Thursday, April 17, 2014

Working With Student-Athletes


I have heard several writing assistants complain about working with student athletes. The main complaints are basically that student-athletes come to the tutoring center unprepared, with mediocre and incomplete assignments, and with a care-less attitude. Many tutors feel frustrated working with student-athletes because tutors feel like student-athletes are not interested in learning and actually improving their writing skills. And if the student-athletes themselves don’t care about their grade, why should we, the tutors, care?
Many tutors feel unenthusiastic about working with student athletes because of the belief that the session will be tedious and that they will be basically talking to a wall for 30 minutes. However, this is a misconception, and tutors should give student-athletes a chance before stereotyping them as poor writers. Athletes, in fact, are extremely smart. They have leadership skills, strong teamwork values, and they enjoy challenges and competition. Additionally, athletes really care about their grades. They have to maintain a certain GPA to be eligible to compete, and they have to complete their degrees and graduate in four years, because they are only eligible to compete with the NCAA for four years.
The main issue with student athletes is their time management. They have to comply with their obligations as an athlete just as much as they have to comply with their academic ones. They have a lot less room for procrastination than a normal student, and having to cleverly organize their time every single day is not an easy task. The idea of student athletes not caring is entirely a misconception. If they come to a session unprepared, it is not because they do not care, it is because they didn’t organize their time wisely enough to be on top of the assignment. If they are having a hard time focusing it is because they probably are physically taxed because of practices and competitions, which affects their mental energy and ability to concentrate.
We often make the mistake of judging student-athletes before even working with them. We should give athletes a chance, because in fact, they require more help than ordinary students. We need to be more patient with them, and if they adopt a negative attitude, instead of us adopting the same attitude, we should help them to change it in order to create a proactive environment.  

Breaking tradition

When I said I wanted to write something about being a nontraditional student, a fellow tutor asked, insightfully, what the term actually meant.  So I looked it up.
According to our school’s website:
A non-traditional student [includes] any of the following: over age 25, married or partnered, having children, a veteran of a branch of the Armed Services, a student who works full-time, or a student who is enrolled part-time.” 
Most nontraditional students started reading this like a checklist, not an “or” statement.  25, check.  Married, check. Veteran, check plus.  It’s almost a game of  “do I fit more categories than you?”  I probably do, by the way.  I fit all except the last two, which usually come as a set, so I think they should be one item. 
Think about that, though.  When the school goes to offer services to groups of students, “nontraditionals” tend to count as one lump category, but a 22 year old mother, working full time, taking night classes has a completely different set of needs from the 30 year old single Marine veteran. 
Of course, the writing center is in a unique position to meet even this diverse group one-on-one, as individuals.  That’s powerful, in ways you may not realize.   In a major university, the nontraditionals can get lost in the shuffle, their unique offerings undervalued.  When they come to the writing center, though, they are exactly represented. 
I don’t know what yours is like, but our writing center teaches us to treat each consultation separately, avoid getting into “paper mill” mode.  You know what I mean, where the paper hits the desk and you’re on it immediately, looking for things to improve.  At the end of the session, you know all about the paper, but have to double check the person’s name.  We shouldn’t do that to anyone, but it can be doubly dangerous with nontraditionals.  Odds are the nontraditional student is coming in for more than just term paper revisions.  They already struggle with feeling like an inadequate member of the school.  If  the writing center looks like other programs on campus, where they’re technically allowed, but where they don’t actually fit, they probably won’t come back.  If we can make nontraditionals feel like they’re the friend we’ve been hoping to meet all semester, I’d put money on them becoming a regular visitor.
The best part; this couldn’t be any easier.  Start a conversation.  Find a connection.  Get to know everyone you tutor as much as reasonable.  While you’re asking them about that essay prompt, ask where they’re from.  In between talking about organization plans, talk about weekend plans.  Using my examples from earlier, getting a mom to talk about her kids isn’t exactly pulling teeth, and that Marine veteran wants to tell you why Japan was the best country he ever visited.  Chances are they’ll even have some hint of it in their work they bring in.    
Remember, too, to embrace the differences that pop up. You won’t understand every obscure Bill Clinton sex joke, and they might have no idea what a vine video is (I just learned that one last semester).  That’s ok.   In fact, my point is that we make a place for these differences TO be ok. 
So basically, when we see someone come in who doesn’t fit the usual mold, let’s make a real effort to make “them” feel like part of “us.”  I know the writing center is up to the task, because it worked for this married thirty-something Veteran dad.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Organizational Patterns

