Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ninjas and Nonfiction by Easton Boynton

Have you ever thought about yin and yang, and what it could represent? Good and evil, light and dark, peace and chaos...a cool ninja movie? When I thought of it this time, I thought of fiction and nonfiction writing. Yin and yang are supposed to be complete opposites, so I wanted to explore the similarities and differences between the two. I took a poll during class on which of us liked which type of writing. Three of us preferred Nonfiction, six of us preferred Fiction, and three of us were undecided. I interviewed two of our fellow writing tutors about what they liked.

Autumn Barraclough explained to me that her favorite type of nonfiction to write was a research paper because you just string facts together and her favorite type to read was nonfiction writing told from the subject’s point of view. A couple of examples she gave me were Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I asked her whether she prefers reading or writing non-fiction better and she told me she enjoyed reading it. She said that it was less work, more enjoyable, and that she learns more from reading it than writing it, which I found interesting. Usually when you do the research for something, you learn a lot... but I guess this isn’t the case with this one. Autumn has written a lot of research papers, as we all have, and she has started an autobiography that she hopes she doesn’t get to finish any time soon. Her most memorable piece of work was her IRP for Chemistry because she “worked her butt off”. She told me that at first her teacher gave her a B and she argued her way up to an A. I noticed that just because someone preferred non-fiction writing to fiction writing doesn’t mean they like it, so this was an important question to ask. Her response was that, for fun, she writes a journal. She also told me that when the assignment is mandatory she tends to push herself harder and she begins to like the task more and more as she goes along. Normally when she hears a prompt she has ideas that pop into her head. She uses that to determine what resources would be beneficial to her topic. Finally, I asked her if she had ever taken a journalism class, and she answered no, but that she was really interested in doing so. Some of her friends have; and she says that she is just “spewing with information”. (Check out her blog, Let's smell rainbows together.)

Lexi Maycock preferred fiction, quite emphatically, so I asked her to elaborate on that. Her favorite genres are romance, historical fiction, psychological thrillers, and murder tales. What interested me was that even though these are her favorites, that doesn’t mean her writing is personally affected by them. She prefers writing to reading. She says that it’s much easier. She can write anytime but she has to plan for a time to go to the library or the book store. She shared that she likes to write futuristic and dystopian stories. She has some ideas about a steam punk-pirate-vampire fantasy that she wants to work on (I have to say I'm excited about it). Her favorite book is Entwined by Heather Dixon and her favorite series are the Percy Jackson and the Harry Potter series. She says that when she writes, she draws inspiration from dreams she has and from the real world. She often bases characters off of actual people and events. She plans on becoming an author and publishing books, so you never know when it might be you she’s writing about in her future best seller. She confesses that her writing process doesn’t involve much writing, she runs plots through her head over and over until she feels it’s in the best condition to be put on paper, and sometimes that can be a long time. I asked her if she has ever taken a creative writing course, and she said no but plans on it next year. She really enjoys doing this in any circumstance, mandatory or voluntary, and I am really looking forward to seeing where it takes her next. (Check out her blog, Text with Lex.)

My experience with these two things have been both fun and difficult. I can’t necessarily pick one or the other. I noticed that there were many differences between the two. You have a lot more freedom with fiction writing than you do with the other, but nonfiction is more structured. The writing processes are a lot different as well, with different ways to go about doing it. The writing process for nonfiction involves research and tight parameters and the process for fiction writing involves a lot self induced research and it is a lot less structured. I find it really interesting that even if the person writes fiction and often, they still face a lot of problems. There is a bunch of self criticism and self block, which are the main reasons why someone has trouble with this type of writing. I think that the main problem with people and their nonfiction writing is that there are a lot of negative connotations that come with it. I know that when I think of nonfiction, I am immediately discouraged because our society has made it a boring school assignment. You just have to ignore all of these things and try it for yourself. "Open-mindedness is the key to success, young grasshopper."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Shut up and Think with Me

You waltz into a session and a student has an essay. You read it out loud, fix a couple of grammar mistakes, and you’re good. Until you and the tutee stumble on a paragraph that needs to be changed or rewritten. You start asking a couple of open ended questions and the tutee is inspired. He picks up his pen and begins writing with zeal, until you start yapping with your big ol’ mouth.

