||THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS
The Writing Center Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors at Monroe County Community College (MCCC) states, “our mission is to help each writer improve each piece of writing” (Holladay 1). This is the first idea we learn as Writing Fellows at MCCC and is important to the process we approach when tutoring students. As tutors we are responsible for seeing small advances and praising them, while not striving for one large advance in a tutee’s writing. The writing center should cater to the needs of all students who enter the room, including those students who are young and old. Our job as successful writing fellows is to help the writer gain confidence in his writing by letting him take ownership of the paper, finding what the student is afraid of, and then giving him ideas to build his confidence.
A writing fellow is not an editor, but is a peer tutor to help writers build confidence. As tutors, we need to show students who come to see us, how easy it can be to write. The tutor does not fix the paper, “we teach writers how to fix texts” (Gillespie 22). One way of doing this is letting the student write on his paper and not doing that for him. This allows him to own the paper and understand what is being done wrong. In order to get a student to own his paper, the tutor must make an effort to see through the paper and look into the person behind the error. “I will deal with the person, not just the error on the page” (Holladay 4). If the tutor does not look past the page, the student will not learn anything. When the tutee does not learn, he is not adding to his level of confidence. A student learns more in the writing center than on his own. Casey Jones writes in Education Journal, “community college students who use the writing center, exhibited far higher levels of confidence” than those who did not use the writing center for their writing (Internet). It seems, by this statement, just entering the writing center would help a student be more confident, but until that student sees a writing fellow, he does not begin to gain confidence. With the help of the tutor, a student can gain confidence, but not until the tutor helps him. We should not just look at the paper, because the student is getting little to no help with his writing. Not until we work with the student does he gain confidence to go out on his own in writing.
The writing fellow should find out the problems a student has in the paper, or what he is afraid of. Most students do not understand there is fear in writing. Sometimes this fear is called writer’s block. Most students do not know what to do when looking at a blank screen or piece of paper in front of them (Zinsser 245-46). A student has to just write and not be concerned with what the writing is about until the next draft. This will get the student into the writing process and allow him to succeed. The finished paper is the most difficult paper to write for students, because they think it has to be perfect. William Zinsser writes, in On Writing Well, the scariest thing about writing is “the fear of not being able to bring off their assignment” (246). Most writers go through many drafts before finding one up to their writing capability. The problem with writing a paper for a class comes from the urge to get it done. Student writers are plagued by deadlines and grades, which causes the paper to take longer to finish. Writers are “so busy thinking about their awesome responsibility to finish” that they can’t even start (Zinsser 20). When a writer is looking at a deadline, he gets writer’s block because of the urge to get the paper done. These are just a few of the things writers can be afraid of when writing a paper; but as tutors, we need to address these problems and try to give solutions to make the piece of writing better.
There are many solutions to help a student become a better writer, but only a few of them would apply to tutors. There are a couple important ways in which tutors can help students gain confidence in their writing. It is easier to write about something the writer knows about. William Zinsser suggests one way to encourage confidence, which is to “write about subjects that interest you and that you care about” (246). If a student were an English major, a good subject to write about would be writing. This is just one example of writing about the subject that pertains to the student. The student could not only write about a subject he likes, but could also write about something that has been experienced. It has been long believed that a life event is easier to write about, because it has been experienced and all the facts are correct. The trick to writing well is living, which is showing what the writer has lived through in his writing (Zinsser 247). Most writers write about a life-changing event, including involvement in a war or a death of a family member. This allows the writer to explain his feelings and the events to the best of his knowledge, which are usually very true. A tutee should look at the writing and decide how much of it, with the help of the tutor, should be kept and the amount that can be disposed of. Another way of creating confidence in a student is letting him write, and then taking away the written part that does not sound personal (Zinsser 21). After writing the draft, the writer should cut out anything that does not sound like him—mainly, the technical, ornate, and impersonal. The majority of the writing should consist of the writer’s opinion. These are a few of the ideas tutors must look at when helping a student become more confident in his writing.
A tutor should always find a way, during a session, to build the confidence of the writer in any way the tutor sees fit. This may consist of any of the processes already mentioned or one that has been efficient for the tutor in the past. Most students do not understand the writing process, but with the help of the tutor that can change. The writing process is difficult to understand and causes many students to give up on writing. Another event also could have frightened students from writing. This event is when a teacher may have told them they could not write well enough to earn a good grade. Many students begin to shy away from writing and believe they really are bad at writing. Writers must find a way to work through a paper and find a way to have the confidence to make the paper successful. Confidence is a very important part of writing for a student and that attribute can be the difference between a high grade and a low grade. Tutors must be able to boost this confidence to be an effective helper to students.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. New York: Pearson, 2004.
Holladay, John, comp. Writing Center Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors. Dillon, Timothy J., rev. Monroe, Mi:
Jones, Casey. “The Relationship Between Writing Centers and Improvement in Writing Ability: An Assessment of the
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Harper, 2001.
In academic writing, there have been many changes in the way that words are put onto paper. With these changes, the Writing Center has had to change as well to provide a consistent level of support to the people that we tutor. Technologies such as Internet access, remote communication, and computer assisted tutoring, along with online databases for reporting are being integrated into the Writing Center structure in an increasing rate. We, as Writing Fellows, need to evaluate the available technology and examine the effect that each change will have on the tutee to ensure that the methods we choose to use are the best. Keep in mind, one method of instruction may work for one student, but may be of little benefit to another. A student who is a slow typist may be less likely to make use of the email tutoring, or a student with no computer experience may find that the Internet is too difficult a concept to be comfortable with. As with all of the tutoring methods that we use in the Writing Center, each student that we tutor is an individual and there are times we need to be sure that we are matching the process with the student. Technology is no exception.
In the Writing Center environment, Internet access has been proven to be a valuable tool in assisting the student in research, format, and basic components of the writing process. There are web sites on the Internet that address nearly any issue that a writer may have, but if the students do not know they are there, they cannot use them. To help students with course-specific issues there have been new areas created on the Internet for writers in different subjects to share resources while in high school and college (Harris 1). These types of sites would be good places to take students to help get ideas about papers they are working on for a specific class. To find some course specific sites, students could use a search engine like www.google.com and type in the type of course or topic that they wish to use. Search engines are a very good starting point, but tutors need to make sure that they let students know that there are many results that can come from a search, and that they may have to look at several different pages before they find the information that they are looking for. The Internet, like any other tool, can also provide access to more than the student was looking for. There are sites that sell essays and research papers and there are research papers that people have posted for free. Tutors need to make sure to remind students about plagiarism policies that most colleges have in force. Just as in any other enterprise, the Writing Center and its staff need to remain adaptable when faced with new technology.
Taking in to account the rising number of non-traditional students attending college, tutors need to be able to accommodate learners who may not be able to physically attend a tutoring session. Online writing centers can augment the traditional writing center by providing access to writing center content to students without them having step foot in the building. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The student may benefit from not having to drive to the campus and from being able to access the content 24/7, but the loss of the personal interaction and the inability to ask questions in real time may outweigh the perceived positive effects. No matter how “wired” writing centers are, they are not yet to the point of having instant question/reply capabilities (Leander 664-668).
Traditional writing centers need to take advantage of the technology available, especially the Internet in order to provide a consistent level of support to students. There are changes taking place in the course requirements in regard to resources needed for research or for essay topics. Many professors require some of the sources come from Internet sites. It can be prognosticated that with the changing technology, writing centers of the future may provide all of the resources that a student could ever need over the Internet. We need to be able to address the issues with which the student comes to us. Throughout history, whenever a major technological change takes place, there are always the thoughts about the future of the old methods. With the number of online writing centers increasing, there is fear that the traditional writing center may become obsolete (Leander 664-665). This type of comment was made regarding the radio when the television was introduced. There will be a need for traditional writing centers for many years to come because there will always be people who fear change, who distrust technology, or who desire the face to face interaction that the traditional writing center supplies. With regard to the future of the online writing center, in 1995 Maurine Harris said the following. “As the Internet grows and develops, on-line writing centers will take on new shapes and provide learning environments for writers in ways we cannot yet predict” (4). She is correct. Even with the advances in technology, no one knows for certain what the future holds for both on-line and traditional writing centers.
At Monroe County Community College, we offer email and Black Board tutoring as our only forms of on-line tutoring. Email and Black Board based tutoring provide students with access to a tutor from home, although there is no actual personal interaction. Some students take advantage of these types of tutoring because students, instructors, and tutors can confer about writing projects through email and Black Board without having to meet face to face (Harris 1). Users of the on-line portion of our writing center program are offered a forty-eight hour turn around on any assignment that is turned in through email, and through Black Board, students and tutors coordinate the sessions through the professor offering the course. During a conversation with Tennery Hicks, a Writing Fellow who participates in the Email and Black Board tutoring sessions, I found out that even with the convenience offered by being able to communicate online, the programs are not used by many students (Hicks 1). This may be attributed to students not knowing that it is available. Another disadvantage to this type of tutoring is the possibility that a student may incorporate the tutor’s words into the paper, which would be easier to do with a simple cut and paste (Harris 2). This could increase the temptation to plagiarize, so special attention needs to be paid in these situations.
