Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflective Practice

Hi All, As the end of the fall semester approaches, I plan to meet with writing tutors individually to discuss how the semester went (e.g., strengths they feel they exhibited, target areas for improvement, challenges they faced, questions/concerns they have, etc.). Have you found any questions/approaches to be particularly useful when having such conversations with tutors/consultants? And, more generally, I am interested in effective strategies for generating a reflective practice in the writing center. In other words, what have you done to get tutors/consultants to discuss not only issues that come up in their work with students on writing but to reflect on their own tutoring/consulting practices and engage in dialogue about their practices? Thanks! A Reflective Practitioner

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Anyone Ever Tutored Online?

Hey guys, I am relatively new to peer tutoring (just started getting some "practice" consulting hours in my university's writing center as part of a Peer Tutoring class I am taking), but it's something that I am really passionate about.

Right now, I am trying to learn more about online writing labs and what kinds of different kinds of online writing consultations different schools and universities have available to them. Are there any tutors on this blog who have had experience working as an online writing tutor and would like to answer a couple of questions? Basically, I am working to find out how online writing consultations can foster the same learning experience as a one-on-one, face-to-face consultation in a writing center.

If anyone out there has experience with this and would be interested in participating, please let me know by commenting. Thank you!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How To Handle Rhetorical Punctuation Issues?

As I've been tutoring for the past year, I keep coming across an issue that I haven't heard talked about a whole lot--I'd really appreciate feedback on how everyone handles this situation, and (if it applies) what your thoughts are on how it might be handled better. Pointers to any literature on the subject would be awesome too.

The enclosed link is just an article from The Wall Street Journal that I thought was interesting--it got me thinking again about the question I've been wanting to pose to other tutors since this summer. Love to hear what your perspective is on the article too, but let me get on with my question.

Our writing center sees students from every major and I tutor every undergrad class level. The more I tutor, the more I notice that grammar and punctuation are very rhetorical: in many ways professors' perspectives of  "what is correct" are all different--many times dependent upon their field. For instance, Engineering professors (in my experience) don't like their students to use semicolons--which is indicative of their desire for shorter, more direct sentences. English professors, on the other hand, get excited about long sentences and semicolon use, provided the writer has control of the thing.

Granted, my experience is limited, but I feel like this discrepancy is largely unaccounted for, and not addressed in training. I understand that it goes back to a fundamental understandings of what writing is, and to even address the issue would require much more than a simple training, but it seems like a challenge worth some thought.

What do you think? Have you encountered this situation in your tutoring experience? If so, how does your writing center handle it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Survey on plagiarism

This just in from Zuzana Tomas:

Dear tutors/consultants,
I am working on a study that examines your experience with and beliefs about writing from sources and plagiarism. I would greatly appreciate it if you could participate in the study by completing an online survey. The survey is completely anonymous and should not take longer than 15 minutes to complete.

Here is the link to the survey:

If you would like more information about the study, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you so much for your help!

Zuzana Tomas (
Eastern Michigan University

Monday, October 03, 2011

NCPTW Conference tips

On WCENTER, Risa Gorelick posted some handy tips that the WPA email list sends out that might help first-time NCPTW attendees (edited with peer tutors in mind):

General First Time Conference Attendees:
  • wear comfortable shoes!
  • network with EVERYONE.  Meet new people. 
  • Stay hydrated.  Conference hotels are dry and you'll talk a lot.
  • Bring snacks (Powerbars, candies, etc.) in case you're in a session during lunch.
  • Go to the parties (don't sit in your hotel room...).
  •  Try to  go to a session on something you don't know much about rather than go to all the sessions on [subjects you know something about].  You'll meet new people and learn something to boot.
  • Try not to go up to some big name and say, "wow, you're so-and-so" (s/he will know that already).  Instead, introduce yourself and start a conversation.  [Don't be afraid to talk to people, in other words!]
  • It's OK to go up to someone you know from...[their scholarly work or from] Facebook whom you haven't met in person and introduce yourself face-to-face.
  • If you are on Twitter, tweet what you're learning at the conference (though try not to do it while someone is giving a presentation as it is rude to be typing on your smartphone while someone is taking).
If you're presenting for the first time:
  • Prepare a 1 page (double-sided) handout to share with those in your session.  30 copies is probably enough.  On it, have your contact info....
  • Try not to read a paper to the group.  Instead, have talking points/PowerPoint.
  • Time yourself so you don't go over (you don't want to get "the hook" or the gong).
  • Be realistic on how much you can read in 15-20 minutes if you read a paper (probably 6-7 double-spacked, typed pages).
  • Have a back up in case the technology doesn't work (e.g. handouts of your PowerPoint slides)
  • Smile--people came to hear your talk.  They're interested in what you have to say on your topic.
  • It's nice to have a friendly face in the session--pair up with someone and go to the other's talk and s/he'll go to yours, too. (Most comp/rhet/writing center people are overly friendly so there should be a lot of friendly faces in the session, but it's reassuring to know there's a special friendly face in the room just for you).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PeerCentered Podcast! NCPTW 2011 Preview: Daniel Sanford

