Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

A Writing Center Haiku – by Joanna Holzhaeuser

By Monica Platten - Sunday, November 6, 2011, 11:21pm

Okay, so Joanna doesn’t know I’m doing this, but she will soon. This totally isn’t plagiarism because I’m citing her. Ready? (It’s becautiful, by the way):

A Wrting Center Haiki
by Joanna Holzhaeuser

The Writing Center.
Thesis. Reasons. Evidence.
“Please fix my grammar.”

See? It’s beautiful, I told you all. (For a first hand experience with this lovely Haiku, see the small whiteboard at the mac nearest the candy bowl — Joanna would probably also appreciate if someone would make a move against her in the half-played game of tic-tac-toe on said board.)

Beautiful and true. We are the Writing Center. We want to help you with your thesis, reasons, and evidence. We want your argument to be strong and clear and we want your paper to flow smoothly. We want to focus on the big picture. But you, you silly tutee. You often want to focus on the smaller things. “Please fix my grammar.” Oh silly, silly tuteegooses.

I know that we’re fighting a constant battle trying to inform people that we are NOT copy-editors. Does anyone think we’re meeting any success? When I have students come in asking for spelling and grammar, I always tell them that we like to focus on higher-level issues first, and then if there is time we can look at sentence-level problems like that. But many times when I have students come in asking for grammar help, they actually don’t have argumentative papers; so after looking at structure, organization, and fluency, we really do end up looking at sentence-level issues because there usually is time for it.

I wonder if this is counterproductive for our battle? I hope not. Do you guys feel that the students understand or comprehend you when you tell them what we do?

The other problem that I feel is constantly holding us back in this battle against the copy-editor perception is teachers. I mean, they need to stop this whole taking off a point for every misused comma thing. IMO, at least. I mean, think of Carrie’s post “The Writing Center is NOT a Prison.” The student gets an A on his paper, yet his teacher sends him to the WC to work on grammar and punctuation! What’s the deal? His content is good but we can copy-edit for him to create a more polished paper? Or? … I mean, we can’t know exactly, because we are neither the student or the professor, but really? Come on.

I know that this battle is kind of old news. But it’s frustrating. And I thought Joanna’s haiku quite the gem, so I wanted to share it and talk about how gosh darn true it is.

What methods do you think have been working for us to spread the word about our true mission? What do you think is a continuing problem? I know that the mis-perception will probably never disappear entirely, but I was just wondering what kinds of thoughts you guys had on this subject. ((Hey guys, COPY-EDIT FOR ME! Jk, but I don’t think mis-perception really has a hyphen. But I had one of those squiggly lines that wouldn’t go away so I just created my own solution.))


Works Cited

Holzhaeuser, Joanna. “Writing Center Haiku.” St. Norbert College Writing Center. Small Whiteboard. Fall 2011.



Respectful Aggression?: Reconciling Polarized Definitions of Writing

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 8:03pm

I keep thinking about David Bartholomae’s definition of writing as “an act of aggression disguised as an act of charity” (407). Because of this, I responded a bit cynically to the section regarding “Respect for the Reader” in St. Norbert’s “General Writing Policy” as it appears in the 2001-2003 St. Norbert Catalog:

Students should demonstrate that they respect the values and concerns of their readers. Thus written work should address the needs of its audience, which includes an intelligent, coherent, and grammatically correct presentation of information; a use of unbiased language to avoid sexist or other pejorative rhetoric; and an awareness and tolerance of alternative viewpoints. (qtd. in Pennington and Boyer 92-93)

First, I don’t understand what grammatical correctness has to do with respecting the “values and concerns” of one’s audience. Will my reader really feel as if I don’t respect his or her values and concerns if there’s a comma splice in my introductory paragraph? Second, if we are to believe Bartholomae as well as the individuals who composed St. Norbert’s “General Writing Policy,” writing is a contradiction in terms: a respectful act of aggression, an attack that is unbiased, non-pejorative, and tolerant of other viewpoints.

