September 11, 2007

I'm becoming a blog addict

So I'm in the middle of reading the "Composing Behaviors of One-and Multi-Draft Writers" article and I imply had to stop--mid-sentence-- to blog. At the bottom of page 180, in the section entitled "Preference for Beginning with a Developed Focus vs. Preference for Beginning at an Exploratory Stage" (c'mon, who says that? who writes a fifteen-word title for a one and a half page section of an article?), Harris writes "Among the consistent behaviors that one-drafters report is the point at which they can and will start writing. All of the four one-drafters expressed..." Please explain to me how this woman can describe a trait shared by four of the millions of "one-drafters" (does she also call sandwiches "sammies?" ew.) a "consistent behavior. I am so frustrated that I want to scream. And the worst part about it is that the behaviors she goes on to describe fit me to a T. Drat.

Commands do not Equal Education

After reading the selection on teacher and student accounts of learning to come to terms with learning, I found that I really agree with some of the other comments made about it it feels to be made to learn. I believe that no student can truly benefit from being "made" learn to read. I always believe that students should be encouraged to learn and given the proper amount of time to become comfortable. No one learns when they are afraid of the teacher or the lesson. I also believe that it would take a massive school reform to solve some of the major issues, which is what acts like NCLB thought it was doing, but in some cases has made things worse. It's hard to teach to a test or assignment when students already lack the skills and confidence to succeed. Therefore, teachers should play a role more like what we do as writing consultants and encourage that student to do better and work with them to get them to that point rather than criticize their process. This article, as one can see from my response really stuck me and I just wanted to express my opinions. The other articles touched on other central themes that we encounter as writing consultants and future educators, but this article here really helped me to see how systems have the ability to dictate how one operates and how others are left out. I really have a strong interest in these types of educational stories. Hey, I should use this for my "teaching philosophy" assignment! ~Paz~

September 10, 2007


The feeling I got from all of this week's readings was...teachers kind of stink. They give us deadlines to rush/delay our creative process when writing, and then require us to follow a writing schedule that doesn't suit our style or pace. Although I can certainly understand that teachers have to work within deadlines themselves, I have to agree that it can put unnecessary strain on writing assignments. In this way I could relate to the Composing Behavior article, which notifies us of the problems of trying to follow a teacher's deadlines and paper structure when they clash with your personal writing style. However, I have to disagree with this article as a whole. I don't believe giving such broad classifications to writers will help in improving their writing. These groups may help understand a writer better on a superficial level, it's not an analysis that will help in substantially improving their writing. Each case will be different, not only for the individual, but also for their assignment. For example, when I have a writing assignment, I usually wait until one or two nights before it's due to even begin. This isn't to say I wait until then to think about it as well. I usually start forming ideas mentally as soon as the assignment is given. According to Harris, this classifies me as a "one-drafter." Unfortunately, I would also classify under "multi-drafter"; I have what would qualify as an explosion of ideas, which I proceed to dump onto paper, using many many sheets to fine tune my ideas. While this is horrible organization on my part, it's also the way I produce some of my best writing. If it isn't confusing enough that I classify as both extremes of Harris's classification system, I don't think anyone would benefit from referring to this study to help me improve my writing. It's a good theory, it's just not that important.

Daiker's article on Learning to Praise is something I can agree with, for the most part. Most people will respond positively to encouragement (for proof, see my previous blog). But praise only helps if it's constructive. I would be terribly annoyed if my instructor simply gives me a "that's great" without explaining what exactly it is that I was so good at. The same applies to criticism. I can't stand instructors that tell me what amounts to "this is horrible" without giving me something to go off of, and improve my work for next time. Case in point: my photography professor, who shall remain nameless, but was an ass nonetheless, would give me horrible grades and no feedback. None, whatsoever. All I took away from that class were many slips of paper with "B-" on them, and nothing else. Of course art is much different than writing, and has a lot more room for objectivity. Which makes his behavior even worse. Not giving feedback, especially in an INTRO class, results in no improvement or productivity, just a bunch of grumpy students.