I arrived at the comp fellow’s office a few minutes before the scheduled appointment time to get my laptop, notes and the course syllabus within reach just in case I would need to refer back to any of the sources during the upcoming session. Being punctual allows the tutor to gain order and control over a tutoring session. Displaying proper organization prior to the start of an appointment creates an educational environment. This organizational pattern is recognizable not only by the students but also by professionals across all course curriculum's. This instills the students with a sense of security and trust in the tutor’s authority.
As a writing fellow I am always appreciative when a student displays signs of preparation before a session. During a session last week it was apparent that the student reviewed the syllabus beforehand seeing as she entered the session with an already clear topic for her research assignment, on the city of Paris. The directions for the research assignment stated to pick a destination to travel or means of transportation, since she had already made a decision we were able to focus on the research and writing portion rather than the brainstorming phase.

This example relates back to my previous statement about organizational patterns and how recognizable it is not only for students but also for tutors or professors. I appreciated her genuine interest in the subject and the time she put into the assignment before our session; it confirmed that the student cared about her coursework. Getting students excited about writing and discovering how they can relate their interests to the projects assigned is a rewarding experience for me as a tutor because at the end of the day writing is a unique journey and when given enough time and attention it is a thrilling journey full of understanding of the expectations one has for themselves as well as the expectations of others. 

Active Listening

One of the most powerful tools you can use as a tutor is active listening. During a tutoring session it is important to comprehend the main points the writer is trying to convey. Following the direction of the paper should be the ultimate goal throughout the session, as you want to ensure that the writer is clearly and effectively fulfilling the requirements for the writing project.
                During all of my sessions I start out by reviewing the syllabus and the instructions for the writing assignment then I ask the student if he/she understands what is expected of them for the project, while they all mostly agree to understanding I usually don’t figure that out until we start diving into the writing. This is where the power of active listening comes into play, once you begin engaging with the writer you can discover what level of comprehension they have reached. By asking questions, engaging in conversations, and listening to not only just the writing but the way the student reads their work aloud, and the expressions their bodies make you can analyze the comfort they have with the assignment.  
                The back and forth conversation can give direct inferences to the student that you are paying attention and that you genuinely care about the topic on which they are writing about. Another powerful aspect of active listening is that it allows the tutor to have control over the session, you are able to direct which direction the session takes by asking the right questions. For example a closed question that can be answered in the most basic form of yes or no is not the type of questions you would want to address during a session. Open ended questions that require a thoughtful response are the key questions that will allow you to actively listen and be able to determine the student’s level of understanding.

                Active listening is a helpful tool that should be utilized not just in tutoring sessions but also in everyday life. I could argue that the power to understand another person is quite possibly the most fundamental part of learning. While, each person interprets things differently active listening allows us to break through the barrier of outside observation and inside reflection. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Color Red

A red ink blot here. A red circle there. The markings of a professor’s thoughts are boldly seen. The arms of the student and tutor/fellow are completely extended out staring at a multi-marked paper. All there is to see is the essay’s bloody wounds visible throughout the whole paper. The color red brings the attention to the eye, but in the attention of error and disapproval. The usage of red ink to correct a student’s paper is frowned upon. Why? Is it that it is too harsh? Are we accustomed to learn that red markings mean incorrectness or negativity?

The attempt and latest trend to use softer colors that are more friendly and refreshing to the eye, such as teal, purple, and green, are being used more in classrooms. However, we are in the technological era, and it helps that we have access to computers and laptops in most of our classrooms that eliminate the option of the actual professors’ handwritten markings to butcher the thoughts and labor put into a paper.

With advanced programs such as Microsoft Word, we can now leave comments on the side of a paper. The side comments option allows the reviewer to provide explanations for the errors and feedback found in the essay, unlike a hard copy where there is a shortage of space to provide feedback.

