Friday, March 29, 2013

Stereotype Vulnerability: Isms and Diversity in the Workplace


A woman falls to the floor after trying to hang a painting by herself.
Don't let your success be blocked by diversity barriers!
There are a variety of conditions, both personal and societal, that can prevent us from achieving success.

Specifically, success in the workplace can be halted by prejudices, biases, discrimination, and powerful "isms," like linguicism, ageism, and sexism.

One way for employees, both managers and subordinates alike, can help stop the perpetuation of barriers to success, is for everyone to be on the lookout for stereotype vulnerability.


What is Stereotype Vulnerability?


"Stereotype vulnerability" is a phrase that was coined by Dr. Claude Steele of Stanford University in 1995. It's defined in Richard Bucher's text, Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities as "The danger of not performing up to our ability because of our anxieties and fears about perpetuating a stereotype" (2010, pg. 89).

Linguicism and Stereotype Vulnerability


Say for moment that a hypothetical employee named Fred speaks English as a second language. If Fred were to receive instructions for a project from a manger, either spoken or written, and Fred did not completely and clearly understand the directions, Fred might be afraid to perpetuate the stereotype that those employees who are not native English speakers are less valuable employees because of poor communication skills. His fear of perpetuating the stereotype might prevent him from asking for clarity, or from asking for clarity from the proper person, and he might complete the project incorrectly. If questioned or reprimanded by a manager, he might even be too afraid at that point to admit his lack of understanding, thus setting himself up, perhaps, for further failure while at the same time not learning from his mistake and inadvertently perpetuating the stereotype he meant to avoid in the first place.

A manager, instead of waiting for employees to ask questions about the clarity of project instructions, might instead use active listening skills and request that employees, native and non-native speakers alike, repeat instructions back to the manager so he or she can ascertain whether or not the directions are clear. This paraphrasing technique should take place in a one-on-one setting so as not to embarrass any employee. In this way the manager is helping the employees, and the project, achieve a successful outcome.

Ageism and Stereotype Vulnerability


Employees who are either older or younger than the average employee in a company might also be affected by stereotype vulnerability. For example, older employees might refuse to ask for help using newer computer programs they were not taught in training programs when they were in school, and therefore they might take longer to complete projects. A manager might mistakenly feel these employees are "being too stubborn to ask" when really the employees are trying to prove they can learn independently. Furthermore, they may not be willing to perpetuate the stereotype that older employees lack essential computer skills. Likewise, younger employees might set themselves up for failure by taking on too many projects while trying to prove they have "enough experience to handle it" and are valuable assets to a company.

In these situations, a manager can help employees by offering all employees opportunities to learn new skills through professional development and occasionally check in with all employees to rebalance workloads and reassure employees that they are valued and respected members of their teams or departments.

Sexism and Stereotype Vulnerability


Some women may also feel a type of stereotype vulnerability in the workplace. There are times when male coworkers, although not intending to offend female counterparts, may offer to lift, carry, open, or move something they see a coworker attempting to lift, carry, open, or move herself. Depending on the situation, the woman may find the offer to help somewhat demeaning. If, for example, a woman is clearly struggling while trying to move a desk, any help would probably be extremely appreciated. If, on the other hand, a male coworker assumes a female coworker needs help hanging a frame in an office space when he sees her standing on a chair with a hammer, she may feel he is implying she is incapable of the task. After experiencing such assumptions on multiple occasions, in an effort to counteract such implications, that woman might try to prevent the perpetuation of the stereotype that women are the weaker sex by never asking for help to the extent that she may even risk injury instead of asking for or accepting assistance.

With policies in place regarding facilities and manual labor in the office, no matter the size of the office, many of these types of problems can be prevented. However, if a manager notices these types of dangerous situations becoming prevalent, it may be time to enact such policies or to find the root of the female employee’s persistence to never ask for assistance. Again, instead of labeling the employee “stubborn” or “antisocial,” the manager should attempt to assess whether or not stereotype vulnerability may be the root cause of the behavior.