The technology available within the Writing Center has affected how tutors conduct tutoring sessions. Having a computer connected to the Internet that is available when tutoring a student can allow the tutor and student ready access to online tools and databases, depending on the aptitude of the participants. If information technology is added to the writing center environment, steps need to be taken to see that the tutors receive adequate training because differing levels of ability in using computers can have a negative effect on the integration of new technology (Inman 46). Access to word processing programs to help with the arrangement of ideas can also be a benefit for the student who may be experiencing a problem in this area. There are many writing centers that have an on-line presence, and these on-line writing centers can be interconnected to provide a larger content availability to both student and teacher (Inman 46). This interconnectivity allows a tutor more access to information that is useful in a session.
With increased technology the tutor will have access to report forms online that give the ability to share information and produce accurate reports. These reports are used to keep track of what issues the students come to the Writing Center to get assistance with, and the recommendations that were made to the tutee. Computer generated forms also provide the student with an easily readable document that contains the information pertaining to the session that was just completed. One student who has come to several sessions in the Writing Center has commented that she likes the new form because she doe not have to try to read the handwriting like she has on some of the other forms she has received. Once the MCCC Writing Center renovation is completed, all of the Writing Fellows will have access to the new report forms, and the statistics that are gathered each semester will be easier to compile. Much of the information on the report form will be obtained from drop-down menus, which will reduce the amount of time that MCCC Writing Fellows would usually spend on paperwork, allowing them to concentrate on students.
Modifying the level of technology in the MCCC Writing Center is a good idea for both the student and for the Writing Fellows. The Internet provides access to information in a timely manner, allowing the tutor and the tutee to find answers to any questions that may arise in the session. The emergence of on-line writing centers is a good use of technology; it provides an excellent network of like-minded writing centers to share information and best practices. Email and Black Board tutoring gives the student and the Writing Fellow the freedom to conduct a session outside of normal business hours. Advertising would help students know that on-line tutoring is available for anyone who wants it. The MCCC Writing Center exists to provide a valuable service to the college community. Improved technology is allowing the Writing Fellows to spend more time with the students, be more efficient in the tutoring sessions, and benefit from the way that information is collected and evaluated.
Harris, Muriel. “From the Writing Center to the Edge: Moving Writers Along the Internet.” Clearing House. 69.1 (1995).
Hicks, Tennery. Personal Interview. Nov. 2004.
Inman, James A. and Donna Sewell, eds. Taking Flight with Owls. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2000.
Leander, Kevin M. “Laboratories for Writing.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 43.7 (2000): 662. Academic Search
Wheeler, Syreeta. Personal Interview. Nov. 2004.
You have just sat down to eat at your favorite restaurant. You hear your stomach growl as the waiter brings out your food. The first course includes a bowl of hot soup along side a rich salad. Potatoes, broccoli, and steak make up the main course. Finally, the waiter brings dessert—a slice of warm apple pie and a scoop of ice cream. You smile with satisfaction as you finish your meal.
Hungry yet? We all love sitting down to eat our favorite meals. But leaving out any of the three elements will ruin the experience. For example, eliminating the dessert takes away the sweet ending from the meal. Omitting the appetizer removes the tasty beginning. And taking out the main course will never settle a growling stomach. In writing, we must make sure that we include the three basic elements of a paper: the introduction, body, and conclusion. Modeling this process after a three-course meal helps students understand and appreciate the importance of dividing writing into a beginning, the appetizer; middle, the main course; and an end, the dessert.
We all have trouble structuring our papers correctly. While working in the MCCC Writing Center, I helped many students who did not understand how to develop a good introduction and conclusion. Many had written a poor introduction with a weak thesis statement. Some students wrote excellent introductions but had trouble relating them to the body of their papers. Several tutees neglected to write a conclusion. Most students whom I surveyed had a mild to moderate grasp of the introduction-body-conclusion method, rating their understanding of the concept at a 3, 4, or 5, five being the highest. Many authors agree to the importance of introductions and conclusions. Philip Gerard, author of Creative Nonfiction said, “The opening breaks the silence and captures the reader’s attention, and the ending leaves a lasting impression that can crystallize the impact and leave your story lingering in the reader’s memory” (123). We must remember, however, that the introduction and conclusion have equal importance. We cannot have the introduction without the conclusion and vise versa. To have an introduction and a conclusion, we must also have a well-developed body (Greenberg 111). Keeping these rules in mind, I have developed my own analogy to help students in the Writing Center with their papers: The Three Course Meal Model (TCMM).
The Three Course Meal Model parallels the introduction-body-conclusion method. When you sit down to eat, your stomach growls as you stare at an empty plate. The reader of your paper, before he or she reads, will have an empty mind. You will feed the reader information through your paper. A three-course meal begins with an appetizer. An appetizer grabs your attention and makes you hungry for more. Eat spoiled soup or rotten salad and you probably will leave the dinner table! But eating too much of a good appetizer, such as eating too many of those free chips, will spoil your dinner. An appetizer usually leads you towards the main course. For example, at a Mexican restaurant you may have chips, leading into a spicy meal. Starting your essay with a quote, statistic, or short story will grab the reader’s attention (Dean 59). Spoiling your introduction with clichés and garbage words will cause a loss of attention with the reader. But serving “too many chips” to the reader by giving them too much information will spoil the rest of your paper. An introduction must contain a thesis statement, usually towards the end (Dean 58). Like the clam chowder prepares you for seafood, the thesis statement of your paper prepares the reader for what will happen next. After finishing the introduction of your paper, the appetizer, you move on to the main course.
The main course of your meal has several elements, bread, meat, and vegetables. The main course relates to the appetizer. If you have an Italian meal, you probably had garlic bread or salad for an appetizer. A square meal will satisfy your hunger, but an incomplete main course will leave you wishing for more to eat. The main course represents the body of your paper. The reader should have some clue what you have included in the body of your paper by way of the introduction. Details, examples, quotes, statistics, and your own opinions represent the diversity of the main course. A well-balanced main course prepares you for dessert, like the body of a paper sets up the conclusion. Establishing the center of your essay as the body, using topic sentences to help introduce the paragraphs, will properly fill in the main course of the meal (Dean 13).
The best part of the meal, the dessert, sums up what you have eaten. As you chew on a brownie, you reflect on the meal you just ate. Hopefully, the dessert tastes good. If your piece of pie contains rotten apples, you will most likely feel sick. And if you eat too much of that chocolate cake, you might have a stomach ache! After you eat dessert, you have an empty plate and a full stomach. The dessert of your paper, the conclusion, sums up your essay. The conclusion supports the thesis and leaves the reader full (Greenberg 111). If your writing has a disappointing or uninteresting ending, the reader will feel sick because you have not concluded your information effectively. For the reader to respond to your paper, you must have a good conclusion. Several ways to end include, compare, develop an analogy, give suggestions, write personal feelings, and summarize (Greenberg 111). Too much information in your conclusion, however, overloads the reader, but a well-developed ending will leave the reader feeling satisfied.
I have used the Three-Course Meal Model to help students develop an introduction, body, and conclusion for their papers. During conferences, I gave select tutees a survey on their level of understanding of the introduction-body-conclusion model. If they seemed to have trouble introducing and concluding, I explained the Three-Course Meal Model. One student, Bob, had a difficult time introducing his paper. After explaining the TCMM, his face lit up, realizing the importance of an introduction. Most students who I observed gave positive responses to the TCMM, acknowledging the process had helped them develop their papers. After explaining the TCMM, I surveyed the student again, asking them “Has the Three Course Meal Model helped you understand the concept of an introduction, body, and conclusion?” To lower the bias of the survey, I neglected to mention that I had developed this model, stating that I use the TCMM in my writing, and I would like to apply it to the session. Most students indicated that the Three Course Meal Model helped them understand the process of an introduction-body-conclusion. Students surveyed at the end of the meeting rated their understanding of the introduction, body, and conclusion with the TCMM higher than at the beginning of the session. Students gave the TCMM a 4 or 5, five being the most helpful. One student commented on the survey, “Very good concept and easy to understand. Thanks.”
