Diary of a Writing ConsultantUWO Writing Center Blog
"A Rose by Any Other Name...": On Pronouns in the Writing Center
by Constance | Writing Center Consultant | September 13, 2018
As autumn leaves start to fall and a new semester of classes and work begins, I have again been faced with a dilemma that has followed me since I first decided to start using pronouns to refer to myself that wre not “she,” “her,” or “hers”–the internal debate of whether or not I ought to announce to professors and work colleagues the pronouns I do use. Read more…
Breaking the Ice: How to Boost a Writer's Confidence and Motivation
What good is tutoring once a writer steps out the door? It’s a perennial question for writing centers. A writing consultant’s mission goes further than helping with papers; instead, the aim is improving wrtiers’ skills and confidence long-term. Read more…
Emotional Intelligence to Assist Overly Emotional Writers
Some appointments are derailed by writers who display excessive emotion, getting angry and hostile or sad and unsure about their writing. These outpourings of emotion often make it difficult to concentrate on the writing issues at hand, and getting the appointment back on track in a respectful manner is something I was not sure I knew how to do. Read more…
Choosing to visit the writing center is a personal decision that reflects the wishes and preferences of individual students. For the most part, students come because they want to. But much like all educational choices, the choice to visit the writing center is also much more than that. Read more…
Do I Write, or Does One Write? First vs. Third Person Perspective in Modern Academic Writing
Deciding whether or not to use first person in a paper is never an easy choice. Our high school teachers taught us that it’s never okay, but we at the Writing Center (and as writers!) often run into papers that seem impossible to write without the occasional “I.” Read more…
Improving IEP Grammar Learning
It can be difficult to design enjoyable grammar lessons for students at any level. A typical response to “today we’re working on grammar” sounds something like, “UGHHHH, No!” However, understanding students who have not learned English as a first language have even more difficulty understanding the complexities of the language Read more…
Many writing centers, including ours, use peer writing consultants to help students improve their writing skills. Because of this, it seems somewhat ironic that many of our experiences with peer review in our classes are typically not the most helpful. Read more…
By Constance | Writing Center Consultant | September 13th, 2018
As autumn leaves start to fall and a new semester of classes and work begins, I have again been faced with a dilemma that has followed me since I first decided to start using pronouns to refer to myself that were not “she,” “her,” or “hers”–the internal debate of whether or not I ought to announce to professors and work colleagues the pronouns I do use. I have several professors who ask, on first days of classes, for their students to share this small factoid of identity; one of them insists upon offering her own pronouns whenever she meets someone. But most people do not ask, not thinking to refrain from assuming others’ pronouns, and I am considerably nervous about the whole scenario–if I could, I would keep my mind far from the topic of gender identity and all the rampant complications it has for me–but when I stay silent, I am referred to as a woman. And my pronouns, on the contrary, are “he,” “him,” and “his,” or “they,” “them,” and “theirs.”
In the couple semesters I’ve been working at UW Oshkosh’s writing center, I have never announced my pronouns to those students with whom I meet. I wear a pin, sometimes, indicating my preference, slipping the needle through the shirt fabric over my heart–this morning, though, I couldn’t find the pin. And I don’t always feel like wearing the damned thing.
A writing administator at the University of Kansas, doctoral student Jacob Herrmann offers one solution: “The KU Writing Center,” he notes, “uses the WCONLINE appointment system. When students first create a profile on the system, we have them select their preferred pronoun usage. During the Fall 2016 semester, we had 13 clients that identified with they/them/theirs, 2 clients who preferred ze/zir/zirs, and 11 clients who marked ‘other’ and provided us with their own pronoun usage.” In addition to this, “all consultants have a placard on their table during their shift which lists both the consultants name and major, as well as the consultants’ preferred pronoun usage” (Herrmann).
