Friday, November 16, 2012

Other Side of the Track

Yesterday I walked into the Learning Studio with the perspective of a student, not that of a mentee or an observer. Simply changing my ambitions for showing up ultimately seemed to have an impact on how I felt coming in. I anxiously waited on a bench for my tutor to show up. I had not met this gentleman before and was curiously scanning the room to seek out my possibilities. I had only been there for two minutes and my tutor, introduced himself to me as we made our way to a cubicle he seemed to have been sitting at.
We sat down and I gave him a basic overview of what I was aiming to accomplish with the four page paper I had written for my Writing Theory class, that I needed help revising. He asked me to read the paper and I began to read the paper out loud. Once I was done,  he appeared to admired the use of details I presented to make a specific tutoring session come to life with the actions of the tutor and the student.

 It was then his turn to read the paper out loud. He claimed he was doing it for I had read over my paper so fast he had a hard time finding any mistakes. It was kind of embarrassing to be confronted on reading too fast but I knew deep down it was a bad habit. It was certainly something I could keep in the back of my mind when it was my turn to tutor. He read through the paper and time to time, he would re-read a passage slowly. He would say, “Hm…something doesn't seem right” and I took that as my opportunity to ask to see the paper and take a peek myself. Typically when this happened, it seemed to be a missing comma or a different word choice needed.

Eventually the session came to an ending and I was feeling more confident walking out than walking in. Meeting someone new always brings me a little bit of anxiety but surprisingly, reviewing over my paper did not. Perhaps already knowing the intentions of a tutor gives me the advantage of being calm and feeding out own thoughts and not expecting someone to feed me answers. I think having this hidden knowledge, so to speak, will certainly help me to be more confident when it comes to not only my work, but additionally when I have students who may walk in with a sense of anxiety as well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

     I recently had the chance to observe a session with a student whose first language is nnot English, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that she's an ESL student, as her accent was thin, and she kept up in conversation. I have to admit, however, that as the session continued, the language barrier did become a bit of a focal point.
     Upon arrivial, the student said that she wanted to "correct" her paper, and when pressed, admitted that correcting punctuation and vocabulary was her goal for the session.The tutor began to read through the paper and made small notes on the page. Meanwhile, the writer sat quietly and fiddled with various papers and looked generally disinterested. Upon noting this behavior, my initial thought was that this student, like others I've seen, had no desire to be at the writing center and only there to appease her instructor. Looking back, however, I realize that her fidgeting may have been related to the language (and, possibly, culture) barrier. The tutor, white, was dominant in the situation, whereas the writer, hispanic, was not.
     They spent time going through sections of the paper, identifying where parts got confusing, which came down to word choice most often. The tutor read a sentence or two  aloud and addresses an issue. The writier then begins to explain the story. (I should note that the essay was about personal identity, therefore, the writer fully undertood the stories told in the essay.) As she explained the story, the tutor asked questions that he then used to clarify and summarize the sentences already written.
     As the session began to wind down, the writer asked is she will always have this "problem" and belittles herself as a writer. The tutor assures her that what she has spoken [about the assignment] made sense, and that a few extra words can bring two different ideas together the way that she has been trying to do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The First Year Seminar Rationale

I know that I'm only a sophomore, and that this project should still be relatively fresh in my memory, but for some reason I have been having great difficulty remembering what my First Year Seminar class had to do for our rationale papers. I remember the project that I did for it, and then that I had to write a paper explaining myself, but the instructions that my professor gave were particularly vague and hard to follow, and I sort of stumbled my way around the assignment. I know that during the summer the new tutors got together for a pre-class meeting and talked about these papers, but I don't live in Chicago during the summer and could not attend. Is there some website that I could go to if I wanted more information on these papers? I've googled them, but I keep coming up with results from random places that don't look as though they have anything to do with the project that I did last year. I'm asking because I had a student come in last week who asked for advice with his rationale paper for First Year Seminar, and I was honestly stumped. I managed to not look like an idiot, but I felt like one and I want to prepare myself for this situation when it inevitably comes up again in the future.

