|THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS
When students walk into the MCCC Writing Center, many different thoughts and emotions flow through them. They are nervous because a person they have not met has been appointed to rip apart the paper they wrote ten minutes before they walked out the door. They think that going to a writing fellow, unless they receive an extension or extra credit, is a sign that they don't know how to write. They are not comfortable. In The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Leigh Ryan makes it clear that helping the writer overcome the fear of coming to a writing tutor is one of the principle responsibilities of a writing tutor (14). Students who come to the writing center many times and deal with the same writing tutor are more comfortable working to improve their papers than they would be if they saw a different writing tutor each time they came to the writing center. By examining the tutoring relationships with two students who used the writing center, the progress in their writings due to working with the same writing tutor on more than one occasion will be evident. It is also beneficial for writing tutors to work with the same student more than once because it allows the tutor to know what to expect before the conference starts.
The first student who came back to the writing center to see me did not have a problem with writing a three-hundred-page research paper or an exhaustive analysis of some obscure piece of literature. She simply wanted some help putting her ideas down in a journal entry that her speech professor seemed to assign about every two weeks. The reason that she bothered coming to a writing tutor in the first place was that her professor offered to the entire class a one week extension on the assignment if they saw a writing fellow for assistance. The time that she normally came to see me was an hour before the extension had reached its expiration. To make her feel more comfortable, I disclosed to her that I have a crippling tendency to procrastinate when it comes to completing assignments. That seemed to put her a little more at ease.
The first session went quite well. Though she was slightly reserved and perhaps shy, we discussed how to expand on some of the ideas in her paper to keep from hanging the reader on bits of information that do not mean anything until they are explained. She became more and more comfortable as the session progressed, willing to work with a person she barely knew to make improvements on her paper. The next conference was more productive than the first; her paper was greatly improved, and more importantly, she was much more comfortable sharing her ideas about her paper than she had been in the previous session.
Her third paper needed a massive number of corrections having to do with word choice and tone. She arrived late, so we were pressed for time. Because this was not our first conference together, we were able to skip the introductions, limit personal conversations to the time it took to walk across the writing center and sit down, and immediately start work on her paper. This would not have been possible if this had been our first time working together. By this time, we started to understand the other person's personality, and it became easier to make completely honest suggestions and know what she was trying to pass on to the reader without asking her purpose beforehand.
The fourth and final session with this student showed much improvement in comparison with her first assignment; her ideas were developed, and her terms were defined in her writing. She was still having trouble with using slang and contractions in her writing, but her paper showed that she was comfortable and confident writing her paper. She had more opinions regarding the content of her paper and she would now correct her paper as she read it to me, something she did not do at the beginning of our tutoring contact. This may not have resulted if she had gone to a different writing tutor each time she visited the writing center.
My second experience with a repeat tutee was with a student who had to write video review for her history class. She was having trouble with MLA format for her works cited page and parenthetical citations. She admitted that she really did not know what she was doing in that aspect of her paper. I assisted her with that and with some of the key terms in her paper that were not explained adequately; and by the end of the session, she was beginning to feel more comfortable expressing her own ideas on the paper. She was still slightly withdrawn, but this could be attributed to her shyness. The second session dealt with many of the same things that the first conference did. Some of the MLA guidelines needed to be clarified, and other technical problems such as underlining the title of the video in the text of her paper and defining some terms that needed to be addressed. As she became comfortable working with me on her paper, she became vocal about what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. The familiarity with the tutor that she began to feel helped move the session along more than the prodding of an exhausted writing tutor ever could on its own.
Working with a student more than once on a type of assignment also relieves some of the stress a writing tutor may have about working with a new person in the midst of a inundated schedule. While talking on the phone with Korinne Milks, a writing fellow who has also had return visitors to the writing center, we discussed her experience with a woman who needed help finding credible sources. It was good to know what she was working on when she came back, Korinne said, because I knew what to expect. When I see that my appointment is someone I already know, I tend to relax a little and not worry about what kind of paper it is or if the next person I meet with will be a difficult tutoring experience. In this one point, the writing tutor is exactly similar to the writing tutee: when relaxed and confident, one is more likely to do a good job; when anxious and uncomfortable, one is more likely to do a poor job.