Given that the UWO Writing Center also uses WCONLINE, a similar action to that of the KU Writing Center, perhaps, could be done. It’d be nice, maybe, to not be alone in sharing (or not sharing) my pronouns with others within the space of our writing center. And yet that answer isn’t a perfect one to the problem at hand–not every individual visiting or working in this space might be comfortable disclosing their pronouns. And people will assume things, likely, regardless of the presence of placards.
A graduate student and writing center employee at UW-Madison, Neil Simpkins notes another potential symptom of such an action: “Occasionally,” he writes, “students ask me questions about transgender identity in the session that are not relevant to the task we are working on; in one session recently, a student asked me if Neil was a gender neutral name and what my ‘real gender’ was at the end of our time together.” Rather than advocate for the use of placards, he offers three suggestions for building “spaces of acceptance for LGBTQ students and tutors”: “Anticipate that student records will not represent many student’s preferred names and genders… [c]onnect with campus resources that meet the needs of LGBTQ students… [and] [a]ddress LGBTQ issues directly in tutor training” (Simpkins).
Our writing center here at UWO does require such training, and allows writing mentors and mentees both to choose the names by which WCONLINE refers to them. Perhaps, though, we ought to connect more often with those campus resources that assist LGBTQ+ students, and to a greater extent. Or, perhaps, we simply all need nametags.
Would such nametags or placards work well? If not, what else might be done to achieve a similar effect?
Herrmann, Jacob. “Brave/r Spaces Vs. Safe Spaces for LGBTQ+ in the Writing Center: Theory and Practice at the University of Kansas.” The Peer Review, vol. 1, no. 2, 2017. http://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/braver-spaces/braver-spaces-vs-safe-spaces-for-lgbtq-in-the-writing-center-theory-and-practice-at-the-university-of-kansas/.
Simpkins, Neil. “Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center.” another word: from the writing center at the university of wisconsin–madison, 18 Nov. 2013, https://writing.wisc.edu/blog/meeting-the-needs-of-lgbtq-students-in-the-writing-center/.
by Elena | Writing Center Consultant | February 7th, 2018
Deciding whether or not to use first person in a paper is never an easy choice. Our high school teachers taught us that it’s never okay, but we at the Writing Center (and as writers!) often run into papers that seem impossible to write without the occasional “I.”
Fortunately, attitudes towards first person academic writing are softening, and may never have been as rigid as we thought. Stone (2018) suggests that whether or not first person is acceptable depends not only on the professor, but also on the discipline. Areas that ask for more objective papers where the research should speak for itself, like math or sciences, try to avoid first person, whereas other disciplines that allow more for the subjective influence of the researcher are more inclined towards first person.
However, even the “harder” fields of study are relaxing about first person and coming to accept more of the subjective influences of the researcher. Is this good news for science? Does this allow for more researcher bias, or does it simply recognize the slight bias that has always existed? And as student writers, do and should we have any influence over this?
Stone, B. (2018). A synthesis of professor perspectives on using first- and third-person perspectives. Retrieved from https://writingcommons.org/
By Caleb | Writing Center Consultant | September 15th, 2017
What good is tutoring once a writer steps out the door? It’s a perennial question for writing centers. A writing consultant’s mission goes further than helping with papers; instead, the aim is improving writers’ skills and confidence long-term. Some writers might visit with the intrinsic motivation to return again and again with an eye to self-betterment, but many will also choose to drop by only when a deadline looms and a paper could bear last-minute fixing. It would seem writers with such short-term concerns might need a little bit of extra motivation in order to retain what they glean from a session once the fifty minutes are up.
So what’s a writing consultant to do—double down on structured lessons and activities and hope for the best? In fact, it seems the most sensible approach is to focus not on drilling skills or extorting promises, but instead on providing something simpler: breaking the ice.
The research of Jo Mackiewicz and Isabelle Thompson has shown that, when it comes to providing lessons that will last in a writer’s mind, a consultant’s first goal ought to be building rapport with a writer. Accomplishing this simple task has been shown to outstrip typical non-directive techniques, or teaching without giving away answers, for prompting engagement (a tutor’s bread-and-butter), and there’s a pretty simple reason for this: people learn best when they feel comfortable.
