09-09-09Murphy and Sherwood addressed several points that I have been considering. These points are all tied into my perceptions that the CTL encourages multidisciplinary collaboration. Although I am a huge proponent of multi-disciplinary approaches to education, I think we need to be cautious. Multidisciplinary approaches do not just emerge from a diverse set of people. Productive multidisciplinary collaboration requires diversity and understanding. I very much feel that the CTL addresses both the diversity and the understanding that a multidisciplinary environment requires. The weekly meetings and friendly atmosphere help create an open forum among the TAs and Tutors within the CTL. Still, I have experienced certain apprehensions about my place in the CTL and ENG sections. These apprehensions fall into two categories, the interpersonal, and the inter-theoretical.Similar to the notion that the multi disciplinary nature of the CTL requires a common understanding is the notion that the relationship between the students and I needs a common understanding; this understanding will be the foundation from which to build rapport. I have been concerned that, because my background is not specific to English and/or composition, the students who come to the CTL might be doubtful about my ability to be of assistance with writing. Skepticism is warranted. As conscientious students, they are right to place the onus of proving legitimacy upon me. While I generally feel at ease with the notion that I can clear away doubt by building collaborative relationships with students, I try to stay attentive to the dynamic that exists between myself and the individual students. It would be naïve and presumptuous for me to assume that each student accepts that I am a credible TA for an English section. To me, the interpersonal realm must be the beginning. I am always asking myself questions. Are we clear about what we are attempting to communicate to one another? Are we working towards the same goal(s)? Is the level of trust increasing or decreasing between us? Are we comfortable enough to honestly disagree with one another? Etc…
Moving from the interpersonal to the inter-theoretical, the problem-set I face only exchanges variables. Instead of asking how I mesh with those around me, I have to ask how my views on language and learning mesh with the overarching theoretical constructs and principles that guide the CTL. I had buffered against my apprehensions with my own personal philosophical biases about the relationship between language and ideas. While I do not think that what we label “thinking” or “knowledge” is analogous to our linguistic phenomenon (including internal dialog), I do think that language is inextricably linked to the rest off our higher-order cognitive faculties (e.g. abstraction); thus, to talk of writing is to talk of a specific mode of cognitive engagement with the world. This relationship between language and experience is such that the boundaries of experience are largely framed by the boundaries of language. Conversely, experience can largely determine what linguistic tools any one person can appropriate for his or her usage. I use the label linguistic tool broadly. We can label grammatical devices linguistic tools. We can also label modes of discourse linguistic tools. In the very broadest sense, and what I am getting at here, is that writing is a linguistic tool. Did I just state the Obvious? No, I did not. Writing is not necessarily co-extensive with language, and composition is not necessarily co-extensive with writing. Because we are so linguistically oriented by our nature as social creatures, we tend to get into the mind set of “oh, I know what I mean, it’s just a matter of putting it on paper”; we tend to believe that each of our utterances, a priori, inheres meaning. One thinks one knows what one wants to communicate and one falsely generalizes one’s view point to others; as such, one tends to assume that the meaning of each utterance, no matter how convoluted or distorted, is clear and concise. Meaning cannot emerge from proper grammar and spelling, but grammar can help us bring clarity to our ideas. As we work with students, we need to be cognizant of lower and higher-level aspects of each individual’s orientation to writing. How can we apply interesting mechanics to our writing to give voice to our complex ideas? How does that refining that takes place in the writing process allow us to elaborate?Composition/Rhetoric/Writing is a cluster of nested variables that can never exist in a uni-disciplinary environment. So, while the world we live in tends to place various theoretical perspectives and disciplines in antagonistic relationships, I feel we have an obligation to exist among these perspectives and disciplines in such a way that allows us to help rectify some of this cross-discipline/cross-theoretical antagonism.
When I read most “good” literature on tutoring writing, I tend to simply find myself agreeing and saying “yes” these authors understand how to tutor. St. Martin’s is an unusually good sourcebook because not only do I find myself agreeing with their definitions and explanations of tutoring, they have taught me something new when they say, “Bawarshi and Pelkowsi contend that nontraditional students, upon receiving their first exposure to academic writing, often feel as if they are losing something in the transformation” (p.5). For me, writing has always been a method of self-expression. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that some would find it initially stifling, yet after they point this out as one theory on writing I can see examples from my own tutoring experiences that would support this thesis.