As a writing tutor there are many instances where a person who has been tutored will return to be helped by the same person, whether by appointment or by means of a fellowed class (writing tutors are assigned to individual courses at MCCC). These relationships are beneficial to the student and the tutor, because both become comfortable working with someone familiar. It helps to alleviate some of the stress inherent in the tutoring process and allows those involved to improve the quality of the paper. Instead of uneasiness, there is a feeling of trust that aids in the writing of good papers and developing good writers.
Milks, Korinne. Telephone interview. 23 Apr. 2001.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: St. Martin's, 1998.
Writing tutors working in the Writing Center at MCCC, strive to address students' writing concerns with instruction and information about various writing strategies. The main purpose of writing tutors in the Writing Center is to direct students in learning and developing the writing process, which will enable them to become better writers. The tutor directs students on making positive changes to their writing approach, and offers constructive advice in helping students in ways they produce writing (Ryan 7). Tutors will most often work with students individually in the Writing Center by appointment or by a walk-in basis. In an individual tutoring session, a student will receive a personalized consultation in regards to his or her writing concerns. In other instances, tutors may help students in group tutoring sessions in the form of a mini-session, or in an informal pre-write session, when they will instruct or direct several students at one time about various writing strategies. There are distinguishing characteristics that are unique to each type of tutoring, but there are similarities in both types of tutoring sessions as well. In both, individual and group tutoring sessions, the tutors' objectives are to instruct and inform students about the writing process and to help them develop better writing skills.
In an individual, or dyadic, tutoring session a student desiring assistance from a tutor in the Writing Center would make an appointment, or walk-in in search of the first available tutor to address her writing concerns. The session begins with the tutor introducing herself to the student; they then exchange pleasantries and begin to establish rapport immediately as the session begins (Ryan 14). The tutor listens to the student as she discusses her writing concerns. The tutor then will ask any necessary questions about the student's assignment or actual paper that she has brought with her to the appointment. The student's active participation is a necessary and vital aspect of the individual tutoring session. The student's participation is crucial to the tutor in diagnosing the student's writing weaknesses. Once the tutor gains the necessary information from the student, then she will know what type of writing strategies and skills will be necessary for the student to use for that particular assignment. In this type of one-on-one tutoring session, the appointment will usually last for thirty minutes, and tutors can use three effective tools to determine the student's writing needs. These tools are active listening, facilitating by responding as a reader, and silence and wait time to allow a writer time to think (Ryan 16). These tools enable the tutor to learn specifically where the student needs the most help. The student may have high order or low order concerns, and often the student may have both high and low order problems to address. From this information, the tutor will know how to direct the student through the writing process to help the student work with a variety of writing techniques.
In a pre-write group session, a tutor may meet with several students at a time to discuss prewriting topics or approaches to finding topics, and various pre-write strategies students can use as they begin the writing process. As a junior tutor and a student at MCCC, I had an opportunity to participate as a student in a pre-write session with a senior tutor, Dot Stacy. As Dot directed the pre-write session, she spoke with the group (five students), and discussed ideas about topics that we had for our history research papers. She made suggestions, and gave us examples of topic choices. Dot encouraged us to be careful about choosing topics that are too broad or too narrow, and she directed us in how we should think about presenting our topic. The session was quick, casual, and highly successful; and when we departed from the Writing Center, we knew how to begin researching a topic, and how to develop a theme that would work for our research papers. Dot Stacy performed not only a tutor, but as a group leader as she served as a facilitator among the students.
This type of group session demonstrates how a tutor can provide a fast and effective learning opportunity for several students at one time. The information could have been explained to each student individually, but this pre-write session saved time for the students and the tutor. And most of all it allowed for mutual questions and shared ideas that benefited each student in addressing their concerns. This type of collaborative learning exercise serves a number of educational ends, and the use of peer groups are particularly successful in helping professors meet their goals in the classroom (Using Peer Groups par. 2).
