The Lost Response…

On November 17 I attended Richard E. Miller and Paul Hammond’s talk “This is How We Write”, in which they discussed the influence of technology and widespread information on the way that students now learn and write. They were very enthusiastic about incorporating more technology and non-traditional media, such as online tools and reference platforms, into the classroom, in order to counteract the idea that there is a dearth of information and resources for student learning. For instance, there was the example of the class blog, which allowed students to incorporate sources from all over the internet into their writing, effectively turning their responses into multi-media presentations rather than simple essays. I confess my initial reaction to the increasing digitalization of learning is rather mild (I guess I’m a stuffy purist), but thinking back to Miller and Hammond’s presentation, I feel like I understand where the enthusiasm springs from. It really is fascinating to see what a student can make of a topic when they are not simply limited to text and reference books. In fact I have on occasion heard my roommate lament that she could not include a relevant video or photo series to her papers, especially because she is a history major with interest specifically in the latter half of the 20th century. From her, I draw an example of how useful the new multi-media approach to writing can be, especially for students whose academic endeavors are focused in the liberal arts.

Being able to draw from new and varied sources could definitely be useful and productive, provided one is prudent and doesn’t simply grasp at everything related to the topic that they can find. Often students do this even when working with a single text, such as the book of essays used for Expos. Some students still tend to pick out quotes without giving consideration to how they might fit into the argument they are trying to make; as long as it has one or two key words it, it can be mashed into the essay to take up the space for a length requirement – a practice which is obviously detrimental both to the process of learning how to write and to the final finished essay. This is why a significant focus of our tutoring program is to work towards understanding and actively working with the text.

Furthermore, if even one text may sometimes be too convoluted or overwhelming for a student to effectively use in his or her paper, then having the vastness of the internet and other electronic resources at one’s disposal is probably going to make it even more so. Several of the prompts one of my students and I worked with this semester involved working with videos or photos outside of their text. On its own, this idea is certainly creative and appealing, but I noticed that my student had trouble drawing connections between the already disparate essays in his text and with the outside source in question.  In retrospect, I feel a little critical of a system that immerses students in discourses which they may or may not fully understand, and expects them to not only write, but compose video presentations about them.  Having the world at our fingertips, as they say, is certainly exciting and enticing, but I think the dangerous hidden flipside of the perceived “lack of information” that Miller and Hammond are working to dispel is the overabundance of information which, if not simply irrelevant or suspicious, is undoubtedly overwhelming.

Finally, I feel that the main issue I still take with this whole business is the clunkiness of integrating new technology into the classroom. Because we are only at the cusp of this transition in educational practice, often times the incorporation of non-traditional resources is burdensome and awkward. Being able to use a tool requires understanding of how it works and how to use it, and I can recall a dozen or so instances in this past semester alone when either the instructor or the students were completely blindsided by some malfunction or funny-looking screen, which sometimes ended up in class simply grinding to a halt. One of my language courses attempted to make use of a multimedia disk which had readings and songs performed by famous actors, an interactive dictionary, and a number of thinking and reading exercises… it was all very exciting for about the first month, but then one day the computer malfunctioned and we sat there in silence for a while before just opening the textbook and continuing on our own. We never used the disk again, and it was all mostly just a waste of money in the end. Even so, the fact that we even had the option to begin with is an interesting change in the way learning and writing are practiced.

I certainly don’t want to be “that guy” sitting in the corner going “Bah humbug” at changing classrooms. I suppose my sentiment is more that, while Miller and Hammond’s certainly leaves a whole lot of room for optimism, the systems of education around us have exponentially more catching-up to do to technology, and technology is certainly not going to slow down and wait, so I can’t help but feel that the “new” classroom is always going to be, relatively, a little bit old-fashioned, even a hundred years from now, and so will the way we write.