There is the downside of receiving another person’s input and disagreeing with their opinion, but most of the time it is what makes us realize what more we can add, change, or remove. Without realizing how feedback from another set of eyes can be helpful, room for improvement becomes limited. It also allows writers to see what they have been working on, whether it is a student or tutor themselves.

As a writing fellow, it is crucial that we avoid pulling out any writing utensils having red ink when helping a student writer. Having the sight of red ink can bring back a student writer’s anxiety towards the writing process, cause them to procrastinate, become overwhelmed, and fall behind.

The red ink problem has been around for a long time. The National Council of Teachers of English published an article in March 1913 that discusses the negative aspect of red ink and does not want to see an ink drop of red on any papers.

Do other colors give a bit of comfort and relaxation? Or is it still an issue in today’s academic system?

 

Confidence in Student Writers

After having multiple sessions throughout this semester, I have noticed that each of the students I see have different levels of confidence. I thought to myself, “What could possibly be the reasoning for it? Could outside factors be the cause?” The class I am assigned to is very diverse. With some students from other countries or backgrounds, they tend to have a tougher time than those who are familiar with English.

International students may have difficulty learning the rules of academic English. Having to struggle with academic English and keeping up with class assignments, especially at the college level, is not easy. Assignments themselves can be difficult or new to the student and that may lower their confidence. For example, I had a student who had never completed a research paper before. I asked her what she found was most difficult for her to accomplish the paper. Her response was the pressure of making sure the format and APA style was correct, as well as using only third person. When knowing that there is a grade to come from a paper, making sure the paper is perfect can cause writers anxiety and more mistakes. Without having pressure on the student to exceed expectations, it affects the student’s confidence to have a strong paper and their own skills.

On the flip side, there was another student who had no problem writing the same assignment. Instead the opposite happened. Few questions were asked when we were both going over her paper. I then asked her a question about the paper to see if she saw the need to improve any specific area of her paper. I did not imply that there was, but she was confident that her paper was just fine, leaving nothing left for me to do, but compliment her on her work.

As a writing fellow, it may be help to alleviate any tension the student has in order write their paper to their best capability and build their confidence. I was thinking about my own level of confidence in my work and wondered to myself. Do you believe that a tutor’s confidence brushes off onto the student?

                                                                                                                                                          

 

 

The use of Pen and Paper-Is it beneficial for sessions?


I am very interested in the impact of the use of pen and paper v technology during sessions. Students, and even us tutors, have become heavily dependant on technology to write papers and to make presentations. The use of laptops and computers has almost completely replaced the use of pen and paper. Still, I believe that the physical use of pen and paper is necessary. Even more so, I believe that it is a useful tool to use during tutoring sessions.

I have found it to be useful in several ways. I have found that the use of pen and paper during sessions helps students organize their thoughts and memorize things faster. I try to implement the use of pen and paper with my students in every single one of my sessions. It might seem a bit old fashioned to use, but it seems to me that pen and paper gives more freedom to writers. My students have expressed to me that it gives them a greater sense of freedom especially during the drafting period of a paper. The students I have interviewed regarding the subject have told me that the implementation of pen and paper is very important to them in the writing process. They feel that it is an easier way to write down important points and doodle ideas. What do you, as a tutor, think about the implementation of pen and paper during your sessions with your students? Is it useful to your students? If so how so?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Multiple Appointments on the Same Assignment



