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