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The Quick Help Desk

By Miles Lamensky - Tuesday, December 6, 2011, 5:11pm

Perhaps this isn’t the place or time, and maybe I’m not the person to create such a post, but leaving the meeting last week, opinions regarding the Quick Help Desk seemed scattered. Since no one took to my “closing our eyes while voting” idea (including myself), I was able to tally the votes. There was no general consensus, no conclusion as to what we should do with the Quick Help Desk. My intentions here are not to settle the debate, only to lay all the facts down on the table in an (as best I can) unbiased manner.

The Quick Help Desk was founded with two primary objectives in mind:

1.Increase Writing Center visibility

2.Offer quick assistance to students

Gauging how successful the Help Desk has been in increasing Writing Center visibility is a difficult task, as we haven’t had a response form questioning students how they’d been referred to the WC. It offers a second location where the WC can be represented, which is fundamentally a good idea, but unfortunately this second location is only two floors away from our primary location. Even though it seems quite obvious to us what our purpose is on the first floor, many students look at the big “Writing Center” sign and quickly avert their attention. I feel that it has sparked curiosity among some students, while others seem to simply find it an extension of the technology help desk (I’ve showed two different people how to access PowerPoint when posed with the question…I couldn’t help myself). The fact of the matter is, WC visibility doesn’t seem like an all-too necessary function at this point, seeing as how there’s not a lot of white space on the schedule these days. Appointments are filled weeks in advance, negating the need for QHD’s objective number one. Removing the QHD would open up many additional slots in the WC, allowing us to further help the student body, which is our primary goal.

Since increasing WC visibility doesn’t seem to be as pressing an issue as we originally thought, this leaves us with objective number two, offering quick assistance to students. If there is an argument for keeping the QHD, it rests here. Were students to understand the function of the QHD, they would undoubtedly stop by with questions. However, too many individuals misunderstand our purpose, leaving me slightly confused. The sign on the front of the desk couldn’t possibly get any bigger, and it clearly reads, “Writing Center.” In order for the desk to be more helpful, it’s purpose would have to become common fact to students. I’m not exactly sure how we would going about doing this; we can continue to mention it during appointments, but that will only reach out to those individuals choosing to schedule with us. The QHD can be helpful to many more individuals than just those that visit the WC.

On paper, the QHD seems like a great idea, and I think it could develop into a helpful secondary branch of the WC. But we have to figure out a way to get the word out explaining its function. What does everyone think? Is there anything we could do to make it known that the QHD is a helpful library resource for those with writing questions? Until we can answer this question, the QHD, with its relatively small amount of business, seems to be taking away from our objective to help students. Rather than working with someone on their paper, we sit down at the desk and read. There needs to be a way to make the QHD more effective for it to be worth the cost.

Opinions at the Door, Please

By Miles Lamensky - Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 7:32pm

Today in class we got into a heated topic discussing how to handle a student writing a paper with an opinion far different from our own. While I didn’t speak out, I got fairly emotional during the whole discussion, particularly when a tutee was brought up who had written a paper for pro-death penalty. I’m not saying I’m pro-death penalty, not in the least, but I feel it is our job as tutors to remove our personal biases from sessions at all costs and it is even more imperative that we do so when the tutee’s view differs from our own. As difficult as it may be, I feel that looking at a student’s paper in a subjective manner is not our duty, not in the slightest. The goal is to achieve a sort of objective personality while tutoring. Playing devil’s advocate can have powerfully positive effects, as long as it’s sincerely us playing devil’s advocate as opposed to pressing our opinions unto the tutee.