-M. Sidykh

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Presentation Response

I attended Miriam’s commenting workshop earlier this month (sorry, I thought I’d posted this response already) and saw firsthand how a professor uses the grading rubric. I am now in my third year of tutoring at the Rutgers writing centers and just to be on the safe side, I have always tutored my students as if they had professors with very high, nearly impossible standards. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, therefore, that my fellow tutors and I graded Miriam’s student’s paper too harshly. All the tutors decided the paper deserved either an NP or a C, but Miriam felt that the nearly-developed thesis statement held more weight over the grammatical errors and surface analysis and that the student deserved a C+. I think that tutors have dual responsibilities: we should familiarize ourselves with the expectations of not only our tutees, but also their professors, each of whom places varying degrees of emphasis on certain paper requirements.  On the other side of the coin, Miriam explained that tutors should both praise the positive aspects of a paper and the parts that need correction. This was different from an editor’s job, which is merely to passively correct the writing. Our students expect us to be “mentors” of sorts, as Heather and Miriam said during the orientation in the beginning of the year. Therefore, tutors should actively engage their tutees in the writing process by giving praise where it’s deserved and giving criticism where it’s needed. Otherwise, the creative process breaks down when students feel bombarded when all they hear about is their weaknesses. As Mel Levine put it in “The Myth of Laziness,” we all want to succeed. Sometimes it takes only a push in the right direction so students learn the proper skills to critically think. However, if we feel overwhelmed by all the mistakes we make, we lose the will to try anymore for fear of future disappointment.

To counteract any negativity students may pick up from us, Miriam suggested that we limit the number of comments on each page. This is not something to which I had really given much thought. I usually hand back papers completely riddled with comments that point out both the strengths and weaknesses. Still, I find that I say, “Don’t get scared by all the comments I’ve written on your paper! Much of this points out the strong parts!” to new students so they don’t dread asking for help. Some students already receive papers full of red marks from class so they come to the writing center for encouragement and motivation. This is something all tutors should keep in mind. Miriam’s workshop made me realize that even with three years under my belt as a tutor, I still have much to learn.

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Presentation 11/30

The presentation I attended was with one presenter, Lauren. She first explained how her topic was about writing restrictions. She then picked two volunteers in the audience. First, she gave the two volunteers the job of writing a few lines of a poem with no subject, just anything they could think of. Her next exercise was to right a poem, but with specific lines. Her reasoning behind the exercise was to prove to her audience how working with restrictions could be easier than working without restrictions. She lectured on how restrictions help writing and help the mind become centered and focused.

Lauren then presented a film that she created for the on-campus film competition. The short film that she had to create had many restrictions that she had to comply with. One of the restrictions was that it had to be a film that was silent, which she felt was a really good restriction. It worked in her favor because in the amount of time she had to produce the film, there would not have been enough time to write a whole script. Another restriction was that the music provided in the film could not be outside music. This also presented to be in her advantage. She actually know a composer she was friends with and he helped her with the music for the film. Considering she only had a week to make the whole film, the restrictions worked in her advantage. For Lauren, restrictions were helpful for her and allowed her a focused mindset for her creative project.

I actually had to a 12- to 15-page research paper for one of my classes this semester. The term paper topic was completely up to me, which really scared me. I had no idea where to begin or how I would come up with a topic. Anything is a very broad request for a term paper. Of course there was the restriction of staying inside the topic of spirituality. I had to give myself many more restrictions to actually figure out the my topic, which at the time I had no idea I was doing. I realized after Laruen’s presentation that I was giving myself restrictions to help me come up with ideas.

During my tutoring sessions, I have used this to show students how to work with the restrictions that have been given to them. For example, one of my students was having a hard time figuring out how to find the questions. In the prompt that was given to him, there was a small note on what the professor was looking for. I explained to him to use both the question and what the professor is asking of him to look for quotes. It was much easier for him to do that then just to simply look at the question and look for a quote.

(sorry i didn’t post this early, i realized i saved the draft and never published it!)

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Response to a presentation

I attended the workshop on November 9 where three people presented. Alex P. went first and started the presentation by discussing storytelling and performing. He enjoyed storytelling and always believed that storytelling played with emotions based on word choice. He stated that he never wanted to be a teacher because he thinks that teachers are undervalued, but he loves being a tutor. He believes that teachers sometimes do not explain how to write and expect the students to know. Being a tutor gives an opportunity to help the student learn how to write. Alex also spoke about the importance of suffixes, prefixes and roots. He uses this technique to understand the meaning of the complicated words people come across by simply breaking them down and recognizing what we know about the word by relating it to past experiences. I feel that this technique works the best when trying to understand a new word. Many times my students ask me the meaning of certain words that are new to them and instead of telling them the meaning of it, I ask what they think about the word based on the words they are already familiar with. This makes the student realize that we do not always need to memorize the meaning of the every complicated word but rather recognize the suffix, prefix and roots in order to know what a new word means. Although this is a fine technique, I feel that the students really need to know their root words in order to understand the meaning of a new word because if the students do not know the root words well, they will end up coming up with the wrong meaning.

