Category Archives: Group A

Combating Fear with Creativity

My first blog post was one of the driest pieces of writing my hands have ever typed.  While I was proud of the structure, the citations, and the thoughts I expressed, I almost fell asleep reading it over.  It lacked exactly what I have come to love about my writing: my voice. As we discussed our first blogging experience in class, I remarked that I felt far too nervous to show my true colors in the blog, so instead I substituted my voice for a dry, intellectual one.  I remember fearing the judgement of the ominous collection of bloggers at other schools, and so in an effort to sound more intelligent, I held back my voice and strong opinions.

In our class discussion, I was the first to admit that I was not satisfied with my post.  From that moment on, I feel I really began to understand the blog format.  I realized that blogging is simply a lengthy conversation that one has via the internet.  It is far less formal than I originally thought and is far more fun.  It is this element of fun is what I think really defines a blog.  When I read through the other blogging responses, I was amazed by how personal and intriguing each was. I realized that a blog is not about fearing the judgement of others, but instead openly sharing your intimate ideas and opening them up to conversation.

As I approached my computer in preparation for my second post, I had one thing on my mind: to make it interesting.  I was so full of shame knowing that my first post put at least three of my fellow bloggers through several minutes of boredom that I knew my second performance had to be spectacular.  It wasn’t.  It was alright.  At least it wasn’t a miserable read like the first.  Ever since then it has been my goal to make my comments and subsequent posts as novel and intriguing as possible.  While I never felt as though I have succeeded with flying colors, I have enjoyed the challenge of sitting down each time and really trying to put some creativity on the page.  I have also loved seeing what you all have had to say.  Each time I read the blog I am blown away by the different perspectives you all have had to offer.  After all, it was your responses that originally sparked my mission to create the perfect post.  It’s been great!

On the Importance of Blogging

Blogging has never been a very big deal to me; I feel a comfortable level of security on the Internet when sharing my thoughts. Because blog conversations are recorded, its possible to go back and check them for validity (for many reasons, this is very difficult with oral conversations). Therefore, the man with the loudest voice cannot dominate a blog discussion, and the man with the most sensible argument has a better chance of communicating his point. But, blogging isn’t primarily about getting your point across, of course!

Blogging is also about exploration and sharing. Thanks to the informality of the blog format, we can share an idea during the earliest stages of conception without fear of judgment (theoretically, everyone is there to do the same). We can thus explore our ideas by sharing them and receiving feedback from others, and by giving feedback to others about the ideas they share with us. For my ‘Humanities 1’ course, I am reading Michel De Montaigne’s essays. Montaigne was an alarmed aristocrat of the 16th century, disturbed by the quality of education in his home country, France. In ‘On the Education of Children,’ Montaigne says, “mixing with the world has a marvelously clarifying effect on a man’s judgment. We are all confined and pent up within ourselves, and our sight has contracted to the length of our own noses.” I like to think of blogs as a place for ‘mixing with the world’, and as a place for extending our worldviews beyond ‘the length of our noses’.  By reading others’ perspectives on an Internet forum (including the ideas they share with us and the feedback they provide for our ideas), we can explore our own perspectives. Hence, blogging is really about exploration through sharing.

It doesn’t bother me that what I say here and on other forums is potentially eternal. I like the idea that someone can hold me accountable for any contradictory claims I made, may be making now, or might make in the future. I see it as an opportunity for me to grow as a philosopher, but more importantly, as a human being. Also in Montaigne’s ‘On the Education of Children’, Montaigne shares his opinion that “to give up on a false position at the climax of a heated exposition, is a rare, strong, and philosophical virtue.” The permanence of what I write in a blog discussion provides the tangible evidence I need to illuminate my mistakes and ideological shortcomings, thus helping me to develop the virtue mentioned by Montaigne. I figure, the more often I see I’m wrong, the easier it will be to realize it in the future. The development of this virtue (the ability to recognize and admit when you are wrong) is important to a functional conversation. Without this ability, how could we ever advance and learn? This is why I feel that blogging serves a necessary pedagogical function for our characters. Who would have thought that blogging could be so important?

To Blog or Not to Blog

When I first began blogging for this class, I have to admit the task held a twofold appeal. On the one hand, I could submit my thoughts and comments in a virtual environment and never have to come into direct contact with those who would view them—and therefore I would never have to directly experience any dissent, dissatisfaction, or critique. In a way, I felt more free to speak my mind. But, then again, by submitting to an audience with whom I have limited contact, I lost part of the satisfaction writing gives by not being able to see the reactions my writing evokes within people—to build connections with readers and myself through those reactions. In some ways, the element of personal connection was missing in doing these blogs.

