Sunday, September 28, 2014

I’m going to be a tutor…

SLCC Student Writing Center

My service-learning project for English 1810 (my mentoring writers class) is to engage students in one-to-one tutor/writer conversations at the SLCC Taylorville Campus Student Writing Center, in an effort to improve their (and my) writing process. The project mainly includes student writers seeking help in the writing center, but also the other tutors/instructors who I'll be working with.

Together with student writers, I will discuss aspects of writing based on each student’s priorities for their individual writing assignments. These facets of writing ability may include:

  • understanding instructions
  • planning strategies
  • determining content
  • drafting and revising assignments
  • defining purpose
  • composing a thesis
  • editing and proofing for errors (grammar and punctuation)
  • writing concerns other than those listed

Working with students on their various projects is a way to strengthen my own writing skills. I foresee that my experience in the writing center will facilitate this happening in several ways:

  • formulating and studying explanations for various issues and concerns that will arise in my tutoring sessions
  • solving problems for the various writing difficulties involved in student writing
  • learning how to assist all the diverse people and personalities who are patrons of the writing center
  • evaluating and reflecting on what I learn and my experiences through the use of the SLCC Student Center evaluation form and the TSR writing center tutoring log
  • networking with other writers, both students and instructors

I’m looking forward to starting my own tutoring sessions with fellow writers. If all goes well, this should begin this upcoming week. Watching the tutors and tutees as they work through the individual writing projects, I can’t help but think about what a wonderful opportunity the writing center is providing. It not only offers us the opportunity to better our writing, but also the chance to get to know other students and to network—or commiserate—with other writers too.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The sci fi writer

As a fourth observation, I attended a tutoring session at the community writing center with one of our science fiction writers.
The tutor was going over a preview of the story with the writer. The way that the tutor conducted the session was professional. What stood out excellently in my opinion is the tutor’s self confidence about the genre. Science fiction concepts are endless and too many, the tutor referred to a number of other book writers to find the answer to questions the writer was asking himself. Although, no direct answers were provided and the writer was given the chance to write his story about each concept.
In addition, the tutor did a very good job in giving hints to the writer to guide him to the way he really wanted  to write and it was helpful especially when the tutor gave real examples of better known authors. Giving practical examples was a great way to remind the writer of the concepts  unlike just doing a free write or studying the genre.
A further step to improve this session I think was to compliment the writer on telling a good story. He answered most of the questions and was given full attention by the tutor, plus there was positive feedback on his performance, which all tutees like to hear.

My observation of the tutor I hope to be

My tutor observations have taught me a lot about myself and the type of tutor I'd like to be. Basically this is what I want when people come to see me, as their tutor. If I had to assess my progress. To have helped them as well as taught myself more as a writer.  I guess it will be a learning experience on the whole. To see the writer, and if the meeting with me has improved their own writing or paper as a whole and he/she is able to see for themselves where there would be some concerns this, to me at least, would be an achievement and one I'd take it with pride

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Animated Tutor

It was during this tutoring session that I realized how important it is to make eye contact and use the correct body language. The tutor I observed today didn’t just like to write and he wasn’t just a good writer, he was passionate about writing—passion radiated from him. From the moment he asked the writer, “So what are we working on today,” he had him hook line and sinker. The writer wanted to be there, wanted to be working on that essay and wanted to be learning about writing. The tutor looked directly at the student when he was talking about writing and used every kind of facial expression under the sun. He gestured smiling, gestured grimacing and gestured making whatever the emotion was that went along with his commentary. It was fun to watch such an animated display of passion and excitement during a conversation about writing a college assignment. The tutor’s style was what really engaged the writer in the process of writing.

This particular tutor spent a good deal of time making sure he understood the assignment. By doing this, talking through all the aspects and requirements of the essay, the writer ended up understanding their assignment more thoroughly. During the discussion, the tutor repeatedly took the student back to the instructions, using it as a guide to the writing process. The tutor was double-checking his own understanding of the requirements, but at the same time, he was modeling for the student questions he himself could be asking and where to go to find the answers. This brought up in my mind, how many times I saw students come to the writing center who didn’t have their instructions and the difficulties this presents for a tutor. In lieu of an assignment sheet, a tutor would have to ask many questions to fully understand (and help the student understand) the requirements for their assignment.

During this session, the tutor helped the writer to understand how to write a thesis sentence, its placement in the paper and how having a good thesis helps a writer to organize their writing. He drew diagrams to show the structure of an essay. I thought this was brilliant. Through this visual illustration, the student understood immediately what the tutor was explaining. This seems like an excellent approach and one that a tutor could apply in multiple scenarios. I observed another session with this tutor and even though the writer of the assignment was different, the tutor’s manner and the way he approached the session were the same. Watching this tutor in action made me excited to get started in the writing center.

Image source: Google Images

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Brief Consideration of Assistive Technology for Writers

If Professor Stephen Hawking rolled into your campus writing center asking for feedback on his latest manuscript, what would you do?

A conversation with a classmate after English 1810 today has me wondering about that. I'm curious to know what the relationship is between our college's Student Writing Center  (SWC) and its Disability Resource Center (DRC), and whether it needs to be strengthened.

Students who qualify under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act have a legal right to accommodations necessary for them to attend school and complete assignments. A student writer with dyslexia, for example, might need to use dictation software and might even have an accommodation allowing her to dictate her words to another person who would do the keyboarding or physical writing. In such a case, would a tutor in the SWC be given permission -- or even be legally obligated -- to do the typing for the student writer? Personally, I see nothing wrong with that, as long as the student writer presented proper documentation from the DRC confirming the student's approved accommodations. What do you think?