The second presentation by Juan Gomez was about his experience with sonnets. He was fond of this particular type of poetry and read us some of the sonnets he wrote. Sonnets, from his experience, reflect the power of storytelling. Poems are interesting because they engage the people in a different way, which usually requires deep analysis. If we relate the idea of poetry with tutoring and engage our students into deep analysis, we will probably see helpful results. During my tutoring sessions, I always tried to engage my student into deep analysis of the readings because I feel that the first step to write a good paper is to know how to close read and really understand what the author is trying to convey.

The third presentation, by Kristin Beatty, was about a novel she read called The Poisonwood Bible.  She started her presentation with the importance of translation and communication based on the word choice. She gave examples of how words can mean different things when pronounced differently and how some words can have two meanings. She used an example of a town where the pronunciation of the word turned the meaning of the word around. From this presentation I learned that it is really important that we know what exactly the author is trying to voice and if it really means what we think it means.

This workshop was really helpful to me because I learned the importance of word choice in storytelling and communicating and it made me realize that it is important for me to emphasize on the importance of word choice during my tutoring sessions. This will help my students know the importance of word choice not only for writing, but also for everyday life.

 

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Commentary on Expos Paper

The comments I made on this paper are a bit harsh–but I tried asking many questions…I find that they best way to get a student to seriously think about their topic is to engage them in intriguing conversation. If the tutor makes the subject relevant and interesting to the student, then there’s a chance that the paper may improve. I go through the paragraphs one by way and ask several questions regarding the theory of the paper and the usage of quotes–I try to read it objectively and if something doesn’t seem to flow, I comment on it. There is room, however, for the student to debate me on points. Nothing is say is quite so set in stone…all things are questions and assumptions…if a student can offer me a reason for why a particular phrase sounds general but is not, I would be more than willing to listen.

I don’t want to patronize the students, I want to treat them like a peer–and they come for the truth about their writing…I want to talk with them and play the Devil’s Advocate so that they can start defending their papers of their own will–then it becomes an issue of pride to them. It is amazing what the spirit of competition can do to a student’s work.

By asking questions, they are forced to make connections–since the comments are paragraph by paragraph, we can follow along with their train of thought and identify what can be improved, step by step.

Well, from the beginning the student in question did not follow the prompt exactly; the paper is not a full five pages, the name is not in the top left corner of the page and the title is quite ambiguous. As these are the basic blueprints for the paper, I would suggest that the student remedy these mistakes before working on the content of the paper.

Now, the First Paragraph: The First sentence was compiled of seemingly contradictory adjectives (selfish and commendable) that are never really explained throughout the paper–at least, not clearly. In addition, the paper is FULL of general and abrupt statements that seem to “float” in their own meaning without back-up; “McCandless and his journey forge a relationship between an individual and his agency.” This is followed by a comparison of individual needs versus an awareness of the environment–and it’s difficult to follow…I always recommend to my students to write as though the reader has never read the articles that are in discussion; that being said, “variable of context” is never defined. Even though the thesis is clearly stated, it’s poorly constructed and seems unsupported by the introductory paragraph. I would suggest incorporating the author’s names and the names of the articles into the thesis…–It takes its position at least somewhat throughout the paper.

The Second Paragraph: “Each Individual has to aspire to accomplishing a set of goals determined by society,” My response to this statement is, “Who Says”? Then, the following statement is incredibly ambiguous—particularly because “variables of context” has yet to be defined or alluded to. Another confusing aspect of the second paragraph is that the student quotes Twenge and states that the focus of the needs on the individual is not necessarily “isolationist” –then states that McCandless (like GenMe) has “a similar goal to accomplish”—but then quickly states that unlike the Boomers and Generation Me, “McCandless embarked on a journey that was completely isolationist.” This, to me at least, seems too rapid of a transition. I wonder if the first quotes regarding being “self-absorbed or isolationist” are really necessary if they are going to be contradicted soon after. So awareness of self is similar to what GenMe and the Boomers want—but not in complete isolation—and the goal is not always for “personal fulfillment” but sometimes based solely on the environment? A bulk of the quotes in the second paragraph seem irrelevant to the point trying to be made…In addition, Gladwell’s quotes and relation to the journey of “self awareness’ in regards to the environment seemed tacked on to the end—the connection is hard to understand.

