|THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS
Communication can be the most difficult thing to master and the most rewarding. We communicate on a daily basis with family, friends, coworkers, and ourselves. Incredible discovery can be made by learning how we communicate with others, and vice versa. Whether or not we can effectively communicate depends on our willingness to learn about ourselves and the different ways we process information. Within tutoring sessions, communication can be as important to the learning process as the tutoring. As with any skill, the more it is practiced the more it is accomplished. I have experimented with different ways to assess students and change my direction of communication based on their feedback. Many factors of communication are present. The process can be linked to personality types, the way we listen, and our nonverbal communication styles. In such a process as tutoring, the more we understand how we learn and how we are connected to our personality, the better we can convey that to the student.
Communication can be made easier through determining the personality type of the student. Although a guess is purely just that, one can learn to better adapt principles of tutoring based on the way the tutee listens and reacts to one's personality. Two examples to examine are introverts and extroverts. An introvert will allow the tutor to engage in leading the session, allowing the tutor to communicate the order in which the session follows. From experience with introverted tutees, they tend to need reassurance more so than anything else in their sessions. An extrovert will take control of his or her paper and communicate the need for clarification within his or her writing. The tutor needs to identify the types of personality to better suit the tutees' needs. There are factors that can affect the direction of the session such as who is the actual introvert or extrovert, the tutor or the tutee? An extrovert has tendencies to prefer oral to written communication, action to reflection, interaction to concentration, and breadth of relationship to depth (Wallace 187). If the tutor was extroverted, she may be doing most of the talking in the session; on the other hand, an extroverted tutee would talk about the subject more, but have difficulty writing about it. In my experience, I've encountered only a few extroverted students and they seemed more comfortable in the session, yet usually had the panic of writing the actual paper before trying.
There are other personality traits measured through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator such as perception and judgment. I think this is more difficult to recognize in regards to blocking the lines of communication. In my own thoughts of perception, I do agree with psychologist Jung, although taking a different approach. His description was that a person was either sensing or intuitive (Wallace 189). I parallel that with either thinking in a concrete manner or an abstract manner. The same connection is made by stating, sensors tend to concretize and intuitives tend to abstract (Wallace 190). An abstract tutor trying to help a concrete tutee may have a difficult time relaying the information by overlooking the details. This may very well be what the tutee needs. Adjusting to that need can bring communication back to a balanced level.
Listening is crucial to opening communication between the tutor and tutee. Through listening, both members of the session can really engage in conversation that in essence will help both the tutee understand the sessions' direction and help the tutor eventually find the points on which to concentrate. I have found that by active listening, I can hear the style of the writer more than the content of the paper. To combat that, I try to ask the tutee to retell the essay with a brief synopsis of the topic sentences and how they connected to the thesis. This avoids a loss of communication through silence and having to ask the tutee what she wants to concentrate on.
We cannot communicate without listening to each other first. The difficulty lies with students who may not want to listen to the tutor's sessions. Even with this obstacle, it is up to the tutor to find the common ground of the tutee and associate this with the interest she has with her writing. To effectively listen we have to effectively learn about ourselves, and the way we communicate (Wolvin 108). Listening then relates to our personality traits discussed above. I have realized how introverted I am due to my patience with listening and my preference for listening over speaking. Listening and hearing are very different. One can listen but not hear what the other is communicating. To listen effectively, one must become motivated to do so. Motivation can be affected by the time of day, mood, amount of stress, or other life circumstances. Motivation to listen with rewards was easier to come by in a past study and although we do not receive monetary gifts for tutoring, the idea is to work towards some type of goal (Wolvin 114). That goal can be an abstract reward in which a tutor is able to help a student out with at least one issue in one session.
Nonverbal communication can be equally crucial in a session like listening. Not only do we tend to watch the body language of the tutee but we also need to engage in positive body language to make the tutee feel more comfortable. By watching the tutee and gathering information on whether she wants to be there or not, the tutor can equalize the experience by putting herself in the tutee's place. The tutor can have tremendous power over whether or not the tutee can feel confident when she turns in a final paper. A tutee that comes into the MCCC Writing Center eager to learn, will have a defined body language and the tutor can adjust the lines of communication so the tutee reaps the most out of the session. I've been able to see the difference between a frustrated student and a confident one just by visually seeing their gestures and nonverbal communication. I've noticed I can make direct eye contact with students, and since they are in a vulnerable state anyway, they will look away. Most people will look away signaling they are ready to speak (Miller 235). Psychologists have done experiments to measure how accurately we can judge the direction of another's gaze, an important tool to gather information about the student and ourselves (Miller 234). So often we see the difference of those who can speak well in front of otherstheir shoulders are straight, their gestures are firm and they value eye contact with their audience. With a tutoring session, these similar gestures can indicate a confident student. It is extremely important to grasp the nonverbal communication at the beginning of a session to help the tutee feel a comfort level with the tutor.
Although not scientific, this information has been gathered through observation. There are many different personality combinations that can affect how a person learns or communicates with others. For someone in the position of being the tutor, this is important to grasp. Whether we are introverts, extroverts, abstract thinkers, or concrete thinkers, our personalities have a lot to do with how we communicate with others. Our listening skills are also important in that whether or not we are hearing or listening, we need to put forth the effort in motivating ourselves to learn how to listen. And tutors can use nonverbal communication as a valuable tool in getting sessions started on the right track. There is much more to tutoring beyond these communication skills; however, communication is an inevitable step in the process of attaining knowledge.
Miller, George A., ed. Communication, Language, and Meaning: Psychological Perspectives. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Wallace, Ray, and Jeanne Simpson, eds. The Writing Center: New Directions. New York: Garland, 1991.
Wolvin, Andrew, and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley. Listening. 3rd ed. Dubuque: Wm C. Brown, 1982.
Two students enter the Writing Center. One is on time, has a draft of her paper, and is ready to discuss changes and new ideas; the other is ten minutes late, has a few notes, and is not willing to discuss anything. The difference between the two? The first was not required to visit the Writing Centerthe second was. Although this is not the case with all students, my experiences, as well as those of my peers, indicate many required tutees are less responsive during sessions than students who come to the Writing Center voluntarily. The attitudes brought with students into the Writing Center influence the effectiveness of the session. Certain things are required of writers when they enter the Writing Center. Writers need to be active in sessions, from beginning to end. In The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner identify the basic responsibilities of writers. Some of these include: being on time, bringing the assignment, staying motivated and open, asking questions, and possessing a willingness to accept new ideas (42). Many students who visit the Writing Center are able to do these things whether they are required to come or not; however, the majority of students able to fill these requirements come to the Writing Center on their own, without the requirement of an instructor. These requirements help develop the writer's attitudes, shaping the agenda of the session.
Being on time for sessions is an important responsibility that is often neglected by the required tutee. Many students I encountered who were required to see a Writing Fellow were late. One student I met with, Gary, came into the Writing Center 15 minutes late for his half-hour appointment, expecting me to meet with him only to complete a Writing Fellow Report Form, fulfilling his requirement to see me. When I refused, Gary became angry, complaining that the Writing Center would not help him with his writing and was a waste of his time. Somehow I was able to convince him to give it a try, and we sat down together for a full 30 minutes and attempted to work on his paper. During this time, Gary avoided eye contact and refused to offer comments on his work. Even though we went through the entire session, Gary left without taking anything more with him than he had brought. Missy Navarre, a Senior Writing Fellow, has had similar experiences. She said there are some students who do not want help; they come into the Writing Center thinking they know everything, and will not listen to you no matter what you say (Personal interview). This was the case with Gary; he came to the Writing Center thinking he did not need help and resisted my efforts to help him.