In addition to pre-write sessions, MCCC tutors work on collaborative workshops, referred to as mini-sessions. Mini-session workshops are organized instructional opportunities in which tutors plan topic discussions about the writing process, and develop a group presentation to present in the form of a small group lecture atmosphere. According to MCCC's Senior Writing Tutor, Rhonda Bach, a mini-session is scheduled for one hour, and directed by three tutors, each presenting information about the writing process. Rhonda feels that the mini-sessions are highly beneficial to students, and that the college instructors should encourage students to attend writing workshops by offering incentive points. However, mini-session workshops are open to all MCCC students who wish to attend, and they are advertised on the Internet and in the hallways of the college for several weeks beforehand. The students who attend the mini-session will learn step-by-step instructions and strategies for writing various papers assigned by instructors at the college. Each of the three tutors is responsible for gathering data, using various methods and media, and creating a dialogue to demonstrate a selected topic at the mini-session. The tutors will encourage students to ask questions, and the tutors will work collaboratively in answering the students' questions. The mini-sessions can be less beneficial to students who tend to be more introverted and prefer not to speak out in front of groups, but Rhonda feels that they will gain information from the session and will be more apt to schedule an individual appointment with a tutor in the Writing Center later.
Mini-sessions are a positive way for tutors to demonstrate what a writing tutor does in order to teach writing strategies and the writing process to fellow students at the college. Collaborative workshops, such as a mini-session, allow for student discussion, which enables students to ask specific questions about their own personal concerns about writing for specific types of assignments required by their instructors (Using Peer Groups. par.14).
Whether, in group tutoring or individual tutoring sessions, writing tutors serve their fellow peers in assisting them in becoming better writers. Writing tutors work to assist and inform students individually or in small groups about various aspects of the writing process. Tutors need to keep open communication with students in group sessions; however, they should encourage students to follow up one-on-one in the Writing Center for more personalized instruction and for discussion of individual concerns. The goal of writing tutors at MCCC, is to make the students we work with better writers by making changes in the way they produce writing (Ryan 7). For this reason, writing tutors at MCCC strive to find ways in which they can provide a variety of approaches in assisting students with writing concerns.
Bach, Rhonda. Writing Center Interview. 20 April 2001.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: St. Martin's, 1998.
Stacy, Dot. Writing Center Interview. 12 March 2001.
Using Peer Groups. Composition Center. 22 April 2001 <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~compose/faculty/methods/
According to Randy Daniels, Director of Admissions at MCCC, "the majority of students in a single age bracket starting their freshman year in the fall of 2000 were traditional students under 21." They had the highest percentage of any of the age brackets at 42 percent. Traditional students are students who continue their education right after high school. The non-traditional studentanyone 21 and older taking a break, whether short or long, between high school and collegein separate age groupings had smaller percentages. However if all the age brackets are added together to give the total percentage of non-traditional students, non-traditional students become the majority of students with 58%. Based partly on their age, students often act differently during a tutoring session. Establishing methods that will benefit a specific group of students is a step towards understanding tutees. I contrasted traditional students with non-traditional students. This contrasting of non-traditional students and traditional students is based on my observation of the tutees' attitudes during tutoring sessions. My experience suggests that non-traditional students are more accepting and appreciative of my suggestions than are traditional students. Recognizing the differences in their attitudes, I tried similar approaches with both kinds of students to see what works best with a particular group of students. The traditional student does not take the tutorials as serious as the NTS. The NTS is also more appreciative of my suggestions.
