Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Its the day before Halloween :)

Last week my mentor thought I was ready to take over one of his sessions. I was so nervous, he told me I would be fine and he would be there to help me out if I needed it. His session was cancelled so I thought I was in the clear, until he had a drop in. We greeted the student and explained I was a tutor in training, and if it was okay with her I would be tutoring her. She agreed and we sat down. When I asked what she needed help with she said she needed someone to go over her presentation with her. I was thinking "Oh great, I've never observed a session that had to deal with a power point presentation. Just my luck." When I asked for her assignment sheet she handed it to me and explained some of it. All I kept thinking was "I hope I know a little of what she's going to show me." When she pulled up her power point I saw it was about Promotions. My mood went from worried to I got this instantly, because I am a Marketing major. After that it was smooth sailing. At the end of the session she thanked me and went on her way. My mentor said I did a great job and I made a few tiny mistakes. My confidence got a major boost!

Although that was confidence boost for me I still worry about having to tutor a ESL student. I have yet to see a ESL session. I have some insight in this area from my family because their primary language is Spanish. Although when I help them write out letters or reports I feel that I help them by telling them what the right word is or I write it for them which is what we are repeatedly taught not to do . It will be interesting to see how to to help a ESL student without doing it for them because that is what I am used to. Hopefully I can see a session like that soon.

Happy Halloween

The Frivolity of Formality

Over the course of these past few weeks I've come into the question of formality.  This is a crucially important detail in my case, for while I may appear fully able to control myself in writing, my casual conversation is heavily littered with expletives.  I don't know if it's how I was raised, the role models I chose, or just the hand I was dealt, but I find few greater joys than expressing myself with a well placed expletive and more or less speaking like a pirate.  No, I do not kiss my mother with this mouth- we're more of a hug-based family.  Anyway, I've encountered very little casual swearing during the sessions I've observed, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's due to the fact that I'm observing, and because of this the tutor is trying to appear professional and set a good example.  That's very respectable of them I suppose, but I'm a just a kid- my attention span isn't too consistent and I don't exactly have an overwhelming sense of respect for authority and/or formality, so it would be nice if these fine people would kindly drop an F-bomb once in a while to reign in my wandering mind and get me out of my super-serious "present and accounted for" mode.  I'm a firm believer that we can learn better whilst relaxing in a comfortable (not reclined, though, to prevent accidental naps) chair than we can with our legs together, backs straight, chins up and hands held high in salute.  How are you going to wrap your mind around a difficult concept if you're so tense, and so focused on remaining tense?  If I was a writer seeing a tutor, I'd prefer that the tutor wasn't so "matter-of-fact" and "strictly business."  In reality, a tutor and writer working together are just a couple of kids trying to help each other out, and I don't really see any need to pretend it's anything else.

A Question to Consider...

This week in the writing center, I had the pleasure of observing some sessions. I come with one question: Is it okay to be very directive to a student if the student really does not understand? In reading much writing center theory, we learned that we should never be directive.  We must provoke an answer or thought out of a student through questioning alone.

Now what if the student really does not understand? You could just keep asking the same question until he or she understands, but what good does that do? I think that some students really just need a push in the right direction. Does that make being directive acceptable? We do not want to make the student's paper our own. This defeats the purpose of the writing center and tutoring.

To answer my own question, I think in some situations, a student should be directed.  I can think of times when someone asks me a question and I simply do not have an answer. I understand the question, but I just can't think of an answer no matter how hard I try. I think we need to accomodate for situations like those. So if a student truly does not understand how to write his or her paper, direction is necessary from the tutor.

Hello PeerCentered!

Hello Catherine Woods, and welcome to PeerCentered. Why thank you PeerCentered, I am glad to be here (finally). My laptop only seems to feel like cooperating 97% of the time, and this ended up being the 3% left over. But I digress.

I am lucky enough to have begun tutoring at Columbia's Learning Studio already. This not only forced me to jump in headfirst and blindfolded, but it also gave me the chance to learn the system from the inside out. In my case I think that this was a wise decision. I learn much more efficiently by doing than by listening or reading, so the choice to begin tutoring sooner rather than later was a good one for me.

This is what I have discovered so far...

1. Students secretly want you to guide them, but if you do this overtly they will work against you. Let them decide what needs to be done, and then aid them by helping them to do what they already (whether consciously or unconsciously) know they need to do.

