THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS

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Prewriting: Your Way to Success
Amy Bleyaert

Sweat pours down his face while his heart pounds harder and harder in his shirt. His palms are clammy, and his lips slowly loose all their moisture. This student has just been assigned a paper. Papers cause students to become nervous and stressed out. Many times students have several papers to write in a few weeks, and they have to keep the thoughts for their papers straight. Through writing my own papers and tutoring, I have found that prewriting takes away much anxiety while writing papers. Prewriting helps students become less stressed, more organized, and more confident. There are many prewriting strategies, but I focused on clustering, freewriting, and outlining for my research.

One prewriting strategy a student can try is clustering. Paula Gillspie in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states that clustering is a “visual representation” of the thoughts in a student’s mind. She continues to write that one word is written in a circle and then words closely related to the first word are written in circles and connected to the main circle using a line (Gillspie 15). More specific clusters are then formed using any of the circled words. This strategy works well for students’ who need to narrow a topic. If their topics are too general, this strategy helps them find topics that will produce more specific thoughts. Visual learners enjoy this strategy because they can see their papers form on the page. I tutored a student who was unsure how she should structure her paper. I asked her if she wanted to make an outline, and she said she hated that strategy. We decided that clustering would be a better strategy for her. Her grandmother was the topic of the paper, so she put her in the center circle. When I asked her where she wanted to go from there, she said she would write the paper in chronological order. She then thought about how to divide her grandma’s life. In one circle, she wrote her grandma’s childhood. Another circle was for her married life and her children, and finally the student would write about her grandma’s life after her husband’s death, including some things about her grandchildren. From these topics the student wrote in a few examples she could use in her paragraphs. By clustering her ideas, she wrote most of her paper in about 10 minutes! All she had to do now was turn her ideas into sentences.

Another prewriting strategy students can use is freewriting. Gillspie writes that freewriting is writing everything students can think of as quickly as possible (15). Many students use freewriting when they don’t know what they will write about. The teacher might give a few suggestions for a topic, but the student is unsure about which one to write about. Freewriting allows the student to spend a few minutes deciding which topic generates the most ideas. Gillspie says that freewriting will “turn off your overwrought editor and tap into the generating portions of your brain “ (15). It helps students become more relaxed with their writing. This helps them write without thinking about spelling, grammar, or structure. Sometimes these things intimidate students who are starting a paper. They feel everything has to be perfect the first time, so this method allows students to make mistakes without any consequences. A disadvantage of freewriting is that it is not focused. One thought leads to another, so students have to look through their notes to find useful information. Sometimes this strategy does not produce any ideas, but at least students only spend a few minutes before they realize it is not working.

Outlining can be used as a prewriting strategy. In The Working Writer by Toby Fulwiler, he says this strategy is an “organized list” (68). Outlining allows students to have a visual picture of what the structure of their papers will look like. This strategy works well when writing a research paper because it organizes all of the student’s thoughts. Since a research paper is so long, it is difficult to remember all of the points of the paper without writing a list. This method is structured, so students can see their papers develop. A disadvantage of the structure is that it causes students to lose their creativity. With most of my tutees, I used outlines when they weren’t sure what to write about, or when the structure of their papers did not match their thesis statements. A student I tutored wrote an argument paper, and when I asked him why he thought the way he did, he told me three arguments that weren’t in his paper. After he wrote an outline, his paper would now follow his three new points.

More than one prewriting strategy can be used to generate and focus ideas for a paper. Students generate ideas from their freewriting, organize their ideas using outlines, or they can narrow their topic using clustering. Using more than one method helps students feel more relaxed. I tutored a student who needed help thinking of a topic for her persuasive speech, and she said she would feel more confident once she chose a topic. I had her do a quick freewriting session, and she found she was interested in animals. From that information, she decided to persuade her class to buy a pet because it was good for their health. Once she picked her topic, I asked her if she wanted to outline her speech. She was able to think of three arguments and a few examples for each argument without doing any research. Since she used prewriting, she will have a topic she likes and a topic with many examples.

Prewriting benefits students in so many ways, no matter which strategy they use. Through tutoring and a survey I gave to Monroe County Community College students, I found that prewriting increases a student’s confidence. It also helps them become less stressed and more organized. According to my survey, most of the students who used prewriting received higher grades on their papers than if they didn’t use it. This helped increase the students’ confidence. It also increased the quality of their thesis and topic sentences, and they had some examples to write in their paper. Since students explored many ideas, they felt less stressed because they chose a topic they liked. When I talked to some of my tutees, they liked their topic after they had done some prewriting for it. One tutee needed help thinking of a topic for her persuasive speech. When she came to the Writing Center, she said she did not feel strongly about any of the topics her teacher had given her. She felt strongly about some controversial topics, but her teacher told the class to avoid those topics. I told her some of the topics that were presented in my speech class. None of the topics helped her think of anything, so we did some more brainstorming. Finally she thought of a topic she was interested in. Her speech will be more interesting because she likes the subject. When she left, she said she felt more confident about writing her speech. Prewriting also decreases stress levels because most of the paper is written after a student finishes. Finally students feel more organized after prewriting. With outlines, most of their thoughts are in order, and if they used freewriting or clustering, they can make simple outlines to organize their thoughts. Since prewriting helps students narrow topics and find topics that fit together, the thoughts in the paper are more focused.
Prewriting should be considered the most important stage of the writing process because without ideas there is no paper. I have found that prewriting helps students in a variety of ways. It is especially useful to decrease anxiety, but students feel less stressed, more confident, and more organized after they have done some prewriting also. There are so many different strategies students can use, but I found through my surveys that freewriting and outlining are the most popular followed closely by clustering. Even though students have favorite strategies, they should experiment with others to see if certain strategies work better for different papers. It doesn’t matter what form of prewriting is used because they all produce positive results.

Works Cited

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Gillspie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Survey. Personal. Dec. 2002.

Coerced Tutoring: Harmful or Helpful?
Kellie England

“I will not grade your paper without a slip from the writing center!” When a student hears this command from a teacher, the student tenses up her muscles and gets nervous about the impending session with a tutor. Thoughts of why the teacher is forcing her to seek help from an outsider, if she does not need any, often crosses her mind. The student makes the appointment due to class obligation, entering the MCCC Writing Center with a preconceived attitude towards the tutor. Often the tutor has no idea it is a requirement for the student to come to the Writing Center for help unless he or she is told ahead of time. This creates a bad atmosphere from the beginning of the appointment and is almost impossible to change. As a tutor, I found these situations to be very nerve wracking and frustrating, but through my own stubborn attitude and need to help others, I pushed forward and tried my best to make the appointments productive. Not every tutee was receptive to me, but the ones that were more than made up for the difficult sessions. Many of the students who had not wanted to come to me and go over their papers ended up making second or third appointments. After participating in a tutoring session they realized how much help they needed or received, and wanted more. Forced sessions with tutors in a writing center is a hindrance to the tutor/tutee relationship; however, it may be the only way students become aware of how a writing center works and the help available for them.

The subject of required vs. non-required tutoring sessions is controversial for students as well as tutors. When I was asked to write a paper concerning the writing process or center, I thought it would be easy, because I dealt with many students who were forced to come see me at the Writing Center. The subject of required vs. non-required tutoring sessions sprang out in front of me and I decided to make it my topic. Adamant about students not being required to seek tutoring, I was sure I would find a lot of others who thought similar. So I made two different survey’s and gave one to students I tutored and the other to anyone who would fill it out. To my surprise four out of four tutees thought the required sessions were helpful, not harmful. The replies to the questionnaire were similar to, “If a student was not required to come to the writing Center, they (sic) probably would not come” (“Survey of College”). When dealing with the question of what they would prefer, required or choice, concerning tutoring appointments, three selected a choice and one chose required. Although the students thought the sessions were helpful and necessary, they still wanted the choice to be their own, not a teacher’s. I began to think back in time to when I first went into the Writing Center for my initial appointment with a tutor. I was not required to go there, but I had been highly encouraged to check the place out. Mrs. Diana Agy, an English Composition teacher, raved about the wonderful progress students made by going over their papers with a Writing Fellow. She also let her class know how much she supported the program and how it could help improve a student’s grade in her class. Truth be known, I was not made to seek help, but I did receive a friendly shove in the right direction. I doubt I would have ever stepped foot in the Writing Center without that shove, because of my own insecurities about my writing. The possibility of improving my grade was just enough motivation to get me to make an appointment. Today I think what would have become of my grade and confidence level in English if I had not gone to the Writing Center; it is a scary thought. Although most students see the merit in teachers requiring them to go to the Writing Center, they still want to make that choice on their own; but they are less likely to do so without a friendly push in the right direction.