At first, the thought had not occurred to me that traditional students (TS) would act differently than non-traditional students (NTS) in a tutoring session. My experiences, however, suggest they do. My appointments with TS followed very similar occurrences. As Rosenthal states NTS and TS would differ in their tendencies to initiate one-to-one interactions (par. 5). This contributes to the question of why a student goes to the Writing Center. The differences in the reasons for initiation have to do with paper grades and receiving genuine help with writing. I would first find out that the TS were at the session because either they received extra credit for coming or because their teachers would drop points if they did not. I have never had a TS come to a session for his/her own benefit. It was always because of the teacher. In all my sessions with TS, I felt as if I was struggling just to keep their attention. They were very distracted and unfocused, sometimes even looking around the Writing Center. Their behaviors made it difficult for me to sustain my own attention. There were times when they seemed to be paying attention because they were uttering words like uh-huh or yeah, but these were just fill-ins. There was not much participation on their part either. I felt that when they left, they left just as they had come in: needing help. Just the opposite, NTS are very active in the conversation, taking notes or adding their own comments or questions. Every NTS I have tutored has been to the Writing Center for him or herself, not because it was extra credit or because his or her grade would drop.
I have determined through my own experiences that to attain focused attention from a TS, I must be more professional and strict in my manner. I have often tried being casual and friendly with TS, but they do not take the session or my comments seriously. This seems to be partly because the TS is my peer. Ashley Bradford, a Writing Fellow who is a TS as I am, has had similar problems with tutees who are TS. She believes once the tutees realize that their tutor is a peer, their expectations are lower. I asked NTS Cathy Furnari, who is also a Writing Fellow, if she has had any similar problems that Ashley or I have had, and she said that she has not. This might indicate that the TS think that because I am their peer I will allow things to slip by. This is when I am forced to become more structured and let them know I do not intend to waste any time. The NTS is a different case. I feel being more casual toward the NTS is the best way to go about a session. The NTS needs a friendlier environment to thrive in because he or she feels more comfortable and open if things are casual. As Cathy Furnari says, NTS have more insecurities than TS do. The method I use with NTS helps to reassure them that their insecurities are normal. When I take a stricter approach with NTS, they are not as willing to share their problems because they feel inferior and that no one else has similar problems.
There were four cases that I examined, two NTS and two TS. During one of my first sessions with a TS, I was very friendly and casual. This proved to be a mistake. I could tell she did not want to be at the appointment. She told me her teacher said she had to come. I tried joking around a bit to loosen her up, but she mistook that for me not taking the session seriously. I asked what she thought some of her difficulties were, and she said she did not have any. So I started to make some suggestions, and all the feedback I received from her was uh-huh. After the session, I wandered why she behaved the way she did. It was not until another appointment with a NTS that I realized it was the manner in which I conducted the session. I did not let the last session with the TS bother me, so I acted friendly and casual with the NTS. This proved to be very helpful for her. Smiling, we greeted each other and carried on the session in a very easygoing fashion. She explained she needed help and what she needed help with. Though neither of us was strictly professional with the session, she took what I said seriously. She was always willing to accept my suggestions, even if she did not agree with them.
My next session with a TS was more productive because I chose to perform in a more professional manner, somewhere in the middle of being a professor and a tutor. The tutee arrived 15 minutes late. She somewhat disregarded the fact that I scheduled a half an hour of my time. I felt she was at the appointment just to secure the magic piece of paper (writing fellow report form) that only Writing Fellows can hand out. She was actually joking around, but I cut that short. I immediately began discussing points in her paper that needed revising, and there was no longer a smile on my face. She then started looking at me, asking questions, making comments, and even writing suggestions on her paper. It was a total transformation on her part. She knew I planned to accomplish something, and I was not going to joke around. I really felt there was progress. So far, my theory was proving true for me.
Next I decided to flip around my approach with the NTS. I had already determined that being casual and laid back was better for the NTS, but I felt it would be best to test the strict and professional approach on the NTS as well. As I predicted, it did not work too well. She became quiet and withdrawn, and she no longer asked questions or made comments. She just would nod her head in agreement with whatever I said. I did not feel she gained any insight.
The traditional and the non-traditional students have very different ways of thinking and acting. This was evident in their sessions with me. Using the wrong method could possibly discourage the tutee from coming back to the Writing Center. One approach may not work with the TS, whereas it might work with the NTS, or vice versa. Once these methods are discovered and implemented, the students will benefit much more. For me, being more professional and strict with the TS worked; on the other hand, being friendly and casual with the NTS was a success as well. Maybe these are not the best approaches to these tutoring difficulties, but they are definitely worth a try. They worked for me.
