On the first day of class, when I found out we would be blogging, I was a little bit taken aback. I had never blogged before, neither personally nor academically, yet, here I was, having to share my thoughts very publicly, with the added complication that the majority of my blogging audience would be complete strangers.
When it was time for me to actually sit down and write my first blog post, I struggled a lot with the tone of the writing. A blog is certainly a lot more conversational than a formal writing assignment. However, at the same time, I still wanted to make sure that my ideas were written in a way that would convince my peers to accept what i was saying. Looking at the evolution of my posts over the semester, I would say that they became more and more conversational as time went on. As we “got to know each other” through this virtual community, it became much easier to just let ideas flow onto the screen and not be afraid to let my personality shine through my posts.
The fact that most of us do not know each other added an additional dimension to the blogging experience. When I was writing posts, I was less concerned about being judged for my ideas because I knew that I was presenting them to people I would never meet face-to-face. Similarly, I think the anonymity allowed us to offer constructive advice in our comments to others’ posts. While I was always conscious to remain polite, i found it much easier to voice my opinion if I disagreed with something someone had said in a post. The conversational nature of blogging also helped with this, as I was able to disagree without sounding too harsh.
Overall, my first experience at an academic blog was definitely one that I enjoyed. The blog always felt very collaborative and it was always reassuring to have people support my ideas or helpful to have fellow tutors offer techniques and tools that I can use to better my own tutoring. TM2 has opened my eyes to a whole new type of learning and one that I look forward to engaging in in the future.
This is not the first time that I have used a blog for class. While I would say I am pretty familiar with using blogs, this is the first time that I have communicated with students other than my classmates. I liked the idea of being able to use our blog to share tutoring experiences and different strategies. When readings were referenced in the posts, I felt that what I was talking about in my classroom wasn’t “a waste of time”. It made it clear that we were all on the same page and that we were discussing the same topics. The discussions in the blog helped me understand the reason for what we were learning.
Writing for this blog was more challenging for me than others. I really had to take my mind off of “my class” and pretend that I was only talking to people I didn’t know. It was hard to find the balance between simply talking to other students and academic writing. I tried really hard to keep it right in the middle. Had I only been communicating with students I knew, I would have probably been a little less formal and may have even put less thought into the blogs. The question of what other students were saying about my posts would always cross my mind.
I think the community that developed through this blog was awesome. We were able to openly communicate with each other. We talked about what we liked and what we didn’t like, and it seemed like no one really took offense to comments that went against their opinion (which is something that may be a little more difficult face to face). I enjoyed being able to communicate outside of class with other students who were learning the same things as me.
Secretly, I have always wanted to blog. I am fairly crafty (canning, sewing, knitting, spinning, gardening, etc.) and I thought that maybe I could connect with like-minded people in this world and make some new “friends.” So, I was pretty excited, to say the least, when we began to blog. I thought, “yes! This is it! I will finally start a personal blog while I write one for school!” Well, that didn’t happen, but something did. I got my feet wet in the world of blogging. I put my voice (which I struggled with at times) out there in the blogosphere for people who I don’t really know to read my writing. Sometimes I would be apprehensive when I hit that publish button and contemplate deleting my post and writing something entirely different. But you see, the posts that I was uncomfortable with were the posts that I wasn’t myself. We are all taught to write academically; and being in this class I would assume we are all pretty good at it. But this is a blog, and writing that way is sometimes…boring (for me at least!). I loved the evolution of finding my blogging voice and knowing that regardless of what I write, someone will read it (thank you!).
Giant Squids, Robotic Narcotics, Constipated Dragons? Here’s my card!
Like a timid squirrel, my initial experience with the writing center was a long and delicate matter. I would run up to the door, sniff around, look around, and then run off for a time to hide nuts in a tree. Eventually, my nuts dutifully stored, I brought a research paper into the writing center and was instantly in love with everything about the place. “Yes,” I said, “these are people I would gladly share a scavenged meal with.”
Sometime later, I decided that I would bring a piece of fiction into the writing center. Why not? After all, it is free and hey, just maybe, if my writing is any good the tutor will enjoy the chance to take a break from working on academic writing to read some fiction. Well I am still not sure if my writing is any good, but my suspicion that a writing center tutor would enjoy the chance to work on some fiction was correct. Since that fateful, and cliché-ly phrased day I have been occasionally taking creative writing to the center.