Stereotype vulnerability can affect employees in ways neither managers nor the employees can ever truly predict. However, by having an understanding of the diverse psychological processes at work in a diverse workplace, all can be more prepared to handle such cases appropriately and productively.

References


Bucher, R. (2010). Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities. (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What is a Performative Utterance?

"Promises" by Christian Ditaputratama used with Creative Commons License.
The term "Performative Utterance" stems from J. L. Austin's Speech-act Theory. These types of statements are both, simultaneously, statements and actions.



John Langshaw Austin first delivered his Speech-act Theory as a series of lectures at Oxford in 1955. In those lectures, which were posthumously published with the title How to Do Things with Words, he introduced the notion that there is a type of statement we do not often consider, but a type that is nonetheless “enormously meaningful for ordinary users of language” (Richter, 2007, pg. 680). Austin called that special type of statement a performative utterance.

Statement as Action: A Speech Act


Simply put, when a person makes a performative utterance, that person is performing an action. Although the action could be performed in some other way, the person chooses to complete the action by uttering the performative words. For example, a person can give a name to a new kitten by stating aloud, “I name this kitten ‘Bartholomew.’” A club member can make a pledge to behave in a manner expected by the club by stating, “I pledge to always behave in a manner expected by the tenets of this club.” A teacher could assign her class homework by simply stating, “I assign you pages 679 – 690 in the Richter text as homework.”

The Right Words, Intention, and Context


In order for any of our example statements to be considered performative utterances, however, there are certain conditions that must be met.

First, this type of statement does not simply make a verifiably true or false statement. It is more than informing, explaining, describing, arguing, or telling a story. For example, naming a kitten “Bartholomew” is not the same as stating the meaning of the name, which could be looked up (verified or proven false) in a dictionary of names. Pledging to behave in a certain way is not the same as explaining the pledge or describing the pledging ceremony to another person.

Second, the uttering of the words must take place in an appropriate context. For example, practicing one’s wedding vows alone in front of a mirror does not mean the person has married himself or herself. Pledging commitment to a club or organization is contingent upon conditional membership to the club or organization. Furthermore, a student will generally need to be enrolled in a teacher’s class in order for that teacher to assign homework to that student.

Lastly, there is a condition that follows from both the first and the second conditions: The statement must have a true intention. The act intended by the words must be enacted by the speaker or speakers in good faith and “taken seriously” (Austin, 1962, pg. 684). For example, a person sarcastically exclaiming “I bet!” to a statement he clearly believes is false does not mean he is placing a bet. To bet was not the speaker’s intended action. Additionally, a person who says “I promise,” without having the intention to follow through on her promise, has not made a promise at all.

With these three conditions in mind, a more complete definition of performative utterance might read, “A type of statement we make using the right words, with the right intention, and in the right context in order to perform an action.”

Locutionary, Illocutionary, and Perlocutionary Speech Acts


Throughout his lectures Austin continued to refine his Speech-act Theory, and over time he defined three types of speech acts: locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary. A locutionary speech act is the act of saying something. An illocutionary speech act is the act of doing something by saying something. A perlocutionary speech act is a statement that has some sort of intended or unintended effect. A performative utterance falls under the second type of speech act, an illocutionary speech act.

For example, in order to name the kitten, the words must be spoken as a type of locutionary act, with proper vocabulary, grammar, and intonation (Austin, 1962, pg. 686). This distinguishes the locutionary act from the second type of act, the illocutionary performative utterance of naming the kitten. The consequence of the performative utterance, or the perlocutionary act, may be that from that point onward everyone in the household will call the kitten “Bartholomew.”

It is the second type of speech act, the illocutionary, which is the most important of the three, according to Austin. The other two exist in his theory to help define, by contrast, the second (pg. 688).

So, to now further complete the definition, I can end by declaring that a performative utterance is a type of illocutionary speech act, a type of statement that by being said using the right words, with the right intention, and in the right context, is a performance of the action intended by the speaker.

References

  • Austin, J.L. (1962). How to do things with words. In D. H. Richter (Ed.), The critical tradition; Classic texts and contemporary trends. (3rd ed.). (pp. 681-690). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.
  • Richter, D. H. (2007). The critical tradition; Classic texts and contemporary trends. (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

The Intent to Change; The Purpose and Benefit of Personal Altars

A personal altar can include any number of items.

