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News

Richard Wright Center (RWC) tutors Natasha Arrington and Mariah Christian presented at the conference of the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) that was held February 20–22 at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Together with Dr. Kathi Griffin, RWC Director, and Dr. Tatiana Glushko, RWC Coordinator, they presented on “Replicating a Student-Led Writing Center Study at an HBCU,” describing the center’s research project to understand student perceptions of the writing center and sharing how their understanding of research has begun to deepen.

RWC tutors are conducting this research project as part of their coursework in ENG 311: Issues in Tutoring Writing. The project replicates studies conducted at other institutions—a PWI and a community college—thereby contributing to research on writing center pedagogy by including HBCUs, like JSU, in the national conversation in the field of writing studies. In the field, a call for replicable, aggregable, data-driven (RAD) studies spurred us, first, to design our own RAD project and then, this year, to replicate a study we thought would help us understand how our writing center is perceived on our campus.

For Natasha and Mariah, presenting at SWCA was a valuable, and enjoyable, experience:

Mariah Christian, Psychology (sophomore)

At the SWCA conference, I was given the opportunity to present on why I thought HBCUs deserve to have a voice when it comes to research about students’ perception of the writing center. I was nervous when presenting because I am not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd of people. However, I know that doing this is preparing me to be able to comfortably speak in front of a large group of people. Also, the feedback that I received from other tutors and writing center directors from across the region was very informative and helpful. It’s nice to know that there are other tutors who struggle with their writing center being viewed as “bougie.”

I also had the opportunity to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, so I can now compare the civil rights museums in Memphis, TN, Jackson, MS, and Birmingham, AL. Seeing how far African Americans have come and still how far we have to go is inspiring. I learned that Birmingham was the largest segregated city during the 1960s. African Americans went from being sprayed down with water hoses when trying to vote to electing its first Black mayor, Richard Arrington, in 1979. What stood out the most during my visit was that the museum still has clothing and jewelry of the four little girls who were killed in a bombing that was racially motivated at 16th Baptist Church; this church is directly across from the museum.

Natasha Arrington, Criminal Justice (senior)

My experience in participating in the SWCA conference was eye opening. The conference really shows the extent of writing in every educational and professional environment. Even so, many presentations really stressed the new advances and/or struggles that writing centers face. One thing that stayed on my mind while we were away in Birmingham was my intention for joining the trip. Our project is really special because HBCUs are not always included in the larger disciplinary conversation, even when the conversation regards education. Birmingham is a historic location for African Americans and presented the opportunity, I think it was important to show and express how critical our study is for all HBCUs.

As Birmingham is a site of historical Civil Rights events, it was easy to be reminded why our voices matter in the SWCA conference. After our presentation was given, I felt relieved because this is a sensitive topic. However, the feedback from the presentation was motivating and affirming. We were asked questions about how to make the writing center less bougie as we stated in our presentation.

In addition to the cultural aspect of Birmingham, it was nice to visit some of the local businesses that also have inspiring stories as they began their own journeys in Birmingham, like the original Pancake House.

Overall, participating in this conference and visiting Civil Rights Institute was a meaningful experience that allowed undergraduate peer tutors to be part of the professional conversation on writing and research in academia and to see connections between the work we do at HBCUs and African American history.

 

*          *          *          *         

Our trip was made possible by a grant awarded to Dr. Mehri Fadavi, Chair and Professor, Department of Physics/Atmospheric Science, written in collaboration with Jo Anne Fordham, Project Coordinator. It was also supported by a travel grant from the SWCA.

 

 

 

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Tatiana Glushko

For universities in the U.S., including JSU, increasing the number of faculty publications and supporting the development faculty as researchers and teachers of research has been an important issue. Everyone who writes for publication knows it is not an easy process, especially for someone who writes in a second or third language, like many faculty members at JSU. This issue, as I learned, is even more pressing for faculty in non-Anglophone countries. The internationalization of higher education and dominance of English-language publications in the world have created pressure for academics in these countries to write in English rather than in their native languages.

In my native Russia, for example, the pressure for faculty to publish in top-tier international journals has been growing since 2003, when Russia signed the Bologna declaration to integrate its higher education into the European system of higher education and research. With funding from the Russian federal government, the largest research universities began to establish writing centers to support faculty writing for publication in the efforts to become more competitive in a global context.

I wanted to understand this new development in Russian higher education and to see what we here in the U.S. can learn from it. In 2017-2018, I conducted a study in which I interviewed writing center directors about the development of academic writing centers in the Russian Federation (chapter forthcoming in an edited collection by the WAC Clearing House). In October 2019, I went to Moscow to participate in the 2nd international conference on academic writing. While in Moscow, I also led a writing workshop for faculty in the Academic Writing Center at Higher School of Economics (HSE), at the invitation of its director Svetlana Suchkova.