       One of the great aspects of the writing center is that students can make multiple appointments, even if said appointments concern the same assignment. It is truly an opportunity for the student to become aware of his/her writing process and to improve upon it. The question is how to successfully help the student so that the appointment remains productive rather than monotonous.  Despite working on the same assignment, it is important to consider how to help the student progress with his/her writing as he/she moves forward. The tutor can begin a repeated assignment session by taking some time to discuss what they worked on during the last appointment. This can include discussing what the assignment was, what the student had trouble with previously, and what the tutor and student worked on last time. This will provide a foundation for how the session can be structured in order to ensure it continues to benefit the student. It is important that the tutor think carefully about how to approach the second session so that the student receives additional information rather than a reiteration of their previous session.
            By discussing what the student worked on during their previous appointment and what they have worked on since the last appointment, it will be easier for the tutor to perceive lapses within the student’s progress. If the student has worked on improving the aspects the tutor and student discussed last time, this can be an opportunity to discuss whether the student feels he/she successfully improved. This will help the student reflect upon his/her writing. For example, a tutor can ask the student if the reason he/she came in for his/her first appointment is still a problem and where he/she would like to improve in the future. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of one’s work demonstrates competence as a writer. By developing awareness of his/her writing process, the student can understand what steps he/she needs to take in order to complete an assignment.
If the student feels he/she has improved, the tutor can ask what else the student would like to work on. This can include building off of the advice given by the previous tutor or addressing an issue that has been overlooked. At this time, the advice from the previous session can be critiqued by the current tutor and the tutor will have an opportunity to provide his/her own personal input. Additionally, if another issue has arisen, it should be viewed as an opportunity to develop a plan that will lead to the resolution of this problem.
            Conversely, if the student feels he/she has not improved, it is important to consider why. In this instance reviewing the assignment again and using visual aids such as charts and diagrams can come in handy, as well as evaluating the assignment from a new perspective. These approaches combined with recommendations to further the student’s writing abilities will lead to an advancement in his/her writing career.






Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Social Construction at a Nail Salon.

I had a peculiar experience this week at the nail salon. I was writing some work in a notebook while getting my feet done. I was  so concentrated in my work that  I didn’t notice the nail technician looking at me. She looked at me and asked, “Are you writing in your diary?” I said “no…” and thought “non of your business.” “It’s for an assignment” I said.  
she replied, “Oh I hate writing.”
I paused for a second while the words sunk in: “I hate writing.” Her comment almost offended me.  I looked at her and said, “well, I don’t think you hate writing, I mean you like to text and write messages on Facebook right?”
Her face changed and she said “Oh my gosh, yes.” I went on to tell her that writing is not an activity to be hostile towards because she obviously likes using it as a medium of communication. I told her that writing itself is an amazing form of communication that we all use on a daily basis. At the end of my little speech she let out the magic word that make all of us writing assistants smile, “so I guess I do like writing.”
This experience I had ,made me think that perhaps it is the tedious nature of unfamiliar topics, deadlines, and unclear rigid professors that change our perception of writing.  It also made me think about the connection between the general misperception of writing and the theory of social construction. Social constructionists believe that knowledge is socially constructed rather than created. I am afraid that socially we have, consciously or unconsciously, created a negative connotation of writing. Perhaps if we, consciously, construct a different concept of writing overall, members of our society would feel more free to express themselves thought writing.


Monday, March 31, 2014

To The Parents of...


