from some over-hyped archetict student.... On another note, I'm excited for the DVD today, I'm hoping to leave my other class early in order to be able to see it. Anything about borders and (de)construction really is my interest, so hasta luego!

October 1, 2007

stop, collaborate and listen

All right, Comrades, here is my blog posting. Please excuse the tardiness.

I want to focus specifically on the idea of collaboration in the Harris article. This morning I had a wonderful consultaton with a doctoral candidate. He is a member of the Soil, Weather and CLimate department. I know nothing about biological sciences whatsoever. Also, this man's native language was Portuguese. It was a bit intimidating at first; I mean, I failed science three times in highs chool and twice in college. However,this was the most exciting and fun consultation I have ever done. This was because collaboration took place in perhaps its truest form.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines collaboration as "United labour, co-operation; esp. in literary, artistic, or scientific work". This definition was most fitting this morning; instad of a tutor/tutee situation as defined and advocated by several of the authors we have read in the class so far, there was indeed "united work" taking place. We would debate over word choice, explaining to each other the denotations and connotations of a given word in a sentence; we agonized over sections of phrases, writing and rewriting each clause until it sounded absolutely perfect; we would discuss the historical aspects of soil runoff and leaching [his dissertation was on turkey litter and its possible uses for renewable energy, taking into account adverse effects of turkey litter on the environment]. In this meeting, instead of me saying things like, "Well, do you see a problem in this sentence?", we actually had such palavers as "Dude, I'm saying, write it like this that'd be an awesome sentence" and him going, "No, dude, this way, and here's why". It was intellectually stimulating and, to be honest, quite exhilarating. I can't wait to go to grad school and agonize over theses in that manner.

Now, in this consultation, I totally broke the rules as set up by experts in the consulting field. Most of the people we've read would probably not advocate a consultant taking such a primary role in the creation of a document. It seems the essays we've read thus far advocate more of a passive colaboration; Harris, fo example, says that tutors are to "move writers into the active role of making decisions, asking quetions, spotting problem areas in their writing..." [208] but in such a way that does not involve debate and "united labor." Looking at the above quote, it can be inferred that Harris is a proponent of the tutor as coach, an asker of leading questions, and not a participant in the actual writing process. But in the situation I had earlier, was an active participant in the writing process; while not writing the paper for him, there was certainly cooperation in the creation of literature.

And this was totally appropriate for the situation. This type of consulting was beneficial because the writer was an advanced student who didn;t need someone to teach them how to write so much as a second set of eyes through which to view the paper. Of course, tis style of collaboration, this united front, is not applicable to every circumstance. In the case of less seasoned writers, leading questions and writing coaching is most appropriate. But in this case I suppose I went against the pedagogocal grain and threw myself into the ring along with the PhD student.

This posting isn't as clear as I'd like it to be. I haven't eaten all day and I'm rather hungry. Hoefully this post will create some discussion and I'll be able to clarify some statements or something.

peace OUT



Along with the Meyer’s article, I was assigned to read the focus of Meyer’s article: ““Reassessing The “Proofreading Trap?: ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction.? Talking about theory always seems to be so much harder when you talk about ways in which it can be acted out in everyday life. Thus, I applaud these authors for trying to give us concrete ways to effectively consult with ESL students, but I do have to say that I was a bit bogged down in the details and the nitpicking.
Let’s just start at the very beginning…(Maria VonTrapp, where are you?)

Jane Cogie, Kim Strain and Sharon Lorinskas wrote “Avoiding the Proofreading Trap…? because the authors felt that often times, the role of the cultural informant can look like proofreading “when ESL students have no whole essay issues and relatively few sentence-level errors? (8). They preface their article stating the need to teach relatively proficient ESL writers to self-edit. Thus, the whole article is targeting the more advanced, proficient ESL writers.

Kim Strain gives practical tips on initiating the student’s self-editing process. She begins with a Learner’s Dictionary and Minimal Marking. A learner’s dictionary provides much more cultural information for the ESL student, phrasal verbs, and gives complete, easy examples. Strain writes that, should the need to correct sentence-level errors arise, global errors, those which block meaning, (such as incorrect verb tense, verb incorrectly formed, incorrect use or formation of a modal or conditional sentence, etc)are given priority over local errors. The second suggestion was minimal marking, which flags mistakes in a sentence without telling exactly what the mistakes are; the hope here is that the students will begin to identify their own errors. She also recommends using error logs, which document in columns the type of error made, how to fix it, etc. Error logs are probably most effective in regular weekly appointments and may also be used for less proficient and less confident ESL students.

