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The importance of "improvising" in a writing consultation

Improv comedy is a spontaneous performance without any scripts preparated beforehand. The first rule of improv is to AGREE i.e. to say "yes" to whatever happens. If someone says "There is a train coming towards us" and I say, without thinking much, "What train? I don't see a train", then the only options remaining are to either end the scene or to argue about whether there is a train or not; neither of these options is entertaining for the audience to watch. The issue with my response was that it was not saying "yes" to what was said. If I had instead said "The train will hit us if we don't move", then I have not only said "yes" but also built on top of what was said. This idea of accepting what has been said and then building on it with new information is a key idea in improvisation called the "Yes-And" principle.

Improvisation is needed in a peer-tutoring session since it is not possible to plan out all o…
Recent posts

Learning Alongside Our Clients: the Mutual Learning Environment at Writing Centers

Walking into my first day as a peer tutor at my campus writing center, I worried about encountering scenarios where I would lack the appropriate advice to offer clients. Although peer tutoring interactions routinely place consultants in new waters, I quickly discovered that the uncertainties and accompanying out-of-my-depth feeling are necessary components of collaborative tutoring. This collaboration, in turn, enables mutual learning during sessions in even the most veteran writing tutors. I would like topause and explore this idea of tutors learning alongside clients in the uniquely collaborative, peer tutoring space. I can testify from personal experience that the most meaningful learning I underwent in the peer tutoring environment was distinct from the process of accumulating technical writing expertise. Certainly, my knowledge of academic writing and the mechanics of the English language increased, but the major area of growth for me occurred in less formulaic ways. Not long aft…

Writing Politely: The Difficulties of Conveying Tone in Writing through Cultural Differences

The other day in our Writing Center staff meeting, we discussed methods of being polite in face-to-face and online sessions. Many of the consultants had used some of the “tips and tricks” in sessions before and shared their experiences with what did and did not work in different situations.
However, I noticed that while the politeness strategies were useful overall, they were very America-centered. Many other cultures have different ideas of politeness than we do, and it is important to take that into account when consulting with clients from other countries.
What is politeness?
Let’s start with a discussion on what politeness is. Generally, when we think of politeness, we think of respect. We use language to convey that we respect whoever we are talking to and are not trying to impose ourselves. For example, if I were lost and wanted to ask a stranger for directions, I would use the phrase “excuse me” to get a stranger’s attention. Saying “excuse me” tells the stranger that I might se…

What I Know Now About My Practicum Experience

Where It All Began While becoming a Consultant at the UW-Stevens Point Writing Lab, I first had to pass the practicum class, Education 301. The ideas discussed and the theories learned in this class are beyond practical for day-to-day involvement with my peers. Allow me to share with you some of my favorite ideas about being a Writing Lab Consultant and what I have learned throughout my practicum experience. I hope after reading this you will find the same motivation I have when working in our Writing Lab. How to Play Psychological Ping Pong Having many memories from class, one of the most intriguing class discussions was prompted after reading the article “Peer Tutoring and the Conversation of Mankind” by Kenneth Bruffee. Bruffee invites his readers to discuss the benefits of peer-to-peer engagement. After reflecting on the things I have learned throughout my time at the Writing Lab, I have come to understand Bruffee’s view firsthand.  At the Writing Lab, you are able to express your id…

How do you work with English Language Learners as a Native-English speaker? Think about it.

Working with ELLs can be challenging and exciting due to the differences in culture, language, and background. Another aspect that comes into play when working with ELLs is the differences in our ways of thinking. I’m not necessarily referring to cultural differences or indirect versus direct communication; I mean things such as differences is cognitive direction and phrases that are not translatable but are extremely functional to each respective language. This is where being able to describe the way we think of phrasings, sentence structure, the functionality of grammar, and word choice come into play. I had a student from South Korea come in one day to work on his Economics paper. We came across mistakes that could be considered “common” amongst ELLs such as article usage and verb tenses, but there was a sentence where he had a phrase along the lines of “make in grander scale” rather than “to put on a grander scale.” For a moment, I hesitated and contemplated how to explain why thi…

Revisiting the Role of Vulnerability in the Writing Lab

As I have taken time before I graduate to reflect back on the past year in my role as a writing lab consultant, it becomes clear that one thing has remained a constant: vulnerability is unavoidable.  I first became interested in this topic during the training course for working in the writing lab.  My knee-jerk reaction to the mere mention of the word made me want to run screaming in the opposite direction.  Showing off my vulnerability to someone else in my life was a terrifying concept.  But, as I did more research on the topic, I became engrossed in finding a way to live my life in this way—being comfortable with being uncomfortable. 
I finished up my first semester as a writing lab consultant and I was ready to fully embrace being vulnerable. I bought the books, did the research, and preached the concepts to any friends that would listen.  I had given an informative speech on it in my writing lab training course, opening myself up and relating it to small parts of my life. It felt…