As a father, when I see mail with those words in the address block, I’m expecting one of my children’s names.  Since I’m also an undergrad student, though, Texas A&M occasionally still sends something to my house, addressed “to the parents of Phillip Garner.”  They’re usually advertisements for apartment complexes, or telling my concerned guardians how well the school is keeping me safe.  At 35, though, my mother and father haven’t received a piece of mail on my behalf in a long time. 
With my wife making jokes about mail tampering and “telling my mom,” I usually open and deal with the content myself; it’s not like I’m going to call up the school and complain, but those letters are indicative of a problem I deal with daily.  I am an anomaly in the university setting.  I am the infamous “nontraditional student,” something the university doesn't know quite how to deal with.
For traditional students, university life can fill quickly with opportunities to engage with peers.  There are student groups, roommates, sporting events, study sessions.  Professors even take time out of their lectures to train and guide young minds in the ways of the world.  I can’t speak for all big schools, but Aggieland excels at teaching the traditional, 18-22 year old undergraduate.  In all this circus of education, though, nontraditional students can feel like we’re not even sure if the school knows we exist.  While peer tutors can’t fix every problem on campus, it seems almost part of the writing center tradition to ask, “What can we do to fix that?”
            I think we can actually do quite a bit.  Think back with me, when was the last time you had an older student come in?   How did you handle the session? I've heard younger tutors suggest that they were leery about giving advice to older students, either because (1) they felt unqualified to teach someone more experienced, or because (2) they thought the student would not value their input, perhaps see the tutor as “just a kid.”  While I’m sure that happens sometimes, among those I know as a tutor or as a friend, those attitudes seem to be the exception, not the rule.
            First off, younger peer tutors are absolutely qualified to advise a nontraditional student  writing.  A peer tutor isn’t just more comfortable and competent than others in their own age.  I’d stack our peer tutors up against most anyone in the community at-large.  Age can sometimes teach us laziness, reinforce our bad habits, or simply find us left behind on education practices and norms.   When I restarted my college career a few years ago, I kept hearing professors use a particular term, and since everyone in the room seemed to know what it meant, I just went along.  One day, I heard my son, then a sophomore in high school, use the same term.  When I asked him about it, he screwed his face up in confusion and said “Dad, how did you make it into college, but you don’t know what a rubric is?”  The concept seems standard, almost a given, today, but wasn't something I was taught in Texas high school in the 90’s. 
            As for valuing a tutor’s input, keep in mind that for many older students, going back to school was and is a humbling experience.  One client actually told me, “What do I know about this? I haven’t written a term paper since Clinton was president!”  As adult learners, we entered the college arena because we realized, for whatever reason, and however late, the value of earning a college education.  If an older student comes to the writing center, not only are they willing to take advice, they might just be your most attentive client of the day. 
            This is the point where I’m supposed give you the magic three bullet points for handling nontraditional students, right?  Or is that just a leftover from my old habits, it’s hard to tell sometimes!  No bullet points, but think about it this way. We've all worked with that client writing a paper on “Unsteady Long Bearing Squeeze-film Dampers” (true story), in which the client is the topic expert, but maybe grammar is a weakness, or organization.  In the same way,  the nontraditional student comes in with experiences, worldviews you don’t have yet,  but you come to the table with fresh ideas and a greater exposure to the technicalities, and, more than likely, a love for writing that’s rare at any age. Those traits are exponentially valuable, as long as, like any consultation, we approach with an open mind and the goal of improving writers along with their writing.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Don't Tell Me How To Write, Teach Me


Endless tutoring sessions, the time consuming yet indispensable dictionary, the annoying translator that does not always make sense, and the frustration of not being able to convert your thoughts into words because of your lack of vocabulary. These are some of the problems we, writers who speak English as a second language, experience everyday. The desperation and lack of control we experience when we are writing in a different language is exhausting, but the feeling of helplessness you get when you get your first grade is the worst. Disappointment, frustration, anger, and sadness all pile up to tell you what you already know: that you are a complete failure. The red marker all over your paper pointing at commas, apostrophes, and grammatical errors is telling you that you failed.  That even though you used all of the resources available, you still failed, and that no matter how hard you try next time, you will probably still fail.
How can ESL writers be punished for breaking the rules when they don’t know the rules? ESL writers don’t need grammar police; what they need is a mentor. Someone who doesn’t just point out the errors, but who rather goes over them and explains how to correct them, so that they can actually improve their writing and grammatical skills.
Many professors and tutors believe that they have to be grammar experts in order to be able to help an ESL writer. This is not true. It is more about being patient and letting them know you understand their frustration. I believe that making them feel comfortable and showing them that you are willing to help them get through the language barrier is more valuable. ESL learners normally write better than they speak, sometimes all they need is a little push. It is our job to show them that writing a paper is not the end of the world, and that we are there to facilitate the process for them.
If we, the tutors, are patient with writers who are learning English and show ourselves positive about their work, they will change their attitude towards their assignments, and writing in general. Explaining to them why certain things are grammatically incorrect and teaching them ways to avoid those mistakes, will help them to adapt to the language little by little and to ultimately improve their writing skills. I know this because I went through this process, and even though I had a hard time in the beginning, I eventually understood that it is possible to succeed as an ESL writer, if one is provided with the right guidance, which is why I decided to become a writing tutor. I believe that helping ESL writers understand that writing is not a talent you are born with but rather something that takes practice, patience, and time, is more effective than just marking their papers. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Just Smile and Nod