In most cases the tutors I worked with preformed with admirable grace in smoothly adjusting and adapting their tools and style to work with fiction writing. Since then I have become a profit of ill-repute, shambling through upbeat creative writing classes with a coffer in hand, declaring that the almighty WC is near and ready to be your friend. Yet most fiction writers see themselves as students whom the academic types look down upon. The general feeling among the fiction writers I have spoken to is that the writing center is not for us; it is for students writing academic papers who need the help. After all, we have workshops.
Writing workshops are fantastic if, and I put a heavy emphasis on IF, the right components come together to make for the right environment. Stuff like good professors, and dedicated peers willing to do more than simply scan your story to ensure that whatever minimum standards of credit that a professor has set are met. Yet even with all the help showering down on you like naked men or women or whatever you like to have shower down on you glistening in naked glory, workshops can still fail to help you improve as a fiction writer.
And alas, what a beautiful coincidence it is that comfortably fitted into a snug area of the library is a coven filled with delightful believers ready and willing to help fulfill your un-met needs. Workshops are essentially all endgame. Even worse, at least for those of us with a competitive streak, it is very hard to look at a workshop opportunity as exactly that, a workshop opportunity. I would never dream of brining a story into a workshop that I wasn’t already sure was excellent. (I must note here that this is only possible after horrendously beating my doubts to a bloody death.) But the thing is is that it can be incredibly hard to get to a place where you feel confident enough to trounce into a workshop beseeching the humble folk within to gaze upon all the glory that is your story. Depending on your style, (lets say like King who writes from the gut or like Tolkien who spent more time world building than writing) it can be sometimes be difficult to shape the never ending wet stream of vomit that is character ideas, and settings into a coherent and lovely piece of art.
Creative writing classes aren’t about sitting down and just talking out what you are trying to do. Typically people read your story and after the class talks about it, while you sit dutifully silent, you get about twenty rushed seconds to ask questions. There is never a, “lets sit down, let me pitch this thing to you,” exercise. Which is sad, because this can be enormously helpful. Truthfully, sometimes it’s easier to get someone to listen to that crazy dream you had the other night than actually sit down and listen to you pitch a book or story. Maybe this has to do with this weird divide that exists where you are either another filthy artist who should get a real job or “Good show Sir!” worthy. I am getting off topic. My point is that there is a huge middle ground before you get to work shopping in fiction where having a smart, kind and qualified person sit down and work with you, help you explore the ideas that you are trying to lay down into not just clear prose, but art, is something that is invaluable to us mortals.
In my experience I found that the WC, already so filled with skills and tools and friendly faces, can and will provide the same debilitatingly delightful help that it already offers to the eager pupils with academic papers, to fiction writers.
With a break from my long winded and clarity defiling blathering, simply put, my plan is to investigate how writing center tutors can adjust their style, technique, and tools to work more proficiently with writers who enter their domain with fiction.
The perceivable personal value of my many years of writing fiction and taking creative writing classes can assuredly be contested, yet in my experience I have found that using the trusty tools we writing tutors keep in our belts, I have been able to improve my writing process dramatically. Well my experience with tutors who adapt to work on the fiction I have brought in has been remarkable; I think that with a few slight adjustments the writing center can become a fiction writer’s best friend. The kind who always welcomes you with hot tea, warm cake and a smile, no matter how long you have stayed away.
While I was reading the article on sentence level errors, I was immediately drawn in by the thought that there is a difference between written and spoken language. This difference comes from the fact that when we talk, our words are spontaneous. We don’t have time to plan out what we say before we say it (in a typical conversation, anyway). I started to think about how often people think quicker than they can speak and end up mixing up words and ideas. Since we are able to analyze and rewrite written work, I think these mix-ups occur less often when writing. I do believe, though, that some bad habits are formed by the way we speak and I think they come through in writing.