I agreed the most with the third article by Capossela. As I said earlier, teachers can make writing hell for students by forcing them to write in a style and pace that is not comfortable for them. However, there isn't really much to be done about this. Unless we go through nationwide teacher reform, which would take close to forever, teachers and their ideals and expectations are something that all students will have to deal with eventually. The best way to remedy this problem is to make a stop at your friendly neighborhood Writing Center, sometime between the assignment being handed out and it's due date. This article just made me appreciate what we do here in the Writing Center even more. The student will still end up working within the limitations set by their teachers, but we as consultants can help them figure out how to push those boundaries. Here's to the C4W, rebellious badasses extraordanaire.

Just because I love writing long blogs, I would also like to address the readings from the previous week, as a whole. These make it clear to me that there is a distinct line between consulting and teaching. The problem is (as many of my more experienced co-workers know by now...because I won't leave them alone about it) where exactly is that line? I think a lot of consulting is just going by your gut, and while I can refer to these readings and the guidelines of the center to know where my boundaries are, I will also develop my own style of consulting and know when to say what, with experience and practice.

*thanks for the tip Katie!*

Let's talk about [theory], baby

A few thoughts on the article, "Learning to Praise"...

Now, let me preface this with a little personal history. My father is an English teacher with a doctorate in education. I also went to a college-prep school. Because of these two things, I have had strong support in my development as a writer. I understand that I am an exception in writing development as opposed to the rule; not everyone has had strong writers standing behind them at every point in their lives, smacking them in the face with the protocols of good writing technique.

Now, this said, I am used to a lack of praise during the editing/grading process. The reason is because there is an implicit understanding between me and the editor/grader that the paper is good and the purpose for editing/grading is to point out areas where the paper is weak and to fix them, in the case of the grader, or to not make the same mistake on future essays, in the case of the grader. I have always had a great amount of critique on the essays, but always prefaced with statements like "This is a very strong paper, but..." or, "Excellent work! But take a look at..." At the same time, all of the English/History/et al. teachers I had throughout high school were not big on making comments, period. Notes were marked in the margins when a passage was particularly strong or weak, and saved most of the comments for the end.

In reflecting on the article, I do support the need for praise as discussed in the Daiker article. Positive reinforcement is important. Like flies to the honey, experiments like those discussed in Dalkier's essay [105-106], students are certainly in tune to praise and take it as encouragement to push themselves to improve upon their writing. At the same time, praise for praise's sake is not necessarily a good thing. Peppering the student's essay with "good", "well done" and other variations on the aforementioned is ultimately shallow and not beneficial to either student or teacher. It wastes the ink instructor's pen and does not help the student understand why the passage is good or well done. I do understand that the theory described throughout the article is a bit deeper than that, but, to play Devil's Advocate, the "enlightened scholarly views" [105] of making the writing process "positive, joyous, [and] creative..." [105] are akin to holding hands and singing Kumbaya. I'm okay, you're okay. Daiker's argument would be stronger if he offered a synthesis of the "school" and "scholarly" traditions [105], which is, I think, what has been given to me during my educational career. Using language to present praise and criticism at the same time ["Good, but..."] would be the greatest form of praise. I suppose if I had to choose a camp between the "scholarly" and "school" traditions, I'm certainly of the old-school. But that doesn't mean I'm going to rap the knuckles of a student for poor grammar. Gentle criticism and selective praise is probably the most helpful and useful for student and teacher.

September 9, 2007


I had very mixed feelings after reading Brannon and Knoblauch's article On Students' Rights... I thought it a noble cause to give more confidence to student writers and give them ownership of their writing, which would hopefully increase the incentive to write, lead to better writing, etc.

However, I am a bit resistant to the article’s main assertion that “the teacher’s role is to attract a writer’s attention to the relationship between intention and effect, enabling a recognition of discrepancies between them, even suggesting ways to eliminate the discrepancies, but finally leaving decisions about alternative choices to the writer, not the teacher? (218). I have respect for teachers- or at least most of them. I am attending the University of Minnesota because I want to learn, to grow, to tap into others’ wisdom and knowledge and become a better writer, reader, student, and person. I see my professors as people who have put a “monton? (I couldn’t think of a word in English, so I reverted to one of my favorite Spanish words) of energy and time into studying this subject, thus deserving my respect. Obviously, teachers are not infallible and make mistakes. I can COMPLETELY relate to writing based on what I think a professor wants to hear (which I think is a very sad state of affairs, as it doesn’t allow for critical thinking or stepping outside the box), but I felt like the process that Brannon and Knoblauch advocated was not giving teachers enough credit and power to assert objective truths or to correct faulty interpretation.