We just read an essay in one of my philosophy classes by Adam Smith titled, “The Impartial Spectator.” He makes the claim that everyone is able to step aside from themselves to see if a decision they made is rational, looking at ourselves from an outside perspective. Even the skeptic I am found most of his argument to be relatively sound. The point is, I think every one of us is capable of leaving our personal biases at the door, no matter how painful it may be, and helping tutees go in whatever direction they might choose to go in. If a student thinks that murder is a productive way of decreasing the world’s population, fine. Granted, that’s quite an extreme example, I’m only trying to express how serious I am about this. The papers we help students with are their papers. The suggestions we offer should help the paper structurally, e.g. make sure the claims are strong, the format is correct, ect. If student A sincerely believes murder is a productive way of decreasing the world’s population and their claims seems to hold up, we should have no problem taking our own opinions out of the equation and allowing the student to go in whatever direction they choose.

I’ve observed throughout class that we’re an opinionated bunch. In expressing one’s opinions it’s important to remember not everyone shares that opinion. I think this is an important thing to remember each and every time we step into the writing center.

An Eye Doctor’s Diagnosis

By Miles Lamensky - Sunday, November 27, 2011, 1:56pm

I’ve been attending the eye doctor since I was seven years old when I was diagnosed with astigmatism. I had to wear a patch for three years, and am still nearly blind in my right eye. This is why it’s astounding to me that I may possibly have just been also diagnosed as colorblind!

Okay, perhaps not the traditional “dog version” of colorblind where I see only in black and white, but of a more metaphorical kind. In Nancy Barron and Nancy Grimm’s article, “Addressing Racial Diversity in a Writing Center: Stories and Lessons from Two Beginners,” the issue of “colorblindness” in their Writing Center’s tutors is made known. Colorblindness is “the idea that ignoring or overlooking racial and ethnic differences promotes racial harmony” (Scruggs). Upon initially beginning the Barron and Grimm article, I was extremely skeptical toward the concept. I’ve never considered myself racist and have always attempted to not judge anyone based on the color of their skin. But as I got deeper into the article, I began to understand that I may well be colorblind after all.

The trick is this: maintaining a colorblind perspective seems innocuous enough. We acknowledge the similarities between our race and other races and all is hunky-dory. To acknowledge the differences can sometimes be interpreted as racist. Thus, we dim down the difference and instead celebrate the similarities.

Colorblindness raises a whole new issue found to be extremely prevalent in the 21st Century with globalization more active than ever before. The world is becoming smaller, becoming one, and that is exactly the problem colorblindness is addressing. We shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge our differences. Those differences are what make the human race so incredibly unique. Hiding cultural separations is ignoring the diverse cultures many of America’s citizens come from.

In the Writing Center, what is the correct balance when dealing with a student of ethnic background? I’ve always thought treating them like every other tutee was the best approach, and now my whole world’s been turned upside down. Are we to treat them differently, since they are different? Or does this issue apply much less to a Writing Center than what Barron and Grimm seem to think it does? What do you all think?

 

Works Cited:

Barron, Nancy. “Addressing Racial Diversity in a Writing Center: Stories and Lessons from Two Beginners.” The St. martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. Ed. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 302-325.

Scruggs, Afi-Odelia. “Colorblindness: the New Racism?” Teaching Tolerance. 2009. 27 Nov. 2011 <http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-36-fall-2009/colorblindness-new-racism>

 

A Difference Worth Noting

By Miles Lamensky - Monday, November 14, 2011, 7:29pm

Perhaps I’m alone, but I’ve been brought up with this odd belief that skimming is somewhat of a travesty. How could one skim something that an author had put so much time into? And then, flipping my world upside down, a Professor in the Political Science department shows us how to make something more skimmable. What is becoming of America???

I’ll be honest; I’ve skimmed certain readings before in a time crunch, or merely because simply reading all the way through a large piece of literature is can be an overwhelming ordeal. Skimming, however, seems to work better in some instances than it does in others. I wouldn’t skim through a book I was reading for pleasure, as that would seem to be defeating the entire point of my reading it in the worst place. I wouldn’t skim through a complex, dense philosophical text as I would certainly miss one important point or another. But skimming, aside from many possible functions, seems to have a very specific and useful function in the particular instance of “Reading Reviews” in the Political Sciences: memory recall.