2. Sometimes the student doesn't need your help so much as they need someone to talk through their work with. As long as they have a pair of ears available, they can figure a lot out on their own by just speaking out loud. Don't be afraid that you aren't saying enough. If their work is improving, then you are doing your job.

3. Sometimes leaving for ten or fifteen minutes to let the student write in peace is the best thing to do. If you continuously sit there while they write quietly, it will probably make them uncomfortable.

4. Popcorn is served in the Learning Studio every Tuesday and Thursday. Make sure you eat some, as it is delicious.

That's all for now. I will be back soon with more delicious tidbits.


Sunday, October 28, 2012


Three sessions that I observed this week dealt with students who came in with a finished draft. In each session the tutor started by asking the student what the assignment guidelines were and what the actual paper was about. From there each tutor took a different approach in going over the paper with the student. One tutor read over the whole paper in great detail, pen in hand making corrections as he went along. There was an awkward silence for about fifteen minutes as the student watched the tutor silently mark up his rough draft. Another tutor went through the paper paragraph by paragraph and started asking questions about the body paragraphs before even getting to through the introduction. While some questions did seem relevant to making the paper more effective, a few suggestions made were things that were already included in later portions of the paper. The tutor failed to realize some of the techniques the student was already using since the paper had not been read in its entirety. Finally the last tutor I observed quickly skimmed the paper, before going through each paragraph individually with the student. I found this to be the most effective method, but was curious if anyone else had any opinions on the matter. I feel that by skimming the paper you are able to get a basic idea of where the student is and determine if they are having any organizational issues. Still, this could be difficult if you are working with a student who comes in with a very long paper. In this scenario, what is the best way to approach the session since time is limited?  

Professor VS Student

While observing in the Writing Center, I have been lucky enough to come across a session tutored by another student, like myself, and a session administered by an actual professor at Columbia College Chicago.  The differences in their methods were striking and interesting. I was clued in to how to relate to the student in different ways, and how each method proves to be successful.

The session with the professor began with the exchange of jokes and anecdotes, with the professor doing most of the talking. As he warmed the tutee up to the session, she became more open, and even began to laugh along and input jokes of her own into the exchange. Although I felt slightly uncomfortable, an outsider on this friendly happenstance, I could sense the mood change. As the two dived into the paper, the sort of joking mood continued. I noticed the tutee sort of forget her anxiety about the paper, and was comfortable enough to begin to "direct" the session. The tutee left that day with a sense of accomplishment and a smile on her face. 

After observing the session between the professor and the tutee, a session with a "student tutor" was a stark contrast. The tutee came in and the student tutor greeted him with a cool effortlessness, as is associated with a college student. The two communicated in a way that I could relate to the way I talked with my friends. It was a family method of communication. I believe it helped the tutee feel as if he was among friends, and that there was less pressure to be "perfect" while working on his paper. The tutor gave the tutee plenty of time to work out his own problems (with her guidance, of course) and gain confidence on his own accord. 

Although each session and tutee is different and has different needs, different methods of communication can be equally successful. By trying them all, one can discover the method that best suits them and their tutees. In the future, I hope to be relatable, yet retain professionalism. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Table-Barrier

Today I saw a tutor do the unthinkable.  When hope was in short supply and the writer's overwhelming shyness seemed reared back and ready to destroy all chances of his benefitting from the session, a tactic which I had not yet witnessed lunged forth in a shower of gallant splendor to save the day.  This tactic:  Breaching the table-barrier.

The second the session begins, every session, is when the writer sits down in that chair across from the tutor, am I mistaken?  There is occasionally some informal introduction occurring at times when eye contact is made before a seat has been taken, but the business at hand is never referred to before this crucial "sitting-down step."  Now, as the student is seated, he or she is immediately, often subliminally, made aware of the division between him or herself and the tutor due to multiple physical cues.  The first of these is the physical space created by the table that (seemingly) cannot be breached by either participant, not to mention the awkward situation of wondering whether or not you'll accidentally engage yourself in a game of Footsie, and the consequential possibility of the other person thinking you did it on purpose.  Another observation; the tutor is almost always seated before the writer, a subtle cue that this space is the tutors home, or their territory.  While it may seem obvious, it is important to point out that the writer is always the outsider.  They have to go out of their homes and come into ours for help because they are not confident in their abilities or they are overwhelmed, and this makes many feel vulnerable.  They may also feel isolated being a guest in a home that they do not really know the owner of.  However, they do tend to trust this mysterious owner to some extent- it is usually assumed that the tutor is an adequate writer, person, etc., or else why would they come and seek our help in the first place?