No matter what's included on a personal altar, the key is to first clearly define the intent to change. The benefits are are numerous as the intentions.



There are moments when a person may realize that change is required in order to achieve a certain level of satisfaction with life. While knowing there is a nagging “something” that needs to change, that person may or may not be able to identify what that “something” might be. Creating a personal altar is a great way to both discover and initiate that type of change. Ultimately, the daily use of a personal altar can lead to positive life changes.

An Altar Begins with the Intent to Change


Whether or not the maker of an altar knows exactly how to identify the type of change he or she is seeking, one thing is clear: Creating an altar begins with the intention to change. Whatever type of change that may be, the benefit to a person’s life is in the intention to change.

Both Denise Linn in her 1999 book, Altars; Bringing Sacred Shrines into Your Everyday Life, and Peg Streep in her 1997 book, Altars Made Easy; A Complete Guide to Creating Your Own Sacred Space, agree that a person’s intention for creating an alter is an essential element. Linn writes that the items, placement, and arrangement of the altar will change based on a person’s intention (p. 86). Streep writes that intentions are what separate altars from mere and accidental groupings of items (p. 3).  

Consequently, if a person is having a hard time identifying what type of change is needed in order to reach a better place in life, creating an altar may be the next step in discovering the right path. For example, the combination of knowing “something” needs to change in her life and knowing she has lately been drawn to reminiscing over photographs of estranged family members, might help persuade a woman to create an altar in her home for these memories and photos. In this act of creation, she may be able to come to terms with how or why these family members are so distant, and it may help her begin the steps needed for reconnecting or reconciliation. In this example, this altar’s grouping is certainly not an accidental grouping of items but rather a manifestation of a subconscious desire to change a situation.  The act of choosing items can help define a personal challenge or identify a nagging situation.

An Altar’s Purpose


According to The Herder Dictionary of Symbols, an altar is “a raised place . . . that serves the purpose of sacrifice and other sacred acts in almost all religions” (Matthews, 1993 p. 5). The making of an altar does not conflict with a person’s religious views, but rather enforces whatever belief system a person my already have. Sacrifice, though the word may conjure images of horrible, medieval acts, can simply mean “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy” (Jewell & Abate, 2001, p. 1499).

Perhaps placing a mobile device on an altar for an entire day might demonstrate a need for introspection and solitude?

Every altar is set up to reflect the change one wishes to see in one’s life by the deliberate placement of items and the making of speech acts. When the maker of an altar places an item on an altar, that person is offering that item to something greater, no matter an individual’s spiritual or religious beliefs. The intent is sacrifice and remembrance. The same principle is true when one makes a speech act at an altar. A speech act, otherwise known as a performative utterance, is defined as something a person says that also denotes the intended action, like a promise or a vow. A speech act made at an altar is a vow to change, or to give up one thought or activity for another.

To continue with the example of the woman who realized her desire to reconnect with distant family members, her altar now serves not only as a daily reminder to strive toward her intended change, but it can also be a place where she can ruminate, meditate, or pray about her situation. To be more specific, she could use her altar as a place to make performative utterances, affirmations about why she wants to reconnect, or she may need to take time at her altar to strive to forgive herself or her family for whatever it may have been that caused them to grow distant. When she spends time at her altar, she spends time devoting herself to something greater by sacrificing hurt and distance for love and acceptance. Although it may take time, the benefit to this woman could be a connection to her family she may have never felt before.

The Benefits


One way for a person to initiate a change in his or her life is to sacrifice time, thoughts, and meaningful items in the creation and use of a personal altar. Although life changes can always be made without the creation of an altar, by seeing the altar every day in a dedicated, physical space, a person will be reminded of the intention behind creating the altar and maintain the motivation to change.

The additional benefits for the creators of altars are as varied as the intentions behind the creation. The benefits can be emotional, physical, cognitive, spiritual, or behavioral. No matter what the ultimate benefit, however, it all begins with the intent to change.

