Thursday, April 24, 2014

Feedback about Feedback: How Do You Handle This in Sessions?

In my WRT 329 class, I worked on a project that dealt with feedback to students on their writing. While it primarily focused on feedback in a professor-student sense, I found some parallels to the kind of feedback that we give at the writing center, so I thought I’d share some insight.

The article itself is called “Across the Drafts” by Nancy Sommers. This particular article is an amendment of an earlier article where she claimed that the power of feedback rested primarily on the instructors. She urged writing instructors to stray away from the infamous marginal comments, which consist of broad, universal statements and suggestions such as “this is too vague” or “expand,” and she thought that instructors needed to utilize feedback as an “extension of the teacher’s voice” and an “extension of the teacher as reader” (p. 155).

However, in “Across the Drafts,” she adopts a new mantra of the student-professor relationship that serves more like a partnership. A student needs to be ready to receive and apply such feedback from his instructor, and likewise, the instructor needs to try to appeal more towards the writer and not necessarily the writing. I find that this relates to one of our mantras of helping the overall student as opposed to the individual paper.

Even more specifically, Jeff Sommers wrote an article about different kinds of audio feedback. I think this relates more to us at the writing center since we give live feedback while we read our clients’ texts, which is essentially what audio feedback does. Sommers concluded that there are three main types of feedback labeled retrospective, synchronous, and anticipatory. Retrospective comments link the teacher’s comment with previous interaction with the student, synchronous comments include responses that take the role and perspective of the reader, and anticipatory comments extend to offer insight and advice about future writing.

Personally, I find that I use Jeff Sommers’ comment categories every day, which, according to him, is a good thing. If I saw the client before, I’ll make a note of how they improved from last time or how it’s similar to something they already worked on. Similarly, I often take the role of the reader and audience and tell clients “as a reader, this is what I perceived and this is what I gathered,” and likewise, I ALWAYS try to offer them tips or strategies that they can utilize for both the paper at hand and also for their future writing assignments.

While reading these articles and other of similar stature, I really started to think about the entire feedback concept. It’s a really important thing, especially in the field of writing, and it’s something that occurs somewhat naturally and subconsciously but that can also be controlled and monitored.

So, how do YOU all conduct feedback and commentary? Do you find Jeff Sommers’ groupings to fit into what you do? Do you think there’s maybe a different category of feedback on which we could focus?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blog Post: Helping Arabic Students with Articles

Working with our international students can be difficult when our consultants are not sure what differences exist between the client's first language and English.  Recognizing error patterns helps, and knowing how to help the client relate English rules back to their original grammars helps even more.

With that in mind, I have worked out one solution for our Arabic language clients.  As many consultants may have noticed, our Arabic clients, like our Chinese clients and those with some other first languages, often have difficulty knowing where to use articles (a, an, the) in their English writing. They believe that their language does not use articles, but that is not precisely true.  In Arabic, most nouns begin with “al,” as in “al asad,” which means “the lion.”  Arabic students think of the “al” as part of the noun, so they do not think of it as an article.  Consultants may have noticed that many Arabic surnames also begin with “Al,” and that their names are often written as single words; this is because they think of the first two letters as part of the word.

I have talked with several Arabic students about this.  In each case, when I told them that English nouns are usually preceded by articles, they were confused.  When I told them that English nouns are usually preceded by articles, in the same way that most Arabic nouns begin with “al,” however, each one expressed dawning understanding.

If an Arabic client seems to be struggling with when and where to use articles in English, it might be helpful for the consultant to draw the client’s attention to this parallel between Arabic and English.  Dealing with the difference between a/an and the is another matter, but getting the client in the habit of using articles is a good start.

This is just based on personal observation and experience, but I hope it is helpful.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

M-W-C-A, It's Fun to Go To The M-W-C-A...

Hello Everyone!

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go with six other lovely ladies to the M-W-C-A, the Michigan Writing Centers Association Conference at Grand Valley State University. It was a great conference to attend for our first time, one I will recommend to anyone because of its informative, yet less formal approach. Everyone was very professional and appreciative of others' work in different writing centers. I especially liked learning about other writing centers and their services, and have recognized how the OUWC has grown to new heights in the past years. The following are descriptions and comments about the sessions I attended for those of you who want to know more about the conference:

For my first session, I attended, "I thought you were an expert?" by consultants from the writing center at Michigan State University. It was a basic presentation that focuses on students' perspectives and assumptions as they come into the writing center. Although it was interesting to hear about different scenarios others have encountered in their writing centers, I was hoping for more tips and instruction from the presenters. I feel that OUWC consultants are prepared for these types of situations.