Sharon Lorinskas begins her section discussing whether or not there is a need to know grammar rules. She comments on a survey done in 1985 which concluded that “knowledge of rules is and of itself is of no heuristic value unless the rules have been internalized.? Thus, to better internalize these rules, she recommends the error log and learner’s dictionary. She also gives a self-editing checklist which goes through the process of editing. This technique would most help the ESL student if it was done with the tutor. These methods are all attempts to stop proofreading, but still maintain the role as cultural informant.

In direct opposition to this article is Meyers- she states that helping with sentence-level errors is not unimportant, but rather is crucial for ESL students. They need more help on the “linguistic? component (vocabulary and syntax). She writes that we need to acknowledge the pivotal place that language holds in our writing, especially complex phrases, and helping ESL students with language is what we must do.
She critiques the error log and other methods because most students know what they struggle with, but they need help in fixing it.

When I first read these articles, I was a bit overwhelmed and felt like they were arguing about seemingly petty things, but upon my second read, I found that there is really one big argument. Meyers biggest “beef? is that the authors focus too much on the negative, on fixing the errors, and not enough on building a bigger vocabulary with complex phrases. It seems to me that his is a very valid argument. I think it is very important to stress the fact that Cogie’s article applied to the more advanced ESL students, as many of these methods, like the error log or minimal marking, does not seem to aid in the acquisition of the language if they don’t already have a foundation from which to build.
I thought it was kind of funny how Meyers went through each of their suggestions and tore them apart—don’t make Meyers angry…I do agree with some of her objections though, that the error log would get repetitive and even frustrating as the student continuously copies down the same error. However, if you were to focus on one error a session, perhaps the error log would be useful. I think a compromise can be made between these two authors; their views are not mutually exclusive.

Combining all four articles, this is my short little recipe for a successful writing consultant for ESL students:

*Role of cultural informant is key; we must take into account their cultural background, how they see education and how proficient they are in English. Remember, this is not just a paper, but a human being coming for help and answers in a possibly brand-new, foreign world.
*Talk to theses students.
*Sentence-level errors, vocabulary, synonyms, phrases and issues such as these are not necessarily ‘lower-order’ concerns for ESL students. Many times, these are the issues that stop them from writing more fluently, especially if they are skilled writers.
*Do not focus solely on errors and the negative aspects, but work on building their writing.
*We can use methods like error logs, dictionaries, minimalist marking but they are just that: methods. There is a need for flexibility within each session.
*Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.
*Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly. (That’s my little shout-out to Baz Luhrman and the sunscreen song, still one of my favorites!)

See you tomorrow!


I’m sorry I’m late! I coulnd't find how to post this!
For this blog, I will discuss the Harris article, and then an additional one I was assigned to read: “ ‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie? by Anne DiPardo. These two articles really complement each other(hmmm…coincidence?), as the Harris article deals more with the theoretical aspects of how best to approach clashing cultures in the writing center, and the DiPardo is a case study of Fannie, a Navajo Indian seeking more than just writing help from Morgan, the well-meaning but clueless writing tutor.

Harris begins her article discussing the individual differences between ESL students, and how each person brings with them different expectations and beliefs to the writing center. She writes that it becomes difficult when the tutor and the writer have two different conceptions of what is going to happen during this consultation. This clashing of expectations has happened to me several times- one specific example is when a young lady came in, expecting me to fix her sentence mechanics, whereas I wanted to focus on the bigger problems of organization. The whole session was a tug-of-war for power, and looking back, I surmise that I could have handled this situation SO much better, like beginning the session with a clear discussion of our expectations.

Harris declares that collaboration is what writing consultants do, but she also gives room for movement within that, as each person and session is different.

The expectations of ESL students’ in a writing consultation are different than a native speaker (I guess that may seem obvious, but sometimes I forget that these students are coming in from a completely different background than native speakers, so I think it bears repeating.) They look to tutors more for answering questions, personal help, and most importantly: to improve in writing in the English language. These students also enjoyed the small-talk at the beginning, as it calmed their nerves and provided times for tutors to get to know the student’s background. They also expressed a need for direction within their writing, as with things like synonyms, wording, and sentence-level mechanics, idioms, etc. They also come from different writing styles, as many countries stress different aspects in writing than the United States. These cultural and writing differences make an appointment with an ESL student drastically different than an appointment with one who is native to the culture and language.

