Showing posts from 2009

Some Thoughts on Tutoring

As my first semester in our writing center ends, I've been reflecting on what have become key points to me. I view each and every interaction in the writing center as an opportunity to enrich lives – that of the student with whom I’m working, and mine – through the work we do around writing. It begins with checking the appointment notes: I want to call the person by name. If they took the time to note anything about the assignment they’re bringing in, I reference it: “So Amanda, you’ve got a personal essay on your experience with writing!” The interaction begins the moment she walks in the door saying “I have an appointment…” I want to demonstrate, right off the block, that “We’re here to work together, I am paying attention, and I’m so glad you came!” A warm, enthusiastic welcome – and acknowledgment of the information she has already provided – can set the tone for our work together. How many times have I called “customer service” and given a complete accounting of the issue I w

Its All in the Name

Most WC writings use many different names for those of us who work in the writing centers, working with students with various writing abilities, a multitude of writing difficulties, and at any stage of the writing process. Some say it doesn’t matter what we our called, but I disagree. What we are called or call ourselves will have an influence on what is expected of us and the session that each student is involved in. While doing the reading for class, it occurred to me that there is a difference between tutoring and consulting, between a tutor and a consultant. Knowing these differences can help us in our interactions with the students. And these differences can affect how the student reacts and responds when we are trying to help them. Let’s look at the word tutor first. By definition, tutoring is to teach or instruct especially privately. Another word that can be used in defining what a tutor does is the word guide. A tutor gives guidance. All of these give the implication that it i

Improving Your Teaching Style Through Student Feedback

At the Texas A&M University Writing Center, some of the consultants are “loaned out” to other departments as writing assistants. We, as undergraduates, work one on one with a professor in many different scenarios, reading drafts, looking at grammar, style, and structure in a student’s paper for the professor, and making presentations tailored to these particular students about grammar. Starting my second semester as an Undergraduate Writing Assistant, I discovered that this class, of future Special Education teachers, was very different from my previous class, a group of senior Agronomy majors focused on soil and crop sciences. Part of my job as an assistant is to give feedback on personal reflections that each member of the class writes, and they turn in five of these reflections throughout the semester. After receiving the second group of reflections it became abundantly clear to me the students were not growing as writers. Each student seemed to be making mistakes repeatedly on

Beyond Pen and Paper

Writing. Writing what? For whom? In what context? Through what medium? What exactly does the word “writing” encompass? As a discipline, it implies much more than formal compositions or school assignments, and by no means is it limited to a specific context or audience. Whether we realize it or not, we write to communicate constantly. Any type of writing allows us to formulate our ideas, structure them, and express them in a way that is permanent. Let’s expand our notion of writing even further. The final “product” of writing does not have to end with typed words and sentences. Writing can also be the backbone for audio and visual productions, as well as speeches and presentations. You could, for example, be writing a script that you’ll produce as a video. You could be organizing points that you want to highlight when presenting your research poster. You could be writing interview questions that you’ll use to create a podcast. One of Texas A&M’s core-curriculum re

Buenos Aires...and Writing

Entering the classroom, the typical noises of students hits me. I quietly take my corner seat, smiling inwardly at the high school flashbacks flooding my mind. The teacher walks in, greeting the class with a quick hello and asking each student about their winter vacation. This scene could take place anywhere, but for me it is the beginning of August in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where English is a foreign language. This summer, I traveled to Buenos Aires, took a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course, and taught/observed English classrooms in high schools and businesses. Buenos Aires has an obsession with learning English, which can be seen by advertisements posted along streets, slid under doors, and even found on the subte (subway) steps. As a Writing Center consultant at Texas A&M University, I was excited about teaching this skill in a foreign setting. I quickly learned that my students did not share my sentiments. In the high school classroom, I could insist they

Tutoring is a Two-Way Street

I think all of us can agree that one of the most agonizing things to happen to a writer is to NOT be able to write. Whether we can't get our thoughts out on paper, or we can't them in order, or we just don't have any thoughts to write about; the feeling can be compared to a fish out of water. We gasp for breath. We flop around helplessly. Our one desire is to return to that which sustains us. Late last month, my father passed away. He was relatively young (59) and we were not very close. But being the one who had to settle his estate, I found myself putting everything else in my life on the back burner. In the week I was handling the arrangements, my skills seemed to have left me. I wanted to write but my head was so clouded I couldn't get anything out. For the first time in a long time, I remembered what it was like to be a first-year student, struggling with a writing assignment. Suddenly, I found myself in need of the writing center. I needed to know how t