As opposed to required students, non-required students are often on time or early for their appointments, meeting the basic responsibility for tutees set by Gillespie and Lerner. Many times throughout the semester I have been in the middle of one session when I see my next appointment arrive early. While they are waiting for me to finish, these students review their work and prepare for their appointment. Although there are always exceptions, this is something required students rarely do.
The amount of preparation by the student is important to the productiveness of a tutoring session. When students are prepared, more is accomplished because time does not have to be spent on things that could have been completed beforehand. Non-required students tend to be more prepared than required students. Senior Writing Fellow Crystal Pierce noted that because of their preparation, more is accomplished with non-required students during their tutoring sessions than with required students during their sessions (Personal interview). Non-required students are more likely to bring drafts of their papers and know their work well. They also bring new ideas and questions regarding things that could be added or eliminated. Required students are more likely to come without a draft and with no new ideas.
Both the Writing Fellow and the tutee must remain active in the session for it to be effective; posture plays a key role in this involvement. There is a dramatic difference between a non-required student and a required student's posture. When students are required to come into the Writing Center, they are often withdrawn. They will pick the chair farthest away and push their paper at the tutor, as if leaning closer together to share it would be painful. They also tend to lean backward in their chairs and cross their arms, warning the tutor to keep a distance. One student I worked with, James, sat in his chair in this way. He did not remove his coat when he entered the Writing Center, and he waited for me to inquire about his paper before he would even bother removing it from his backpack. James's actions showed me he was not interested in what I had to offer. Missy Navarre has had similar experiences in her year as a Writing Fellow. She identified posture as the writer's first observable resistance to help. She went on, saying this first impression has the ability to shape an entire session (Personal interview).
Where the required student sits as far away as he can from the tutor, a non-required student frequently does the opposite. If there are two chairs next to the tutor at the table, the non-required student will pick the one closest so the tutor and the student can both see the text. They lean forward in their chairs instead of sitting toward the backs, and are genuinely interested, asking questions and maintaining eye contact. Occasionally students will begin sessions by sitting farther away because they don't know the tutor and are more comfortable with the larger amount of space. Toward the end of the session, most of these students will have moved closer to the tutor because their comfort levels have increased. This earlier behavior (sitting farther away) should not be confused with one of resistance.
Over the course of the semester, I have come into contact with two different kinds of tutees: the required tutee and the non-required tutee. Each of these types possesses different characteristics that influence the effectiveness of a tutoring session. Although there are exceptions, based on my experience working as a Writing Fellow, as well as the experiences of my peers, I have found that most students required to attend a conference in the Writing Center are late, unprepared, and resistant to help. Students not required to attend are less likely to exhibit these behaviors. The differences between students in required and non-required tutoring sessions evoke different responses from the tutor and result in differing levels of knowledge for the tutee. Generally, non-required tutees leave their sessions with more knowledge than do required tutees because of their willingness to learn.
Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
Navarre, Missy. Personal interview. MCCC Writing Center. 14 Dec. 2001.
Pierce, Crystal. Personal interview. MCCC Writing Center. 30 Nov. 2001.
There are two types of students who choose to come to the MCCC Writing Center. They are the traditional student and the non-traditional student. A traditional student is a student who has moved from high school straight to college with no substantial time off between classes. A non-traditional student is one who has come back to school after having taken substantial time off between now and when he or she last attended school. I have seen differences and similarities in observing these two types of students. Three factors that influence any writing session are writing skills, confidence, and age difference between the writing fellow and the tutee.
Writing skills are foundation blocks for every student's writing. Everyone has different skills, which benefit the possessor in different ways. In a set of questionnaires handed out, traditional students tended to list actual skills on the questionnaires. Such items checked were the knowledge of revision, MLA format, grammar, sentence structure, reading, word choice, and using active voice. This does not surprise me. As a traditional student, I too am focused more on grammatical problems in my own papers. Meanwhile, traditional students who are writing fellows answered that years of practice have developed their skills. Thus, I would tend to say writing fellows focus on more overall skills than do regular students. As writing fellows, we need a broader range of skills, while a student may only concentrate on one or two problems.
When working with non-traditional students, both the tutees and the writing fellows also listed the skills they possessed. Skills included such things as journaling, editing, proofreading, preparation, writing in a confident voice, creativity, and self-confidence. The difference between traditional and non-traditional students is that non-traditional students' skills seem to focus more on ideas that affect the heart of the paper. I see this in many of my own sessions when non-traditional students want better content and traditional students want to work on grammar and punctuation. I have to remind students that all skills are important, but it is wiser to concentrate on an idea first. A writer should develop an idea and keep it focused on the subject. Only when that has been accomplished should a student work on editing activities. High order concerns should come before low order concerns. According to The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, High-order concerns are the big issues in the paper, one's that aren't addressed by proofreading or editing for grammar and word choice (Gillespie 29).
Confidence in one's writing could be considered more important than writing skills. I have seen writers with skills, but those skills cannot progress or become fine-tuned without confidence. A paper could be read as timid, weak, or lacking in content without confidence behind the writing. I have read students' papers that are lacking when they do not feel they have done an adequate job. I tell them that I have the same problems. These I statements allow the tutee to see that they are not the only ones with the same problem. This takes pressure off the tutee and allows her to relax and gain confidence as she talks about her paper during a session. It is that feeling of being able to do a good job that actually helps a student to feel that she is able to write. As a point, a non-traditional student named Jackie2 stated, I found a confident voice during my years away from school as a writing skill on her questionnaire. Confidence in itself may not be considered a skill, but it is the basis for skill preparation.
On a scale of not confident, semi-confident, pretty confident, and confident, most traditional students were identified as pretty confident or confident. This included tutees and writing fellows. I see this with many traditional students who come to the Writing Center. It is in the way the students comment on papers. According to his questionnaire, a student named Jude moves closer to being confident as he completes more English classes. Let me compare writing to sports. The more a shooter practices at throwing three point shots in basketball, the more confident the shooter feels that he or she will be able to make a shot in a game. With writing, the more exercises or revisions that a student completes, the chances increase of having a better final draft, because practice is a confidence booster. I also see this with myself and other students when they come to the Writing Center with multiple drafts in hand.
On the flip side, non-traditional tutees fall more on the semi-confident to pretty confident side of the scale according to the answers given on the questionnaires. This is evident when a student walks in and I can see the uncertainty on his or her face; but these students feel more confident after talking about their papers and with the passing of time. Carrie, another writing fellow, also stated in a conversation that it helps when non-traditional students are told that they are doing a good job because they are going back to school and doing it right. However, some students feel, like Jackie, that sometimes the constructive criticism becomes overwhelming and can undermine the confidence level. I take this to mean that comments made on the content of a piece of a student's writing created stress because the student worried about what type of changes they needed to make. This leads to stress undermining confidence as well. According to an article in The Journal of Psychology M. Jocabi states, . . . [T]he nontraditional students had significantly more time constraints and role conflicts than the traditional students (qtd in Dill). The stress of less time to work on a project can lead to a falling confidence in the quality of a paper. Thus, it seems writing fellows need to help non-traditional students boost their confidence level during a session. I do this by saying positive about the good aspects of the student's paper.
