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Showing posts from September, 2013

Getting to Know ESL Writers

So I'm beginning the service portion of my service-learning project tomorrow. In order to learn how to teach or foster literacy/compositional skills for the satisfaction of a course project, I will be volunteering as a Student Tutor at a local Elementary School, helping K-6 children improve their reading skills. I've been reviewing the materials provided by my coordinator to help me understand how to help the children best and found a little sheet titled "Getting to Know You". It has two big stars with smiley faces on it as well as pictures of books, cats and hot dogs. Cute. It asks questions like: What is your Name? Do you have a pet? What is your favorite food? Do you like to read? As I was looking at this sheet, it made me realize how important this getting to know you process is in order to help the children feel comfortable. I don't know exactly why that is, maybe it's just to establish that connection, the connection that you care. The connection that e…

Working with Students I Admire

Much of my motivation for working in the writing center stems from a desire to teach overseas, namely South Korea and Spain (I know, it’s huge a juxtaposition of cultures), so whenever a student from one of these places comes to seek my advice, it’s only by a great effort of will that I stay my bubbling curiosity from reaching out to slap them with a barrage of mindless questions. Thankfully, our discussions usually move toward something of a more writerly nature.

Occasionally, however, some of those personal questions will seep through on the page. For instance, I read this opening sentence in a student’s paper the other day:

“I was seven when the rebels attacked my village.”
I was so choked up that I couldn’t move on to the next line. The student looked over at me and asked if there was something wrong with the paper. I barked out a laugh.

“No,” I said, “this is a great hook.” My eyes swam in tears, and I did my best to covertly wipe them on the sleeve of my brown hoodie, lest he th…

Smile :)

To whom it may concern:

My name is David Ahlman and for the next year I will be working with a young, high school aged Burmese boy (struggling to speak English, let alone, write it) as a tutor for the Salt Lake Teens Write program put on by the Community Writing Center (CWC) located in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. This program began two years ago geared towards helping under-priviledged high school aged girls improve their writing talents. Today, it is intended to help both teen men and women improve their writing skills in addition to introducing them to different writing styles.

Weekly, I will be held responsible to report my efforts and our regular discussion accomplishments to my superiors. However, during our discussions I will be accountable for the young man's general growth and appreciation for writing. To reach the goal for this growth, I will introduce him to varying, interesting writing styles (some of which are my favorite) in order to spur his desire and curiosity. …

Essays, Reports, Engineering Report?, Wedding Vow?!

The Student Writing Center's purpose to assist fellow writers. Writing tutors examine the pieces they bring forth and give advice to the best of their ability. Today at the center I've come across a some interesting pieces of writing. What I've seen today has me thinking, "At what point, do we the tutors, notice that we will be little to no help on the piece brought to us?" 
Electrical Engineering. How many writing tutors are familiar with this subject? How about the format some engineers are required to place their format in?  If I remember right, the report brought to me was in EEE format or something similar to. This session was interesting, luckily I knew the student from a shared class a few semesters back. We have helped each other constantly, so he was unafraid to bring me up to speed with the correct format. In return I struggled through lots of statistics and unfamiliar terms. I was actually able to help in the end. It turns out he needed assistance with…

Yet Another Observation...

Today’s student writer is a native English speaker who claims to need help with English 1010. She says that she needs help with “MLA format.” First off, I ask the student if she is familiar with the “Purdue Owl” website. The student says she is not, so I provide her with the URL, recommending that she check it out because it should answer any remaining questions she may have after the brief 30 minute tutoring session. Our tutor comes prepared with a book that explains various style guide formats in detail. The student’s assignment has to do with explaining what is wrong with American politics, and how these problems are affecting the American dream (very interesting and relevant topic!) After analyzing what she had written so far, it seems as if the student already has somewhat of a grasp on MLA format.
The main thing she seems to be struggling with is citation. Using the handbook, the tutor explains in detail the components that must be included when using MLA citation: author, publi…

Don't ask me, don't ask me . . .

I was studying at my table when a student walked in who didn't have an appointment but wanted to meet with a tutor. I heard my bosses voice say: "We have lots of tutors available. Lets see . . . there's Alex and Arthur--" I sat at the table trying to study for every subject possible thinking to myself "maybe if I don't look up someone else will meet with him. Yeah: Just look busy. . . Don't ask me, don't ask me, don't--"
"--Alex! Would you be willing to meet with so and so?"
"Of course!" I never disobey a direct command. Usually. Besides, not helping him would've been a huge mistake.

The student had never been to the writing center before but needed help with organization. After telling him about the Center, I clarified "You just need help with organization?"
"Yeah. That's all."
I pulled out a piece of paper and asked him what assignment he was working on.
"An essay for this class, but I j…

Observation of Tutoring an ESL Student

This session was between a writing 990 student whose native language was Nuer. (Sudanese dialect) As usual, the tutor begins by asking the student if he has his assignment sheet, the student nods as he accesses canvas on his tablet. Later I would find out that there were actually two assignments, the first of which was to write 20 simple sentences about “civic engagement.”
The tutor opens the session by asking the student if he knows what the assignment means by “simple sentence,” the student makes what seemed a wild, yet somewhat educated guess. His guess (as expected) is inaccurate. Responding to the student, the tutor then begins his explanation of a simple sentence by telling the student that a simple sentence consists of only one clause. It seems as if the student isn’t familiar with the term “clause,” so I noticed that the tutor refrains from using this term throughout the rest of the session. I thought this was wise on his part as not to confuse the student even further. Continu…

Any Ideas?


I'm writing this because I am in need of your collaboration if you're willing to help. I am in a Mentoring Writers class, taught by none other than the illustrious Clint Gardner. One main avenue of learning we are following this semester is the experience of a service-learning project of our choice. My understanding of the purpose of this project is to learn how to tutor effectively through live experience and reflection.

