Collaboration and Control

Today our next group leads discussion on Lunsford’s “Collaboration,Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center,” and I don’t really have a clear idea of what they’ll do. (These are always a bit exciting that way–what’ll happen next?)

Once we’re done, I’d like us to talk about one of Lunsford’s central arguments, that writing centers should be “Burkean Parlors.” What is a Burkean parlor? Here’s Kenneth Burke explaining it:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
The Philosophy of Literary Form 110-111

And here’s a video on the same thing:

After we read (or watch) this, it could be useful to talk a bit about her specific argument. Does Lunsford say how, or why? Where does this argument arise in her article, and how does she use it?

What elements or understandings would be needed to sustain this Parlor? What I mean is this: say you’re sitting in one of these “parlors” in real life, like at a party or over a pizza box, and having a conversation about an idea everyone’s invested in. What agreements, implied or not, keep you all sitting there and still working/playing with the idea? What elements in the parlor-type conversation keep you participating in it, or at least don’t drive you away?

Time left over will be spent talking in groups and sharing out:

  • Where have you seen productive forms of collaboration? What were they, and how did they “work”?
  • What kinds of things do people DO or SAY in order to create and sustain productive collaborations?
  • Do these forms of collaboration seem like or unlike the Burkean Parlor above?

Proofreading and the Elusive Search for “Just Grammar”

Before we jump into the specific arguments made in Can You Proofread This? it might be useful to hear from you all about your experiences so far when you’re working with students. Show of hands: who’s had some experience so far in which a student (either one-on-one or in a group) has asked someone, “Can you proofread this?” or “I’d just like you to check it for grammar”? (As we’ll discuss, these two questions are somewhat analogous–but in some cases might not be.)

So first: situations in which you’ve been asked to proofread or focus on grammar. Maybe you talked about this in your commonplace books? I have the paper versions of your CPBs for you; I’ll read the Google Docs-versions this weekend and then enter the number of complete entries I found into BBL.

What do we imagine students mean when they ask this? Young says up front that they could mean a lot of things–a lot of aspects of the writing process or of their writing “product,” their essay or paper. Did you learn later that they meant something else–as Young suggests–or did you discover some hidden elements in the paper that immediately seemed more important to you?

Next thing: what do words like “proofread” or “grammar” mean to us? How does one look at a draft when proofreading, and what does one do when checking grammar? (Are we still reading, qua reading, when checking grammar?)

I’m interested because again we’re involved in a situation that’s half about writing and writing pedagogy . . . and half psychology. We trust that students are telling the truth about their desires, but may not know how to read or reread their paper effectively, so may not spot the kinds of things we’d see as “outsiders.”

So let’s debate it! First let’s list the reasons Young gives for proofreading in this essay and for not. Then I’ll ask you to vote by standing up and moving to where your position is, along a continuum of YES to NO with the middle being MAYBE or OTHER. Then we’ll discuss in groups. And vote again!

I’ll end by linking particularly to the ideas in the Appendices. Appendix A offers great strategies for working one-on-one with writers; Appendix D gives us a list of priorities based on years of research in composition and rhetoric.

Questions and Predictions

If you take a look at our readings the next few weeks, you’ll see that they’re designed to frontload a number of the ongoing issues and practical challenges that tutors face when working with writing. Things like:

  • To read a student’s paper aloud, or not? Or to try other strategies?
  • How many questions should I ask? What kind?
  • What do I do when a student requests proofreading, or wants to work on “just grammar”?
  • For whom might there be a value in starting with error-correction? Under what conditions?
  • How do I set a tone for work with a student? What’s my role as a tutor, and how can I balance a commitment to friendly talk with getting work done?
  • What if a student just doesn’t want to work with me, or is reluctant to share their ideas?

We’ll be reading two per day, but they’re short-ish! And the goal for us should be to isolate perspectives, claims, or evidence from research that will help you train up into an amazing tutor who helps students REVISE their writing and REFLECT on how they’re developing as writers. We also want them to:

  • Learn ways to revise
  • Understand rhetorical organization better
  • Understand how readers might approach their writing
  • Plan out ways to work with teacher and peer feedback
  • Use sources appropriately
  • Think about different options, modes, claims, or forms of evidence to use in their writing

And so on. So today, first we’ll be hearing your reactions to what you read. Both the Reading Aloud in the Writing Center piece and The Question as a Teaching Tool (pp. 34-40 using the page #s in this book).  Then we’ll work with the first few pages of a “Literacy Narrative,” a paper common to ENGL 130 classes in which students tell a story about a moment in their history of reading or writing that sheds light on an issue related to literacy.