NCPTW 2011 Preview: Daniel Sanford

Daniel Sanford from the University of New Mexico talks about his upcoming presentation at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing: "Writing Tutoring and Language Rights: Spanish and Navajo Writing Tutoring at the University of New Mexico."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PeerCentered FlashMob 3.0

PeerCentered Flash Mob 2.0 in Baltimore
Come join PeerCentered colleagues attending the upcoming NCPTW conference in Miami in a flash mob & get an official PeerCentered sticker for your name badge! The plan is to meet up at the Pizza Reception/Poster Session on Friday at 5:00. You can dance if you want to, but if you don't dance and if they don't dance, well they're still friends of PeerCentered. As at the last PeerCentered FlashMob [TM] we will be trading erstwhile mascots. Bring your stuffed animals/tin Elvises/whatever to trade with other PCFlashMobbers. Last year, for example, the SLCC Student Writing Center traded its fake Pepe Le Peu plush animal for a rather fetching tin angel Elvis. This is the third PeerCentered flash mob. Our first was held at the 2008 Las Vegas NCPTW/IWCA joint conference. The second was in November 2010 in again at the IWCA/NCPTW Joined Conference. This is our first with just an NCPTW mob!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fall semester here we come!

Here we are at the start of another school year. Here is an idea to get your PeerCentered juices flowing: post a comment to this post about something you would like to improve on in your tutoring writing.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

CFP: Writing Center Theory and Practice

The Winter 2011 Issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly is still accepting submissions until the end of August for its special section on writing center theory and practice.  This section will particularly focus on how the founding and funding of writing centers influence who they serve and why.

In addition to Writing Center Directors and other administrators, we welcome submissions from professional staff, faculty tutors, and graduate students who work in the writing center!

For the official CFP please     

Monday, May 16, 2011

Praxis publication and news

This just in from the editors of Praxis:

Praxis, the writing center journal at The University of Texas at Austin is happy to announce the publication of its Fall 2011 issue, From Triage to Outreach: Raising the Institutional Profile of Writing-Center Work. Please find our latest issue online at the Praxis website:

Beginning this spring, Praxis will be published as a peer-reviewed journal. Our Spring 2011 issue is the second in a series about the institutional profile of writing centers and writing center practice.
Please see our Call for Papers at

Our guidelines for submissions have changed. Those interested in submitting aritcles for peer review, column essays, and book or conference reviews can find our new guidelines for submission at The deadline for submissions is August 20, 2011.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Electrical Tape Was Our Bond

Hey Friends~
My name is Angie, I'm a English Writing Major at Montana State University, where I also tutor in our Writing Center. I'm new to the tutoring community, but I've fallen in love with it already and am trying to get more familiar with writing center research, culture, jargon, conferences--ya know, everything! This blog has been really helpful for me just to hear the kinds of conversations peer tutors in other places are having. Thanks!

My last day of tutoring for the semester made me think about things I'm not sure I've thought this deeply about before. Like how easy it is to profile a writer by the appearance of their paper and how this can jade our opinions of the paper and the writer before we even read, causing us to miss out on powerful teaching/learning moments. And also how there are many ways we can connect with a writer; some of them so obvious that I, for one, didn't even see them until my interaction with this student opened my eyes. Like identification, for instance.

My last student didn't stand out in any particular way, until he got out his paper. It seemed to be held together by electrical tape. He embarrassingly hid it and pulled out a clean copy, but it was too late, "Is that electrical tape?" I asked with half a smile. He lowered his eyes, seeming for all the world to me like one who was expecting a chiding, and muttering something about how he had gotten to class, realized he'd forgotten to staple his paper but always carried electrical tape, so he used that. Though I'm not the chiding sort, I am conscious that many times the appearance of a paper says much about the amount of care that was put into it--or not. I usually flip through a paper's pages right away, just to get a feel for what levels a writer is at: interest-level, thinking-level and writing-ability. This helps me get a feel for where to start with them. With this particular paper, it would have been easy to shrug him off as unprepared and sloppy, and I might have, except for the fact that I come from a discourse community where carrying electrical tape means one is very prepared, and always ready to improvise; to my eyes, electrical tape symbolizes a thinker, not a slacker.

