Monday, November 12, 2018

It's Not Personal: Constructive Criticism Will Make You a Better Writer by Ashley Flach

I’m writing you now as a reformed closet writer. For years I would scribble in my notebook and shove it under my bed always convinced it was the biggest piece of trash that ever came into existence. This worked fine for me until I began an undergraduate degree in English. Once I walked through the doors of academia, everything I wrote came back to me with a multitude of suggestions on how I could improve. Instead of taking this positively by understanding that someone was taking the time to critique my work out of belief in my ability, I took it to heart and felt personally attacked. In some sense, everything we write is an extension of ourselves, and when we feel that is being rejected it hurts, bad.

           My second semester as an undergraduate, I enrolled in an English research class, and the professor was a known stickler. She spoke her mind, never coddled anyone, and ruthlessly ripped papers apart. She was all about scholarly writing, and, in her mind, all of us were scholarly writers in training. She sent my first major research paper back to me riddled with, what felt to me, borderline hostile comments. As a whole, I summed them up in my brain as, “How stupid can you be, dummy? You’ll never make it in this field.” I cried. I wallowed. I decided good writing was like an elusive unicorn that I would never be able to catch. I figured English just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it. 

I remained in this state for quite some time. Then during our weekly Tuesday night Skype sessions, she said something that changed my perspective. She told us, “Listen, my colleagues and I rip each other’s writing apart and then we go have drinks afterwards. It’s not personal. It’s about challenging each other to be better writers.” Wait, it wasn’t personal? She wasn’t attacking or questioning my reasons for existing or telling me I didn’t have a place within the English discourse community? That night, I literally felt my spine stiffen. I decided from that moment whatever she threw at me I would gladly take. I wouldn’t back down or allow my insecurities to consume me. I would take the criticism and use it to make myself a better writer. I would believe that if she took the time to rip my paper apart it’s because she cared and believed in my ability to grow. 

When you receive a paper from a professor and it’s littered with comments, don’t panic. First of all, that professor is probably busy as all get out, but he/she still took the time to give your paper individualized attention. That’s because you have something to work with. You have good and strong ideas that can become even better and stronger. Basically, you do belong in your discourse community, and the important thing is not to lose sight of your goals. You’re here for a reason, and it’s not always going to be rainbows and sunshine. It’s a hard fact, but it’s the truth. We all take some knocks, but it makes us stronger and motivates growth. 

So, the main point to take away here is, don’t be afraid to share your writing and never fear constructive criticism. At EIU’s Writing Center, we all have stories like the one I laid out. We’ve all been crushed with hopelessness that our writing just isn’t good enough. But, that’s not true. It’s the insecurity taking over. Stiffen your spine. Bring your marked up paper in and a tutor will go through the comments with you and help give you perspective. Or, even better, bring your paper in before you turn it in and whatever tutor’s available will take the time to look it over with you and help you address any concerns you have. Even better yet, bring in a rubric for a writing assignment, and we will help you brainstorm.  

EIU’s Writing Center is dedicated to supporting and helping create better writers. We will give you honest and caring feedback at whatever stage of the writing process you are in, and we will encourage you to stay positive and keep moving forward. At the end of the day, what else is there to do but continue to move forward? Don’t allow yourself to be beaten down. Be confident in your ability as a writer, know you have something worthy to say, and, most importantly, find a way to be okay with understanding you have room to grow.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Those Who Come Shall Be Comforted By Nathan Crews

At our orientation day for the writing center at Eastern Illinois University, I confessed early on that I felt overwhelmingly nervous about having to show students how to improve their writing and suspected I was wholly inadequate to tutor. I had not had a writing center at my undergraduate university. I had never even visited a writing center. In my mind, there was no way I could live up to the task before me. The directors heard me out and let me talk through my fears. Then they reassured me—“you will be fine.” That comfort was followed by the best news of the day. They were not, in fact, expecting me to be superman or to know everything about the entire English language. This sounds a bit stupid, but I did think I was supposed to know everything about writing and grammar and the entire English language. I thought I had to know every little detail about proper MLA citations on papers or every single instance a comma should be inserted or deleted. Before my directors gave any advice on what to do or how to do it, they comforted me and helped me to settle down.

My first day as a writing center tutor laid the blueprint for how all other sessions were to go. I came to the writing center and opened myself up about the ways I felt uncomfortable or insecure. I was quickly comforted in my insecurity and given some direction that made me feel more at ease. We do this all the time. This is essentially one of the points of the writing center—comforting students when they are exasperated, talking with students about their apprehensions. Students constantly come into the writing center feeling uneasy, with questions about their papers or their overall writing styles. At the start of a tutoring session, there is always a bit of awkwardness because students are laying their mistakes and insecurities bare in front of someone who they perceive is more knowledgeable than they are. This is an act of vulnerability and wisdom. It is pretty rare that we do this in our life, admit our shortcomings and seek help. Yet, we almost always find comfort in our distress when we do this. A lot of people don’t feel confident in their writing. A lot of English majors don’t feel comfortable in their writing. The beauty of a writing center is that it is there to provide comfort and guidance.