First we’ll go over the kinds of strategies the researchers in Disruptive Design: Reading Aloud in the Writing Center recommend in order to “point and predict.” We’ll follow that up with some suggestions or ideas you got from The Question as a Teaching Tool. Then please group into teams of two or three and take turns playing “student writer” and “tutor.” The tutor should try to use “point and predict” strategies with the paper, try to avoid “leading questions” or other “non-directive” questions, and the student should respond as students might.

Make sure everyone gets a turn being the tutor!

Then talk about how you responded to the draft:

  • What you noticed in the draft
  • What kinds of “point and predict” comments you made about the paper, and where
  • How those comments could help the writer revise, or get him/her to rethink moments in the draft
  • How using “point and predict” changes your affect, tone, or sense of what can be done in an hour in the writing center?

Then we’ll see how people fared. Fun!

You Know More Than You Think You Do

One of the themes of today (and today’s reading) could be “You Know More Than You Think You Do” about reading in academic contexts. You do! I mean, you’ve been doing reading for academic purposes for years now and for at least 3 years in college. You English majors also have some serious reading chops.

But don’t get a big head about it–you also need to communicate that knowledge to other people, leading discussions in which you and your tutees look over materials and discuss how to “decode” them. And my other caveat is that reading, like writing, is also discipline-specific, taking on different purposes and protocols as we slide from disciplines like English into history, business, sociology, engineering, or nursing. I once met an engineer who read “backwards”!

My theme comes from a recent article by Elizabeth Wardle in Inside Higher Education called, appropriately enough, “You Know More Than You Think about Teaching Writing.” In it Wardle makes this strong statement:

The guiding belief of this program is that faculty who have language and theory for understanding and explaining disciplinary writing can innovate writing assignments and instruction in their various fields in ways that disciplinary outsiders could never do for them. In other words, that our job as writing specialists is not to give other faculty cool “tips and tricks” or proselytize assignments or activities we think they should use. Rather, that if they have the tools they need, then as disciplinary experts they will come up with innovations that meet their students’ needs in context. 

What does this mean for us? Well, in part it means we should figure out what you all already know about reading for academic purposes. After our presentation today we’ll do just that.

Sticking with our theme, I’d like you to break into groups. I’ll lead you through two “rounds” of work sorting out what we know about reading. We’ll organize ourselves by some of the areas Griswold mentions:

  • Actual instruction in reading
  • Engaging critically with texts
  • Different kinds of texts calling for different reading strategies
  • Relevant ideas from literacy theory (332) or reading lit for future teachers (341)
  • Development as fluent/fluid readers
  • Challenges of academic reading

Huddle with your team and think of things you already know in the above areas: ideas you have, strategies you use, ways of handling the “reading load,” ways of working with text. Then make sure someone grabs a marker and writes them up under that section of the board!

Once we’ve done that–and perhaps talked for a few minutes about it–get back into your groups and use your Google-ability to give us more insight. What would Google Scholar say on these topics? What would the sources in Griswold’s article suggest are methods for tutoring or teaching reading, either in-text or in Works Cited?

“Unfamiliar” Writing

Why did Alexis Greiner title her piece “Tutoring in Unfamiliar Subjects” and not something else? After all, there are lots of ways that writing might differ, not just by subject!

Today we’ll explore the notion of “unfamiliar” writing. I hope we get to do some group work (twice) that will help us see our range as tutors of writing with texts and situations that are outside our comfort zone. We should try Greiner’s strategies as we work, and reflect on what additional questions we could ask in order to make sure consultations are successful to our tutees. All the while I’d like to backfill with some helpful information from my field of composition and rhetoric, telling you a bit about what we as a field know about “Writing across the Curriculum” and “writing in the disciplines.” We’ll come back around at the end to what we think about “expertise” in writing and how much you all think you need to have in order to tutor well.

First our discussion-leading group!

Now more of our time, and I hope to pick up where they left off. First let’s:

  • Name some of the classes outside of ENGL in which you’ve written papers. A list!
  • Did you ever have moments writing a paper in these other classes, in which you realized that you had to sound less “English-y”? More like scholars from another discipline or field? What did you do, what did you change in your writing?
  • Did your instructors give these kinds of writing names, like genres of writing? What were they?
  • Did they ever teach you their disciplinary habits of mind–as in how to “think like [that profession],” for example thinking like a historian or anthropologist?