In most of my experiences with traditional students, age does not seem to impede the session. Most tutees felt indifferent with any age difference according to the questionnaire. Several tutees and writing fellows, including myself, feel that it was easier to work with students who are approximately the same age as the tutor. Both the student and the tutee are on the same level, making it easier to relate, and therefore giving the session a comfortable atmosphere. During my own writing sessions, it seems the tutees want help in any form that is available. However, one writing fellow named Shawndra felt that younger tutees acted immature. I have seen this immaturity emanating from younger students, and it inhibits the students from working with a writing fellow.
Non-traditional students, tutees and writing fellows prefer to have tutor and tutee be close in age according to the questionnaires. However, most tutees and writing fellows do feel comfortable with whomever they work with. One writing fellow named Kate, according to her questionnaire, feels that age gaps can be intimidating. Yet another writing fellow named Nina mentioned that with the tutee's age comes experience and that can help a session move along more smoothly. I think older students do have more life experiences that can benefit or hinder a session. It is how those tutees decide to reflect and use those experiences as to how they may able to benefit from the writing session. In my own sessions however, most non-traditional students have been receptive of any advice I give to them about their papers.
In my writing sessions, traditional students and non-traditional students have exhibited many of the same characteristics. Regardless if the student had time away of school or not, the tutees all have the same fears. With almost every session, I could see that the traditional students concentrated more on mechanical skills, they had high confidence levels, and they worked well with a writing fellow of any age. Non-traditional students, on the other hand, focused more on content, needed confidence boosting, and also worked well with a writing fellow of any age. In final respects, the level of writing skills and confidence of students have a greater impact between the two types of students in a writing session than any other factors including age.
1 These questionnaires were created by Victoria Dembinski. They first determined the traditionalor non-traditional status of the student. The questions then proceeded to ask how or why the student ended up in the writing center, what skills the student thought they possessed, how confident the student felt in those skills and in their writing, the age difference between the writing fellow and the tutee, and whether or not a difference affected the session greatly in any way. Questionnaires were handed out Monday through Friday between the hours of 12 noon to 4pm.
2 Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
Curry, Carrie. Personal conversation. 17 Dec. 2001.
Dembinski, Victoria. Questionnaires. Dec. 2001.
Dill, Patricia L. and Tracy B. Henley. Stressors of College: A Comparison of Traditional and Nontraditional Students.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, 2000.
For many student writers the process of writing a paper begins the night before the paper is due. Many students sit down and write until they meet the length requirement and then consider themselves finished. Their work is often unorganized, unoriginal and unclear; and the reason for these writing problems is that writers skip one of the most important steps in the writing process: prewriting. There are several different ways to prewrite but all of the methods aim to create a solid idea, which is the basis for all good writing. Once a solid idea is achieved any paper can be written well. Three popular prewriting strategies are brainstorming, freewriting, and the highly effective clustering. Clustering is easy, fast, and allows the writer to visually see the strengths and weaknesses of his or her paper.
Throughout the year I have tutored several students who were unfamiliar with the prewriting step, they were the ones who wrote until they met the page requirement and then stopped. I was able to show them different strategies to generate ideas before they began their writing and I have had success demonstrating the importance of this step.
There is one student in particular who has seen great success since learning to use prewriting in his writing process. Steven came to see me with his papers on a regular basis. He often came to the Writing Center with little more than hastily scribbled notes that he took just because he wanted to bring something to the session. We almost always worked on prewriting. Steven first came to see me early in the semester. He had to write a short essay describing something of his choice. Steven had not yet begun to write because he was unsure of what to describe. He didn't think he knew enough about anything. This first session we tried brainstorming to generate a few ideas that would be interesting to describe in a paper.
Toby Fulwiler describes brainstorming as systematic list making (66). For Steven's paper I asked him what interested him and then gave him a few moments to write down as many things as he could. From there we kept making lists, letting each new idea trigger the next. We soon discovered that hockey was something that greatly interested Steven and that he knew a lot about it. He decided to write his descriptive essay on The Joe Louis Arena where the Detroit Red Wings play their hockey games. He decided he would easily be able to describe all the sights, smells, and sounds of the arena. Brainstorming worked well, but it took us a long time to make it work and he found it difficult deciding where his best ideas were. We found a topic but I wondered if there wasn't a strategy that would help us find it faster. I suggested for Steven's next paper he try Freewriting.
The next time Steven came to see me he had a first draft, and he had used the prewriting strategy I suggested. Freewriting is writing as much on any subject as you can without stopping, usually within a time limit (Gillespie). For Steven, it helped him get a lot of ideas on paper, and he was able to reread what he had written and see if anything worked for his assignment. Although he was able to create a first draft from his freewriting, he complained that it was too difficult to go back through what he wrote and find a good idea. He wondered if another strategy wouldn't work better for him. I was pleased that I had convinced him how important prewriting was, now we just had to find the strategy that worked best. That strategy was clustering.
In my experience clustering has emerged as one of the easiest and most effective forms of prewriting. The last time Steven and I had a session in the Writing Center he came to me without a paper. This assignment was to write a review. He had chosen to review a video game, but wasn't sure where to begin. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the clustering method. To cluster the writer begins by writing an idea in the middle of a piece of paper drawing a circle around it (in Steven's case it was the name of the video game). Next, he or she writes ideas or thoughts around the circle that connect to the central idea. Then the writer would write down other thoughts as they emerge, circling those thoughts, just like the original idea. These ideas are connected to the thought that inspired it by a line (Anderson 14-15). When Steven and I used this technique to prewrite for his paper the result was phenomenal.
The problem that Steven had with both brainstorming and freewriting was he was unable to see where he had the most information or the best ideas. With the clustering technique he could see right away where his ideas were the strongest. We started out with the central circle being the title of the video game he wanted to review. Then from that he thought of certain aspects of the game that he liked and made new clusters stemming from the central idea. Clustering was incredibly easy and fast. He thought and wrote down as many ideas as he could. It did not take very long to fill his paper with several clusters. From there we were able to look at his clusters. Steven could visually see what aspects of the game had the most information for him, and which would be the most interesting for his audience to read.
The visual aspect of clustering is what makes it one of the most effective forms of prewriting, especially for visual learners. The university of Kansas's writing web site illustrates the different steps of prewriting but speaks highly of clustering saying Clustering your ideas lets you see them visually in a different way, so that you can more readily understand possible directions your paper may take. (Prewriting par 7). Clustering gives a clear visual representation of the ideas you have produced. Unlike brainstorming and freewriting, the best and strongest ideas can be seen immediately and a quick scan of the clusters can show which ideas are the most interesting.
Steven found clustering to be the most effective tool he learned in his sessions. Clustering helped him see where his ideas were the best. He also found it quicker and easier than any other strategy we had tried.
Prewriting is an important step in the writing process that is not to be skipped. Prewriting helps to generate ideas and eliminate those that are unoriginal. Of the three most popular prewriting strategies (brainstorming, freewriting, and clustering), I have found clustering highly effective, especially for people who learn visually.
Clustering enables the writer to visually see the strengths and weaknesses of his or her ideas and it can be done quickly and easily. Toby Fulwiler says that, Good writing depends on good ideas. When ideas don't come easily or naturally, writers need techniques for finding or creating them. (Fulwiler 65). Clustering is the technique that leads to good ideas.
