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.

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October 23, 2007

Good Text Provoke Many Thoughts...

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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%.

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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.

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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.