Want to read more about altars?  Try

Personal Altars in Celebration of Holy Week



References

  • Jewell, E.J., & Abate, F. (Eds.). (2001). The new Oxford American dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Linn, D. (1999). Alters: Bringing sacred shrines into your everyday life. New York: Ballentine Wellspring.
  • Matthews, B. (Trans.). (1993). The Herder dictionary of symbols. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications.
  • Streep, P. (1997). Alters made easy: A complete guide to creating your own sacred space. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Personal Altars in Celebration of Holy Week

A personal altar with a rosary, prayer candle, and religious texts
This type of  altar can enhance how spiritual traditions are practiced at home.

A personal shrine, oftentimes called a personal altar, can help a person focus and maintain his or her daily prayers and meditations.



Not to be confused with the consecrated altars found in churches, this type of altar, or prayer space, can easily be put together in a matter of minutes or hours. No matter a person's religious affiliation, this type of altar can greatly enhance how spiritual traditions are practiced at home.

How Does a Personal Altar Work?


These altars, or shrines, offer the faithful places in the home where they are called to, and reminded to, reflect. Placed in a prominent or central location in a home, simply seeing the altar can remind a person of the intent to pray. For example, a person might simply place a religious item or a few items that have great significance in the center of a dining or kitchen table. During mealtimes, this person, or a family, can be reminded of the importance of prayers of gratitude before meals. If this is a busy place in the home, this small shrine might help family members find a moment of peace or calm in an otherwise over-packed day.

Alternatively, if a personal altar is placed in a quiet location in the home, a person can create the perfect environment to relax and meditate peacefully, without distraction or interruption. The choice of a location, or the choice for multiple locations, is up to the person or family depending on their needs.

What Types of Items Can Be Placed on a Personal Altar or Shrine?


Any type of item that allows a person to reflect on the Christian message is a useful item on a personal altar. Items could be personal, like photographs or original, handwritten prayers and intentions. Items could also represent the ritual and ceremony of various Christian religions, like a cross or crucifix, holy water, prayer cards, rosaries, hymnals and worship texts, or prayer candles. At various times of the year, according to the Christian calendar, items on a person’s altar can shift and change for the season.

Families of mixed religious backgrounds can work together to create shrines or altars that represent values common to both traditions.

What Can I Place on My Altar or Shrine for Holy Week?


During Holy Week, items a person places on a personal altar might relate more directly to the week’s worship and message. For example, a person might choose this location for Bishop Untener’s black (Lenten) or white (Easter) books, palms from Palm Sunday, a reminder of a Lenten sacrifice, a collection plate, readings and reflections on Baptism, a painting or statue depicting Jesus at Gethsemane, readings from The Passion, or readings from The Stations of the Cross.

A person might also choose special times throughout the week to exchange certain items for others depending on the day. For example, an image of The Last Supper might be displayed on Thursday, and perhaps a hammer or nails might be displayed on Friday. Dyed eggs or a lamb statue might be displayed on Sunday.

The most important point to remember is that a personal altar is just that - personal. The intent behind such an area in a home is to assist an individual or family with creating a spiritual life that can be celebrated in the home. There are as many options for placement and items as there are individuals and families. There's no wrong way to create an altar or shrine in your home, as long as it is used to encourage spiritual or religious growth.


Want to read more about altars?  Try The Purpose and Benefit of Personal Altars.


Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sentence Diagramming: Diagramming Appositives

An appositive renames or adds more information about a preceding noun or pronoun within a sentence. An appositive can be one noun or an entire noun phrase. Writers often use appositives to add more clarity or variety to their writing.


What is an Appositive?

Appositives can be Restrictive or Non-Restrictive 


Some appositives offer essential information, and others offer extra information.  When an appositive offers extra information, it is what's called non-restrictive, or a parenthetical.  A parenthetical can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.  When the appositive offers essential information and cannot be removed from the sentence without confusing the reader, it's called a restrictive appositive.

Examples of Appositives


Take a look at the following sentence: “My cat, Pumpkin, likes to sleep in the chair.” In this example “Pumpkin” renames “My cat.” The proper noun renames the subject of the sentence.  However, "Pumpkin" can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.  It's parenthetical, and it's set apart from the rest of the sentence with commas.  "Pumpkin" is the appositive.







