First, I’d like to say I’m glad to join this writing center conversation. My name is Denise, and I am an undergraduate student and a tutor at the University Writing Center at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida. This is my senior year, and my majors are English: Professional Writing and Religious Studies.
Recently, our UWC started a satellite writing center at Monsignor Edward Pace Sr. High, which is across the street from STU. Another tutor, Leo, and I visit Pace two days a week, once after school and on Friday mornings to help with the writing classes.
I had my first tutoring session at Pace on Friday morning, and I did not know what to expect. Although I have been tutoring at STU’s UWC for a year, this felt different–it felt like unknown territory. When we got there, we walked into a classroom full of students, introduced ourselves and started walking around and helping students with their assignments. They were working on writing either of two things: 1) a 250-word essay on what was important to them or 2) a poem on any topic as long as it was not more than 21 lines.
The students responded well to our presence there. They wanted our help and input. Some were very excited to see us. One student, Kaycee, (real name will not be disclosed in these postings) had a very creative imagination. He had so many thoughts running through his head that he could not stay on just one topic. Another student, Ally, knew she did not want to write an essay and thought the poem would be easier and faster to write. When I arrived at her group, I asked her group members what they were thinking of writing and on what topic. I explained that a poem did not have to rhyme; it just needed to have a flow when read and she seemed to understand (this reaction varied among different groups).
There were students that had easier times writing than others. One student asked me "How do I begin?" My answer to her was, "You don't begin—you just start writing." After explaining to her what I meant about that statement, she got the point. I was trying to tell her not to focus on the beginning paragraph if she did not know what she wanted to write about yet. Very Donald Murray.
I find that many students, especially freshmen, are so focused on following the format of a 5-paragraph essay that they lose focus of what they are writing. What often happens is that I have a student who doesn’t like writing and doesn’t know how to begin, so she has writer’s block because she is focusing only on the introduction, and she becomes frustrated with the assignment. This is a recipe for a writing disaster.
When this happens, my advice to students is to write without writing the introduction. In a traditional high school setting, this is not what students usually hear teachers telling them. Throughout my experience, I’ve seen that sometimes it’s easier for the student to write about the assignment without the introduction.
This is the way I see it: you can’t introduce someone you don’t know. The same applies to writing; you can’t introduce something that you haven’t written about.
Is it just me, or does it seem that when you ask a student to go outside the 5 paragraph box, they are somewhat lost on where to go or how to approach their writing?