While reviewing the second survey of random people, I found there were many concerns about the tutee’s level of co-operation during a required tutoring session. The survey represented age ranges from nineteen to fifty. Once again most of the people surveyed thought required sessions were helpful, eleven out of fourteen to be exact, but the majority would prefer the choice to be their own. As I read the reasons given for this thought processing I began to understand their points of view. “It could be a waste of time if the person does not want help,” and “Some people do not have the time between work, kids, and other classes,” were two of the reasons written on the survey by college students explaining why they preferred the choice to seek help (“Survey of Random”). If a student is caught up in a power struggle with her teacher over a required writing fellow session, she may not be receptive to what the tutor is telling her about their paper. This can cause an awkward and bumpy meeting between the Fellow and student, and may create bad memories when the student is dealing with the Writing Center in the future. Also, when a student is so short on time that it causes him to be late or rushed, he does not get the full benefit that a focused and willing student would gain from the appointment. On the other side of the spectrum, some students like required tutoring because they need the extra push it gives to seek help with their writing assignments. At times it appears as if these required meetings are just a waste of time. However, what if after the first appointment the student ends up making a second appointment, because she needs help in another class and now knows where to go to get that help? As useless as required appointments can be, there are far more students that benefit from them than there are that do not.

Another way I investigated required tutoring appointments was to contact other writing programs on-line and research their policies regarding forced tutoring sessions. I looked up five different college writing center on-line sites. Of those sites I found two of them to be helpful. I e-mailed three of the five sites asking if they required appointments at their center, only one replied. It was Bellevue Community College that answered my e-mail; they have an on-line virtual tutor program. The reply stated, “Their College did not require tutoring appointments, but some of the faculty did require them,” and that the virtual tutor’s opinion on the subject did not reflect the colleges. The virtual tutor thought required sessions were helpful and necessary to get students to seek help when in situations in which students could not see that they needed it. Bellevue’s virtual tutor also wrote about how much tutoring sessions had helped her when studying Physical Geography. The tutor also noted that when dealing with adult education, “help is often the students’ responsibility as part of the choices adults have to make” (Virtual). As a college student, I think it is the responsibility of students attending college to seek out and use every resource available, but it does not mean they will. The Bowling Green State University on-line site is interesting and helpful to prospective students that may want to use their writing center. Though they do not require tutoring sessions at their center, they do strongly encourage students to use the facility. One of the most interesting areas of their site is their Virtual Tour; it helps students become aware of how their writing center works and what they have in store for them if they use it. I think this helps to eliminate the need for required sessions, because it does a similar service; it makes the students comfortable and aware of its existence. It does not force them to seek the help of a tutor, but it does offer the help in a non-confrontational manner. I think more writing centers and teachers should look into Bowling Green’s Virtual Tour process and possibly adopt it as an alternative to required sessions. The goal of most writing centers is to offer help to any student who requires it. If required sessions can help the student to see where to seek help, would not a tour of the facilities when they are first enrolled in college do the same?

Required tutoring sessions may not be the best way to introduce a writing center to students, but it helps the student more than it hurts them. After reading over the information from the surveys and writing center internet sites, I think students need to be shown how to get help when they are in trouble with a subject or paper. The fear of thinking they are stupid or lacking in some way often scares them away from seeking help on their own. Although I agree with Peer Tutoring, a book written by Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner, when they say, “requiring writing center appointments can backfire for a teacher or tutor,” I also think neglectful students make them necessary (chpt. 14, 164). The largest problem comes from dealing with the attitudes that students brings with them to the appointments when they are required to see a tutor; a well trained tutor is prepared for this type of problem and can change the students’ attitudes, creating a productive tutoring session. When I began this paper I was opposed to required tutoring sessions because I thought it placed an undo amount of responsibility on the tutor. Now I realize that it is the job of a tutor to go above and beyond the call of duty, when helping a fellow student succeed in writing endeavors. It does not matter how a student came to be in the center. The only thing that matters is that the student benefits from the experience.

Works Cited

Bellevue Community College. “The Writing Lab.” Google. 12 Nov. 2002. <http://www.bcc.ctc.edu/writinglab/LAB.html >.

Bowling Green State University. “Writing Lab Online.” Google. 12 Nov. 2002. <http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/writing-     lab/about.html>.

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. Peer Tutoring. Needham Heights, MA, Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

“Survey of College Tutees.” Field Research. Monroe County Community College Writing Center. 7 Nov. 2002.

“Survey of Random People.” Field Research. 7 Nov. 2002.

Virtual Tutor, “RE: From VT: Your Writing Center Policies?” E-mail to Kellie England. 12 Nov. 2002.

 

Friendly and Professional Attitudes Work Together
Bevin Fusik

I love to tutor because I have the opportunity to socialize and work with people. I also know that portraying myself as professional builds credibility with the student because it helps obtain the goals of a session. I strive try to maintain a professional attitude over a friendly one because there is a task that needs to be accomplished within a small amount of time. I agree that both are important but I emphasize a professional attitude because it is easy for me to become friendly and loose focus. When I was in the process of creating a plan to research this topic, I hypothesized that everyone would agree with me and declare that professionalism supersedes friendliness. I wanted to determine which one they felt is a more important quality for a Writing Fellow to posses. To gather data the first step I took was to create a survey to distribute amongst my peers. The results from the survey were not what I expected to find, so I took the next step and conducted interviews with some of my Writing Fellow peers to see how they interpreted the statistics. When I was conducting my research I expected to find one answer, but again my research pointed in another direction.

It is easy for me to be friendly, so I try to focus on a professional attitude to facilitate any session and accomplish the goals. Through experiences with other Writing Fellows, I assumed that a professional attitude would prove more important then a friendly attitude. A good example of maintaining a professional attitude is my experience in working with a Writing Fellow this semester. This is my first semester in the program, so I am a Junior Writing Fellow. When I need to see a Writing Fellow I have to schedule an appointment with a Senior Writing Fellow, and I expect that with her experience she will conduct the session with a professional attitude. For my anthropology class we had a Writing Fellow assigned to help with the final paper. And coincidentally, my friend Marcia was assigned to fellow this class. I know Marcia because I sit next to her in Advanced Composition, which means she is a Junior Writing Fellow. I needed help with my anthropology paper, but I did not know what to expect from the session with her. I assumed the session would become a social exchange, but thankfully Marcia acted professionally and helped me with the things I needed to improve. She did not treat me any different from the other students in the class because she maintained her professional attitude. This strengthened my hypothesis because I thought that this meant that Marcia predominately used a professional attitude when conducting her sessions.
To test my theory I created two surveys, one for Writing Fellows and a second for non-Writing Fellows who have used the services. I made two surveys because I wanted to see if there were any discrepancies between the groups. When I was creating the surveys I tried to leave my personal bias of professionalism out of the questions. I wanted to obtain accurate feedback because I knew that everyone would not have the same opinion as me. I also made the surveys anonymous so that the participants did not feel I was judging their remarks. I expected the results of my survey to show a favorite, whether it was professional or friendly.

The first survey was a general survey of all non-Writing Fellows. The students that participated in my survey have all used the Writing Fellow service. They all unanimously agreed that their experience with a Writing Fellow was both professional and friendly. I started my survey by questioning about these two factors because I wanted the students to acknowledge these behaviors so that they could start to think about their experiences. I also found that the majority of people felt there is a difference between friendly and professional. I included this so that the participants would have to make a distinction between the two attitudes. All my questions lead to my final objective of deciding which is more important. I have found that the results are almost split down the middle and some even chose both, which was not an option. After I completed my tally of the results, I was surprised. The first couple of answers to the questions are what I expected, but the last one is not. On the survey I proceded to ask what they felt the difference is between professional behavior and friendly behavior. When reviewing the written answers for this question I picked up on a general theme for professional behavior. Most of the answers included professionalism as straight forward and to the point. For the friendly part of the explanation the participants’ answers varied. Some were even concerned about the Writing Fellow becoming too friendly and talking about issues not associated with the paper. This stirred a curiosity within me to find out how my Writing Fellow peers would respond.

