Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Curveball Consultation

 Many of you know the standard routine of an English tutor's workThat is to say, we have all had consultations that become regular and have a theme. Maybe you tend to get a large amount of History papers, or rather you have quite a collection of creative writing. Whatever you may feel this to be we all have a consultation that we are used to. But what happens when you get a very short or long piece or writing that you don't know what to do? To many this sounds like a nightmare only a tutor would have, but to us (tutors) this is a very feared event. This article will be specifically focusing on very short consultations with an overview on how to help other strange consolations. To overcome this problem, we will first need to get an example of it.  

One day while working at my local high school as a tutor I saw I had a client that day. Nothing seemed to be abnormal and all the client stated for the writing piece was that it was a thesis. I didn't realize how much problems this small paragraph could give. The client then arrived, and we began. The first thing I asked was what we were working on today, and the client replied with correcting a thesis that she got a low grade on. The client then pulled out a paper that had a ninety-five percent written on it. This posed three problems: one I was correcting a thesis paragraph which has an extremely low amount of content, second the client had received a high grade so there was very little to fix that they got wrong and three the client had already written the rest of the paper. It was quite a challenge to overcome, but in the end I thought of the solution much after the frustrating consultation of that day. 

To sum up what happened in the end the client and I spent about ten minutes to fix something that could have been done in two. It was extremely hard to find anything other to do then to fix what they had and suggestions on making sure they do it correctly in future writing. I left feeling defeated and the client didn't get much out of it. One solution to avoid short consultations is to ask if the client would like to talk about anything else. This helps guide the consultation towards more on what the client is avidly looking for. Another helpful trick is to ask whether the client has anything else they want to work on if you somehow finish the main writing piece with a good amount of spare time, lastly if you're given a short piece (intro, outline) you can help the client plan their next step in the paper 

In the end communication is the most important part. You must ask what the client wants and what they bring. If they bring an item that's small, maybe you'll have enough time to start on another item. If they bring in a giant piece suggest they try to get more time so that you two can finish it another day. You may get a piece you really don't agree on it ideals, for these all you have to do is put aside your personal beliefs and remain professional (Say perhaps an essay on why people should not eat meat). There are many types of strange things like these: just remember if you get one that you heavily reflect on how to improve upon it.  

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

PeerCentered FlashMob, IWCA Rendition

By popular demand*, PeerCentered, the blog for, about, and by peer writing tutors will be holding an IWCA rendition  the PeerCentered Flashmob on Saturday, November 11, 2017 at Riverwalk A in order to celebrate Coffee & Tea. Coffee and tea will be available. Ok, ok, PeerCentered makes no claim to actually sponsoring the coffee and tea that IWCA is kindly providing us, but we are happy to celebrate it by FlashMobbing. 

Come get your gold sticker!  Dance if you want to!  Don't dance if you don't want to!

Be quick, though, the PeerCentered FlashMob doesn't laze around.  It is over in exactly five minutes.

 *Does one person count as "popular demand?"

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Survey on the Initial Preparation/Training for Undergraduate Writing Consultants


We are two undergraduate writing consultants and a writing center director at Carleton, a liberal-arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, and we are reaching out to ask for your help.  We’re conducting a brief survey of undergraduate writing consultants and tutors on their initial preparation/training for the job.

Our goal is to learn which readings, topics, and activities undergraduate consultants--specifically, those who have at least a term, quarter, trimester, or semester of experience under their belts--have found most useful and illuminating as they have prepared for and conducted meeting with writers.

We will present the survey results at the 2017 International Writing Centers Association conference in Chicago this November. The findings will likely be of interest to both current writing consultants and those who train and supervise them. The survey link is:

We hope to answer the following questions: Are undergraduate consultants learning what their supervisors believe they’re learning? What can we discern about how tutors understand their work from this information? We appreciate your input and look forward to analyzing the responses we receive.

The survey takes 10 minutes or less to complete, and we would be grateful if you, your co-workers, and/or your consultants--any undergraduate writing consultant with at least one term, trimester, semester, or quarter of experience--would complete it before October 16. Including one's name and email address is optional; we will not include that information in the presentation or any subsequent dissemination. We will, however, share our findings with anyone who provides an email address.

Thank you very much for your assistance!


Brynne Diggins ‘19, Kathy Evertz, and Avery Naughton ‘18
Carleton College Writing Center
Gould Library 420C

One North College St. / Northfield, MN  55057

Monday, July 31, 2017

Is it just me or has anyone else been accused of being racist?