In the case of Professor Hawking or a student with a serious physical limitation, might the SWC tutor even make a house call? This is a job for the Mobile Tutoring Unit! And of course, the MTU would probably need extra training to learn the ins and outs of a variety of assistive technologies that writers might use, and to learn about any special issues a physically disabled or learning disabled writer might -- or might not -- have. You wouldn't want to be guilty of treating Professor Hawking as if he were intellectually impaired because he's unable to speak on his own, would you?

As assistive technologies continue to advance in quality and quantity, there is rich new territory for campus writing centers to investigate and adapt to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Twitter Fail Whale: Error Analysis

The year was 1965 and you young tykes may have missed out, but for us old fuddy-duddies, though, the robot in the TV series “Lost in Space” said it best, “This does not compute.” Things may have changed in the world of television sitcoms, but my guess is that writing now is still pretty much the same as writing then. Some of the best error messages of all time still seem appropriate to describe the error analysis process, at least for me.

The higher-order concerns are behind us and now and it’s time in the tutoring session to move on to the later-order concerns. It’s time to actually read the paper. This is when I imagine I turn into the Twitter fail whale. You know the error message that appears when the Twitter service is too overloaded to work. The whale appears and the little Twitter birds
carry him (her?) off into the distance. Something tells me they aren’t going to come to my rescue and I’ll need to determine if the writer has been careless, or if they don’t understand the rules of grammar and punctuation. Where are my Twitter birds when I need them? I’m terrified of the paper that’s so overloaded with problems I won’t know where to start.

At this point, my only purpose in life is to avoid system shutdown—my second greatest fear. Is there a 12-step program for that? How to fix tutor shutdown problems. Troubleshooting tutor shutdown glitches.  Breathe. Breathe. I
imagine checking the clock and seeing our appointment time is done. Alright, time to stop fantasizing (evading) and get to it. My saving grace will be the grammar handbook that I’m sure our writing center has available. It does, doesn’t it? I foresee becoming hard-and-fast friends with that handbook, since I can spot errors, but may not know how to explain them. I’m looking on the bright side, though, there’s no chance I’ll be mistaken for the grammar police. 

World Suicide Prevention Day

Death is never the answer, only the ending

When what should have happened a hand reached out in a way befriending

Think about if you or I were in this ugly spot

There was nobody there to put out the fire when things got too hot

No friends, no family and nowhere to go

This life can be miserable when the pain burns too slow

Life is a mix of whatever happens to be in the pot

When someone is down there needs to be someone to reach out their while theirs might naught

Nothing will stand in the way if your heart is determined to do the right thing

Into every life there needs to be joy and a reason to sing

This is where it goes to the friends and family

It is with we find in ourselves a reason to smile in our own simile

There is no one that knows our heart quite like the family tree

It is with them to share our hearts open and free

Even though, we hear about Robin Williams and celebrities that die every day

If there was something to prevent it from happening you know we'd find a way

But it is to the ones we know that have hit us with the greatest impact

It affects us in a way like a quarterback going for a touchdown only to find out he has just been sacked

Nothing seems quite so real as seeing the person every day and in a moment they're gone

What if it was your best friend that took his life a guy named Shawn

You spent all the time you had with him because the friendship meant everything

The pain he felt I had no idea, nothing can take away that kind of sting

To know now that he had a mental illness or disease and the pain that tore him apart

Now that he's gone the only thing left inside me is a broken heart

To end it all over this it must been very extreme

I only wish I'd have known it then we could have worked together like a team

The world continues on it's way, but nothing will ever again be quite the same

Suicide is a desperate act that we need to master and tame

Today is another day and the sun is outside shining bright

Every one has a journey that travels through the tunnel, we need to find our way through and strive to reach the end with the light

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


    Today in class we were asked to think about our writing process. For example, what is the structure you use to get towards that ever precious final draft? I guess if you asked me, I'd be the sequential reviser and doing it as I go. I reread and read again when I write just to make sure it makes sense to me, and spoken out loud as well on paper. I always do a final revision as well, but generally I revise as I go because all too often if the ideas are coming to fast I'll forget words or once in a while entire phrases.
     I was thinking about how this might affect my own tutoring process? Hopefully, I could be someone open minded enough to let the writer do what they want to do and how they foresee their paper, while guiding along to make it even better than the person imagined.
     As a writer, I'll be the first to admit I have many weaknesses, the first being grammar. Just one reason I didn't really feel overwhelmed to work in the Student Writing Center, but instead opted for the Community Writing Center where I would be able to work with writers on their fiction and poetry as opposed to academic papers or essays. But for every weakness, I feel that their also strengths, to build a good interesting story that will leave the reader on the edge of their seats that takes real talent. I can barely get through a history book or an autobiography (or non-fiction for that matter) without finding out that I've just discovered the cure for the insomnia. I just want to be that guy that can tell the story and tell it a little better than the next guy.

Reflection: The Role of the Tutor

I think the most important role the tutor can play is to really listen to the student and try to understand where they’re coming from with their writing. If you assume a student is going one direction when really they’re trying to go in a different direction neither of you will get anything out of working together. But by listening and allowing the student to talk, you’re also giving them the opportunity to be heard which is usually what writing is all about. 
Another thing the tutor can do is ask questions that will help the student come to their own conclusions, while also sliding in subtle hints to improve the work without hijacking it. You have to remember this is their writing, not yours. It's easy to cross that line when you get caught up in the writing because you know the answer, but they will never learn anything if you just do it for them. They may need help coming up with the answers, but they should be the ones finding them. 

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 ...