This sense of comfortable adequacy, territorial dominance surrounding the tutor... in nature it could almost be considered an expression of supremacy, and that can be enough to take any unprepared writer out of his or her comfort zone.  That's why what this tutor, whose name I learned out of respect (I'm terrible with names) but will leave anonymous regardless (also out of respect), was wiser than any I have observed thus far in that she elegantly and smoothly switched to the other side of the table to sit by the side of the reader.  Her excuse was "to read the paper better" but I think we all know she's smarter than that.  In sitting much closer to the writer, she's increasing their familiarity with one another by literally shrinking the physical space between them.  She took his personal bubble and suavely hopped right up inside it.  Think of the phrase "get on my level."  If you've ever had this expression said to you in context, you know what it means.  Now change "level" to "side of the table" whilst keeping the same connotation in my mind, and we're probably on the same page here.  I do not think this method is necessary in every session, rather used as a last resort, an ace in the hole, or as a second of time to spare if you need a moment to think.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Directive Awareness Catalogue

I just observed a session that screamed “directive.” I thought it might be useful to note some of the phrases that I found common in the session. Recognizing and acknowledging these phrases should help us better be aware when they accidentally (or intentionally) come out of our mouths.

Please keep in mind that the phrases listed here are not necessarily condemned. They all fit into different levels of directiveness. Sometimes they can be a good choice, we should just be aware of them.

“I think…”
“I think you need to…”
“I would try…”
“I think what he/she wants you think to think about is…”

These statements suddenly make the session about our opinion, whether we know it or not. While we may consider equal collaboration as an approach to the session, we shouldn’t forget about the other half (or more than half), the writer.

“What you want to think about is…”
“So you wanna think about…”
“So that’s what you wanna talk about…”
“So you wanna write…”

While these are more suggestive and less overt phrasings, they tell the writer what to do. We’re not in the business of telling (if at all possible). We’re in the business of guiding, discovering, and showing.

“So that’s really what this assignment is getting at…”
“So the (real) key question here is…”
“So it’s all about…”

If we ever find ourselves in the position of telling the writer what we think the point of their assignment is, it should only be through the journey that the writer’s own mind took. Be careful of these!

And here’s one that you might not expect:

“It’s totally up to you– it’s your essay.”

This is more of an internal thing for the tutor, I think. It’s a way of assuaging ourselves. Once we say this, we know that we’ve gone too far. We aren’t just trying to make the writer feel better, but we’re also putting our foot on the proverbial brake. It’s a logical phrase that reminds us of our role in the session. While the statement is correct, it’s an important indicator that some of the past few minutes could have been pretty directive.

Hopefully this catalogue helps you keep tab on your decisions in the session.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


   I have gotten the chance to concentrate and take note on two totally different types of tutoring sessions. There were a lot of questions that I want to ask so bad, but instead I just payed more focus on the body languages and facial expressions of the tutors and writers.
   My first session I actually was able to observe was a session with a girl that was new to the country. She came here from Asia when her step father and her found this school online. It was a long session because she spoke very little English, but the amazing thing was, she wrote it well.  I had so many questions to ask her, but I knew it was inappropriate and I had to keep my distance so I continued to observe from across the room. She would keep rejecting to read and when ever the tutor would read I would glance at her and see her constantly cover face at the end of every sentence. Then the tutor asked if she wanted to continue and she would continue to refuse.The more she refused, the more relaxed and interested the tutor seemed. It was something different that what I have read about, when the girl was getting tutored and the tutor started to become frustrated. I see every every tutor is different.
My second session I was able to see a regular blogging session, Where the student came in to get help with blogging. When I walked up to the student to ask about observing her session, the conversation lead to us have multiple common interests, which made her become happy about me observing her session. As we both walked back to her tutor, I greeted him and asked him the same question, he stated, "sure, you may even be tutoring today if I get confused." I sat down with a smile and observed. This session was a more laid back session with humor. The writer hesitated to answer questions because she did not want to make mistakes.