While most sessions using the Three Course Meal Model ended positively, some ended in confusion. I used the TCMM with Traci, a girl in the Writing Center, who had written a troubling introduction. After explaining the TCMM, Traci seemed confused. On her survey, she rated the TCMM a 4, disappointing because she had rated the first question with a 4. In her case, the TCMM did not help. While meeting with a student for my fellowed class, I explained the TCMM to help with her prewriting. She seemed confused as I stumbled over my words while trying to explain the process. These exceptions to my results occurred, proving that no right method exists to developing an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Like a meal, writing remains an important part of our lives. We cannot have a three-course meal without an appetizer, main course, and dessert; and we cannot have effective writing without an interesting introduction, developed body, and a proper conclusion. The introduction, the appetizer, represents the paper’s initial contact with the reader. “Well begun is half done,” said Aristotle (Dictionary of Quotations). The body, the main course, connects the introduction and conclusion of the paper. The body gives you a chance to communicate the information to the reader. The conclusion, the dessert, lets you give readers a sweet goodbye, challenging them to respond. The conclusion should leave readers smiling, happy that they have read a good piece. “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened,” said Theodore Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss (Dictionary of Quotations). Based on these three elements of writing, the Three Course Meal Model helps students understand how to structure their writing. Positive results have shown this method’s effectiveness in the MCCC Writing Center. While the outlook on this theory remains bright, no right or wrong way exists on developing an introduction, body, and conclusion. Next time you write an essay, use the Three Course Meal Model. Not only will it help your writing, but it might make you hungry as well!
Dean, Kitty Chen. Essentials of the Essay: Writing, Reading, and Grammar. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Deisler, Joshua M. Survey On Introductions and Conclusions and The Three Course Meal Model. Monroe County
- - -. Tutor to Tutee Observation. Monroe County Community College, Monroe. 13 Oct.- 8 Dec. 2004.
Dictionary of Quotations. Ed. John A. Simone. 2004. 3 Dec. 2004 <www.qutationreference.com>.
Gerard, Philip. Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life. Cincinnati: Story P., 1996.
Greenberg, Karen L. Effective Writing: Choices and Conventions. New York. St. Martin’s P., 1988.
Students attending Monroe County Community College may have to juggle classes, work, responsibilities at home, a significant other, and a wide array of other stressful situations. It is normal college students to feel varying degrees of anxiety this lifestyle produces. However, left unaddressed these anxieties may impede a student’s ability to function at his or her best. Many student’s seeking assistance from the MCCC Writing Center already have writing insecurities that have been reinforced throughout their life. According to On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction the “fear of writing gets planted in most Americans at an early age, usually at school” (Zinssner 245). Rather than foster better writing habits, our educational system has shattered the writing potential of students. Thus, what writing fellows at the MCCC Writing Center encounter on a daily basis is a product of stress, anxiety, and insecurities; they encounter writers who lack confidence. Consequently, it is important that writing fellows make a conscious effort to build writer confidence by putting students at ease, clarifying the terms of the assignment, and encouraging students’ ideas. The writing fellow’s job in the Writing Center is to not only provide students with the tools that will help them succeed in writing, but also to give students the confidence they need to let their voices be heard.
For many college students, writing a paper is a dreaded chore. One of the easiest ways a writing fellow can help students become more confident about an appointment in the Writing Center is to put them at ease. One way this can be accomplished, rather than quickly delving into the assignment, is to take a moment to become acquainted with the writer. Beverly Lyon Clark, Professor of English at Wheaton College recommends “ask[ing] the student about herself, her attitude about writing, her course, her assignment, her strengths and weaknesses” (111). By doing so, a writing fellow gets an idea of what the writer’s areas of opportunity may be, and at the same time, the writer is given the sense that she is receiving personalized attention. This exchange creates a comfortable environment that is vital to building a writer’s confidence. This is also a good opportunity to let the writer know about yourself as a student. Not only does this relax the student, it may help you relax as well (Clark 112). It is important for students to see that we are not almighty geniuses, that writing is something that comes with practice and even they can achieve better writing. A writing fellow must help eliminate a student’s negative thoughts because “no student wants to feel intimidated. Intimidation makes one feel discouraged, which is exactly what a tutor want to avoid” (Plunkey 13). This attitude is created by the environment; therefore, when a writer feels more at ease during the session, she is likely to feel more confident about her work.
Another factor that contributes greatly to a writer’s ability to confidently express his or her thoughts is comprehension of the assignment. It has been my experience that although most tutees did not have a clear understanding of the assignment, most were not willing to accept that. The causes that lead to this discrepancy can vary, but writing fellows must have the ability to recognize this obstacle. A tutor at Beaver College explains that students “tend not to have a clear picture of where the paper topic is going and an even less clear idea of how it is going to get there” (Reale 12). By using the Socratic method of asking open-ended questions, tutors can encourage students to talk openly about their assignments. This not only provides the tutor with the opportunity to see if a student understands his or her assignment, it also helps the student generate ideas. Additionally, by listening to a writer’s thoughts on the assignment, a tutor may find an aspect of the topic that the student finds interesting and use it as a stepping-stone toward comprehension. William Zinssner explains, “one way to generate confidence is to write about subjects that interest you and that you care about” (Zinssner 246). It is difficult for a writer to have interest in an assignment that is not understood. Therefore, once an assignment is clear and interest is generated, students can begin to express themselves more confidently.
Though a writing fellow may be able to put a student at ease and engender clarity and interest, her job does not stop there. One can think of a session as the course of reading a intriguing novel, when suddenly a friend interrupts and gives away the ending. In most cases, all interest is lost. The same can be true in a session. Therefore once a tutor has the opportunity to get to know more about the student and her assignment, it is important to continue to motivate the student throughout the session, not just at the beginning of the session. One way to encourage students is by the use of body language, which plays an important role in helping writers feel more confident about the session, their assignments, and their writing. Beverly Clark recommends that tutor be conscious of message his or her body language is sending. Some suggestions include “make eye contact, smile, nod in agreement,” this will make the student feel “even more comfortable and also motivated” (Clark 112). Verbal communication is also important in motivating a writer. At times it may seem difficult to find an aspect of a writer’s paper to compliment on, but remember that a “student is always looking for acceptance” (Wilson 13). Even when the writer’s work seems too opinionated or wrong in our opinion, as tutors “we should never deny the validity of a writer’s idea, process, or goals” (Stukenberg 8). The task of writing can be approached in several ways by one person–there is no right or wrong way. In order to build confidence in writers, tutors must be able to remain objective and praise even small steps.
Insecure writers are like children. Children do not learn to talk, walk or read overnight. This all takes practice, dedication, but most importantly motivation. Students who visit the Writing Center are often under stress, anxious, frustrated and insecure. These factors, working consecutively, create students who lack one of the most important aspects of writing–confidence. If tutors expect to have successful sessions, tutors must be able to address these concerns, but also provide a nurturing and motivating environment. Stress, anxiousness, and frustrations can be alleviated by creating an environment where students feel comfortable. By making sure the assignment is understood, a tutor can help a student overcome insecurities that have been instilled since a young age. Once a speck of confidence emerges, the tutor must not stop there, but continue to encourage and motivate students to let their voices be heard. In the words of tutor Nicholas Plunkey “when we build strength in students’ abilities to express themselves, we are tutoring” (Plunkey 14).
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1952.
Plunkey, Nicholas A. “Asking for Confidence.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 23.7 (1999): 13-4. 15 Nov. 2004 <http://www.owl.english.purdue.edu/lab/>.
Reale, Michelle. “Helping Students Gain Perspective On Their Writing: Freeing the Writer’s Independent Voice.” The Writing
Stukenberg, Jill. “Never Say ‘No.’” The Writing Lab Newsletter 25.10 (2001): 8-9. 15 Nov. 2004 <http://www.owl.english.purdue.edu/lab/>.
Wilson, Jane C. “Making the Sale: Helping Students to “Buy” Writing Skills.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 23.10 (1999):
Zinssner, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: Quill-Harper, 2001.
Tutoring compares to a conducting a symphony with individual members. The tutor conducts the practice sessions to make sure the band member knows how to play his part. Each member of the symphony is an integral part of the whole. Without one needed aspect, a trumpeter might not know how to make the note. The tutor/conductor hones in on the need and makes the required adjustment for the good of the whole. The tutor should know what type of learner he or she is, understand the three learning types, be able to recognize the traits of different types, and be prepared to help tutees by accommodating their learning styles. Tutoring involves an understanding of how the tutor and the tutee learn. Carl Jung, in 1927, first introduced the theory of differences in the way people perceived, made decisions, and how active or reflective they were while interacting” (“Integrating” 22). Since then, tools have been developed to help these three different style learners achieve academically. The three styles, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic are distinct types with different needs. There are other theories on how we learn, but all students should understand how they learn best.
As tutors, we are concerned with how a student responds in a tutoring session. We want to know that the student absorbed information from what we offered. We are required to find out what a tutee needs help with and why he or she came to us. The first few minutes should give us a hint as to the type of learner the tutee is. This is crucial. Jessica Blackmore, editor of “Pedagogy: Learning Styles” said, “A key to getting (and keeping) students involved in learning, lies in understanding learning preferences, which can positively or negatively influence a student’s performance” (1). If a tutor doesn’t know how he or she learns, he or she should take a test online to find out. The results could be surprising!