Bradford, Ashley. Personal Interview. 19 April 2001.
Furnari, Cathy. Personal Interview. 20 April 2001.
Rosenthal, Gary T., Earl J. Folse, and Nancy W. Alleman. The One-to-one Survey: Traditional versus Non-traditional
It is easy for Writing Fellows to forget that they are peer tutors instead of teachers and professors. The tutors sometimes believe that they have all of the answers, considering the rigorous training and time spent on their development. Most of the time, the tutor has the answer to many of the questions and concerns that students bring to the Writing Center. The easiest and most time-effective process to solve these dilemmas is to simply answer the question for the student and let the tutor go about his or her business thereafter. However, this presents a problem for both the student and the tutor. How does the tutor know that the student has learned anything from the conference? How does the student know that he or she really understands the answer well enough for application on similar problems? To combat this problem, many professors and tutors have adapted the Socratic method of teaching to ensure that learning has taken place. Writing tutors who teach by the Socratic method ensure that students understand answers to their questions because the students are held accountable for developing the answers with the Writing Fellow.
According to Professor Michael Seiferth of Palo Alto College, the Socratic method is a style of teaching in which the students are only given questions, not answers. (Seiferth par. 1) A problem is posed, and the tutor asks the pupil for a possible hypothesis as a solution. The hypothesis is then probed by further questioning to look for loopholes and errors, a process that possibly leads towards other conclusions. Eventually, the student may arrive at an answer that will fit the parameters of the problem, although other students may find themselves at a stalemate or in a circular argument. While the method may not answer all questions, it will at least promote a greater understanding of the problem through logical deduction and shared discussion. Every fact, concept, assumption and contribution from the student is questioned, promoting further development of ideas until the requirements are fulfilled. (Seiferth par. 4) The student is responsible for most of the work in these scenarios, while the tutor's role is to question the answers.
However, Seiferth points out guidelines that the tutor needs to adhere in order for the Socratic method to work. The most important rule is for the tutor to keep the discussion focused, so that relevant information remains consistent with the problem. (Seiferth par. 6) It is the tutor's responsibility to stimulate the discussion with constant questioning and criticism. Occasionally, the tutor needs to summarize the main points of the discussion to allow the student to backtrack and explore untapped paths. Finally, the tutor must be sure to keep the conversation intellectually based, preventing the discussion from diverting into a wild tangent. (Seiferth par. 6)
The Socratic method is used extensively at law schools throughout the country to explore difficult legal and judicial concepts. At the law school in the University of Chicago, Professor Elizabeth Garrett uses the method to encourage development of the simplest legal questions. Since lawyers must be skilled in the ability to reason, the Socratic teachings will promote deeper thinking that can be used in the courtroom. (Garrett par. 2) Law professors cannot provide students with certain answers, says Professor Garrett, but we can help develop reasoning skills that lawyers can apply. (Garrett par. 2)
Writers, like lawyers, also need to develop their reason and ideas towards the widest boundaries possible. The lack of idea development and content was probably the foremost problem with students I have met with in the Writing Center. This was especially true of my Fellowed Class, where the students were required to produce an evaluation of a documentary film dealing with an event in American history. The professor required the students to explain the good and bad aspects of the movie in detail, following it up with strategies that could have made the documentary better. The most common practice for students to go about this was to give a detailed summary of the movie, totally neglecting any personal thoughts and opinions. When I questioned why students only gave a summary for a movie evaluation, they consistently replied that they did not know what to say.
Dan, one of my students in that Fellowed class, was working on a paper that involved the evolution of game shows on American television. He had seen the documentary and had taken excellent notes on it, but he was unsure of how to produce an actual evaluation of it. I instigated the discussion with a simple question, inquiring if he thought the overall presentation was good or bad. He had told me that the movie was actually quite interesting, and I asked him why it was interesting. At this point, he seemed rather speechless as to how he should go about answering this, so I moved to break down the question into clauses to draw smaller responses. I moved to ask what his favorite scene of the documentary was, and his interest was obviously sparked when he was describing a particular show that was manipulated by the networks. Soon after, I probed the scene for details about people, objects and personal opinions. A difficult question was slowly being answered by a succession of simple questions.