Andersen, Richard. Writing That Works. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989.
Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
Prewriting Strategies. University of Kansas. 29 Nov. 2001 <http://www.writing.ku.edu/students/docs/prewriting.html>.
|Tutor and Teacher?
Today the integrity of the Monroe County Community College Writing Center rests upon the shoulders of the twenty-eight Writing fellows (tutors) participating in the program. Any tutor needs to be well versed in the subject matter he or she is tutoring. But perhaps more importantly, it is imperative that one understands that the tutor brings himself or herself to the session as a tool. As an example of success, tutors must demonstrate to the student how to achieve a certain level of academic success. Because students have distorted views of what a writing fellow is, stress is often born into the Writing Center. Students often think the writing fellows are personal answer machines they acquire as an added bonus with the cost of tuition and books. However, the tutor must not cross the boundary of the student's work. It is one thing to help the student, while it is a completely different thing to do the work for the student. Although students often present fellows with a tainted picture of the professor's wishes, tutors must muddle through and hope that they have helped in some small way. A probable solution to this natural cycle of struggle lies in defining the roles of the fellow, the student, and the teacher.
The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring says that a good tutor is always caring and attentive of the student's needs (Gillespie 42). It also says that the tutor's role is to help the student arrive at the desired location, set by the tutor while assessing the student's needs (Gillespie Ch. 4). This means that as the session progresses the tutor (fellow) has goals to address. While he is addressing those goals, he needs to remain aware of the student, and tie them back to the student's needs. Gillespie and Lerner also state to apply the concepts that were influential in one's own learning is not enough (44). One must deeply reflect on his past to help create the environment that made him successful so that the students may have the same opportunity. Jenna Koch, a writing fellow at the college, identifies a good tutor as someone who, sees that every writer has a certain power to develop, and . . . a good tutor is one who brings that power out, (Koch Interview)
Throughout the past semester, many students have come to the Center looking for help. Joe, was a specific student I recall. Always looking for shortcuts, and hoping to weasel his way out of doing his work, he asked me to write his paper. Had I not been so insulted, I might have been flattered. I immediately dismissed him, telling him that the Writing Center was a place of honest work, and besides, how would that help him when I was not around. We are not here to do your work for you, we are only here to assist you as you might need our help throughout different parts of the writing process. Whatever stage the student is at is where we work from. That day I left the Writing Center with a sense of pride, standing up for the academic dignity of the Center, I felt honored.
To create a balanced environment, let's take a look at what is expected of the student. Joe's problem was sheer sloth. If there was a way he could get out of the work without getting punished he would. A good student here at the Community College is expected to be punctual, hardworking, prepared and dedicated. These elements are vital pieces, used to achieve academic success. As I have seen this semester, and throughout my own experience, without these elements, the student's academic career cannot survive.
Within the next few weeks, I tutored a middle-aged student named Suzy. Suzy was a student in Mr. Jones' English class. Being a well-prepared student, she brought two drafts to our session, one for herself and one for me. She also brought a red pen, waiting to correct the needed area. As she read aloud I began to look for problems. Unfortunately, she had more high-order concerns than I could count on one hand. However, Suzy was an achiever, with an incredible attitude. That day we discussed concept, and the main idea of the paper. Fortunately, I have seen Suzy in the Writing Center various times throughout the semester, waiting patiently for understanding and wisdom. Suzy is a successful student because she is dedicated to her own education. She works hard at being punctual and prepared; which makes her dedicated.
The teacher's role is obviously much more direct than the fellow's or the student's. As a teacher, one must be authoritative, providing ample reassurance of the subject matter, and constantly asking himself or herself whether or not the students understand. As Mrs. Orwin says, "I believe a successful teacher is one who sparks her students' curiosity so that they are eager to learn and will do so independently. I also believe a successful teacher should be organized, know her subject matter, and able to communicate it effectively to students. A successful teacher has successful students." Mrs. Orwin's political stand on education is extremely Democratic. She believes, as many educators do, it is the teacher's job to motivate students, but ultimately the responsibility lies in the students to accomplish the work and achieve a grade. It is for this reason I chose her to interview. She is perfectly right, stating that students earn grades. To extend on that, as fellows, even though students may not want the help, our roles must mirror the professor, and we must uphold our level of academic dignity.
As I mentioned earlier, students often view tutors as teachers, expecting them to know everything and become a free answer machine. They know that the teacher would not want this, so they assume the tutor understands them and is ready and willing to do the work for them. This is something we must change, and as pieces of the actual education system, we need to reform. Therefore, it is not only important, but also vital to the learning process that tutors reject this role, and help students use their own minds. We must teach them strategies to use, and places to go to when they are confused, using the curriculum as an example. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, states that for many students, the tutor is a teacher, and in an authoritative way presents information, only on a one-way type of communication (44).
Ultimately, the struggle between tutor and tutee is often a problem of communication that lies within the confines of the teacher-student relationship. Unfortunately the process of tutoring is often stressful, drawn-out, and difficult. Often there is also miscommunication between the professor and the students, complicating the session even more. We, the tutors and the professors, must confront the problems that lie in the student's perception as a team. In this semester I have seen many people, not just my own students, but also those of fellow tutors leave with a smile. Many times our main goal as tutors is to sort through the mess the professor assigned, helping students to break it down into manageable parts. Other times our main goal is to motivate. Whatever the case, the Writing Center must continue to assess itself, ever mindful of the distorted pictures that lay in students' minds.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. 37-44.
Koch, Jenna. Telephone Interview. 7 December.
Orwin, Ann. Personal Interview. 21 November.
The conversation and connection espoused by the Socratic Method is not only useful in solving philosophical problems, but is also useful for teaching and tutoring. The open exchange of ideas ensures that the tutor and tutee are on the same subject. Like any technique, the Method has its strengths and weaknesses. While using this technique the tutor must remember to address the tutee's concerns while gently directing the conversation towards a desired outcome. What is the Socratic Method? The answer to this question lies in how the addressee of the question responds. The Socratic Method is a dialog of sorts, wherein the teacher and the student are partaking in a discussion. In the Socratic Method, the student is not simply taught, rather the student is also teaching the teacher (Classical, par. 4). Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher first used the Socratic Method to answer difficult questions. During his time Socrates asked many questions about ethics and justice. Today the method is often employed as a teaching method, and answers many less complicated questions.
It is only right to look to the source of the Socratic Method -- Socrates himself for an example of what the Method looks like. Indeed this very concept can be illustrated in every one of Socrates' dialogs. In the Crito for example, Socrates and his companion, Crito are discussing whether or not it is right for Socrates to stay in Athens and face his execution. Rather than tell Crito directly why it would violate his beliefs to flee, he asks questions of his friend.
Soc. And a good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one. That holds also?
Cr. (Crito) Yes, that holds.
Soc. From these premises I proceed to argue the question whether I ought or ought not to try and escape without the consent of the Athenians: and if I am clearly right in escaping then I will make the attempt: but if not. I will abstain. The other considerations which you mention, of money and loss of character and the duty of education children, are, as I fear, only the doctrines of the multitude . . . (Jowett 478).
