Friday, October 30, 2009

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 the word game. Coming into all of this, I felt like I was going to have to push my glasses to the end of my nose, and feign expertise in a field which I have no earthly hope of mastering in my blip of a lifespan. Who was I to dish out structured writing advice, when the bulk of my essays are done in an energy drink induced stupor? Yet, the farther I get into this game, the more I realize it's not about my talents, or lack thereof. It's about having the altruistic motive to just help someone reach a new level in their work, regardless of personal preening and postulations.
Never do I find this more apropos than when working with a "basic writer." As we discussed in our class yesterday, writers who begin at ENG 90 on the academic writing scale, cover SO much ground in regards to natural talent and capability, that is even daunting to just try and classify them all in one easily labeled sphere. These are the writers who have been told by others, or even themselves, that they just were not good enough. However, just because the quality of their ideas does not always translate well to pen or key strokes, does not denigrate the quality itself. Where do we get off in saying someone is not a good writer, when it is only the mastery of structure which alludes them? As consultants, I believe it is our duty to draw the distinction between talent in the form (which wears many different masks), and the structural means for which to display this talent to the "academic" world. Of course, it is our job description to help build the foundation for them to stand in the maelstrom of semicolons and independent clauses. Indeed, it is a vital piece to our overall puzzle. Yet, I hope to take it upon myself to try and not lose sight of what I feel is the greater goal-Everyone deserves to have confidence in their writing. I don't care if they are writing soliloquies , or OMG LOL text-speak. Writing is not an exclusive tea party, with pinkies pointed ever so slightly. It is for the common and uncommon, the heard and unheard, and it needs to stay this way (in my humble opinion, of course :) ).

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 better understanding of our position in the Center.

We've started getting a lot of required visits, which has been fun because each time a student comes in I feel more prepared and able to help. I suspect it will only get busier as the weeks go on and I look forward to helping how I can.

One of the most enjoyable things I think I've done so far is e-mail consultations. Not only is it a fun challenge to read and put together a constructive response in an hour, but it took me back to when I first started helping friends and family with their writing. We commonly used the internet and instant messenger for this purpose so this was taking me back into a comfort zone. In fact I think I'm a bit more comfortable with it then I am with face to face. I don't want to give up face to face, however, because it's a unique and valuable experience to have that personal interaction. Did anyone else from my 303 class enjoy the practice e-mail consultation?

Even though I've experienced some pretty intense ups and downs these last couple of weeks I'm still keeping hope and still maintaining my desire to help. In other news it's starting to get cold down here, hope everyone keeps warm this winter!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

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 obsessive-compulsive drive to edit would flare up, and I would have to tear the pencil from my hand and replace it in the holder in order to stop myself from doing a sentence-by-sentence editing job. This seemed, in the beginning, however, to be what each student expected and desired. I took a suggestion from a fellow consultant and tried to break out of the habit. As I had more sessions with each student, I found various ways that I could put them in control of the session. For one, who was an international student, it was as simple as putting a pencil and a pad of paper in front of her and asking her how she would re-construct a particular sentence. For the other, who was a refugee and hadn't learned any English in her home country, talking it out and using specific examples worked best. After some sessions, I would have to berate myself for editing too much, but thankfully, I've learned to tell exactly when I need to put the pencil down.
Yesterday, I had my first real "SUCCESS!" moment. When one of the "regulars" came in to see me, I was able to think back and compare the paper in front of me with the one she had come in with the first day I met with her, two months ago. It was drastically different. She had used more sophisticated words and more complex sentence structure, and was a heck of a lot more organized and coherent than she had been in the beginning. I kept looking at her with awe during the session, and eventually said, "Dude, you seriously rock at life." I don't think she completely understood what I was saying, but she smiled like I'd just given her a medal. I like to think that maybe she gained a little bit more confidence in her writing that day.


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 bewildered and codependent offspring.

I was the last of these offspring.