DiPardo’s article seems to demonstrate all of these aspects perfectly. Fannie is a Navajo Indian who never learned to be literate in her own language, and was barely taught to read or write English proficiently before high school. Graduating high school against all-odds, she went to college, but was still very insecure about her language skills. Attending college was a landmark event in her family, as she was one of the first to attend. She also saw education as a double-edged sword: while it gave her many opportunities, she was also concerned of it taking away from her heritage and betraying her people. Not only did the educations system prepare her inadequately in reading and writing, but the teaching style was much different than she was used too in her Navajo education. Like the ESL students that Harris interviewed, Fannie brings a lot of emotional stress and identity crisis surrounding her education.
College writing was a struggle for Fannie, as her writing was not sophisticated, but the comments that teachers gave were vague. In an attempt to improve her writing skills, Fannie attended the writing center regularly to find direction in this complex language. Morgan was her tutor who tried compassion in the beginning, but when Fannie did not seem to know what she wanted to say or had trouble expressing her thoughts, frustration took over their sessions. Fannie had no idea how to articulate what she wanted to say or what she even needed from Morgan; her problems were all connected to the ways in which her culture viewed the world. Like Harris’s article, if Morgan would have taken the time to get to know about her culture, her language ability, a lot of the frustration would have been solved.

Morgan later on tried to be more “collaborative? and not as directive. She encouraged Fannie to take control of her paper, like any good tutor should do, but it failed. Morgan did not adequately listen to Fannie, and instead seemed to confuse her more. DiPardo ends by critiquing Morgan’s care for Fannie. Collaboration, she says, is not just a set of techniques, but a “new way to think about teaching and learning? (113). This echoes Harris’s article that each person is different and cannot be dealt with by a set of techniques.

These articles read together really increased my understanding of working with ESL students; they take student individuality into account.

“Teach students, not subjects.? I think this is a good mantra not only for teaching in a school, but for consulting in a writing center. These articles combined show that teaching ESL students require different approaches, and helping them find words or giving them sentence level help may not be the wrong thing to do, as they are trying to learn about the language, which will in turn help them learn about the culture. I think one thing I will especially take away from these articles is that ESL students are bringing with them a lot of unknowns, and a visit to the writing center is a way to explore this foreign culture. It is a call for help, and sitting back and being elusive to these students because we do not want to do the wrong technique is not what we are meant to do. Adapting to a new way of life and culture is hard, let alone trying to learn a new language. I guess my question is how do we not get bogged down in a legalistic framework for writing consultancy? How do we teach students, and not subjects?

Perhaps the next blog on the Meyers and Cogie article will answer that one…coming to you soon.

blogging on the installment plan (or not)

so, as my 4 pm blogging deadline approaches, i've only had a chance to skim 'the proofreading trap'. i'm going to offer my thoughts now, and maybe try to throw out more once i've had a chance to sit down and read more thoroughly.

it seems to me that it's ok that myers' piece is somewhat inconclusive, because it really only becomes meaningful when we put it into conversation with our own experiences consulting anyways. i think we've already been discussing in class the issues central to this article-- is proofreading ok, when is it ok, etc...i like what wendy started when she said that we shouldn't overwhelm someone by pointing out a bunch of technical errors. at the heart of what she's saying, it seems, is that our overall concern is keeping the student engaged and comfortable (to the best of our abilities) within a session. perhaps proofreading might be a tool we use (among many) to keep a student engaged in a consultation. that sounds like a complete oxymoron, but especially in the case of non-native speakers, proofreading might be a way to keep them from feeling overwhelmed as we push our goals of non-directive tutoring. again, as wendy said (thanks, wendy!), it would have to be a directed kind of proofreading. i've found that when i've worked with NNS students who had grammar concerns, i could mix strategies: i might read through it, and see if i can identify patterns to the types of errors being made (so that we can focus on a manageable amount of work) and point these patterns out (a rather proofreading-heavy strategy); next, we could read the paper out loud together and together identify errors (shares the work a bit more); if this goes well, i might ask them to correct a section on their own, or a student might say they feel comfortable correcting the rest later (hands over the work to the student). i've had consultees take their papers and correct everything quite easily after i pointed out a type of error, and had others in which we read and worked through the entire paper out loud. it depends on the language skills people bring with them.

point being, i think it's best not to get too wrapped up in trying to identify THE WAY to use or not use proofreading. perhaps it's doesn't always have to be antithetical to writing center philosophies, especially when combined with other types of strategies, and when used with the ultimate goal of making writing feel less scary for the individual writer.

ooo, this comment's already gotten big (maybe there'll be no sequel?). i wanted to bring up a point to from the thonus text last week, since we didn't talk much about it. it really made me realize how present the instructor always is in a consultation: their assignments, their support (or lack of support), their instruction...i've found myself encouraging a lot of students to try to pick their instructors' brains more, to clear up their expectations and the material they're working with.