I had instructed Dan to write the highlights of these responses down as I was asking questions, for these were becoming the core of the paper. The conversation was leading toward contemporary issues, such as the manipulation of the game show Survivor, a sign that he was finally thinking outside of the movie. One by one, we had covered all of the points on the assignment sheet until Dan finally had thoughtful ideas to cover the aspects of the movie evaluation. The Socratic method proved successful in this conference, and all I had done was ask questions that were related to the previous response. By logically reasoning through the assignment guidelines, Dan and I were able to conquer the notorious writer's block.
The Socratic method is often used to develop vague ideas and opinions, but it can also be used to teach a subject that is far more mechanical in nature. Rich Garlikov conducted an experiment on a 3rd grade classroom in a suburban school where he would teach the class how to do binary math through Socratic teaching. He began by drawing the number ten on a chalkboard, and proceeded to ask questions about the number. Through the student's responses, he moved on to talk about number grouping and the relationships between the number 1 and the number 0. In a span of twenty-five minutes, the students understood the basic principles of binary language and all that Garlikov did was ask questions. Although this brief lesson only scratched the surface, the students were quite stimulated from the lesson and were talking about it the rest of the day. This active student participation not only was more effective than lecturing, but it also worked to battle apathy in the classroom. As long as the right questions are asked in the correct sequence, the student should have no difficulty following the logical steps of the lesson (Garlikov, My View par. 7).
A young woman, Jodie, came to the Writing Center inquiring how to write an argument paper. I retorted her question with another question: What do you expect out of an argument paper? She told me that it should be a paper dealing with her views on the particular subject. I followed up by asking if there should be any regard for the other side of the argument. She had answered no, so I restated the question by stating if the argument paper should acknowledge the weaknesses on her side of the argument. When she also answered no to this question, I finally asked if her views of the argument are designed around the flaws of the other side of debate. When I received a positive response from this point, I proceeded to ask what tactics that she uses when making an argument. I continued to restate questions and move on from responses until we were following the logical path of thought that I was looking for. Since she was responsible for all of her answers, I knew that she must have a better grasp on the argument paper as opposed to a general lesson from my mouth.
The Socratic method gives the upper hand to the student during the conference, since he or she is responsible for all of the answers. It also demonstrates that the student knows more than he or she thought, and my role was only to facilitate the recollection of these ideas. This form of teaching tends to be time-consuming, but the lesson is more effective than a straight oral answer and there is less need for repetition in this learning environment. As long as the questions follow a logical stream of reason, the method should be quite effective when used correctly. Some of the most prestigious universities in the world employ this powerful tool in many of their classes, so there is historical proof that the Socratic method is a tried and true method of teaching. It requires practice of the tutor to master the art of questioning, but the results should be worth the time invested into this venture.
Garlikov, Rick. The Socratic Method. 19 April 2001. <http://www.garlikov.com/Soc_Meth.html>.
Garrett, Elizabeth. The Socratic Method. University of Chicago Law School. U of Chicago. 19 April 2001. <http://www.law.uchicago.edu/prospective/headnotes/socratic.html>.
Seiferth, Michael S. Socratic Teaching. Institute Of Critical Thinking. Palo Alto College. 19 April 2001. <http://www.lonestar.texas.net/~mseifert/crit3.html>.
|Let Your Body Do the Talking
Erin A. Link
Body language is the unspoken communication that goes on in every face-to-face encounter with another human being. It tells you someone's true feelings towards you and how well your words are being received. Your ability to read and understand another person's body language can mean the difference between making a great impression or a very bad one. Moreover, leaving a lasting, good impression of yourself as well as the Writing Center means better business for the program. To be an effective tutor, I believe that certain body language must be practiced, because students who feel at ease and comfortable with their tutor are more likely to use the Writing Center in the future. I applied the theory of how body language affects a conference to four students. All of my subjects felt uncomfortable when I exhibited poor body language, and felt more comfortable and relaxed when I exhibited good body language. Body language is an important and often overlooked aspect of the tutoring session.