Not only does this process require multiple drafts for the student, which, as we read in Harris’s article, isn’t necessarily the best option for all students, but it also forgets the need for student’s to learn. Let me explain. My senior year, I was in AP English, and I thought I was a pretty good reader/writer. However, it soon became very clear that I had much to grow in these faculties, especially in analyzing texts. It wasn’t until I did practice exam after practice exam, responding from critiques from Mrs. O’Brien and put these skills that I learned to use, did my skills increase. If the focus would have been solely they intentions of my writing, I would not have become a better reader/writer. I am not foolish enough to say that there is only one right interpretation of a text, but I will say that there are more right interpretations, interpretations that take all parts of the text into account to make an educated argument. Part of writing is an ability to analyze and to draw conclusions, but if students are never trained to look at a text in that way- they could write all they want and get their point across clearly, but never say anything of substance.

When the focus switches from analyzing text, making arguments and drawing conclusions to “what the writer means to say and what the discourse actually manifests of that intention? (217) it lessens academic growth. What if, dare say, that the intention that the student was attempting to convey, was wrong? It just didn’t make sense, and he/she read the text incorrectly. While they were able to assert their claim correctly, they asserted a claim that was faulty. How is this going to improve their writing, their critical thinking?

I acknowledge the good that this process would do, giving a “sense of genuine responsibility? to writers, but I feel that more attention and importance should be placed on students response to teachers critiques- we must not become too wrapped up in HOW something is being conveyed, and forget WHAT is being conveyed.

Learning to Praise...well.

The moment I began reading Daiker's "Learning to Praise," I was convinced this was going to be an article for me. Hemingway is my favorite author of all time (I've read all but two of his works of longer fiction) and A Moveable Feast is one of his best, though not particularly well-known. Anyhow, I settled comfortably down to read in the basement of my sorority during silent "Study Tables" and immediately burst into a muttered diatribe about the article-- not good, considering that Study Tables and their mandated silence are under my purview as Vice President of Intellectual Development. I was a little ashamed, but it was righteous indignation, I assure you.

While I get the concept of praise and will admit from experience that it is difficult for us English people to do, I found Daiker's article frustrating. While he implies that it is important for teachers to "[label] and [explain] the desirable characteristics of their students' writing," he also makes irksome comments such as "[students] receive even vague compliments like 'nice' and 'good' and 'well written' with gratitude and thanksgiving." The picture Daiker paints here is of a beneficent teacher, tossing her gold coins of praise to groveling, ultimately undeserving students. Aside from that revolting nature of that mental picture, the point is not to praise just to make the student feel better about himself, but to demonstrate that there are things he does well so that he can mirror them in future writing.

Several of the comments given in the article in response to the "Easy Street" theme provide a nice example of the issues I take with "Learning to Praise." What, pray tell, is a student supposed to learn from comments like "I like this" or "Nice title" or "Nice structure?" It is not just in criticism that readers and teachers should seek to be constructive, but in praise as well. Many students, especially those who are unsure or inexperienced writers, will not understand even seemingly simple jargon such as 'structure.' Perhaps a more helpful comment would have been along the lines of "Nice structure-- moving from specific to general works very well here." I can't tell you how many times I've received a draft back from a professor with nothing--zero comments-- except the word "Good" scrawled at the bottom. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? I have thrown several rather ungracious fits when those papers have gotten less-than-satisfactory marks.

Although he hints at it several times throughout the article, Daiker would have done well to discuss explicitly the importance of constructive praise. Constructive praise is instructive praise, as I always say. Actually, I've never said that before but as it contains a nice rhymey duet and thoughtful repetition of the key word 'praise,' I may make it my life's mantra. See what I did there? Specific praise. I promise, it feels a lot better to the student than the oh-so-insufficient "good." Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go try and rid myself of this negative association with the beloved Ernest.