The Third Paragraph: The first sentence is ambiguous—That being said, the topic sentences in this paper seem too general to follow. “Individual agency is difficult to accomplish when individuals live solely within the guidelines of society” –What exactly are the guidelines to society? Is it pressure from “civilization” versus “the wild?” Then, the student utilizes a quote by Twenge that probably should have been used near the beginning of the people when explaining “process oriented manner.”

Following that quote, there is a clear discussion that seems to explain the meaning of the whole paper—but it is all grouped together. The sentence “He rejected the relationships within his life and took control of his agency” is particularly good and correlates with the vague statement made near the beginning of the paper regarding “forging a relationship between self and agency.” If anything, I would suggest to the student that perhaps the “awareness of self” leads to the birth of a new agency that comes from denouncing society—or civilization. Also, the quote about “tinkering with the environment” is a good following quote explaining changing one’s atmosphere to change one’s self. However, I would argue that the tone of this discussion sounds incredibly positive—How does this connect with the adjectives listed in the beginning of the paper—Is it completely “selfish”—or is this word being used in a positive light? In addition, I would ask the student to please define the “Power of Context” near the beginning of the paper—Possibly in the Introduction…in this way, one could explain the variables of context as well—the definition seems to come far too late in the paper.

The Fourth Paragraph: The topic of “selfishness” is connected to supposed narcissism—so, okay. But, I’m a bit confused about the issue of “personal awareness.” In the previous paragraphs, it  seemed that one abandoned civilization to gain a better perception of themselves and to understand oneself to a greater extent….the fourth paragraph seems to suggest that  “They feel as though they already are aware of themselves and this is how narcissism builds”…–So, do they know themselves, or don’t they? Also, there is another general statement that seems out of place and not properly supported; “Individuals on a journey seem to be oblivious to the basic ideas of cause and effect.” Gladwell is also not well-connected to this paper—he seems like an afterthought even though the environment is mentioned from the very beginning of the paper. Also, the last few lines of the fourth paragraph are general and vague—“The individuals were also too concerned with that they needed to think about the consequences of their actions” –What were they concerned with? What are the consequences? Also, what was the destination that they’re all trying to get to? Then the student goes on to say that this type of concern reads as narcissism, but has the ability to affect others—how is this thought relevant?

The Fifth Paragraph: So, “Creating a changed perspective is the most successful way to enact social change”…ok, then the quote regarding the Baby Boomers. But, following that quote is a statement that is vague—“The Boomers based their perspective on how children should feel after their own feelings” –what does that mean? Also, the “Broken Windows Theory and the “Power of Context” come far too late in the paper in regards to individuals acting on experiences around them.  Another general statement—“Individuals search for ways to improve their experiences and the outcome of their experiences.” According to what?

As for the Conclusion—

The paragraph seems completely General and entirely irrelevant to the paper—there is no restatement of the thesis or discussion of any specific ideas. It needs to be re-written entirely.

  • Vague sense that student’s voice is contributing to the conversation—and ambiguous statements.
  • Little coherence from paragraph to paragraph—Difficult to follow and lacking connections

All in all, I’d say this paper was between a C and an NP.

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Tutor Presentation response 11-9-11in

On Wednesday, November 9th, I saw three great speakers present information they wanted to share with others.  The topics included writing, laziness, assistance to those with disabilities, and special needs, and psychology.  All of these subjects tie-in to tutoring and the methods behind it.

The first presentation was from a new tutor who was interested in pursuing a career in women/gender studies.  As she was working on her papers, she came across a problem that many students come across.  This was the classic inability to connect with yourself in writing.  Your identity is reflected in your writing.  The pieces of your identity respond more to the prompt than the actual writing.  It is quite hard to write about the topic in a presentable manner without one’s own opinions and pronouns emerging in the writing.  With this in mind, it is hard to get past that invisible standard of ideas that we just “just know”.  The presenter questioned why we even have this standard of writing?  We are worried about expectations of the paper and who else will read its details.