The house I grew up in was rough on the surface—raucous and busy. But it was quiet at heart, even melancholy. When there weren’t angry words and baseless insults flying around, there were a lot of heavy moods and empty gazing. If you talked freely you were setting yourself up for something. You watched what you said.

So I was an anxious kid, and got stressed easily. My ‘bedroom’ was actually the communal hallway off the living room (small house), so when I got stressed I hid under the kitchen table. Someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? I hid under the kitchen table. Someone laughed and I couldn’t figure out why? I hid under the table. Someone offered me a choice for lunch and I couldn’t decide? Hid under the table.

I spent a lot of time under there.

As I got older, I think I reasoned that my lasting social anxieties existed because of my large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. I then reasoned that I could avoid stress if I avoided people, social gatherings, and noisy, chatty places.

This is where the writing center comes back in.

The first time I sat in on a consultation in our writing center, I was pretty sure I’d signed my own death warrant. There were no walls in the center—only cubicle dividers. There was no privacy—I could hear every word being said in practically every consultation. I couldn’t listen to the consultant I was sitting with, couldn’t listen to the student. I was totally distracted. I went home that day thinking about my family, thinking about noise—thinking about trying to communicate or cogitate or make decisions with everyone talking at once, and I got depressed.

There’s something sort of magical about the writing center, though—about consulting. I’m not confident, and never have been. I’m not straightforward, I’m not decisive, and I’m certainly not tactful. These are deficiencies that silenced me in the past, made me afraid to speak, turned me into a writer—a writer strictly, with no room for dialogue. But it’s different at the writing center. When I go into that (minimally private) cubicle with another writer—with someone who’s written something or must write something—I turn into a conversation machine. It’s a bit of a show, of course, and it may always be a show, but if nothing else I am totally focused on the writer and the work in front of me. It’s a rare and beautiful focus. The voices—those ambient entities that melt my brain and make me want to crawl under a table?—they disappear. It’s almost surreal, the way the voices disappear.

So it’s trite, maybe, but true: My job at the writing center is teaching me how to make quiet out of chaos.

And P.S. to my fellow Boise State consultants: I totally love you guys, and I don’t want you or your voices to disappear. In this post ‘voices’ refers to the general ‘hum’ of the center—a hum that I am actually growing to love.

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 subject that I could read? Or does anyone have any relevant experience or know of anyone who has taken the consulting- counselor route?
    There’s another thing I have been curious about lately, though. I am wondering about the connections between the consultation we do in our writing centers and the jobs that editors do. It seems that the editor/writer relationship would be less interactive, but I suppose that depends on the editor. I am thinking that I would like a job as a magazine editor (or something) someday. But I wonder if I would be let down because it isn’t as interactive. Again, anything on this topic would be helpful, too.
    Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


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 stretch out our brains and our (unknown or little known) skills in the direction of a victory in the form of a diploma that makes us feel like we've accomplished something we either never thought we could or thought we'd never make it to "the end" and get that diploma. Now. What do you think of the dream?
Lila--student extrodinare at BSU

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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 fascinated by language acquisition and its affects on a student's writing. I'm also very interested in foreign language acquisition and native language acquisition and how the two differ.

But, my main idea I was wanting some feedback on from different WCs around the country was to see how they handled their ESL students and their needs and utilized their resources within their center and on their campus as well.