The thing I have been trying to pay close attention to, both in and out of the writing center, is subject verb agreement. Outside of school I waitress. I often find myself speaking very quickly to customers when the restaurant is busy. It is then that I catch myself saying things like “How is you appetizers”. I know that is incorrect, but my mind is going in a thousand directions and that is the sentence that comes out of my mouth. It is frustrating because I often wonder if anyone caught onto it -or if anyone even realized that is was incorrect.
I think (or at least hope) that things like this happen to most people when they are speaking quickly. But, this isn’t an error that should appear in writing because the opportunity to edit and correct your work is available. Since people often write the way they speak, I think a bad habit could easily be picked up with incorrect pairing of subjects and verbs.
While in the writing center, I have seen this issue come about with a lot of ESL students. In a forty-five minute session, I don’t necessarily have time to explain ALL the rules for subject verb agreement. From what I can come up with, I think most of the confusion comes from extra words in sentences. In order to make it less confusing, I use the strategy of isolating the subject and verb in the sentence.
When students read their papers out loud, they won’t necessarily catch these kinds of mistakes because they are used to talking that way. By pulling out only the subject and the verb in each sentence it is easier to see and hear that the wording is incorrect.
Student reading paper out loud: The teacher, who is tall with brown hair and glasses, walk quickly down the hallway and into her office.
Tutor: Ok, let’s look at this sentence. Do you see anything wrong with it?
Student: No. I think it sounded fine when I read it.
Tutor: I would like you to highlight the subject of the sentence and then the verb. Then write them down next to each other.
Tutor: Since we have a subject and a verb present, we technically have a sentence. Would you like to read that out loud?
Student: Sure…teacher walk. … That does not sound right… The teacher walks. I think it should be walks not walk.
Tutor: That’s right. If you ever have problems with longer sentences, pull out the subject and verb separately and make sure they agree with each other.
I think this strategy would be especially useful for compound subjects and also sentences with a lot of prepositional phrases. Sometimes students will make the verb agree with the wrong noun because it is physically closer to the verb rather than being the actual subject. When you pull out ONLY the subject and verb, the student will be able to see their direct relationship.
A student walks into the writing center for an appointment. They hand you a paper that seems to be nearly flawless. Where do you go from there? I’ve had this experience before. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to help them, but then I remembered a strategy that I had recently learned. It’s called Revision RADaR. It’s a strategy used to revise writing for effectiveness. Let’s face it, no matter how good a paper seems at first, there can be little teeny tiny things that can probably be improved. RADaR helps guide you to isolate sentences and find these teeny tiny things and examine if they are effective in the terms of your prompt. What’s with the name you ask? Well, RADaR consists of four steps;
- Words that are not specific, overused, and sentences that are unclear
- New information if necessary
- Descriptive adjectives adverbs
- Rhetorical or Literary devices
- Unrelated ideas
- Words that explain the obvious, provide excessive detail, are repetitive, and redundant
- Unnecessary determiners or modifiers
- Unnecessary details
- To make better sense
- To flow better
- So details support main ideas
Each of these steps can be taken separately and applied at the sentence level. So let’s say a student walks in and hands you a draft that looks pretty solid, here is a way that you could possibly go about introducing them to this strategy.
Tutor: This seems like a pretty solid draft, but let’s take a closer look at some of your sentences and see if they can be improved in any way.
Tutee: Ok, how are we going to do that?
Tutor: We can use this strategy I know called Revision RADaR. Here’s a little chart that we can use to guide us in what to look for when making sure a sentence is as effective as it can be.
(Hand the tutee a print out of the chart below for both of you to look at and check off topics covered as you go)
Tutee: Ok, cool. Can we start with my topic sentence?
And the conversation would continue with the tutor and tutee picking out sentences and using the RADaR chart to analyze them.
This is an extremely effective strategy when trying to improve a draft that seems to be solid, lengthy, or not concise. Also, it’s a great strategy because I feel like everyone does these types of revisions, but sometimes you can forget to check for certain things just because you don’t have an organized way of revising. The Revision RADaR chart organizes it all for you! Another bonus is that the student can take the handout with them and use it when looking over other drafts that they have written.
The Paramedic Method utilizes a number of steps to help writers analyze and clean their prose. For each sentence, writers should:
- Circle prepositions.
