UofL Writing Center

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Archive for the month “December, 2012”

World Majority Students and Writing Center Practices

Tika Lamsal, Assistant Director of Graduate Student Writing

Working at the writing center with a wide range of writers from domestic to international students (whom I call world majority students, TikaPicfollowing Fox, 1994 – see Listening to the World for details), I have had an opportunity to broaden my tutoring experiences in a different way than by teaching various English courses. A face-to-face consultation with writers, although similar to other conferences and peer review sessions with students in class, has provided me with more confident communicative moments I share with other writers. Having to understand writers’ concerns and prioritize agendas based on their interests and needs seems more meaningful than doing guesswork on my part for their writing. More meaningful than these, however, are the learning moments from the writing of students that hail mostly from different rhetorical traditions, language and cultural backgrounds. Writing traditions vary and differ in various cultures; writings don’t get less sophisticated or more advanced depending on which part of the globe they originate from; writing styles simply are different and have different rhetorical values. These ideas have reinforced as I continue to work with more world majority students at the writing center.

An international graduate student, for example, couldn’t understand why she had to avoid the lengthy background she had provided before she even touched on the key issue or idea in her article. She also seemed surprised when I suggested during a consultation that it was okay to use “I”, and active voice structures in her paper, although it was a formal research project. We first had to talk about different rhetorical choices used in the context of her home country before moving to the nuts and bolts of academic writing in US universities. Similarly, another world majority writer found a natural way of communicating and “adding flavor” to her academic writing by peppering her words and even sentence structures occasionally with her native language expressions.

These are only two of the scores of other examples in daily tutoring situations when we encounter different ways of writing, especially through the works of world majority students. Initiating a dialogue during writing consultation, I have found most of the world majority students well prepared to share their past cultural and academic experiences, which communicate to us a useful conceptualization about the ways they write or the rhetorical styles they choose. What they need for such a dialogic initiation is our attention or care to their experiences. For instance, when I open the conversation with my own experiences of working with differences in writing, the writers seem very intent on bringing in their own experiences in a suggestive and helpful way for me to devise my tutoring strategies. Once they get to know the differences, the world majority students are more likely than before to understand and work towards changing their writing style in order to meet their assignment expectations, despite the difficulty they face in the beginning to adopt new academic conventions. This interactive way of consulting has helped me not only learn about different rhetorical strategies underlying the writing of world majority students but also refine and solidify my own tutoring practices. Meanwhile, majority of the issues writers want to work on during most of the sessions happen to be similar ones, irrespective of writers’ positions as domestic or world majority students. When working with graduate students in both HSC and Belknap, for example, I come across similar concerns or issues of academic writing, such as grammar, nuances of research writing, transition, consistency of verb tenses, etc., that students ask for help.

However, while most of the writing issues may be commonly resolvable and negotiable when working with both domestic and world majority writers depending on the nature of writing, cultural and language contexts inevitably trickle in the writing of the latter as we deal with global level concerns. Since it seems unimaginable to generalize students’ writing strategies based on the regions or countries of origin, it becomes viable to start with a general conversation about how the students are accustomed to writing, what course expectations they have for the assignment, and how the students can work towards meeting those expectations. Being attentive to their specific cultural and academic contexts, we can work together with world majority students to help them produce meaningful writing and academically succeed in the university. With their understanding of how variety of languages and cultures can influence their writing styles, most of the world majority students seem to be more than willing to learn new writing conventions in order to both gain knowledge and succeed in their programs. I continue to learn from those teachable moments in the writing center.

Learning about Responsive Practices from the University Writing Center

Nancy Bou Ayash, Assitant Director

I had initially imagined that my writing center work, particularly the weekly fifty-minute consultation sessions, wouldn’t be any different from the countless one-on-one conferences I’ve had with my college writing students and workshopping sessions in peer writing groups.  I admittingly expected my writing center pedagogy to be completely informed by (and never informing) my so-called student-centered teaching approaches.  Looking back at my teaching role and what I had then perceived as student-centered practices, I prided myself on creating spaces for empowering writers to experiment with unfamiliar genres and writing styles and to consider alternative rhetorical decisions and options.  At that time, little did I know that beneath the veneer of student-centered discourse, my own words about effective writing and rhetorical practices and productive revision plans remained unquestioned, nonnegotiable, and always in the very center of every composing and re-composing process.

NancyOver the course of this semester at the writing center, I had come to realize how much I had become engaged and concerned not only with written texts but even more with the resourceful writers and creative designers behind them.  I had come to discover a once forgotten interest in issues critical to my students’ sense of self and lived realities, issues that I had initially overlooked or had hoped would remain unarticulated in a traditional classroom setting under the excuse that there are always more important learning outcomes to tap into and academic writing skills to develop.  My consultation sessions had rekindled my ability to move beyond my impractical teacherly categories of students in terms of ability and performance and of their written texts into binaries of standard vs. nonstandard compositions.  As I worked closely with both graduate and undergraduate students from across the disciplines, I listened to them with care as they expressed their aspiration to join their dream professions in a capitalist global market and enhance their career prospects, efforts that they saw as largely contingent on their mastery of academic writing conventions and on the kind of guidance we can offer in the writing center as they moved towards those goals.  

As we teased out in every single session the specificities of the social, economic, cultural, and linguistic realities and relations that they wished to maintain, rewrite, or revise in their textual and discursive decisions and choices, I had started to re-envision my writing center clients as always thinking, living, and composing through global-local scenes.  My newly acquired writing center pedagogy had taken precedence over the pedagogical approaches I’d developed over the years in intervening in the dominant politics of language through foregrounding the intricate relationship between specific instances of languaging, writing, thinking, and living.  As our clients’ stories continue to rapidly and radically change in light of current economic and geopolitical pressures, new linguistic and cultural realities, and emerging multiliteracies, I cannot help but wonder to what extent are we adequately changing our own stories about language, learning, literacy, and identity? 

I look forward to yet another exciting day with another writer, a different text, and a new story that will continue to unsettle and complicate my preconceived perceptions and categories about writing, writers, and texts.  As my clients continue to read their writings aloud while, at times, laughing at their self-acknowledged errors, with a sigh of “I can’t believe I didn’t even notice that,” I will surely be having more of those ‘aha’ learning moments of my own.

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