The Socratic Method, like any construction cannot fulfill all requirements equally. In its purest form the Socratic Method is a lengthy process fraught with long discussions. The Method is not the best technique when conveying a great deal of information; however it is useful in helping a tutee learn how to apply his knowledge (Beckerman-Rodau, par. 6). By no means is it a process that can answer a great many questions in a short period of time. However, the Socratic Method's strength lies within its depth. Through its extended dialogs and in depth discussions the Method can explore a few subjects in great detail. The question then arises: what are the values for the tutor and the tutee? Is it better to cover knowledge and inch deep and a mile wide, or is it better to pursue the opposite?
The Greatest strength of the Socratic Method lies in its ability to allow the tutee to reach his own conclusions. When the tutor simply tells the tutee what the answer is, it is said that the answer enters in one ear, straight through and out the other ear. Whereas with the Socratic Method, the tutee travels down a path of his own, taking steps with each question before at last arriving at a final objective: The correct answer for the problem is found in the tutee's writing.
Making use of the Socratic Method is more demanding on the tutor then using a more didactic method. The Method demands more patience from the tutor, and requires the tutor to think. When using this method tutors are required to think on their feet while planning ahead, as the final goal for the tutor is for the tutee to reach a desired outcome. Perhaps even more difficult then the previous two considerations is that the Socratic Method requires the tutor to open himself up to the tutee. The Tutor cannot simply be a remote observer, but also must be a participant. This requires the tutor to share in the discussions and explore the challenges facing the tutee.
An important concept to be remembered when using the Socratic Method is that the tutee should be dominating the conversation. The tutor should reserve his speech for asking questions and seeking verification for statements made by the tutee. During the conversation, the tutor should be paying attention, listening and considering the content. After the tutee has completed the answer, the tutor should then consider asking a question regarding what the tutee has just said. Not all the questions asked by the tutor need to be the most complicated or multifaceted. Often they need only be as complicated as `Why?”
While tutoring there are pitfalls that a tutor should try to avoid. Some of these faux pas are fairly obvious, while others are subtle. The tutor should not lose sight of the purpose and process of the Socratic Method. That is to ask guided questions to reach a desired outcome. However, it is often all too easy for the tutor to become frustrated and to forget the process, overstepping the bounds of a guided question, and moving into the territory of a loaded question. Perhaps even worse than this pitfall is for the tutor to reach the point where he or she no longer even asks a question.
An example of a subtle pitfall would be for the tutor to portray himself or herself as too much of an expert. Quite often the tutees are inexperienced and are lacking confidence, it is important for the tutor to seem human. The tutor must share in the process, explaining that they too are students and are still in the process of learning. Indeed the tutor is in a unique position, standing as a bridge between student and the teacher. Thus, the tutor must demonstrate that he or she is in the same shoes as the tutee. Sometimes this requires a tutor to open himself up to his counterpart across the table, or to occasionally step out of the way to make the tutee feel welcome.
Besides the challenges proposed by the process itself, challenges often arise because the process involves a tutee. The human element usually changes the rules and methods a tutor must employ. As much as a tutor may prepare and research the Socratic Method, there is no substitute for going forward and using the method. With experience, the tutor is exposed to more techniques with which to aid the tutees. The tutor must keep his eyes open, and remember that not all techniques will work with all tutees. There are times when the tutor must concede certain positions. For example, if a tutee is indifferent or hostile it may not be possible to conduct a meaningful conversation. It must be remembered that the Socratic Method requires a friendly, nonjudgmental exchange of information.
The Socratic Method is versatile; it can solve philosophical problems and play a part in education. At the heart of the Method lie its questions and its free exchange of information. Without these two elements the Method will not work. It is the responsibility of both the tutor and the tutee to move the conversation towards a positive outcome. Along the way, the tutor must be willing to adjust his or her plans and remain flexible.
Beckerman-Rodau, Andrew. “A Plug for the `Traditional Approach' to Teaching Law.” The Law Teacher. 15 December 2001.
Harrington, Norris Archer . Classical Home Schooling: “What is the Socratic Method?” 15 December 2001. <http://greatbooksacademy.org>.
Jowett, B (Trans). Plato: The Republic and Other Works. Doubleday: New York. 1989.
The Socratic Method: A Lesson Plan. 15 December 2001 <http://www.livewiremedia.com/socmethod>.
What do most students think of when they first hear about the writing fellows program? Many think that it is a place where students go, hand someone their papers, and a person fixes every error and gives the paper back to the students. This is a misconception of the role of tutee/tutor, and the tutees discover this when they have their first conference with a writing fellow. One of the purposes of the conference is to build confidence in tutees so that they can do the work on their own. When the tutee makes his or her own corrections rather than having the tutor make all of the corrections, it gives the tutee ownership over the paper and a sense of control. This, in turn, allows the tutee to learn more, because the writing fellow does not do all of the work. Building confidence in the tutee is one of the most important aspects of the writing fellow program; it not only helps with the task at hand, but also gives writers the ability to conquer future assignments.
One of the purposes of building confidence in writers, rather than fixing errors, is that it helps them to be able to make corrections on their own. When a student comes into the writing center with the expectation that the tutor is going to correct all of the errors, they are not aware that they have to engage in the correction process. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states that the writers who become tutors do not like being put in a position of being a teacher, or a know-it-all rather, [. . .] they have learned that tutoring involves helping someone become a better writer, not handing out vocabulary words or cleaning up someone else's paper [. . .] . As Sara wrote, `I as a tutor, am not there to solve [writers'] every problem with the assignment, but to help them think through how they can solve those problems on their own' (Gillespie 5). Once the tutor begins to ask them questions, to get a response about what needs to be changed, writers gradually enters the process. If the tutor manages to keep the tutee's focus on finding her own mistakes, the tutee learns new techniques for finding errors instead of needing someone to point them out or correct them. It is a part of the process that will stay with the writer, and improve her writing skills.
Building confidence also gives the tutee a sense of control and ownership over their writing. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states that writers need to develop some sense of control over writing strategies, and need to know how and when these strategies should be applied. It also states that writer's should own their texts and that tutors are not available to simply clean up that text for the writer (Gillespie 19, 147). The student's are in control, and they are the ones that have to turn papers in and get the grades. The student's do all of the writing, so they should be the ones who make all the corrections. This is a key point addressing why tutors do not fix corrections for the tutees. Writing fellows at MCCC never write on a tutee's paper, or tell them what to write. They also try not to suggest other ways to say something. It is best not to give the writer an idea that she might not have thought of on her own. The tutor does not want to persuade the way a writer thinks. The writer should have complete ownership over their text, and not write something just because a tutor suggested it. A paper is much better if the writer knows that the paper is all hers and that she thought of all the ideas, and made all the corrections. It is very rewarding once writers look at the end results, to know that it is all from their own minds and the research that they did on their own.
This process allows tutees to learn more about writing, because they did all the work, and only had someone assist in showing how to find their errors. As Beverly Lyon Clark states in Talking About Writing, [. . .] it is always best to let the student do most of the work herself. That way she doesn't simply get her paper cosmetically fixed but actually learns something (3). For the next paper they have to write, they know how to make almost all of their corrections because they did them on their own for their previous paper. Students can use these skills for as long as they remember them, and if they need to meet with a writing fellow again, they are more motivated and are coming back to learn more skills they can use in the future. As students learn techniques on their own, they are more excited and willing to write. They are no longer discouraged, and now have the tools to become more successful writers.