The second survey that I composed was for my Writing Fellow peers. The statistics show that when dealing with a student, professionalism is a must; but friendly is not always necessary. I was expecting to find these results because of my own experience as a Writing Fellow. It is not always necessary to be friendly when working with a student for a couple of reasons. One, it depends on the student. If the student is not interested in small talk and does not respond to friendly conversation it is difficult to maintain a friendly attitude. Second, some students may have an offensive paper. A good example of this appears in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. The story involves a tutor that has to work with a student who has a paper with a controversial topic. The tutor takes offense to the topic of the paper because of personal experience, but is able to maintain a professional attitude and help the student with the paper. In the end the tutor was able to broaden her horizons and look at the paper objectively (Gillespie 154-55). When dealing with either of these two situations it would be a good opportunity for the Writing Fellow to behave primarily in a professional manner so that personal feelings are not involved. The final question on the Writing Fellow’s survey was the same as the general survey. I inquired whether they felt it is more important to have a professional attitude or a friendly attitude when dealing with students. Again I have found that there is almost a split. I also want to note that some participants selected both answers, even though it was not an option. On the survey I asked what the difference is between professional behavior and friendly behavior. I received a couple of great responses that I feel should be taken into consideration that further illustrate why there is an equal balance. One student suggested “I believe [professional behavior and friendly behavior] complement one another and should be used together to make the student, teacher and tutor comfortable in the situation.” This particular student also feels that it is more important to be friendly when dealing with a student then it is to be professional. A second student reported a similar response which adds to the previous one which suggests that “professional behavior can be somewhat formal. I think that if you are friendly, sessions go easier because the tutor feels more comfortable.” I agree with both of these statements, and I have also reconsidered my position that a professional attitude is more important then a friendly attitude.

The statistics that I gathered from these two surveys suggests my hypothesis may be overstated and I was curious to know what other people predicted the survey would show. I was surprised to find that there is almost equal importance on both attitudes. The overall conclusion that I have reached from my surveys is that it is important to have a professional attitude and a friendly attitude when tutoring and there must be a happy medium that the Writing Fellows try to maintain. I gathered my data and decided to see how my Writing Fellow peers would respond to my results. I asked two Writing Fellows, Joe McIntyre and Carla Minney, to give me their opinions about the importance of the attitudes and to give me feedback on the findings of my survey. I selected these two people because I wanted to get a perspective of one person from each gender. I was curious to know if gender plays a role in determining whether a friendly attitude or a professional attitude is more important

The first person I consulted was a Junior Writing fellow named Joe McIntyre. I briefly explained to him what my survey was about and then I asked what he thought the results would show. I was surprised to find out that he came to a different conclusion then I did, and he almost exactly predicted the outcome of my survey. I was curious to know how he came to this conclusion, so I asked him a series of follow up questions that would make him backup his hypothesis. Joe feels that the level of professionalism versus friendliness depends on the situation because some tutors have the opportunity to work with the same student on multiple occasions. And he adds that a friendship bond is inevitably going to form so the level of friendliness is going to be different then with a person that is a stranger. After Joe gave me his response I revealed the result of my survey. His final comment was “I think it is important for them to co-exist together and I think your survey demonstrates that equal balance.” I was glad to hear this from Joe because it showed me that my earlier concern about my bias entering into the questionnaire was not evident. It suggests I created two valid surveys and received valid results.

For my second interview I talked to a Junior Writing Fellow named Carla Minney. Carla also correctly hypothesized the outcome of my survey. If she had to choose which attitude was more important between the two she would choose a friendly attitude. Carla believes that “it is more important to be friendly when dealing with a student because it builds trust and creates an atmosphere in which both the tutor and tutee are comfortable.” She then brought up an interesting point that I never considered when I started to research this topic. She reminded me that students considered for this program must be nominated by an instructor, earn a good grade in the first English Composition class, and be willing to work with others. She went on to qualify the importance of these things because if a student is able to achieve them it implies that he or she has a professional attitude towards school. In addition, the willingness to work with others also requires a friendly outgoing attitude. After I interviewed Carla, I realized that the two attitudes are intertwined and they complement each other.

The concept of an equal balance between a professional attitude and a friendly attitude is important for any Writing Fellow to understand. Before I started to do research on this topic, I hypothesized that it is more important to maintain a professional attitude to facilitate the goals of the session. I thought that a professional attitude was more important than a friendly attitude, but now I have come to determine that an equal balance between a friendly attitude and a professional attitude is important when tutoring. Now that I look back and analyze the meeting that I had with my friend Marcia, I see how she used a professional attitude and a friendly attitude during our session. Through two sets of surveys I have found that it is equally important to be friendly as it is to be professional. In addition, the participants of the survey suggest that it is important for a Writing Fellow to be both professional and friendly at the same time. These findings were enforced by the two personal interviews that I conducted on my Writing Fellow peers. As a result of this I have compromised my hypothesis and I now understand the value of an equal balance.


Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

McIntyre, Joe. Personal Interview. 13 Dec. 2002.

Minney, Carla. Personal Interview. 13 Dec. 2002

 

For Conversation's Sake
Marcia K. Halason

Do you like to talk? Do you like to listen to what other people have to say? Are you constantly trying to develop ideas for a speech, paper, lesson plan, or a presentation? Have you used prewriting strategies to help with your dilemmas? What types of prewriting strategies do you use? Are these strategies producing effective results? Have you ever talked to anyone about your writing dilemmas? If not, the answers to your questions could be only a conversation away. Conversation seems as if it is an overlooked prewriting strategy. Throughout my research I often wondered if people dismiss conversation as a prewriting strategy because it does not directly involve writing. Conversation can be an effective prewriting strategy because it helps develop ideas. Conversation also provides feedback. In addition, conversation sets an atmosphere of encouragement. After reading this paper, one will ponder the value of conversation.

The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring lists many prewriting strategies such as clustering, brainstorming, reading/research, and freewriting. Another strategy listed is conversation (15). How surprising! I thought to myself, “is talking really a prewriting strategy?” Wow! I never thought of that! Funny I mention that because after I thought more about it, I came to the realization that I actually do use conversation as a prewriting strategy. I use it all the time! Every assignment that requires writing I end up talking about it. I talk to as many people as I can when I need to gather ideas for topics. After narrowing my research I still find myself involved in conversations about my writing. This helps me develop my main points because after I converse with someone about a given topic, I have more ideas on how to develop or expand my main points.

After thinking about how much I use the conversation strategy, I started to wonder if anyone else does too. Throughout the semester I have paid close attention to the types of prewriting strategies tutees use. Of all the tutees I have helped thus far, none of them claim to use conversation as a prewriting strategy. Some of them use journaling, freewriting, or clustering. I wanted to know what other people thought about conversation as a prewriting strategy. To pacify my curiosity, I passed out a survey with six questions. Eighteen respondents were Writing Fellows and two were full-time faculty members of MCCC. Out of twenty respondents, sixteen said they use conversation as a prewriting strategy. However, four people said they seldom use it or have never thought about it. In addition, one respondent replied writing is a better strategy for her when it comes to prewriting because she is a visual learner. Nevertheless, all the respondents did contribute reasons why conversation can be an effective strategy in prewriting. For example one respondent stated, “since we all speak more quickly than we can write, conversation allows for brainstorming and exchange of ideas in a way that no written form can match” (Survey).

Talking serves as a catapult, as in launching ideas to initiate thinking about a topic. Some responses from the survey as to how conversation is effective developing ideas are as follows. Talking is excellent for prewriting ideas. “Hearing and seeing others’ reactions is beneficial.” Moreover, “conversation jogs the memory.” To illustrate, by talking about just one subject, eventually that conversation will lead to other subjects or ideas. Many times one idea or topic opens the door to a new world of ideas (Survey). As a result, talking with others produces ideas. Some respondents to the survey said they talk with a friend to develop different perspectives or additional ideas. “Talking through a paper helps get ideas out in the open and promotes further discussion” (Survey). Some consider conversation as verbal brainstorming. For example, in a conversation someone could ask questions, inspire ideas, and help brainstorm aloud, hence, verbal brainstorming. This allows one to discover ideas he or she may not have thought of on his or her own. For example, when conversing with a tutee, the tutor usually helps the student brainstorm about the subject of the paper and helps to develop topics to discuss within the paper. Sometimes the oddest and best of topics are discovered in a conversation (Survey). It is a good idea for writers to talk with someone else about their topics. When one sits down with friends to discuss writing ideas, the exchange of words in a conversation stimulates one’s mind. At first ideas may seem vague, but talking about these ideas with others can help the writer to focus and arouse thinking. Since tutees have someone to have a conversation with, they have a greater potential to ponder things of which they may not have thought of on their own. It turns out to be a way for tutees to voice ideas of which are previously unknown to them until the conversation (“Prewriting” par. 6). Talking aloud leads one to discover more about the topic than one thinks he or she knows. In an attempt to develop my own ideas for my theory to practice, I had many conversations with people. This has helped me formulate my main ideas for this theory I have been researching.