Your intent is good; you’re just trying to give the tutee some ideas. But from the perspective of a tutee, please shut up. The tutee has a train of thought and is getting somewhere, until he gets distracted by your words.

I promise you, at appropriate times, silence isn’t awkward. You may feel the need to fill the quietness; just let it be. And you know, silence is golden, but duct tape is silver :)

I’ve experienced this a couple of times with tutoring creative writing. I was having my creative writing piece tutored and I decided I wanted to add a couple of new lines to my poem. My tutor asked some great open-ended questions and I got where I was going.  But my tutor saw that I was quiet and asked some more questions; she didn’t realize that I was thinking and that her questions were distracting me. I needed some quiet time to develop my ideas.

In a tutoring session where a tutee is coming up with ideas, try to give the tutee some space. And hey, if you can’t keep the silence, leave: I am serious. Let us say the tutee needs to rewrite a paragraph, tell the tutee you’re going to get some water or you’re going to the bathroom (lying is okay for the sake of education). Or maybe you can stay by the tutee and do your own thing so that you’re at the tutee’s disposal.

You might call this lazy, but I’m going to be generous and call it a minimalist tutoring ideology.
I think tutors are available to guide tutees in the right direction and  as soon as you guide them, let ‘em go. Our purpose as tutors is to create better writers; you are giving tutees a chance to practice their skills when you give them some space.

Some tutors, who teach by the book, feel that they are not doing their job if they’re not constantly asking questions. Open ended questions are good to get ideas going, but as soon as an idea develops, you can stop. You also have to remember that tutees can’t answer your questions on demand. They need time to think and then when they are ready, they’ll answer. Bombarding them with questions isn’t going to help them answer the first question you asked; it’s just distracting.

I’ve found that this method works for me and my tutees, but of course, like any strategy, tutors may like it or hate it. You just have to find what is most beneficial to you and the students you are helping.

Do you agree with the method? What strategies do you use? Let me know in the comments below or email me!

Oh and here’s a cool blog from Saint Mary’s University that also talks about how silence can be used as a tool.

An Open Letter to the Quiet Girl

An open letter to the quiet girl,
            In elementary school, your favorite place was the library. Your report cards always said you needed to participate more, but there was no way you were going to do anything that required you to stand out, speak out, or be put on the spot in any sort of sense. Talking was restricted to just friends and occasionally the teacher, which on average left you with about 4 people per year you could really talk to without awkwardness. Yet, this did not bother you. While your parents asked why you did not invite friends over or why you spent so much time in your room, you were content with your books, for the stories in them allowed you to escape from the loud world around you to a quieter one where no one asked why you hardly spoke.

Middle School came and went in a similar sense, but then came high school and suddenly it became harder to be the quiet one. You had fallen in love with English class during eighth grade because you realized the stories you read helped form your voice, but your lack of knowledge on writing made you hate anytime you had to put your voice on paper. It didn’t sound right, look right, or feel right. And what were commas for again? Now it was time for real English classes with timed writings and book reports that contained more than just plot summaries. The teachers were going to want you to be able to use commas, semicolons, understand what coordinating conjunctions were, and be able to spell conjunctions without having to google it. In your mind there was no way; no way at all you were going to be able to do it all correctly. Then slowly, ever so slowly, it started making sense, and you learned that writing was not meant to take away your newly formed voice but to facilitate it. Not everything was correct, it still isn’t, but it was getting closer. By this time, you had heard about The Writing Center: a place where students went to tutor other students on writing. However, you no more than15 and not ready for so much interaction. Plus the older kids scared you, and there was no way you were going to be able to get through a tutoring session with one of them.