Clearly then, it’s on consultants to capture a writer’s attention and establish a cozy, accommodating environment. This means being a peer first… and being friendly! The upshot is that a consultant who makes sure to keep a positive attitude—and perhaps deploy the occasional joke—is more likely than not to engage a writer throughout a session. Mackiewicz and Thompson say other helpful tutoring practices include avoiding outright disagreement with a writer’s motives as well as employing “negative politeness,” which can entail softening suggestions by using a passive voice or hedging language in order to avoid taking too much control over a writer’s work. According to Mackiewicz and Thompson, the effects of all these strategies appear the most likely to result in lasting motivation, which means a higher chance of retaining ideas and applying them in future writing (not to mention coming back to the Writing Center for more!).
Any student will ultimately succeed on their own terms and by their own determination, but writing consultants who take some time to connect and encourage can help to bring out the best in writers. An interesting question that remains (and is alluded to by Mackiewicz and Thompson) is to what extent this approach will apply to various groups of writers; for example, will some ELL students prefer a more straightforward or less casual approach? And further, how might a writing center’s intentions in establishing rapport be communicated to such a writer?
By Elyssa & Nicole | Writing Center Consultants | May 25th, 2017
It can be difficult to design enjoyable grammar lessons for students at any level. A typical response to “today we’re working on grammar” sounds something like, “UGHHH, No!” However, students who have not learned English as a first language have even more difficulty understanding the complexities of the language.
During my time at the Writing Center, I have had the privilege of working with IEP, Intensive English Program, students. In these sessions, we focus on writing and speaking to help students improve their language abilities. Often, it is difficult to explain common grammar rules because I have just learned them instinctively. I have found myself looking to other writing consultants to see if they could explain the rules any easier, only to find we usually all feel the same–“I’m not sure.”
As writing consultants, we want to provide our students with the best we have to offer, but we feel as though we are falling short when helping IEP students understand grammar; however, a new model, the CCCC model, could help us with teaching aspect of our sessions. This model is composed of: confrontation, clarification, confirmation, and consolidation. In this model, teachers and educators are forced to be aware of the students’ competence and assist based on that, rather than curriculum requirements. Students first confront their grammar problems and try to answer each question without interruption or assistance from a teacher. Next, they clarify their questions by working with others in the class to solve problems. The teacher then brings the group together and confirms the answers that each student has provided. Finally, the teacher consolidates the group’s answers and addresses all questions and concerns students have.
I hope to apply this model when working with IEP students. I think it will give the students a better opportunity to problem solve on their own without me constantly assisting or giving them the answers. It is easy to simply give students the correct grammar without explaining why or making them work through it on their own; however, this is not going to be beneficial to them in the long-run. Using this model, the students can do the work on their own and ask me questions if they are confused. I will not be there every time they have a question about grammar, so it is important to have them be able to work through their own problems!
My question arising from this research is how to best utilize the CCCC model to assist in teaching grammar in the Writing Center? Because we work one-on-one with students in the Writing Center, how would we implement this classroom, group model in our sessions?
Brynne Norgard⎹ Writing Center Consultant⎹ May 1, 2017
As a writing consultant, I walk optimistically into each appointment, confident that the writer and I will be able to get along and work on the issues the writer came to fix. However, some appointments are derailed by writers who display excessive emotion, getting angry and hostile or sad and unsure about their writing. These outpourings of emotion often make it difficult to concentrate on the writing issues at hand, and getting the appointment back on track in a respectful manner is something I was not sure I knew how to do.
