Faculty on Writing

Professor: Amy Orf
Department: Modern Languages and Literatures
Interviewed By: Jennifer Fong
Date: September 30, 2005

Interview:

Amy has been an instructor here at Northern for eight years.  She teaches the Spanish language classes 102, 201, 202 and 400, which range from beginning to intermediate Spanish and 400 is Advanced Composition and Grammar.  In her classes, she gives writing assignments as compositions.  Depending on the level of the class, she has her students compose a short paper of various subjects.  These compositions concentrate on the specific grammar and/or vocabulary lesson at the time. 

She believes that these compositions are very important because it is a basic skill of learning a foreign language.  However, because of her students’ academic dishonesty, she has struggled with how to assign them.  In the past, she has tried many ways such as assigning them to do at home.  This allowed many students to use pre-written text and friends that speak Spanish.  As a result, she has switched to giving them as in-class assignments.    

When asked about her students’ writing abilities, she says that within all of her classes, there is a lot of variety.  In reading the compositions, she can see a relation of competence in Spanish to competence in English.  Many students try to compose sentences in Spanish that they are not ready for, in an attempt to write as they would in English.  When grading, she looks first for the student’s own work.  Then she looks at the content, grammar, vocabulary, spelling and overall comprehensibility.  She also hopes for a traditional structure including an introduction, body and conclusion.  These things are also important in 400.

Amy has written personal letters and conference papers in the past, but right now she is working on her dissertation.  She is studying the history of Spanish grammar, tracking the evolution of the progressive tense in Spanish verbs.  In her own writing, she wishes that she could write quicker; instead, she tends to be slow and careful along the way.  Amy believes that it is important to know how to write.  She says that many people write informally in emails (without attention to grammar and spelling), but they need to be able to sound intelligent in writing resumes, job applications, etc.          

Amy has known the Writing Center since she started here (noting that she frequently saw it because it was next to the Language Lab at the time).  However, she has never sent her students to the Writing Center because there are specially placed Spanish tutors in the Language Lab and in the tutoring center. 

Response:

This is the third semester in a row that I have had Amy as an instructor.  I started with 102 and have progressed into 202 with her and even traveled to Granada, Spain with her this past summer.  So, when I originally approached her with my idea to interview her for this paper, she welcomed it warmly.  I originally wanted to use her as my subject because of my frustration with the changes that she makes from semester to semester with the compositions.     

The first semester I had her, the compositions were given in class, with no option to revise.  This made it easy to throw out instead of taking a closer look at our mistakes (due to lack of time with 18 credits).  The second semester, we were given the assignments as take-home.  After corrected by her, we were given the option to revise and resubmit.  Out of all of the time I have spent with her and the countless assignments I have done, these are what helped me the most.  I could more clearly see the basic rules of sentence structure and I looked up much more vocabulary in search of the articulation I was looking for.  In my revisions, I could better understand the differences between Spanish and English, even in the simple things such as direct and indirect object placement       

This experience, in addition to knowing that the fundamentals in English grammar are reading and writing, forces me to believe that these compositions and revisions are critical.  Practice makes perfect.  However, I am saddened by the fact that a few students have forced her to enough frustration that she’s had to change her tactics; but I do understand. 

After all of this time spent in her classroom, four days a week for three semesters, I have come to see and respect her passion for learning the Spanish language.  Through her, I have come to love and respect it too; learning Spanish has also heightened my love and respect for the English language.  And in hearing her thoughts about these questions has enlightened me even further.  I was able to hear her side and could definitely empathize with the hard decisions she must make about her lesson plans that are different from professors in other fields.   

In the end, I suggested to her that although we do them in-class again this semester (forcing students to do their own work), and then to allow us the revision process again….she said she’d think about it.  And further, that she would certainly welcome advice or attend a workshop on the plagiarism issue and how to grade compositions more holistically.