A video from East Carolina University’s Writing Center WID page breaks down the ideas pretty well:

One of the things that Griener explores is being unfamiliar with academic topics, sure. But what are other ways that writing can vary from class to class? What other aspects of writing does this video say can vary across disciplines?

Let’s look at a paper from JOUR (Journalism) and the assignment prompting it. Read it over–it’s way short–and then get into groups. If someone walked into a writing center with these two things, how would you approach working with this person? What would you turn his/her attention to in the draft?

Share out as a team!

I hope we have even more time! We could talk about these things:

  • WAC as writing across the curriculum–the understanding that writing varies by discipline in pretty major ways
  • The challenge of GE (General Education) courses: because these course are open to ALL majors, sometimes the writing in them is very “general,” not tied to a disciplinary form (reading responses, argument papers, problem/solution essays). But as we move into GWAR classes and W courses in the major, the specificity of the genre conventions increases until people are writing EITHER the kinds of things expected of them in the workplace (after graduation) OR the things the professors themselves write. Additional challenges??
  • Well, hmm. What do these professors want you to sound like when writing? Yourself, or someone else?

A “Culture” of Observation

First your time to turn in paper one.  I’m excited to read what you wrote!  After I lead you through sharing the paper with me, I’ll talk a bit about grades in this course and what’s ahead.

First upload the paper to Google Docs and share it with  Then please answer these three questions right at the top!  (No joke.)  They are:

  • What do you like about the paper?  What do you think you did well?
  • What’s not so great in your mind?  Where did you run off course?
  • What kind of feedback do you want from me on this draft?

Today’s reading is by Mark Hall, who was hired at Chico State in 2001, when I was, and worked here as a compositionist and writing center director for many years.  It returns us to thinking about communities of practice and situated learning, which we last saw in Lerner’s “Situated Learning in the Writing Center.”

So what connections do you see between the arguments that Lerner makes and what Mark Hall says here?  First, I believe Mark wants us to imagine the growth of a writing center as tied to the ways in which its tutors come together around a “domain of interest,” forms of membership and belonging, and a “shared repertoire of resources.”  In this way he’s arguing not only that WC’s can be communities of practice but should be.

He also seems to be arguing that tutor observations can play a role in increasing the community’s knowledge about and practical strategies for the practice of tutoring.  Handled in the right way, he says, observations and discussions about tutoring should create an ongoing and focused culture of inquiry:

Rather than focus on individual knowing or tutor development, then, a communities-of-practice perspective turns our attention to the joint activities–the shared practice–of the writing center, the transactional process of becoming enculturated into that community, and the resources, such as this list of tutoring practices, which mediate that process.  (p. 20)

We foster professional development of both new and experienced tutors when we structure the work of tutoring around discussions about particular tutoring “cases”.  But we foster the growth of the mentorship space, Writing Center, or ESL Resource Center as a community of practice when we reflect on our shared and joint activities of tutoring and mentoring.

Some interesting/useful points Hall raises:

    • A rigid set of common practices cannot work for all. Tutoring writing is, and must remain, a highly inefficient teaching and learning activity, whose specific contexts, even within a single writing center, are so varied that we should not hope to find the “one best way.” (19, emphasis added)
    • Formative feedback instead of summative evaluations!  Possible through a strategy of pairing new tutors with more capable peers and encouraging informal discussions of experience (25)
    • Without an explicit agenda, tutors focus too quickly and narrowly on correcting sentence-level errors in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics, rather than first tackling global concerns of content and organization. Without clear priorities for the session, consultants also neglect to assist writers to make plans for what to do in revision after consultations. (34)

So today we have some options.

One way would be to return to these ideas of “situated learning” and “communities of practice” in a more robust way, perhaps by starting with that video we never watched:

What would it mean to adopt a “communities of practice” approach in this class?  How would it change our:

  1. Work with writers?
  2. Learning to tutor?
  3. Sense of ourselves as full participants in an enterprise?

Another way would be to talk about the observations you did in paper one using that list of “valued practices.”  I will pass out a one-page sheet of them, organized as his chapter does; let’s take time to fill out the chart based on the narratives/descriptions you wrote about in paper one.