Everyone absorbs information in different, yet, effective ways. Kevin Mixon is a band teacher who believes it is important when teaching, to plan lessons to effectively address all three learning styles; thus enabling students to learn their natural way and develop other forms of learning in different settings to become more versatile learners (48). The American classroom has catered to visual and, to a lesser degree, auditory learners. The kinesthetic learner has fallen through the academic cracks. Kinestheticlearners need more help because of vast differences in how subjects are absorbed. This group is forced to use the other two methods to learn.
Auditory learners focus on listening without visual distractions of reading. Kevin Mixon believes auditory learners hear and apply spoken instructions well (49). In the tutoring session, auditory learners will focus on listening to spoken instructions. The tutor needs to pick up on this style to help them. Auditory learners need to hear information to remember it. This group does not like to take notes when others are talking. Auditory learners have difficulty focusing on written explanations and are very talkative. Most are well spoken but skip words when writing or they will use lengthy, repetitious descriptions.
The auditory tutee who sat with me seemed to know everything. I would ask her to “show me where her main ideas were.” She could not show me. But if I asked what aspects of her subject she thought were important and why, she would tell me clearly. This tutee would not have much written but could hold a conversation about her topic. She seemed to have trouble getting started. If I tried to explain what I thought the instructor wanted, she would cut me off with, “I know, I know.” I knew she was capable of writing her paper, but she needed to focus on what she knew and to start writing. It did not help to tell me she knew everything. It built her confidence to talk about her paper even though she had very little written. We spent the time talking about how to put what she was discussing into a thesis statement and break it down.
The visual learner has distinguishable features. Most visual learners need to see written examples, pictures, and illustrations to learn. The visual learner takes notes while the tutor is talking and pays attention to written material. One article states that students, who learn best visually, need new concepts, graphs, or pictures to help grasp the subject (Mixon 49). These are easy to acquire in school especially with computer technology. Printouts of graphs, pictures and articles are plentiful. Visual learners, who come to the lab for assistance, usually have low order concerns such as grammar and subject-verb agreement. To help them understand their mistakes, it is best to show them in a reference book or a Writing Center handout.
The visual learner I saw was from our fellowed class had a decent paper but was not focused. It did not follow any pattern and was very long. She seemed surprised when I asked her to break up her large paragraphs into smaller, more manageable chunks by clustering first. This is a form of an outline. We reworked her paper with highlighters. Different colors were for different points she wished to discuss. She thought this method worked well with her cluster outline. This helped her clear the clutter from her paper. The student saw her paper take shape in front of her and was pleased because she saw how much easier it became. We worked out a visual that helped focus her paper. This method works well for visual learners.
Kinesthetic learners need to touch and manipulate surroundings to learn. Libby Miles studies tutoring in the lab; she feels that kinesthetic learners need to get physical to learn. They express themselves with energy, drama, and body in motion. The kinesthetic learner fidgets, gestures while talking, and generally is unable to sit still (2). For this reason, kinesthetic learners are thought to be hyperactive. This diagnosis has made life easy for teachers who do not understand this learning style or how to teach to it. They would rather write it off as hyperactivity with and prescribe drugs to enable this learner to sit still. When kinesthetic kids get drugs to be still, won’t this force these kids not to learn? Kinesthetic learners are considered slower than the average student. Kinesthetic learners start out from behind in a learning environment where seatwork is the normal teaching method. Kinesthetic learners are often the least understood and least helped.
Kinesthetic learners find reasons to move. They will drop a pencil and need to bend over to get it. They will make pencil sharpening runs and bathroom breaks just to avoid sitting still for long periods. Most kinesthetic learners are ashamed of these bad habits. To be labeled kinesthetic should make learners proud because if they achieve anything academically it involves double work to grasp and retain the subject using the other two types of learning styles. This means kinesthetic learners have acquired many skills in other areas because of necessity.
I just tutored a kinesthetic learner. Joe was a very sweet young man. He knew what he wanted from college and his paper, but he felt bad because he could not sit still. He apologized for this several times. I told him I completely understood and not to worry because I also could not sit still. Joe realized his learning style aggravated people who did not understand kinesthetic learners. He also knew and understood what he needed to do to learn. His paper had really good content but organization is never a strong point with kinesthetic learners. We spent the rest of the time writing a thesis that included his points of interest. I gave him a handout on the first draft of the research paper from the Writing Center, because this learning type needs handouts for physical examples and comparison. The use of note cards and highlighters works well also.
Most tutors and students rely upon at least one of the other two types of learning styles to be able to continue to absorb information in a variety of settings. The learning environment is also important to students. Most students and tutors I surveyed agreed that noise in the lab can be distracting. Auditory learners need to be able to hear what is being said to them and apply it. Visual learners need to be able to concentrate on their papers to be able to see mistakes. Kinesthetic learners distract others around them and are distracted by movement within their field of vision. In my survey, I wanted to know if tutors had trouble relating to a particular type of learner and if so, which one? Without exception they agreed that auditory learners are the one type they have trouble relating to. This could be because they do not know how to explain in a way the auditory learner can absorb. The tutors I questioned are mainly kinesthetic with visual skills a close second (Griffith 4 & 11).
Blackmore, Jessica, Pedagogy of Learning Styles. <http://www.nyu.edu/projects/griffin/scps/ nyu_vc_PedagogyBibliography_061801.htm>.
Griffith, Joy. “Survey.” Monroe County Community College. Dec. 2004.
Mixon, Kevin. “Music Grades 1-8.” <http://18.104.22.168/ search?q=cache:GwObBKCl38YJ:library.queensu.ca/ webedu/guides/subject/music.pdf+Kevin+Mixon+%2B+learning+styles&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=3&client=safari>.
I stood before the thick, wooden doors. Fine lines crisscrossed the small window in each door and I was strangely reminded of a police station. Shaking away that thought, I pushed open the door. Blinking against the bright fluorescent lighting, I looked around at the beige walls. My eyes were immediately drawn to the bright yellow posters that hung on one of the walls, their black words offering tips for taking tests and translating English Terms into algebraic symbols; on another wall hung a collection of certificates. My eyes took in the blue-gray carpeting, speckled with white and purple and the occasional brown spots where it had been worn by too many passing feet. In several corners I noticed bookshelves. The varied coloring of the books contrasted with the uniform colors of the room. Along one wall computers glowed and several more sat in another corner, the orange of the accompanying chairs clashing with the blues and whites of the rest of the room. Next to them rested several tiers of filing cabinets. A few desks were scattered around the room but most of the room was full of tables: pale round tables surrounded by blue plastic chairs, slightly cushioned but still having that cafeteria furniture feel to them. The room murmured with the voices of those sitting at the tables. A sign above the front desk read, “Learning Assistance Lab.”
Looking back at my first view of our Writing Center, I am once again reminded of the importance of room atmosphere, especially in a learning environment. I think sometimes we focus so much on how we can help students through the tutoring sessions that we forget students can be influenced by aspects of these sessions that have nothing to do with what we say or do. The room atmosphere we work in is one of these often-overlooked aspects of our work in the writing center. Size, colors, and lighting of a room, as well as other elements of room atmosphere, all have a significant impact on the learning environment. In our own writing center students seem fairly satisfied with the room atmosphere, but we can still make changes that would create an environment more conducive to learning.
Whether or not they are conscious of it, room atmosphere impacts how people learn. Thus the room atmosphere in any learning environment is especially important. Physical environment may not be the only element of a classroom or writing center that affects a student, but colors, lighting, or even the style of furniture in a room can affect how comfortable students are there. Students come to the writing center with specific needs and goals and in “The School Environment: A Link to Understanding Stress," Denise Conners warns us that a “misfit” between these needs and the room environment will result in stress. She goes on to say that if the room atmosphere does not provide for students’ needs, they may remedy the situation by changing their goals (Conners 16). Often this will mean giving up on any attempt to learn. We cannot always determine what goals students will have when they enter the writing center, but by carefully examining the elements that define the room atmosphere, we can try to create an environment that promotes learning instead of hindering it.
Room size directly affects students’ confidence. Every writing center faces the challenge of providing tutors with adequate space to work while respecting students’ need for privacy. Nancy Pecorilli, of St. Clair County Community College, wrote that the tutors there “prefer [the writing center] open rather than with partitions” (Kennedy, “Research”). However, a huge room full of tables, desks, and people might be intimidating to some students. A smaller room with more privacy might make these students more comfortable. Recognizing this, Nancy Pecorilli admits that she would like “private tutoring areas” for students who may need a quieter work area (Kennedy, “Research”). Denise Conners, in "The School Environment: A Link to Understanding Stress," suggests that individual study areas, often called “carrels,” can also fulfill the need for privacy (Conners 16). On the other hand, a small room with a minimal number of people might make another student feel trapped or the focus of unwanted attention. This student, then, might be more comfortable in a larger room. Preferably, a writing center would fulfill both preferences by having a large, open room with smaller rooms connected to it for those who want more privacy.