Noreen Lape discusses these issues in an article on emotional intelligence. She argues that consultants need to be trained in emotional intelligence in order to help their writers get back on track during their session (or, in extreme cases, find the help they need through other campus resources, such as the counseling center). Emotional intelligence, she says, is when consultants make an effort to identify a writer’s emotional state and the reason behind it. After doing so, the consultant should validate the writer’s feelings, making him/her feel respected and understood. It is important to note that consultants do not need to agree with a writer’s feelings, but they should respect writers’ rights to feel as they do. She suggests that writers who feel validated are often more likely to calm down and resume the session and that respect and empathy are important for every writing center.
I find this information incredibly helpful for dealing with frustrated writers. Instead of getting angry at them, I am able to understand their side of the issue and empathize with them. One question that arises from this article, however, is whether there are situations where this approach is not applicable and the writers should be reported or told to leave. If so, what types of situations are those? And how do consultants draw the line?
Lape, Noreen. “Training Tutors in Emotional Intelligence: Toward a Pedagogy of Empathy.” The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 33, no. 2, 2008, p. 1-6.
by Maggie | Writing Center Consultant | April 27th, 2017
Many writing centers, including ours, use peer writing consultants to help students improve their writing skills. Because of this, it seems somewhat ironic that many of our experiences with peer review in our classes are typically not the most helpful. So, what is it about the Writing Center that makes this type of peer review more helpful? In each case, either the peer reviewer or the peer consultant has the goal to give helpful feedback, but what makes the outcomes so different?
Receiving criticism is just as difficult a task as responding to it, especially when the skillset in question is writing-based. Before we reach the eighth grade, we are exposed to peer review, fitted to this common scenario:
Our Language Arts teachers informally request that we exchange papers with partners. And, as we provide basic commentary on our classmates’ essays, we await our feedback with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. We wonder: What will they think of my conclusion? Will they understand the concept of my second paragraph? Do they have any recommendations for a title?
Finally, when we are handed back our papers, we look to find a few grammatical errors highlighted and a Good Job! scrawled underneath the final word of the final sentence of the final paragraph. Because there is not much to adjust, we assume that all other elements of our writing is acceptable. Still, it would have been nice to know how our peers reacted to our arguments and if they bought them for reasons x, y, and/or z.
After our fifth encounter with shallow, vague commentaries, we start to modify the way we perform peer review, stamping a Well Done! on each essay that falls into our laps. Why bother doing more? There is certainly no payoff reflected in our thinking or grades at the end of the day.
Did we ever consider that the five reviewers before us came to the same conclusion? Could it be possible that peer review workshops devolve into editing cycles due to a lack in writers’ willingness and ability to give meaningful peer feedback?
Researchers Kristi Lundstrom and Wendy Baker theorize that the act of peer reviewing has a significant impact on the person who is providing critical feedback on another’s writing, especially if he/she is an ESL student. They contend that, during the review process, students develop skills that they can use to self-evaluate their own writing. To calculate writing improvement, the researchers had two separate groups, one that solely gave feedback and one that solely received feedback, complete timed-writes before and after a trial period. Considering organization, development, cohesion, vocabulary, mechanics, grammar, and overall performance, the researchers determined that, although both groups demonstrated improvement in each aspect of writing, students who purely reviewed others’ drafts scored better than those who merely used others’ feedback.
This is also similar to how writing center staff report having improved their own writing abilities after having worked in a writing center. In a way, working in the writing center is like training to become an expert in both giving and receiving criticism. So, it’s possible that by allowing IEP writers to review and provide feedback on others’ drafts (with the guidance of their writing consultant), that they too, may improve their own writing skills in the process.
While their results have their limitations, I am interested to see how writers in the Intensive English Program (IEP) might respond to reviewing drafts (other than their own) within their weekly sessions, where their consultants are able to provide them with guidance for giving feedback and taking on another perspective. Would their skills similarly transfer?
And, if this holds true for IEP writers, how could consultants implement a similar focus on peer review in their other weekly sessions and/or regular writing appointments?
Lundstrom, Kristi, and Wendy Baker. “To Give Is Better than to Receive: The Benefits of Peer Review to the Reviewer’s Own Writing.” Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 18, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 30-43.