When terminology escapes you

Hello everyone, One of my recent tutoring sessions gave me some insight into a broader issue that we have been experiencing at our writing center. When tutoring very subject-specific lab reports or scientific papers, tutors often face the challenge of helping writers with papers whose subject matter is specialized and unfamiliar. My session was actually with a good friend of mine, Liz, who scheduled an appointment with me to work on a paper for her advanced medical technology class. It was a research paper riddled with anatomy and medical terms, so in trying to help Liz make sure her sentences had clarity and effectively explained their purpose, I felt stumped. Because the terminology was so unknown to me, I was limited to two tutoring strategies. The first one, zooming in on the details and fixing sentence-level grammar and syntax issues, seemed a frivolous approach to this seven-page paper. The second, zooming out and asking about the paper’s organization and structure, seemed more a

Hello Fellow Writing Center Staff

Hello Everyone: My name is Nikki Gillespie and I am a Graduate Writing Consultant for the writing center at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. My colleagues, Steve Uhler, Corey Smallwood, and I, are doing a project on technology in the writing center. We are asking anyone who participates on this site, to please fill out this brief survey on technology, as it pertains to your writing center. The survey should take you no longer than 10 or 15 minutes, and your time would be greatly appreciated, as this information will be used for statistical purposes within one of our major projects for this semester. Here is the link to the survey: Click Here to take survey If you have any questions, please feel free to pose them in the comments portion of this post. Thank you again for your time.

"Pure " Tutoring?

There seems to be a need for robust conversations around directive versus purely collaborative tutoring, not only in the realm of tutoring nonnative speakers, but across the spectrum. Shamoon and Burns, in “A Critique of Pure Tutoring”, from The Saint Martin’s Sourcebook, provide both data driven and anecdotal support for deconstructing the orthodoxy of pure, non-directive tutoring in writing centers. There is a disconnection between the views of social constructionists and practices applied in writing centers – practice not matching theory. To paraphrase what I understand to be our mission: we aim to improve the writer, not necessarily the paper. Shamoon and Burns note that “…students at different stages in their education, from beginning to advanced, are developing different skills and accumulating different kinds of information, thus making them receptive to different kinds of instruction and tutoring” (178). This comment, reinforced with research in acquisition of cognitive skills

High School Update

Hi everyone, I know it's been a while since my last post, but things are developing well at our high school satellite writing center. Since we started the satellite, we've had more students come for help on various types of writings. Students have grown accustomed to seeing us there and have responded positively to the experience. For the National Day on Writing, 15 students from Pace came to STU and spent time in the UWC celebrating with us. After the event, they created a thank you card of how much they enjoyed themselves. Some of their comments were: "I had lots of fun and learned new things. The small activities were great!" "Thanks for letting us see the importance of writing and how much fun we can have." "My first college experience! The best was getting to read my paper out loud.” Last week we helped a student with her college admissions essay. She was very happy and told her friends about it. On Friday, she came back with a sheet of paper for u


... and I am not just talking about sentences. This last week, we read the story of a consultant's dealings with a student she was tutoring in the article "Whispers of Coming and Going": Lessons from Fannie" by Anne DiPardo. Although the essay had many different themes; preparedness for tutoring, technique, minorities, self-reflection, and more, I found something more. People are fragmented. The student in this story had come from a Navajo reservation, and had been shuffled from one school to the next while growing up. She became separated from not only her family, but from her culture. Now in college, her goal is to go back and teach on the reservation. But her writing skills as well as her communication skills, are lacking drastically, and she is forced to go to the Writing Center to try to strengthen her abilities. Throughout the essay, we see Morgan, Fannie's tutor, struggle to get the student to progress in her writing. At the end of the essay we see

Tutor Support Systems, Just a few questions!

Last night in our preparatory class for our positions within the Writing Center I thought of asking the rest of you tutors, and directors out there about the steps (if any) you take to prepare and support your tutors while in the center as tutors, official or unofficial. So, with a quick response, would you please outline the support you recieve(d) with your tutoring? Such as preparatory classes, workshops, sit-ins, guidance from "veteran" consultants and director, GA or other staff, or any other kind of reflection activities? Thank you! Have a great halloween!

Karma Police.