Monday, October 26, 2009

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 wonder if I really could make headway as someone who was supposed to "have the answers." My head is usually riddled with questions, from asinine to, well extremely asinine, and I still wonder if my "head in the clouds" persona can really touch ground with writers who really need a focused mind, along with a detailed plan to get them strumming along. However, after a little coaxing by those which shall remain nameless, I jumped over all my inhibitions, and gave this feigning expertise thing a go.
After a few weeks playing ball in the big leagues, I have come to a couple realizations. First of all, I need to quit with the blanket analysis. Sometimes it just pays to headbutt the wall, and see if you can find some hidden treasure through the cracks. Secondly, I really do enjoy my time spent collaborating with other writers. Although my pedagogy might encompass a lot of whirlwind philosophy and cheap dime-store inspiration, the concrete feeling of just HELPING is invigoration incarnate. I love playing around with rules, and disregarding them altogether sometimes. Yet, I am a firm believer in the fact of understanding the court structure in which you are playing the jester, in order to really understand why you are doing what you do. Every writer, despite whatever assumed skill level they might possess, deserves a chance to come to grips with their own version of voice in the written form. I feel very, umm, awesome, in knowing I will have a chance to play a part of that process for the students I am fortunate to consult with over the next undetermined period of time. Until next post...empathy and limited atrophy to all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

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 example). Students were then tempted to switch to 2nd person and say “you” which was equally as bad. The other great device is people would try to use the royal “we” as in “We the readers of this text…”

Permission to use “I” seems to be a fix for some of these problems. I think that teachers started pounding this into the heads of high school students (soon to be college students), and it stuck. The notion of not using “I” makes sense in some respects, however. Professors want their students to get away from their feelings about texts (i.e. this story made me feel sad) and want students to instead rhetorically examine texts. They want students to ask themselves questions like, “How is this writer using literary devices to get certain effects?” or “How is the tone of this piece important to the theme?” etc. The only way professors, it seems, could get around this overly-sentimental “feelings speak”, was by abolishing the “I.”

What this does to students, however, is force them into thinking that they must think about the writing from a perspective that isn’t them (if that makes sense). They are taking on another persona to tackle responding to texts—a persona they think the professor wants them to be. What makes me feel sad is the abolition of “I” has transferred to other types of writing, for example, personal essays. How are they supposed to write personal essays without using “I”? In most situations, I have had to give students permission to be themselves. “You are the writer of this paper. You are allowed to have a voice,” I say. They look at me incredulously.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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 PeerCentered “year book” would be solely devoted to the scholarly work of peer tutors. Perhaps the book could coincide with NCPTW and be “debuted” there?

What do you all think? What the heck am I getting myself into?

Monday, October 12, 2009

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 want to. :)

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. So here goes.

I had actually met the student once before when I sat in to observe one of our center’s veteran consultants in action, so I was already somewhat familiar with his background and his level of proficiency with English, and I also happened to remember that his first language is Spanish. For my consultation with him, he brought in a personal essay that he was writing for an intermediate English class designed for ESL students, and his primary concern was grammar and punctuation. As we read the paper together, I noticed that he had consistently left out basic articles, and when I brought this to his attention, he seemed confused about what I meant by the term article. To define the term and explain the problem to him, I pulled a specific example from his paper to use as an illustration, and this is where my limited knowledge of Spanish, his native language, came in handy. In a section where he was writing about one of his high school teachers, I pointed to a spot where a needed article was missing and said, "In Spanish, you would say 'la profesora' here, correct?" After he nodded an affirmative, I said, "Okay. In your English version here, you have the profesora part, but the la part is missing. That missing part is an article." I could see the light go on in his head, and he promptly penciled in the missing the. Then, as we read through the rest of his paper, every time we came to a spot where a required article was missing, he penciled in the correct word without any prompting on my part. Realistically, it might take him a while to always remember to include the English articles in his future writing efforts, but at least he now knows what parts of speech the term article refers to, and it will therefore be easier to “remind” him about articles in future writing-center consultations.

Of course, some languages don’t have articles, so my specific example will not apply. But the point is, if you are tutoring an ESL student and you have a basic knowledge of that student’s native language, you may be able to draw upon that knowledge to make the consultation or tutoring session more productive.

Do any of you have similar experiences or tips to share?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

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.

Friday, October 09, 2009

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?

Your Written Voice Matters: Embracing Writing Language against the Standards of the Academy

In consultations as a tutor, I notice students struggle with their own written language based on the demands of the academy. Many students e...