And, I guess to some extent this more accurately reflects a real world environment—not the microcosm we live in at our respective colleges. In a real life environment, if I were to publish an academic article or a children’s fantasy novel or a screenplay, then those publications would probably come into contact with many people who I will never meet (or get a chance to see their reactions.) But does that mean the connections will be diminished or stopped before they have a chance to develop? I don’t think so; I think having an audience outside of people I know—while albeit something I am not used to experiencing—is a natural thing, especially in this day and age. I can have a connection with someone I have never met, because words, thoughts, and stories (no matter the form) are powerful enough to connect people, even if there is no direct contact.

I don’t think I would have changed much about my blogs for this class if the audience had been only people that I know. Perhaps my tone would have been less formal or maybe I would have included a bit more humor…but I suppose in my posts, my voice remained honest regardless of audience. And that, I think, is the most important thing for readers to experience. As time went on, I definitely learned about the differences in writing for an academic paper and writing for an academic blog. I think this is reflected in the progression of my blogs, which did become more personal as time progressed. And now as my thoughts on this experience are becoming jumbled—as is what often happens during moments of self-reflection—I think I can best encapsulate my feelings through a stylized imitation of Hamlet’s monologue in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis wiser in the internet to type
The blurbs and vignettes of outrageous ideas,
Or to take pen with a sea of thoughts,
And by writing record them? To post, to comment
Ever more; and by a post say we fuel
The idea-fire, and the thousand natural questions
That tutoring is heir to: ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To blog, to post;
To post, perchance to receive critique –ay there’s the rub:
For in that critique of post what criticisms may come,
When we have shuffled through this cyber restraint,
Must give us cause – there’s the reason
That makes nervous of such assignment.
For who would bear the sharps and stings of words,
The dissenter’s voice, the conceited reader’s comments,
The pangs of despised love, the reader’s delay,
The difficulty of technology, and the slips
That anxiety merit of the student takes,
When he himself might his calmness make
With lined paper? Who would judgment bear,
To moan and cry under a heavy review,
But that the dread of something after posting,
The undiscovered territory from whose submit
No writer returns, troubles the will,
And makes us rather bear those self-critiques we have
Than allow others that we know not of?
Thus cyber-space does make cowards of us all,
And thus the natural hue of resolution
Is clouded o’er with the dangerous cast of thought,
And attempts of great resolve and creativity,
With this regard their intentions turn away,
And lose the keyboard of action. Soft you now,
Fair readers! Sprites, in thy hands
Be all my admissions considered.

It seems only fitting to attach a poem to supplement my comment about the blogging experience. I don’t know if this is because up until now I have been only a cyber-being—an intangible entity—or something similar to that, but I think it only fair to “unmask” the person behind the comments by writing this free verse poem—and in doing so give my “public” audience an insight into my true feelings about blogging.
Hope you enjoy!

An Online Conversation

I’ve never written for a blog before, and I really had no idea what to expect at the beginning of the semester. As someone who isn’t exactly tech-savvy, blogging is probably the one form of writing I never expected to have to do in college. But after this experience, I think I understand a bit more of its appeal.

First one thing, I discovered that blogging is like having a round-table conversation with people over the Internet. It allowed me to share my own ideas about a topic and then to receive instant and specific feedback from others, which I thought was pretty cool. Blogging may even be better in some ways than a real-life conversation because what a person says on a blog stays visible online, whereas in a real-life conversation it is easy to forget a good idea somebody had or to turn the conversation in a certain direction and never address an interesting point somebody made. Conversations have direction and momentum and tend not to backtrack, but blogging isn’t like that. You don’t have to pick and choose carefully the points you respond to because, if you want, you can respond to them all individually, something that is rarely (if ever) possible in a real group conversation.

I also think the conversational nature of blogging made it difficult for me to post without really thinking about what I was writing. If I posted something that I had not thought through, it was pretty likely that a bunch of people would point out its flaws to me. That’s not to say that bloggers are mean or nit-picky, but I do think they tend to help keep each other honest and engaged. Because my work was being viewed by people I didn’t know anything about, I wanted my blog posts to argue my point strongly and to be as easy to follow as possible.