Subtle cues, such as smiling, making eye contact, uncrossing your arms, leaning forward in interest, and avoiding the temptation to doodle and drum on the table, can make a huge difference to a student. According to Beverly Lyon Clark, author of Talking About Writing: A Guide for Tutor and Teacher Conferences, if you are genuinely interested in helping the student, your gestures and expressions will be appropriate (132). Tutees respond better to tutors who are interested in what the tutees are telling them. In a personal interview conducted on April 17, 2001, with Senior Writing Fellow Greta Schartner, she stated that body language absolutely plays an important role in tutoring. Greta went on to note, If a tutor seems indifferent, the already uncomfortable student will become more uncomfortable (Schartner, question 1). Tutees are more likely to come back to the Writing Center if they feel comfortable.
The type of experiment I performed was extremely risky. My plan was to divide the session into two halves with me exhibiting poor body language in the first half and good body language in the second half. This was tricky because I did not want the student to stand up and walk out on the session halfway through. I needed to make sure that the tutee still received the help he or she came had requested. According to Leigh Ryan, author of The Bedford Guide For Writing Tutors, good body language consists of eye contact, leaning slightly forward while maintaining good posture, placing both feet on the floor, and nodding or smiling in agreement with the tutee (18). These friendly gestures help to ease the tutee while also expressing interest and concern. During the first half of the session, I exhibited none of these gestures. I sat back and slouched in my chair, crossed my arms in front of me, bounced my leg up and down, made no eye contact, and did not smile. I hoped, for my experiment's sake, that the tutee would feel uncomfortable and anxious. During the last half of the session, I exhibited good body language. I sat forward in my chair, made eye contact, smiled, and nodded my head in acknowledgment. In this half of the conference, I hoped that the tutee would feel comfortable and at ease. After each conference, I explained to the tutees that I was conducting an experiment (without telling them what it was about) and asked them if they would be willing to answer a couple of questions. Luckily, they all said yes. So, the questions I asked them were: How did you feel at the beginning of the conference, and why? and How did you feel at the end of the conference, and why? The results were very interesting.
My first subject, John, was a student in my fellowed class. I met with him in a small computer room just off the welding classroom, and the conference lasted only about ten minutes. During the first five minutes, I exhibited the poor body language previously described. I also decided to occasionally tap my pen on the table (which I find irritating). The last five minutes, however, I switched to using the above-mentioned good body language. After the session ended, I asked John my questions and his answers supported my theory. He said that in the first half, he wondered why I was not smiling and he thought I was in a bad mood. He figured I was angry about something and did not want to be there. I concluded that John was uncomfortable. When asked about the second half, he said I seemed more like myself because I was always friendly when I would come into the class. He saw me once a week in the classroom, so he already knew what my demeanor was. He explained that he felt better sitting next to me than he did before. This time, I concluded that John was comfortable. My first trial was a success because it supported my theory of how body language directly affects the outcome of a tutoring conference.
Jack, my second subject, was also a student in my fellowed class. The place and length of the conference was the same as with my first subject. I performed the experiment in the same fashion as before, with the pen tapping and all. When the session ended, I asked my prepared questions. Not surprisingly, in the first half of the session, Jack said that he had wanted it to end. He said I seemed upset and irritable. He figured that his lab report was really bad and that I was wasting my time looking at it. When asked how he felt in the first half of the session, Jack told me that he felt uncomfortable. In the second half, he said he felt confused but better about my attitude change. He said that he was more relaxed than before. When asked about the second half, Jack said he felt more comfortable. This was yet another success in my experiment.