Okay, to be fair, her feedback survey only mentioned that I was biased against the argument of her paper, black civil rights, and while I don’t think I am racist--and I’m definitely not opposed to addressing police brutality in African American communities--her comments made me stop and wonder: am I racist? As a white male, when I enter a consultation with a minority, say a woman of color, can what I do, how I present myself, and how I help be racist?
She wanted a grammar check, that infamous check for grammar, the insatiable wailing toddler in the backseat of consultations, the archnemesis to the tutor’s goodwill. I explained that I’d do my best to “help you become a better reviser of your own work” as I usually do, and then we got under way. As we grazed over the introduction and crossed into her claim, comma splices, standalone demonstrative articles, and FANBOYS felt like distractions to the ambiguity that was trying to be her thesis. In order to address the higher order concern, I suggested that she specify her claim, posing neutral questions like “how specifically do police treat African American communities differently?” and “in what ways is this a problem?” Without explicit permission, I trailed from her initial request to what I considered a more relevant prescription.
Even worse than straying from her initial request, my neutral questions were too specific. Nick, an admin at our writing center, later explained how oftentimes clients don’t distinguish themselves from their writing and take criticism of their writing as criticism of themselves. My questions de-validated her argument, challenging the legitimacy of police brutality instead of prompting her to think critically about the development of her argument and specifying her thesis. Both my decision to address an unwanted higher order concern and how I posed my questions obstructed the flow: because she thought I disagreed with her, she may have assumed me less able to help and been more reluctant to receive it.
So, I have already conceded that my tutoring tactics failed me, but what if there’s more to the story? What if our subconscious recognition of the fact that I’m a white man and she’s a black woman further exacerbated the issue? We each bring identity constructions to the literal table; however as strangers, we both can only recognize those identities apparent to us. I failed to see beyond that which was apparent in her, that she’s female and black. She recognized that I’m a white male, but failed to see that I’m gay, liberal, Houstonian, etc--some of which are identities that, had she known, might have reduced the chances of her drawing the conclusion that I was biased against her topic.
    As tutors, we must be vigilant of identity constructions. We are members of a profession that demands we transgress into insecure spaces, especially when a client’s identity plays a role in the topic of their work. The questions I asked delegitimized her argument and its relation to her identity. In precarious consultations like this one, we should use our acknowledgement of the potential for misconstruction to ask questions that situate the client as the authority over content. More general statements like “what is it that you argue in this paragraph?” and “okay, so summarize that and include it in your thesis” keep the conversation grounded in the essay and remove potential interference from identity constructions.
The answer to my question is yes and no: I may not be racist for blundering as a tutor, but I offended my client’s identity, thereby disrupting our rapport, which in turn inhibited her learning process.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Putty People

It's good to be a flexible consultant, but not too flexible.

Those that are flexible can change consulting styles from session to session or even within a session, depending on the situation. Yet, it’s still important to have that stiff backbone. A good consultant reminds me of those bendy rulers we all had in elementary school: they’re flexible and can be used for a multitude of other things, but when it comes down to doing their job, being a tool for measurement, they’re stick straight. On the other hand, I, the over-compliant, people-pleaser consultant, am like putty. For a time, putty can be molded into anything, but if enough time passes, it’ll morph back into the useless glob it used to be.

Okay, to compare myself to a “useless glob” seems a little harsh, but I think there is some insightful understanding in the analogy. Within a session, a people-pleaser consultant will let the client mold them in any way they see fit, often in a way that holds their writing style together. Maybe for a short while, long enough to turn in an assignment, that mold holds true. But now we wait. Soon, there’s another essay that needs to be written, and the client looks back in his toolbox for the handy dandy putty that worked so well for him last time, but it’s not that same anymore. It can’t be used like it was. Sure, it can be molded again, but it will never stick. If we focus too much on giving our clients what they want in the moment, if we are too flexible, we don’t end up giving them anything at all. They don’t learn.

I came to realize this when I had a client come in for a required session. He told me he needed his paper edited, and as always, I let it slide. I didn’t have the intentions of editing his paper, but to keep everyone happy, there was no need to mention this foreign phenomenon of “collaboration”. But that was exactly what I ended up doing: editing his entire paper. I felt useless; he sat on his phone as I awkwardly vocalized the corrections I was making. It was the first time I hadn’t been satisfied with the help I had given, and it was obviously because I hadn’t asserted myself as a consultant. If I had, the session could have gone so many different ways and ended as a satisfying experience for both of us. It was hard place that I found myself in: the tug-of-war between loyalty to my peers and loyalty to the academic system. A lot of the time, I let myself be pulled toward my peers, but I found that if I could meet them with just enough resistance, I could create a perfect balance.   