The role of the tutor is to build confidence in the tutee, so they can carry those skills on. Fixing papers is not one of the components of the MCCC Writing Center. Tutors are here to help students acquire skills needed during the writing process, so they can feel confident in their writing. This allows tutees to be able to spot their own errors and make corrections without assistance. It also gives writers control and ownership over the paper, because they wrote and corrected the text on their own. Furthermore, it helps tutees learn how to find mistakes and fix them, so they can use these skills as long as possible. Building confidence in writers is very important in the role of the Writing Center, by giving tutees the skills they need to successfully correct their own mistakes. In the process, they develop skills and understanding they can transfer to their revision or to their next piece of writing. Instead of feeling discouraged, they're excited by the possibility of creating clearer and more complex work (Stone, par. 9).
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing A Guide for Tutor and Teacher Conferences. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan P, 1985.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
Stone, Sarah. Asking the Right Questions: Effective Responses to Student Writing. Writing Across Berkeley, Spring 2001.
Socrates was a man of small stature who was one of the foremost philosophers in his day. Socrates believed that all people had knowledge within them and needed someone to ask questions about the material to dig the information out of their heads. This method is known as the Socratic Method (Gutek, par. 8). Socrates also thought that this method could be used extensively in teaching. Jostein Gaarder, a Philosophy teacher, says in his novel Sophie's World that: "Socrates saw his task [teaching] as helping people to 'give birth' to the correct insight, since real understanding must come from within. It [insight] cannot be imparted by someone else. And only the understanding that comes from within can lead to true insight (65). This method is still used in education and can be used while tutoring. When a Writing Tutor applies the Socratic Method to a tutoring session, a student or tutee will learn more about his or her writing and will be better equipped to write.
Writing tutors need to be taught the Socratic Method so they can use it properly. I was taught this technique while being involved with the Writing Fellows (tutors) at Monroe County Community Collage. I was taught how to implement the Socratic Method during a tutoring session. I was told that the Socratic Method helps tutees to think about their writing. When tutees are asked to think about a question, they have to get involved in the tutoring session and think about their writing rather then allowing the tutor giving the answer away. This often involves rephrasing a question many times to make it understandable to the tutees. During this questioning period, I have found that it is not uncommon to have long pauses that may make the tutee or tutor uncomfortable. I think that these pauses can be very helpful because the pause puts a slight pressure on the tutee that makes him think about the question. If a tutee does not generate the answer, the tutor may want to clarify or rephrase a question. If the question is, What is your thesis statement, after giving the tutee time to think, the tutor may want to say, A thesis statement is the main idea of a paper and is usually found in the first or second paragraphs. Do you (the tutee) see a sentence or two in the first or second paragraph that describes the main idea? By rephrasing the question, the question is seen in a different light and may help jog a tutee's memory.
I e-mailed the Writing Centers at Wayne State University, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan. I received replies from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. I found that the Socratic Method was taught to Writing Tutors at both schools, although it is not used uniformly. Patricia Stock, an English Professor who is an Instructor for the Writing Center at Michigan State, wrote
The Socratic method of question asking is a particular kind of questioning. The consultants in Michigan State's writing center ask questions as a conversationalist would: because they are interested in the paper, because they are confused, because they wonder if the writers has thought about something that is not present in the paper, and so on. (Re: The Socratic Method.)
It seems that the Michigan State does not use the Socratic Method often but instead adopts a method that gives out answers to questions asked by students instead of allowing the student to learn the answer with help from a tutor. However, Anne Berggren an English professor involved in the Writing Center at the University of Michigan says that she uses the Socratic Method and other forms of tutoring as she sees fit depending on the student. She uses the Socratic Method when dealing with students that are not in her class more often to allow the tutees to analyze their own writing. She says that some tutees may need to have new concepts explained so that they have a basic knowledge of the concept. Other students might need to delve deeper into their writing to gain a better understanding of a concept.
I set up an experiment to examine how the Socratic Method can be used in tutoring sessions. I had seven sessions in which I gave the tutees surveys asking them how they felt their sessions went. This included asking the students if I asked many questions and if they felt they benefited by thinking up an answer rather then having the question explained. I had the students fill out the survey after the tutoring session was over and told them that it was anonymous. I split up the tutees by sessions that I felt I did more explaining versus sessions that I used the Socratic Method. I divided the two different types of sessions by alternating which method I would use. I found that two out of the four Socratic Method students felt that they learned better when they came up with the answers on their own. Two out of the three explanation students felt they learned better when they came up with their own answers. All of the students felt that they were better equipped with writing strategies after visiting the Writing Center. This last answer may be biased since the students may not have wanted their true opinions known to me as I could look at the survey after the students left. Still, I felt that the sessions that involved the Socratic Method were more beneficial because the tutees seemed to understand the concepts that were being taught in the writing session better. In other sessions, I felt I needed to explain basic concepts of writing like thesis statements or topic sentences because a tutee had no idea what these concepts were.
I think that one of the most effective outcomes of the Socratic Method is that the writer or tutee becomes aware of knowledge that she did not know she possessed. This allows the tutor to reveal the knowledge to the tutee without inserting the tutor's own ideas into the writer's paper. This is vital to Socrates idea that all knowledge that is understood comes from within a person and not from someone else (Gaarder 65). I have found that as a tutor, I can only push someone so far by explaining concepts to him. The student may be able to recite what the tutor said, but may not be able to put the words into action. When I have a student think about the concept, he demonstrates a better grasp on the concept and understands it better. I help him by encouraging the tutee when he is frustrated. I can rephrase the question so the student can think in a different way. Though the frustration that comes out of the long moments of silence may be uncomfortable, the moment that understanding arrives makes up for the period of unease. Once the concept is understood through the work of the student and gentle coaching by the tutor, the student can apply what he has learned to the paper at hand.
I have enjoyed putting the Socratic Method into practice. I think that it has made me more effective as a tutor and has given my tutees a better understanding of writing. I will continue to use this technique as I see fit. I think that it is imperative that tutors take the time to apply the Socratic Method so that students gain the most out of a writing session. By understanding a writing concept better, the student becomes a better writer and feels more confident about writing in the future.
Berggren, Anne G. Re: The Socratic Method. E-mail to Daniel J. Piippo. 13 Dec. 2001.
Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. New York: Berkley, 1996.
Gutek, Gerald L. History of Education. CD-Rom. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000. Redmond: Microsoft, 2000.
Stock, Patricia Lambert. Re: The Socratic Method. E-mail to Daniel J. Piippo. 12 Dec. 2001.
Each week, since the beginning of the semester, I've tutored at least five essays on Blackboard. Blackboard is an on-line teaching program used by MCCC, and is considered a component of our e-tutoring service in the Writing Center. In the beginning of the semester, I tutored on Blackboard more than I did in face-to-face appointments in the Writing Center. The Blackboard assignments, as well as the face-to-face appointments, are a continuing learning experience. Now that I have experience with both the face-to-face tutoring, and Blackboard tutoring, I can better compare the effectiveness of both forms of tutoring. I also desire to see if the students of MCCC prefer Blackboard or face-to-face tutoring.
Blackboard tutoring is done at home, from my personal computer; face-to-face tutoring is done in the Writing Center. I have found that I've spent more time on Blackboard tutoring than I do on the face-to-face tutoring. Blackboard tutoring involves approximately an hour of my time, per essay, to review. I can tutor the student's paper on Blackboard at a time that is convenient for me, usually in my pajamas, and not worry about cutting the student's session short because of a set time limit. The appointments in the Writing Center are scheduled in half hour increments, so less time is given to the tutee for individual instruction. Many times I have needed a few more minutes beyond the half hour time limit in the Writing Center for students having a difficult time with their papers. The next student is waiting, not patiently, for his or her appointment; I'm rushing the current session to a conclusion, and feel as if I've somehow neglected the student sitting at my table.