Students with disabilities

A few weeks ago I had a student come in who I am almost positive had a learning disability. I of course didn't ask her about it or mention anything, which would have been rude, but it was turning over in the back of my mind during our entire session. I wasn't really sure how to handle her. The ideas that her paper was trying to portray were strong, but it seemed as though she was unsure of how to communicate them to the reader. I didn't really know how to handle her. I don't know a lot about different kinds of learning disabilities, but I thought that there might have been a social protocol that I should have followed. I know that we aren't allowed to try and mentally diagnose our tutees, but it's hard to ignore it when the person is sitting directly in front of you. I wasn't trying to dig into her personal life so much as I just wanted to have a better understanding of her situation so that I could be a more helpful tutor for her. I hope that before the end of the semester we will have the opportunity to talk about students with learning disabilities in class and maybe even talk about different ways of handling them. I think that this would help me to be a better tutor to all different kinds of students.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who Me?

I've been working in the WRC for about a month and a half now and can not become accustomed to the calling of "hey! are you an english person over there? I need help" to which I promptly reply, "Ok! Do you have an appointment?" "No" says the student, "Ok well we're a strictly appointment based system and right now we're completely booked but we do have a waiting list." I usually wait for the heavy sigh or the ensuing eye roll to smile cordially and thank them for their patience. We're offering a free service to the student body and yet students think that we can simply look over their work and have virtually no feedback for them. As long as they get their WRC slips to show they were there then everything's okay but when we can't accodomate their every need we are the bad guys. I should be used to this feeling of demonizing from working at starbucks during a white chocolate shortage but it still gets under my skin to be taken advantage of while we're here only because of the student. Or that we're only here, in (some) students' minds for merely a slip of proof they listened to someone else's thoughts on their paper.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

No Show

I started working at the Writing Center a month ago, which makes today my fourth Thursday as an employee. I have had a student who made a weekly appointment for Thursday morning at 9am, and then will not show up. Every few weeks her appointment would be cancelled, but she continued to reschedule and then not come in for tutoring. I thought about asking Net at the front desk to help me permanently cancel her appointment time, but I hesitated for a while. What if she had some external conflict which forced her to miss her appointments which she could not help? I didn't want to cancel her appointment permanently if she had a perfectly reasonable excuse why she kept missing them. After she missed her fourth weekly appointment in a row however, I decided that four was too many to ignore, and I asked Net to cancel her appointment. I realized that she hasn't called to give any excuse for herself, and in my mind that gave me the right to let her appointment time go to someone else.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

They exist!

Through my observations at the Writing Center, I have very clearly and regularly seen the prophecy of "every session is different" fulfilled. Each session has provided me with insight and direction, and has added to the formation of my personal tutoring process. However, when I walked into the WC Tuesday morning, I was unexpectedly presented with a very special gift: The Perfect Tutee.

It might have been nine A.M., but this tutee was raring and ready to go. The second the tutor brought her back into the booth, she laid out her paper and proclaimed, "I need help creating a thesis statement!" From there, the two effortlessly collaborated to create a thesis statement that the tutee was very proud of. She was very committed and present in the session; her body language (chair close to the table, elbows lounging on the table, hands working quickly to scribble notes in the margins) clearly illustrated that she meant business. By the end of the fifty minutes, the tutee confidently directed the session. When she expressed how relieved she felt, I knew the session was wrapping up to be a success.

Although not every session can be this awesome, it certainly gave me hope. It's actually an amazing concept to think about: students take time out of their busy schedules to seek help on work that obviously means a lot to them! I think about my own ways of studying; I would rather struggle alone in my bedroom than seek help of my own accord. But students like The Perfect Tutee give me hope and inspire me to be an awesome tutor. They exist! They want our help! Keep calm and tutor on.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Ron Maxwell Leadership Award Acceptance Speech

