Spring 2015 Hours

Mon, Tue 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wed, Thurs 12 noon-7 p.m.
Fri 9 a.m.-12 noon

For more information:

Phone

601-979-1777
601-979-0989

Email

wrightcenter@jsums.edu

Location

H.T. Sampson Library
1st Floor, Main Campus
Jackson State University, P.O. Box 17035
Jackson, MS 39217

News

Our tutor Kiyadh Burt was recently interviewed by Channel One, a news station that broadcasts to over 5 million middle and high school students! He spoke on the anniversary of the Civil War, the Black experience in the American South, and prospects for progress in the Black community. Congratulations, Kiyadh! Kiyadh Burt

You may watch the full interview here: 

http://www.channelone.com/blog_post/behind-the-scenes-being-black-in-america/

 

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Avoiding "Academic Bullshit": Meeting Disengaged Students Where They Are*

-Kathi R. Griffin

“This is boring.” “This is stupid.” “I shouldn’t have to take this class. It’s pointless. I’m a good writer!” “I hate to write.” “I hate to read AND write.”

Having been in first-year college composition classrooms for twenty years, I have heard students’ distancing comments in halls, coming into and leaving classrooms, and I have heard them in the classroom and in journals when I have invited student feedback on reading or writing assignments. During summer “College Writing” workshops, I also heard rising juniors and seniors share their fears about writing in college. Might “boring” and “stupid” be interpreted as “scary”? Of looking stupid?

In 2010, I found an article entitled “Bullshit in Academic Writing,” in which Peter Smagorinsky et al. (2010) share “one high school senior’s process of academic bullshitting” (p. 368), and I was immediately intrigued. After the authors define “bullshit,” they explain that “although it is known as a common phenomenon in academic speech and writing, it has rarely been the subject of empirical research” (p. 368), and they reference Macrorie’s 1970 term “Engfish: the spuriously elevated language seemingly endemic to school writing” (qtd. in Smagorinksy et al., 2010, p. 369). While students’ language may reveal a lack of engagement, it is, unfortunately, nothing new and may mean their expectations have achieved a level of carefully honed disengagement. But why?

I took the article and my question to class and asked my students. I held up the journal, Research in the Teaching of English, a serious peer-reviewed journal in my field, I explained, and I read them the title of the article. Of course, they laughed as sideways glances shot around the room. I asked if they knew what the authors meant. They erupted, “Yes!” And they explained, and I asked, “Have you ever written bullshit?” (Remember, this is in a college classroom, not high school.) Again, but a bit sheepishly, they replied, “Yes.” When I asked, “Why?” I got an earful: boring, stupid, pointless assignments. Writing had become something, anything, just to get the task done, to please a teacher or get a passing grade because “I didn’t care about the topic.” Writing in school had become pointless, an act of bullshitting. Why? How might we build, design, revise “assignments” with a point, one that students can see, one they can relate to?

All of us convening on this website, considering or planning to attend the TCW Symposium this weekend (even if we don’t have the time or can’t get the funding) care about students. But are we engaged as teachers? What does “engaged” mean? We want to reach our students, to engage them, but how? And high school teachers have more restrictions in the classroom and in the curriculum than college teachers, yet we each must negotiate institutional expectations, meet our students where they are, and try to move them forward, to help them be more effective, more engaged readers, writers – people. Do we know what students expect when they walk into our classrooms? How might we acknowledge – and change – their expectations?

As a composition instructor and a writing center director, I have heard – like a student mantra – “I hate to write.” “Really,” I often respond, “that’s not unusual. But you text, tweet, Facebook, yes?” (Is “Facebook” a verb yet?) “Yes, but that’s different,” they explain. “How?” I ask.

Then we engage in a conversation – and I ask them to write. Later I ask, “What was your worst writing experience?” And they write. And I ask, “What was your best writing experience?” (Sadly, some explain that they have never had a good writing experience. And we talk.)  Then we compare and contrast their bad and good writing experiences, looking for similarities and differences, for what elicits bullshit. It is enlightening – for them and for me.

This approach may seem limited in its usefulness, but it has helped me at the beginning of the last several semesters. After years of conditioning, feeling that their perspectives rarely matter, students will not engage with one simple “shot” of engagement. It has to become a habit of mind. It is exhausting for me, but when students do begin to “come around,” usually around midterm or after, sometimes not until after they leave my class and come back to tell me, the work was worth it. This is why we need to come together, to share ideas, to invigorate our teaching, to engage among ourselves.