My writer seemed uneasy--still waiting for that lecture on stapling-not-taping. I needed to put him at ease: no matter what his paper held, some trust had to be built for the session to be beneficial, so I searched for something to say that would calm him. I hadn't read his paper yet so I couldn't speak to his writing abilities--I could only speak to his taping abilities. That's when I realized that he had no idea that his tape made me expect a thoughtful paper from him. Sitting there is my better-than-jeans-and-T-shirt-attire, a feminine woman in her 30's, it occurred to me that he had no way of knowing that I spent years as an aircraft technician in the U.S. Navy, where tape and safety wire in the hands of a youth with determination often worked more magic than manuals and expensive tools. I don't normally talk much about myself when I tutor--this time I ventured in that direction, knowing that to be comfortable, electrical-tape guy needed to know he was in the company of one who spoke his language (note the connection between discourse community and values here: our similar tech backgrounds cause us to both see something as simple as electrical tape as a symbol for skill, preparedness and thoughtfulness).

I smiled and motioned to his paper, and mentioned how I understood the need for tape, and wire, and pocket knives too, for that matter, due to my history of working on jets. I'm pretty sure the guy almost passed out from shock. When he recovered,  he smiled. And started talking freely; he was at ease.

We started reading and I wasn't at all disappointed: his was the best paper I had tutored all year--not because it was perfect by any means, but because it was thoughtful and showed he had actually learned something. It helped that he was taking a required writing class that is Writing-About-Writing based. The assignment asked him to take what he had learned over the semester and research how writing works in his field: Electrical Engineering. Throughout the year I see a lot of jargon thrown around in papers to make them sound smart--I've done it too. This wasn't that. It was a smart, thoughtful use of what the writer had been taught, used to investigate how writing works other places outside his classroom. He used the concepts and vocabulary from his class well, in ways that could only be transferred to such a different field by one who had some grasp of them. And he was invested and paid attention: he had two copies of his paper and while I read one aloud, he took notes on the other one--always noting where I stumbled with his wording, even if I re-read it and found the stumble to be my end-of-semester fog, not his writing.

Something else amazing happened too: because I had started out by admitting to being part of a discourse community that writes very differently from any college writing I've done, and because I saw this as a reason he trusted me, I was already expecting his writing to be along the lines of this tech experience we shared. I know that I understood his writing better because of this. His paper touched on the difference in title content between articles that he had researched for writing class vs. those he found when he looked up something in his field. He noted that the titles of articles for his field almost always said what information the paper contained: if it was a certain procedure he was looking for, he'd know had found the article he was looking for when he found it because it would be titled "How to_____________". Conversely, my tutee noted that when searching Writing/English-type journals, he never knew what might be in an article because the title didn't seem to reflect the content. I had never thought about that as being the reason I used to get so frustrated with research in my major, but he was right: I was accustomed to aircraft manuals having a procedure written into the title--something I hadn't often noted in my major's writings. This writer's paper was refreshingly thoughtful and smart--and I might have missed all of this had I judged him as sloppy or uncaring due to the electrical tape.

While we read and interacted around his paper, we laughed a lot. We talked much, from personal experience, about how writing differs between our two majors. I caught on to tiny things in his paper that I wouldn't have, had I not made the technician connection, and when I needed to explain anything to him, all I had to do was put it in terms he was familiar with, and he not only grasped them, but got excited about their clarity. At one point when we had stopped laughing over something writing-related that was particularly unique to our shared techy exoeriences, he looked at me and said with sincerity in his voice, "I would have never, ever guessed you would get the electrical tape thing. This [that we're doing] is the way working with writing is supposed to be." I had to agree. We were able to think together from at least two different writing backgrounds (discourse communities), and it made the tutoring experience rich with learning for both of us.