Other than helping develop ideas, conversation also is an effective prewriting strategy because it provides feedback. By bouncing ideas off of another person, one will find the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, another person’s ideas may trigger another idea. Feedback is one of the most important elements of a conversation. Many times writers need someone to say, “yes, that makes sense” or “you should expand your point because it is not clear.” How else do we (writers) know if our ideas are making sense to our readers if we do not have anyone giving feedback? Offering feedback gives writers the confirmation they need to know if their lines of prose are clear (Adler 112). Therefore, maintaining a successful conversation can illuminate ideas. As an example, I scheduled an appointment with a Writing Fellow for this paper to make sure my main points were clear and comprehensible. In the beginning, some of my ideas were rickety. After having a conversation with another Writing Fellow about what I wanted to discuss in my paper, I found my original points needing some work. If I had not discussed this dilemma with someone else, I would have never known if my ideas would be clear to the reader or not. Thanks to my conversation partner, I developed clear ideas. She also increased my confidence.

Using conversation as a prewriting strategy can leave the floor open to lots of encouragement. Just talking about any ideas, even if one thinks they are dumb, leaves room for some encouragement. As mentioned earlier, sometimes people need to hear their ideas are great. If a writer does not have someone to encourage his or her existing ideas then he or she is likely to dismiss the idea as stupid and have a low level of faith in his or her writing. A perfect example is a session I had with a tutee. Let’s say the tutee’s name is John. This is John’s first semester of college. John is assigned to write a split topic research paper for his 151 political science class. Each topic had to be four pages long. He called me one evening while I was at home. He told me he was frustrated and that he did not know what to do next. At this point, he had enough sources to work with. John already had a few ideas but he did not know what to do with them. I asked him to tell me the requirements of the assignment. We discussed those, and John made a special point to tell me that he had never written a position paper before. We started talking about what his position is supposed to be. Fortunately, his required position is the same as his personal viewpoint. Following that conversation we talked about why he has those dispositions. After that conversation I suggested that he write those feelings on paper. I suggested developing five main points that will support his positions. I asked him if his sources contained information that would support his main points. I suggested to John that after he had five main points to pick the three of which he felt were the strongest. John and I talked about the evidence that motivates him to feel the way he does. I encouraged John to explore and develop his ideas. By the end of our conversation, I could tell that John was more confident in his ability to write his paper. John and I developed an organized plan during our conversation that enabled him to write a draft. We made an appointment to meet in the MCCC Writing Center at five o’clock the next evening. John just needed someone’s feedback to make sure his ideas were clear. He also needed some help with MLA parenthetical documentation. John worked on his paper throughout that week. When he received his graded paper, he called me at home to share his enthusiasm. John received an A on his paper. He was so excited! He thanked me for our conversations and told me this is the first time he ever received an A for this type of assignment! That is all John needed, just for someone to say, hey, that’s a great idea! I congratulated John and told him “it was nice talking to him.” This experience washed away the doubt I had in my abilities to be a successful Writing Fellow. Many other examples exist in everyday life, but sometimes this concept can be so simple it is difficult to grasp.

Before getting carried away in a conversation, here are a few tips to consider prior to using conversation as a prewriting strategy:

  • “Do not criticize anyone else’s ideas as dumb. That will only stifle the conversation. Instead, ask for elaboration or why they think that way. If your discussion partner says your ideas are dumb, find a new partner or go over this rule with them (sic).”
  • “Each person engaged in the discussion should feel responsible for the success of the conversation.”
  • “No one person should dominate the conversation.”
  • “Be explicit about the kind of help you need to develop your ideas better. Tell your collaborator what kind of help you need.”
  • “Thank your collaborators for their help.” (“Prewriting” par. 7)


In addition, it is a good idea to take notes during the conversation. Taking notes allows the chance for the conversation to be more effective. Another good idea is to tape or video record the conversation if possible. Of course, it is always a considerate idea to ask the people involved in the conversation if they are okay with being recorded.

Conversations heal the writing predicaments we encounter while preparing to write. Although other prewriting strategies are available and some people think that conversations are not as useful as writing, conversation is one of the most effective ways for many writers to generate ideas. Participating in conversations helps a writer to develop more ideas. Participation also provides an opportunity for the writer to receive constructive feedback. Often times a writer will find the encouragement needed to pursue his or her ideas to a greater depth through conversation. Some of the most effective prewriting strategies are so pellucid that writers see right through what may be the answer they are searching for. When it comes to prewriting it is best to remember, “Two heads are better than one.”

Works Cited

Adler, Ronald B. and George Rodman. Understanding Human Communication. 1982. Fort Worth: Harcourt College
      Publishers, 2000.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. New York: Longman, 2000.

“Prewriting Strategies.” 12 Dec. 2002. <http://www.bhsu.edu/artssciences/english/prewriting_strategies >

“Survey.” MCCC. 10-13 Dec. 2002.

Developing Ideas
J.A. McIntyre

While students are developing ideas, some, unknowingly, begin using prewriting strategies. It is at this critical stage that it becomes important for a student to develop ideas. Brainstorming, clustering and asking journalistic questions, are three prewriting strategies important in starting and developing good ideas. All prewriting is crucial in early development of the writing process. Techniques for prewriting include but are not limited to brainstorming (also known as listing), asking journalistic questions, freewriting, annotating text, browsing the Internet, or talking with someone. The main point here is that quantity is as important as quality when it comes to developing ideas, “good writing depends on good ideas” (Fulwiler 65). Diane Hacker writes in A Writer’s Reference “If an idea proves to be off point, trivial, or too far fetched, you can always throw it out later” (3). A prewriting strategy prepares the student for writing, because it helps the student expand and organize his or her thoughts and ideas as pertaining to writing. The importance of a prewriting strategy is crucial in the development of a paper.

I decided to put my theory to practice in my fellowed class (tutor assigned to a specific course) this semester; what I discovered is that I am an idea man. When I first approached my fellowed class, I decided I would discuss prewriting strategies with them, proposing a plan for prewriting strategies that may help them with their book reviews. I gave a brief description of what they could expect when they entered the Writing Center. I explained that we do not pull teeth, but we do ask leading questions to help the student find their way to the correct answer. I further explained that each of us are more than willing to assist with any paper no matter how long or short it may be, and it is never as bad as the student perceives it to be. In conclusion, I discussed three prewriting strategies that would assist them in writing their book reviews—brainstorming, clustering, and asking reporters questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how), which are three of my favorite strategies. The students already had the assignment for two weeks, and they were given another week to put together a rough draft. When I began to meet with the students, I asked three questions through an informal survey. What prewriting strategies did they use when they began writing their papers? If they did use a prewriting strategy, how did it work for them? Finally, would they use a prewriting strategy again? I was fascinated with the ideas and the way they manifested them in their book reviews.

After meeting with my first several appointments, I discovered that brainstorming is more than just an “unstructured exploration of your ideas” (Gillespie 15) or a “systematic listing of ideas” as described in Fulwiler’s The Working Writer (66). Brainstorming can be structured and unstructured; any generating of ideas was considered brainstorming by thirteen of my twenty-three students. When asked if they used a prewriting strategy, twenty-two of the twenty-three identified using some sort of a prewriting strategy. Of the thirteen that identified brainstorming as a prewriting strategy, only seven were actually doing some type of “systematic listing” as defined in The Working Writer (66). The other six of the thirteen used more of an “unstructured exploration of ideas” (Gillespie 15). Brainstorming was identified as structured and unstructured exploration, and the contradiction of structure described in the two books related specifically to these thirteen students.

Six students identified clustering as a prewriting strategy; “A cluster diagram is a method of listing ideas visually to reveal their relationship” (Fulwiler 68). Clustering helps writers focus on the ideas generated in a cluster diagram. One individual said that clustering helped him remember the piece he was working on and it helped him to expand on his ideas, while another student said clustering gave her direction and helped bring logic and order paper. Of the four students who were left, three responded with freewriting as the prewriting strategy, and one claimed to not have used any prewriting strategy at all. The remaining twenty-two responded with how well a prewriting strategy had worked for them (ranging from good to excellent). When I asked if the twenty-two students would use a prewriting strategy in the future, all responded with a resounding yes.

Brainstorming in general was the ticket for a prewriting strategy that worked for more than half of the students in my fellowed class. The thirteen all had something positive to say in regards to brainstorming, from listing their ideas to exploring ideas and then developing them. They all agreed it was crucial to develop good ideas, and to be able to expand on these ideas in this early stages of writing.