These sessions were the same and different in the same ways ( if that makes since).

Monday, October 22, 2012

All tutors get the job done differently

This week, I had the chance to observe various tutoring sessions in my school's writing center.  One in particular stood out to me.

It was this particular student's first time to the writing center. As we waited for her tutor to come bring her back, she was visibly and audibly nervous.  She was talking to another student who just got out of a session, hearing all about what to expect.  She was most nervous about the possibility of having to read her paper out loud.

Once in the session, the tutor nicely described what would happen in a session and the fact that she could get weekly tutoring if need be.  The student knew exactly what she wanted to do with her paper, and was already on a second draft. Her reaction to having to read her paper out loud was "oh no, uhh do I have to?". The tutor kindly explained that it helps to hear one's own writing read aloud, because it is a good way to catch errors.  When she started to read aloud her three page paper, the tutor seemed bored. He was slouched over and kept running his hands through his hair.  This was distracting to me, as an observer. I can only imagine the student.

Also, we learn that the paper should face the student. This actually made the tutor less engaged in the session. Whenever he needed to reference something in the paper, he had to take it and read it. At one point, the tutor actually had to read an entire page to himself, leaving the student nervous. She was sitting awkwardly watching him, and biting her nails.

Although the session was overall a success, as the student left with a new draft, there were so many things that should have gone wrong. The "textbook manner of tutoring" was simply disregarded.  He exhibited many signs of an unsuccessful tutor, but ended up doing his job. Perhaps this goes to show that we may learn many methods of how to tutor, but it really ends up being about the tutor's personality. This tutor seemed disinterested and frankly made the student feel awkward, but got the job done. All in all, all tutors are unique in the manner in which they help students.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Googled "Tutor" and Nothing Came Up

Okay, so I didn’t do that literally, but a tutor in a session that I observed a few days ago practically did.

I want to very briefly talk about the effects of using a search engine in the tutoring process.

While it can be an effective and convenient tool for pulling up a source that escapes you or an example that you think the writer will benefit from, Google can quickly turn into an enhanced distraction that isolates the writer and turns her against you.

In the session I observed, this is exactly what happened. A writer came in to buff up her resume. The tutor turned to Google and showed her examples. This was great, but he kept returning to the screen. Sometimes she started to talk, and he would immediately turn to the search bar. With his eyes on the screen and his fingers on the keyboard, he seemed like he wasn’t listening. I wasn’t the only one picking up on this– the writer did as well. As the session went on (with more and more treks to Google), the writer began to “fight” for attention by sliding her paper across the table and pointing to examples. It was clear that she was aching for some kind of guidance that she wasn’t getting. This gradually accelerated into some alienating arguments where the student left looking unsatisifed.

Why did this happen? Let’s break down what seems obvious here.

First of all, the tutor was unaware of the aura in the session– he wasn’t able to feel the kairos of the situation, and he was oblivious to his actions. He continued to use turning to Google as a teaching method. When you, as a tutor, start to use a searchbar to answer one question, you may unconsciously start using it to answer all questions, fix all problems, and find what’s missing in the session. This can be seen as a metaphysical paradigm: ultimately, the computer screen becomes the writer you should be helping.

But wait, the session can get worse. This screen can very quickly become not only another focus, but a wedge between you and the writer. If you constantly refer to Google (even while the writer voices a concern or says something about her assignment), an automatic sense sets into the writer. Her brain starts operating on the principle that you probably don’t really care.

In our daily lives, we may not realize that all of the screens we attach ourselves to become escapes from a current moment in reality. I would like to posit that, in the session, it is our responsibility to have our feet grounded firmly in the reality of the moment the writer brings to us. There are great learning tools in technology, but the caveat to our Googles and iPads and is that the writer must always be the center of the session.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sometimes All We Need Is Non Judgmental Support

As of this week, I have had my first round of observing various writers at Columbia College Chicago’s Writing Center. It is rather intriguing how each and every student has a different feeling towards writing, learning about their own writing challenges, and how to fix those challenges.

The first session I observed was one that involved a girl who came in to the tutor to help revise a draft of an essay she had due for the upcoming week. She appeared to be a bit antsy but the tutor reassured her several times that everything was bound to be successful if both of them cooperated. Both the tutor and the girl sat side by side, looking over the paper. A small frown appeared over the girls face as she said, “This is so embarrassing!” as she flipped quickly through the pages. The tutor put a smile across his face and once again, trying to reassure her that he was there to help her to the best of his abilities, not judge her. It turns out the girl had an issue with using text language/slang in her papers.

“I don’t get why my brain has a hard time converting the words into normal English. It’s not like I talk like this or anything! Just when I text...it’s more convenient to make words shorter...” the girl said as she kept her eyes glued to her paper. The tutor gave her a suggestion that I was not expecting. He suggested she try texting using full words instead of “u”, “kk”, and “thnx” to get back into a healthy habit of properly spelling. The girl frowned a bit but eventually said, “I can try. I do want to get a good grade on this paper! I’m willing to take any help I can get”. The tutor nodded his head and mentioned she had good points in her essay, just she needed to go back over those issues with text chat slowly and carefully. As the session came to an ending, the girl left smiling and thanked the tutor for his time and help.

The other two sessions I observed within that day were much more straightforward. The writers of those sessions were just looking for one idea that they could form into either a short essay or a one-page assignment. They were recommended by their professors to visit the Learning Studio and see a Writing Center tutor to sort out their ideas. The tutor, just as he treated the girl with the texting slang issues, treated these writers with much respect and had a positive attitude with helping them resolve any issues they may have had.

Seeing these tutoring sessions made me feel like the challenges of being a tutor in training will disappear once I’m actually out and about practicing. In certain situations, I strongly feel all a writer needs is someone to support them without judging them. I’m hoping to observe more tutoring sessions soon and perhaps some that may be a little less straightforward. I’m hoping to see how a tutor will handle a student who may be a little bit less cooperative or feel that they have no need to be there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My First Sessions Observing

So far I have observed four tutoring sessions and I feel that I've gained not only experience but confidence that I can do this. I have been nervous from the start about tutoring because I don't want to misguide anyone that comes to the Learning Studio. I fear that I wouldn't know an answer to a question or how to cite things. My mentor has helped me with these fears and reassuring me that it's not as scary as it seems. 
Now on to my observations. My first observation was very short and sweet. "Jorge" sat down and said "This is going to be a short session. My teacher told me to come here. I already have written my paper but I need help to narrow the paper to the 1 page requirement." "Sam," the tutor, put Jorge's paper between them and had Jorge read his paper aloud and went paragraph by paragraph. After each paragraph Sam would say what she liked or what she had questions on. Once Jorge read his paper out loud he realized he also needed help with some of his transitions and had some questions about italics. At the end of the session Jorge was satisfied with his paper and thanked Sam for her help. When Sam got up to walk Jorge out she also mentioned other things the Learning Studio does and that was my first observation.
The three other observations went the same way, all the students had already written out their paper and their teachers recommended they go to the Learning Studio to get it checked.  Even though they came in to their edit their papers the tutors got them to engage in their papers and helped them find mistakes, opposed to telling them where they messed up.
So far these sessions have been pretty easy, I want to see a more difficult, I guess you can say, session to better prepare myself for what I might have to deal with.

Observations in the Writing Center

I have spent the last two weeks doing observations in Columbia College Chicago's Writing Center.  I have noticed a few procedures that the tutor follows to help the writer develop their writing skills.  The session starts out with the tutor asking the writer what they want to get out of the session.  After the writer explains, the tutor asks the writer to read their paper aloud.  The writer reads, and from time to time, pauses as they try to fix an error they have made.  I believe that this process of having the student read aloud is one of the most important aspects of the tutoring session.  Reading aloud helps the student hear their writing voice and identify with it.  It also aides with finding errors within the paper.  Ella, an ESL student, said to her tutor that "I found some spelling and grammar errors while reading it aloud."  Ella might not have noticed these errors if she had not spoken her written words; our brains automatically correct errors as they read so that our reading flow is not interrupted.  Since Ella read aloud, she was able to pick up on her errors and see the pattern of her mistakes.  This will help her become more aware in her future writings.

Another thing that stood out to me was that no matter how many grammatical errors there were in the paper, the tutor rarely stepped in and edited them.  The tutor would discuss grammar and tell the writer that they had some grammatical errors, but the job of revising and editing would be left to the writer.

Finally, when discussing things to possibly change the tutor always asks the writer a question to prompt further thought.  The tutor also adds suggestions on what a reader might want to hear more about.  All these procedures help the writer learn how to advance in their writing skills and also helps tutors develop the language they need to work with writers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Human Nature

Through the few sessions I've been able to observe thus far, I've noticed a pattern or two.  The first is not the main message of this post but is necessary to mention all the same.  I have heard the exact same sentence uttered to me the second I've sat down at every session.  This sentence is "feel free to jump in."  The tutors, having undergone this exact process in order to attain the position they fill today, know that I'm there to be a fly on the wall, an anthropologist, an empty glass to be filled with the splendor that is their writing expertise.  However, they seem to want my help!  I'm just some random long haired fellow they only just met, and they want my input?  To me, this is an expression of the idea that no tutor is ever fully confident in his or her own ability.  They, we, all realize that they are not the end-all-be-all of writing, which is actually very refreshing to see at Columbia.  A lot of people I have met here have developed this particular attitude- "Oh, I'm an art student because I am already such an amazing artist, I'm only attending the college to smooth out a kink or two."  This is preposterous, and an extremely heavy burden to bear.  There is no epitome of talent that we will one day reach and so cease to progress.  We are always learning and developing ourselves to a further degree, as people and as artists, until we take our last breaths.  Being around people who recognize this is the first step towards participating in an active, effective learning environment.  But I digress- back to the sessions.  By far, the most important aspect I recognized in the tutors that trained me was the ability to impose your own humanity on another.  By this I mean that you are able to prove to someone in that short 50 minutes, or as soon as possible in order to get the writer engaged, that you are a real person.  Not that they think you're a cyborg intending to take down civilized humanity, but I've been in some of these kids' shoes.  Whatever the obstacle, many do not show up ready to engage in intellectually stimulating conversation.  They're minds are somewhere else, it's too early, they don't have confidence in the system- these are complicated people, and they keep on coming up with new reasons to be nonchalant and uninvolved.  And by "coming up with" I do not mean to suggest that they are being dishonest with us, but more so that this world is ever changing and circumstances nowadays cover a much wider range of ridiculousness than they ever have.  You have no idea what kind of day the writer is having, but you have to show them that you could be having one of those days too because you are a human being, and everyone has problems.  But while they are in your session, the problem (I prefer the word situation) at hand is the paper that they have to write to get a grade, and that paper has to be focused on to be written.  Even if the writer doesn't like you, he or she has to think that you're serious about helping them or else they won't be serious about being helped, and instead opt to do it all on their own.  That's okay from time to time, but where would any of us be today without outside help?  Bad places, that's where we would be.  So if you're reading this as a trainee and perhaps even co-tutor, ask yourself- do you really want to help?  Do you have what it takes to look this person in the eyes, get their attention and make them believe that you're on their side?  Should they even want you on their side?  If the answer to any of these is "no," you may need to go and have yourself a think.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Adaptability in a Variable Job

When observing tutoring sessions, there are so many different situations that can arise. I think it is safe to say that no two sessions will be alike. They are all so unique.

This week, I had the ability to observe a couple of sessions in my school (Columbia College)'s writing center. Saying the sessions were different is an understatement.  One session was with a student who was hard of hearing. He was having trouble with an assignment in which he had to apply a novel to his life and his experiences. The tutor often had to repeat himself or rephrase things in order for the student to understand. The tutor often had good ideas that the student used in his paper. This student seemed to have come in looking for someone to assist in formulating ideas, not to be guided in the right direction.

The second session was different. The student was required to come in weekly because he is in a lower level of the general writing course. He was very on track and knew what he needed. He did not stray much from his assignment. Once done with the weekly writing assignment, he asked if they could work on another assignment for a different class. He was very open to direction, but was very original in his ideas. This student came for guidance, and that is what he got. It seemed easy enough.

It seems difficult to be this highly adaptable tutor that is required of us. We have to be very elastic like a rubber band, stretch in many directions for the different types of students. We cannot be stiff, but adaptable. It may be difficult to be stretched in so many directions, but this is what is required. It will make us better with people too, because we will be able to deal with a plethora of people, which is a good life skill. All in all, we just have to remember to be adaptable to the variability of the writing center.

You Get Out What You Put In

       As Writing Center tutors, we learn from our tutees while we try to better their writing. The Writing Center is a diverse environment where people of all different backgrounds interact as they collaborate on the writing process.
      While you may know everything there is to know about comma splices and their proper uses, your student may have a stronger authorial voice in their academic paper that you envy. As you work together, information is exchanged between the two parties, resulting in improved writing on both sides.
       For me, I'm worried that I may not know every answer to someone's questions. So, I see the tutoring session resembling a volleyball game. Each participant contributes to the conversation, building off what the other's prior statement added to the discussion. In instances where you don't know the exact answer, you can either utilize resources that will find what you're looking for, or you can use personal experiences to provide examples. When in doubt, resort back to what you know.
      Through this mindset of tutoring, we can become third-party observers for the student and their writing. We can introduce new perspectives for them to consider with their argument. Parts of the writing that are confusing or awkwardly worded can be brought to their attention through a fresh set of eyes. Writing Center tutors can be that supportive colleague who's going to tell you how it is but work with you to make your writing better.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Adapting to the Student


My name is Gonzalo and I am a writing tutor in training at Columbia College Chicago.

This week I got the opportunity to observe how one tutor approached three very different sessions. Two students were required to be there while the third came by choice to get some honest feedback on a paper she was writing.

I noticed that the relationship between the tutor and student changed based on the enthusiasm each student brought to the session. The student who came in by choice held a peer-to-peer relationship with the tutor as the two bounced ideas of each other helping to fix a few problem areas in the student's essay. This seemed to be an example of the ideal tutoring session we read about in essays on the subject.

Another student came in as required by her teacher and seemed to be very removed from the session. She was supposed to attend sessions weekly, but out of six sessions, this was the first she had attended with anything to work on. The tutor took a more directive, teacher-student relationship in this session, almost treating the student like a child at certain points by telling her to take notes on the session when the student looked disengaged in the conversation. As an observer, I felt somewhat uncomfortable and thought the atmosphere was quite unpleasant. It also appeared to me that the student left unprepared to continue working on her essay as she was hesitant to answer when the tutor asked if she felt better about where her paper was going now.

At the end of the session, the tutor told me that you have to treat certain students this way. Let them know that it is not okay to skip sessions or treat them as a joke. Otherwise, they will just take advantage of you.

While this second student was definitely difficult to work with, I felt that the tutor did not do the best job in helping the student to improve their writing skills. In situations like this, what is the best way to get through to a difficult student? Especially one that you will have to work with on a weekly basis?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Posturometer

Sitting up straight? Spine aligned? Eyes at attention?

Well if they aren’t, it’s not all your fault. It’s mine as well. Posture communicates a lot more than one would think about one’s state of mind, but it’s a mutual relationship. In the tutoring session, we see posture in the student as a duality: it measures his commitment to the content and his enthusiasm towards the session.

I’m a TV writing major, so let me tie it back to that. If I’m writing an intensely emotional character scene or climax, I’m not slouching. My eyes are too close to the keyboard most of the time, my spine is pointed straight to the sky, and my fingers are at attention.

The closer I get to the screen, the closer I am to the content. The closer the student is to the paper, the closer he is to the content.

If we see a student leaning back, stradling the chair, dangling one hand between his legs as he writes with the other– his position coming into the session is clear. But here comes the second part: posture also shows us how well the tutor is doing in the session! The changes we notice in our writers pinpoint the constant emotional flux of the session.

If we excite the student or get him to open up, it is almost undoubted that he will sit up straight and lean in. Here we find a variation of the above rule: the closer the student is to the tutor, the closer he is to the session.

This isn’t to say that we should try to make writing sessions into love fests, rather that we have the ability to gauge what the student is feeling without having to ask him. Posture is a golden and almost unfallible indication of the student’s placement in a session. By processing his or her’s body language, we can better adjust the session in a holistic way, as many writing center theorists encourage.

I’d like to tie this up by saying that posture isn’t exclusively a writing-based determinant. It is a measurement that unites the metaphysical world of thoughts, enthusiasm, and focus with the physical world in which we operate.

I once had a French horn instructor who told me that she got the chance to interview a master of music on the three most imporant things to playing music well. He said number one was posture. He said number two was posture. And he said number three was how well the brass was polished.

Kidding. It was posture.

Check yours right now, and then let me how I did with engaging you in this post.

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 ...