How do we reconcile these two very different views of writing? John Pennington and Robert Boyer, in their discussion of St. Norbert’s WAC program, follow Sandra Stotsky’s example in viewing “writing as a moral and intellectual behavior in all disciplines” (92). If writing is indeed an inherently moral behavior, Batholomae’s claim that it is an act of aggression simply doesn’t fit with our cultural assumption that aggression is immoral. There is a direct opposition here, which gives us three options:

  1. to reject Bartholomae’s definition of writing as an act of aggression and to accept Pennington, Boyer, and St. Norbert College’s definition of writing as a moral act;
  2. to accept Bartholomae’s definition and to reject that of Pennington, Boyer, and St. Norbert College; or
  3. to create a middle ground between these two opposite definitions.

I’m curious as to whether any of you have created your own middle ground, especially since I don’t have a clear vision of what mine would be yet. What characterizes the space between writing as aggression and writing as moral behavior? What particular challenges did you face when navigating this middle ground? Do you think this is a tension that will ever be resolved on a larger scale, or will there always be a debate regarding the nature of writing?


Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” An Anthology of Essays. 403-17. Web.

Pennington, John, and Robert Boyer. “A Reflective Strategy for Writing Across the Curriculum: Situating WAC as a Moral and Civic Duty.” The WAC Journal. 87-100. Web.

[Note: I apologize for the incomplete citations—I accessed these articles through Moodle and was unable to find complete citations in my web research.]

Why I *Am* Proud of You for Correcting Other People’s Grammar

By Gretchen Panzer - Sunday, October 2, 2011, 3:44pm

While I agree with Ladysquires and Stephen Fry that it’s annoying and self-serving to correct other people’s grammar in casual conversation, I do feel compelled to stand up for those who point out grammatical errors in the appropriate circumstances and out of a desire to be helpful (as opposed to wanting to gloat over other people’s mistakes and feel superior). As writing tutors, we exist in a sort of limbo—we’re not copy editors, professors, or even the intended audience of students’ writing assignments, yet we’re responsible for reading the assignments and giving as much constructive feedback as we can. When is it appropriate to comment on students’ grammar, and how can we do so without turning into the smug pedants that Ladysquires, Fry, and many others abhor?

I personally find it hard to ignore grammatical errors, especially when I’m working with a student whose paper is otherwise well-written. If there’s enough time in a session after discussing higher-order issues, I can’t resist pointing out recurring grammatical errors and reminding the student to proofread carefully before turning in his or her final draft. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a lot of copy editing for my internships, but I also remember several other members of our class bringing up specific grammatical and spelling errors when we discussed our “writing pet peeves” at the beginning of the semester. If mechanical errors are really so unimportant, why do we care so much about them?

I think the trivial nature of grammatical errors is actually what makes us so eager to correct them; it’s so easy and takes so little time that it’s hard to resist the temptation. “In this sentence, you need a comma after the introductory element. See? All better!” It’s like sticking a Band-Aid on the paper—an easy fix that takes hardly any effort. However, when there are larger problems with the paper it’s actually a disservice to the student to comment on grammar. You wouldn’t put a Band-Aid on someone’s scraped knee when they also have a sprained ankle!

Still, I don’t think it’s so bad to use a grammar Band-Aid when the problem really is just a scraped knee. As Fry points out, there are situations in which proper grammar is important, such as an exam or a job interview. In these situations, you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t care; instead, “you slip into a suit for an interview, and you dress you language up, too.” I believe a formal college writing assignment is also a situation in which grammatical errors and typos sometimes give the impression that the writer doesn’t care about the assignment and probably dashed it off at the last minute. So while I won’t copy edit a student’s paper, I will try to help students recognize and correct recurring errors so their readers won’t doubt that they put a great deal of thought and effort into their writing.

Works Cited

Fry, Stephen. “Language.” n.d. Lecture. “Stephen Fry Kinetic Tyography – Language.” Ed. RogersCreations. YouTube, 30 Sept. 2010. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.

Ladysquires. “Why I’m Not Proud of You for Correcting Other People’s Grammar.” Shitty First Drafts. Shitty First Drafts, 11 May 2010. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.