I’ve lately become disheartened by my sub-par memory. Recalling details from readings I consumed last week can be difficult, making two weeks almost impossible. Thus, creating an outline that encapsulates all the detail and produced understanding one attains after reading something worthy of being remembered is a perfect way for the brain to reconnect with those ideas and concepts. Reading the entire article again not only seems tedious, it seems unnecessary. Why should I have to put all my time into reading something just to read it again later?

In this sense, skimming seems productive and powerful when trying to overcome our ever-decaying memories. Of course, this means taking the time to actually write an outline…While that task doesn’t sounds exciting in any sense of the word, it possible benefits may be worth the extra time.

One Last Note on Mandatory Sessions…

By Miles Lamensky - Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 10:50am

Time seemed to escape us in class yesterday with our guest-speaker. I found the meeting very productive and felt we discussed many issues that had to be discussed at one point or another.

There was, however, one last comment I wanted to make about the mandatory sessions that I felt hadn’t got touched on; it is perhaps a unique exception to most of the issues we brought up.

A couple weeks ago a student brought in his proposal for the mandatory “step-one” in the process. He was an upperclassman and told me bluntly before our session even began he was upset with the requirement of having to come to the writing center. Obviously, my mind was already turning in that “sigh-filled” direction of “another student that doesn’t want to be here.” While this was true, the reasons surrounding it were quite different from most tutees that don’t want to be there. He got out his proposal and told me he felt he had done everything that was asked of him to the T. Always skeptical when hearing that from a student, I told him we’d read through it just make sure.

Sure enough, the paper resembled near-perfection, which raises a new matter of concern: should the students that are in the general education course (out of requirement) and are hard-working students have to bring in their papers to us? He told me he is getting heavy work-loads in classes pertaining to his major and the required WC appointment was simply one more speed bump in his path. I couldn’t really blame him. While I think peer evaluation is always helpful, the work he presented me was clearly worthy of a perfect grade. Thus, the mandatory appointment was almost viewed as a “punishment” to him for his hard work. Not that the writing center isn’t a great place to stop by, but I’m sure he felt his time could be used better elsewhere.

I just thought it was a new twist on the whole mandatory sessions discussion that we didn’t really have time to talk about. Makes you think a little more about the issue…

Writing Fellows at SNC

By Miles Lamensky - Monday, October 24, 2011, 6:48pm

It seems that the Writing Fellows program at Iowa University has proven effective and much can be taken from it. Going out into the college community essentially spreads awareness of the ultimate goals of the Writing Center itself through the Writing Fellows. With the University of Iowa, as it is stated, the Writing Center is one small country within the boundaries of a large one, Iowa consisting of some 30,000 students. Fortunately for us at St. Norbert, our student body is significantly small so visibility, in the long run, should not be as much an issue. I still think it would prove extremely beneficial to make ourselves present within the classroom. Our numbers this year have already greatly improved from the numbers of last year, and it’s possible some of these additional students have come because of our extended presence, however little it may be at this early point in the plan’s development. If we can continue to increase the amount of students we place in the classrooms, similar positive results will evidently take shape over time. Everything is according to scale. Thus, reaching out to five students here is more or less the same as reaching out to some sixty students at Iowa.

 

WAC isn’t Whack

By Miles Lamensky - Monday, October 17, 2011, 7:26pm

During today’s class discussion we spent the last quarter venting about a professor’s perplexing assignment. This developed into a tangential discussion on papers required within the various fields of study St. Norbert has to offer. While everyone had different point to make, I feel compelled to believe most of us were making attempts to say similar things.

