Our last installment on the Creative Writing graduate who writes on international adoptions focuses on her education at Slippery Rock, as an undergraduate and graduate student. As a teacher herself she was probably more specific the most about her development as a writer and how that development influences her current writing and her teaching.
When an undergraduate, this Creative Writing graduate “wrote everything down with a pen, and then I would type it.” The amount of writing that confronted her in graduate school forced a change in behavior, and “now I just do everything on the computer. My rough draft, everything …” Despite her extensive writing on-line, the subject also confessed to being “not that computer literate.” In fact, her computer only has MS Works, not Microsoft Office Suite, and she mentioned having the usual compatibility issue when it came to converting documents between Works and Word. There was no need to master any programs to participate in blogs and forums. “It’s already set up for you; everything’s set up for you.”
The subject was unusually specific and detailed regarding how both her undergraduate and graduate courses influence her current writing. In College Writing I she learned through her instructor’s feedback—“crossing out, fixing it”—to “control my words, not write so much.” More implied here was the value of writing often and writing multiple drafts. “Practice, practice, practice, and that’s one thing that helped me there was really just the constant practicing.”
During one semester she took both the fiction writing course and the Composition and Rhetoric course simultaneously. As a creative writing major, she confessed to favoring the fiction course, while the rhetoric course she “really just hated.” However, through the frequent peer reviews taking place among the fiction students she came to recognize the usefulness of learning about one’s audience and about Aristotle’s appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos, concepts that were emphasized in the rhetoric course. “And I find myself like teaching that; it stuck with me. And I think that’s helping me a lot in what I’m doing because there are times you have to know who’s listening. … And I got that from the rhetoric course.”
Graduate school, on the other hand, was responsible for honing her critical thinking and coming to appreciate a depth of research. The subject credited her graduate studies with providing her with the confidence to tackle the complex subject matter, the frequent on-line writing to readers with highly diverse positions, and the book project with which she was now involved. “I would have read the information, like ‘okay, I don’t agree’ and just found some other information and read that. But I wouldn’t have taken the next step to try to make change or reform. … I had a different mentality then as an undergrad, because I always did well in school. I just expected myself to do well and I did. But I always felt, even after I finished … ‘I’m not smart enough to do it.’
And then when I went to graduate school, in the beginning, I thought I was very bright; I still did very well, I absolutely did very well, but I had to really push myself to do that at all times. It wasn’t ever a case of, I can just write this.” It was in graduate school that the subject learned to navigate the article data-bases, to read and interpret professional literature, and to cast a more critical eye on source material. “Even in my undergrad, I would have been out there searching right now. If I came across me I’m thinking … ‘that person is, they know everything.’ Or if I had of found it, I would come on the other side of the coin, ‘okay, these people are totally, they know everything.’ That would be good enough, and I don’t really have to go any further. Where now, through the graduate work, ‘yeah right, I’m one opinion in a sea of others; yes I have some expertise.’ However, you have to look at these other sides …”
Not surprisingly, given her current work and her vivid memory of her undergraduate and graduate studies, the subject had several recommendations for strengthening undergraduate writing instruction. Giving students lots of practice writing was essential for her, including practice in both the computer lab and with the laptops in the Smart Carts. “I think that even with the grad students though, a lot of them, … they’re very computer illiterate. Where they’re not even knowing how to use Word; they can’t even change the indentation, they don’t know how to put a header or footer in.” A firm believer in peer review, she also endorsed “two peer reviews per class, two students that are so different. I think that it’s important that someone’s at your level of writing or above and then one that’s not. Because you’re helping them; they’re helping you. They might see something you didn’t even know you were talking about.”
Regarding instruction in research, the subject suggested putting more effort into critical assessment of potential source material, including the use of library databases and the development of a “comprehensive package” of sources that would include professional articles and books, and not just blogs, forums or advocacy web sites. (She was quite emphatic about not allowing Wikipedia entries as sources for student papers.) In her current research, she had developed a survey for distribution among Chinese foster parents; and while she had some practice creating such instruments when taking Social Anthropology as a community college student in California, she would have welcomed further instruction on them as an undergraduate.
Programmatically, the subject thought it good that more workshop oriented writing courses had been placed in the creative writing program, and added there should be more on “diversity in language. It was brought up … in my women’s studies course … We had talked about it a lot. And also in Linguistics we talked about it, but it was kind of like, we’ll touch on this for a second and move on.” I regret not pursuing this idea further with the subject, as it isn’t clear whether she meant we should insert a modern language requirement in the program, or a greater emphasis on such things as English dialects and levels of diction.
Her book project has demanded that she employ a greater variety of research approaches than has been true with other subjects. “I’m doing surveys right now, and then I also look at textbooks, of course. I listen for interviews on the radio, on YouTube, online, just wherever I can find things like that. Also I look at psychology and counseling reports; I’ve been looking in that field to find the long term outcomes of adopted people in general.” But she attributes her ability to do such work more to her graduate than her undergraduate experience. “I think you’re kind of, at the undergrad level, like, ‘okay, here, go out and do this.’ And then you’re kind of floundering, like ‘okay, I’ll kind of pick something out.’ Just knowing … I was actually one of the better students, I knew what my classmates were suffering … Because they were asking me all the time, like what do we do. ‘I can tell you what I’m doing, but I don’t really know either.’”