Sunday, January 30, 2011

Post Two: "Renting to Own"

Two things about chapter two of "The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring" absolutely struck home to me.

First - The idea of metacognition (thinking about thinking) versus thinking subconsciously, particularly as it applies to the writing process.  This is something I have never considered before, probably because I tend to do most of my thinking internally and subconsciously:  as a reasonably well-trained and skilled writer, I generally sit down, research a topic, and begin writing.  The actual processes of brainstorming, outlining, planning, revising, and so forth are not something that I often consciously consider.  Thus, I think it can sometimes be frustrating for me as a tutor when students have difficulty just sitting down and letting words flow.  After reading about the idea of writing using metacognition, though, things have started to fall into place a bit more.  For students who are less skilled in the writing process, who have practiced less, or who are less comfortable with writing, metacognition is exactly what they need.  Thinking about the steps they need to take to set themselves up for success can only help them become stronger and more confident writers.

I also found helpful this model of writing, which describes writing as a problem-solving activity.  More detail can be found here, but basically the model involves three parts:
1) the task environment, or the motivation for writing
2) long term memory, or information about topical knowledge
3) working memory, comprised of a - planning; b - translating; c - reviewing
After reading through this model in addition to ch. 2 of Longman, the many reasons to help students who come to the writing center become metacognizant of the writing process crystallized.

The second thing that struck me about this chapter was the idea of "renting" versus "owning" your writing.  I completely agree that the ultimate goal of any writer should be to own their writing; however, I think this is where a lot of students who 'hate' writing hit their brick wall.  Since they feel that they are writing to fulfill a teacher's expectations rather than for their own sake, they merely occupy their paper.  They never really own the information, and thus they never engage with the text and never learn to enjoy the writing process.  To further the housing metaphor, these students have a house but never a home.  Students who, in contrast, learn to own their writing - to really engage with what they are saying - have a much better shot at actually enjoying the writing process.  Their purpose goes beyond merely fulfilling an assignment (although they may not realize it), and so writing becomes much less of a bore and a chore.  As a tutor, if we can instill the "own" instead of "rent" mentality in students, I think it will go a long way towards lessening frustrations and helping students at least tolerate, if not enjoy, writing assignments.  While we may not always be able to reach the 'ideal' in practice (after all, check out the definition of ideal - we're talking standard or conception here, not reality), helping students learn to own their writing can at least help us move one notch closer to the ideal we all want to work towards.

1 comment:

  1. "To further the housing metaphor, these students have a house but never a home."

    Nicely put--it is very difficult to push students towards seeing how their writing is really "theirs" and not simply a forced position. I like this metaphor b/c it is so useful for what we do at the WC. Thanks for a great post.