Although students may not always notice them, colors also help shape the overall atmosphere of a room. The color of the walls, carpeting, and even furniture in a room affects the impression that room makes on a student. Helen Raica-Klots writes that she would like to replace the “muted industrial colors” of Saginaw Valley State University’s writing center with “brighter colors” (Kennedy, “Research”). In “Graduate to Color!” Sheri Thomson tells us, “Generally, red and orange are stimulating; yellow is cheery; and blues and greens are calming. Dark cool colors seem to recede, whereas bright warm colors seem closer. A highly saturated color is stimulating regardless of hue" (Thompson par. 2). Hence the color of a room should correspond with the purpose of that room. If we want a room to be stimulating, we should use brighter, warmer colors. However, if we want to make a room into a calming place where students can relax and work peacefully, we may want to choose cooler colors like blues or greens. The size of the room may also dictate what colors would be most appropriate. We should choose warmer colors to make a larger room feel closer and more personal. On the other hand, to make a smaller room feel larger, we can use darker, cooler colors, which make the walls seem to recede.
Good lighting is crucial to a positive learning environment. Ideally, the primary lighting in a classroom or writing center should be natural sunlight. In her article, “Inside Information,” Nancy Pattyn claims that natural light is important to the “overall composition and ‘feel’ of the room” (Pattyn, par. 7). Both Nancy Pecorilli and Helen Raica-Klots wrote that their writing centers had windows which let in natural light, something both thought added to the positive atmosphere of their writing centers (Kennedy, “Research”). This natural light is often bright, but softer than the harsh fluorescents that light many classrooms. Even when windows are not available to provide sunlight, diffused light sources can offer similarly high, yet indirect lighting. Nancy Pattyn later tells us that this high, indirect lighting makes students comfortable, yet still keeps them “alert” and aware of what is happening around them (Pattyn, pars. 6-8). In 1973, the Environment Health and Light Research Institute conducted a study comparing the performance of students in classrooms with the “standard” florescent lights with those in classrooms lit by diffused, “full-spectrum” florescent lights that closely resemble natural light. The results revealed that students performed better and remained more focused in the classrooms with the diffused lighting (Ott 22). Therefore, diffused lighting is the next best option when natural sunlight is not available. Regular fluorescents provide the worst lighting, though, because the harsh, overly-bright light they shed can become distracting.
Besides the main elements of room size, lighting, and color, writing center directors and tutors from across Michigan responded to my survey with additional factors of room atmosphere. Several mentioned noise level as an important element. Patricia Wilson wrote that the writing center at Thomas M. Cooley Law School has a quiet atmosphere (Kennedy, “Research”). Unfortunately, not all writing centers are as fortunate. The high ceilings and close tables in St. Clair County Community College’s writing center create a lot of noise when more than one session is going at once (Kennedy, “Research”). Not all noise affects sessions in a negative way, though. Carol Silverman of Kirtland Community College believes playing soft music in the background helps the session. Teague Whalen, an English tutor at North Central Michigan College, agrees, explaining that music keeps the silences from becoming uncomfortable (Kennedy, “Research”). However, while this music may be soothing to some, others may find it distracting.
Even the style of furniture in a writing center can help determine how informal or professional the atmosphere of the room is. Helen Raica-Klotz complained that the file cabinets and photocopier in Saginaw Valley State University’s writing center gives it an “office-like persona.” Carol Silverman suggests providing a variety of furniture, like soft, casual couches and chairs as well as more formal tables and desks, to help make students comfortable, no matter what their preferences may be. Several respondents even mentioned temperature as an element of their room atmosphere, something I had not thought of before. According to Helen Raica-Klotz, the large number of windows in Saginaw Valley State University’s writing center makes it “an incubator in the summer, but nice and toasty on a sunny winter day.” Nancy Pecorilli complained that the sporadic room temperature at St. Clair County Community College’s writing center often affects the sessions in a negative way (Kennedy, “Research”).
Several Writing Fellows at our own Writing Center have expressed complaints about the noise level and lack of color in the Writing Center. Shawna Farley described it as having a “very scary detention and rehab feeling” and “a very cluttered feel” (Kennedy, “Survey”). Because I had heard such negative opinions of our Writing Center’s atmosphere from other Writing Fellows, I expected other students to feel uncomfortable there as well. With this idea in mind, I asked students to fill out a survey after their tutoring sessions. However, contrary to my expectations, out of the twenty-three students who responded, only one student indicated that the Writing Center had a negative feeling, saying that it “feels somewhat like an office building, lacking color [and] personality.” The rest indicated that the Writing Center’s atmosphere was positive and made them feel welcome (see table 1). One student even wrote that it had “a warm feeling that was inviting.”
While many students indicated that aspects of the atmosphere had no affect on them, especially the colors and textures and the style of furniture, several commented on individual aspects (see table 1). Most students liked the size of the writing center because it was open and not too cramped. Quite a few also thought the writing center stayed fairly quiet and that those working there made an effort to keep the noise down as much as possible. One student did suggest that the noise level was negative because of the “minor distractions of soft talking [and] typing in the background” but another commented that the “if you are concentrating on your work, you don’t notice anything.” Several students commented on the comfortable chairs and one student said that the round tables made him or her “feel more open than square [tables].” Another liked the round tables because they allow students to see the Writing Fellows better than sitting side by side would. Few students thought that the colors of the room had an affect on them, but one commented that the colors were “bright and clean” and another said they offered “few distractions.” Yet another student commented that the blue in the room was “soothing and calm.” Only one said they would like to see “warmer” colors because the room felt “sterile.”
One student commented that the fluorescent lighting was negative, but most of the students who responded indicated that it was positive. One even went so far to say that it was “very bright and kept [the student] aware” (Kennedy, “Tutoring”)
Table 1. Results of my Writing Center student survey
Although many students seem satisfied with our current Writing Center, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Tennery Hicks, a Writing Fellow at our Writing Center, recommended a “more updated look.” She went on to explain that with a more distinguished color scheme and room arraignment, “we might be able to show that we are there for a different purpose than the [Learning Assistance Lab] and be able to promote a more writing friendly atmosphere” (Kennedy, “Survey”). Shawna Farley, another Writing Fellow, suggested that we create a more secluded place for sessions and find colors that would create a “calming mood,” “serenity,” and “an open mind” (Kennedy, “Survey”). The students themselves offered a few suggestions as well. One indicated that he or she would like “more privacy” and “less noise.” Another wished the Writing Center had its own room. One felt that the Writing Center needs posters on the wall. “Even if I usually find them annoying,” the student wrote, “most people have posters or something on the walls. I’d rather be annoyed by a dumb poster and at least know that they care about something” (Kennedy, “Tutoring”).
I would like to see the Writing Center become a relaxed place where students can come to write and talk about writing. While a complete renovation of the Writing Center would be ideal, it would not necessarily be practical. Fortunately, other small changes could be made to make it a more positive place for both the students and tutors. I believe it would be especially helpful to change the lighting and add more color. I personally find the fluorescent lighting distracting and imagine that other students may feel the same way. If we had softer, indirect lighting like in the college library, perhaps the room would feel more relaxed. Simple changes, such as adding some green plants or colorful posters to the walls, would add some much-needed color to the room as well and would make it feel more cheerful, more personal. Adding a couch or a couple soft chairs would also provide an informal place for students and tutors to work. If we turn the Writing Center into a more comfortable place, perhaps more students would come on their own.
Thinking once again of my first visit to the Writing Center, I understand a little better the impressions that first view of the room gave me. Although I did not recognize it at the time, the size, the uniform colors, and the harsh lighting of the room were working their influence over me. I was a bit intimidated, to say the least. However, when I contrast that view of the Writing Center with the view I hold now, I am also reminded that initial negative impressions can sometimes be changed. Carol Silverman, of Kirtland Community College, wrote that the attitude of the tutors affects the writing center atmosphere more than colors and music do (Kennedy, “Research”). A positive attitude on the tutor’s part can compensate for many failings in the physical atmosphere of the center. Teague Whalen wrote, “As long as it’s an environment where one can relax and be one’s self, that’s all that matters” (Kennedy, “Research”). By carefully examining the aspects that comprise the atmosphere of our Writing Center, we can strive to create that environment where students and tutors alike can relax and be themselves, a place that truly encourages learning.
Conners, Dennis A. "The School Environment: A Link to Understanding Stress." Theory into Practice 22.1 (1983): 15.
Kennedy, Rebecca. “Research Project on the Effect of Room Atmosphere on the Tutoring Session.” E-mail survey. 29 Nov. 2004.
---. “Survey….” E-mail survey for Writing Fellows. MCCC Writing Center. Monroe, MI. Dec. 2004.
---. “Tutoring Atmosphere.” Survey. MCCC Writing Center. Monroe, MI. Nov.-Dec.2004.
McMorrow, Eileen. "Good Design, Better Scores." Facilities Design & Management 19.9 (2000): 9. Business Source
Ott, John N. "Influence of Florescent Lights on Hyperactivity and Learning Disabilities." Journal of Learning Disabilities
Pattyn, Nanci. "Inside Information." American School & University 66.8 (1994): 46- . Expanded Academic ASAP.