Sometimes, I feel it is absolutely imperative for us to reevaluate what we personally stand for, as writing consultants. As we progress through this semester in English 303, I have become immersed in the idea of a "writer's community," or the idea of a place in the compositional construct where all those who want to learn themselves through scribbling and typing, can. In a lot of aspects, we serve as a gateway for a fair amount of students, in regards to raising questions in the hopes of also raising confidence levels. This is never an easy task, and I would venture to guess it can cause a fair amount of lost hair and brain-fade. However, I am struck by the fact that I have been given an opportunity to help other become as 3am/bleary-eyed addicted to the concept of the "perfect sentence." Despite the fact that I have always been relatively pampered (deserved or not) for my exploits, I never, EVER feel better off, or even more qualified than John or Jane Doe in t

Early Morning Musings

Hello everyone, I apologize for not much activity here on Peer Centered. I've taken a look at some of the material here and there's wonderful dialogue going on. I want to and will try to involve myself more. I think if I just make it a habit of checking then I'll be able to become more involved. A lot has happened since my first post several weeks ago. I'm now officially a full intern at the Center and have been involved in non-stop consultations each ninety minute block I'm there. I've worked with traditional, non-traditional, ESL, and even had my first experience with a bright gentlemen that was unfortunately struggling with a learning disability. All types really do come to the Center and sometimes I feel overwhelmed (today was a key one almost about to make me rethink my entire philosophy). Talking each week though with my fellow interns in our training class is a great relief to me. We share our successes and struggles and most importantly work towards a be

Rocking at Life

I absolutely adore working with ESL students. They are hardworking, refreshingly curious, and can easily take constructive criticism, unlike many native English-speakers (myself included). One of the main reasons that I decided to apply for an internship in our center here at Boise State was that I would have the chance to work with ESL students. As someone who has had first hand experience in being a stranger in a strange land, I have a special appreciation for the struggles ESL students go through. All that to say, I thoroughly admire them. I've only worked a couple of months in the writing center, and already I've got a couple of "regulars"--that is to say, I see them a lot more often than I see other students. Both have been living in the U.S. for a few years, and have a fairly strong command of spoken English. When I first started meeting with them, I was a little overwhelmed. Their papers were riddled with errors, and I wasn't even sure where to begin. My ob


As I approached consulting, I was worried—not surprisingly—that I couldn’t do the job. I worried for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was noise. More specifically, it was voices. Ambient voices are to my brain what an electromagnetic pulse is to the Starship Enterprise: They are a power drain. They cause total mechanical shut-down. There must be others who have this problem, but I’ll relate some background, for comprehension’s sake. I come from a large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. My parents were hippies. Religious hippies. Grumpy hippies (I’m looking at you, Dad). They fled California in the late 1960s and hiked around continental Europe carrying their backpacks, a tin campfire pot, some dirty laundry, and not much else. Dad was AWOL from the Army at the time—need I mention?—so he did four months in a German stockade after the excursion. Eventually they returned to the States, got a Volkswagen bus, some road maps, a cooking stove, and, sooner or later, six bewi

Consulting, counseling, and editing

Hello! I am a consultant at Boise State’s writing center. I am still kind of new there, but I’ve done enough consultations to start to get the hang of things. I absolutely love it, too, for the record.     I have started wondering about certain connections that the consulting I do in the Center have to work I might do after I graduate. I have always been interested in becoming a high school counselor, and it didn’t take me too long to notice that I have a natural inclination to approach a writing consultation in similar ways that I might approach a counseling session. I am interested in how a student feels that day, because things like that directly affect a session. I am often curious why a student wrote something in a certain way; I’m curious what might be going on in that student’s life that would influence their writing. All of these things strengthen my belief that someday, I might want to go to graduate school for counseling. Does anyone know of any good articles about this subj


to dream per chance to dream--that is the question. I think. Is that how you say it? To dream? I dream of being finished with school and working in a middle school teaching English. Or at an ESL center helping the immigrants learn our language so they can survive in our culture. That's what I dream of. To be able to get through English 202 and English 303 and my other class, oh yea, writing 407. They all require lots of reading, lots of writing and lots of paying attention to what is going on. Some of the required work is beyond my copacity to think so I need a tutor. The place where I would ordinarily get a tutor for free didn't have one for that class so I am having to go outside and pay someone myself. It's all about timing, money and energy isn't it after all, isn't that what it's all about? And "at the end of the day" it is also about learning to the highest level of learning that we can attain to learn. Here at the University we are able to stret

How much of a Writing Center

I have currently been pondering the idea of how much of a Writing Center's resources are aimed at which type of students doing some kind of writing. We have hand books in our center that amaze me sometimes at the specificity of their nature. Writing just for literature, or business majors or online or writing when an ESL student is involved. Last week we had our the big cheese of our ESL department come in and speak and my view on ESL students since then has greatly changed, as well as the issues that I see they deal with and how we handle these issues. I have been wondering how much of a Writing Center should go to helping language acquisition and how much of it should go toward Native English Speakers (NES)? I know that one of the fundamentally wrong things to do with an ESL student is to categorize them immediately and try to use a formulated plan toward them but I have just been playing with the idea of our resources that we do have and their relation to ESL students. I am fasc

Better Late Than Extremely Late.