Finally, blogging forced me to consider my voice as a writer. When I wrote my first blog post of the semester, I treated it like any other writing assignment and wrote in a very academic voice. However, after viewing other people’s blog posts I realized that my posts didn’t need to be so formal or academic. I started to have a bit more fun with my blog posts, although I definitely didn’t get nearly as creative as some of my classmates. I think the cool thing about blogging is that it represents something different to every blogger, so you get a wide variety of responses to a topic of discussion.

Speaking for an Audience

As I think back on the number of times I have had to stand in front of a crowd of people I didn’t know, surprisingly it is more than I expected. I hadn’t realized how often or easy for me it was to become a speaker in front of an audience. One time in particular has allowed me to share what I hope helps other students.

One particular day during my first semester working at the Freyberger art gallery, my boss informed me that a group of students were coming into the gallery to look at some of the paintings and other art work being displayed. I was used to groups stopping by to look around so the news was not surprising to me. When I saw the group of students come in I greeted them, counted how many students there were and went back to reading an assignment for a class. A few moments later my boss rushed in and explained to me that she had to take care of something and that I would have to start the tour she promised she’d give them until she came back. As she went over what I needed to do I just stared at her in horror.

I had never given a tour before and didn’t know the first thing about giving one. I was nervous and the students waiting for me could tell. Luckily I educated myself on exhibit that was up enough that I was able to talk about every artwork featured. If you were wondering, it was Steam Punk. Although there were many things I could have done better, I knew I at least got through it. I stood in front of a class of perhaps 20 students and I told them what I learned to the best of my knowledge.

Now a supervisor at my job, I know how important it was for me to take that step of speaking in front of that group of students I didn’t know. Not only did it encourage me to get better at speaking to large crowds, but I believed it helped the group of students too, in knowing that I was learning something with them. In many ways, for me, peer tutoring is like giving a tour. My first time was the scariest, I never know what will happen, and I am hopeful that each time is inspirational to both me and the other person (or in the case of my story, people). I hope in reading this you see the point of this blog. No matter what it is or how nerves you may feel about doing it. If you really want to succeed at it, try it and try it again and you will be guaranteed success.

Reflection

I’ve blogged for other classes before; I’ll get that out of the way first.  I’m also relatively tech-savvy, so it didn’t come as much of a challenge to utilize this space for answering prompts and expressing ideas.  I think the blog format for college courses is a convenient way to spark class discussion, bring everyone’s opinions to one spot to share, and take a more contemporary approach to connecting with other students.  Speaking of that audience here, I certainly think that there is a certain comfort that comes with the knowledge that the majority of the people reading what we write are enrolled in a similar course.  Everyone here is in the same position, a college student in a “Peer Tutoring in Writing” class.  As one can expect, the blog opens each one of us up to the experiences of a much larger group of students, no matter the physical distance that separates us.  With this tool, new possibilities instantly open up.

As for myself, I knew that this format traditionally maintains a much more casual tone.  It’s always refreshing to let loose and break away from the “academese” language we employ so often in college.  Here, we can speak a little more freely, and that’s a welcome practice.  We comment in kind with the “laid-back” posts and have a genuine conversation between peers; it’s less structured and more open, and I think it works well here.  It may not have posed many challenges for me personally, but I definitely understand the hurdles that come with something new and different like a blog.  In time, I’ve gotten used to all of this digital communication, and I’m confident that those others who have enjoyed the experience will feel that way too.  As Chris posted below, I’m also glad to have been able to share my thoughts and see everyone else’s.  We’ve built a little community here, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from all my neighbors of the blogosphere.

Con voi partirò

When I first found out we’d be doing a class blog, I thought we would be doing more of a journal: once a week you log in, post your feelings, vent a bit, and so on. It didn’t occur to me that the blog genre could be used to actually flesh out ideas and bring new ones to the table. I certainly didn’t expect I’d be seeing (and posting) pictures from Hyperbole and a Half and videos from YouTube.

See? I told you. Hyperbole and a Half

But, I didn’t expect I’d learn so much, either. I learned a lot.

So, what did I learn? Well, this discussion was more varied than just talking with my class or my professor, because everyone on this blog read different readings and had a different type of writing tutoring experience; we got to hear multiple authors, from multiple schools, responding in diverse ways to a single prompt. I would usually post first when it was my week to write, and then I would check back in a few hours. I was always amazed by how diverse the responses were: there were responses to the prompt that I had never even imagined, some stylistic directions and interpretations nothing at all like mine (and some similar). Our community here reminded me of the process of peer review, something we often do in my English classes and something I think is very beneficial–and this blog was beneficial, in my view, because of the diversity of opinions I saw both within my own class and outside of Penn State Berks. It was helpful to have so many different experiences to draw on when I was having problems with a student or when something went wrong.

