Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Quick Note: Re-Centuring Silence in the Writing Center by Landon Ghast

If you are a tutor or a student who has been to the Writing Center, you should know our mantra, "We are here to talk to writers," from Stephen North's landmark essay, "The Idea of a Writing Center." De- and re-centering the Writing Center through deploying silence as a pedagogical strategy may then seem to be a queer idea. However, silence is as central in our writing center praxis as is talk, and silence is not only prohibitive, but also productive. Silence is not simply the absence of speech, but is itself a speech act that facilitates and mobilizes meaning.
Both students' silences and tutors' silences are central to what we do in the Writing Center. For tutors, we have to know when to talk and when to be silent and to listen; we cannot listen to students' talk if we are talking over them. A tutor's silence, then, can indicate engagement with what a student is saying. Additionally, a tutor's silence can allow a student time to consider, question, and reflect during a session. A student's silence can also indicate such considering, questioning, and reflecting is occurring, although it may also indicate disengagement from a session. In any case, listening to students' silences can be productive for tutors in assessing how a session is working for and against students' desire to talk about their writing. Students' silences can be a way for students to talk back to tutors during our sessions.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

First Draft: Taking That Important Step by Angie Steineman

Writing those first words of an essay—or any type of writing—can seem like trying to climb a mountain and having no idea of where to begin. It can be daunting staring at the assignment sheet that you have read at least twenty times but still do not understand. However, as Anne Lamott states in the above quote, getting something on the page is imperative, but first you must choose what you are going to write about. The basic steps listed below can help get you started.
·      The writing prompt from your professor should guide you regarding the topic of your paper. Begin thinking of possibilities as soon as the assignment is given. No matter how fast of a writer you believe yourself to be, procrastination is not your friend. At least think about the project. Do not hesitate to ask your professor for clarification or help. As always, please feel free to come to the Writing Center for assistance as well. We love to help writers brainstorm!

·      Once the subject of your paper is chosen, you may or may not already have a thesis statement in mind. Researching the topic can help support your thesis, or you may discover something different to write about. Giving yourself enough time in the drafting process allows for the possibility that you might switch topics or position.

·      Organization of a paper looks different to each writer. Some create outlines first. Others have to have all of their sources before they can begin. Some have pages and pages of notes. Find what works for you but remember that it is okay for this part of the process to change depending on the project.

·      Begin writing. Easy as that, right? Not always, but sometimes even writing down your thesis statement or, “This essay is about…” at the top of the page (to be deleted later) can jumpstart the writing process.

Appreciating the purpose of a first draft can help reduce the anxiety of writing. A rough draft is not the final product. This is your chance to make mistakes, take risks, be daring and try something new. The most important thing to do is give yourself enough time for revision. First drafts are supposed to be messy and imperfect so that you can revise your paper into a finely crafted piece of work that you can submit with confidence.
You can come to the Writing Center at any time during your writing process. Remember, we are writers as well, so we understand your concerns and struggles. We are here for you!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Visualize Your Data by Tamara Norris

 After a six-year break from schooling, I have been introduced to data visualization tools and it has changed how I look at the texts I read. As data visualization becomes more prevalent in the classroom, please feel free to come to the Writing Center for help on creating or working with these new learning tools. To avoid making this post unbearably long, I will focus on one data visualization website (Voyant Tools) that is both fun, unique, and offers multiple data viz applications.
Words clouds are a common form of data viz—Hamlet is my sample text in this word cloud. So, how do we use word clouds to view our texts? First step is to add any stop words (I, me, you, said, etc.) that may muddle up what you are trying to find. For me, I was looking for words that may show me a theme that I may not have noticed before in Hamlet. Therefore, I removed all character’s name from the text. As you can see, the most prominent words are lord, good, come, father, and love. We can then take a closer look at these words in the texts. Lord, for example, is not only Hamlet’s title, but can also refer to the religious figure. Since, Hamlet battles his faith throughout the play, it is easy to take the word lord and make it fit into the theme of religion as heaven, god, and soul are all visible words in this cloud. This tool is useful in noticing words that you may have taken for granted while reading. What words do you find as outliers here? What is their significance? All these questions should come to mind while using data visualization tools.
While I find data visualization a new concept, I too am learning how to maneuver around them as well as use them to my benefit.  Another awesome data viz that I used to examine Hamlet is called Topics. It is a list words that are grouped together and can be used to distinguish certain themes in a text using words groups. I highlighted a group of words in blue as an example. The words in this group consist of; love, mother, soul, madness. All great words to consider when looking at Hamlet. This data visualization is a great way to start to think about a literary analysis for any novel that you are unfamiliar with. For example, I would look at the highlighted words and think to myself: what do these words have in common? And, how do these words work in the text? When it comes to Hamlet, the entire play revolves around his wavering sanity as he battles his love for his mother and distain for her actions after his father’s murder. If you weren’t familiar with Hamlet or have a hard time understanding Shakespeare, then the previous sentence may not have come to your mind. Luckily for you, data visualizations are making it easier for us visual learners to see things in a way that is both helpful and fun.
The next time you are having trouble finding a topic for a literary studies paper take a moment to play around with data visualization websites. Voyant Tools is such a great website that offers multiple visualizations that can help you understand a text in a new way. Give it a try, you can even use Hamlet and comment any new trends you may have found. It is a great way to start a literary conversation and notice things that may have been overlooked in the past. If you don’t understand data visualization, the Writing Center is here to help you use these tools for your benefit. They are even great tools to start brainstorming for a paper you have to write.