Discussing and developing prewriting strategies with my fellowed class was a unique experience. I really thought some of the students would use the prewriting strategy “asking reporters questions” in their book reviews. When I chose to use reporter’s questions as a prewriting strategy in my theory to practice paper, I thought that some would choose this strategy as a good way to develop their ideas pertaining to a book review. However, none of my fellowed class chose to use this as a prewriting strategy, so I did not get a chance to explore this prewriting strategy further. However, the ones who did respond with freewriting as a prewriting strategy, responded well to this technique, and one student said that freewriting is the only prewriting strategy that she uses.

Brainstorming works best, both structured and unstructured, in developing ideas into full thoughts that lead students to a fully developed paper. I think the reason that brainstorming is my favorite amongst prewriting strategies, is the fact that I am an idea man; I love to hear what other people are doing. I also enjoy the fact of listening to what other people are writing about, what they are thinking, why they are thinking a particular thought, and how that pertains to their own lives [bringing the you into a paper]. Prewriting in general is an efficient way to begin a paper. It helps the writer generate thoughts and it opens the mind by putting thoughts into action, and it provides both structured and unstructured ways to develop these thoughts into full ideas. Have you seen your Writing Fellow today? If not hurry to a writing center near you and ask a Writing Fellow about a prewriting strategy that may work for you. Remember we are there to help you! Not to pull teeth.


Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.

 

Getting Comfortable with Dialogue or Not
Carla Minney

As I sit here wondering how to start a paper about how to start a dialogue with a student/writer, I realize that there is more to the initial meeting than the starting of dialogue. There is preparation to be done prior to the Writing Fellow appointment with the writer. I, as a tutor, need to think of my writer, and how I can make him or her comfortable at our first meeting. The first thing that comes to mind is what do I want my writer's first impression of me to be. I want the writer to think of me as a professional that he or she can come to in an informal setting for any type of writing questions. I will ensure my work area is clear of all clutter, fill out the evaluation sheet as much as possible prior to the appointment, and of course, I will check my breath before the appointment, so if need be I can pop in a breath mint. Then I patiently await the arrival and focus on having a positive attitude and confidence in my abilities.

When Jonathan walked through the door I smiled, and made eye contact as he walked up to the receptionist’s desk to confirm his appointment with me. I knew he was my 10:00 o’clock appointment, since I was the only Writing Fellow in the center at that particular time. When I heard Helga say “yes, there you are at 10:00, with Carla,” I stood up and said “Hello, Jonathan, come on back.” As he approached, I put my hand out to shake his and said, “my name is Carla, how are you doing today?” I must have caught him off guard because he fumbled with his books as he shook my hand and said in a flat tone “fine, thank you.” As we sat down I tried to think of all the things I had learned so far and my mind was reeling. I tried to focus on what Mr. Dillon had told us the first week of class "the student is just as nervous as you are." Knowing I should start with a question, I asked Jonathan what type of paper he was working on and he replied, “I have a mountain of a research paper due in two weeks.” With the picture of an intimidating mountain drawn in my mind, I asked Jonathan if he was ready to take this mountain and turn it into a molehill. Jonathan laughed and I knew from that point that the session would go smoothly.

Before the "starting dialogue" stage comes up, the Writing Fellows should ensure they present a positive and professionally friendly image to the writer. Being prepared for a writer's appointment conveys eagerness to meet with student. It also conveys the appearance of being well organized, and this is something that encourages a writer to come back to the Writing Fellows if further assistance is needed.

Initial dialogue can be the most stressful moments of a tutoring session. Nonverbal communication happens before first words are even spoken. We as Writing Fellows need to be inviting to the students. The students need to know that their presence is welcomed at any time. A smile and direct eye contact is inviting and demonstrates to the student that they have the Writing Fellow's undivided attention. No matter how the Writing Fellow's day has been going, once that student arrives for an appointment, the Writing Fellow needs to focus on why the student is there.

A smile with a friendly hello and handshake, and inviting the writer to sit down is a highly professional way to find out if the writer is eager to see the Writing Fellow. Gillespie writes of the need to "start by asking questions" (24) and "knowing how to set a good tone for the conference and making the writer comfortable . . . " (26). A first question can be a warm up to find out how the writer feels about being there or even to use as an "ice breaker" question. These questions can be as simple as, “how are you doing, how do you like your topic,” or how do you like the classes this semester?” These are questions that show an interest in the writer and how much the tutor wants to be there. Leaning in as the writer is reading a paper aloud. nodding one’s head, and asking pertinent questions shows students how eager the tutor is to assist them in their writing process.

There is a quote by Fulwiler that strikes home, "When you share a draft with a reader, be sure to specify what kind of help you are looking for" (57). This is what I failed to fully understand until it happened to me. During a tutoring session it is important to ask the writer where he or she is in the writing process, and this will give the tutor an idea of what kind of help the writer is looking for. Case in point, I had written a paper that I believed to be complete and I made an appointment with a Writing Fellow. She pointed out a couple errors in my works cited, which were easy fixes, and suggested a major change in my main topic. With my eyes as big as saucers she told me that I could elaborate on a couple subtopics. At that point my heart was racing, I was close to tears and feeling completely overwhelmed. Thoughts of me snatching up my paper and running for the door were compelling me to blurt out that, I believed my paper was fine. I had just came into the Writing Center to have her look at my use of punctuation and grammar. Thankfully she apologized and said "I am sorry, let me look at this again and see if I can ask more questions on your main point to ensure it is the focus of your paper and we will go from there." I felt better after that and decided as a tutor I would not make the same mistake that my Writing Fellow did, and scare the life out of a writer who was there asking for help. I do not blame my Writing Fellow; I actually blame myself for not telling her where I stood in the writing process in regards to my paper. So in all, I believe that the most important question a writing fellow can ask writers is where they stand in the writing process. "We will begin where the student is and establish and maintain a rapport that shows an interested concern for the needs of the individual writer." (Holladay and Dillon)

We, as Writing Fellows, provide a service to the students that come to us. The students are our customers and to provide the best service possible we need to be customer service oriented. This is why I chose "Starting Dialogue" as the basis for my Theory to Practice paper. To better understand what our customers (the writers/students) think will improve dialogue, I asked several of them to fill out a questionnaire. What I found was that over 70 percent are more comfortable when the tutor does the majority of the talking. While I do not agree with this, I do understand it. With an initial meeting between two people boundaries need to be set and dialogue does this effectively. The best way to start is for the two people to be comfortable. I believe if we make students more comfortable and at ease with us they will be more willing to do more of the talking or at least a 50/50 share.

I have to admit that I was impressed with one suggestion I received on my questionnaire. It suggested that the Writing Fellows do a 15-minute presentation for as many classes as possible the first week of the semester. This would get the Writing Fellows faces and names out to the students and faculty. It would show that the Writing Fellows are willing to go the extra mile to encourage writing across the curriculum, thus boosting the number of meetings of Writing Fellows with students, and quite possibly affecting the grade point average overall of the student populous.

The suggestions on the questionnaire on how a Writing Fellow should greet the student were unanimous. The students suggested that the Writing Fellows use what mom always referred to as, your "best behavior and manners. The agreement on the questionnaire suggests that we as Writing Fellows need to be aware of our communication skills or lack thereof. We also need to place more emphasis on making our students comfortable and feel at ease while in the Writing Center. The Writing Center should offer a stress-free and friendly environment, all the while maintaining a professional atmosphere. Tutors, of any discipline, can make students feel comfortable by remembering they are students as well. Friendly surroundings provide for a comfortable situation, and a comfortable situation is conducive to a productive learning environment.

Works Cited

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice, 2000.

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Holladay, John, and Timothy Dillon. Writing Center Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors. Monroe Community
      College, 1995.

Student Survey. Issued 9 December 2002.

 

Speaking: Formal vs. Informal
Katy Pushka

How do you speak to your friends? What about your family, how do you talk to them? Now, do you talk differently to your professors? The type of language that we use is important in a tutoring session. It depends on the relationship that we feel with the writer (Gillespie 133). The way that we convey meaning is impacted by how we say it. Formal language as defined by The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary means that it adheres to an established form or mode—precise. It is also defined as not familiar or friendly in manner—stiff (278). When I have been in sessions and used formal language, the situation has not been very comfortable. It was awkward, almost rigid. Informal language as defined by The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary means that it is unconventional—familiar in manner (357). In the sessions that I used informal language, it was nowhere near as awkward. The session flowed better and I felt that it accomplished more.