So, to all my putty people out there, practice taking some authority. Assert yourself as a tutor, but conduct yourself as a peer.

Find your perfect balance. 😊

Friday, June 30, 2017

Surfer Dude

Stereotyping is a prominent word in our society. It is a word that people are scared to even utter, let alone be categorized by it. But, the truth of the matter is that everyone stereotypes; oftentimes it is subconscious. It has been proven on multiple occasions that even people who are from diverse cultures will have natural tendencies to categorize someone just because of the color of their skin or the way they dress. And I’m going to be honest with you. I catch myself falling into these stereotypical tendencies regularly.

As a writing consultant at a very diverse university, I encounter people from all walks of life on a regular basis. I’ve had clients that are everything from non-traditional students with PTSD to 17 year old prodigies applying to med-school; I feel like I’ve seen it all. In many instances, however, I find myself subconsciously categorizing clients before I’ve even said hello. I take a quick look at them and determine how the session will go, simply based on their looks. And it is in these cases that I am always proved wrong. Each one of these clients I stereotyped prove my expectations wrong, making me question my reasoning for stereotyping said client to begin with.

One client in particular has caused me to be more conscious of my stereotypical tendencies. This young man looked like he was straight off a beach in California. He had short, bleach-blonde hair that had been formed into short dreadlocks about an inch long. He was excessively tan and wore extremely bright colors. His entry survey was very limited and was grammatically “all over the place”. Because of his attire, I instantly assumed that his session would be as messy and scatter-brained as his entry survey was, as opposed to one an intelligent person who attends a Tier 1 university typically has.

I was wrong.

Not only was he an insanely intellectual person, he was working on something so human and so amazing that I cried. He was creating a scholarship for children who have a parent with the same terminal brain cancer his mom had to help with the financial burden of college. If that wasn’t already amazing, he didn’t come into our writing center with plans to put this together; he already had a lawyer to help with this and donors lined up. He was amazing. The way he presented himself had nothing to do with his intellectual ability.

This young man taught me how natural stereotyping is, and he taught me how to learn from it. I learned that you shouldn’t feel ashamed when you catch yourself stereotyping a client. Just the fact that you caught it shows it was unintentional. Furthermore, I learned how to apply this realization to my job as a writing consultant. We should practice ways of how to not let these stereotypes create expectations for our sessions because, by failing to address our natural tendencies, we are ultimately doing a disservice to our well-deserving clients.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lost in Translation

Have you ever tried to learn a language other than your own? Coming from someone who has gone through it, it can be daunting and humbling at the same time. You see, when someone is talking to you in a different language, you can kind of pick up a bit of what they’re saying, maybe not the whole phrase, but a word here or there, like in the visual above. You can put together some understanding of what the speaker was intending, but there are a lot of variations that can be considered. In the visual above you can use many combinations of words that completely change the meaning of the sentence. If you don’t know what the speaker intended to say, then you are completely lost. The feeling of being ‘lost in translation’ happens to many, including some of our ELL (English Language Learners) at the Texas A&M UWC.
As a consultant at the Texas A&M UWC, I find that many consultants can tell when a client doesn't quite understand what they are saying, whether they explicitly say so or otherwise. Whenever I had a client who wasn’t fluent in English, I would try and explain concepts or ideas using analogies. For me, that’s an excellent way to connect preexisting knowledge to new information; however, I found that this strategy isn’t as appropriate for non-native speakers. This became apparent when trying to explain something to an ELL by making a Toy Story reference. In my mind, this was something that everyone could relate to, even if they are from another country, because they have it dubbed in other languages, but it wasn’t effective. I then understood that people from other countries might not have the same preexisting knowledge, even if that knowledge is a part of mainstream media in the U.S., which meant I had to change my approach to working with ELLs.
When thinking through new methods, I found it hard to imagine myself learning English again, because as an expert in something, it is hard to realize what concepts are difficult for a new learner. I put myself in a non-native mindset and thought about when I learned Spanish. Pictures or visuals were the easiest way for me to learn, so I decided to implement this during my consultations. By using markers and a white board, toys, different colored pens, or even looking up pictures online, I find that my explanations are much more efficient. For instance, when explaining prepositions, it might be easier to draw out different scenarios. One could also describe varying sentence structure by highlighting with different colors or physically writing an example out. You could even go as far as, when describing definitive articles, to use props to describe specificity. By using visual clues, hints, or distinguishers, your client might better understand concepts and connect new vocab to what they already know. Visuals are universal, while languages aren’t, which is why they’re the most useful tool when working with an ELL.