Wish this in mind, I realized that writing should not be uncomfortable.  Writing should be the product of feelings and tuitions from the mind, body, brain and heart.  In relation to tutoring, it is sometimes hard to get your point across.  Whether you are trying to get your student to come to a realization of a reading or when you are attempting to guide a student to that A paper, sometimes the words just do not come out right.  It may take a few tries to get that point across.  Regardless of the situation, it is our job to assure our students that there is nothing to fear when writing.  Forget about a grade and expectations and just write a paper you can relate to and are proud of.

The second presenter outlined “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine.  Laziness, as Levine puts it, is a crude term for output failure.  This can actually be caused by unrecognized neurological disabilities.  The symptoms of these disabilities include what many people refer to as laziness.  There are several reasons why this goes unrecognized.  One reason is because in many cases in the classroom, there is a one-way approach to learning.  Instead of seeing the multiple approaches and aspects to a situation, teachers present the one and only way to get something done.  On the other hand, another reason why is because these symptoms only become crystal clear when education begins to really push people work wise.  For many, grade school and even high school can be easy for “lazy” students.  However, when entering college or real jobs, this output failure becomes noticeable.  By this time, it is already too late to address the issue, leaving people with an uncared for disability.  The lecturer also blamed standardized testing for laziness.  Multiple choice questions are either right or wrong.  This does not allow for individual thinking, as well as relationships to past experiences which are very helpful for solving problems.  She believed that schools should have other, more important goals besides simply getting them by.  Schools should recognize and understand differences among all students.  It should encourage individual strengths and develop weaknesses.  Not to mention, the improvement of personal education could never hurt either.  Education should be enjoyable.  With learned information, one should be able to both understand and analyze, as well as explore realms of ideation.  By doing these small things, output failure can be challenged and we can help develop skills that do not come naturally.

In relation to tutoring, this is exactly how I assist my students.  Every student is different.  What may work for some may not work for others.  This is why I offer my students many different activities and methods to help them with the different issues that occur when writing a paper.  However, regardless of the issue, I always make sure that it makes room for analyzation, as well as learning.  If they are constantly having a problem with one specific, I have them focus on it because in the long run, it will make them a better and stronger writer.

The third presenter was a psychology major who has been a tutor for two semesters already.  She is an inspiring occupational therapist.  An occupational therapist attempts to establish as much independence in a person as possible.  Autistic children usually work with occupational therapists.  For them, small goals are extremely important.  However, one cannot rely on the therapy too much.  It is up to the therapist to personalize the therapy in a way the patient feels comfortable with.  The presenter then said that tutoring, writing, and occupational therapist all have a common thread: therapy.  Understanding the patient, as well as the writer and what they can do at the moment is crucial.  One cannot just ask a student to write an essay without first taking small steps.  This is why many people feel that minimalist tutoring is the best way to tutor.  The tools are not nearly as important as understanding the patient.  One must make sure that they understand the person not the drug.  Everyone does not react the same to different drugs.  In comparison to tutoring, not just one common exercise can help all student.  Some are audial learners, some visual, etc.  With this in mind, similar patterns may arise when tutoring, but one should never make assumptions.

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Workshop Response

I attended Miriam’s workshop in which she discussed constructive ways to comment on a students paper and how to use the grading rubric. Although tutors don’t grade students’ papers, the guidelines for leaving marginal comments were helpful. It is not constructive to simply point out where the paper is failing. Pointing out successful moments in a paper can show a student a place where ideas are well-developed and they will know to continue with that idea. I learned that it is also important to include why in the marginal comments. While I would never grade a paper as a tutor, I think that this is the most useful aspect of the tutoring section; telling your student why a paper works or doesn’t work will ultimately help them to be a better writer in the long run.

 

Using the rubric to grade was less than successful for me as it was the first time I’d attempted to give a paper a grade. My grading was too harsh, I would have given it an NP. But when Miriam revealed that she might give it a C and why, I saw how certain items on the rubric are given different weight. She saw a potential thesis, just not in the correct place. This is more important in the paper than the fact that her ideas weren’t very clearly linked. The thesis saved it from failing completely.

 

This workshop has definitely influenced my future tutoring methods. When a paper is not functioning, pointing out where the student has a good idea, whether it is developed or not, and why it works will be helpful to the outcome of the paper. This workshop emphasized the importance of making the student understand why a paper doesn’t work. I will dedicate myself to helping my future students understand why a paper is unsuccessful.

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