After the assignment of this theory to practice paper, I began to divide my sessions between formal and informal. At the end of each session, I would ask the tutee whether she thought that the session used formal or informal speech. I also asked if she thought the type of language used affected the outcome of the tutoring session. Many of the tutees said they did not feel comfortable asking me questions when I used formal speech. When I used informal speech, many said that they felt more comfortable asking questions and making sure, they understood what was being explained. I also put together a survey of what other Writing Fellows thought that they used in their sessions. This survey also covered whether they thought that the type of language affects whether a session is successful or not.

In the sessions that I used formal language, I did not feel as comfortable. It made me feel as if I should know everything that there is about writing. It put me in a position where I was no longer a peer to the tutee. I also felt like I had to keep a rigid set of rules about what was going to happen in a session. I felt that I had too much control over what happened.
In the sessions that I used informal language, I felt more relaxed. At the beginning of the session, the tutee was more relaxed and seemed to be more comfortable. I did not feel like I had to be as rigid about what went on during the session. The atmosphere was more relaxed and easy going. One thing that I did notice between the two sessions was that there were more questions that were asked in the informal sessions, than in the formal sessions.

In the non-scientific surveys that I conducted, most of the Writing Fellows said that they used informal language. Some said that they used both formal and informal. One of the surveys said that (referring to formal language) “I don’t want to intimidate the tutees and I don’t want them to think I am the ‘authority’ on writing.” Only one Writing Fellow said that she used formal language in a session, but she did say that she sometimes uses informal language to make a tutee feel more comfortable. Out of those that said that they used both types of language in a session, several said that using formal language builds their credibility, but also that it is important for the tutee to feel comfortable in a session. Others said that it depends on the tutee, and I agree. The type of language that is used can help make the tutee feel comfortable and want to come back to the Writing Center.

The next question that I asked the Writing Fellows was whether the type of language that they used in a session affects the outcome of it. Eighty-seven percent of the Writing Fellows thought that the type of language used affected the outcome of the session. Several of the responses mad a lot of sense. One said that being “too informal can turn someone away.” They also said that being too informal could lead people away from the subject and not get what needs to be done, done. Another said that the more formal a session, the less that the tutee will talk; and this might cause the session to become more prescriptive than descriptive. This brings up a completely different point. But from the one tutor that said we should use formal language, they said that by not using formal language a tutor will not be perceived as serious. I disagree. In my experience, the more formal the session, the less is accomplished in that session.

The next two questions that were asked were whether formal language or informal language should be used most, some, or not all the time. Every Writing Fellow said that formal language should be used some of the time. Several responses included that formal language can be used if the session gets off track to help get back on track. Sixty-three percent of Writing Fellows said that informal language should be used some of the time. Several Writing Fellows said that by using informal language a tutor could help the tutee feel that the tutor and tutee are on the same level. Many of the responses said that a balance must be struck between formal and informal language.

Overall, between the two types of language, informal seems to be the most preferred form. However, for a balance to be made between the two forms, a tutor must be aware of how the tutee feels and what they are comfortable with. As a tutor, and having conducted a survey of how the tutee reacts with a tutor when a certain type of language is used, I can say that it is much easier to use informal language than formal language. I think that the tutee is more receptive when a tutor uses informal language. The session is not like a class where the teacher’s word is golden, but more like a friend helping a friend. But as stated in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, “the specific vernacular [used in a session] will probably vary depending on the relationship that you [the tutor] feel with the writer [the tutee]” (133). While the language that is generally used in a session is informal, the roles that are played by both the tutor and the tutee are not necessarily equal (Gillespie 136). In any session, I feel that it is important to pay attention to not only what you say, but how you say it. Whether formal or informal language is used, all depends on the tutor and the writer. As a tutor, I believe that we need to be aware of how the tutee is reacting to how we convey information. It is also necessary to walk a thin line between formal and informal language. Once the session goes too far one way or another, the session is no longer productive. Being aware of the tutee and how he or she is reacting to the language is important.


Works Cited

“Formal.” The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1995.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

“Informal.” The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1995.

Pushka, Katherine. Survey of Writing Fellows. Dec. 2002.

Writing Center. Monroe County Community College. Monroe, Michigan. 2002.

English Composition Should Be Mandatory
Karen Reiser-Adams

Many students are expected their first year of college to perform on an academic level, yet they do not have the writing skills or even the basic knowledge that is required to accomplish this task. Nevertheless, in order for a college student to be able to perform on an academic level, the student must first obtain the basic strengths and foundations that come from taking a first-year college English composition course. I was interested in this topic because I have found that before I took composition I in college, I had no idea how to write an academic paper. Many other individuals, nevertheless, think that they know enough to write a quality academic paper. However, English in high school does not prepare one for the academic world of writing. Through interviews, observations, questionnaires, and surveys, I did some extensive research on the subject. I found that when I asked students if English composition should be required in their first year of college, a surprising ninety-five percent of all those enrolled at Monroe County Community College thought that it should be. They agreed that Composition I should be mandatory in a student’s first year of college because many students are required to write on an academic level, and those that do not have the foundations of writing, struggle unnecessarily.

When I began this investigation, I thought that students who were asked if English composition should be mandatory in their first year of college would say no, and I had many reasons for this hypothesis. I knew that before I took composition in college, had no idea how to write an academic paper. Just like many other individuals, I thought that I knew enough to write a quality academic paper. However, high school English did not prepare me for the academic world of writing. Many students do not like the idea that a certain course may be required for graduation, let alone the idea that it is required the first year of college. Many students also complain of the cost of tuition. I surmised that they would think of this course as three more credit hours that they needlessly had to pay for. Looking at students enrolling fresh out of high school, I believed that they would say that they had already taken English courses in high school that prepared them for college and that it was unnecessary for them to take another English course. Another reason students indicated they do not need an English composition course is because the Writing Fellow’s (tutors at MCCC) will do their work for them. They think that the Writing Center is there as a prescription for correctly writing an academic paper. They do not realize that Writing Fellows are there for guidance. For the Writing Center to be effective, the students need to already have basic college level academic English behind them. So with all of this, I thought for sure that none of the students would ever go along with the idea that English composition should be mandatory in their first year of college. However, to the contrary, I found out after gathering all facts in my investigation that I was quite incorrect.

Through the first survey, I concluded that almost all of the students agreed that English composition should be mandatory in the first year of college. They all also seemed to have the same reasons. In this first survey, I had asked thirty students in the writing process a series of questions such as if they had taken any English composition courses at the school (MCCC) before, and if it was affecting the way in which they were currently writing their papers. Of all the students asked in the survey, most of them had completed an English composition class, and said that it had made tremendous difference in the ease of assembling their current papers.

As in the first survey, the second survey came out with much the same results. In the second survey, I limited my questions to the Writing Fellows at MCCC. I asked them to tell me what kind of papers they were writing, how difficult they were, how many English composition classes they had completed, and if completing a composition course made a difference in their efforts to write college papers. Many were working on papers that had a five hundred-word theme. Most of those surveyed had completed Composition I and 254 Advanced Composition, and some had taken Composition I as well as Composition II. One hundred percent of those surveyed said that composition courses had helped them tremendously.

The next hand out that I devised was a questionnaire, and again I found very similar results compared to the above two surveys. In one of our three mini-sessions, I handed out twenty-five surveys in the session. The student were asked again if they had taken English composition, did it help with their writing skills, and if it should be mandatory in the first year of college. In addition, they were asked how many years they had gone to college. On the average, these were second year college students. All but three of those surveyed concluded that English composition was important enough for them to take their first year of college. One four-year student had this to say, “I always recommend to beginning college students that they should take English Composition I the very first semester they are in college because it will prepare them to write essays and research papers for classes they will have in the future. This prior knowledge of English skills will make their college days much easier. That is what I did” (Questionnaire One). This four-year college student is an excellent example of someone who has had a great deal of experience in writing; likewise, I found many other students who agreed with this view when I set a number of other questionnaire’s on a table in the Writing Center. Students were asked if they had taken English composition before, and did it make a difference in the college experience they had. Many of the students who were answering these questionnaires had just come from tutoring appointments. Almost one hundred percent of those who answered the questionnaire said that it does make a difference. Only one person said that it did not. (Questionnaire Two). The questionnaires were very helpful in my analysis but I decided to go ahead and do some tutoring observations as well.

