I found our virtual classroom blog insightful. I enjoyed both discussing the appropriate role of a tutor with everyone and also sharing my idea of what tutoring is. Blogging is becoming something that everyone does in one way or another. With the increased popularity of Facebook and Twitter no person after our generation will ever not know what a blog is. I can also say that my parents never used a blog and I would be surprised if they knew what one was. I think that for most students, as tutors, we are all comfortable speaking our mind and sharing our thoughts and ideas on paper. So speaking honestly and frankly on this blog was not a challenge for me.
One of the best parts of this experience for me was reading some of the posts from students on other campuses. I think that the idea of combining different communities of students are what makes blogs like this successful. I have read several articles that were very interesting and insightful. I also read a few blogs that I did not agree with. Either way I always walked away from the exchange feeling that I had learned something new.
I also wanted to include this picture in my post. I was searching the internet the other day and I came across this picture on someones blog. I thought that this was a perfect wordle to explain our experiences blogging.
It was great sharing with everyone and I wish you all luck on your future endeavors.
For those of you that could not tell, this was my first experience with blogging. In fact, until a few months ago I would have insisted that I would never have a desire or need to blog. Guess I was wrong. At first I was extremely uncomfortable with the whole blogging concept but started to get the hang of it as the semester progressed. When we began I had no idea how to blog. It turned out that it was not as difficult as I first thought. Also I feel that I gained more momentum in my blogging with the reply portion because they required my opinions and I never had a problem with giving those. The biggest challenge that I faced was using a proper voice in my posts. My writing background is primarily technical and I struggled with showing my personality and voice. These are two items that I worked at to remove from most of my writings.
The other aspect of blogging that I was not looking forward to was the fact that I would be making personalized posts to people that I did not know. My thought was that I did not feel confident enough to display my writings with a group that consists mainly of English/writing majors. This concern turned out to be groundless because I found myself looking forward to reading everyone’s posts and replies to my posts.
All in all I found this experience to be informative and not unpleasant. Will I ever blog again? I can’t answer that question because I never intended to blog prior to this semester. But I am grateful for this experience in case I ever need to blog in the future.
“A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” ~Charles Peguy
The meaning of a sentence is dependent on the writer. As readers, we can try to extrapolate meaning; however the true meaning will always be understood by the writer. I use a few different strategies to understand and improve papers on the sentence level. The strategies I use allow participation and input from both student and tutor. Going over the assignment together helps understanding on both sides and, if the student catches their own sentence level issues, it can help the student use what they learned during this session and apply it to other writing assignments.
I am focusing on strategies to clarify meaning at the sentence level. As writers, and readers for that matter, we want sentences to have meaning and to be grammatically correct and complete. We often strive for a certain air of refinement in our writing, but at the least we want our writing understood. The strategies go as follows:
1. Have the student quickly read/skim through the paper aloud. This gives you a global understanding of the paper. Even though the session may be just about focusing on line level concerns, having a global understanding of both the text and assignment can be very helpful.
2. If, while reading, the student comes across a sentence that fouls them up or just reads awkwardly, have the student notate that sentence and move on. As the tutor, if you hear a sentence that stands out to you, feel free to make a reminder for yourself to refer back to that sentence.
3. When the writer has finished skimming, return to those sentences that sounded off to either you or the student and have the writer explain what they are trying to say in that sentence. When you know what the writer is trying to say, you might be able to pinpoint a bit easier what sort of things the writer should work on or needs help with.
4. Do your best to not try to word the sentence how you would write it. Remember, this is the writer’s paper. They have their own voice and that is the voice that should be represented. Obviously, if they have questions on syntax or vocabulary feel free to guide them to the words they want, not the words you choose. Asking questions like “do you know of another word that could be used here?” or “do you know the meaning of this word?” could be helpful in building the writers vocabulary.
This short list is most certainly not all inclusive. There are many more steps to this approach, but this represents the framework for this strategy. Aside from that, there is a multitude of ways to help writers work out sentence level issues with clarifying meaning.
After establishing some rapport and discussing what the student is looking to get out of the writing center appointment, potential dialogue with using this strategy goes as follows:
Tutor: So from what you’ve told me you are looking for some help with clarifying what you’re trying to say in certain sentences. Maybe there are some questions with flow or word choice?
Student: Exactly! I’ve read through my paper and there are just some sentences that don’t sound right. I’m not too sure what exactly needs to be fixed.
Tutor: Alright. No problem. Well because we are both already familiar with the assignment, how about you do me a favor and sort of skim through the paper aloud and you and I will both be listening to sentences that sort of stick out?
(Student reads paper)
Student: So I came across this sentence in the introduction that seemed strange. The sentence is “Based on the fact that he is pessimistic and feels life is not worth it, he is forgetting about his loved ones whom he said he did not want to hurt.”
Tutor: Okay, what didn’t you like about this sentence? Is there something that caught you off guard? Is it too wordy, too awkward?
Student: It seemed too long. I feel like it could be shortened.
Tutor: I agree with you. I think this sentence could be shortened as well. I think some clarification could help too. How would you go about doing this?
Student: Well I think I should explain who “he” is. Also, I could be a bit thriftier with my word choice. I feel like the sentence is cluttered.
Tutor: I agree. Maybe try to showcase in the sentence what was the result of “his” pessimism. What are you trying to say in this sentence?
Student: Well I’m trying to say that because of his pessimism, he ultimately ended up creating a situation he didn’t want to happen.
Tutor: Okay, good. You know what you want to say and you know why this sentence isn’t coming out the way you want. How would you revise this sentence to have it have your intended sound and meaning while keeping your writing style?