Stewart, Susan C., William H. Evans, and Dan J. Kaczynski. “Setting the Stage for Success: Assessing the Instructional Environment.” Preventing School Failure 41.2 (1997): 53. Expanded Academic ASAP. InfoTrac. MCCC Library.
Thompson, Sheri. "Graduate to Color!" Buildings 97.8 (2003): 51. Business Source Premier. EBSCO. MCCC Library.
There is no greater reward than the reward tutors feel upon sharing their knowledge. Tutors in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center are privileged to be able to share their knowledge of writing with their fellow students. This was my first semester as a writing fellow and throughout the semester I have had a number of questions that I have been pondering. One question I had is other than the opportunity to share their knowledge with one another, what are tutors and tutee’s each gaining from a session? I have also wondered, do both tutors and tutee’s agree on what was the most important information learned from the session? The final question I have wondered about was concerning whether or not the tutees are more likely to agree with the tutor’s thoughts on what the most important thing learned from the session was if the session was not required? Despite the answers to these questions, the most important thing I learned through this research is that peer tutoring is beneficial as long as both tutor and tutee agree that something new has been learned, even if they don’t agree on what was learned.
There are many benefits for a tutee that come from a tutoring session. Some of the benefits include new information learned from sessions that tutees can later apply to their writing. For example, a tutee came to me a few weeks ago for a session wondering how to narrow her topic. After working with her on a few different techniques, we ended the session with both of us satisfied with what we had accomplished. About a week or so later the tutee came back in to the Writing Center for a different class and mentioned that she had used those techniques learned in our previous session multiple times since—success! Not only were the techniques we went over helpful for the first paper the tutee worked on, but she was later able to successfully apply those same techniques on her own for another paper. Another benefit for tutees is a greater confidence about their writing. This is gained when tutees are reassured about their writing after having someone look it over with them before having to turn it in to a professor. According to an article called “Peer and Cross-Age Tutoring” by Joan Gaustad,“Decades of research have established that well-planned peer tutoring programs can improve student achievement and self-esteem as well as overall school climate” (Gaustad). So not only are tutors and tutee’s benefiting from a session but the overall school climate is benefiting as well.
Tutees are not the only one to benefit from a tutoring session. There are also many benefits gained from a tutoring session by the tutor. One of those benefits would be the opportunity to improve their own writing. “Students who reported doing more planning, revising, and editing wrote better papers than those who did not” (Holladay 7). This is because as the popular expression goes, “Practice makes perfect.” By teaching someone else about writing, tutors are given numerous opportunities to practice various writing strategies. Another benefit for tutors is an increase in confidence in their own writing. Because tutors are constantly practicing their writing skills, they learn the best ways to use them, which makes them feel more confident about what they write. Because of the importance of always being on time and being prepared for a tutoring session, writing fellows also learn a great deal about responsibility as well as organizational skills.
As a Monroe County Community College writing fellow, I have learned the importance of remembering the goal of all tutors. A tutor’s goal in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center is that the tutee will come out of the session having learned something. Tutors also aim to teach the tutee ways to apply what they have learned to their own writing. According to the handbook used at MCCC for training new writing fellows,“Our goal is to help all students at MCCC become better writers by providing an opportunity for close and regular contact with a supportive, yet critical audience” (Dillon, par 1). This is no small task; however, most writing fellows tend to welcome each challenge they face determined to make the most of each session. Although tutors and tutees do not always agree on what has been learned during a session, the one thing they both tend to agree on is that the tutee came out of the session having learned something new.
To gain a better understanding of the tutee’s perspective of what is learned in a tutoring session in the Writing Center, I set up surveys for both tutees and tutors to use at the end of a tutoring session. The tutors were asked to take their surveys separately from the tutees. Each of these surveys posed the question of how beneficial the session was or should have been (from the tutor’s perspective) for the tutee. Out of all surveys completed for this project, no one said he had learned nothing from the session. Some did say they were merely reminded of what they already knew because they knew almost everything. Nevertheless, the majority of the tutees surveyed found their sessions to be beneficial. In fact, tutees that were asked how beneficial the session was on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most beneficial, rated the session on average at about an 8 (Michel).
Whether or not a session is required, peer tutoring is considered beneficial to both the tutor and the tutee. Although students who are required to attend a session with a writing fellow appear to have less of a correlation to what the tutor feels they should have learned, the one thing they both agree on is that the tutee learned something from the session. On average, tutees required to see a writing fellow by a professor averaged about an 8, the same average as those who were not required to see a writing fellow. Although the sessions required by a professor may affect the tutee’s attitude, it does not have much affect on the tutoring session benefits.
Although everything all tutors and tutees think they learn from sessions is not the same, out of all those surveyed they all agreed on at least some common experience with their tutors—that they learned throughout their tutoring sessions. In fact, about 90% of tutor and tutee’s questionnaires listed at least one common learning experience (Michel). Though the most important thing that each thought was learned from the session did not always match up, the tutee and tutor almost always seemed to find some common ground. Any tutor would be more than happy with some point of common ground because as the Writing Center Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors says, “We are willing to accept small successes…” (par. 7).
No matter what the tutor and tutee thinks was learned during a session, there is one agreement, peer tutoring is beneficial as long as both tutor and tutee agree that something new has been learned. So as the end of my first semester draws to a close, I find myself with no more unanswered questions. Instead I am looking ahead to my next glorious opportunity to assist a writer in need. After all, I still have so much left to learn.
Dillon, Timothy J., and Holladay John. Writing Center Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors. Monroe: 1995.
Gaustad, Joan. “Peer and Cross-Age Tutoring.” Eric Digest 79 (1993). 16 Nov. 2004. <www.ed.gov>.
Holladay, John. A Report on Research into Writing-Across-the Curriculum-Projects. Monroe County Community College.
Michel, Crystal G. “Field Research.” Fall 2004.
While working in The Writing Center, I have often wondered how much my attitude has an impact on the other students with whom I work. I have also wondered which kind of attitude is received better, a more friendly or a more professional oneand what other differences there would be. Would students get more out of a session where I was more businesslike or more sociable? Which attitude would be liked better? I had predicted a professional attitude would be better and that with a friendly attitude what I said would not be taken as seriously. In my research, I spent weeks in the MCCC Writing Center testing if a friendly attitude, a professional attitude, or a balance between the two might be better.
To determine which type of attitude is better when working with other students, I had to do some experimenting. Over the course of a few weeks, I would work in the MCCC Writing Center with three different attitudes in order to see which worked best. With one third of the students, I would be overly friendly and as unprofessional as possible, making sure to do things such as joking around, changing the conversation to socializing instead of writing, and wearing the informal attire of jeans and a tee-shirt. For another third of the students, I would be overly professional and as unfriendly as possible making sure not to smile, keeping the conversation on only writing, and wearing more formal attire. When working with the remaining third, I would try to keep my attitude as balanced as I could, halfway between friendly and professional. After the conferences, students were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their sessions and how successful they thought they were.
When working with my peers in the Writing Center, the friendly attitude went over very well. For this attitude I smiled, told jokes, focused more on socializing than writing, and wore jeans and a tee shirt. I had thought I would not be taken as seriously as with a professional attitude, but I was wrong. The tutees felt comfortable about discussing their writing in such a relaxed atmosphere. Since I was so positive, the students seemed to feel better about their writing and receptive to the suggestions they were given to improve their papers. As the students left, I could tell each student had really improved and felt better about writing. Of the three attitudes, this one was received the best and liked the most. Comments from questionnaires the tutees filled out showed that a friendly attitude makes a large difference in tutoring. For example, one student wrote, “My tutor’s friendly attitude helped me feel more relaxed and less insecure about my writing.” Another student wrote, “She was very friendly, which helped me to learn easier.” One student even wrote that I was the nicest tutor she ever had. I did not receive any negative comments while working on this part of my experiment. The questionnaires also demonstrated that the tutees still felt I was very knowledgeable about writing despite my less serious approach.
A professional attitude was not received as well in the Writing Center as a friendly attitude. For this attitude I did not smile, I talked only about writing, and wore professional attire. Instead of being looked upon as a peer, the students seemed to feel I was more of an expert. While I was looked upon as knowledgeable, perhaps I was looked upon as too knowledgeable. It was almost as though these students thought I would do all of their work for them; like they thought I had all of the answers. Most of the students seemed more nervous than when the atmosphere was friendly. Of the three attitudes, this one was received the worst and liked the least. One student wrote on their questionnaire, “If my tutor was more friendly, and a little less businesslike, I would have felt more comfortable.” Another student wrote that I seemed very knowledgeable, but “would be able to share that knowledge better if (I) were less uptight.”