Through my tutoring observations, students who had not taken an English composition coarse were found more likely to have an increased number of problems with their papers. I observed my own tutoring sessions, but sat in on others as well. I had made up a number of questions, which I then would answer, either while I was watching someone else tutor, or later on after I had tutored someone. I asked these students on surveys if they had completed an English composition class and at what stage of writing they were. I then determined in reference from low to high order in the writing process, what kind of assistance each of these students needed. Two of the students had taken an English composition coarse, and both students were in their final stages of editing. They both seemed to have the same problems. Some of these were with lower order content, such as commas and misspelled words. These lower order problems were things that they could easily fix, and they obviously had a general if not good understanding of English composition. The other two students had never taken an English composition coarse before, and they had far more problems with their papers. Unfortunately, they also believed that they were in their final stages of editing, and they said that they needed help with commas and misspelled words. One of the two did not know what body paragraphs were, while the other one did not even no what a thesis was. In these last two observations, you can see how they would have benefited from an English composition course. While observing the tutees, I realized the importance of having English composition in the first year, and as I interviewed three MCCC writing tutors I found that they also thought it should be required.

Of the tutors that I personally interviewed, they all thought that English composition should be mandatory in everyone’s first year of college. Many papers in college have complicated subjects and sometimes require technical explanations. The tutors thought that a student must be able to express those ideas and put them down on paper. This would require the basic knowledge of English composition. It is the structure and composition of words on a paper, which takes the chaos and brings it into some type of order, clarifying thoughts and ideas to the reader. As Bethany Slovik (MCCC Writing Fellow) stated in my interview with her, “People in my Earth Science and Political Science are faced with complicated material and half of them can’t even write a structured paragraph, let alone entire paper” (Personal Interview). Bethany is correct, if students cannot write papers because their writing skills are so poor, they cannot compete with their peers on an academic level. Writing Fellow Lisa Taormina said, “English Composition I prepares us for research papers, for writing an effective paper that will usually be required throughout a student’s career” (Personal Interview). These tutors also went on to express their concerns for students who had not taken any English composition classes. They often wondered how students were even able to pass classes without having the writing skills necessary to produce an academic paper.

Overall, in conducting my field research, I found that through organization and preparation, I was able to conclude that most students had similar beliefs. Even though I started out with my doubts, it was interesting to find out that an overwhelming ninety-five percent of students thought that English composition should be mandatory in a student’s first year of college. The Working Writer suggests that tutors "Writer out questions in advance" (Fulwiler 185). This is precisely what I did in following my research, and because of my organization, I was able to conduct my interviews, observations, questionnaires, and surveys with ease.

As Writing Fellows, we take on the daunting task of tutoring students, whether or not they have the skills which are required to write a five-hundred plus word essay. Even though many students do not have the skills necessary to write a decent paper, we are still required to guide them and help them to become better writers. As you can see, many students agree that they should first obtain the basic strengths and foundations that come from taking a first year college English composition course. I had no idea myself my first year in college, how to write an academic paper. Many individuals think in there first year of college, that they are skilled enough to write a quality academic paper. However, high school English may not prepare them for the academic world of writing, and manyhave a rude awakening when their first paper comes back with a poor grade. Through interviews, observations, questionnaires, and surveys, I found that students agreed: English Composition I should be mandatory in a student’s first year of college.

Works Cited

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice, 2002.

Observations of Tutoring Sessions. Issued 6 Nov 2002 to 4 Students.

Personal Survey One. Issued 28 Oct 2002 to 30 Students.

Personal Survey Two. Issued 6 Nov 2002 to all of the Writing Fellows.

Questionnaire One. Issued 7 Nov 2002 to 25 Students.

Questionnaire Two. Issued 8 Nov 2002 to Writing Fellow appointments.

Slovik,Bethany. Personal Interview. 13 Dec 2002.

Taormina, Lisa. Personal Interview. 25 Nov 2002.

The Silent World of Nonverbal Communication
Kimberly Shaw

It is sometimes difficult to believe that at times the easiest and most effective means of relaying a message could be with no voice at all. Take for instance a signal of disgust. By just allowing facial muscles to form into a frown, the message is sent. Communicating nonverbally is the easiest way to make a point. Think about coming home and hearing mommy dearest mouthing off every last curse word and pointing to “the room,” or imagine that look she gives that shows she is let down and hurting. The look is much more effective since it displays her real emotions, not just the verbal anger. Verbal communication can be faulty in this way because as human beings we try to hide our emotions with our mouths, so that our egos are not bruised. “Facial expression is seen as one of a number of emotional responses that is generated centrally when an emotion is called forth by an event, memory, image, and so on” (Molnar, 34). Nonverbal communication is a pathway into our true emotions that cannot be hidden. When someone is hurting, those emotions will find a way to vent through nonverbal communication. For this reason alone, I chose to use nonverbal communication to try to uncover just what is the most effective way to communicate with a tutee in the MCCC Writing Center. Before sampling my tutees, I predicted that positive nonverbal communication would be the deciding factor of a successful session. Many different types of tutees come in and out of the Writing Center daily. With these different types there are also different ways in which students will positively respond to a tutor’s tactics. When a tutor creates an effective level of correct nonverbal language, a tutoring session can become a successful one.

A student in Speech 151 class was the first tutee I tested my hypothesis upon. The first thing I noticed about Raymond was that he was extremely tall. He was probably about 6’3 and had shaggy brown hair that at times fell in his eyes. He wore a plain white t-shirt and jeans and carried an abnormally large navy backpack. My first impression of him was that he was only there for the extra credit. I had Raymond’s professor for several classes including this one, so this particular session was very exciting for me because I knew what the professor was looking for, and I feel my best writing comes forth in speeches, so I could be a big help. I also knew the professor gave five extra credit points for seeing a Writing Fellow. Raymond sat down and tossed his backpack into the middle of the table where my tutoring paperwork was. He then began to scatter his crinkled backpack components all over the table; trying to find his paper while assuring me he had it with him. After several minutes he found it and turned to me with a triumphant look as if to say, “See I do have it.” When he began reading his speech, I noticed several things: he loved to use his hands when speaking, he had lots of eye contact, and he sat with his legs toward me. These gestures told me that he was focusing on the session. He seemed very interested in the conversation we had and suggested many ideas during the session. I followed his every word and asked him many questions as well. His positive vibes let me know he was here on business and wanted the best for his paper. I responded with smiles and head nodding while he spoke. I also asked him many questions and sat with my legs toward him. After the session I knew my first impression of Raymond was wrong; he was serious about his writing. I feel he responded the way I did to the session. We were both there to learn something from one another and also to make a new friend in a way. I think he walked away with a better understanding of his writing and I with a better understanding of mine.

The next tutee I meet with was Candice. Candice is actually a student in English 151, a composition course. She came into the Writing Center wearing a brown sweater coat and big smile. She was fairly tall and had blonde chin length hair and wore black-framed glasses. She was very shy and seemed very organized. She had all of the needed materials ready for the session and did not seem unfriendly as most tutees do at first. She sat further away than Raymond from me, perhaps because of her shyness. When I asked her to read her paper she looked at me with fear and resentment. I could tell she had a plan already laid out concerning how the session would go. Although she was scared, she preceded to read her paper with caution. I listened attentively and also smiled and nodded with her preceding questions and comments. Surprisingly enough, she moved her chair closer to me and positioned herself inward facing me when I began to answer her questions. She seemed particularly interested in thesis statements and said that she felt that a strong thesis was on major weakness in her writing. I explained to her that a weak thesis statement was the most common weakness I see in the Writing Center, and many students either do not have a thesis in their paper or do not know what one is. She laughed with this and I could tell she was no longer the shy girl that distanced her chair form mine at the beginning of our session, but she was now a conversational student who wished to turn her writing weaknesses into strengths. I feel that my positive nonverbal communication skills helped to uncover this concerned writer from under her rock. If I had used nonverbal communication in a negative way, I feel Candice would not have left the Writing Center thinking about a strong thesis statement. From this tutoring experience, I learned that sharing personal experiences and using nonverbal communication cues could help to ease a tutees jitters about the Writing Center.

The last student I tutored in the Writing Center for this theory to practice process was Stephanie. She was also working on a paper for an English 151 composition class. Stephanie had short brown hair and wore plaid patterned trousers and a wool sweater. Although she sat close to me, she appeared very nervous and unorganized. When she spoke to me, she looked at the ground and talked very soft. She refused to read her paper out loud, so I read it. While I read her paper, she looked around the room especially at the clock. She also bit her nails and tapped her pencil. It was clear she did not want to be there. After I read her paper to her, I asked if she spotted any mistakes in it. At first she said nothing, but then she pointed to her conclusion. She was right; she did not have one. What she actually pointed to was the last paragraph of the paper. We talked about suggestions to develop the conclusion and other high order concerns. While we talked about these, I made sure I used nonverbal communication to its fullest. With constant smiles, lots of positive hand and facial gestures, eye contact while speaking, laughing when appropriate, and proper posture Stephanie actually seemed interested. She began to show signs of interest like smiling at me and talking to me with eye contact instead of speaking to the ground. She also began to ask lots of questions. Even though this session began in a negative respect, it ended on a pretty positive note. Stephanie sent negative nonverbal cues at first, but I responded to her with more positive nonverbal cues, which counteracted her attitude towards the session, as well as her writing. Some tutoring sessions are not going to go as smoothly as a tutor would hope, so that tutor must me prepared with positive nonverbal communication to redirect the session into a better experience. I was surprised by Stephanie’s actions, but I feel I learned a lot from nonverbal communication in this session. I learned that the negative gestures she gave off were no match for the positive cues that won the session over.