so i'm starting to think about the instructor's responsibility in the 'triangulation' of a consultation, as well as how it relates to a student's responsibility in a consultation. i think sometimes we expect ourselves to be able to respond well to every student's concerns. but what if a student hasn't spent enough time with their material, and the instructor has done little to explain it? or what if you can't quite figure out what an instructor really wants? if a student's good at thinking out loud, you can work through some of these issues more easily. but i've had a couple of sessions where students don't want to be a part of brainstorming (don't want to/have trouble thinking out loud), but also don't know their material or anything about what the teacher expects. i'm not sure how much i should expect of myself in such a situation.

i can never think of a title first

I agree with Maggie (next entry) that the Myers article didn't have any clear point or solutions for us. Not that she was wrong. She actually pointed out a few things I've been learning about in my linguistics classes. She points out on page 231 (lower right) how those who study foreign language learners have realized that learners get a lot more out of moments when they are spontaneously attempting to communicate meaning. The idea is that there are two separate sections of the brain whre the second language is; one is what they have learned in class like the rules and vocab lists and they don't have access to this when trying to communicate meaning quickly, the other area is what they have acquired, they call it interlanguage, this is what comes out when they just talk without trying to be correct. what does that mean for us? Myers says in her next paragraph that instead of "carving up" their (NNS) text and performing an "autopsy" (nice image in the brain-yuck), we should give them more. this simple act of sitting there and talking to them helps them. She talks about this on the bottom of 224 when she mentions spontaneous production and Interlanguage. Those that study second language learners are looking at this primarily.
Another linguistic idea she brings in is on page 225 when she mentions that language features are learned in certain orders and someone may not be ready for some particular feature. Its like trying to take trig before algebra, maybe not that extreme! But then i ask myself, what does this mean for us as tutors? I think we need to realize that we are not responsible for where this student is at in there language learning and pointing out a ton of errors won't help. I sometimes just take a few things, or sentences that really stand out as confusing and start working on those. A always appreciate how difficult it is for them and tell them that, what a difficult task they are attempting (school in a second, or third etc language.
I always encourage them to read a lot, just like Yi said. Then they can go at their own pace and see how words, grammar and punctuation work.

Whew, I'm a dork...

So I'm totally amped that I get to be the first one to blog about Tuesday's readings. I never get first at anything! (I know, I know, this is kind of a "by default" situation, but still...). Although I must say, I'm not super excited about actually being in the assigned blogging group for this week, because before I got to just make silly comments about the readings, and now I have to include...[dun-dun-dun]...SUBSTANCE. So here goes.

As Emily L. would say, I was a bit frustrated with one of this week's readings. I was all excited to read about the "Proofreading trap" and how to avoid it, but I don't believe the article came to a logical conclusion that would help me out. See, way back when in the good ol' days (ahem, 4 measly weeks ago) when I was observing consultations during the training week, it seemed to me that most of the people I watched were finding individual errors in NNS students' papers, pointing them out, and telling them what would be correct. This is where I developed my irrational fear of proofreading--I think because the line between tutoring and editing became so blurred. And after only a few weeks of consulting, it's STILL a constant struggle. Long story long, I thought that this article would finally explain how to deal with grammar errors in [mostly] NNS students' papers.

Myers' take on Cogie et al.'s four strategies made sense. I would hate to suggest to a student with a limited English vocabulary that they carry around a Learner's Dictionary whenever they're grasping for a word, because I have to have one with me every time I work on Greek homework, and looking up every single word in the dictionary makes me not want to do it. The "Minimal Marking" strategy wouldn't make sense either, because it doesn't seem to involve any sort of tutoring. So, great. With that one, the student walks away knowing that they made 50 errors on their paper, but they have no idea what the errors are. No way, Jose. The "Error log bog" (ha, "BOGGED down in spending time and attention"...so clever) sounded like it would be the most effective method, but it certainly would take lots of time out of a session to write down notes on every single error in a paper.

The part that confused me is when Myers said "Sometimes it is simply more economical to point out an error and supply a correction or an alternative way to express something" (227). Within the context of the article, I don't really understand economics came into play. More importantly, because she hid this sentence inside of her comments on one of Cogie's methods, it makes me think that she thinks she doesn't have to explain herself. But she does, and she didn't (whew.) This makes me wonder: when exactly would it be ok to point out/correct these errors? The whole article refers to tutors as being afraid of proofreading papers, but then she admits that it's ok, "sometimes"? What does this mean for a consultant like me, who is already having trouble figuring out things like: how much of this correcting is too much? When should I just point to an error and see if they can fix it? What does this mean for repeated errors? Myers got my hopes up with the title of this article, and yet there seemed to be little explanation on what we unsure consultants are supposed to do. The methods are interesting things to keep in mind, but I was disappointed in the article's lack of clearer guidance.

Sorry, Kirsten et al., for blathering--I hope this still counts as my required blog entry!