Friday, April 25, 2014

Thoughts while doing a research project

If there is something to be careful about when handling a research project, it is to be wary of assumptions. I have found that during the course of my project, whereby I am studying why students procrastinate on writing assignments, there are many different factors and opinions that come into play. While unifying these different factors and looking for commonalities, I feel like even with all the background literature I have read, a lot of the conclusions and inferences I have been drawing, may be considered subjective in some light. I fear that if someone with a completely different mindset were to be exposed to all the literature I have been exposed to, and all the gathered raw data I have gathered, they might come to a different conclusion than I for the same question I am asking. I am trying to be extremely careful as to include all possibilities in my conclusions and to gear towards what is most likely, but there is just this overhanging fear that unless I actually test my data and proposed conclusions, I will not ever be perfectly content that I have truly identified as to why students procrastinate in their writing assignments.

            But all in all, I guess that is the nature of research: to bring forth a baby step to the solution, in hopes one day the solution is reached. Maybe my project is just a small step towards continuing projects that’s should be conducted to truly see how to halt the trend of procrastination. It is truly an endeavor to begin a research project on anything, because if you do not commit to furthering the next project your original project has brought on, you are haunted by the questions you do not know the answers to.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Working With Student-Athletes

I have heard several writing assistants complain about working with student athletes. The main complaints are basically that student-athletes come to the tutoring center unprepared, with mediocre and incomplete assignments, and with a care-less attitude. Many tutors feel frustrated working with student-athletes because tutors feel like student-athletes are not interested in learning and actually improving their writing skills. And if the student-athletes themselves don’t care about their grade, why should we, the tutors, care?
Many tutors feel unenthusiastic about working with student athletes because of the belief that the session will be tedious and that they will be basically talking to a wall for 30 minutes. However, this is a misconception, and tutors should give student-athletes a chance before stereotyping them as poor writers. Athletes, in fact, are extremely smart. They have leadership skills, strong teamwork values, and they enjoy challenges and competition. Additionally, athletes really care about their grades. They have to maintain a certain GPA to be eligible to compete, and they have to complete their degrees and graduate in four years, because they are only eligible to compete with the NCAA for four years.
The main issue with student athletes is their time management. They have to comply with their obligations as an athlete just as much as they have to comply with their academic ones. They have a lot less room for procrastination than a normal student, and having to cleverly organize their time every single day is not an easy task. The idea of student athletes not caring is entirely a misconception. If they come to a session unprepared, it is not because they do not care, it is because they didn’t organize their time wisely enough to be on top of the assignment. If they are having a hard time focusing it is because they probably are physically taxed because of practices and competitions, which affects their mental energy and ability to concentrate.
We often make the mistake of judging student-athletes before even working with them. We should give athletes a chance, because in fact, they require more help than ordinary students. We need to be more patient with them, and if they adopt a negative attitude, instead of us adopting the same attitude, we should help them to change it in order to create a proactive environment.  

