Monday, May 06, 2013

Integrated Writing Approach

 If you’re looking for a humorous and enlightening conversation, ask some professors about the writing assignments they receive from students in their courses.  The reactions will amaze you.  When I asked a professor whom I’ve had for two courses, “What are the problems with student writing that most bother you personally?” he sighed deeply, threw up his hands, and exclaimed, “Everything!”  He, then, began to explain the problems in students’ writing concerning content, organization, and mechanics that he faces in all of his courses.  You may be thinking, “Well, if he teaches freshmen, then, that’s understandable,” but this professor does not only teach freshmen; he teaches upperclassmen as well.  Why is student writing so horrendous across the board at the University level?  What is the Writing Lab’s role when helping students, from freshmen to graduate level, with academic writing?  How can the implementation of good writing practices be integrated into every course and department in the University?

During our conversation, the professor explained that our Writing Lab should be doing more to promote our image, what we do, and, especially, what we don’t do.  He suggested coming into more classes and presenting information about the resources that the Writing Lab offers.  He suggested more literature and more advertisements to get the word out that the Writing Lab exists to help all students discover strategies to recognize and address their personal strengths and weaknesses in writing, not proofread or spellcheck papers.  While I think that all of these ideas are valuable and that the role of the Writing Lab should be clearly stated to students, I could not help feeling like a misguided view of the Writing Lab was being presented.  The Writing Lab is not the superhero of writing for the University.  It is not our job to “save the day” and solve all of the problems that students face in their writing.  We are most certainly a large resource (and a good one if I do say so myself) for students to take advantage of, but I believe that the Writing Lab is just one puzzle piece in the big picture.

What universities need is an integrated writing approach.  At the University where I attend, the only support for learning about academic writing that freshmen receive in their coursework is English Composition, and, for many students, this course is not enough.  Why does the Writing Lab have to take on all the responsibility of helping undergraduate writers with their writing after this one semester course?  Shouldn’t partnerships between the Writing Lab and professors be created to promote best practices in writing?  Shouldn’t an emphasis on writing be established throughout each student’s college journey?  In the book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, the author explains that “writing is closely linked with thinking and that in presenting students with significant problems to write about- and in creating an environment that demands their best writing- we can promote their general cognitive and intellectual growth” (Bean xvi).  The key aspect of this quote is about professors creating an environment that demands students’ best writing.  In order to expect college level writing, professors must create an environment that promotes the discovery of writing strategies; they must create an environment where students can address personal strengths and weaknesses in their writing.

Partnership with the Writing Lab and an emphasis on writing and best practices in writing in every course are essential for an integrated writing approach in universities.  The Writing Lab should not be the last resort when a student fails to produce a college level paper.  The Writing Lab should be a resource in partnership with professors as they create environments in their classrooms that promote, not only good writing, but good strategies for writing.  Working together, an integrated writing approach in universities can become a reality.

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011. Print.

Reminder: AEQ Winter 2013 Issue deadline approaching!

Hi All,

A friendly that the deadline for Academic Exchange Quarterly's Winter 2013 special section on Writing Center Theory and Practice is approaching! 

Articles may explore issues of theory, practice, and experience in writing center work, including qualitative and empirical studies and discussions of pedagogy. Pieces may be submitted until the end of August. 
For more information, please visit

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Tutors Asking ALL the Questions

To my dismay, I often find myself asking more questions than my client during consultations.  I have been a writing tutor for over a year now, and yet I’m still the one asking all the questions.  It seems opposite of what it should be right?  Well, before making any assumptions about my credentials as a tutor, let me explain. 
Questions are the root of all answers.  It is impossible to discover the desired solution if we never ask the right questions.  This is a concept that most people can agree on, but how exactly does it play into tutoring?  Questions are essential for understanding the assignment during the introductory phase of a consultation, for working cooperatively with the client during the collaboration phase, and for receiving constructive feedback as the consultation concludes. 
For starters, every consultation begins with questions.  “Have you been to the Writing Center before?”  “What are you working on today?”  “What’s the main thing you want to focus on during this session?”  Questions are an effective way for tutors to initiate conversation with clients during the introductory phase of a consultation.  Asking questions helps tutors to better understand the assignment, and it points the tutor in a direction of focus.  For example, if a student intends to work on the content of their paper, he or she will not appreciate a tutor who is only focused on their grammar.  Asking these introductory questions also allows us to clarify any ground rules with clients, such as what we mean by “editing.”  It’s important to establish these kinds of roles at the beginning of the consultation to ensure that both the client and the tutor are on the same page.  In order for both the tutor and the tutee to be on the same page, the tutor needs to specifically ask the client what he or she want to focus on.  Asking questions not only allows tutors to grasp the task or assignment at hand, but it also leads to collaboration between the tutor and client. 
Collaboration is a way for tutors to engage their clients as the consultation transitions out of the introductory phase and into a deeper focus.  While collaborating, tutors can use questions to evoke critical thinking, while simultaneously providing encouragement and assistance.  When both the tutor and the client partake in asking questions and giving answers, the entire process becomes more of a cooperative effort.   I find that students often know what they want to say, but need help figuring out how to say it.  In situations such as this, it is important for the tutor to ask questions.  “Can you explain what you are trying to say here?”  “What is the main idea you are trying to get across in this sentence?”  “What’s the significance of this point and is there a particular reason you decided to put it here?”  After all, the client is the only person who knows the answer these questions.  Asking open-ended questions allows the tutor to better understand where the client is coming from and what he or she is trying to accomplish within the assignment.  Having a good understanding of the client helps the tutor assist in a more effective manner.   
In addition to asking questions pertaining to the assignment, tutors also benefit from asking for feedback.  As the consultation concludes, the tutor has the opportunity to ask a few final questions.  These final questions are just as important, if not more important than all the others.  “Do you feel like we have adequately covered your main concerns?”  “Is there anything you still don’t understand or any concepts you would like more clarification on?”  “Do you feel like this consultation has been helpful?”  Asking these questions gives the tutor feedback on how they did.  It is a great way for tutors to recognize any topics they may have covered too quickly or incompletely, and it lets the tutor know what to suggest next.  It also shows the tutor any areas or concepts they need to work on explaining more clearly.  For example, if a client says they are still feeling a little confused about when to use articles, this could signal to the tutor that they need to think of another way to try to explain articles more clearly.  This feedback works as constructive criticism, and it allows tutors to better themselves.
Ultimately, clients are the reason tutors are able to make progress and become more advanced.  All in all, the entire tutoring process comes back to simply asking questions.

Meet the author playlist

Andrew Davis from Ole Miss has finished uploading the final two PeerCentered Meet the Author discussions with Laura Greenfield,  Karen Rowan and Harry Denny.  He has also made a spiffy play list for all the discussions that can be found at .

I am hoping to continue on these discussions in the fall.  If you have any author suggestions, you can post them in the comments here.  There is also a fancy poll in the Facebook group.

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 ...