Photos by Arseny Kustov. Used with permission from the HSE Academic Writing Center.  

This visit has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the dynamic role writing centers play in higher education. At the conference, organized by the Russian National Writing Center Consortium and hosted by Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, academic writing experts and enthusiasts from Russia, Australia, and the U.S. gathered to discuss academic writing pedagogy and issues of writing for publication in English. My colleague Svetlana Suchkova and I conducted a workshop “Research in the Writing Center: Finding a Focus and Developing Research Questions,” and I also participated in a two-day seminar led by Margaret Cargill, University of Adelaide, Australia. Cargill, author of Writing Scientific Research Articles: Strategy and Steps, demonstrated, for example, how to use AntConc, a corpus-analysis program, to help young researchers understand disciplinary writing practices and develop their own voice and writing style.

 

Margaret Cargill conducting a workshop with a group of graduate students, with writing instructors observing.

 

 

At HSE, my workshop for faculty focused on scholarly writing as a rhetorical problem and on strategies for solving it. We discussed how writing for publication requires understanding of the rhetorical situation in which we write, particularly of our international context and of audience expectations. Participants read and analyzed articles (published in top journals) with attention to rhetorical moves their authors made, and practiced offering and responding to constructive feedback on their own drafts.

Universities that aspire to lead in the global education and research also invest in writing support for their faculty and graduate students by establishing specialized writing centers that offer courses, seminars, and individual consultations. If you are interested in the possibility of establishing a center like this at JSU and would like to discuss how we might support faculty and graduate students in writing for publication, please contact me at tatiana.glushko@jsums.edu.

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Why I Vote

October 3rd, 2019 by wrightcenter

 

Jessica Trotter, Social Work Major

Many students at JSU view their campus as a second home; therefore, we need to advocate for the issues we see here in the surrounding communities of our school. On November 5, 2019, the United States has a gubernatorial general election. I wholeheartedly trust that if the people of this country, and students at Jackson State in particular, exercise their right to vote and inform themselves about the candidates, then we can truly make a difference.

Voter registration is an important component of voting. Registering to vote means nothing if one does not actively participate by going out to cast their ballot. I decided to help with voting efforts on my campus because I want students to be aware of the importance to not only register to vote but also to participate in the upcoming election. I collaborate with the Mississippi Votes (MSVotes) #UpToUs Campaign. The campaign focuses on creating awareness and motivation to get people registered to vote, educate them about the significance of voting, and help constituents understand the power that voting has.

Watch the video Why I Vote featuring Jessica Trotter.

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RWC Tutors Published

June 28th, 2017 by wrightcenter

Check out the work of two RWC tutors published in Dangling Modifer, an online journal for peer tutors in writing. Arica Norzagaray, a PhD student in Psychology, drew a cartoon, Writers Block, and Anthony Keys, a recent graduate from the Chemistry Department, wrote the Knights of the Writing Center.

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A Paragraph About Paragraph Assignments

February 23rd, 2016 by wrightcenter

In February 2016 we had a flurry of students visiting the center, all working on the same assignment: They had to write an essay using a Schaffer paragraph structure. (The tutors and I had to google what it means.) Often we see students who are asked to write a cause-and-effect paragraph or a descriptive paragraph. Sometimes students ask: “How long should my paragraph be?” or “How many sentences does a paragraph have to have?” They struggle to find something to say to fulfill the requirement for a certain number of sentences in a certain sequence, and we wonder if the structure of the paragraph is really the problem. We begin by asking students, “What are you writing about?” “Why are you interested in this topic?” “Who else might be interested in it?” “What do you want to say?”— questions that tap into their curiosity, help them connect with what they care about and what they want to say. Having a conversation with students allows us to redirect their attention from just completing an assignment and pleasing the instructor towards their ideas. Once they know what they want to say and why, they care more about how they want to say it. They become more purposeful about their choices in organizing their piece of writing. The problem of paragraph structure and number of sentences becomes less of a problem. As authors, we decide what we want to convey to an audience, letting our ideas determine the structure and length of a piece of writing, not the other way around.

Tatiana Glushko

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What We Do and Why

August 4th, 2015 by wrightcenter

What We Do and Why: Engaging Students in Writerly Behaviors

In the Richard Wright Center (RWC), we are often asked to "correct" students' papers both before they submit them to instructors and after they have defended their theses or dissertations. Concern for correctness is understandable. After all, professors want to read papers without stumbling over fragments or run-on sentences or without being distracted by inconsistent formatting issues, and students want good grades and their degrees.

In the RWC, our mission is to engage students in intellectual conversations about their writing, speaking, and research projects. In one-to-one or small-group conversations, correctness can be discussed in relation to students’ ideas and their new academic audience.