So much of what tutors do in the writing center do is emotional reassurance. “Yes, you have strong ideas here. I love the way you wrote this here.” We also deliver constructive thoughts gracefully. As a reader, this is a bit confusing. How can we make this better? A common feeling among students who leave writing center sessions is relief. I realized a day or two ago that I end every tutoring session with the question, “How do you feel about this paper?” I don’t ask, do you think this paper is good? Do you think this paper is going to get a good grade? I am always asking if students are feeling more confident in their abilities, more attuned to their personal style, less anxious about the process of writing a paper.

There are many reasons to come to the EIU writing center, but finding some comfort in the difficult process of writing a single collegiate paper is one of the best ones. The writing center is not for people who are bad at writing, it is for everyone who is seeking some reassurance. There are grad students who come to the writing center. There are tutors who ask to do sessions with other tutors. Admitting our vulnerabilities and asking for guidance is a good principle for life, but at the very least, it is a great idea for writing. If you find yourself stuck and frustrated, holding back tears in the library or at Starbucks surrounded by a bunch of old men and junior high students or in front of your roommate’s cat, come to room 3110 in Coleman hall to the writer center. We will ask you the first question we ask everyone—"What can I do to help you?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Helpful Tips to Manage Stress by Connor York

Dealing with stress is easier said than done, but there are several steps you can take to put your mind and body at ease.  

Your mind has a lot to do with stress in your life whether it is school related or if it is personal. Regardless, any situation can cause you to go into panic mode. Stress is normal, but an excessive amount of stress can affect you, mentally and physically.  

The first step to trying to put your mind at ease is accept that you cannot control everything. By doing this, it can help you focus on things you do have control of such as, procrastination or not getting enough sleep.  

Another step to alleviating stress is to stop aiming for perfection; it’s not possible to achieve and you should be proud of however close you got. The best way to maintain a healthy mind is to try to remain positive in a stressful situation—try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. If you know what triggers stress in your life, that’s a start. It’s always a good thing to recognize the issue. A good way to help ease whatever is going through your mind is to write it down in a journal. If that doesn’t work for you, find some way to lessen the stress in your life whether it’s by napping, taking a walk, or beginning a new hobby. Just try to do something for you.  

What a lot of people don’t realize is your body has a lot to do with your stress levels. The best way to lighten stress is to get a good night sleep. Yes, again, easier said than done, but when your body is stressed, it needs additional sleep and rest. Take a moment for yourself and relax. What goes hand-in-hand with sleep, is the food you put in your body. Eating a well-balanced meal and keeping energy-boosting snacks can lead to a clearer mind. Another way to help balance stress is to try to work out. Even if it’s for thirty minutes or less, taking the time for yourself can help put your mind at ease.  

If you are struggling with how to manage stress, it is okay to reach out to someone. Talking to someone can help relieve weight off of your shoulders and improve the way your mind works. A lot of times humans just need to blow off steam. Remember to take some time for yourself whether that means watching Netflix, working out, or learning relaxation techniques. It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s the imperfections that make us who we are.  

School assignments are stressful. Take advantage of EIU’s Writing Center to help ease the stress that comes with writing papers. If you feel stuck in any part of the writing process, come to The Writing Center to receive assistanceThe tutors collaborate with students for a variety of issues such as citations, grammar, proofreading, brainstorming, etc.  

If you are feeling overwhelmed, take advantage of the Health and Counseling Services on EIU’s campus, and talk to someone about your struggles. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to need to ask for help. If you or someone you know has any questions about stress or other mental health issues feel free to contact the HERC at (217) 581-7786. If you would like to talk to someone soon please make an appointment with the Health & Counseling Services: Counseling Clinic, 217-581-3413.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

From One Procrastinator to Another by Kelly Pierce

It’s 3 AM.   

Red, bleary eyes blink to focus on the screen as black letters march sloppily across a white page.  Every blink of the eye feels like eyelids are trying to remove the Sahara.  There is no telling at this point if those letters are forming coherent words or ideas, but the deadline is approaching and the page limit has almost been reached.  The teacher asked for proofreading, but who can proofread when it is 3:30 in the morning and the paper is due at 8?  But the page limit has been reached and all that is left is to upload the essay or email it to the teacher or print it out.  And then, sleep, and the hope that this late-night monstrosity will result in something higher than an F. 