- Draw a box around instances of passive voice.
- Locate the action in the sentence.
- Change the action to a verb if appropriate.
- Ensure that the subject is the “doer.”
- Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary wordiness.
Here is a pictorial example of the Paramedic Method in use. (Image taken from the Purdue Online Writing Lab):
Tutors should follow Jordan’s previously described “3 Step Method” when utilizing the Paramedic Method in their sessions. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
Tutor – “Your argument is sound and nicely supported by your content. However, I wasn’t able to reach that conclusion without reading through your paper a few times. You should consider making your message clearer to your reader.”
Writer – “Okay, how do I go about doing that?”
Tutor – “The Paramedic Method! We apply this method, which helps pare down wordiness and improve clarity, to each sentence of your paper. We’ll walk through it together, and then you’ll be able to apply it to your entire paper.”
Writer – “Sounds good.”
Tutor – “So let’s start with the introduction…”
Following this, the tutor and writer apply the Paramedic Method to the first paragraph of the paper. Then, the tutor points out another instance in which the Paramedic Method will be helpful and asks the writer to employ the Paramedic Method to that section. Finally, the tutor points to a general area of the paper that needs improvement and asks the writer to apply the method on his own.
This method is especially nice because it encompasses a wide range of sentence level errors. It is not always necessary, especially if the writer seems to only have issues with certain errors, like comma splices or the passive voice. But if the writer’s prose is messy or unnecessarily dense, then the Paramedic Method provides a channel through which both tutor and writer can explore the possible rationale behind that style of writing.
If I were being honest with you, I would have to tell you that when I was in middle school I was tutored for grammatical errors. Now, we both know that grammar encompasses so much more than punctuation, but at the time that was what I needed help with. I can’t say that I actually learned anything from those sessions with my tutor. I remember feeling really frustrated and had pretty much given up. I was, oddly enough, a decent writer but I lacked basic punctuation to give me the A grading that I had so desperately wanted. Many years went by (I was 12 when I was tutored and I’ll be 24 tomorrow) and all of a sudden when I entered college it was like, BAM! Grammar queen! Rules and strategies that my professors taught resonated in my brain and I was able to take a deep breath and, oh imagine this, relax. It all eventually came together, even if I was a tad bit behind.
There was something, however, that would catch me every time. Actually, as I write this I am trying to make sure that I am not currently making the same mistake that I am going to talk about: commas. Innocent little commas that really pack a punch. It’s the comma splicing that I struggle with. I suppose I write like I talk, and if you knew me personally, you would realize that I have a lot to say and usually like to say it rather quickly. There is no time for being grammatically correct. Except when that pretty big essay is due. Then there is all the time in the world.
So, let’s say that a college freshman makes an appointment and in the description she says that she wants to work on commas. Before the session begins, I would print off the comma brochure from PSU Berks Writing Center. That is a good visual aid that will assist us in the process. Also, this is a good image to show a student who needs more of a visual in comma splicing.
After some casual chit-chat, we get down to the nitty gritty:
Tutor: I saw that you would like to work with commas today so I took the time to print out a comma brochure that will help us along the way. Is there something specific having to do with commas that you would like to work on?
Student: My professor sent me here because he said I need help with comma splicing but I have no idea what that is.
Tutor: Oh, no problem! First of all, comma splicing is when you have two ideas that are complete sentences and you are trying to hold them together with a comma. Like, “Dave took the dog out for a walk, he also listened to music.” Can you see or hear the difference here? The first part is stating that Dave is walking the dog while the second part is saying he listened to music. How would you change this to make it two sentences or one cohesive sentence?
Student: Hmmm, I guess, “while Dave walked the dog, he also listened to music.”
Tutor: Excellent! Okay, now let’s take a look at your first paragraph and find the areas that you need to re-work so you don’t run into this problem.
The rules of comma splicing are pretty simple:
- Stop at every comma in your paper, and see if there are two complete sentences on either side of the comma.
- If this is the case:
- Separate the ideas and give each idea more emphasis (use a period to separate)
- Leave them in the same sentence, like above, but change the wording giving more detail and/or use a semicolon to join the two conjunction sentences.
- If this is the case: