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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Hidden Lesson

Several aspects of a writing consultation involve isolation. We isolate ourselves in where we tutor- shutting ourselves into tiny carrels with just the client. We isolate aspects of papers that need work, while disregarding things that might be only considered “acceptable.” We isolate subjects and style guides and types of writing, without thinking how all types of writing are equally important. Mostly, though, tutors often forget about the emotional needs and wants of the client. We forget that while we have done the tutoring process over and over before with all types of people, many “first-timers” may feel isolated and nervous in their first session.

My most vivid memory of this incident is with a client I had from Panama. His name was Ricardo and he was a freshman who had transferred during the spring semester. He came in with a lot of confidence about whom he was as a person, but still seemed very nervous about the contents of his paper. I could tell he was rather anxious, so I told him to set his paper aside, and we talked for a bit about his personal life. I asked where he was from, why he decided to come to A&M, and what he plans on doing once he graduates. It turned into an amazing discussion: he opened up to me about his family, about being the first person to attend college, about his hopes of becoming President of his country one day and knowing that education was the best way to achieve this goal. Most importantly, for me, it helped me realize what his writing goals were focused on. For him, it was evident that he felt far more comfortable, like he found a place where it was acceptable, and many times respected, that he was an international student. The rest of the session proceeded with a few basic grammatical explanations, and a few breaks to discuss organizational issues. He left with a paper that had several changes and ideas marked along the margins that summarized those brief 45 minutes.

The session really taught me something about writing: while I know we worked on grammar and I could search through my records to find the exact discussions of the session, what I remember most was the change in confidence. He came in, being a shy, nervous freshman boy and left feeling confident and clear in his writing goals as well as life goals. I believe that sometimes it isn’t the “grammatical knowledge” or the “organizational coherence” of a session that matters as much as the emotional change that can take place in a person. Ricardo taught me as much as I taught him that day: sometimes just being personable and welcoming can create confidence in someone else and if you are really lucky, that might be all a person needs to succeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Conferences

So, it's been a while since I have posted and it's good to be back.

I was wondering how many of you are attending the IWCA-NCPTW conference in a few weeks and if you will be presenting? Or are you attending any other conferences?

It will be good to know a few people on my first trip to Baltimore (can you tell I'm excited)!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Observation Reflections

My observations allowed me to better see the varied but similar methods of tutors in the SWC. When you shadow multiple tutors over a period of time, it becomes obvious that each has their own style, knowing what works for them. For example, some tutors choose to read to themselves before offering any critique, some ask the writer to read aloud, and some choose to read along together, asking questions along the way.

I think a big lesson to take from the experience is that tutoring is by no means a science. While we may come up with theories about how the ideal tutorial looks like, we really can never rest on one idea over another because two things will always remain true: there are many ways to teach and there are many ways to learn. Because of these two truths there can never be an ideal tutorial, in my eyes. Sure, we aim to be as thoughtful and considerate as we can, but a tutor will rarely hit that perfect pitch within a 30-minute period; the situation just isn’t built for this.


This may be a weird way to characterize this process, but I’ll stick with it: the writing center process seems akin to one’s experience on a roller coaster. Riders vary greatly; some can’t wait out get on the roller coaster and feel that thrill and come out a more experienced person; others may be afraid of fast machines they don’t understand. They may wonder, "Will the car flip when it goes careening through a sharp turn, or will I make it out alive after being tossed and turned and suspended upside down and then set straight again?" The great thing is that roller coasters, much like tutors, also vary in shapes, sizes, speeds, twists and turns, so the rider has many choices.


Getting back to the tutor not being able to match the style of the writer within 30 minutes: the flip side is that writers are free to sign up for as many appointments as they want with the same tutor; over repeated sessions, the tutor can get to know the writer, how they write, and what they’ll likely need help with. I experienced a similar situation with a writer who came in to me for tutoring. He had visited the SWC previously and received help specifically with his organization, so when I began helping him I could tell he focused on his organization and didn’t need help with it; this allowed us to work on other areas in which he did need help.


I enjoyed doing my observations, especially because I can apply it to my work in the SWC. They allowed me to see the different ways I could approach a tutoring session. The experience gave me good ideas about what to do with my own sessions because I could sort of cherry-pick the things that I thought worked from the different tutors I oversaw.

Anti Racism Survey

This just in from Moira Ozias, a leader of the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) SIG on Antiracist Activism:


Hi, friends.

The IWCA SIG on Antiracist Activism will be meeting at the upcoming IWCA/NCPTW Conference in Baltimore this fall.  We have been meeting since 2007 and would like to gather feedback from participants (and future participants) about the work and leadership of the SIG.  If you have a few moments, please click on the link below to answer a few questions.  Your answers will be anonymous, and the entire survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.


In solidarity,

Moira Ozias, Beth Godbee and Frankie Condon