All of these studies in the Writing Center would be meaningless if it had not been for nonverbal communication. Although tactics like head nodding and big smiles will most likely mean that a writer is interested in what the tutee is saying, that is not the only thing gestures like these can mean. Nonverbal communication’s components can have several meanings. For example, a tutee’s smile usually means that she is pleased with how the session is progressing, but it can also mean that he or she is just trying to be friendly. It is impossible to know the true motive beyond a simple gesture, but when a tutee uses many it is very good sign that the session is headed in the right direction. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, a book by Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner, talks about the multiple meanings nonverbal communication can have. They give the suggestion of observing even more closely to make sure you, as the tutor, are making the right assumptions on the nonverbal communication the tutee sends (51). It is silly to assume that just because a person is looking at the speaker that he or she is committed to the conversation. They may just be staring off into the space, which just so happens to be the speaker’s eye level. We as tutors in the Writing Center must remember this and not jump to conclusions too quickly. Tutoring is a skill that is perfected with practice, and uncovering the true meaning of the nonverbal cues inside the session is no exception to that rule.

Everyone comes into the world speechless with wants and needs. Since these wants and needs cannot be met by speaking, we must learn to adapt through a form of communication to get what we desire. Things like reaching out to be held and pointing to objects we wish to touch, become ways in which we can communicate with people who do not understand our cries. I think we often take these simple gestures for granted. When a tutor looks for nonverbal cues and accurately identifies them, it will help that tutor adapt to the session and end it positively. When I began this process, I predicted that nonverbal communication would play a huge role in the outcome of a tutoring session. I still stick by that assumption even with its flaws. I know that a single form of nonverbal communication can have many meanings, but I feel multiple positive gestures mean that the tutee is focusing on the session positively and when asserted by the tutor it can only improve the session. My studies have only strengthened my attitude toward nonverbal communication and its uses. Nonverbal undertones are undeniably a force to consider in the communication world. They help identify true emotions and they let the tutor know if the session is moving in either a positive or negative direction. The studies I have conducted are proof that nonverbal communication speaks without words and oh does it speak loudly! Verbal communication is no doubt a great contributor to communication, but I feel that the nonverbal aspects say the most. People are deceiving, and their words aid them in this deception. Nonverbal communication often gives away this deception and shines light onto the truth. As a tutor in the Writing Center I have learned many valuable lessons, but the importance of nonverbal communication has been the most helpful.


Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Molnar, Peter, and Ullica Segerstrale, eds. Nonverbal Communication: Where Nature Meets Culture. New Jersey:
      Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

Required vs. Non-Required Students
Lisa Taormina

Students who come to the MCCC Writing Center have various attitudes. The reason for making an appointment with a Writing Fellow is either because their instructor requires them to see one or because they want to improve their writing skills. Most of the students I tutored needed help with research papers from English Composition classes, while the rest of the students brought in essays from classes other than English Comp I or II. I have had students who have made appointments to see me with not enough time to participate in the session and discuss writing. These students appeared restless and hurried, relying on me to write a few comments on their report forms so that they could go to class and turn in their paper along with the report form for extra-credit.

I wondered why these students appeared anxious and quite impatient at the session and why they did not cooperate with me. I had the impression that they did not want to be there, that they thought it was a waste of time, and that their instructors required them to see a writing fellow for extra-credit. I was not surprised at these responses, obviously, since their body language revealed it, yet I had to make sure. On the other hand, the non-required tutees came into the Writing Center to see me appearing calm and natural, showing no indication of distress, ready for the session. These students cooperated with me and seemed to gain something about writing that they did not have with them prior to the session.

I had a tutee come to see me only because her instructor required her to. She told me that if she did not she would receive a zero. It was an outline on Franklin Roosevelt for political science. She came in with this paper full of information about him that she pulled off the Internet. I did not feel too comfortable with her either because I felt that she was trying to get me to do something for her. I opened up my MLA Handbook and looked up outlining to show her as a guide; in fact, she told me that she tried to get the outline feature on her computer, but the Roman numerals wouldn't show up. I had her get out a sheet of paper and try to organize the information that was on the sheet she brought in. She started to write and then had me look at it. It looked like an outline to me. I told her to continue and then she told me that she did not understand why her instructor made the entire class see a Writing Fellow for this assignment because she thought it was easy.

After that she seemed only interested in receiving her copy of the report form as "proof" that she was there. This session didn't seem like a genuine one and she did not seem to want to cooperate with me. The session lasted only fifteen minutes and then she went on her way. This student knew how to do the assignment, but seemed bothered because of having to see a Writing Fellow. She obviously did not want to be present in the Writing Center, and because of her attitude, I became slightly offended. We were not connecting at all. There was not much I could do either but sit there and listen to her complaints, feeling compelled to write a few things on the report form that she desperately needed and anticipated on getting back quickly. I'm sure she would have been pleased if I would have ended the session after only two or three minutes of tutoring her, but since I did not succumb to her negative disposition she grew restless and discontent.

Karen Reiser-Adams, another Writing Fellow had similar experiences. "My students that I tutored for my Fellowed Classes were required to see me or receive a zero for their papers," Karen said, "and they had a negative attitude which affected the quality of the tutoring sessions." According to the results of a questionnaire I distributed to the Senior Writing Fellows at the Learning Assistance Laboratory, required students were not eager to learn from the session. They only wanted the credit. These students did not care and wanted to leave and did not have any questions or concerns about their papers. Their body language consisted of slouching back in their seats, uninvolved, repetitively nodding while staring at the clock. On the opposite end, were those students not required to come in for tutoring. These students appeared determined, willing to learn from the session, while having questions and concerns about their paper. Their body language included an erect posture, eye contact, and friendliness. They did not appear bored or annoyed and they had positive attitudes.

Also on the questionnaire were answers pertaining to the tutoring experiences of the Senior Writing Fellows before they became tutors. The questions focused on whether they were ever required to see a Writing Fellow and if they had ever come to the Writing Center on their own accord. I found the answers to be surprising. Most of them were never required. There were only a couple who were required, unwilling to participate; those who came on their own felt more sure and at ease after the sessions.

Students required to conference to avoid receiving a zero on their assignments expected the tutor to save them. I know from my own experiences in the Writing Center that I have been put in a position to edit a tutee's paper. My students have placed a crown of tutoring royalty on me, praising me for my ability to write only because of the fact that I tutor. They rely on me to play "teacher role" and correct every error I see in their paper.

My job as a Writing Fellow is not to edit papers but to facilitate a student's writing process. In the book Peer Tutoring, the authors explain, "it's the writer whose name is going on that paper, who's paying for those credits, and who'll be getting the grade.” The students probably cannot help perceiving us as teachers because of past learning experiences. Before I became a Writing Fellow, I expected a lot from these tutors. I remember coming into the Writing Center to see George for some help. I sat down overwhelmed at the writing assignment I had. I did not know where to start and I tried to manipulate George into doing the assignment for me. I wanted him to grant me his ideas. George did not yield to my cries for help, but instead guided me through a process. He made some suggestions and often made "I" statements but refused to do it for me. I placed him on a pedestal, perceiving him as a writing expert. I was not required to see George, but since I was distressed about the assignment and learned of the existence of Writing Fellows, I figured I would make an appointment and have my paper finished. Obviously, it didn't happen this way and I was forced to take responsibility for my assignment.

Regardless of the type of student, that is, the student required to see a tutor versus the one who is not, both are writers whose attitudes are affected by the demands of his or her instructor and the assignment. This, in turn, drives the student to make the decision to visit the writing center with a positive attitude and determined spirit, or negative disposition, caring little whether his or her writing improves or not. We can only hope that reluctant, required students will examine their priorities about writing college papers and have a change in attitude, realizing the necessity for writing papers to graduate from college since more will be required of them.

Works Cited

Adams-Reiser, Karen. Personal Interview. 10 December 2002.

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn, 2002.

Learning Assistance Laboratory. Monroe County Community College, Monroe.