Breaking tradition

When I said I wanted to write something about being a nontraditional student, a fellow tutor asked, insightfully, what the term actually meant.  So I looked it up.
According to our school’s website:
A non-traditional student [includes] any of the following: over age 25, married or partnered, having children, a veteran of a branch of the Armed Services, a student who works full-time, or a student who is enrolled part-time.” 
Most nontraditional students started reading this like a checklist, not an “or” statement.  25, check.  Married, check. Veteran, check plus.  It’s almost a game of  “do I fit more categories than you?”  I probably do, by the way.  I fit all except the last two, which usually come as a set, so I think they should be one item. 
Think about that, though.  When the school goes to offer services to groups of students, “nontraditionals” tend to count as one lump category, but a 22 year old mother, working full time, taking night classes has a completely different set of needs from the 30 year old single Marine veteran. 
Of course, the writing center is in a unique position to meet even this diverse group one-on-one, as individuals.  That’s powerful, in ways you may not realize.   In a major university, the nontraditionals can get lost in the shuffle, their unique offerings undervalued.  When they come to the writing center, though, they are exactly represented. 
I don’t know what yours is like, but our writing center teaches us to treat each consultation separately, avoid getting into “paper mill” mode.  You know what I mean, where the paper hits the desk and you’re on it immediately, looking for things to improve.  At the end of the session, you know all about the paper, but have to double check the person’s name.  We shouldn’t do that to anyone, but it can be doubly dangerous with nontraditionals.  Odds are the nontraditional student is coming in for more than just term paper revisions.  They already struggle with feeling like an inadequate member of the school.  If  the writing center looks like other programs on campus, where they’re technically allowed, but where they don’t actually fit, they probably won’t come back.  If we can make nontraditionals feel like they’re the friend we’ve been hoping to meet all semester, I’d put money on them becoming a regular visitor.
The best part; this couldn’t be any easier.  Start a conversation.  Find a connection.  Get to know everyone you tutor as much as reasonable.  While you’re asking them about that essay prompt, ask where they’re from.  In between talking about organization plans, talk about weekend plans.  Using my examples from earlier, getting a mom to talk about her kids isn’t exactly pulling teeth, and that Marine veteran wants to tell you why Japan was the best country he ever visited.  Chances are they’ll even have some hint of it in their work they bring in.    
Remember, too, to embrace the differences that pop up. You won’t understand every obscure Bill Clinton sex joke, and they might have no idea what a vine video is (I just learned that one last semester).  That’s ok.   In fact, my point is that we make a place for these differences TO be ok. 
So basically, when we see someone come in who doesn’t fit the usual mold, let’s make a real effort to make “them” feel like part of “us.”  I know the writing center is up to the task, because it worked for this married thirty-something Veteran dad.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Organizational Patterns

I arrived at the comp fellow’s office a few minutes before the scheduled appointment time to get my laptop, notes and the course syllabus within reach just in case I would need to refer back to any of the sources during the upcoming session. Being punctual allows the tutor to gain order and control over a tutoring session. Displaying proper organization prior to the start of an appointment creates an educational environment. This organizational pattern is recognizable not only by the students but also by professionals across all course curriculum's. This instills the students with a sense of security and trust in the tutor’s authority.
As a writing fellow I am always appreciative when a student displays signs of preparation before a session. During a session last week it was apparent that the student reviewed the syllabus beforehand seeing as she entered the session with an already clear topic for her research assignment, on the city of Paris. The directions for the research assignment stated to pick a destination to travel or means of transportation, since she had already made a decision we were able to focus on the research and writing portion rather than the brainstorming phase.

This example relates back to my previous statement about organizational patterns and how recognizable it is not only for students but also for tutors or professors. I appreciated her genuine interest in the subject and the time she put into the assignment before our session; it confirmed that the student cared about her coursework. Getting students excited about writing and discovering how they can relate their interests to the projects assigned is a rewarding experience for me as a tutor because at the end of the day writing is a unique journey and when given enough time and attention it is a thrilling journey full of understanding of the expectations one has for themselves as well as the expectations of others. 

Active Listening

One of the most powerful tools you can use as a tutor is active listening. During a tutoring session it is important to comprehend the main points the writer is trying to convey. Following the direction of the paper should be the ultimate goal throughout the session, as you want to ensure that the writer is clearly and effectively fulfilling the requirements for the writing project.
                During all of my sessions I start out by reviewing the syllabus and the instructions for the writing assignment then I ask the student if he/she understands what is expected of them for the project, while they all mostly agree to understanding I usually don’t figure that out until we start diving into the writing. This is where the power of active listening comes into play, once you begin engaging with the writer you can discover what level of comprehension they have reached. By asking questions, engaging in conversations, and listening to not only just the writing but the way the student reads their work aloud, and the expressions their bodies make you can analyze the comfort they have with the assignment.  
                The back and forth conversation can give direct inferences to the student that you are paying attention and that you genuinely care about the topic on which they are writing about. Another powerful aspect of active listening is that it allows the tutor to have control over the session, you are able to direct which direction the session takes by asking the right questions. For example a closed question that can be answered in the most basic form of yes or no is not the type of questions you would want to address during a session. Open ended questions that require a thoughtful response are the key questions that will allow you to actively listen and be able to determine the student’s level of understanding.

