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Archive for September, 2014

 

Writing Studio Experience/Discussion

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

Hello fellow Writing Studio consultants,

As we enter October, many of us “tutors” have now had ample experience working in the Writing Studio and assisting a variety of clients on their individual projects. Although the first couple of weeks may have been a bit intimidating or challenging, I hope that many of you have similarly found your time in the Studio to be valuable and rewarding as I have.

To provide a quick background of myself, I am a new M.A. graduate student here at the University of South Florida majoring in English Literature. In addition to working in the Studio, I am also teaching an FYC class. Although these positions vary greatly in terms of specific instructional strategies, both ultimately have a goal of assisting others in improving their writing and becoming better writers overall.

In terms of what I have found to be particularly serviceable as a new Writing Studio consultant, I would first have to say that our handout resources are of incredible use. After intaking the contents of the session and determining what the client and I will be working on, I begin many of my sessions with grabbing a relevant handout. Not only does this provide clients with a valuable item they can use during the consultation and beyond, but it also puts a sense of agency into their own hands and encourages them to improve their overall writing skills (not just a specific issue with a certain project). There have been some instances of me not being sure what an assignment was or where I could find information on a subject/format; some examples have included composing a professional memo and working with AAA style. However, simply letting the writer know that we can investigate the issue together by looking up resources online has proved to be a stress-free, efficient way of solving problems like these.

Among many of the things that I’ve learned in my first month or so here, remembering to let the clients remain the true “writers” of their piece has been one of the most important lessons. After being observed, I realized that I would sometimes invest a little bit too much energy and personal writing style into someone’s work, while simultaneously doing more talking than listening. In order to improve in these areas, I am beginning to understand that allowing for some “quiet time” is important. Many times when we discuss a topic or provide some guided questions/feedback to our writers, we need to remember that it takes at least several seconds for the wheels in their brain to turn and process that information. Allowing a moment of breath and silence to pass can help the client develop his or her own ideas and provide the time necessary to do so. Finally, I also find it valuable to keep a sharp eye on time. When I am approaching the 45-minute mark of our session, I always try to ease the consultation to a close so that there is a couple of minutes to re-cap what we discussed and our plans moving forward. This act really seems to help the writer reflect on his or her progress and feel prepared in what steps to take next.

Although I am becoming much more confident in my role as a Writing Studio consultant, I sometimes do feel stressed about doing my best and making that “difference.” Even presently, I occasionally feel a little nervous walking up the Library steps to the Writing Studio because I know that my role here as a consultant is an important one. I ask myself: “How will I do today? Will I be well-prepared? Will I not know a subject or leave a client feeling unfulfilled in their understanding or development of a writing project?”

But these questions, while normal and understandable, are not productive. We need to realize that each and every day, we continue to learn and grow with our writing and consulting just as much as our clients do. I find it helpful to remind myself to stay in a confident mindset before entering the Studio and telling myself that I “will” do a great job today and make that important connection with my tutees. Aside from our interactions with clients, saying hello and greeting my fellow consultants is also a very encouraging experience. I find it fun, helpful, and cathartic to take a couple moments to ask how others are doing, what is working/not working in their own sessions, and build those essential relationships. It makes my time in the Studio that much more enjoyable.

One of the major challenges that I have personally faced as both a Studio consultant and teacher is again the issue of being directive/non-directive. As a first-time FYC instructor, I am forced at times to take a firm hand and quite literally “tell” my students what to do on a particular project or written homework assignment. Yet in the Writing Studio, I need to wear a different hat; I am not a “teacher” or “authority figure,” but rather a peer working with the client to help guide him or her in improving their piece. Taking a moment to breathe, focus, and remember my place and position enables me to realize where I am, what role I am conducting, and how best to accomplish my goals in that role.

A second challenge that I continue to face is dealing with some clients who come in and simply want me to “fix” their paper, especially in terms of grammar, diction, and syntax. The best strategy I have found is to kindly but plainly tell them our Writing Center policies: namely, that we are not an editor shop. I state that I am happy to read their paper with them and focus on the higher order concerns during our discussion. I also find it helpful to point to specific lower order resources online (like Grammar Girl) so that they can begin correcting their own work (arming them with self-help writing skills in the process) and discovering problematic patterns.

