Posts Tagged ‘professors’

The Challenges and Value of Mandatory Sessions

By Gretchen Panzer - Monday, November 7, 2011, 8:06pm

I know the ink has barely dried on my last blog post (metaphorically, of course—it just sounds so much nicer than “the content has barely been uploaded”), but I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on mandatory sessions after our all-too-brief discussion tonight. We’ve all had sessions where the student clearly doesn’t want to be there, and I know I’ve wished sometimes that only students who are bursting with enthusiasm and think the Writing Center is the best part about SNC would visit us. Still, when I compare the pros and cons of mandatory sessions, I can’t help but realize that these required appointments, though they don’t tend to be the most enjoyable sessions, may very well be the most valuable.

True, some students who are required to visit the Writing Center spend the session shrugging their shoulders and insisting that they don’t need any help, but it’s also true that some of these students show up at the front desk another day—and of their own accord. We have the opportunity to change students’ attitudes towards the Writing Center and towards writing in general. At the very least, we can correct any false assumptions or misinformation that they may have about us.

When professors require students to visit the Writing Center, they give us the opportunity to work with students who may not have otherwise scheduled appointments with us. This does include students who either don’t know or don’t care about the Writing Center. However, it also includes students who may have a positive attitude towards the Writing Center, but would not otherwise take the time to visit. I personally am part of this group at times, as I confessed in my post about procrastination—I’m living proof that someone might think the Writing Center is fantastic but schedule appointments less often than she should!

All things considered, I think there is enough value to mandatory appointments to make up for the challenges we face as tutors during these sessions. That being said, I think there are reasonable limits to how often professors should assign mandatory Writing Center visits. I don’t think it would be a good idea for all professors to start requiring sessions for each and every writing assignment all at once, since we wouldn’t be able to increase our budget—and therefore our staff—fast enough to keep up with the increased traffic, which would result in students who don’t need a great deal of help (or who resist our help) taking time away from others.

I think it would be ideal if each professor who teaches an introductory level course or a general education course required his or her students to visit the Writing Center once or twice early in the semester. This way, we could provide the training students need as they learn how to write in an unfamiliar discipline, and new students would become aware of the Writing Center and what we have to offer. After these initial required sessions, they may decide to return voluntarily as they work on other assignments. Mandatory sessions may be challenging at times, but they might be the key to our continued existence and success.

How would you evaluate the merit (or lack thereof) of required Writing Center visits? In general, are they a good idea, a bad idea, or relatively neutral? Should professors limit the number of times they require students to visit the Writing Center per course, or is it valuable for professors to require visits for multiple—even all—writing assignments? What else should we be considering as we evaluate mandatory sessions?

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.



Comments on a Commentary on Comments

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 4:07pm

Yesterday I had an appointment with a student who was working on the second draft of her paper. She brought her first draft along, which had been returned—with comments—from the professor, and she asked me to make sure she had followed all of the professor’s suggestions. At the time, I didn’t think anything of this situation; after all, it’s a perfectly ordinary occurrence at the Writing Center. However, after reading Nancy Sommers’ article “Responding to Student Writing,” I’m reconsidering how we as tutors can best help students unpack and address professors’ comments.

Sommers is quite critical of teachers’ comments on student writing, arguing that most teachers write such vague, generic, and contradictory comments that students are confused rather than enlightened as they start to revise. While many of the professors I’ve written assignments for provide what I think are excellent comments—that is, comments that are specific and focused, and clearly outline how I should go about revising my paper—I have also received comments that focus, as Sommers describes, on sentence-level issues rather than higher-order concerns. In one particularly frustrating example of this, a professor marked up my works cited page and edited my punctuation, but did not explain how I could improve the essay in terms of argument, structure, and other higher-order concerns.

The professor who commented on the student paper I read yesterday did provide some specific ways in which the student could improve her argument and organization. However, he also marked some of her grammatical errors. By doing so, Sommers would argue, he encouraged the student to view her first draft as an immutable product and over-emphasized the importance of grammar in comparison to higher-order issues. Whether or not professors should include sentence-level issues in their comments is certainly an interesting question, but since we’re tutors rather than professors, I’m more concerned with how we should deal with professors’ comments in the Writing Center.

Should we provide exactly the kind of help students tend to ask for—go over the comments and make sure the student conforms to the professor’s suggestions in his or her final draft? Or should we step in and make higher-order suggestions when professors don’t provide them, and risk introducing new errors into the text in the process? Or should we strike a balance between safe and risky, pointing out higher-order concerns only if we are confident that the student has the time, motivation, resources, and ability to put together a polished final draft after making drastic changes?


Work Cited

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May 1982): 148-56. JSTOR. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.