My second session was titled, "Collaboration 2.0: Working with Technology in the Modern Writing Center," which was presented by a group of consultants from Mattawan High School. I must say that this was my favorite session as I was very impressed by the presentation and how the students carried themselves. Even though they had only experience in working in a high school writing center, they still had iPads, explained how they used Google Docs, and even showed us some different apps they use in their center. The presentation was conducted by using Prezi, they looked at their notes off of the iPads themselves, and they even made handouts and broke us up into discussion groups to analyze the pros and cons of technology in the writing center. Some things I found interesting in that we might want to apply to our practices: iTunes U - you can post forums, forms, readings, or discussions that others can view later. iBrainstormer app - an interactive brainstorm web-making tool that can organize and color code a student's brainstorm. Overall, I just think this presentation was very impressive by these young high school students.

Session #3 was composed of two presentations...1. "Beyond Grammar: Reviving Discussions of Rhetoric in Tutoring Sessions" 2. "Under Pressure: Removing the Paper to Empower the Student." The first presentation was given by a consultant from Cornerstone University and she discussed the basics of rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos, etc.). Even though I thought it was a good presentation, I knew most of the material from my Major in Writing/Rhetoric at OU. The second presentation was given by consultants from Grand Valley State University and it discussed different tips to do when a student is so overwhelmed with the paper in front of them. Both said to take it away and focus on different aspects of the paper. Again, a great presentation, but I believe that most of our training sessions in the OUWC prepare our consultants for these types of situations.

Session #4 was also composed of two presentations... 1. "Making the Connection: Tutors Working as Liaisons to Underserved Departments" 2."Writing Centers Collaborating with Social Media." Both presentations were given by different consultants from Saginaw State University and the first presentation discussed how to get departments that may not know/use the writing center more involved. They both gave examples of what they did in their own departments to get students to use the writing center: one did surveys and the other had meetings with faculty and staff. They also came up with a five stage collaboration process: recognizing needs, initiating conversations, becoming a liaison, facilitating action, what's next? I thought it was a good presentation and maybe we could do the same with some departments on our campus? The second presentation, honestly, I was not very impressed. I think that the presenter was ill prepared and confused about some of the things that were in her presentation. I thought it would be about using different kinds of social media to get the writing center out there. However, she just showed different examples of pictures and asked us if we would post it on Facebook or not and because they all dealt with some kind of discriminatory action, we said no to all of them. However, she paused a minute and told us she did post some of them. I think a lot of people were confused in her reasons why.

The last session I attended was titled "A Pic is wrth 1K Wrds: 21st Century Stories and Strategies" given by the Associate Director of the Michigan State University Writing Center. It was a fun session. We talked about what "diversity" means in our community/campus, department/discipline, and our writing center. We also talked about the "multi-modal center." She posted different TRUE examples of scenarios in their writing center and in groups we had to come up with a way to help the student. Some include: how to create a website or podcast, how to organize a poster, or reviewing a powerpoint or prezi. My all time favorite however, a student once came in to get help organizing and using the appropriate tone to send a break-up text. I know, right? But, I think maybe we can have a few small training sessions about helping students with some of these things.

But all in all, I thought the conference was very informative and worth attending. Hope to hear that more are going next year!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MWCA Response :)

Hello dear OUWC bloggers,

As Jenna so lovely stated in the last post, a few of us had the privilege to attend the Michigan Writing Center Association Conference at Grand Valley State University on Saturday October 12th. It was a really cool experience to see so many writing center consultants, directors, and enthusiasts in the same place. I went to several presentations throughout the day and of those my two favorite were "The Ownership of Narrative: Working with Refugees in the Writing Center" and "Collaborating Across Colleges and Programs."

I found the first presentation fascinating because I had never encountered working directly with a refugee in the writing center. I have worked with many immigrants, study abroad students, and veterans that have a global experience, but never refugees. The presenters emphasized the importance of sensitivity and indirect tutoring when working with this population of students. First, it is relevant to be compassionate towards the student because the experiences they have encountered may be horrific, to say the least. Next, indirect tutoring helps the student come to terms with what they are comfortable writing about and how they are comfortable relating their points. The presenters addressed how some of these refugee students come from countries that have very different values and it can be jarring for the refugee students to have a voice, an opinion, and feel safe with their relating their thoughts about a subject; they may have experienced oppression of freedom of speech or no freedom of speech in the previous country they lived in.