For the last phase of my experimenting, I acted as usual when working in the Writing Center; I balanced professionalism and friendliness. At the beginning of each conference I made an attempt at some small talk, but only to get acquainted. After a few minutes, the joking ceased and we talked on nothing but the student’s writing. I was still friendly in the ways I helped these students, but less formal and more relaxed. While I was probably a little more friendly than professional, I felt a good balance was achieved. The students took me seriously, they felt comfortable sharing their writing and ideas, and they walked away knowing more than when they first walked in. Overall, this attitude was very well received. On one student’s questionnaire he wrote, “Her attitude made our session enjoyable and productive all at the same time.” Another student said “She had a very good attitude and I will not be so nervous about coming to the Writing Center in the future, now that I see people who work there are so nice.” I did not receive any negative feedback during this phase of my experimenting, but I still felt the students responded more positively while I took on the friendly personality.
To my surprise, the friendly attitude in my Writing Center work was more successful than the professional attitude. After my experiment, I came to a few conclusions. I think that when students come to the Writing Center, they are expecting someone to talk to about writing who is friendly and just like them. The students were more comfortable after a few jokes and better able to have an informal discussion of their writing; they also felt as though I was still very knowledgeable. With a more professional attitude, the students felt more as though they were sitting with a mini-instructor than with a peer. With this attitude, they were also less likely to work with me on their writing because they felt I already had all of the best answers. With an attitude balanced between the two extremes, the outcomes were positive, but not quite as positive as with the friendly attitude.
In my research, I spent weeks in The Writing Center testing if a friendly attitude, a professional attitude, or a balance between the two is better. I found that a friendly attitude was better than a professional attitude. The students were more relaxed, more likely to work with me on their writing, felt I was very knowledgeable, and looked at me as a peer. With the professional attitude, the students felt less relaxed, thought I had all of the answers, and looked at me as though I was more of a mini instructor. While an attitude balanced between the two extremes was received well, the friendly attitude did receive slightly better feedback. Maybe in a different Writing Center the results would have been different, but in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center, students are looking for a friendly tutor to discuss writing with in an informal way.
Peltier, Marla. “Questionnaire.” Fall 2004
Students commonly come to the MCCC Writing Center for help with research papers or other research based writing. As Writing Fellows, we see many students working on papers like this. It is possible that over the course of a semester, a Writing Fellow may work with as few as five to six students who are dealing with non-research based writing. In my first few weeks of work in the Writing Center, I saw students working mainly on essays involving minimal research. However, one day I was scheduled to meet with a student who was working on a short story for an English class. At first, I was unsure of how to conduct this conference. I had many questions: What strategies could I use to help this student? Could I handle this conference the same as any other? And most of all, how would I know what to look for in his paper when I had been focusing so strongly on research? From this experience, I began to think about how I could approach conferences like this in the future. I realized that what I needed to develop as a tutor was flexibility. In The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, Paula Gillespie and Neal Learner state that flexibility is “central to writing and to tutoring,” and the control of it “includes not simply knowing what strategies might be available but knowing how to use a strategy” (19). Flexibility became the focus of my research in the Writing Center for the following weeks. I developed a list of strategies that could be used in research based writing; or using the term loosely, creative writing. I decided to use these strategies as a basis for my tutoring sessions while documenting how I adjusted my tutoring style.
I easily compiled my list of research strategies. I decided to incorporate three that I felt were most important into my sessions. I would work with students on outlining for organization or as a foundation for the paper, identifying the thesis and its supports, and providing examples and evidence from source material. From there, I moved on to my list of creative writing strategies. I was still unsure of what exactly I could work on with these papers, so I consulted Toby Fulwiler’s The Working Writer. Fulwiler states that creative writing tends to focus more on themes. It focuses on the way “language looks and sounds, its form, shape, rhythm, images and texture” (36). Reading this helped me to identify the four strategies I would use for creative writing conferences. These strategies were to work on identifying and supporting the theme, look for word choice and sentence patterns that developed an appropriate voice and tone, analyze the cause and effect relationships looking for a logical progression of events, and work on who, what, when, where, why, and how for clarification as well as expansion and elaboration. I began using these methods in my conferences immediately. After each conference, I would write a short journal entry, including the type of paper the student was writing, what we worked on, and any major adjustments I’d made to my tutoring style. I expected to find that there were specific tutoring styles and strategies that would work in a research or creative writing session.
I tested this idea for the first time in a session with a student taking English Composition I. She was working on an argument paper that required research. After she read the paper, I asked her to point to her thesis. She was unfamiliar with the term, so I asked her to identify the main idea of her paper. What she told me sounded well thought out. It demonstrated that she understood her topic. However, her paper was not reflecting that. I explained what a thesis statement was, and from there, we worked on building one based on what she had told me. Next, we moved on to finding topic sentences and their supports. During this conference, I felt that my tutoring style was more controlling. I was doing more talking than usual because the student was unfamiliar with some of the ideas we spoke about. Otherwise, it seemed to be a routine session.
Later that same day, I met with a second student. He was working on a three-page short story. He explained that this was his second draft of the story, and, after reading it aloud, he asked if it all made sense. His major concern was that the reader understood what was happening to the characters. This seemed like an appropriate time to work on cause and effect relationships. I had the student summarize the major actions in the story, and draw their sequence on a piece of notebook paper using arrows. When he did this, he found that some of the actions were unnecessary and could be eliminated. After we dealt with that, we talked about the theme of his paper and how he could support it. He decided that he would like to provide more examples in his story that would further emphasize his theme. This session supported my idea that specific strategies can be used to deal with creative writing, but it struck me as very different from the previous session when it came to my tutoring style. It seemed that in this session, the student was more willing to take ownership of his writing. The student was doing most of the talking. He was willing to share his ideas. Because of this, I was able to be less directive with my tutoring style.
In my next few conferences, it seemed like the results were all turning out the same. These conferences were all for research papers. With all of these papers I worked with the students on developing a thesis, and with a few I worked on outlining. I continued to note that my tutoring style seemed more directive. But, then, something surprising happened. The student that I worked with on the creative writing assignment had returned to the Writing Center with a research paper. His paper was about the entertainment industry influencing violence in America. This was his first draft. He had a good start, but his thesis was vague and only partially connected to his topic sentences. We talked about thesis statements and he mentioned that he did not understand how they functioned in a research paper. I explained that a thesis statement is the main idea of the paper and that all of the paragraphs connect to it with topic sentences. He nodded his head. He seemed to understand what I was saying. Then, he surprised me by asking “Isn’t that like what we worked on last time? The theme?” I was shocked that he had remembered, and that he had connected a strategy we had used for creative writing to his research paper. This student helped me realize something I had disregarded since the beginning of my research—that it was possible that some of my strategies could be used conversely.
After discovering this information, I decided I would use it in one of my last writing conferences. This conference was with a philosophy student. She was writing a paper that compared and contrasted her personal beliefs with those of the great philosophers. She was required to research these philosopher’s beliefs and cite them in her paper. The student thought that her arguments were not clear and that the reader would be confused by them; after she read a paragraph aloud, she was sure of it. I looked at my list of strategies and chose cause and effect relationships from the creative writing category. This would be a good opportunity to test if it was relevant to both forms of writing. This time I had the student focus on one of her major arguments. I had her break each point down into two to three words. I had her also draw the progression of these ideas on a sheet of paper. While looking at only two of these ideas at a time, she realized that there was a gap in one of her major arguments. This method seemed to help her, even though she was writing a research paper.
When I began my research, I expected to find that there would be strategies that worked exclusively for research or creative writing. Then I realized that these were all just general methods that could be used in most conferences. The ideas of theme and thesis can be interchanged, and evidence in a research paper is just a collection of details that describe a main idea. Cause and effect relationships are present in all forms of writing, and words can be used creatively no matter what type of writing. A flexible tutor has the ability to tailor these methods to fit the situation. Depending on how students think, this can help them to better understand what they are writing. Another thing I expected to find in my research was a specific tutoring style for each type of writing. Instead, I found that the types of writing and the types of strategies used have an effect on that style. A less directive style lends itself more easily to creative writing and creative writing strategies. Overall, my realization was that a tutor cannot be afraid to use different strategies to help a student in his or her writing. Flexibility is the key to being a writing tutor. That flexibility can, in turn, “help writers develop control of and flexibility with their writing processes” (Gillespie 20).
Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 2004.
Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. New York: Longman, 2004.
You are sitting in front of your computer, staring at the screen. You have a huge paper due in a couple of days. The research has been done, but you are drawing a blank. What do you do now?
A carpenter comes to the site where he is to build a house. He has all the supplies he needs, but does not know where to start. What does he do?
Writing is similar to building a house. You may have all the resources you need, but if your resources are in a big heap on the ground and not organized, nothing can be accomplished. It will take too much time. If your ideas are organized into smaller piles, you can take from each to make the finished product. As the carpenter may develop variations of house plans to show a client, you, as the writer, get to be the carpenter and the client. You develop the possible designs and choose the direction of your paper. The carpenter may draw sketches or research different styles of architecture. Once he has done all this, he can look at everything he has finished and narrow his options. In prewriting, you can do the same. There are a handful of methods you can use and some methods work better for some people than they do for others. Prewriting helps lay the foundation for the paper. It encourages the writer, who is sometimes frustrated and confused, and helps her to organize her thoughts. At the least, it will aid in getting her ideas down on paper. According to a survey I took of students coming into the MCCC Writing Center, brainstorming, clustering, and outlining were some of the more popular prewriting methods students used.