Ultimately, I feel that our time in the Writing Studio is worthwhile, helpful, and constructive, fellow Writing Studio consultants. Yes, we may have certain sessions or days in which we feel we have not made a particularly effective impact on writers, but I think it’s important that we look to all of those great days that we have. Let’s keep in mind as well all of the clients who specifically request us again because they found our feedback useful, supportive, and relevant. Best of all, we are in fact enabling ourselves to become better writers as we do the same for others. Here is to a successful remainder of the semester!

By Ryan Arciero, MA in Literature
 

Zeroth Tenet : Breaking the Rules of Engagement

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

As one of the new consultants in this exciting new phase of my life at the USF Writing Studio, I can say from my experience of almost 4 weeks of consulting that it has been both inclusive and fulfilling. What makes it thus has been the fact that from the very outset, consultants get exposed to heterogeneous writer backgrounds. You really don’t want to get into your Public Health or Anthropology clientele cocoon by the third week and have the jitters when a totally unknown entity waltzing in one day to knock you off your high chair. I am torn between calling this a natural process of acclimatization or the embryo of some careful planning and process of thought on the part of the coordinators. I feel there are more elements of the latter to this than the former.

As someone who is guilty of often getting lost in thoughts, one of the apprehensions in my head as a new consultant prior to my first appointment was about coping up to the idea of providing quality feedback to everyone who came in. The added complexity of having writers with heterogeneous backgrounds turn up expecting results didn’t exactly give me sleepless nights, but it sure occupied a corner of my mind for a few days. I feel that constant improvisation and learning on the job are some comforting aspects which I have managed to come to peace with, as time has gone by.

The USF Writing Studio (like every other organization) has certain guiding principles (which I intend to call as Rules of Engagement (ROE) for no particular reason) that form the broad basis of its philosophy. In summary, these are in the form pf guidelines and/ or strategies that the consultants could use in order to make their consulting experience a whole lot easier. An additional benefit for these are that they allow for consistency and fairness in standards. In an ideal world, a typical consultation shall try to upkeep all these ROEs. But the most lingering question that often came sweeping across my mind was the usual – how could all consultations/ writers be considered as equals? The very fact that each consultant sees a heterogeneous mix of writer backgrounds would naturally make it impossible to gauge every appointment on an equal footing. 

Reasons attributed towards this could range from the topic at hand for discussion and the expertise (or the lack thereof) of the consultant on them, to the competence (or the lack thereof) of the writer. Should the consultant be proficient in the particular theme that the writer comes in with, I feel that there is a simple solution to this conundrum where the consultant makes up his/ her mind to not tinker with the technical content on display. But what happens in the case where the consultant senses that the writer is veering off track from the task at hand? Do we guide them to the right shore (like a good teacher would)? Or do we not worry much about it and go on with the consultation? Because you, as a consultant, are not responsible for the authenticity of your writer’s work. So you need not exactly lose your sleep over that. But if you are like me (yay!), the teacher in you could be worried at this and your first instinct might be to hold their hand and take them in the right direction. And that’s precisely the point where these ROEs stand the risk of being broken or not adhered to. And this is what precisely happened to me this past day.   


This past day, I had an appointment with an ELL. For those of you who do not what this means, ELL stands for English Language Learners – who are recent newcomers to an English speaking environment (comprising of international students) and are often in transition personally, culturally and most importantly for us, linguistically. Their command over the English language is usually not satisfactory and the university (with its resources like us and many others) aids them through this transition period. I personally think very highly of them, primarily for the effort they are willing to put forth. How many of us would be willing to go to say for instance China and learn to speak Mandarin for university or go to Baku (Azerbaijan) and learn Azerbaijani to gel into the country? Not too many I suppose. So yes, the ELL appointment. This ELL person who came by the other day wanted to discuss the progress of her assignment with me. The assignment had 6 parts to it and the student was expected to submit them in 3 installments. She had already finished 2 of the sections, so was left with the other 4. The primary objective of the session was to go through the completed work and answer the most usual question that the writers often ask us – does this make sense? At the outset, I felt that the writer was not confident of her work. Maybe she needed a thumbs up on the content. A secondary objective was to ideate on the remaining sections. Straightforward enough, I thought.