Your humble PeerCentered Editor-in-Chief was honored with the Ron Maxwell Leadership Award at this year's National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) held in Chicago, Illinois. PeerCentered has long been a supporter of NCPTW and has regularly posted materials in various formats from the conference.  With that explanation, i beg your indulgence in posting my acceptance speech for the Maxwell Award.
2012 Ron Maxwell Leadership Award
I want to thank the selection committee and especially my good friend Jon Olson as well as the Maxwell family for continuing Ron’s legacy.  I also offer my humble thanks to Harvey Kail who nominated me for the award.  It is truly an honor to be listed among those who have contributed such excellent work to the field of peer tutoring in writing.  When Jon first notified me of the award, I was taken aback.  It was something I never expected, but am truly honored to receive.
I also wish to thank and offer my appreciation of the peer writing advisors at Salt Lake Community College for helping me to learn about peer tutoring and fostering learning.  When I think of my work, I think of the peer writing advisors and their origins and their successes.  I think of John, who had to drop out of high school to support his family.  He later got his GED and entered Salt Lake Community College.  He eventually found his way to the Student Writing Center where he worked diligently responding to writers for 3 years.  John is now a Associate Professor at St. Ambrose University where he teaches graduate students in Social Work.
When I think of my work, I also think of Christine and Jeannette who returned to school later in life to pursue their dreams of getting a degree and rejoining the workforce.   Christine finished her bachelor’s degree and worked as a grant writer for a non-profit, but came back to the Student Writing Center to mentor writers, since she finds the work fulfilling and beneficial.  Jeannette is working on her degree; taking one class at a time.  She hopes to transfer to a University next year.
When I think of my work, I think of Michael who enjoyed working with the ESL student's because he had always struggled with grammar.  That motivated him not to grammar check their papers, but to take time to provide them with resources and advice--assisting them with the ability to improve their grammar on their own.   I also think of Hanh who came to the United States from Vietnam and found that working with other writers built her confidence in writing.  Hahn now works for Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst.
When I think of my work, I think of Lori and Jack--peer writing advisors with disabilities-- who have worked to make the Student Writing Center more accessible to writers with disabilities and to broaden our knowledge about working with writers with disabilities.
When I think of my work, I also think of Robyn, who came to the Student Writing Center after seeking her way as a young woman in the world fighting oppression.  She toughed it out and is now a successful photographer.
When I think of my work, I also think of Brandon who wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with his life when he started working in the Student Writing Center.  He told me that working in the Center gave him new insight and awareness of his own ability to teach.  Today he is an Assistant Professor in the SLCC English Department.
When I think of my work, I also think of Christie and Toni who came to SLCC as single mothers, striving to better their and their families’ lives.  Christie is also a colleague at SLCC, having taken on the role of Learning Center Coordinator where she works with math and sciences tutors and has developed a peer tutoring-focused staff education program for them.  Toni works as a paralegal.
When I think of my work, I think of Kendra, a committed service learning scholar, who worked in the Student Writing Center as well as the community.  Kendra is now a pastor in Iowa.
When I think of my work, I think of Clint—yes we have two Clints--who came to the Student Writing Center very skeptical about the work we could do, and the role a peer tutor could play.  Clint has conducted over 6,000 sessions during his tenure at the Student Writing Center, and received outstanding commendations from writers.  He is currently working on yet another novel.
When I think of my work, I also think of Joe, who came to the Student Writing Center at a crossroads in his academic life, and joined it in hopes to improve and make use of what knowledge he had. As a service learning scholar, Joe revived our flagging online tutoring program, giving it new life and went on to become our first ever Online Lead Tutor.   Joe, having matured his outlook on education, is now flourishing as a graduate student in England where he is studying for his Masters in Applied TESOL.  He hopes to create a non-profit International Online Writing Center for colleges and universities that don't have them.  Keep an eye on him.
When I think of my work, I think of the hundreds of Peer Writing Advisors who have worked in the SLCC Student Writing Center and made it what it is today:  a place where not only writers come to work on their writing, but where people come to grow and change.
I am honored to contribute to their efforts in whatever way I can and equally honored to have learned from them.  They truly show the impact that peer tutoring can have one’s education and one’s life.
Thank you.

Monday, November 05, 2012

First Session

Recently I tutored my first session and luckily got a student who actually wanted to be there. The student I worked with had been coming to get help with her papers throughout the semester, but by choice rather than requirement. The paper she brought in for this particular session was one that she had worked on previously with other tutors and was really only looking for someone to double check her use of citations.  After reviewing her in-text citations and works cited pages I found little to be wrong; I suggested a few corrections, but this probably took all of ten minutes.
Not wanting to end the session early, I asked the student if she would mind reviewing over her paper once last time with me. Though she had already worked with several tutors on the assignment and read it aloud a million times, she agreed.  After discussing the main points she made in the paper, we began to go through it sentence by sentence. She seemed to have no problem getting her ideas on paper and there were no major organizational issues, so I decided to focus on improving the clarity and overall flow of her paragraphs.
It seemed like time flew as we only made it onto the second page of her paper when I realized there were only ten minutes left till close. I asked her if there was anything else she would like to go over before we finished up and she asked about a future assignment which my mentor and I gave some advice on. At the end of the session I assured the student that I felt her paper was fairly strong and that I hoped the session was helpful. With a smile she thanked me before leaving.
After finishing the session, I began to second guess a few of the things that I told the student, but later decided to stop over-analyzing. I think it is hard sometimes not to be self-critical in these situations since we don’t want to hinder the student in anyway and many of us are still learning how to do our jobs. I guess confidence will probably just come with more experience.
Anyways, I would say my first session = Success!