Brainstorming is a way to get ideas floating around in your head onto paper. This is where no idea is a bad idea. This method may be one of the more sloppy methods. Sometimes brainstorming is also making a list (South). Basically, you list everything you can think of. Sometimes this leads to one messy piece of paper, with lists and ideas written every which way. Three of the students I surveyed said they use some sort of brainstorming to help start their papers. Brainstorming may even be prewriting for your prewriting. After all ideas out, the writer can start organizing them. Many students, including myself, brainstorm then cluster, outline, or use another prewriting method.
Clustering is a way to list material found in a more visual, organized way, rather then scattered on a piece of notebook paper. Starting with a main idea or word in the middle, the writer can branch out, circling main topics and then more details. When it is finished, the cluster looks like a web with lines connecting each thought and idea. This method is also useful when searching for relationships between ideas. It can also aid the kinesthetic learner by allowing the student to create a more visual map of his thoughts. A kinesthetic learner is someone who learns through hands-on activities and motion as opposed to an auditory learner, who learns best through listening. He could even go a step further and put each thought on a note card or just cut them out of the paper and play around with them until they are arranged the way he wants them. Out of the students who mentioned clustering as one method he has tried, said it worked for him and two others said it did not help.
Outlining is another way to organize what has been found. It may be the step that brings the writer closest to actually writing the paper. Here the writer can put thoughts, ideas, and any other information in the order he or she wants them to appear in the paper. Outlining can also help make sure all thoughts match topic sentences and all topic sentences match the thesis. If the writer can catch any mistakes before he or she begins writing, the better the paper will be when revising. According to the survey, most students have at least tried outlining and four specifically said it works for them. Here is an example of what an outline might look like:
I. Main Point
A. Supporting detail
1. Specific detail
a. Specific detail
b. Specific detail
2. Specific detail
B. Supporting detail
1. Specific detail
a. Specific detail
b. Specific detail
2. Specific detail
II. Main point…(South).
One interesting encounter I had was with a student in my fellowed class. (As a Writing Fellow at MCCC, we each have a non-English class to tutor and help those students with papers from that class.) She was a non-traditional student and had not written a college paper in over twenty-five years. On our first visit, she was frustrated due to this time gap. It was apparent she had done her research, but she did not know where to begin writing the paper. We spent most of our one hour session talking about the different prewriting methods, ways to organize her research, and what order might be best. On our second visit, her paper was written and well organized. The methods that worked for her were clustering and outlining.
Three major steps you can take when preparing to write a paper are “explore the problem”, “make your goals operational”, and “generate some ideas” (Purdue). When you explore, you want to look at your audience, your purpose, and what image you want to portray through your writing. Remember you are exploring the problem, not your topic. The research is done at a different time. To make your goals operational, or work, you want to look at how you can accomplish your purpose and if you can make a plan of attack. Prewriting comes into play in the generating step. This is where you can brainstorm, discuss your thoughts, or ask questions. Some examples of questions you could ask are who, what, when, where, why, and how. These are known as journalistic questions (Purdue). They are also part of a prewriting method called questioning. The goal of questioning is to find answers that are not just yes or no.
Toby Fulwiler, who has written several books about writing, says when you prewrite, “in the long run, your writing will go better, be more directed, purposeful, and efficient” (17). Writing is like building a house. You cannot pick out the individual items needed from a giant heap of material. It takes too long. You need a plan. Each type of material could be considered a different method of prewriting. The lumber could be clustering, the windows brainstorming, and even the blueprint could be considered the outline. For some people, a combination of methods benefits them the most. Either way, their paper generally gains strength from prewriting. It allows students to organize their thoughts and research. Without prewriting, it is possible the student may go crazy trying to remember all the information while he, or she, is building the house. Without order, his house will end up with a door as a skylight.
Fulwiler, Toby. College Writing: A Personal Approach to Academic Writing. Portsmouth: Boynton, 2002.
Purdue University Online Writing Lab. “Planning (Invention).” 15 Nov. 2004 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
Prewriting is a very important part of the writing process (Savage 1). There are specific activities that can be done to facilitate prewriting, such as freewriting, looping, brainstorming, and cubing. When people begin the writing process, prewriting activities often conjure memories of forced journal writing in middle school and group brainstorming in high school. Unfortunately, perhaps due to traumatic grade school experiences, many students seem to shy away from prewriting. To hear some students describe prewriting, they believe it to be synonymous with “elementary” or “unskilled.” Fortunately, there is a far less structured activity many people take part in and are not even aware they are prewriting—discussion. Discussion lacks seemingly elementary aspects of diagrams and charts (no drawing!) and includes the sophistication of including another person in the topic at hand.
Another Writing Fellow and I were asked to conduct a two-part process with the students from our fellowed class that involved a planning, organizing, and prewriting session and then a regular first draft session. I was extremely excited about the prospect of working with students in a two-part process; it was a chance to see what students did with the work we did together. About half of the class scheduled appointments for the next week, and though the first three students did not come to their appointments, the next five did come prepared to do something. Most students were not sure what we were supposed to be doing, but they came with their notes in hand nonetheless.
The students were assigned to observe something in their everyday lives and compare it to a similar ritual or habit in another culture. To begin their first organizing, planning, and prewriting session, I wanted them to tell me about their topics. Not the assignment, but their personal observations. We then moved on to how their observations possibly related to another culture. I got the impression that their professor did not explain the assignment very well, both process and purpose, because the majority of students did not know how to relate their observations to another culture. We discussed various aspects of “culture,” such as familial relations, economic status, and gender divisions. All the students left with a list of possibilities and hopeful attitudes. I left looking forward to our next sessions.
Their instructor gave us our schedules for the second round of appointments and I was enthusiastic to see how many students signed up to meet with me, many of them being from the first round of sessions. I was really looking forward to seeing what they did after our first meetings. Then the day came for most of the sessions and one student showed up.
The one student I saw that day, Jason, had attended a prewriting session two weeks prior to our second session and had been enthusiastic about his topic. We actually ended up going about twenty minutes over the normal half-hour for his prewriting appointment. After going over his first draft, it was evident his first session was useful by how he incorporated what we had discussed into his draft. We then talked a little bit about some of the other student’s lack of attendance at their scheduled sessions. According to Jason, he was surprised people were not coming to their sessions because 1) it was required and 2) it was helpful.
Two days later, the other student who came to her session also shed some light on what the other students were saying about their first tutoring sessions. According to Quinisha, who had not attended a prewriting session due to “scheduling conflicts,” many students felt the first session to be pointless thus rendering the second session a waste of time as well. Though she qualified she had heard this from students who had visited the other tutor assigned to their class, I imagine the students I saw had similar attitudes or they would have come back.
I was incredibly disappointed at the minimal turnout for the second sessions. One issue that may have affected the students’ attendance is their professor, who shall remain nameless. He is a first-year, full-time instructor working totally from another professor’s syllabus and does not appear to have his bearings in Monroe County or at Monroe County Community College. From what students have said, he usually gives the impression of being nervous, insecure, and a bit of a pushover. I personally heard him change the first session from mandatory to optional upon a spontaneous onslaught of student complaints. He also grumbled off students’ comments about difficulty scheduling two sessions with “Well, this is a night class and it might be kinda tough for them…” and then trailed off to what might be construed as him reasoning away their second session to himself. The only thing he seemed sure about was his lack of enthusiasm toward the writing process.
It is unfortunate students did not feel their second appointment would be worthwhile to attend. There are many potential reasons and excuses they did not come again; maybe there actually was a mass of scheduling conflicts, or the first session just did not live up to their expectations, or it is even possible that they just forgot. It would be interesting to do a cumulative survey of students who do not attend both fellowed class and regularly scheduled appointments. I discussed the attendance issue with Jack Woltmann, an experienced professor at MCCC, and he had this to offer, “Students often have the best intentions of showing up, but somehow something more important comes up. Kids, doing the shopping for the week, spouses—the reasons are endless and it doesn’t seem like anything is going to change anytime soon.” Based on my own experiences in the MCCC Writing Center, the comments of Professor Woltmann, and the abundant number of previous Theory-to-Practice papers about students not attending conferences, I can only conclude that it is best to get the most out of students while they are there and pray they show up again.
Quinisha, Simmons, Personal Inteview. 3 Dec. 2004.
Savage, John. “The Writing Process: Helping Students Make Decisions.” EPS Update. Nov. 2002. <www.epsbooks.com>.
Smelter, Justin. Personal Interview. 2 Dec. 2004.
Woltmann, Jack, Personal Interview. 20 Dec. 2004.