This is a familiar scene to many students throughout the education system.  The reason procrastinators need to stop waiting until the last minute is really a selfish one.  When students get an assignment done early, they are less stressed and better able to enjoy the side benefits of college life, like friends, family, and sleep that lasts more than three hours.  I will be honest, there is no hard and fast way to stop procrastinating.  The main reason most of the procrastinators like me continue to put off work until the last minute is because, so far, it has not caused them to flunk out of a class.  For some students, even that is not enough to stop them from pushing an assignment off until after the deadline has technically passed.  Those students generally rely on the kindness of their teachers, which is something I do not recommend pushing 

One way to help yourself out is to read the assignment sheet over multiple times before the assignment is due.  They are generally pretty short and almost always have the main points to focus on when you get started on an assignment.  That, really, is one of the worst things about procrastinating.  If you wait until the last minute, and you have not even read the assignment sheet closely at least once, you run the risk of pulling that all-nighter and realizing somewhere around 2 a.m. that those 3-5 pages you just wrote had nothing to do with what your teacher wanted.  So read that assignment sheet and write down your ideas as soon as you are sure you know what the teacher is asking for.  When I read the assignment sheet, I also like to make notes about whatever immediately comes to mind on the subject I will soon be writing about.  It may not be the idea I stick with by the time I turn the paper in, but it does get some ideas flowing. 

Another way to help yourself is to get started on the research as soon as possible.  Print that stuff out or open it up on your computer in a way that will allow you to take notes.  I am old school and prefer to print my research out whenever possible so I can write on it.  It is one thing to read research, but if you really want to understand it you need to either write on the research itself or about it in your notebook.  This is called annotating and it can help you organize your thoughts when you sit down to write the essay.  Even if you only give yourself one day to run through the research, if you take notes on what you are reading while you go there is a chance that what ends up in your essay will not only make sense, but will actually make your essay better.  Plus, if you find some good quotes that match what you are trying to say and cite them correctly, that is at least a paragraph worth of words you do not have to come up with on your own. 

Now, when it comes to fighting off procrastination, there is a place on campus that can help with everything I have mentioned and more.  If you go to the writing center, some very nice graduate students from the English department will assist you with any and all of writing needs.  If you know you are a habitual procrastinator, take that assignment sheet into the writing center as soon as the teacher lets you out of class and ask for help with brainstorming.  The consultant will help you with that and then set you up an appointment so a consultant can talk to you about research, writing the first draft, and looking that first draft over before you ever have to turn it in.  No, they will not do the work for you, but they will guide you through the steps so that, maybe, on the next essay you will know the process to do it on your own.  And if you do not, then keep coming back to the writing center, because those consultants love to help people throughout the entire process, even if they won’t stay up until 3 a.m. with you.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Growing as a Better Writer

 “Are you okay?” my concerned writing tutor asks me. I offer an unsure nod.  I can feel sweat starting to form on my shaky hands. “Let’s just break this down and go from there.” The tutor offers me a smile; I glance down at the source of my misery.
Procrastination. I had three weeks, and yet I am now scrambling to complete what now seems an impossible task. In exactly six hours, I must turn in a paper that is as unclear as my current state of mind. The tutor directs me back to my assignment sheet: “How about we figure out what your professor exactly wants?” 
I tend to be a nervous writer. Sometimes at the sight of academic or complex words on an assignment sheet, I find myself in a writer’s block. I know that I am not alone. 
Fast forward to seven years and two writing center jobs later. I now realize that many times we just need someone to work us through our confusion. Around the same time I started college, I also found the writing center and discovered the necessity of asking teachers for help.
Looking back, I can recall several people who aided me in my development as a writer. As a young child, I would have never thought I would be going to school for a Master’s degree in English. In the fifth grade, I was put in the “slower paced” English class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was grouped with five other students. In our “special group” we went over the structure of writing, syntax, parts of speech and reading.
 Ears burning with embarrassment, I would walk out of my regular classroom to enter the stuffed closet sized room with Mrs. Murphy.  Mrs. Murphy, the reading and writing teacher, would collect me from my general education class with a face of pity. Sulking out of the classroom, I could feel the students’ smug smiles hitting the back of my skull. Entering into the tracked classroom, I bowed my head in humiliation.
While I detested that class with a passion, it made me who I am today. I forced myself to read and write more just to get out of the class. With the extra work out of class, I was finally able to leave the “special class” later that year. In my discontent, I made my ten year old self do better so that I would never have to experience that shame again. It was my push.
Years later in high school, I struggled with doubt. While I made it in the intermediate track with above average success, years of being labeled “stupid” hindered my ability to believe in my capabilities.
I remember throwing a teenaged temper tantrum during my senior year English class. Folding my arms across my chest, I declared to my teacher, “I can’t do this!” He calmly replied, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” Moving on to another student with a better issue, he left me there sulking in disbelief. After sitting there for several minutes, I picked up my pen.
I learned something that day that stuck with me. Change your perspective and you change your life. I knew that I wasn’t going to just sit there in my inability to write a paper, so I decided that I would at least try.
My attempt at this “impossible” English paper was another turning point in my life. I began climbing the metaphorical mountains in my life. Since then, I have managed to graduate college with high honors in a degree in English secondary education.
I believe that with our trying and our can-do attitude, we can do the impossible The very thing we don’t think we are qualified to do, we are able to accomplish with hard work.
Upon transferring to Eastern Illinois University, I started to take classes specific in my major. I was challenged in unique ways. It seemed like all of my time was concentrated on being a successful student; however, I still felt lost. It was my first semester truly being on my own, and the first time I had really felt like I was struggling in college. Specifically, one class felt more foreign to me than calculus.
I knew my goal of getting good grades depended on me figuring out the material for this class. Looking over my notes and rereading the textbook was not cutting it. Swallowing my pride, I went to ask my teacher for help. In my meeting with my teacher, I finally understood what was going on in class. It was then that I discovered that there is nothing wrong with asking for help; it is actually a good idea in college.
 Pushing myself has been crucial to my development as a person and a student. However, asking for help is also necessary for everyone’s growth. There are many teachers who pushed me beyond insecurities and helped me to be the confident writer I am today.
I believe all students have the potential to become better writers. With a willingness to be taught to improve, and not, merely given the correct answers, anyone is capable of growth as a writer. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Your Friend, the English Major