Fear of the Writing Center & Why You Should Overcome It by Sam Poorman

The Writing Center is full of wonderful tools that should be utilized by writers at any stage of the writing process and at any grade level. Despite knowing how helpful the tutors in the Writing Center are, many students refuse to walk into the room and ask for the assistance they need. What is it that holds students back? Fear, mostly.
It may come as a surprise, but many of us that work in the Writing Center understand this fear on a personal level. I was an undergraduate student here at EIU and not once did I enter the Writing Center even though it was in the same hallway as all of my classes for two years. My fear of being judged and thought of as unintelligent by a room full of graduate students kept me from seeking help with my work no matter how badly I needed it. My fear was irrational, but knowing that as fact did not change how consuming it was. 
I was a transfer student from not only another school, but also an entirely different major. Writing well was not something I had ever truly concerned myself with, and I was never taught to think critically, which is an important skill for any postsecondary-education student. Moral of the story, I was extremely unprepared. I had numerous assignments where I had to pick an essay topic from a list of 5-10 ideas that the instructor had handed out. I had absolutely no idea which one to pick or why I should feel inspired by one over all the others. This time of confusion and indecision would have been a great time to enter the Writing Center. I would have walked in, given my information, and met with a tutor that was not only willing to help me, but excited about doing it. The session would have likely gone something like this:

Hey, how are you doing today?”
“I’m doing okay, struggling with this assignment a little bit though. I have to pick a topic from this list of ideas and then write a close-text analysis. I don’t know what topic to pick and I don’t know what a close-text analysis is.”
“Okay, I would love to help you out with that. Can I take a look at the list you got? ...Now that I have seen the list, let’s talk about what the assignment is and go from there. I struggled the first time I had to write a close-text analysis, too. This is my understanding of it….”

This would have been the start of a very beneficial 30-minute session. The tutor would have helped me understand what a close-text analysis was and then, time permitting, asked me about the topics and if I had any ideas about what I wanted to accomplish with this paper. Being asked these questions is important. The environment is less stressful than if I were to take these concerns to my professor. My professor would have gladly helped me understand the concept of the assignment, but would they have wanted to help me develop my topic idea? Maybe, maybe not. The point of the assignment is that I pick a topic and make the paper my own. That is hard to accomplish when a professor may distance their feedback so they don’t feel like they are leading you to a topic or writing the paper for you. This would be less of a concern in the Writing Center because I wouldn’t be told what the tutor would do if it was their assignment. I would be led through the assignment by answering important questions about the book itself and the ideas that already interested me. 
This hypothetical session would have ended with me getting tips for furthering my brainstorming process and being given a handout with tips and tricks for getting through the whole writing process, not just the part I was on then. I likely would have made an appointment or come back when I was finished with my draft to see if my paragraphs had smooth transitions and if my thesis statement was strong enough for the topic I chose. These are the kinds of things the tutors are in the Writing Center for, not to judge or demean the students who have the courage to walk through the door. 

I missed out on a great opportunity as an undergraduate student here, and I don’t want anyone else to miss out, too. The room may look daunting and the tutors sitting at the tables may seem like they just wouldn’t understand your struggles with writing, but that simply is not the case. We are still students, we are still learning, and we still struggle. I want you to see this room as it is—a place where you come to enter into some great collaborative work with a fellow student who wants to share in your interests and help you achieve your goals.
If you have any questions about what all the Writing Center can do or even when we’re open, go here.
Come see us! You won’t regret it.