Student: Well I was thinking something along the lines of… “The author’s basic pessimism causes him to forget the very loved ones he said he didn’t want to hurt.”
Tutor: I think that sentence conveys meaning more clearly and flows a lot better than the original sentence. Great job! Let’s look at a few other sentences, shall we?
(And the session continues on.)
Culture can be a difficult thing to account for. While most of us take our culture and standards as the norm, it is important to realize that not everyones culture is the same. During a class video we watched on Wednesday we witnessed one student from an African country explain that she did not feel that she could objectively write a paper because in her country she was not allowed to criticize government at all. My own family has a similar experience because my mother is orginally from Cuba. My own mother and aunt remind me to never take my freedom to speak my mind for granted. This idea of culture can sneak into our writing in many different ways. As a tutor it is our job to recognize culture and help the student to understand that things can be handled differently. There are several examples of possible conflicts. Some students writing may not be politically correct, as in having a mesogynistic message or tone. Some students may have an issue with expressing their opinion because culturally they try to never speak out against people in positions of power, like a boss or professor. As a tutor it is important to not only be contious of grammer and format, but also of tone and message. Remember that our job is not to make them conform to “The Way we Do Things”, instead our goal should be to explain to them that they have other options. The wonderful thing about English is the variation. Two people can take a great piece of work, rewrite and reorder it, and that can produce two outstanding pieces. There is no magic bullet, or one particular way to do things. Lastly I think it is important to discuss different standards of organization between cultures. American writing tends to focus on organization and delivery. Is your message organized and is it written effectively to engage the reader? Some Asian cultures put very little emphasis into organization and clarity. They feel that there job is to write and the readers job is to understand. By putting all this onous on the reader they are freeing themselves of having to make stylistic choices about clarity. Again while we should feel free to insert our opinion and try to explain to the student why changes might be nessecary, ultimately it is up to the student to adopt these changes or ignore the problem. If the student is leaning towards not listening, he will most likely be given his greatest reason to change when he recieves the first bad grade back from his teacher. As tutors we should try our very best to free students from the prison of one way writing and try to inform them of all the possible avenues their piece can take.
Americans are infatuated with efficiency. Everything from our roads to our restaurants are designed with the utmost sense of urgency in mind. This sense of immediacy comes through in our writing, as well. We feel that our essays should be clear and concise. We should introduce our subject, discuss key, relevant details, and then summarize our ideas in a conclusion. Although we feel that this is the most logical and efficient way of writing, other cultures see essays differently, mainly because they don’t think the same way Americans do. In my own experience, Arab culture is much more relaxed, with an ‘Insha’Allah’ attitude (the idea that if it is God’s will for something to be done, it will be done in time). This kind of worldview can obviously lead to writing that seems very unstructured to Americans. Asian culture also uses a more indirect way of writing, often throwing in new ideas in the middle of a topic. This can be the source of a lot of frustration to foreign students, because to them, their writing is normal, but American professors see it as having severe structural problems. So how do we tutors help these students and their writing? The best answer for this is to simply explain to the writer how different cultures have different writing styles. Make sure the student understands that their way of writing isn’t necessarily inferior or wrong, it is just different from how we write in America. Ensure the writer has a good idea of what an ‘American’ essay will look like, and work with them to incorporate the positives with their natural writing style with what works with ours. The saying goes that ‘knowing is half the battle’, and the sooner International students understand that they are expected to write in a certain way, and that their troubles as an English writer are the result of a culture gap and not their actual ability to write, the better.
As I stated in an earlier post I am a senior in an engineering program here at PSU Berks. Even though I am still working on my degree I have been an engineer for, let’s say many years. So even if I’m not equal in age or wisdom (but do share a preference in hairstyle) with Master Po in the 1970’s TV show “Kung Fu” as seen below, I sometimes feel like him. The old master in this show tried to pass his knowledge and experiences to a much younger student by acting as a guide throughout his lessons. I am not a teacher nor do I try to pass as one, but in many ways I have unknowingly accepted the role of cultural informant.
I had never heard the term “cultural informant” prior to this class and had no idea that I could be considered one. Now with accepting the responsibility of tutoring this semester I realize that I am even more involved in this role. Some of the challenges that I found from serving as a cultural informant were the age and cultural differences between me and my fellow students. The cultural differences that I noticed are not mainly based on language or geography, although these did exist, but mainly on the generation gap that exists between us.
Now that I am a writing tutor and work exclusively with primarily first year engineering students I try to use these differences as an advantage by emphasizing the difference in practical experience versus the difference in age. When working one on one with a student I try very hard to not assume a role of authority. Instead I try to use my experiences and abilities to set an example for the student to want to write better reports.
The main thing that I have realized about being a cultural informant is that it is a two-way street. I like to think that I usually add something good to a tutoring session or just a discussion, but I have noticed that I always take something away with me as well.
This person was selected to be a tutor. She has been trained. She’s an incredible writer. What am I? These questions may run through a writer’s mind as he walks into a tutoring session. Even with perceptions of the writing studio as a space for remedial writers debunked, insecurities about writing ability can be compounded when compared to these intimidating tutors who have been chosen for their prolific writing. As the writer closes up, it can be difficult to run a productive session. The writer may be too shy to speak, or may be unwilling to share the composition. It is thus up to the tutor to reach across the threshold and encourage the writer to open up.
Maybe like a shell. A tutor might accomplish this by talking about what’s working well in the piece. Or by engaging in normal, non-writing related conversations with the writer to assure him that both are the same—simple, normal students struggling over the same classes. Perhaps then the writer will be less intimidated. And, like a shell, the open writer may discover that he has a pearl inside, waiting to be discovered.