Here is a second example: “Blue, my aunt’s cat, is much bigger than my cat.” In this second example, the phrase “’my aunt’s cat” renames the subject, the proper noun “Blue.”







The appositive should always follow the noun for which it offers additional information.

Diagramming Appositives


To diagram a non-restrictive (or parenthetical) appositive, simply rename the subject, using parenthesis.  Fill in the predicate and any modifiers as included.  Place any modifiers for the subject underneath the subject, and any modifiers for the appositive underneath the appositive.  A restrictive appositive will be diagrammed the same, but without the parenthesis.









In the sentence, "Ms. Jenks, the teacher, smiled in class," "Ms. Jenks" is the subject.  The appositive noun is "teacher." The verb in the sentence is "smiled," which is modified by the prepositional phrase, "in class."  Because "the" is the article for "teacher," it is placed under "teacher."  Note that the subject and the appositive noun share the base line.

 The same pattern used in this sentence will apply to any sentence that contains appositives.  A non-restrictive (or parenthetical) appositive is placed in parenthesis following the noun it renames.  A restrictive appositive is not.  Any modifiers for that appositive are diagrammed underneath the appositive.



For more information about sentence diagramming, please take a look at my complete course about sentence diagramming on Udemy.  Use the coupon code "Blog" to sign up for a Udemy account and get $15.00 off the regular price of my course!  My complete textbook, Diagramming Sentences, is also available in Kindle edition on Amazon.  It includes 150 exercise sentences and answer keys!



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Part I: The Use of Narrative Assignments in Introductory Literature Courses


In my Introduction to Literature classes, it's the critical thinking skills that matter. I achieve results through the use of the narrative essay.

"Discussion" was really just a moment of silence.


I had not been teaching a year when I realized I wasn't teaching our Introduction to Literature class effectively. Students were plagiarizing or purchasing papers, and others were submitting mostly mind-numbing cookie-cutter essays that hadn't been revised in the slightest. Worst of all, "class discussion" was really just a moment of silence while students waited for me to tell them what the literary work they were supposed to have read for homework was all about. For the most part, they weren't reading. I vowed to turn it around, and in my search for answers I read Sheridan Blau's The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers and Allen Mendler's Motivating Students Who Don't Care: Successful Techniques for Educators. They both helped me change my habits.

It is the ability to think critically that's important in my class.


Having been an English major, I had a preconceived idea about what an academic essay about a literary work should look like and how it should read. But as an English major, I already knew how to think and analyze my way through a piece of literature. I was already determined to do everything I needed to do in order to understand a piece of literature better. With my students, non-majors, I had to go back to what was missing. I had to find a way to draw their attention to the experience, not the assignment. I realized that it is theability to think critically that's important in my literature class. The assignment, the product, is just that - the product of the experience. Therefore, I eliminated my expectation for students to write traditional expository and argumentative essay assignments,  and I shifted the focus of the assignment from the mode of the essay to the goal of the essay.

The goal of the essay is for students to be able to prove they can use primary and secondary sources, reason and logic, and theoretical methodology to support an interpretation of a literary work; in essence, an argument about the meaning of the literary work.  Then, I encourage the use of narrative paragraphs, chronological paragraphs, to teach students how to experience literature.  This assignment, with the requirements in place for the students to think through the literature and come to interpretive conclusions deductively, has made all the difference in the world in the development of their critical thinking skills.

Their outlines become planned actions.


First, asking students to tell me the story about what they did to understand the reading better drives them to take ownership of their own understanding. Because of the narrative format, their outlines become planned actions. Student papers are then full of action verbs, such as "chart," "list," and "compare." More importantly, without research being directly required, I have data from assessment projects that show more than half the students consistently use not only general research sources, but theoretical and literary research. Students are more likely in the narrative essay to want me to know they've used research because they are reporting to me what they did, not merely what they already know, or worse yet, what they think I think they should know. This makes it more likely they will introduce the evidence smoothly and cite it properly. Without being asked directly to do so, students find creative ways to meet the requirements of the assignment, which makes for genuinely interesting and creative prose. In this, real learning is taking place.