But what would have happened if I hadn't used my own experiences to identify myself with him and so seek his trust? He might have never trusted me with the concepts that made the experience great, because he would have assumed that I would never understand them, just like someone else might have assumed the taped paper  meant he didn't care about his paper. You just never know what thoughtfulness might be disguised within the ordinary--unless of course, an electrical-taped paper gives you the first clue. In a tutoring session we have so many points at which to choose to identify with a writer or not; I'd venture that a great many of these pass us by completely unnoticed, especially when we assume things that experience has more often than not "proved" to us.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Crossing the Age Gap with Adult Learners

Working with adults returning to school for either their bachelor’s or graduate degrees has helped me develop my skills as a consultant and peer tutor. Consultations with adult students have a different atmosphere about them than do traditional, young students; they are usually able to better articulate their problems and explain their concerns. When the age difference is significant enough, challenges can inhibit the client gaining trust in the tutor. To overcome them, we have to look at different ways of thinking about what being a peer tutor means.

The broadest definition of “peer” is someone who belongs in the same group as you, and most commonly this refers to age. Peers can just as easily be people with similar abilities, qualifications, and other statuses, but age is the first impression. Most of the consultants at our Writing Center and the students who come in are undergraduates and graduate students within the same age range. Before any words are exchanged, this automatically establishes some common ground between them upon which trust builds. Students immediately see that they will be working with someone similar to them, someone in the same boat.

Adult learners, though, do not have this instant connection with younger consultants, so we have to rely on different approaches to being a peer tutor. It may seem too obvious, but we have to show that we share common goals in addressing concerns and improving the paper as well as the writer. We do this while keeping in mind that adult learners tend to have specific concerns about their work and focus more on higher-order issues like content and synthesis of ideas. By acknowledging how adult learners approach discourse about their work, tutors can rely on the different meanings of “peer” to go beyond the age gap.

Of course, every consultation is unique, and each poses different challenges for both tutor and client. However, from a number of encounters with adult students I have had, they tended to bring in more personal works, such as reflection papers and autobiographies, and often their subject matter revolves around their families or hardships from growing up and other sensitive, intimate content. As an undergraduate, I realize they have more life experience than I have, which can contribute to them feeling uncomfortable working with a younger peer tutor, even to the point that they feel they are not working with a peer at all. Certainly, the age difference comes into play, so we show empathy and genuine interest in their concerns and work to establish common ground and trust to overcome the gap.

I had a consultation with an adult student who came in to work on her response paper to a guest speaker who came to her Psychology of Women class to talk about gender discrimination in the workplace. She had written about how the guest speaker’s perspective was more privileged than other women’s, and my student was concerned with expressing ideas concisely. She had already written pages and pages of material that included many personal experiences as examples, but her assignment could only be two pages long. Recognizing the need to find some common ground because of the age difference, I mentioned that, as a psychology major, I had taken that class a few semesters prior. She slightly raised an eyebrow and said, “Really? Okay.” While this seemed to actually backfire a bit, it encouraged me more to help her build trust in me, so before we began reading through her paper we discussed her own opinions on the speaker’s lecture. The subject matter was personal, naturally, especially when she gave examples of how she herself faced gender discrimination as an adult in the workplace before coming back to university. After this, we were able to identify her major points and figure out how to express them in her paper within the requirements. Even if I had not taken the same class before, our discussion still would have been very possible and just as helpful. The open discourse between us about her opinions helped fill the age gap and establish trust between her and me as a peer tutor in the sense that we shared concern about her ideas and worked toward a common goal.

It would be unjust to limit “peer” as someone in the same age group, especially in the context of a peer tutor. However, we must account for age being the most widely accepted connotation for it, and address this concern when working with adult learners. Trust is more readily established between students and consultants of the same peer group, whereas we must go beyond superficial similarities and look for common ground to share. Genuine, open discussion about the student’s concerns and writing help to establish that trust and alleviate reservations previously held, and commit to the consultation. Then, the consultant and adult student can transcend the age rift and collaborate as academic equals, as peers sharing the same goals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 NCPTW Conference

The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing will take place November 4-6 in Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus. Since the deadline is right around the corner (April 25), I wanted to know if anyone is planning on attending. If so, what are you thinking about presenting?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Facebook: The Writing Center

At the 2011 Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conferece hosted by Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Joe McCormick, Writing Advisor at the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, presented his work on incorporating Facebook as a writing center platform, including standard information and writing-related resources as well as online tutoring.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Revenge of the Podcast

After a couple of years of on-again, off-again quest for a new server home, the PeerCentered Podcast is back!  There are some "episodes" from the last couple of years that were placed in other venues and represented here in the PeerCentered blog.