Another year passes. You have loved your English classes and decide to try being a tutor to see if maybe you can help others be comfortable with their voices too. You’re not sure about any of it, but once junior year starts you notice it’s actually fun. And you’re pretty good at it. You learn quickly that being shy has no place in a tutoring session, so it becomes easier to pick and choose when you want to be quiet and when you don’t. Who would have thought? You make friends with the other tutors and older kids don’t scare you anymore. Talking to others turns out to not be so bad, and hey, you’re pretty good at that too. This leads us to today. A second year writing tutor. A senior. A writer. A lover of libraries.

I’ll see you in the mirror.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to post them below or email me! :)

Not-So-Strange Strangers

Not-So-Strange Strangers

Don't let a writing assignment get you down! Visit the WSWC!
I remember my first experience with the West Springfield Writing Center (WSWC)….. It was freshmen year, my teacher was requiring me to go, and there was no getting out of it. I didn’t know where it was or how to get there, let alone what a tutoring session would be like. If you’re anything like me, your first visit to the Writing Center was probably a little daunting too. With a weird location and a bunch of tutors that I didn't know, the Writing Center made freshman me rather anxious. For some people this might be a good thing, like “Yay, I don’t know anyone at the Writing Center! They’ll read my paper and I’ll never have to talk to them again!” For me, and I’m sure for some of you, it was more like “Aaaah, I don’t know anyone at the Writing Center! New people are scary, especially when they’re going to judge my writing!” Recently I was wondering how we could help people who are nervous about sharing their writing with a stranger? My solution is to introduce you to some of the tutors you might see in the Writing Center. After that, the writing tutors still might seem strange, but at least they won’t be strangers!

So first on the list is me:
Name: Sarah F.
Grade: 11
My friends would describe me as: practically perfect in every way (Just kidding. I’m as much of a  train wreck as any junior who is taking 3 APs could be.)
Favorite time of day: 3:27 P.M. (Not A.M.)
Favorite word: indeed
So, if we’re going to talk about me, the first thing that you should know is that I am definitely not a people person. Some people might think that because I work as a tutor, I must enjoy being around and meeting new people. This is not the case. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily hate new people either, but introducing yourself fifty times a day can get a bit exhausting. This just goes to show you that there are many different types of people working in the Writing Center and you’re bound to find someone that you can tolerate for at least one tutoring session. There is a tutor for everyone and being a part of the Writing Center has definitely shown me that a lot of different personalities can work together with the same interests in mind. So if you’re looking for a reserved, sarcastic, funny (or at least funny-looking), and realistic person to tutor you, seek out the frazzled chick, most likely sitting in the corner of the room,  working on something quietly.
(That’s me!)

Name: Sarah W.
Grade: 11
Personal Quote: “Hey Mom, can I buy this book?”…(twelve hours later)… “I just finished this book last night and I’m dead inside.”
What she does in her free time: Soccer, soccer, soccer, books, homework, soccer, more books, and soccer
Random Fact (Her feelings towards starfish): She was way too excited about answering this one. She said, “I absolutely love starfish. They’re adorable and pointy and colorful and I loved that one in Finding Nemo!”

Sarah is probably one of the friendliest people I know. She’s super approachable and has a really up-beat and energetic attitude. As a library volunteer and an avid reader, she is what I’d call your “stereotypical writing tutor”, especially since she loves writing and the little free time she has is spent reading. Sarah’s favorite genre is fiction and she’s a brilliant fiction writer, saying that she enjoys the freedom it provides, and “being able to take a step back when you’re done and go ‘wow, look what I made!’” Sarah is really easy to make laugh and is just super fun to be around. If you have a fiction or non-fiction paper that you need tutored, Sarah would able to give you tons of awesome ideas! Her favorite thing about being a tutor is expanding her love and knowledge of writing and one of the best ways to do that is if you get the chance to read other people's reading and see their perspective and style. If you want to share your ideas or just bounce some off of wonderful creative writer, look for a girl with short hair and glasses who is probably wearing a soccer t-shirt.

