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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Introduction

Hello, all.


I'm happy to finally find a place to talk to other tutors. I'm a grad student at Missouri State, finishing up my second year. I'm staying on a third year to get a second MA--my first one is in Creative Writing and my second is in Composition & Rhetoric. I've been tutoring since I started my grad program as part of my teaching assistantship.

When I first applied for the TAship, I have no idea what made me check the Writing Center box, and I also have no idea what made my director hire me, because we never actually met until the school year started (I interviewed over the phone). I didn't really think of myself as "tutor material." But really, I didn't think of myself as "teacher material," either, and yet here I am, ready to make it my career. This semester I was promoted to a Position With Many Names; first my director was calling it "Lead Tutor," then "Training Supervisor," and now he's calling me his assistant director. I've done everything from helping him with training modules to doing tutor evaluations to attending meetings with university bigwigs with him to covering reception when there's no one there to designing our brochure. I absolutely love it and I'll be very, very sad to leave. At least I have another year. :)

Our WC, with the help/prompting of my director's boss, the Associate Provost, is moving into a Learning Commons this summer. We're physically moving, too, from the English building to the library. The Learning Commons is a brand-new idea on our campus and we have NO idea what to expect. Is anyone else involved in one?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life Beyond Tutoring

I realized a few weeks ago that this may very well be my last semester tutoring, at least for a couple of years. I'm finishing my coursework for my Master's degree, and although I'm still working on the never-ending thesis of doom, I'm also already a certified teacher and have been looking for teaching gigs for nearly two years now. Whether or not I find a teaching job, I'll have to really get myself in gear and find a full-time job beginning in the summer.

Which made me realize that there's a distinct life beyond teaching. I know there's research about life after tutoring, and specifically how having tutored affects those who have served as tutors - as we move outside the field of education, as we leave school and move outward into different fields. But I'm wondering what those specific affectations of tutoring are, and why how we're affected by having tutored never quite make it back to students who are still tutoring. And I wonder, too, if there's value in telling tutors how tutoring affects us, both positively and negatively. I suspect there's a conference proposal in there somewhere - and I call dibs! - but it's something I've begun to think about, especially since I've been tutoring for more than five years now - specifically how tutoring could translate in any field. Because I'm also a teacher, I'm considering how tutoring translates into valuable job skills outside the field of education.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

NEWCA 2009

Last weekend was the 25th NEWCA, held at the University of Hartford in the wilds of Connecticut. This was the first conference I attended as a steering committee member, and it really made a difference; I always had a good time attending NEWCA, but I had such a great time this year! Harvey Kail from the University of Maine in Orono gave a great keynote, and Neal Lerner from MIT gave a good talk after lunch about the history of NEWCA.

I managed to sit in on some really interesting sessions. I chaired a session called "Record, Reflect, Renew: Using iPods to Understand Writing Center Work," in which students/tutors were using iPods to record tutor sessions for analysis and tutor training purposes. The second session I attended, "Decentering the Center: Taking the Writing Center Pedagogy into the Community," was co-presented by two Teaching Fellow from St. John's Univ. in Queens; they discussed taking writing center pedagogy into the community - Meridith into a church-based group; Kerri into her former high school - both of which I found extremely interesting. (And hearing them talk about the community outreach being done and supported by the St. John's folks finally got me to see what (I think) a few folks had been trying to tell me about applying to doctoral programs.) The third session,"Mandatory Tutoring Sessions: How Writing Center Tutors Can Squash the Combative Nature of Mandated FYW Tutoring Sessions," focused on turning negative sessions around and trying to put positive spins on those session.

I also led my first SIG - Tutoring in the Disciplines. I attempted to put something together so I could have a handout, a bibliography or "suggested reading" or something of the sort, but couldn't really find anything that would have been too helpful, and in a sense I'm glad it worked out that way because "tutoring in the disciplines" had meant something else to me than it did those who attended my SIG. I was thinking that tutoring in the disciplines was more along the lines of tutoring across the disciplines, while others were more concerned with tutoring writing in various fields, which is the other part of tutoring in the disciplines that I had been thinking of. I realized just how concerned tutors are in terms of tutoring writing in disciplines about which they know very little - any field that isn't directly in their major or about a topic they know something about - but there was equal concern and interest in that line between tutoring and outright teaching, being directive vs. being non-directive; in essence, determining when you have to teach or re-teach concepts directly vs. leading the student through her basic understanding of the material in order for her to understand the higher level material. We-the-tutors can still address the writing itself in terms of clarity or format (a lab report vs. a legal brief vs. a research paper, etc.), but there was a distinct line about what we do allow ourselves to do as tutors, and what we feel we should not do. Most of that concern boils down to not wanting to take over the session or doing the students' work for them, and keeping those "best practices" in mind also, but learning to distinguish when it might be acceptable, and even needed, to do within the confines of a tutoring session, and when we're crossing boundaries. These were most of the issues that came up in the SIGs, and I'm really glad I got the chance to lead that particular one. And if I get the chance to lead that SIG again, I'll have an idea of the types of resources I might be able to bring.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Thoughts on My Recorded Consultation

So, when our writing center director requested that we record one of our consultations with a writer, I carried the consultant permission slip around with me and turned the tape recorder over in my palm, but put it off until the second or third or fourth reminder . . .

Why the delay? Excuses aside, I'm guessing it had something to do with not liking the way I sound, longing for those (less-invasive?) good old days of crayon and pencil vs. technology--podcast episodes, photo stories, RECORDINGS, and--dare I say it--blog entries? Can't I just WRITE something for you without other aspects of performance? And maybe I prefer to self reflect behind the scenes. Yet, here I am blogging voluntarily . . . eventually, I recorded a consultation, too.

Finally, I did it. What did I learn? Something about the careful dance I do situating myself regarding written work (that is how I'm tying the recorded consultation to my above ranting). I asked the student what he wanted to work on and quickly learned that it was his first time to the center, and he was there because his instructor required him to come to the writing center because he missed peer review. Does this answer the question of what he wants to work on? . . . not really. Uh-oh, where do I go from here? Wellllll, I asked him what he thought of his paper, personally, and if there was anything he was specifically working on as a writer . . . or something to that effect. And he began to talk. Yay! It seems like reluctant writers often have a lot to say about their topics or assignments, or even writing challenges, even if they have an answer to "What do you want to work on today?" The trick then, is to figure out how to apply it to the project at hand, and turn the conversation back to the written work . . .

It seems like there's a constant push-pull of the writing project, focusing on the specific writing there vs. the big picture . . . vs. subject knowledge . . . vs. I don't know what. I do know that I try to step back from the draft itself at the onset of the consultation . . . and then, I need to make sure to work my way back in.

I'm still not sure what I want to say about my recorded consultation, but I made one, woo. And I made a blog post, too. Have other writing center consultants recorded a session? Was it with trepidation? What did you learn from listening? Or, what have you learned from listening to the recorded consultations of others/viewing transcripts, etc?

And, of particular interest to myself, how do you keep the focus on, or bring it back to, the specific piece of writing at hand, and make sure the writer leaves with a strategy for development or revision?