If you are interested in doing a podcast episode, contact me (Clint Gardner.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Steps to Success: Examining the Effectiveness of Follow-up Consultations

It started as any other consultation with a graduate student. I met the student, Kevin, and discovered that he wanted help with his journal article. He had been to the University Writing Center (UWC) once before a few months ago, so he had an idea of the kind of work we do. His concerns centered mostly on article use and the structure of sentences. I was also able to identify comma use errors and some capitalization issues when naming proper nouns. Overall, Kevin was eager to learn. It seemed more important to him to really understand the underlying concepts we discussed rather than just covering as much ground as possible. This was my first hint that perhaps this client could benefit from a more long-term consultative relationship. As we neared the end of the session, Kevin mentioned that he was very happy with the feedback I was giving him and wanted to know if he could meet with me again. I was about to give him the normal line about how everyone is just as qualified – which they absolutely are – to help him when I stopped, thinking that maybe it was a good time to try out something new: I decided to schedule a follow-up appointment with Kevin.

Ever since starting at the University Writing Center (UWC), I have considered the possibility of performing follow-up consultations as a method for enhancing student learning. I am particularly interested in the idea of building a professional relationship to create a mutually beneficial consultative session. Follow-up consultations are not currently practiced at the UWC, but after obtaining approval, I decided to give this idea a shot to see firsthand the effect of multiple visits.

We met again early the next week. I expected that we would again focus on the journal article, but when he arrived, Kevin indicated that a grant application had come up, and he wanted to look over the short essay. I was initially disappointed, thinking that this is the kind of circumstance that not having follow-ups was to prevent against: leapfrogging from one assignment to another at the client’s whim. But he was there, so I somewhat reluctantly looked with him at his essay. How surprised I was! I had told him last time that follow-ups are out of the ordinary, and because of this, he would be expected to review the work we had done and really attempt to internalize and apply the lessons to the rest of the paper before we actually were to meet. Now, we were looking at a completely different document with a completely different purpose, but Kevin had applied all of the lessons from the previous session to this new one. His articles were almost flawless. His commas still needed work, but he easily identified errors when we talked about them and was able to defend his decisions in using them. We made it through the paper, highlighting new areas of concern. I ended the session by reminding him of these specific points and suggesting that he concentrate on these areas before meeting again.

The next time we met was two weeks later. There were some scheduling conflicts, but finally we were able to have our third and final meeting. This time, Kevin wanted to concentrate on more of a macro focus on the end of his article. He wanted to see if his complex ideas made sense to me, a lay person. As we read, I was again ecstatic to see the commas, articles, and capitalization used almost flawlessly. Sure, there were a few errors here and there, and we worked on some wording issues, but overall, the result was a paper that was understandable and, above all, readable. As we ended, Kevin’s words summed up the experience best; he told me that he truly felt that he had been equipped to tackle these writing issues on his own. Though he expressed interest in returning to the UWC in the future, he felt much more confident in his own written skills.

As a result of this interaction, I can definitely see the potential benefit of an established partnership between consultant and client. Given the right kind of motivated student and confident consultant, I feel that such a learning experience will only serve to further our mission at the UWC: to equip writers with the tools to build their own success. This was only a preliminary trial run, but I invite anyone who has a similar experience to comment with your own results and thoughts. I hope that through such interactions, we may serve our clientele that much better.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Question for Everyone

So lately I've had a question on my mind and want to share it with all of you to see the responses I get. I know there have was a presentation or two on the subject during the IWCA-NCPTW conference,but here goes:

What happens to the identity of a tutor when they are no longer a tutor? Many times, tutors have an identity that they have developed while tutoring. What happens when the tutor is no longer a tutor, but just a student? How do they adapt, per say?

I find myself asking this question more since I tutored as an undergraduate, but do not have the time to tutor as a graduate student.

Your responses who be helpful for an article I am writing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's in a name?

A few years back, the PeerCentered podcast took a video recorder to the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference at Weber State University.  One of the projects was to ask attendees what their job was called (given that there seems to be a lot of contention about how writing center work and workers should be labeled.)

The Revenge of the Podcast

The server that the PeerCentered podcast was on crashed and is unlikely to return.  I'm looking into options for the podcast and whether or not to continue it at all.  If you are interested in developing podcast episodes for PeerCentered, let me know.

Dear me...

Dear me, It's not about you, but it will affect you, this work. Expect that. Learn to embrace that--the fact that your writing voice ...