Name: Alex(andra) A.
Grade: 11
Favorite subject: Physics (See! Not all tutors are writing obsessed)
Catchphrase: “If it fits, I sits!”

Alex is one spunky chick! She is super duper funny and really smart. As stated above, her favorite subject is physics which just goes to show you that not all writing tutors are total English geeks (although many are). Alex is a great example of how Writing Center tutors are a good resource for information that isn't necessarily English related. As your fellow students who have taken many of the classes that you might be currently taking, a tutor is a great person to run your work by to see if it suits the requirements for that particular class. Plus, peer tutors are not as scary as teachers and are often super friendly, which is another one of Alex's great qualities. She’s a great person to talk to and a ton of fun to be around, so if you’re looking for an interesting individual with a 
great knowledge of writing as well as other subjects, definitely talk to Alex.

Name: Zack K.
Grade: 12
Favorite type of music: Alternative Rock
What he does in his free time: write bad fanfiction about animes he knows nothing about
One of his many talents (there's so many to choose from): sleeping while standing up backstage in theatre
So what can I say about Zack? I'd say he's sort of the dark and mysterious type, kind of quiet, reserved, but pretty funny and very sarcastic if you ever get to talk to him. Zack is also a writing fanatic. Early on in his high school career, he considered the prospects of becoming an author, and therefore took almost every writing class that the school had to offer which is how he ended up in advanced composition (the Writing Center tutor class). It was one of the only writing electives he hadn't taken yet. I asked him what his favorite thing about working in the Writing Center was and he pointed out some of the job's best features: getting to pick your lunch period and having free access to the candy bowl. He also told me about a competition he has with some of his friends which is to see who can write the worst fanfiction story. This brings up a great point for any aspiring author who wants to be tutored for a piece that isn's related to school. Writing Center tutors are up to tutoring anything and are great sources for some friendly feedback, so if anyone has any fanfiction that they want edited, Zack could give you some great pointers! Overall, if you want a reserved 
and knowledgeable tutor with a secret wicked sense of humor, you should visit Zack.

So now that you've gotten to know a chunk of our crew, it's our turn to get to know you! Please come visit us in the West Springfield Writing Center on any Wednesday after school, during any Spartan Time, or during all lunches on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Don't forget that this is only a small portion of our wonderful bunch of tutors and there are so many other great people to meet and get to know! (I promise most of them don't bite...hard) 

If you have any question about the Writing Center or more suggestions for further introducing students to the Writing Center, feel free to email me at sarahsblog1234@gmail.com!

Tutor Take the Wheel!

By: Candice Wong

Your hands tremble in your lap, your lips slowly dry out as each minute passes, and your heart hammers against your chest as you await your unpredictable fate ahead; these are the shared signs of anxiety before your first driving lesson and your first tutoring session.

Okay, I guess that was a bit dramatic, but you can’t disagree that ‘firsts’ give you the bad case of the butterflies in your stomach. Despite the fact that you grew up observing the road as a passenger or experienced being the tutee for many years, suddenly sitting in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively as a tutor can leave your mind swirling in confusion. In both cases, you don’t know what to expect. Not all roads are straight-shot; to get through a tutoring session and a driving lesson, you have to take many turns and maybe even a detour to get to your destination.

Every driver and tutor must be equipped with basic skills needed to perform their perspective tasks. The driver first learns how to control the gas pedal and the break of a car before they head out onto the road alongside other drivers. Similarly, the tutor’s ‘gas pedal and break’ practice is the simple training they receive before their first official tutoring session. Usually, they practice by observing other tutors. However, practicing driving in a parking lot and tutoring in a room amongst other experienced tutors is less intimidating. The only way to truly learn tutoring and driving is through experience with real-life situations that give you the ability to practice quick and critical thinking.