                Active listening is a helpful tool that should be utilized not just in tutoring sessions but also in everyday life. I could argue that the power to understand another person is quite possibly the most fundamental part of learning. While, each person interprets things differently active listening allows us to break through the barrier of outside observation and inside reflection. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Color Red

A red ink blot here. A red circle there. The markings of a professor’s thoughts are boldly seen. The arms of the student and tutor/fellow are completely extended out staring at a multi-marked paper. All there is to see is the essay’s bloody wounds visible throughout the whole paper. The color red brings the attention to the eye, but in the attention of error and disapproval. The usage of red ink to correct a student’s paper is frowned upon. Why? Is it that it is too harsh? Are we accustomed to learn that red markings mean incorrectness or negativity?

The attempt and latest trend to use softer colors that are more friendly and refreshing to the eye, such as teal, purple, and green, are being used more in classrooms. However, we are in the technological era, and it helps that we have access to computers and laptops in most of our classrooms that eliminate the option of the actual professors’ handwritten markings to butcher the thoughts and labor put into a paper.

With advanced programs such as Microsoft Word, we can now leave comments on the side of a paper. The side comments option allows the reviewer to provide explanations for the errors and feedback found in the essay, unlike a hard copy where there is a shortage of space to provide feedback.

There is the downside of receiving another person’s input and disagreeing with their opinion, but most of the time it is what makes us realize what more we can add, change, or remove. Without realizing how feedback from another set of eyes can be helpful, room for improvement becomes limited. It also allows writers to see what they have been working on, whether it is a student or tutor themselves.

As a writing fellow, it is crucial that we avoid pulling out any writing utensils having red ink when helping a student writer. Having the sight of red ink can bring back a student writer’s anxiety towards the writing process, cause them to procrastinate, become overwhelmed, and fall behind.

The red ink problem has been around for a long time. The National Council of Teachers of English published an article in March 1913 that discusses the negative aspect of red ink and does not want to see an ink drop of red on any papers.

Do other colors give a bit of comfort and relaxation? Or is it still an issue in today’s academic system?


Confidence in Student Writers

After having multiple sessions throughout this semester, I have noticed that each of the students I see have different levels of confidence. I thought to myself, “What could possibly be the reasoning for it? Could outside factors be the cause?” The class I am assigned to is very diverse. With some students from other countries or backgrounds, they tend to have a tougher time than those who are familiar with English.

International students may have difficulty learning the rules of academic English. Having to struggle with academic English and keeping up with class assignments, especially at the college level, is not easy. Assignments themselves can be difficult or new to the student and that may lower their confidence. For example, I had a student who had never completed a research paper before. I asked her what she found was most difficult for her to accomplish the paper. Her response was the pressure of making sure the format and APA style was correct, as well as using only third person. When knowing that there is a grade to come from a paper, making sure the paper is perfect can cause writers anxiety and more mistakes. Without having pressure on the student to exceed expectations, it affects the student’s confidence to have a strong paper and their own skills.

On the flip side, there was another student who had no problem writing the same assignment. Instead the opposite happened. Few questions were asked when we were both going over her paper. I then asked her a question about the paper to see if she saw the need to improve any specific area of her paper. I did not imply that there was, but she was confident that her paper was just fine, leaving nothing left for me to do, but compliment her on her work.

As a writing fellow, it may be help to alleviate any tension the student has in order write their paper to their best capability and build their confidence. I was thinking about my own level of confidence in my work and wondered to myself. Do you believe that a tutor’s confidence brushes off onto the student?




The use of Pen and Paper-Is it beneficial for sessions?

I am very interested in the impact of the use of pen and paper v technology during sessions. Students, and even us tutors, have become heavily dependant on technology to write papers and to make presentations. The use of laptops and computers has almost completely replaced the use of pen and paper. Still, I believe that the physical use of pen and paper is necessary. Even more so, I believe that it is a useful tool to use during tutoring sessions.