They begin to think in the abstract.


Another benefit to using the narrative essay for literature class writing assignments is that there's less pressure on the student to find "the" answer to what a work of literature means. Again, this makes for interesting prose and creative analysis. I find that as students begin answering their own questions about literature, not questions derived from the anthology or from my own ideas, they begin to understand the concept of literary theory. As we discuss their own questions during class and within their writing, I can point them, individually, to literary approaches I can see already might interest them. They begin to think in the abstract and formulate their own systems of thought.

Students evaluate their own thought processes.


As a final example of how the narrative has helped me shift the paradigm in my literature courses from product to process, I can say with certainty that students who are loathe to revise have begun to do so. Getting students to revise their writing, in my experience, has been a losing battle. However, because students cannot possibly have thesis statements and complete topic sentences until after the experiential process has been completed, they must go back to the rough drafts at some point to revise, at minimum, those few sentences. Unlike the argumentative essay that asks students to evaluate the ideas of others, the narrative requires students to evaluate their own ideas.

As I continue to revise and restructure my Introduction to Literature courses, I find there are benefits to using the narrative assignment that are too many to list here. Of all of those, however, the most astounding benefit to my own students has been a noticeable increase in their ability to think critically about the works of literature they are actually, now, reading.

Read Part II: The Use of Narrative Assignments in Introductory Literature Courses.


Want to read more about narrative essays?



 

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

The Importance of the Mission Statement in Small Press Publishing


A well-worded mission statement is a must-have for small press and independent publishers. It's important not only to editors, but to writers.


There are two angles to discuss when considering the importance of the mission statement in small press or independent publishing. First, the mission statement acts as a measuring stick by which unsolicited submissions can be judged by the publisher. Consequently, it is also the most valuable submission guideline a writer should review prior to submitting work to any publisher.

The Consistent Rubric


The greatest value of the mission statement for the publisher is that it is a consistent rubric, or "yardstick," for an editor to use when having to make decisions about unsolicited manuscripts. Regardless of whether or not a manuscript or submission is "good" writing, if it does not meet requirements as stated in the mission statement, the writing should be returned to the writer so that he or she can submit the work to another publisher. Although this is arguably important to all publishing companies, large and small, the small or independent press is often run by a skeleton crew of people who probably also have day jobs. It's exceptionally important that their "labor of love" publishing business run as efficiently and effortlessly as possible.

The Company Identity 


An additional benefit to the publisher is that having a finely-worded mission statement available on a Web site will also reduce the number of ill-suited manuscripts and submissions publishers will have to read, judge, and otherwise handle. It's important, then, that the publisher include in the mission statement two pieces of invaluable information: what exactly they want to publish, and what it is they do. Once this information is made available, the quality of writing a publisher receives will shift and change to better meet the needs of its readers. Once this happens, the identity of the company, as stated in the mission statement, is solidified.

The Window to the Publisher's Soul


For the writer, the mission statement of any given small or independent publishing company should be seen as the "window to its soul." The mission statement of any publisher should be reviewed as carefully as any of the other submission guidelines. For example, if a writer wants to publish chapbook of pastoral odes about Upper Michigan, he or she should not send the manuscript to a publisher whose mission statement reads, "We are publishers of regional Finnish and Polish recipes," whether or not they meet all of the other submission guidelines. Furthermore, a writer who has written a novella and wants to sell books internationally on a book tour should not submit the manuscript to a publisher whose mission statement reads, "We publish novellas in limited numbers for bookstores in the metro Atlanta area." Writers should always avoid the mistake of scatter-shot submissions and aim directly for publishers that can help them reach their intended audiences.

Although the advice here is simple, the benefits are numerous. All small press and independent publishers should have finely-worded mission statements published in prominent places on their Web sites. All writers wishing to be published by small press and independent publishers should carefully review the mission statement of any publisher prior to submitting work. In the end, it will help both writers and publishers work more efficiently to help put the right work into the hands of the right readers.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.