You know those people who obsessively catalog every album and every book they have every owned, making sure they are organized by either last name, subject, or author's blood type? Well, those people scare me. I am probably the least organized human being in my general sphere of things, leading me to trip over my valuable Elvis Costello 45s, while having used Chinese take-out containers sit in their lionized space on my dusty shelves. This leads to an enormous amount of brain-smoke moments, not the least being my first post here on the vaunted Peer Centered message board. So let's forget that this post is super late, and conveniently switch the focus to the world of consulting. Let me say, coming into this experience, I felt a little apprehensive about where I would fit into the grand schematic of the super-spiffy composition community. My lack of organization, mixed with a general anxiety in regards to the "writer ideal" I have been privy to in the past, made me

The Use of I

One thing I have been experiencing in my sessions as a consultant is the notion students have adopted in which they aren’t allowed to have a voice in their own papers. Students circumnavigate their pieces trying to avoid the “I”—its literal use as in “I think” and its underlying use, when the paper sounds like how they would speak. While “I” isn’t necessarily voice, all the time, I think it is a good starting point at explaining voice to newer writers. I understand for more academic writing, students need to follow some conventions, but the idea of having to write scholastically is where writer’s block comes for a lot of students. They have this notion that the “I” is a bad thing. I know a lot of teachers I had in high school said that we weren’t ever allowed to let an “I” slip into the paper. Trying to avoid “I” and navigate the language was very hard. A lot of times people would use “one” as in “One doesn’t need to go to the store for milk” (may be a bad ex

Any thoughts?

Lately I've been working on a profession project in which I have to explore the profession I wish to work in. Of course I picked becoming a writing center director. Clint has been of great assistance in helping me with this topic, but now I'd like to know what you think? I read an article on IWCA's website that called my attention “Writing Centers in Professional Contexts.” The author discusses the 3 roles of a writing center director: administrator, trade worker, and revolutionary. Although I agree with all these roles within a writing center director, I can't help but wonder if maybe we're missing something? Is there something that has been left out, oversimplified, or just been completely off track? What happens to those writing center directors who are also adjunct or full-time professors? For now, I guess I have more questions than I do insights. But I would like to know what others think about this or the article.

Survey for peer tutors!

Stefan Spezio from Dutches County Community College asked me to post this survey for peer writing tutors . Have at it!

Tutoring Reading in the Writing Center?

Often, students who visit our writing center need help learning to read challenging texts. What strategies do tutors employ to help writers develop reading practices? What training do writing centers provide tutors in reading theory and pedagogy? We've read Gary Griswold's 2006 article in the Journal of College Reading and Learning called " Postsecondary Reading: What Writing Center Tutors Need to Know." Now we'd like to learn more. Any practical advice you can offer? Any suggestions for further reading we might do about reading pedagogy, which might be particularly applicable in a writing center? Any resources you can share to help writing tutors become effective reading tutors?

PeerCentered Publication?

Here is something I sent to WCENTER (the list for all things writing center earlier today). Thoughts? Hi all, I’m kicking around the idea of having a special publication of PeerCentered and am wondering how many folks would be interested. Basically the journal would be made up articles written by peer tutors writing about peer tutoring issues. No doubt it would be a good outlet for writing center theory and practice courses. If it were successful once, I could see it coming out on an annual basis—kind of the best of peer tutoring journal, as it were. I would prefer to have student editors, but that might be a bit difficult to arrange. Certainly we could have peer tutors serve as assistant editors, or co-editors. I’m also thinking that it will be peer reviewed (by peer tutors no less!) Anyway, I’m wondering how much interest there would be in something like this? Currently WLN publishes peer tutoring work, as do some of our regional publications, but the special PeerCenter