I have found it to be useful in several ways. I have found that the use of pen and paper during sessions helps students organize their thoughts and memorize things faster. I try to implement the use of pen and paper with my students in every single one of my sessions. It might seem a bit old fashioned to use, but it seems to me that pen and paper gives more freedom to writers. My students have expressed to me that it gives them a greater sense of freedom especially during the drafting period of a paper. The students I have interviewed regarding the subject have told me that the implementation of pen and paper is very important to them in the writing process. They feel that it is an easier way to write down important points and doodle ideas. What do you, as a tutor, think about the implementation of pen and paper during your sessions with your students? Is it useful to your students? If so how so?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Multiple Appointments on the Same Assignment

       One of the great aspects of the writing center is that students can make multiple appointments, even if said appointments concern the same assignment. It is truly an opportunity for the student to become aware of his/her writing process and to improve upon it. The question is how to successfully help the student so that the appointment remains productive rather than monotonous.  Despite working on the same assignment, it is important to consider how to help the student progress with his/her writing as he/she moves forward. The tutor can begin a repeated assignment session by taking some time to discuss what they worked on during the last appointment. This can include discussing what the assignment was, what the student had trouble with previously, and what the tutor and student worked on last time. This will provide a foundation for how the session can be structured in order to ensure it continues to benefit the student. It is important that the tutor think carefully about how to approach the second session so that the student receives additional information rather than a reiteration of their previous session.
            By discussing what the student worked on during their previous appointment and what they have worked on since the last appointment, it will be easier for the tutor to perceive lapses within the student’s progress. If the student has worked on improving the aspects the tutor and student discussed last time, this can be an opportunity to discuss whether the student feels he/she successfully improved. This will help the student reflect upon his/her writing. For example, a tutor can ask the student if the reason he/she came in for his/her first appointment is still a problem and where he/she would like to improve in the future. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of one’s work demonstrates competence as a writer. By developing awareness of his/her writing process, the student can understand what steps he/she needs to take in order to complete an assignment.
If the student feels he/she has improved, the tutor can ask what else the student would like to work on. This can include building off of the advice given by the previous tutor or addressing an issue that has been overlooked. At this time, the advice from the previous session can be critiqued by the current tutor and the tutor will have an opportunity to provide his/her own personal input. Additionally, if another issue has arisen, it should be viewed as an opportunity to develop a plan that will lead to the resolution of this problem.
            Conversely, if the student feels he/she has not improved, it is important to consider why. In this instance reviewing the assignment again and using visual aids such as charts and diagrams can come in handy, as well as evaluating the assignment from a new perspective. These approaches combined with recommendations to further the student’s writing abilities will lead to an advancement in his/her writing career.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Social Construction at a Nail Salon.

I had a peculiar experience this week at the nail salon. I was writing some work in a notebook while getting my feet done. I was  so concentrated in my work that  I didn’t notice the nail technician looking at me. She looked at me and asked, “Are you writing in your diary?” I said “no…” and thought “non of your business.” “It’s for an assignment” I said.  
she replied, “Oh I hate writing.”
I paused for a second while the words sunk in: “I hate writing.” Her comment almost offended me.  I looked at her and said, “well, I don’t think you hate writing, I mean you like to text and write messages on Facebook right?”
Her face changed and she said “Oh my gosh, yes.” I went on to tell her that writing is not an activity to be hostile towards because she obviously likes using it as a medium of communication. I told her that writing itself is an amazing form of communication that we all use on a daily basis. At the end of my little speech she let out the magic word that make all of us writing assistants smile, “so I guess I do like writing.”
This experience I had ,made me think that perhaps it is the tedious nature of unfamiliar topics, deadlines, and unclear rigid professors that change our perception of writing.  It also made me think about the connection between the general misperception of writing and the theory of social construction. Social constructionists believe that knowledge is socially constructed rather than created. I am afraid that socially we have, consciously or unconsciously, created a negative connotation of writing. Perhaps if we, consciously, construct a different concept of writing overall, members of our society would feel more free to express themselves thought writing.

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...