Even if you seemingly do everything right—signaling before turning, breaking slowly, and stopping at every stop sign—the possibility of a crash is inevitable due to the mistake of other people. The same goes for a tutoring session. There were times where I believed I perfected all the steps to make a tutoring session go smoothly as a tutor in my high school's writing center. I greeted the tutee, filled out the information sheet about what the tutee would prefer to focus on, and I even took the time to prepare handouts that the tutee might need. However, the tutee’s negative attitude stemmed from a stressful day at school made me crash to a point of confusion. The only solution was to focus on the aspects within my control—how I was going to remain positive and productive in the session and fulfill my role as a teacher. I continued being enthusiastic and engaged in my session even though the tutee did not put forth such an effort, yet I accepted that it was out of my control. I understood where the student was coming from since I’ve experienced some crummy days too.

You cannot learn driving or tutoring by solely watching someone else. Both require practice that gradually increases your skill level. There will always be bumps in the road that you don’t expect (and students who forget their rubric, assignment sheet, and basic grammar rules) but you learn through what these road bumps teach. The perseverance through these road blocks is what makes a good tutor and driver and don’t worry; I’ve done my fair share of crashing into a street sign as well.

Questions? Comments? Personal stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear all of them! You can contact me by email here.

Mrs. Pendry is the bomb.com

Writing has been a crucial part of education since the first writing system was devised in 3500 BCE. Recently, however, in classes that have been infamously heavy with writing, writing has taken a back seat to standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, AP exams, and other state testing. I interviewed a well-known and beloved teacher at West Springfield High School about her opinions of writing and education. Mrs. Pendry is an 11th grade American history teacher who loves her job.

Mrs. Pendry wholeheartedly supports writing as the most important ability in school especially for history because writing forces the students to explain their understanding of concepts, theories, and opposing viewpoints, and allows them express their own opinions. By showing the teachers what the students do or do not know, the teachers are given a better idea of where the students are and what the teachers need to go over again. It also gives the students the ability to gauge their understanding and what they need to review or work on for the next test or essay. Writing is a student’s ultimate opportunity to display their abilities and knowledge.

In regard to the aforementioned standardized tests, Mrs. Pendry believes that the writing portions are important in AP tests and would even have the multiple choice sections taken out in favor of more writing prompts. AP classes are simulations of freshman-level college classes, and in college, there are no Scantrons or anything like that. You have papers to write and take short answer tests to showcase your knowledge and abilities and learning how to write that way in high school is extremely important to your first year in college.

She believes that writing in both history and English classes (along with whatever other writing students are doing) is important because it exposes them to different formats/styles/genres of writing. This exposure leads to being more easily able to follow different formats in college and later in life because not every paper you have to write will be a five paragraph essay. For history and English writing specifically, it’s easy to see the difference. Along with the totally different subjects, history writing requires a historical past tense while English uses a literary present tense which requires a complete change in mindset when switching between writing styles.

In regard to our school’s Writing Center, Mrs. Pendry believes it is a really big help to students. From a history teacher’s perspective, the Writing Center is most useful and helpful when the tutor has taken that specific course because then the tutor already understands and has experienced the format/style of writing that is in that class whether it be a DBQ, short answer tests, or timed writing. Having a tutor who took the class also makes it more beneficial for the student because the tutor will be able to fact check the paper along with checking the writing component. This makes the Writing Center dual purpose and a great asset to teachers across the curriculum.

I finished the interview by asking her about what she thinks would be the ideal education system. In her idealistic mind, the best kind of school is one where everyone is happy. The students want to be there and want to learn. The teachers want to teach. The administrators enjoy their jobs. Her goal is to do everything in her power to make that come true and is obviously very successful because I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like her.

For any further questions, email me.