For my project, I've chosen to volunteer as a reading tutor for students reading below their grade level through Americorps at a local elementary school. I'll be working a couple times a week with a couple of elementary students. The proposed focus of my reflection on this experience right now is to try and record and think about the differences I see between what helps students learn successfully when they are in Elementary school and what helps them learn successfully when they are in college. I think it'd be cool to try and explain these…

The Waters of Tutoring

I took work off today and decided to devote my time to observing 5 tutoring sessions at the Salt Lake Community College Writing Center (SWC) in addition to receiving tutoring of my own. When I  initially entered the room I was immediately surprised by how many people were there both tutoring and being tutored. I said to myself, "Wow! You're in good company. It appears that everyone is as awful at drafting as you are." This put a smirk and smile on my face followed by a choking chuckle I uttered under my breath—this was the perfect ice breaker into the new and daunting waters of observing tutors and their techniques of which I will be performing soon enough.

My first observation and—in my opinion—the best one involved what appeared to be an experienced 23 year old male tutor employed by SLCC helping a 40 year old, Asian born, broken English female student attempting to complete a vocabulary assignment in preparation for a test. They began by first analyzing her assignment…

Intrinsic Motivation

In my current quest to discover the methods of an effective Tutor, I have stumbled across one idea that particularly excites me, the concept of Intrinsic Motivation.

     I have come to the belief that the best policy a tutor can follow is to facilitate learning in the Writer during the session and to foster independent learning skills so that the writer may learn how to learn to succeed. I learned today at a Tutor Certification Workshop that Intrinsic motivation may be a large driver behind this concept.
     Through discussion, our workshop group deduced that when you teach something to someone, they learn it that's good, but they don't necessarily learn how to learn without the tutor. When you ask them the right question though, well for example: If you're helping a student understand the concept of sensory details, instead of writing a short passage full of sensory details for them and then telling them why those details are called sensory details and what effect …

Fall 2013 Meet the Author Discussions

The next round of PeerCentered Meet the Author discussion has been set!  We’ll be having a weekly sessions on Mondays (at various times) throughout October on a broad range of topics.  Come prepared to talk!  The moderation in this series is going to be much more limited and the majority of questions/discussion items will come from participants.   We, in fact, won’t even have assigned moderators.  I and some regulars will be there and will have our own questions, but then I’m hoping that all participants will quickly get involved in the discussions.. Participants won’t have to hook up to audio or video since all they can text chat with each other, but keep in mind that the conversation does flow more easily when more than just the authors/editors are communicating through live audio/video. 
All sessions will be held in the PeerCentered discussion Tiny Chat discussion space: .
Please announce this opportunity to any peer tutors yo…

A humbling observation

At some point in your life, either recently or long ago, have you ever believed that you were exceptionally great at some skill? Hour after hour the ability would be practiced until one day someone else does the same thing, just ten time better. It is very humbling.

Yesterday I observed a tutoring session between a writing center Tutor and an amazing student. She was from Africa and spoke several languages! They both sat down and calmly went over what she wanted to do with her writing.  At that moment I became nervous, even though I was just observing. English can be very difficult to those who have not grown up surrounded by the language. The experienced tutor calmly smiled and translated what she wanted to do. "I don't know where to start. What to do."  The Tutor read aloud and broke down the instructions piece by piece, then slowly simplified each fragment so the student could understand what the assignment was really asking. I think it was a great way to approach the…


I love the English language and especially enjoy finding comparable differences in words that share similar roots. For example, what is the difference between a champion and a championship? The answer: The number of participants. A wrestler may be the champion of his weight class, yet his team-with only his successive efforts-may still lose the championship; “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Ironically, a similar wordy comparison can be found in tutor and tutorship. True of sporting and tutoring, there will always be a teacher and a student; a coach and player; a master and an apprentice. However, is the teacher the only one teaching or the student the only one studying? Of course not; each are being edified by the other; each are learning from one another. Thus I may be a great tutor-an expert in my field of education and writing-but do I embrace tutorship? Do I look down on my student and desire to carry him up the ladder to my level knowledge with a “know-it-all” attitude? Or do I see bot…
Roles of a Tutor There are many roles a tutor can fill; some are more effective and helpful than others. I will endeavor to explain a few of these roles and how they help the writer better understand their own writing.
It is important that the tutor not take on the role of expert. Learning is more collaborative and the session more successful when the writer is the expert, and the tutor is the learner. If a tutor can let the writer teach them about their writing, and why they wrote the way they did, then the writer is more in control and therefore feels less inferior and more comfortable.
A well-seasoned tutor will tell you that their most successful sessions have been when they, the tutor, acted as more if a facilitator of learning, and the writer was the expert of his or her own writing. Writers are more likely to be open to questions, suggestions, and ideas when they feel that collaborative atmosphere come into play; as opposed to the attitude of "I'm the tutor, you'r…

Tutoring: An Exercise in Telepathy

We tend to picture writing as a somewhat isolated process. A man in his pajamas sits in front of computer screen yawning away the tears and three days’ worth of grime as he struggles to fit his words into something resembling a coherent thought. In many ways this is a reflection of my own life, but this picture is only a small part of a much larger process.

In his prologue to On Writing, Stephen King says that “all the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree;” what’s written on a page is the culmination of one writer’s thoughts and life experiences. When we read this page, we are exploring the author’s mind. In a way, we leave our thoughts behind and take up new ideas as our eyes move from one word to the next. It is, in the greatest sense, a meeting of the minds.
But tutoring takes this a step further.

The role of a tutor comprises many functions, but one thing is certain: we are not slave-drivers. Our goal isn’t to gain dominance over a student’s paper. To do so would be an act o…