*This article was originally posted in September 2013 on the blog of Transitioning to College Writing Symposium, Univeristy of Mississippi. 

Reference

Smagorinsky, P., Daigle, E. A., O’Donnell-Allen, C.  & Bynum, S. (2010). “Bullshit in Academic Writing: A Protocol Analysis of a High School Senior’s Process of Interpreting Much Ado  About Nothing.” Research in the Teaching of English 44(4) May: 368-405.

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The Richard Wright Center on the Road!

February 11th, 2015 by wrightcenter

Kathi Griffin–Director of RWC

Fifteen years ago, while working as writing center coordinator at Millsaps College, I asked if I could attend a writing center event at Tougaloo College. When the director said yes, I asked if I could invite other writing center folks I knew from Mississippi College and Jackson State University. When the event was over, we decided we liked talking to each other–and the Mississippi Writing Center Association (MSWCA) was born. It's had its ups and downs, ins and outs, but it's still going–and now stronger than ever. It's gratifying, to say the least. But what I find most rewarding is the sense of community, of helping change the educational landscape of Mississippi–for the better. Last year we hosted MSWCA in Innovate–the first conference to be held there–and we got to show off our fancy new center.

DSC_0633This year the conference was hosted by the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. We traveled to Oxford, where more than 70 folks gathered from all parts of MS–from high schools and community colleges, from private and public four-year institutions, directors and tutors, graduate and peer tutors. And this year, we presented research from our own center, three of us: director, coordinator, and graduate assistant. We were joined by two other graduate assistants who share their experiences below. The response we received from our colleagues has helped us deepen our understanding of our research, which we will write up to submit for publication.

Below you can learn more about our research, about the keynote speaker–Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, whom we hope to bring to JSU–and about the fun we had being "on the road."

“A Deeper Understanding”

Daoying Liu–Graduate Assistant and Tutor

The conference was an academically rewarding and memorable experience for me. I presented our research with Dr. Griffin and Dr. Glushko on “Searching for Evidence of Our Effectiveness.” The presentation was focused on how we might evaluate the effectiveness of the Richard Wright Center. Audiences from different writing centers of Mississippi raised questions on how to conduct a discourse analysis and how to interpret the data in the writing center. The audience members also shared their experiences. Interaction with peer professionals helped me with a deeper understanding our current research project and directions for future research. DSC_0665

In addition, I also attended a couple of panel presentations and workshops. Presentations offered me an opportunity to know what other professionals are doing, and inspire reflections on what I am doing now. My interest was captured by one workshop “Preparing Tutors to Work with Multimodal Assignments.” Multimodal assignments can help student writers improve their visual and digital literacy, especially their genre awareness in writing. We shared our experiences on how to assign a multimodal assignment and what we expected from student writers to fulfill this genre-based task. We also discussed how to provide trainings on preparing tutors in response to new digital assignments other than traditional print essays. This was really a wonderful academic trip.

“My First Conference”

Christopher H. Crump–Graduate Assistant and Tutor

I always imagined that attending my first conference would be a big deal. There would be people of a certain intellectual caliber sitting in stuffy rooms, the air thick with the smell of fine, hand-rolled cigars and well-aged Scotch; ideas wielded in the King's English, as if they were the fire of Prometheus itself; me, huddled in a corner, lamenting my own lack of genius, aspiring to the greater heights of academia. Also, for some reason or another, there were tuxedos, monocles, and evening gowns.

Then, I actually went to a conference . . .

and it was nothing as I had imagined it, of course. The atmosphere at the conference was very relaxed. The keynote speaker, Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, led several discussions on the use of code-meshing, and its place in writing centers and society as a whole. I was even lucky enough to be able to pick his brain during a small impromptu group discussion shortly after. People mingled and shared their stories as tutors. They gave presentations on the future of writing centers, both in practice and technologically. They agonized over the ridiculous nature of page requirements. They were nervous, confident, tyro, and experienced. They were people. They were me.DSC_0654

“The Questions of the Century”

Christopher Peace–Adjunct Instructor, Graduate Student, and Former Tutor

Last month I was given the opportunity to attend the MSWCA Conference with members from the Richard Wright Center. Held at the University of Mississippi, this two-day long event was filled with educational epiphanies, good food, great communication, and exciting activities. Dr. Vershawn Young was the keynote speaker of the conference, and he was one of the most fascinating parts of the entire conference. Dr. Young’s talks on African American English (AAVE) and code-meshing in the classroom and writing center sparked several discussions throughout the event. He proposed that people’s variant “Englishes” should be accepted in the learning space as a cultural resource instead of an educational hindrance. Getting an education should not erase one’s cultural, linguistic upbringing in favor for an elitist mode of academia. Dr. Young stated that the acceptance of AAVE in academia will be the big question of this century.