Instructors generally give the student a piece of paper with the assignment written on it, with precisely the things they are looking for, and you, as a tutor, are dependent on that student to bring that assignment sheet with her. All Blackboard assignments are posted on line with the student's work; there is no question to what the instructor has assigned for his or her students. Part of the learning process is to have students ask questions, or work on some of their main concerns with the paper; this can only be done in the face-to-face tutoring sessions.
With face-to-face tutoring a tutor can have the tutee reorganize or revise the paper while the tutor assists her. With Blackboard tutoring, the tutor does not have the interaction as she might in person, but the tutor also doesn't have someone pleading with to write their paper for him. Laura Deneau, from the University of Michigan, notes that there are two main problems when tutoring a paper on line: the tutee plays a less active role in the tutoring process, and lack of communication between the tutor and the tutee (University). Communication between the tutor and the tutee is a vital part of the tutoring process. Comments on Blackboard about the student's paper are concrete, precise, and there are no questions from the tutee regarding the assignment. This can be a major communication gap in the tutoring process.
I attended the Michigan Writing Centers 2001 Idea Exchange conference, held at Central Michigan University on October 27, 2001, with a few of my classmates and Mr. Dillon, the MCCC WAC Coordinator. One of the sessions I attended was based on the concerns of on-line tutoring. The tutors at Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Saginaw Valley who work specifically with the on-line tutoring do so on a voluntary basis, as we do. A tutor must have basic computer skills to tutor students on line, and be willing to put forth an extra effort, as well as a lot of free time, when tutoring using the on line techniques. Danielle Dane from the University of Michigan informed our session group that at the University of Michigan, they receive replies on the papers they have tutored on line (University). I like the idea that the tutor would be addressing questions, or concerns the student has with the paper, thus opening the lines of communication with the student. That would help the student, and the tutor, when reviewing the paper on line.
For seven days I conducted a short student survey, Susan's Theory She's Practicing, in which I wished to obtain feedback from students at MCCC on whether they would prefer the Blackboard method of tutoring or face-to-face tutoring in the Writing Center. I placed sixty copies of a simple yes or no, ten-question survey on the newspaper stand in the hall, in the Writing Center on the front table, and on a few of the benches that line the walls in the hallway. Out of the sixty copies I placed in the various locations, thirteen of them were returned to the drop-box I had placed in the Writing Center. According to the survey responses, the students of MCCC are knowledgeable of the Writing Center services available to them at no cost. All of the respondents recognized our e-tutoring service, yet not one of the students surveyed had used the Writing Center's e-tutoring service. Most of the students surveyed preferred face-to-face tutoring in the Writing Center, although half of those students showed an interest in the Blackboard tutoring as a tool for future tutoring on line, from their own computers (see table 1).
Table 1. Susan's Theory She's Practicing survey.
1. Have you ever had an appointment in the Writing Center?
13 of 13 Yes 0 of 13 No
10 of 13 Yes 3 of 13 No
3. Have you heard of our e-tutoring services?
13 of 13 Yes 0 of 13 No
4. Have you used our e-tutoring services?
0 of 13 Yes 13 of 13 No
5. Does your instructor(s) use the Blackboard teaching method? (Blackboard is an on line tutoring/teaching program used by MCCC)
1 of 13 Yes 12 of 13 No
6. Would you be more likely to use the Writing Center services from your home, on line?
7 of 13 Yes 6 of 13 No
7. Would you prefer face-to-face tutoring in the Writing Center?
10 of 13 Yes 2 of 13 No 1 of 13 No Answer
8. Do you think that enough individual attention is given to you during a face-to-face session?
13 of 13 Yes 0 of 13 No
9. Did you know that the Writing Center services are available for free to all MCCC students?
13 of 13 Yes 0 of 13 No
10. Would you like to make an appointment?
6 of 13 Yes 5 of 13 No 1 of 13 No Answer 1 of 13 Maybe, I'll think about it
(Rhodes, "Susan's Theory").
Through my own experience, the writing conference, and my short survey, I had discovered that both Blackboard and face-to-face are effective methods of tutoring. I believe we should involve the instructors at MCCC in the Blackboard method, teach them how to post their assignments, and explain that the Blackboard can be an effective teaching tool. We can increase the number of students who will use the Writing Center services. Blackboard, however, cannot replace the intimacy of a face-to-face session; the computer doesn't read the paper to you as the student would, and trying to read a student's body language is rather difficult on line. Our goal at the MCCC Writing Center, in real life and cyberspace, is to help students learn from their papers. Both forms of tutoring combined would be an ideal situation for MCCC's Writing Center.
Rhodes, Susan. "Susan's Theory She's Practicing." Student Survey. 05 Dec 2001 to 19 Dec 2001.
University of Michigan. To Help or To Hinder: Pitfalls and Promise in Online
Tutoring. Michigan Writing Centers 2001 Idea Exchange. Central Michigan University. 27 Oct 2001.
|Assisting With Style |
Most tutoring sessions can be placed into one of three categories: helping with content, style, or editing. Assisting with content papers (high order) is a gratifying experience if the student leaves with concrete ideas for a thesis and can identify his audience. Assistance with editing such as punctuation, spelling, and grammar (low order) is a vital part of the tutoring process, but not the most rewarding. The student who has reached the editing stage, prior to visiting a tutor, has likely written a competent paper. Occasionally a student needs assistance with style, namely diction and syntax (middle order). Finding a comfortable style is the most challenging aspect of writing a good paper, and helping the student perfect her style is the most challenging aspect of tutoring. When a student sits down and admits she is not happy with a sentence or he thinks a phrase sounds awkward, the tutoring adrenaline starts to flow and exciting things can happen during the next thirty minutes.
Diction is defined as a manner of expression or choice of words in speaking or writing (Morehead 195). What it really means to writers is saying what they want to say in the most effective way. For instance, if someone is writing about a house, it could be referred to as just a house, or it could be referred to as a home, abode, estate, fortress, castle, or shack. This all depends on how well the writer understands her subject, her audience, and whether she has affected a particular tone for the paper. Writing a paper is like building a house (or a shack); we must start from the ground up, with a good foundation. But we also know that decorating is the best part of building the house, and putting a personal stamp on our writing is what style is all about. Joe Hight, Managing Editor of The Daily Oklahoman, has great advice for the budding writer searching for style. "Use simple words. Clarity in writing is vital, and the basic components of clear writing are simple: brevity and simplicity" (qtd. In Fedler 10). Using effective modifiers is another critical part of diction that we look for in the Writing Center. One misplaced modifier can cause a reader to lose focus, and the reader may be lost forever. The following sentences containing misplaced modifiers were printed in newspapers nationwide.
When the writer fully understands the meaning of diction, and practices using its components effectively, including action verbs, concrete nouns, and effective modifiers, he will be well on his way to finding a style.