"when something went wrong" http://holtonerinedm310.blogspot.com

As the semester went on, I think it was a challenge to keep using a blog-appropriate voice, especially as some of my posts got more and more complex and, at some points, “infodump”-y. When we discussed Gee’s Discourse, I realized that I’d found it hard to break out of the writing style that is usually used for academic writing. So, how did I keep my tone informal? Well, I used a much more conversational tone and a lot of “you”s! But really, I think the ability to use images, videos, and simply to read other tutors’ posts (learning through osmosis) helped me sound like a better blogger. Plus, I always kept in mind that most the audience–you–were college students like me. The blog format let me go about school-related writing in a different way than I usually do.

I think it’s interesting how this blog helped me focus, too. I figured out which aspect of tutoring interests me the most: tutoring ESL students. I wrote a lot on that subject and I commented on authors who wrote about ESL. (Did anyone else find that the blog helped them find their primary area of interest? Just curious.) Now, as the semester runs down, I’m preparing to write my final paper on an ESL-related topic.

myexpatgermany.com

I can’t believe we’re at the end of the semester already and that this is my last full post for this blog. I’ve gotten very comfortable writing on Tutor Musings and have learned so much. For me, this blog’s been instrumental to learning how to be a writing tutor. I’m definitely going to apply what I learned here for the rest of my time in the writing center and any time I tutor a student, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

The Horrors of Spanish Class… It all just seemed foreign.

In my life the only other language I’ve seriously tried to learn has been Spanish.  Although now I would undoubtedly be willing to take on new languages, this was not always the case.  Spanish was a required subject at my elementary school; all students were to start learning the language in 2nd grade.

At first, I couldn’t understand why we were learning this foreign language.  I thought, “If I already knew how to say yellow in English then why should I have to learn how to say it all over again in Spanish.”   This inspired an intense tangent in my head regarding language and the state of the world.  As I sat in class, thinking that there should only be one language in the world to end the need to learn other languages, my teacher was busy teaching the students about the word “usted.” I wasn’t listening, but I can only imagine the conversation went a bit like this:

“Students, in Spanish, we actually have two forms of the word ‘you.’  There is ‘tú,’ which is the casual ‘you,’ and ‘usted,’ which is the formal ‘you’ that you will use to speak to those older than you to show respect.  So class, which form of you should you use to talk to me?  Exactly, ‘usted.’”

I then reentered the class to find us practicing using the different forms of “you.”  Determined to stay with the class, I listened intently to catch on with the lesson.  After hearing “tú” thrown around a couple of times, I was confident that I had it.  So when asked how I would address the principal, I boasted, “tú,” to which my teacher shouted “Incorrecto!” and moved on.  Confused but curious, I decided to further investigate the issue.

“Maestra! Maestra!” I shouted in my muddled Spanish, “Por qué tú dic-,”

“Que dices!?  A la director de la escuela!”

I knew I hadn’t heard her correctly.  She had definitely not just told me to go to the principal’s office for genuinely asking a question, and trying to ask it in Spanish no less!    In fact, she had sent me to the principal.  When trying to ask her why she said I was wrong, I used the informal use of “you.”  She, just having taught the uses of “you,” assumed I was directly trying to disrespect her, and she would have no such students in her classroom.

While this was all sorted out eventually, from that point on I was petrified to go into Spanish class.  I never spoke up because I always feared on being punished for not understanding missing another custom or tradition of the language.  This feeling is miniscule compared to what ESL students face everyday they wake up in our country, but it allows me to understand their challenges.   Every move they make must be with great hesitation, for making the wrong move is far too easy in another culture.  This is why tutoring is the perfect situation.  The situation that allows them to work in their own “third space,” where the tutors only offer support and our customs are not used against them.  Therefore, as tutors, we must foster this third space and make sure to establish the non-threatening atmosphere of it, because all too easily ESL students can feel as though our whole culture and the language behind it is only a source of pain and strife.