While we recognize the concern for correctness, we want to challenge the idea that the RWC is a place where students' papers are edited and proofread, or fixed. In fact, this is a common perception of writing centers. However, we have learned that by focusing on errors, we do more harm than good. Dr. Elaine Maimon (1979), expert in the teaching of writing and a founder of Writing Across the Curriculum, says that if we “continue to emphasize an avoidance of error, then students will finally learn to avoid as many errors as possible by not writing at all” (p. 366). Of course, we all want students to improve as writers, and writing becomes better when students write a lot, particularly in response to issues that matter to them and when they receive feedback.

Feedback from faculty and peers allows students to gain experience with academic writing and to build confidence as writers, which are undermined when editing and proofreading are the initial focus. So when students come to the RWC, our tutors will

• greet them and ask them to sign in

• ask about their assignment and what they are working on

• ask them to summarize what they have written or what they plan to write or speak about

• respond to students in a non-evaluative manner (e.g., “I’m confused about this. What are you trying to say?” instead of “This is incorrect. You need to fix this.”)

• invite students to complete a response form—and to return to the Richard Wright Center.

As needed, tutors may also

• ask about parts of students’ writing or speech (e.g., introductions, thesis statements)

• discuss options for supporting ideas with credible evidence (e.g., expert opinions, statistics)

• share information about documentation, even in speeches and presentations

• read with the student aloud or silently, asking about any confusing sentences or shifts in topic

• listen to presentations and share strategies for effective oral communication

• discuss strategies for editing and proofreading for specific issues, such as fragments.

To learn more about our tutor training course, please view the course syllabus.

When we engage students in conversation, offer feedback, and discuss strategies for presenting their ideas, we let them imagine their academic audience and invite them to "behave" as writers (Maimon, 1979, p. 365), to experience writing practices that we share as academic writers, and thus we invite them into the academic community.

Now we would like to hear from you! When you write, how do you begin? When do you proofread? From whom do you seek feedback, and what kinds of feedback do you find most useful? What do you think makes a good writer? How do you address the issue of correctness with your students?

If you would be interested in discussing a writing, speaking, or research-related issue in a seminar format, please let us know! Also, what issues would you like to read about on our blog?

Thank you. -Kathi and Tatiana

Reference

Maimon, E. (1979). Talking to strangers. College Composition & Communication, 30, 364-369. 

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“Students Just Don’t Get It”

June 5th, 2015 by wrightcenter

"Students Just Don't Get It" – Yet! 

The Role of Feedback in Student Learning

By Kathi R. Griffin with valuable feedback from Christopher Peace, Graduate Assistant

We often hear faculty say, "Students just don't get it." If we add the word "yet" to the comment, we might then ask, "What can I do?"

Feedback does not have to mean more work. As faculty, we may balk at the idea of doing anything differently, or we may think giving feedback would require doing more work. Actually, it involves work that is more focused, more intentional. In addition, feedback may be understood as evaluation, which can actually prevent students from "getting it." When we offer students timely "feedback," it can help them take responsibility for their learning, and as students move toward "getting it," grading time can actually be reduced and more rewarding.

What is feedback? Feedback is information that allows students to adjust their writing, speaking, or research in response to a real audience. Thus feedback helps students develop more control over their work and take more responsibility for their work. It can also help build their confidence in their ability to "get it."

How does feedback work? Feedback that reports to students what is and/or is not happening in a paper or speech involves students in their learning by making them responsible for what is there. From facing complex challenges and solving complex problems to acquiring mastery, students need to learn to use feedback–not just how to follow directions or answer questions "correctly." The challenge for faculty is two-fold: to think of assessment in terms of guidance rather than grades, and to design programs, courses, and assignments with deliberate systems of feedback loops that actively move students toward learning objectives.

Feedback is essential to active learning. Courses and assignments that create opportunities for feedback make it possible for students to engage with peers, to reflect on their process, to give effective feedback to each other–with minimal intervention by instructors. In other words, well designed assignments and activities can free up instructors to provide purposeful feedback and guidance–when needed. 

For students, responding to feedback is a critical skill that can only be learned through doing and can only become instinctive through practice and guidance. If students have been used to completing tasks and getting evaluated, they may initially need to learn what feedback is and how to use it before they can develop new habits of thinking, which takes some time.

For faculty, giving feedback may require new approaches at first, or it may require helping students learn to use feedback. For example,

  • In peer writing groups, students may not yet know how to respond to each other beyond correcting grammar.
  • In the sciences, students may not yet know how to use error margins to improve their methodology or the overall design of an experiment.
  • When writing, students may use spell-check but may not yet know the word they need or even how to choose the word they need.
  • When preparing a speech, students may fear feedback or take it as negative criticism rather than as information that could help them improve their performance.

