Processing and Learning Google

College is hard, and no college student will disagree with this statement.  From an early age parents and teachers are preparing each child for the academic and financial demands that college typically entails.  But with all of that preparation is college even made any easier? All college freshman transition into college life through difficult learning experiences, but after a few months, most students seem to adjust to college life fairly well, that is, if they entered college in their late teens or early twenties. 
In the Writing Lab at Cairn University we have a lot of older students come in for sessions; students who did not come directly to college after graduation high school.  From my experience, these students can be recognized by some very distinct traits: they are very talkative, eager to learn, receptive to feedback, a little technologically behind other students, willing to accept correction, and filled with questions.  The combination of these characteristics can sometimes be a little overwhelming in a session because these students will tend to dominate the session with their own verbal processing or detailed questions.  Sometimes, the questions they ask could easily be answered through a simple Google search.  I love their verbal processing and enthusiasm but, at times, it can be a hindrance to the productiveness of a session.  I have begin to question what the purpose of a session should be with these types of students; should I as the consultant show them how to use a Goggle search over helping them with an actual writing concern? Or does it depend on the student?
Richard Leahy, author of What the College Writing Center is and isn’t, writes about the purpose of a session.  He states the following reasons for a session: to collaborate on a single project, explore new strategies, to find encouragement and coaching, to allow processing to happen, and to develop greater writing skills.  According to this description, a student who explains an assignment for the full 30 min is simply using the session for processing.  A session can consist of a variety of different methods, and some sessions will look very different from others.  The central focus should be what the student needs the most, even if that be to simply talk about their assignment and ask how to italicize something in Microsoft word. 
Leahy, Richard. "What The College Writing Center Is--And Isn't." College Teaching 38.2 (1990): 43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Apr. 2013


  1. I like the main point of your post: that the session is dictated by the needs of the tutee. However, I can't help but feel that you have generalized non-traditional students. Some students will have spent their early adult life reading and writing outside of the college setting. Some of them have been using computers since the time when they were first introduced to the public. All I'm saying is, don't judge a book by its cover.

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  3. In working with non-traditional students, I've found that even if they have had experience with writing and are technologically literate, writing academic papers is still a difficult task. In order to write a good paper, thinking has to be very specific, directional, and focused, and for many who haven't even thought about outlines in years, that can be a challenge. Even for those who have written regularly in the interim years, the things they were likely to be writing - business letters, memos, and a lot of emails - are approached very differently than academic writing. In "Non-traditional students in the writing center: Bridging the gap from a process oriented world to a product-oriented one," Smith discusses some of the challenges that arise for a non-traditional student in college. It's not just the grammar that matters; prewriting, drafts, and the structure of a piece of writing are all critically important, and these can be hard things to learn. What's a tutor to do? I think you're approach is good, Emily: work with the students where they are.

    Smith, Angie. "Non-traditional students in the writing center: Bridging the gap from a process oriented world to a product-oriented one." The Writing Lab Newsletter, March 2003.

  4. Emily, I immediately recognized the type of student you were talking about because these students seem to make up the majority of students visiting our Writing Lab. Another common characteristic of non-traditional students that I have noticed is a lack of confidence. Though they are willing to work and to learn, non-traditional students seem to have little faith in their writing abilities. This may be due in part to the hiatus they have taken from academic work. One thing I try and do with the non-traditional students that I work with is to give them a sense of their own abilities. Often as we talk, I take notes of what they say, and show them the page full of notes I have by the end of the session. I always inform them that the only writing on the page is their own ideas. Amy Richards notes in her introduction to The Confident Writer: A Norton Workbook that “[writing] Confidence increases even more when you learn how you have achieved this readability; if you know what techniques you have used well, you can employ them again to assure future successes” (Richards, 1). I see this as our main task with non-traditional students: To encourage them and to boost their confidence by showing them what they can do well, and by teaching them new techniques to master.

    Richards, Amy. The Confident Writer: A Norton Workbook. New York : Norton & Company,
    Inc., 1985.

  5. Emily, I think this is a very relevant question: What is the job of a Peer Writing Mentor? My instinct is to say, "Whatever the student needs in order to become a better writer." Of course, that will be different for every student (including non-traditional students, as Jakob points out their diversity). For some, that might be boosting confidence or self-efficacy (as Sentell's Situational Tutoring model shows); for others, it might mean developing strategies for various stages of the writing process; for others, that might mean learning technology so that more time can be spent on writing (& less on double-spacing with the Enter key)! Our University's Writing Lab website even includes a Typing Tutor website, so that students can spend less time typing their papers--and more time writing them!

  6. I'd agree that sometimes the only purpose of a session is to process information. It's a lot like counseling in the sense that if you ask a few pointed questions, the writer will come to an understanding on his or her own. Most students have all the tools they need at their disposal; sometimes they just need to be reminded where the tools were placed. It's important to have students find the answers within themselves and for themselves, even if it happens to be something as simple and arbitrary as a Google search.

    Thank you for your insight!


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