Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Schooling Grammar Checkers": Making Smart Use of Machine Response to Writing

Sometimes writers and scholars ask me about grammar and spelling checkers, or tell me about a new one they discovered online. Sometimes they pay for these services, and sometimes not.

My response is always to listen carefully with interest because what they are really telling me is about what they know about writing and writing tools. My first general reply is that I pay attention to spellcheck and grammar check suggestions, but I always evaluate them critically. They are not always correct. However, they can provide some insight into writing if used thoughtfully. My second general reply is that I never pay for these services because there is not an automated spelling and grammar tool for purchase that is any better than free ones like MS Word’s or Google Docs’.

Today, I read a brief but well researched and practical blog entry by Composition scholar/professor Nick Carbone that addresses this topic very well, and I thought it’d be of interest to everyone who writes or teaches writing. 


Friday, May 13, 2016

Hayden's Reflection: Peer Review

I’ve always felt that peer reviewing is an incredibly helpful and important part of the writing process. I really do enjoy giving that feedback and criticism as a writing tutor. Peer reviewing is important for a number of reasons, and a specific consultation really brought this point to light. Someone came in asking for help with a paper. She said that she had just finished an in-class peer review, and I thought, “Great, it’ll be nice to see what others have said.” However, this person’s paper didn’t have a single marking on it. This person was incredibly frustrated because this had happened before, and when she turned in a previous paper, the grade wasn’t what she had expected.

In my own tutoring sessions, I try to give as much feedback as possible while teaching students how to find mistakes in their own papers and in the works of others. Peer reviewing is incredibly important for a number of reasons other than having someone proofread a paper.

Because you wrote the paper, you certainly have an emotional connection to it (even if it’s just a tiny connection). This can make it difficult to see some possible glaring mistakes.

Another problem is the fact that you are always writing for an audience; while your paper may sound great and structured and ready for print, it may not be effective for your audience. Having peer review sessions is a good way to gauge whether you have an effective draft on your hands.

Lastly, after you’ve spent countless hours on a paper, it’s easy to just glaze over it without really thinking about it—trust me, I know. Peer reviews always give your paper a fresh set of eyes that will (hopefully) analyze your paper quite closely.

In my own writing process, I take peer review sessions seriously and try my best to give others the feedback that I would want them to give me. It’s important to have this feedback because without it, I wouldn’t write successful papers; that’s simply the truth of the matter.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing an Introduction Paragraph

The Writing Center addresses a number of writing concerns each and every day. One of the most enduring questions I’m asked about is how to address writing an introduction paragraph. I’ve always found that it’s more difficult to start a paper than it is to finish it. When I give advice on how to write introductions, I keep a couple of specific pointers in mind.

When I took AP English in high school, my teacher (I thank the heavens for her every day) told me to think about introductions as an upside down triangle. This is a representation of the graphic she showed the class:

Any time a student asks for help with introductions, I draw out this graphic because it helps me a tremendous amount in my own writing. I also tell students that even though introductions come first in the paper, they don’t have to be written first. It’s often quite helpful to not write the introduction until you’re entirely done with your paper. The most important aspect of the introduction is your thesis; with that, you can write your paper without even thinking about the introduction. Writing an introduction can be difficult because you’re not entirely sure what you’re going to write about until you do start writing. Start with the thesis, body paragraphs, or even conclusion and work from there. The writing process isn’t set in stone; there are multiple ways to approach academic writing. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Farewell and Happy Trails

Dear RSU writers,

I have learned so much from you all and appreciate all that you've shared with me. (Yes, this is a note where I give you some sad-ish news.)

I would like to announce very publicly--though many people already know and it is not a secret--that I will be leaving Rogers State University June 30th because I have accepted the position of Writing Program Director and Applied Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tulsa, just down the road from Claremore, to begin July 1.

I have served as Writing Center Coordinator and Writing Instructor here at RSU since August of 2012. Over the last four years, I taught several sections of Composition I and II, as well as one of Topics in Advanced Composition. I worked alongside Writing Center Consultants Meggie, Brook, Holly, Laurie, Jessica, Kali, Wes, McKinze, Abby, Aubrey, Devon, Erika, Jalexa, Madison, Hayden, Mary, Kayla, Michael, Tessa, Mary S., Burgundi, and Amanda.

I sat down and met with writers in person, over email, over the phone, or via Skype 1,088 times.

Each and every time, the discussions were different. All writers come from different places-- physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. They talk about their academic ideas and worries, as well as those about their families and friends. At some point, we look at each other in the eye and make a connection, whether its deep or shallow, lengthy or brief. Sometimes I never saw that writer again, others we met regularly from there on out.

Each and every time, I learned something new about the world and about the person writing right next to me. I learned about botany, nursing, personnel, incarceration in the U.S., accounting and financing, art theory, legal history, the value of a college education, service learning, how to apply for medical or law school, literature, philosophy, comparative religion, theater, painting, sports management, social psychology, sociological theory, education, assessment and accountability, and so much more.

Thank you for opening up to me and for letting me walk around with you in the garden of your mind. The seasons will always change, but we can always choose to experience the moment and to grow as thinkers, readers, writers, and people who take care of our families and communities.

Be well,
Sara Beam
You can find me at my Facebook Teacher Page

P.S. My next post will be about the incoming Writing Center Coordinator. I know they will cultivate this place of learning well!

McKinze's Reflection

My time in the Writing Center has taught me so much about working with others, reflecting in on myself, and about writing in general. Many students have come in asking for help with outlining or even simply understanding the assignment. I have found that one of the most helpful tips has been to analytically read the assignment sheets and try to gain a deep understanding of what the professor is asking the student to do. Along with fully understanding the prompt, the importance of pre-writing and outlining have also been main topics in my appointments this semester.

Personally, I have found creating an outline in the pre-writing phase to be effective, especially when I start typing a paper. If I have the paper set up logically with my main ideas and supporting details, it is much easier to make the paper flow smoothly and the writing process is actually quicker. Visually seeing what the ideas are and how they are connected them makes it easy to spot any issues with transitions and coherency.

Adding these two steps to my own writing process has really helped me organize my papers and has also made writing a much easier and faster process.

To any students who are having trouble thinking of a topic for their papers or getting started on writing their papers, I would strongly recommend utilizing outlines. Trying jotting down some ideas and thinking about what you could do with them in your assignment. By doing this, you can see what could and could not work and you would also be able to gauge your own interest in the topic. This is also a good place to work in evidence from sources, which will help greatly when the actual writing of the paper begins. If you have trouble figuring out how to organize the paper, write down all the main points you want to hit, then plug them into a logical outline.

Adding these two small steps to your writing process will greatly aid in the development of any paper.