Writing Across the Curriculum, when depicted purely conceptually, seems crystal clear and perfect. However, the idea itself isn’t the one distributing the assignments; that power lies within the professor alone. Professors are responsible for incorporating WAC into their own class in a coherent manner. Such a task isn’t impossible by any means, regardless of the class. The important thing is the coherence. A writing assignment for Psychology shouldn’t pertain to WWF Wrestling or Bloodbending, unless of course the students is asked to determine the psychological effects one might experience from watching either program. Nor should a Theology paper be granted the open-endedness where one students is discussing Bloodbending and another is discussing the concept of mythological dragons in ancient times.

The papers should pertain to the class by some means. There is always room for that; most professors employed at St. Norbert would be unable to convince me that they are definitively unable to incorporate a paper into their class. If my Computer Science teacher can do it, I think it’s a safe bet most other teachers should also be able to do it. Writing is everywhere and can be used as a helpful tool when trying to understand student’s motives and thoughts in any class.

Simplicity of Language

By Miles Lamensky - Tuesday, October 11, 2011, 7:08pm

After today’s discussion, thoughts of “sex-words” swirling in my mind, it would only make sense that I had two students come to see me in the Writing Center with English as their second language. I fell into several moments of frustration, struggling to explain simple grammatical necessities and nuances. Such things as why a comma must precede a quote, why one would use the word “these” rather than “this” when referring to multiple items.

It occurred to me that my large (perhaps not large, but large enough) vocabulary had just been rendered useless for the next hour. I found myself stripping down my language to its most primitive levels, just as if Microsoft Word were being read in binary rather than text. 01110101010110101011. Yes, difficult to work with.

I’m striving to constantly increase my vocabulary but I pity those students still in the process of learning English that are many steps behind me. How am I to communicate with them as one intelligent individual to another without coming off as belittling them? Both students were of a significant level of intelligence, though that intelligence may well have been confined in the words of their first language.

The world is undergoing an inevitable process of globalization. Discussing the pros and cons, the goods and bads, it’s all irrelevant. Cultures are becoming intertwined and there is no stopping it. I’m curious how, we as a civilization, must adapt to these obvious changes without jeopardizing the beauty encapsulated in some of the deeper and more exotic words hidden in our language. While I’m more than open to peoples from various cultures entering the wonderful world of English, I don’t want English to lose its complexity simply because someone must understand its basics to succeed in America. The language doesn’t deserve the “dumbing-down” process it sometimes seems to be going through and I think it’s important we find a way to avoid this at all costs. A professor once told me, “one can only think using the words that he knows.” America’s intelligence is at stake with each word we lose to the simplicity of another. We have to find a way to show the great importance of vocabulary and the power it represents.

Confidence

By Miles Lamensky - Wednesday, September 21, 2011, 6:36pm

My apologies to everyone for joining the blog game a little late…I’ve never actually blogged or read blogs in my life, so it’s all new to me.

“Confidence” was brought up several times during the Tutoring Course as a necessary component to proper tutoring. I kind of arrogantly blew this off since confidence has never been a real issue for me. I got a wake up call about halfway through my first session as a felt some mysterious pressure closing in on me as a read a student’s paper. As I was reading each paragraph, I was thinking about what I would tell her in accordance with the writing. Well, thinking one thing while reading another has never been the most effective strategy for retaining basic information about something. Thus, as we discussed her paper, several times I found myself rereading paragraphs I had already read. It seems unnecessary to tell oneself to “be calm,” but as I began doing so, I began to relax. It’s amazing how making a conscious effort makes such a powerful difference. Since the first session I’ve eased into the process and imagine it will only get easier as I go.

I’ve also found that since I’m not an English Major like so many of the consultants, it has been fairly easy for me to relate with students on a personal level. That’s not to say English Majors can’t relate to students (please don’t attack me with comments evil in nature), I simply mean it’s worked well for me personally. I believe that everyone working in the Center has a different approach. Whether that difference is small or large, it still exists, and it’s exciting to find little things here and there that work for me. I’m sure other first-year consultants are similarly finding this to be true.