  1. First, please re-read your paper for today, which asked you to pull out your notes and describe some of the things you’re seeing in your internship, linking them to things we’ve read or talked about in class.
  2. Based on this blog and your memory of that day, code it using the chart of the 20 “valued practices.”  Which of the 20 valued practices were happening, and at what rate of success, on this day?
  3. Reflect for a second.  Why these?  Do you notice any pattern of behaviors/practices, or pattern of successes (or not)?

Then we’ll regroup by internship space so that we can compare notes.  Please sit by TYPE of internship: in groups of people interning in the ESL Resource Center, Student Learning Center WC, an ENGL 131 workshop, and the ten-person 130P workshop o 90-person “Jumbo” space.  (Note: I know that you all observed a session in the ESLRC or the SLC for this paper because the focus was on tutoring, not mediating a workshop group.  Nevertheless I think it could be useful for us to break into internship groups, perhaps to reflect on some of the differences–if any–between what we witnessed in our papers and in our normal internship hours.)

  1. Read the Mark Hall charts of other people.  Pass them around!  OR each person in the group could talk for a few minutes about what activities they observed.
  2. Tally up the practices you all saw.  Which practices were happening
    1. Most often?  Least often?
    2. Most successfully?  Least?
  3. Now hypothesize why.  What do you make about the relative amounts of each one of these?  Does the focus seem to be on one to the exclusion of others?  Is there a balance among them?  What might you conclude based on their presence or absence?

Please elect a spokesperson to tell us your “results” and also what meaning you make out of what you saw.  We’ll have some discussion for each, focusing on what the practices we’ve observed tell us about:

  • opportunities for learning to write
  • informal exchanges of ideas, commitments to “friendly talk”
  • participation in workshop or tutorial as authentic learning
  • moments of reflection about writing or on prior knowledge

And so on!

Sommers on Novice and Experienced Writers

One of the things we know most firmly about students is that, left to their own devices, they often don’t revise their writing very much–or only do so when they find an extrinsic (prompting, threatening) or intrinsic (desire, curiosity) motivation. That doesn’t at all mean that college students are uninformed or ignorant!

Rather the opposite, in fact. If learning is in part a response to stimuli, we should inquire into some of the reasons students might choose not to revise or not to learn how to revise better/more. Or some of the pedagogical, curricular, and personal structures that keep students stuck in one mode of revision. In other words, what is it about school, schooling, the teaching of writing, or grading systems that might work against a robust process of revision?

I hope we’ll get to some of this with our first reading group! Beginning today groups will share their approaches to leading discussion of one of our readings. Each group has 20-25 minutes to have us do something in line with the reading, less a lecture than an activity, and engage us in some conversations relevant to our focus on tutoring and workshopping writing. Groups should also link our reading to at least one other source: a sample of student writing, assignment sheet, article, or web source that helps contextualize our work. Give these students your attention and follow their directions–and I’m sure they will accord you the same courtesy! (We should also give them props for agreeing to go first, which can be tough.)

When they’re done, we’ll continue where they left off. One thing we COULD do is look at these pictures I’ve collected over the years of students’ impressions of their writing process:

When you look these over, what connections do you make to Sommers?

One thing I see is her early argument that we’re set up historically and ideologically to think of the writing process as linear. What rules for writing did you follow that were aligned with linear models of writing? What teacher comments have you received that might disable healthy revising practices? Do you see these process pictures as linear processes? Is YOUR writing process linear like Sommers claims?

If so–and this seems key–what was the thing, person, event, or idea that convinced you that writing wasn’t linear but recursive? AND that you got better results–communicated more, got higher grades, whatever–when you used revision to DISRUPT the linearity of writing?

And finally: when Sommers says

The students have strategies for handling words and phrases and their strategies helped them on a word or sentence level. What they lack, however, is a set of strategies to help them identify the “something larger” that they sensed was wrong and work from there. The students do not have strategies for handling the whole essay. They lack procedures or heuristics to help them reorder lines of reasoning or ask questions about their purposes and readers. The students view their compositions in a linear way as a series of parts. Even such potentially useful concepts as “unity” or “form” are reduced to the rule that a composition, if it is to have form, must have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, or the sum total of the necessary parts. 

Do you agree? If so, what do you think tutors and workshop leaders could do to help students think more ecologically about their essays?