In each instance, faculty can teach students how to give and receive feedback, thus help students move closer to "getting it." With practice, students can gain mastery, which cannot be achieved in the first or even fortieth attempt.

What happens when feedback is only evaluative? Evaluation alone, or summative assessment, can short-circuit learning. Without feedback students often struggle to understand what they did wrong–or even what they may have done right. It does not have the same power that feedback in process, or formative assessment, does to help students "get it." Seeking a grade (or pleasing an instructor) may also undermine students' overall professional growth. For example, if students wait for feedback until they are giving a presentation in a high stakes situation, such as for a grade or at a conference, then they have no opportunity to improve their performance. When students are given or seek feedback in the process of developing a presentation, paper, or idea, they have time to think about what changes they might make and why.

When students learn to seek feedback in the process of developing a speech, paper, or idea, they can learn what is working or not working and make more informed choices about their direction, which is what we do all the time as professionals.

Feedback in the RWC is focused on students and their goals. Tutors are not instructors, so they cannot evaluate students' work, but they can ask critical questions, offer valuable feedback, and  talk with students about how to incorporate feedback in their projects. In the RWC tutors ask students about what they are working on, where they are in their process, and what they want to work on during the tutorial session.

Feedback can take many forms, such as summarizing back what was read or heard, but it most often takes the form of critical questions about the student's purpose, audience, and genre that can help students fill in missing information or smooth out confusing sentences. Feedback in the form of questions encourages students to think about their ideas, goals, and processes. As students engage in intellectual conversations about their work, they begin to develop critical habits of mind as they make choices about their work.

Feedback from instructors is more often described as formative assessment, as it provides students with information to help them meet the goals of a particular class exercise or assignment, course objective, or educational objective. As instructors, we can get impatient when students don't "get it" quickly enough, or when they don't yet seem to act on our feedback. Within a context that includes clearly stated objectives and a range of opportunities for frequent feedback, students will be more able to "get it" in our classrooms and in our programs.

Feedback, formative assessment, and evaluation together help students "get it":

  • Feedback tells students whether or not they are on course.
  • Formative assessment can tell students the most likely ways to achieve their goals.
  • Evaluation tells students whether or not they have been successful.

Without feedback and formative assessment, however, evaluation makes little difference in student learning.

Our aim, therefore, must be to engage students in ways that better equip them to "get it." 

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RWC in an International Blog

May 1st, 2015 by wrightcenter

We were invited by the folks at the new blog for the Writing Lab Newsletter (a highly regarded newsletter in our field) to write about our fabulous RWC space for an international audience. To view, click here

Please check it out!! 

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What Is “Scholarly Writing”?

April 29th, 2015 by wrightcenter

In a workshop hosted by the Chemistry Department this semester, a group of 25 JSU graduate students asked, "What is 'scholarly writing'?" We love questions like this, especially when students look to us for an explanation. The students said they heard about scholarly writing a lot and weren't sure what their professors meant.

Instead of explaining, however, we turned the question back to the students and asked what they thought scholarly writing might be. We also asked what might be one aspect of non-scholarly writing. One woman said, "Sometimes I write the way I speak." We then discussed how we often write like this when we're first getting our ideas down on paper, but when we write for a scholarly audience, we need to develop a more formal voice.

We talked about what being formal might include. In general it means to be more specific with our word choice. We then talked about using vocabulary specific to the field, which includes words students might not yet recognize, and about the importance of learning those words and using them accurately. Each field, we also mentioned, has different conventions for the use of personal pronouns.

We also discussed that formal writing is straightforward and specific in descriptions of an issue or process. Scholarly writing has clear organization: The introduction includes an identifiable thesis statement and "map" (brief outline of main points), and each section or body paragraph follows that map.

One student said she thought non-scholarly writing meant that there was not enough evidence to support an idea. So we talked about how it is important to seek credible, scholarly evidence and use it to support whatever we assert in our papers or presentations as well as how it is important to cite and document sources according to the style for our particular field.

Scholarly writing also involves seeking feedback as we write or prepare a presentation, even a poster, to make sure we are being clear, accurate, and relevant––to make sure we are meeting our audience's expectations. All professional writers seek feedback from colleagues, professors, mentors, and peers––including peer and graduate tutors in the Richard Wright Center (RWC). That is why JSU provides the RWC––we are a community of scholars in the making. As we write for our scholarly audience, we all need feedback along the way!

Kathi R. Griffin and Tatiana Glushko

 

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Kiyadh Burt on Being Black in America

April 15th, 2015 by wrightcenter

Kiyadh Burt

Kiyadh Burt, a Political Science Major and Peer Tutor in RWC, Talks on Channel One 

About Being Black in America 

Now former peer tutor Kiyadh Burt was interviewed in spring 2015 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! And congratulations on your graduation from JSU!

You may watch the full interview here: 

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

 

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