The second presentation I attended, with four of my fellow writing center consultants, was "Collaborating Across Colleges and Programs." This presentation discussed placing specialized consultants in different departments throughout the school and campuses. One writing center consultant worked in the Psychology and Biology departments. This consultant had a desk in both departments where she worked specifically with students from that discipline on their writing for classes within that department. A second consultant was placed in the Nursing Department. This student had her desk alongside hospital beds and other nursing equipment. The third consultant was responsible for the online writing consulting. The way that this university (Eastern Michigan University) ran their online writing center consulting was through an e-mail base; the student e-mailed their writing concerns in an e-mail and then the consultant replied within a day to the various students who had written with concerns. According to the presenter, this flexibility was beneficial for the student - they could turn their questions / writing in at any hour of the day - and the consultant - they could reply within a day at any hour of the day and work from any location.

This post is getting a bit long, but I'll add just one more quick ending note. In addition to listening to presenters, I also had the joy of giving a presentation myself. It was wonderful to be able share our research (the research Brendan and I did over the summer) with a broader audience outside of our OUWC community. Unfortunately, my presentation was cut a little short because the presenter before me ran over time, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed being able to present.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jenna's Response to the MWCA Conference

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Michigan Writing Centers Association (MWCA) conference at Grand Valley! Aside from spending the day in the most glorious library I’ve ever seen, I also learned a ton and was super grateful for the opportunity to attend. The presentations that I took the most from were in regards to rhetoric. It’s typical that students will come in for an appointment with concern for only the grammatical components of their drafts, but what about the paper’s rhetorical value? The presenter made an excellent point that I think consultants can easily forget: rhetorical value > grammatical value. This was a great reminder for me (and hopefully you!) that even if the client says he/she wants grammar corrected, rhetoric should always have precedence. The following presentation was about one option we can use to reform our methods as to ensure the product has significant rhetorical value to it. According to the presenters, consulting without a paper is the answer. Speaking with the client about what he/she is hoping to accomplish in the paper, taking notes of what is said, and then finally reading the paper to see if the student has indeed accomplished the stated goals is an excellent way to measure how effectively the student is using rhetoric. Since the conference I have implemented this strategy into multiple sessions, which have resulted in great success. I recommend everyone push the paper aside at least once and see what they can accomplish without it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Summer Lovin'

Welcome to the summer semester! Come on over to the OUWC for writing help!

Writing in the summer can help to keep your mind active and retain those factoids that you learned during the school year. Here are some tips you can use to help keep up with writing during the summer:
  • Journal daily about all of the summer adventures that you have. If you're like me and think that your life is utterly uninteresting, try a theme journal, like a "thankful journal" where you write down something you are thankful for every day.
  • Write one grammatically correct sentence a day. Not something easy either, challenge yourself!!
  • Research a topic that you are interested in, perhaps a dream vacation destination, and write a little bit about it using the research you gathered. Be sure to use correct citations too!
  • Read a book/magazine or go see a movie and write a review of it. Channel your inner Roger Ebert.
  • Write a fascinating story about your dream summer vacation, because if you have no life, at least you can write about an interesting one. ;)
Don't let your brain cells die, keep your mind active as well as your body in the summer months.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lazy Languages

I don't know if many of you have noticed, but people have gotten lazy with the way they communicate. Oftentimes people will use text lingo in their verbal conversations, no that big of a problem right? Wrong! This translates over into writing as well. Text lingo has become such a norm that students are turning in papers that contains it. People are getting lazy with the way they write. Gone are the days of eloquent language. Instead, they have been traded for trite expressions and initialized words.

This reminds me of a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society. “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”

Personally, the smarter one sounds, the more attracted I am to that person. In that aspect, the quote is right. In all seriousness though, use a thesaurus, try to expand your word knowledge. It will only help you in the long run.

As the semester winds down and many papers and tests are piling up, that does not give you an excuse to be lazy. Language is a beautiful thing. Don't let it die! Keep it alive!

Best of luck on your finals! May the odds be ever in your favor!