Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Personal Statements

Around this time of year, many people are going through the complicated process of applying to graduate schools. First, you have to choose which programs and universities you want to apply to. Then, as if finally deciding which program and university is right for you does not present enough of a challenge, it's time to actually work through the application material. A common element in almost all graduate school applications is the personal statement. Whether you're applying to a master's program, law school, or medical school, you will most likely need to write a personal statement. 
Universities receive thousands of applications a semester, and your personal statement gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes programs cite specific requirements for what to include in personal statements, but for the most part the content and structure is left up to you. In general, your personal statement should include the program you are applying for, the reason you are interested in the program /university, you education/professional goals, and contributions you can make to the program. When drafting your personal statement, try to keep these points in mind:
1. Be Original-Try to avoid writing a bland personal statement that does not communicate your personality and enthusiasm.
2. Be Concise-Try to avoid wordiness. Application committees have to sift through thousands of statements, so they will want you to be clear and to the point.
3. Be Relevant-Application committees are only interested in information that relates directly to you reasons for applying to their program and why you are a suitable candidate. Including unnecessary anecdotes and details will work against you.
4. Be Careful-Follow any guidelines the program provides, such as content, word count, and format. You do not want to be disqualified for not following directions.
These are only a few of the points to consider when writing a personal statement. You can access many personal statement related resources on the internet, as well as asking professors for advice. Writing a personal statement can be a stressful experience, but following these rules and using all of the available resources will put you on the path to writing a successful personal statement.     

Friday, October 26, 2012

Don’t Judge a Book by Its – Author?

           If you’re as much of a Potterhead as I am, J.K. Rowling’s name on the cover of any book is enough to pique your interest. Unfortunately, the nostalgia-induced excitement won’t be enough to get you through Rowling’s first post-Potter attempt, The Casual Vacancy. The story gets its impetus from the death of Barry Fairbrother, parish council leader and pseudo mayor of Pagford. The seemingly peaceful English village is secretly on the cusp of civil war with its citizens divided over how to deal with The Fields, the housing projects on the edge of town. Under Fairbrother, government housing is protected from the opposing political faction that wishes to foist it off into the hands of a neighboring town. With his seat up for grabs, tensions between the Pagfordians heighten and the future of The Fields is called into question. The remaining 400 pages detail numerous political and personal quarrels that are intended to offer a searing social commentary pitting the selfish, class-conscious citizens against those fighting on behalf of the Fields. Rowling’s argument, though noble, falls flat. Rather than allowing you to become emotionally involved in the conflict, the characters used to narrate the story alienate you through their pettiness and preoccupation with local gossip.
It’s understandable that Rowling, after completing Harry Potter, would want to deviate from her previously spell-strewn path. However, in creating the antithesis of Harry and his world she goes too far, trapping herself within the dank, lack-luster walls of reality. Where Hogwarts is enthralling and warm, Pagford is isolating and generic. Potter characters are fully developed with faults and backstories that reveal their motives, earning your admiration or censure. The Pagfordians are as charismatic and well rounded as ply board, leaving you uninterested in their successes and failures. Ultimately, weak characters and tedious plot lines combine to form a novel that is as disappointing as it is dreary. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Moving Past Disappointment

On Saturday, October 13, the Mountaineers suffered their first defeat. With hopes for a perfect season dashed, players and fans felt disappointed, to say the least. However, we don’t have much time to dwell on this blunder since we face the Wildcats on Saturday.
Like a football player or fan, a writer often has to move past disappointments. One of the worst feelings that can overwhelm a writer occurs when a professor returns your paper absolutely covered in red pen. At this point, it can be easy to give up. Some writers don’t realize, however, that this seemingly disastrous predicament provides the best chance to really impress your professor – not to mention, yourself. Has your professor provided you with the opportunity to revise your paper? Yes? Great! The question then becomes how to transform your paper.
The first thing to do is to identify what works and what doesn’t work within your paper. Is your topic too broad? If this is the case, you can narrow your topic by focusing on one main point and the implications of that point. An example of a broad paper topic is, “Chocolate is delicious.” A way to make this topic more specific would be to name the type of chocolate that is the most delicious and why. The new and improved topic could be something like, “Milk chocolate is delicious because its creamy texture melts in your mouth, making the taster happier by the second.”
If your topic was great but you didn’t support your argument well enough, try to add more force to your point. Go back and reread your paper from the opposite point of view. Do you see any claims you make that you would disagree with in this state of mind? If so, try to add emphasis to your original point. For the chocolate paper, you could reread the paper from a chocolate hater’s point of view.
Maybe your topic and support were great but your organization could be better. If this is the case, you’re probably better off than you imagined. Try taking a copy of your paper and cutting out each paragraph. With each paragraph separated, you can try different ways of organizing your ideas. The best part of this process is that you get to completely destroy and reconstruct your paper without doing lots of hard work!
Even if your professor will not allow you to revise your paper, you still have a chance to impress him or her with your next paper. Don’t be afraid to take some risks. For whatever reason, your original technique isn’t what your professor was looking for. A new approach might be exactly what you need to revitalize your paper. Most importantly, remember to take this great opportunity to really prove to yourself and your professor what you can accomplish!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Did You Say That?