for to Internship

I have successfully completed 21 and a half hours so far in the Writing Center. Boy does time fly. That's seven weeks, or six weeks and two meetings! I feel like--except for blogging--I am progressing nicely in my internship, right where I should be. I am rather enjoying Melissa and the crew at Boise State Writing Center. My first consult was a walk-in with an attitude. He had to be there because he teacher told him to, so he had an attitude. Rather than feed into his frustration I took him into one of our consultation cubes where he settled down and we worked on his paper. We were able to see mistakes that could be corrected and I felt like I was getting through to him--without violence! ha! ha! Even though his paper was long, we only took thirty minutes and I felt that he came away from the session feeling like it wasn't so bad afterall, and he might have even felt successful about it. I did. It was a great learning experience on how to keep your cool when others don't wa

I Used Spanish to Help in Tutoring English!

I’m a shiny new consultant in the Boise State University Writing Center—okay, maybe I’m not so shiny, but I am new—and as such, I just started “flying solo” and conducting consultations (i.e., tutoring) on my own very recently. One of my first few sessions involved an ESL student whose native language is Spanish, and though I’ve only had a couple of semesters of college-level EspaƱol, my limited knowledge of the language actually came in handy when I was trying to help this student. In addition to recounting the details of the session with some of my fellow BSU consultants, I also shared the info with our center’s director, Melissa, and she thought it was interesting and useful enough that she’s considering the idea of putting together some sort of venue where our consultants could share these types of successful tips and tricks for working with ESL tutees. Anyway, I figured if she was that interested in my story, then it might be something worth posting here at Peer Centered, too.

Question about creative works in your WC

We're trying to put together a better method for working with creative writers in our center at Boise State--specifically short fiction/novel writers. Since those works normally need to be read in their entirety and we are limited to 30 min or 1 hour appointments, this is what we are considering doing: The student drops off their work; then, we'll block off 3o minutes or an hour to read and schedule a followup 30 minute appointment to go over the work. We'd also like them to fill out a checklist when they drop off their work, explaining what type of feedback they are looking for. I'm wondering how other centers work with creative writers. Do you have a similar method or something different and how well does it work? Thanks for any feedback.

The W. C. author of choice

Who is your end all be all of writing center theory? North seems to be the one man who shows up all the time, and his manifesto is such a part other writing center theory. But recently I have heard that Muriel Harris is the end all be all. What do you think? Who do you tend to lean towards for your own writing center consultation theory?

Is an "Ideal Text" a Completly Bad Thing?

I finished reading Thomas Newkirk's "The First Five Minutes: Setting the Agenda in a Writing Conference," and I would like to discuss his criticism of what Knoblauch and Brannon call an "ideal text." On a side note, I have not actually read Knoblauch and Brannon's work yet, so I will only discuss Newkirk's definition and perspective pertaining to the ideal text. An ideal text, according to Newkirk, is the text which a teacher/tutor/consultant has in their mind during a writing conference with a student; "an image of the true version which this paper [the student's] should ultimately conform to" (308). Newkirk's main concern with an ideal text is that if a teacher has an ideal in mind, then they are likely to dominate the writing conference and not afford the student the opportunity to brainstorm, reflect and learn from their own writing and thoughts because the teacher will only be gratified if/when the student conforms to the ideal.

There's more?

We're kind of a big class, I'd like to think 12+ or so newbs that have invaded the BSU (Boise State) Writing Center. As one of the youngest, if not THE youngest consultants-to-be, I have such respect for everyone I interact with whenever I go into the Center. Even my fellow 303'ers seem bigger then life to me because they are older, wiser and more experienced. Here I am, a little 19 year old, not even a flippin' sophomore yet (like two credits away...) and I'm trying to fulfill the duties of something I find very respectable. A writing tutor. My major as an Art Educator seems slightly related to this experience, but I did it for mainly selfish reasons. One: I had the best first year of english, ever, last year with Zach Koppelmann. Two: As an education major, I wanted to get a taste for working with and helping students, however I can, before student teaching. Three: It sounded like a screamin' good time! And a good opportunity to find that niche I've been i

Thanks Everyone!!!!

My sincere thanks to Annie, April and Michelle who replied to my peer-tutoring questionnaire! Your feedback is all so great that it has me super excited to start drafting my research paper. (Only an English nerd would be excited to write an 8 page paper!!!) That being said, if anyone else would like to respond, I would be excited to hear from you! Click on the title for a link to my original post so you can add your feed-back! Like I said, I'm new to this and can use all the help I can get! :) Wish me luck on drafting this weekend!