Peer Review

How many class periods have you spent going through a classmate’s essay and answering prompted questions given to you by your instructor, wondering whether the advice you’re giving is of any use? Peer review is something we’ve all been asked to do in the classroom but have never been taught to do.

You may think that the more input you provide the better your critique will be, but in my experience as “your friend the English Major,” I have been asked to do complete overhauls of essays, essentially rewriting the essay without the writer’s input. However, after realizing how counterproductive this method of revision can be, I can suggest that allowing the writer to guide the direction of the review session can prove as a more practical peer-review strategy.

What is the Writer Worried About?

By asking the writer questions such as, “What are your concerns with the assignment, so far?” you are giving control to the writer. Writing down potential concerns the writer may have or would like you to focus on specifically throughout the session can allow the writer to address these concerns.

Don’t Just Mark up the Essay

Often, it is difficult to conduct a peer-review session because you struggle with deciding how much to correct or add to the writer’s existing work.

However, be sure to take a backseat as they make choices about what to say and how to say it. Listen to their thoughts and feelings on the work, offering a nod here and there to encourage the writer. Sometimes taking a backseat during sessions allows the writer to develop thoughts naturally and it also allows you to learn from the writer’s work.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tips for ESL writers

As an ESL writer, I remember the pain of writing paper in America for the first timeThe paper required critical response to a book we were reading; however, my response was a single-page introduction to the book—no quotations, no citations, no critical thoughts and even no formattingThe result was that I was invited to my professor’s office to discuss it. Looking back to the writing I had, I can say that I have improvedI’d like to give some useful tips here for ESL writers who are in the same dilemma as I was  

Calm down first: 
It is common for ESL students to feel anxious when they first arrive in Americaso, you may not be the only one who is having a panic attack about writing papers. It is necessary for you to calm down first, then to figure out an effective way to solve your problems. For example, if you get a twelve-page assignment and have no idea on where to start, you could ask others for help and calm yourself down. 

Visiting professors, the writing center or asking classmates: 
According to different cultural conventions, it might be considered rude to bother professors with questions in some countries. But it is definitely okay in America to visit your professors and ask them for helpThey are friendly and willing to helpIt is very helpful to ask professors or your classmates about everything you don’t know. Visiting the writing center with your questions and concerns will also give solutions to your writing dilemmas. Your writing will be largely improved by communicating with others 

Getting to know genre: 
To know what you’re writing about before anything is very crucial. Different countries have different conventions to various genres. Thus, it is necessary to learn how different genres function in America when you first arrive. There are lots of sources about genre you could use in the library and some useful handouts in the writing center 
Learning Citation Rules: 
I know citations are alien to some ESL writers, including myself; however, understanding citations and plagiarism is crucial in American academiesNo matter what citation you need to learn, it is always a bit annoying at the beginning. Keeping a calm attitude is important. You can always visit the writing center for handouts or sessions on citation systems when you have trouble figuring it out on your own.  


Practicing Grammar: 
It takes time to improve your grammar. Some writers think having a perfect paper with no grammar errors is the best thing. But it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. For ESL writers, learning what mistakes you make and how to fix them is just the process of gaining experience. There is no need to be afraid of making errors, but please remember to learn from your mistakes