Syntax is the due arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence (Morehead 664). Once again, to the writer it is much more. It is how the writer wants her words to sound to the reader. The most common syntax error we see in the Writing Center is wordiness. Too many words are used to say too few thoughts. In response to a faculty questionnaire circulated at Monroe County Community College, regarding elements of style, one instructor said that getting rid of "deadwood" is a major concern in his English 151 class. "The "C" essay will typically use 20-40% more words to say essentially the same things as the good essay." For example the following sentence was part of a "C" essay. "The pickers had to spend long hours working with the cotton if they were to get anywhere" (Faculty). Revised this 17 word sentence could read. "The cotton pickers worked long hours." Six words express the same thought clearly. William Strunk and E.B. White tell us in The Elements of Style, "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences." This rule should be foremost in every writer's mind as he or she begins a piece of work. Many students who come to the Writing Center are reluctant to eliminate words from their 500 word essays, particularly when they have exactly 500 words. As a tutor, one of the most difficult tasks is helping a student expand a thought without sounding redundant. The following phrases are examples of common redundancies in writing: the reason why, an awkward predicament, under close scrutiny, and the problem still persists. Syntax encompasses many elements in addition to wordiness, including elimination of awkward expressions, clichés, bias, and passive verbs. Mastering the syntax element of style is a critical step toward becoming a good writer.
Assisting students with style is a higher order of business than editing. It is equally as important as content. It is the key to a paper's uniqueness. It is what makes dull information worth reading and interesting information difficult to put down. Our goal as tutors in the Writing Center is to coach and assist with every aspect of the writing process, from prewriting to editing. But working with students and style principles will undoubtedly be some of the most invigorating sessions a tutor encounters. When a student starts cutting and pasting, moving and reshaping, you know you have successfully assisted with style.
Faculty Questionnaire. Monroe County Community College. By Julie Rosson. 18 Nov. 2001. Fedler, Fred., et al. Reporting for the Media. 7th ed. Fort Worth:
Morehead, Philip D. The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1995.
Orwin, Ann. Class handout. Monroe County Community College. Journalism Fall. 2001.
Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn, 2000.
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. 6th ed. New York: Harper Pub., 1998.
|Required vs. Non-required
The MCCC Writing Center invites all students to come inside and seek help. But all students do not accept the invitation. If students refuse to accept this invitation voluntarily, some professors force the student to go anyway. During the semester, I have seen representatives of both scenarios come through the doors of the Writing Center; the student who eagerly seeks improvement in her writing and makes appointments anytime she can by choice, and the feet dragging student who was sentenced by his teacher to serve time with a writing fellow. These two different tutoring scenarios differ in the student's eagerness to participate, her willingness to be tutored, and the probability of future appointments.
The students who come to the Writing Center by choice are very interested in improving their writing as soon as the first minute of their appointment begins. They participate by asking questions about the various stages of their papers and take detailed notes throughout their sessions. These students are also very eager to learn the methods that the writing fellow uses in his own writing process. These students have usually had prior appointments in the Writing Center, are aware of how the sessions run, and try to make the most of their time. In many of my appointments with returning students, they have an idea of what they want to work on as soon as they sit down. They ask questions like, does my paper flow, and does this sound right? These students want input, but they also want to own their papers. They know the feeling of having finished papers that are well written and their own.
On the other hand, the student that visits a writing fellow by requirement is not as eager to participate during the session. The student that is required to visit a writing fellow is, for the most part, silent during the session. We must not assume this is due to boredom or a disinterested student. The Writing Center can be intimidating for the unaware student. Silence may be the student's protective instinct, for fear of the unknown. She may not feel confident as a writer yet and she wants to avoid sounding stupid with irrelevant questions. The same idea may hold true for note taking skills. When a writing fellow is giving suggestions or opinions, the student may be confused as to which part to write down, so as an instinct to be appreciative, the student nods his head indicating comprehension. Some writing fellows may view this as a non-caring attitude. In my experience, however, participation seems to be an experience- based commodity. The more often the tutee visits the Writing Center, the better he understands which idea is important. This was evident in my fellowed class. In the first meeting with a girl from this class, I explained the differences between book reviews and book reports to her; I wondered why as I did this as she took no notes. Then she made another appointment with me, bringing with her a new draft of her paper, based on my suggestions. We started off the session with a few laughs and then I began to point errors out to her, this time she took notes diligently. She even asked me to repeat things so she could get it all down. Obviously, she was more comfortable this time.
The student who visits by choice has a willingness to be tutored. He has learned to seek new ideas and methods within the writing process. He gladly accepts criticism and suggestions from the writing fellow. He is confident in the writing fellow and usually seeks ways to improve his writing any way he can. I say usually because some students who come by choice are self-proclaimed experts, who visit a writing fellow to hear words of praise. If these words do not appear, they often shut off advice from the writing fellow and proclaim superiority over the fellow. These students can be more difficult than any required student.
I find that the required student can be just as willing to be tutored as the non-required student. Although, it may be take some time to get the student to open up and engage in the session, most of these students still want to make the most of their forced appointment. When dealing with a required student, writing fellows must remember what their own first visits were like and focus on making the student comfortable. In the Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, authors Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner say an important part of being an ethical tutor is to treat writers (and their texts) with respect, admiration, and sensitivity (150). I believe those qualities are just as important in the successes of the writing fellow. In a survey I handed out to my fellowed class, I asked a series of questions dealing with required and non-required appointments. When asked if they would return in the future if not required by a class, seventy percent said yes. Out of that group, sixty percent said they would seek another appointment with me because I made them feel comfortable.1 So, the first appointment with a required student may not be productive, but it may pave the way for future appointments.
Future appointments are an important goal of the Writing Center. Writing fellows can view these new appointments as a success measurement. Students who return for future appointments take a big step in improving their college writing experiences. Writing fellows take pride in this fact.
Obviously, the non-required student has a tendency to make future appointments. The fact that he or she is there proves that. They are self-motivated students who value their time with the fellow, but know if more time is needed, another appointment is available. The non-required student makes future appointments because they feel comfortable in the writing center. They develop friendships with their writing fellows and at the same time ensure they succeed as writers in academic settings.
Not all required students make future appointments, but if only one student makes a future appointment, then a success is attained. The required student that gains confidence and finds comfort at the session's end is more likely to make future appointments. When asked about his experience with required students and their comfort level, writing fellow Dan Pippio said, I had two or three students come back to me because they felt comfortable. In my own fellowed class, I had three students who had never been to the Writing Center make more than the one required appointment after their first session. Remember, unless the student was always motivated to improve his writing, at some time a required meeting with a writing fellow made a difference in the student.
A thirty-minute appointment is not a lot of time to fix all the mistakes of a paper, but it has been proven to be enough time to overcome some of the fears of a required student. Each student who walks into the Writing Center is different. No matter if they come by choice or coercion, they are individuals and should not be grouped by statistics. The required student can become a common sight in the Writing Center. I was once required to go to the Writing Center and feared the visit just as many required students do. If I were not forced into a visit to the Writing Center, I would have avoided it too. To the unknowing, the Writing Center may be viewed as a hall of experts. Most of these students assume they will be dealing with teachers or future teachers. This is why the main goal of the writing program is to get the students inside and let them overcome their fears for themselves. Once pushed inside as a required student, I am now a writing fellow. Every student is an individual!
1 The survey was given to twenty students after they turned in their final draft of their paper. The survey was passed out during their class and turned in to their teacher. The students were instructed to not write their names on them, so they could remain anonymous.
Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn, 2000.
Personal survey. Issued Dec. 5, to twenty students.
Pippio, Dan. Personal interview. 14 Dec. 2001.