As we were progressing on the first objective of the assignment, I was confirming on my initial assessment of the writer. Grammar was an issue to be addressed and on the scale of priority, very high, from what I was seeing on the manuscript.  10 minutes into the appointment, something else struck me. I was constantly keeping tabs on the objectives of the assignment that the professor had asked for and I realized the writer had veered off track. And from the looks of it, quite a lot. Her understanding of the assignment was completely the opposite of what was expected from her. I knew this was the time to stop the consultation and take a step back. For I didn’t exactly know where this should go from here. I couldn’t possibly go ahead and discuss the assignment on a completely wrong note, but I also wasn’t sure if my intervention as a teacher would bode well with the writer. With the submission due date being hardly 12 hours away, I didn’t exactly want to derail her world by spilling the beans too. I had to make up my mind soon with time ticking down.

2-3 minutes of intense brainstorming in my head and I made up my mind to confront the writer on the authenticity of her work. Going back to the objectives set by the professor, I outlined the tasks in a more simplified manner and it had suddenly dawned into her (with my added effort to stress on this aspect) that it was possible she may have gone wrong on this. I must admit that these kind of realizations suck. It is not upon us consultants to get them to the right shore, but it was in her best interest, I thought. The teacher in me had taken over from the consultant and I just had to go through this motion. Things got better towards the last quarter of the session and the writer was starting to show signs that she could still save her work. So to sum up, we didn’t achieve any of the objectives that we had set forth in the beginning, but I felt there was a sense of greater good in the mind of the writer. She may have possibly saved herself from an embarrassing situation in her class, maybe even a lower grade, who knows!

I won’t say that rules are meant to broken, but I guess some of them could be, if in pursuit of greater good. And this certainly won’t be the last time.

By Nikhil Menon, PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering
 

Assessing the Pre-Writing Stage

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

As one of the Assistant Coordinators of USF’s Writing Studio, I don’t typically get to consult anymore, but I was excited to recently have the opportunity to assist one of our new consultants who had two writers co-authoring a paper for a gerontology class.

The writers came in asking questions about the format and structure of a scientific review paper, but after I asked several questions to gain a better understanding of these writers’ needs, I realized they needed something different. Particularly that they were not giving due diligence to the pre-writing process. I mentally noted two key issues with which they were faced: 1.) the writers were not viewing research as part of the pre-writing process, and 2.) they had little idea about the academic support services our university offered. At that point, I put away the assignment sheet and re-situated my advice. As many undergraduate writers, these writers were trying to jump in to the writing process too quickly. As many writing instructors and writing consultants are probably aware, many people see the writing process as beginning with writing rather than with research (particularly informal research).

I took some time to explain what they needed to do in order to prepare for the actual writing. Because they had no previous experience with their topic, first they had to research: go to Google (or whatever search engine) and first understand the general yet predominant conversations that are happening about your topic. Next, begin recognizing patterns in these conversations and processes of inquiry or “points of entry” into research, that is, what conclusions/arguments are you consistently seeing and what questions to people seem to be trying to answer as part of their own research. Once aware of this, you should then move to more formal types of research, like through your Library’s databases. I also informed these writers about some academic support services, such as our subject librarians and research librarians that could help them with finding peer-reviewed sources.

Consultations with pre-writers are some of my favorite sessions because I often feel like I get to really discover a lot of new things for the writer. Not only about new things about university services but about writing as a process. In many sessions, I find myself having to back the writer up to address some things that were bypassed or not thoroughly considered since the writer often breezes past the pre-writing stage. This means that, as consultants, we have to work harder to recognize the writing stage of the writer since a lot of writers aren’t always aware of where they currently exist in the writing process.

For more information, Yale has a thorough description of what the pre-writing stage includes.

By Danielle Farrar, PhD in Literature
 
 
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