[Insert Witty Title of your Choice Here]

By Zack "Period 5 Token Male" Krajnak

Writing has a lot of rules. Grammar, citing, format, where to publish, even what pronouns can be used in which essays. A point of contention between all writers, though, seems to be how to manage the writing process. Start with a mind-map or an outline? Worry about grammar before or after the organization is finalized? Take it nice and slow, or become Stephen King and get 5 pages done in 2 hours every day (and a novel done every month)? Any discussion about how anyone starts their draft will almost certainly be met with a “Well. The way I do my prewriting stage…” before launching into an Iliad worthy epic about how they, personally, write their essays. Why so much disagreement? Why the incessant need to explain and rehash and restate why they do the things they do? Why all the rhetorical questions? Why do we care?

Writers, obviously, are people. People, obviously, are individuals (unless you have an identical twin. Sorry you guys). Thus it follows that writers are individuals (except for twins), so wouldn’t that appear through their writing? Of course it does, usually in the form of voice. A writer’s voice is the unique way they put together their writing, excessive, use, of, commas being an excellent example. Some people like to put together lengthy, eloquent, beautiful sentences that they must think flow from their keyboard like ink from a leaky pen, and, of course, they must be held together with multiple conjunctions. Others write very short sentences. Then they call it a day. Like fingerprints and actual voices, these minute, or extreme as the case may be, differences make it easy to tell one author’s work from another’s. Of course, ghost writers, like voice actors, can manage a passable facsimile of other’s voices, so it's not a foolproof way of determining authorship. Surely there is more that distinguishes writers from one another. And there is.

The aforementioned writing process is generally split into five stages. They are, in their usual order, pre-writing, drafting, editing, revision, and rewriting. Obviously some of these steps require other ones first; you can’t edit or revise a draft that isn’t there yet, and there isn’t much point in pre-writing after you’re done rewriting. However, more than a few of the steps don’t necessarily have to take place in that order. It depends on the writer. Some writers, like myself, do lots of pre-writing while writing the draft, always keeping the plan just a few steps ahead of the piece itself. Others compile a cohesive plan and definite course of action complete with quotes, citations, and key points pre-prepared before they even put the proverbial pen to paper. And for most, editing and revising are not individual steps but part of a fluid process of improving the initial draft. All of these differences point to small aspects of a writer’s personality. If you do less pre-writing (or perform it in a more relaxed manner), it typically comes from a tendency to be disorganized or spontaneous, though not always. All I know is that those writers I know who complete what are essentially entire essays in bullet points are much more organized in the rest of their life than I could ever hope to be, with my notebooks filled with scribbled notes, ideas, and food stains.

Then it's a question of correlation versus causation. Well, not really. We develop our personalities long before we develop our writing style, so anyone’s writing quirks most probably stem from their personality (although this is a generalization; certainly some people may pick things up from others and run with it, but things we develop for ourselves usually stem from personality). One of the more widely accepted (and my personal favorite) models for different personalities is the Myers-Briggs personality test. It divides people into 16 different personality types with 8 traits split between 4 categories. (You can read more about the test and how it relates to writers here) There isn’t really any scientific data about the different personality types in relation to writing style or to anything outside personality, really, but we can make some generalizations.

Statistics and graphic courtesy of moonrat

As one might expect, most writers are introverts; the more cerebral the person, the more likely they’ll express themselves through writing, not loud complaining in a crowded bar. With respect to fiction writing, thinkers (the T in the third category) may be more plot or situation driven due to their planning ability and likelihood to focus on events rather than people, but feelers (the F in the same category) would perhaps be more drawn to romantic or character driven works. With the same respect, thinkers might be more likely to do non-fiction works, like journalism or biographies due to their strong connection to facts and reality, while the feelers among us would perhaps be more frustrated with reality, and chase the romantic feelings we can express more freely in fictitious works. It’s enough to make you wish we had better data on it, huh?

If you’ve got input about how your personality affects your writing, or want to ask me about how my personality affects mine, you can contact me at zack.krajnak@gmail.com or by finding me in one of the dark corners in the school that I inhabit due to my status as an INTP. And feel free to suggest witty titles.