          Let me begin by saying that I am an extremely awkward person. Not only do I trip over invisible things and fall over standing still, I have a really hard time making small talk with strangers and feel like I get lost in large groups where I don’t know anyone. As you might imagine, it was really difficult for me to transition into being a writing consultant, where my job requires me to confront my awkwardness head on and deal with strangers on a daily basis. With nearly two years of consulting under my belt, my confidence has definitely grown, and I find that I am better able to handle my awkwardness. Believe it or not, sometimes I can even use it to my advantage! My original fears have morphed into an assurance that I can handle any situation I’m thrown into, and recently I had a chance to test that theory.
            Allow me to back track a little, if you will. Last summer, our writing center started a special English conversation program, where international students looking to practice their English could come in and meet with the same consultant twice a week. The topics we talked about ranged from television shows to cooking to the reasons why profanity is generally avoided in classroom settings. These conversation appointments were very relaxed, and allowed me a unique opportunity to build a relationship with people I might not have met otherwise. Enter Lacey (name changed), a grad student from China. The two of us bonded early on over NCIS and our common disdain for certain parts of the American education system. (I’m only a junior and I already have senioritis—yikes!) We became friends, and we occasionally went out for coffee or chatted over Facebook, though both of those things dwindled once the semester was in full swing.
            Last week, I heard from Lacey for the first time in a while. She told me that her parents were going to be visiting from China, and invited me to meet them at a small, informal party at her apartment. I jumped at the chance, and accepted her invitation.
            I arrived at the party a little early, and I was the only native English speaker in the room. Granted, Lacey and her friend were there, and they both speak English really well, but I found myself in a whirlwind of Mandarin Chinese, where all I could do was smile and nod. Lacey tried to translate for me as much as possible, but sometimes there were things that were simply untranslatable, or the translation came so late that the funny moment had passed. So I found myself sitting there, wondering what in the world I was going to do. I had never felt more awkward in my life.
            Wasn’t my writing center training supposed to prepare me for situations like this? Sure, we’ve never actually talked about what to do when you don’t speak the same language as the people around you, but surely there was something from all of those staff meetings and classes that would help me figure out what to do.
            As it turns out, I did have the tools in my tool belt to handle the situation, I just had to put on my writing consultant hat and remind myself to be calm in the face of this uncertain situation.
First of all, being a writing consultant has taught me to be okay with silence. Before I became a consultant, I would try to fill silences with jokes or idle chatter, which ended up making the situation more awkward. So when we were sitting around Lacey’s table stuffing our faces with delicious (and authentic!) Chinese food and the conversation lapsed, I didn’t feel like I had to fill the gap. After all, half of the people in the room wouldn’t have been able to understand me anyway.
            Also, my writing center training made me more aware than ever of the body language of those around me, and I discovered that I could use that to my advantage. I may not have known what everyone was saying, but I could tell from the way they leaned toward each other that the conversation was good-natured and upbeat. My own body language became important, too, since I didn’t want to come across as standoffish or rude.
            In the end, though, it was something that I learned inherently through my work as a writing consultant that became the most important. I had to be flexible and adapt myself to the situation, much like I would in a writing consultation. In some writing consultations, I find that my normal consulting style doesn’t necessarily work well, and I have to come up with a new plan of action, all the while making sure that my client feels comfortable and is getting what he or she needs. The situation I found myself in was not necessarily the most uncomfortable one I’ve ever been in, but it did require me to step outside of my proverbial comfort zone and rethink the way I communicate with others.

            Lacey’s party ended up being a success for me in many ways. Not only did I learn how to make dumplings from scratch, but I left with a renewed sense of self-confidence, which I know will serve me well in the writing center and beyond. If there is a moral to this story—and I’m skeptical that there is—it would be this: no matter how far removed from the writing center you may feel, don’t underestimate your writing consultant superpowers. You never know when they may come in handy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

