Word Clouds and Wait-Time (or, What Happens During Summer Break?)

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An article I wrote in 2021 explores the value of using concordancing software as a tool for pedagogical reflection. The practice is simple: faculty collect a set of assignments, reflections, or open-ended evaluations from students into a single document, and the resulting file is analyzed via word cloud software (such as this free version) or a concordancing program (such as AntConc) to discover patterns of lexical use that point to dominant themes in the data. 


In May, as I am wrapping up my first semester as coordinator of a Writing Fellows program (tied closely this past year to our first-year composition and corequisite courses), I have decided to look at the second-semester reflections of the student fellows through the lens of lexical analysis. As might be expected, the most common noun mentioned was students; after all, the fellows program is student-centered, and tutoring reflections understandably center on the fellows’ interactions with students. But among the many other words that were highlighted in my analysis, one in particular stood out:  wait. When I looked more closely, it was clear that students used this word only when conjoined to another: time. Wait-time was a concept that one of the fellows had encountered as part of training she had received as a supplemental instructor for our university; she later chose an article about wait-time in second-language instruction as a basis for a seminar discussion she led. The fellows group as a whole latched onto this idea as a critical factor—not just for tutoring, but for writing, learning, and thinking in general. 


Wait-time—for processing, exploring, testing ideas, playing with language—underlies much of the learning process. (And as I pointed out in a post a couple of weeks ago, our time-bound schedules for classes and semesters often militate against wait-time, both on a macro and micro scale.) When wait-time is offered, learners move forward at a pace that suits them, and they can (perhaps) carry ideas forward as well, ideas that might otherwise have been abandoned in the effort to keep up with the instructor or the tutor or the clock.


After two intense semesters of collaborative learning with these student writing fellows, we are facing a long summer break. Fortunately, all but one of the fellows will be returning to the program in the fall; in fact, I considered this past week giving the fellows some sort of summer assignment—reading a book, journaling, revising their “philosophy of tutoring” statements, mapping out personal goals for the fall, or doing some thematic coding of data we collected during the past year. But I think, instead, I am going to consider this summer an extended form of wait-time—just to see what happens, both for the fellows and for myself. Many of them will be doing what I would assign anyway, as part of their normal routines. But I don’t want to determine what that practice looks like for any of them; I’d like to see where this wait-time takes them—as writers, tutors, readers, and whatever else they are becoming.


Our work in first-year composition programs—and with other undergraduate programs—is always going to be constrained by institutional schedules and timeframes. But having seen the results of wait-time across semesters (as well as across months or years in creative and collaborative projects), I am wondering how we might invite extended wait-time in spite of those institutional constraints.  Any thoughts? I’ll be considering that question this summer—and waiting to see what possibilities emerge.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.