Happily Ever After

“Et puis, le petit chaperon rouge et le loup méchant vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d’enfants »
« And then, Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf lived happily ever after. »

I finished my French paper with a happy sigh. The assignment was to rewrite a fairy tale by incorporating elements from the distinct literary voice of traditional French. We could be as creative as we wanted, so I changed the story to be an unconventional romance between Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. It’s something bizarre that I probably would have never written in English, but as it were, the writing felt so real and beautiful and alive. What is it about writing in French that makes me feel so light? I mean, I struggle with not being able to express myself in the exact way I want, but, boy, do I feel more freedom in the writing process! I feel adventurous, like I can venture to places in my writing I have never been before. Because writing in a different language is like a chance to explore—to discover a different part of yourself—to find something you may not have in your current language. And if I make a mistake, well, then I am cushioned by my “ignorance” of the conventions of the French language. My claim as a nonnative speaker of French is to be able to make mistakes and learn from them, to struggle and find reward in making the language something of my own. [March 23, 2011]

I remember those feelings so well when I had to complete the French assignment last semester. Looking back, some difficulties I had were not being able to say things in the exact complexity I wanted and making the more surface errors of grammar and syntax. Culturally, I did not encounter many problems. In fact, my work benefited by adhering to the traditional French way of writing literary bodies of work. French authors typically have employed much lengthier sentences than English writers, which suits me just as well. They express their ideas in long-winded paragraph size sentences, which I really enjoy doing in English, though so far I have yet to run across a teacher or professor who has appreciated my use of this style. In a sense, writing in the context of the French culture was more freeing than anything else. Unfortunately, because my experiences in writing in my nonnative French have been so pleasurable, I find it harder to relate to ESL students who may be struggling in writing with overhanging cultural conventions and the “proofreading trap” that Mozafari cites in his article. However, I can understand to some extent how difficult ESL writers may find the writing process to be in trying to adapt to these cultural conventions.

Maybe that’s just it, though. Maybe we as tutors should help “free” our ESL writers from the negatives of writing in a nonnative language; by eliminating the thought that they must sacrifice their own cultural conventions to have a successful writing process in their nonnative language, these students might find it more pleasurable to write in that language. I think there is a “third space” that we could create as tutors, one that would bring both native and nonnative elements into our ESL students writing, and show them that as writers we don’t necessarily have to entirely give up our native cultural elements to be successful in writing another language. It is possible to help tutees write a paper that incorporates their own cultural elements with nonnative ones. In fact, a fusion of both cultures often produces an even greater product without having to sacrifice pleasure in the composing process.

Was haben wir gelernt?

We first need to start with empathy.  I personally will never know exactly what it’s like to have English as a second language however I can imagine how frustrating that experience might be.  I’m a double major in German and International affairs.  I’m not yet fluent in German however I can tell you that it is at times an unnecessarily complicated language.  This often leaves one confused when trying to communicate.  I have to consider first which case to use, which gender, and no matter how much I practice this I still can’t quite get the hidden meanings words often hold when we ‘break the rules a little’.  For those of us speaking English as a first language it is all too easy for us to take this for granted.  Communication isn’t based on grammar rules alone but rather a sense of style and flow.  Languages don’t communicate with completely literal meanings; we use idioms to express concepts and by doing so we show personality.  I try my best to be mindful of this when learning German but I wonder if this is ever considered in the writing center or language classes.

The last tutor session I was an observer of had an ESL tutee.  The experience was very rewarding for me because ever since then I’ve been wondering what one should do when trying to help out an ESL student.  From my perspective I would love it if someone taught me how to use idioms in German, is it fair however to assume that the tutee would wish the same about English?  The ESL tutee in the session I observed was a very proficient English speaker but despite this he was concerned about his use of grammar.

The tutor worked well with him and attempted to nudge the tutee out of his safety zone a little bit.  He did this by asking him open-ended questions about an idea the writer was curious how to best describe.  The tutee would ask about the correct verb conjugation and then the tutor would follow up the answer with a question that prompted thought about the writer’s application of English.  “So what were you trying to describe here with that last sentence?” for example.  The tutee became very involved in these questions and whether he recognized it or not the tutor was helping him to explore additional meanings behind the uses of our language.  It seemed to be working well, the writer was very involved in the conversation and he never once appeared to feel offended.  By the end of the session it was obvious to myself at least that the tutor was trying to show the student that he knew more about communicating in English than he was previously acknowledging.

The session I watched allowed me insights into a typical ESL student to tutor dialogue.  This session showed me that with an ESL student we have the potentiality to explore an understanding of language beyond grammar rules.  The best part is being able to share this!  It isn’t accurate to assume we can teach them how to use every catch phrase on the fly, but we can help them to begin thinking about the ‘flavor’ one can add to written language.  It’s my opinion that at the end of the day what truly holds meaning is that we pushed our boundaries a little bit and tried to learn something new, if we can help others to do that that makes it all the more meaningful.

 

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