Sunday, November 04, 2012


This tutoring thing is becoming more intense. I dont know if its the fact of making sure we have the hours or the overwhelming observations, or just the anxiety of becoming a tutor next semester. As I sit in these sessions I begin to ask myself (I'm sure we all do) if I could handle it, because the tutors that I have observed seems so calm. Any advise or can someone relate?

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Distance Across the Table

I’m new at this. In fact, I technically haven’t even started tutoring officially yet. That starts Wednesday for me. It’s Friday.

So I may not be the best person to talk about friendship in the tutoring session. Perhaps I can look at this post as a temporal document, something to refer to later when I have experienced the development of relationships with writers from across the table. For now, I’m just pulling from some observations I’ve made and some theories I’ve bounced around.

The essential question here is, “Is it okay to be more forward– more directive– as we get to know the writer more?”

My version of the short answer to this question is this: “It depends.” What a cop out, right?

As soon as we get comfortable in any arena, we start to slack. Whether it’s not dressing to impress as much or putting less of an effort in, we find this a trend in social culture. In the tutoring session, this is just as much important for the writer as it is the tutor. The writer doesn’t put as much “umph” into his participation, and the tutor doesn’t play by the rules as much.

This is not a condemnation of inside joke moments or tangents between a tutor and writer who know each other well. Rather, this is a recognition of the specific moments imbedded in the texts themselves. When we hold the paper in front of us, it is an object that we are processing data out of, into, and off of. It is the text of the session. In the text, we find opportunities– sentence structure, idea clarification, grammar mistakes– that we present to the writer. It is in these opportunities that we make decisions as tutors. It’s harder for a mind to recognize these opportunities as what they are when we are already familiar with the person across from the table. When we’re comfortable, we just see the encounter as another relation, do we not?

It’s when this happens that the puddle gets murky.

Getting back to my cop out, I think it’s important to be aware of the approach we take as tutors in each session (regarding directive versus non-directive). But in addition to that, we should also have mental tabs on the relationship we have with the writer and how that relationship parallels the nature of the session. Do we find ourselves just telling Jody what to do every time that she doesn’t come up with the answer herself? Do we just fix spellings without another thought because we want her paper to be good, but we don’t have time in the session to talk about everything? Is she improving from session to session, or are you just fixing mistakes?

How does the writer who is your friend compare to the writers that aren’t? How do their sessions compare?

Ultimately, we can’t forget the mantra that most writing centers adapt: we’re here to make better writers. Are we doing that? I think that asking this question can better adjust our choices to approach people we know all too well when it comes to helping out from the other side of the table.

P.S. I wrote this post not as an argument, but rather to think more about this issue and perhaps to get some feedback from those with the experience necessary to compose a thesis.

Three Girls & One Tutor

I was fortunate to observe a session that involved multiple students and only one tutor.  Three girls greeted the tutor kindly and pulled up some chairs to sit down and discuss why they had made their way into tutoring world. One of the three girls promptly discussed this was their first visit to The Learning Studio and that they needed help adjusting a collaborated piece so that it flowed smoothly, despite their various types of writing styles and authorial tones presented. Another girl chimed in and mentioned that the transitions were like a fly stuck in bubblegum: going nowhere. The tutor laughed pleasantly and reassured he was there to help.

The tutor then asked each girl to read the portion they had written. In the voices of each girl, it was highly evident they connected to the words they had placed carefully within the eight and a half by eleven pieces of paper.  The tutor himself then began to look over the piece with a pen in his hand, and the girls chatted amongst themselves quietly until he finished reading it over. He made a few markings here and there, but not enough to make the girls uncomfortable.  He asked one by one, each girl what they believed was a good way to create a transition. Each girl had a different idea of how to resolve this issue but surely here and there, a few points overlapped. The tutor began to focus on those ideas they overlapped with and had the girls collectively focus on those ideas and how to progress those thoughts.

Overall, the session seemed to go along pleasantly. Though the girls did not get a straight answer from the tutor on how to resolve it, they felt confident that they could take those ideas they all agreed with and turned them into nice flowing transitions. The tutor, personally to me, did a well job keeping calm and getting a perspective from each of the three girls. It is important to gain insight from everyone, especially on a piece that is written by multiple people with different ways of approaching situations.  

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...