So You Think You Can Write, or How to Consult Confident Writers

           “Oh, you work at the writing center? I've never been there, because I don’t really need anyone to edit my papers, and I pretty much know how to write already.” We've all heard something along those lines, haven’t we? There seems to be this idea floating around everywhere that you only need the writing center if you don’t know how to write, which we all know isn't true. Nevertheless, this idea is the reason why we rarely see confident writers at the writing center.
            Okay, but what exactly is a confident writer? For the purposes of this discussion, let’s define a confident writer as someone who is comfortable and familiar with the writing process, and who is capable of writing an essay, lab report, personal statement, or whatever without the aid of the writing center. These students are the ones who, because they’re happy with the grades they’re getting, don’t feel the need to come to the writing center for “help.”
Also, I think that we can separate these confident writers into two groups. The first group is those writers who only come in to the writing center because they have to, or their professor is offering extra credit for coming in. At our writing center, we see a lot of writers who fall into this group. Five minutes into their 45 minute consultation and they’ve already mentally checked out. The second group of confident writers has grown out of their original prejudice against the writing center. These students probably started out in the first group, but they’ve discovered that the writing center really has something to offer and they've turned into repeat customers.
            So this presents an interesting question. What can we, as writing consultants, do to make sure that confident writers benefit from their sessions at the writing center? First of all, we need to think about redefining our role within the consultation. More often than not, a confident writer isn’t looking for advice about grammar and mechanics, but rather higher-order concerns such as clear construction of an argument. This changes the dynamic within the consultation so that we need to view ourselves as readers or members of the audience rather than writing “experts.” In the nearly two years that have passed since I became a writing consultant, I've read writing from almost every discipline, and while I might not have any idea what a squeeze film damper does, I have a variety of reading experiences in my back pocket that can be invaluable to someone who’s writing about them.
            When you consult confident writers, think about the types of feedback that you might like to receive if you were in your client’s place, and go from there. For example, when I’m working with a confident writer, I can draw on the fact that I have a handle on grammar, so when I bring a paper in to the writing center I’m not looking for that kind of feedback. At the beginning of an appointment, once I’ve determined whether the student I’m working with is a confident writer, I ask what they’d like to talk about in our session. If they don’t mention grammar, I don’t mention grammar. If you’re busy discussing the merits of the Oxford comma when your client wants to talk about organization, then that student is probably not going to get much out of his or her appointment. And you probably won’t be seeing them again.
            Also, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Challenge the student’s understanding of what he or she is writing. If you notice a hole in their argument, don’t hesitate to point it out and ask if there’s a reason for the gap. If there’s not, you’ll not only help them broaden their understanding of the topic, you’ll have helped them fix their paper without ever giving them the type of advice that might make them feel patronized. When you find something that might need to be revised, use “I statements” to present your advice from the point of view of the reader. Instead of saying “You seem to need more textual evidence to support this point,” say “As a reader, I wasn't able to follow this part of the paper. Is there something from the text that you’re analyzing that would add more support here?”

            Finally, we need to help these students understand that there is not a pinnacle of perfection in writing, and there is always room for improvement. Do you use the writing center for your own assignments? If so, don’t be afraid to share that with your clients and use it to your advantage. Seeing writing consultants as students working to improve their writing will help confident writers get rid of the idea that the writing center is only for “bad” writers. It’s also important for these students to understand that they are expected to progress as writers as they progress in other aspects of college. The writing that they do should not simply be about “getting the grade,” but about going above and beyond to improve. Learning where they can improve and acting on that knowledge will have real-world implications for these students as they enter the workforce or pursue a higher degree. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What is our problem?

By nature, people are very cautious beings. We have a wide variety of preventative medicine, we practice behaviors we should exhibit in case of an emergency, have emergency supplies hidden away, hoard back-ups, and back-ups for our back-ups; basically we like being secure. But crazy enough, many students, and occasionally even tutors, push themselves to dangerous anxiety and stress levels when it comes to writing on a deadline. We will wait until the last moment to write extensive research papers, reports, and all kinds of writing. But, being a species that would much rather do things “cautiously and safely”, the act of procrastination is a phenomena that I would like to decipher.


I would like to know why. Why do we not always simply start earlier? We have to start sometime. Why do we not collect research earlier? Why do we wait until a feeling of panic encompasses us to actually get things done? I realize that not everyone procrastinates, but placed in the university setting that I am in, I can confidently say a majority of students do. We put ourselves in these modes of insanity, because earlier we chose to not get a simple assignment done, and most of the time for unjustifiable reasons. I know it may be a wide question, but when compared to other subjects, writing seems to be put off the most. Do we not know where to start? Do we have a problem with university writing assignments? Why is writing commonly procrastinated upon, when it would be extremely easier to simply start earlier?