We attended several sessions throughout the day on Thursday that varied in topics. I sat in on sessions about online tutoring and thesis statement development. One main motif of these sessions was making the writing comfortable in any medium. If the writer understands the agency they have with their writing, then the writing process would go more smoothly. Our writing center group also visited William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, after trekking through a nature trial close by. We prayed that Faulkner’s creative energy would inspire us to write and create. We also visited a blacksmith at The Treehouse Gallery on the edge of town. All in all, the trip really helped me relax and aided my pedagogical approach to teaching writing in the academic space.DSC_0784

“A Walk in the Woods”

Tatiana Glushko–RWC Coordinator

What I liked most about the conference was the atmosphere—friendly and comfortable, almost homelike. It was a small conference where you could meet your colleagues–all of whom are extremely enthusiastic about the writing center work–to share your experience, and to hear from others about their innovations in the writing center. I enjoyed hearing the keynote speaker, Dr. Vershawn Ashante Young from University of Waterloo, Ontario, who introduced the participants to his theory of code-meshing and discussed how this theory could be used to help overcome the privileging of one language variety (e.g., Standard American English) over another (e.g., African American English) in teaching and in the writing center work.

DSC_0730After the conference, we visited William Faulkner’s house Rowan Oak and walked in the woods surrounding it. We also stopped by the Treehouse Gallery located outside Oxford to see the works of local artists. The trip back to Jackson was far from boring: Beautiful music selection (courtesy of Chris Crump) that included jazz compositions and Bach’s Chaconne played by Nathan Milstein made the 2.5-hour ride worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Wright Center by the Numbers

February 2nd, 2015 by wrightcenter

Posted in News


Academic Argument as Process

January 7th, 2015 by wrightcenter

This blog was originally posted on October 6, 2014 by Transitioning to College Writing at the University of Mississippi.

Kathi R. Griffin, Instructor of English and Director of the Richard Wright Center for Writing, Rhetoric, and Research – Jackson State University

During our first discussion of a reading in Comp I this fall, a student asserted, “I’m entitled to my opinion!” and his classmates whipped their heads in my direction: “Yes, you are,” I said, and they relaxed, “but,” I added, “in the academic world, more is required.”

While the simple word more hides a complexity of skills, the word academic hides a complexity of definitions. For many students, the word academic itself may present a problem.

In the third week of class, a student asked, “When do we get a break?” I replied, “In November.” Another student asked, “You mean we have to read and write for every class?” “Yep.” After a short pause, I asked, “Why don’t you think you should read and write for every class? We only meet twice a week.”

The most engaged response this semester bursts forth from across the room: “I hate to read,” “I hate to write,” “I hate to read and write.” And I am thinking, “for school,” because many students are sneaking to read and write on their phones! When I asked, “Why are you in college then?” I got a few furrowed brows, but I also got an equally energetic response, “To get a good job.” It’s not necessarily that they hate to read and write; it seems more likely that they hate to read and write for school. They have trouble seeing the purpose for what they are being asked to read and write.

At this early stage in their academic careers, academic seems to mean “not practical; not directly useful; conforming to rules and standards” – rather than entering a “learned or scholarly” community. They know about the parts of an essay and the steps to produce one, but they remain focused on the text as product rather than as a means for engaging in a larger conversation. In addition, their reading for school has primarily been for information, so being asked to read for a different purpose also confuses them. Before they can write an “academic argument,” however, they must learn to read critically, to critique, to analyze. As I try to persuade them, to engage them, to inform them, to challenge them in a variety of ways, I cannot always be sure the struggle is worth it.

But it is. This past week I was asked to address a group of first-semester graduate students on “writing in graduate school,” and a former student asked, “How do I only write 5 pages when I have 10 already written?” How different that is from where he began just a few semesters ago. Laughing he said, “Yeah, I used to struggle to fill the page limit, and now I have too much to say.” All I could do was smile and remind him about focusing on the purpose for his argument – and, of course, invite him to make an appointment in the writing center.

If interested in sharing strategies for engaging students as they learn to read and write academic arguments and discuss related issues, such as how we might use technology to help us in the process of engaging students, please let us know.

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