      I think I can speak for a lot of students when I say, "Yeah, I know English pretty well and consider myself a good writer. Growing up in America and going to a school where English was the language used for class instruction, I'd become accustomed to the bombardment of grammatical rules and exercises that highlight K-12 English classes. Honestly, I never enjoyed those classes, especially high school level English, because classes often felt like one big grammatical exercise and my 10-11th grade teacher was pretty ruthless in the area of essay grading. After endless paper critiques and error filled grammar worksheets, I eventually came to accept the rigidness of English class, "sucked it up," and started making an active effort to ask why  rules were put in place in certain instances but not in others, what exceptions there were to different rules, and how I could utilize what I was learning to create a final product that I was proud of and enjoyed writing.
      From there I've worked to make each piece of writing a product of meticulous, cautious yet imaginative, always alliterative creation. I don't so much think of the why while writing anymore but rather the how  this  can be crafted in my usual writing style while addressing the given purpose. This brings me to the feeling of sudden discombobulation that I experienced while tutoring one day when an ESL student asked me, "How do you know when you're supposed to use in which and in that instead of just which or just that?"
      I was unable to produce an immediate answer because that wasn't something I had thought about for a long time, and I found myself mumbling up a storm as I thought out loud. While attempting to "jazz up" a piece of writing, I usually don't consider why saying a certain phrase in a certain instance is grammatically correct, I just think of the "fanciness" that I am thereby conferring to my paper. Instead of wasting more time trying to recall specifics, I used situational examples to illustrate how each phrase (that, which, in that, in which) could be used and how the meaning would be changed if one were used in place of the other. Although my initial confusion also inspired fleeting disappointment, as I like to be as specific and informative as possible, I was still able to elucidate some light on the complex process of writing, and for that the student (and I) were content, because we both learned something that day. Even though life is pretty yucked up with rules, sometimes you just have to go with what you know.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Even the Kids Are Doing It

After working at the WVU Writing Center for the past three years, I have applied my learning from my tutor training practicum appointment after appointment, day after day, and semester after semester. Although I was aware of the effectiveness of these strategies in practice at the center, I had thought that they were place-based, specific to the writing center learning environment.

As an Elementary Education major, I am learning how to teach students literacy skills in the classroom, helping them develop as not only readers and thinkers, but also as writers. In one of my methods classes, I am currently learning about the importance of establishing a time in the elementary classroom for "Writer's Workshop." During Writer's Workshop, students take part in the writing process and work collaboratively with their peers. Teachers model for the students how they should go through each step of the process and then allow the children to work with each other to develop their best writing possible. Students engage in conversations, brainstorming ideas for their writing, drafting pieces, and editing their work to make their ideas more clear and specific to their audience, all the while avoiding proofreading until they feel satisfied with all other aspects of their writing. This seems quite familiar...

Although I would never tell a second grader that they should think about the higher order concerns of their writing before they should think about their misuse of a comma, this similar structure applied in the elementary setting shows that learners of all ages benefit from their involvement in the writing process. When we can talk about our writing with someone else and bounce ideas off of one another, we are able to engage in collaborative learning experiences that help us foster our writing skills. And by going step by step to create a final product, we can look at how our writing has evolved and how we have grown as writers. This growth does not only occur for the person whose writing is being discussed, but also occurs for the peer.

Now reflecting back on these past three years as a tutor, I realize that just as the elementary-schoolers that I am student teaching benefit from their writing experiences, I too have benefited and am continuing to benefit from my work at the writing center. I have not only learned tutoring and teaching skills as an undergraduate tutor, but also have developed as a writer, appointment after appointment, day after day, and semester after semester.