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Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting started


I survived my first week as a Writing Fellow!  At our institution, Nova Southeastern University, writing fellows are embedded tutors who work with selected composition courses.  My first scheduled day to meet with students was somewhat nerve-racking.  I had been through the fellow-education workshops and scripted what I was going to say when the students entered the room but I still didn’t know what to expect.  I arrived to the writing center early and watched the clock tick.  I was thinking about every situation we had talked about and trained for and basically, the worst case scenario.  As I anxiously awaited the arrival of my first group of students, I couldn’t help but feel a bit excited, as well.

My first student entered the room looking very timid, which helped me to take control of the situation.  I realized that the students were going to be more nervous than me considering they were just being introduced to the program. Once my entire group of three arrived, I instantly took the role of the leader, facilitator, and tutor.  I have first-year composition students so I explained to them, in-detail, what the fellows program was emphasizing the fact that I am a course-based writing assistant who is here to help them grow as writers.

The biggest challenge for me the first week was helping the students get started. I had sent out at least three reminder emails instructing my students what to bring to a session, as well as what we would be covering, but they acted clueless.  The students had just been assigned a paper earlier in the day so no one had started the essay.  My job was to help my students plan, rainstorm, and prewrite.  I used a lot of the “getting started” techniques discussed by Ryan and Zimmerelli in The Bedford Guide for Tutors.  I had each of my students create a plan before they even touched their paper, and I also tried to have each student pick at least two techniques they will use when they prewrite (mapping, listing, fast write, etc.).

There was one student in particular who stood out during the first week of sessions.  She came into the writing center with not a single thing to do or any questions but was very anxious.  She just didn’t know how to get started on the assignment.  When she arrived, I tried to engage her in basic conversation just to see if that would ease her nerves.  After we chatted for a while, I asked her what her concerns were with the paper and she didn’t know.  It turns out she was anxious because she didn’t fully understand what the assignment was asking her to do.  In the end, she was probably the most rewarding student I worked with during my first week.  I was able to apply a lot of the ‘getting started’ techniques to her situation.  She told me she didn’t really have prewriting techniques that she used, so this was a first for her.  We used mapping and a fast write, and both showed to be effective tools for her.  Once we started, it was easier for her to discuss her topic and brainstorm more ideas.  From the few short weeks I have been a writing fellow I have learned that if you ask the students a lot of questions and get them involved in discussing their work, the sessions are likely to be a success.  The more you engage the student in the session, the more work they are willing to complete.

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