After using two of my fellowed class students in the experiment, I decided to include two tutees from the Writing Center. Since my fellowed class students knew my personality prior to the experiment, I was unsure as to whether that played a role in the outcome of my trials. I was anxious to note any changes in the outcome with the two tutees who made appointments.
The first tutee with an appointment was Karen. Since she was the first female that I conducted the experiment on, I was careful to be especially observant of her reactions. I smiled at her when I introduced myself, but did not smile again until halfway through the session. I noticed that she was already not in a very good mood. During the first fifteen minutes of our thirty-minute session, I exhibited the same poor body language as in the previous two sessions, with the exception of the pen tapping. I noted that Karen was becoming agitated. She became increasingly restless and acted as if she did not want to be there. After fifteen minutes, I began using good body language. Karen became more at ease and friendly. Her mood seemed to change from bad to relatively good. I asked Karen if she felt comfortable or uncomfortable after the first half of the conference, and she said she felt uncomfortable. Then, I asked her how she felt after the second half of the conference, and she said she felt more comfortable. My third trial of how body language directly affects a tutoring session was a success.
The second tutee that scheduled an appointment, Brian, was in the remedial English class. I had to be especially careful with the experiment because I wanted to make sure that I helped him with his writing problems. When I met Brian, I shook his hand but did not smile. In addition, during the session, I sat back in my chair, crossed my arms in front of me, bounced my leg up and down, and made no eye contact. I continued this for the first fifteen minutes and noticed his anxiousness. I then switched to exhibiting good body language for the last half of the session. I almost immediately sensed a change in his attitude toward me. It was obvious to me that during the first half of the session when I was exhibiting poor body language, Brian felt uncomfortable, and during the second half of the session when I was exhibiting good body language, Brian felt more comfortable. After asking him the two questions about how he felt during the first half of the session and the second half of the session, my instincts proved correct. I realized that my experiment had been a success with all four of my subjects.
Body language, although oftentimes overlooked, is absolutely one of the most important variables used to determine whether a tutoring session is successful or unsuccessful. In my experiment on how body language affects the tutoring session, 100 percent of my subjects supported my theory. The three males and one female, who I conducted my experiment on, felt uncomfortable when I exhibited poor body language during the tutoring session, but felt comfortable when I exhibited good body language. With a little knowledge and understanding about body language, the outcome of almost every tutoring session can greatly improve. Writing Fellows can benefit from my experiment by realizing that the cues and signals they send off, whether conscious or subconscious, allow the tutees to understand the Writing Fellows' attitudes toward them, regardless of what the Writing Fellows might say. To ensure better business for the Writing Center and conduct successful tutoring sessions, our Writing Fellows must provide the tutees with 100 percent of their undivided attention, and make sure the tutees are aware of it.
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing: A Guide for Tutor and Teacher Conferences. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1985.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide For Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Schartner, Greta. Personal interview. 17 April 2001.
Mapping is a technique used by writers to assist them in preparing organized paragraphs. Paragraph unity is one of the most important parts of the revision process. It helps the writer keep the reader's attention and understand what he or she is reading. The purpose of writing is to start, proceed, and arrive without going in circles. Mapping achieves this purpose. The mapping technique is like a blueprint of words on a piece of paper. Mapping is one of the most significant ways to help a writer to have paragraph unity, organization, fun, and involvement in the process. In addition, kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners can all improve their writing when they map their papers.
Mapping helps writers locate their topic sentences and focus all sentences thereafter. To begin mapping the writer needs two things: highlighters of all colors and a typed copy of his or her paper. Having a typed copy of the paper is easier than a handwritten paper because it allows for easier reading and highlighting throughout the paper. The first step in mapping is to highlight the thesis statement in the paper one color. All paragraphs should follow the thesis statement. Your readers will expect an essay you write to be focused on a central idea, or thesis, to which all the essay's paragraphs, all its general statements and specific information, relate (Fowler and Aaron 30). After locating the thesis statement the next step is to highlight the topic sentence in the first paragraph one color and proceed with reading the rest of the paper looking for sentences that relate to that one topic sentence. Following this step, by using all the colors through the rest of the paper will allow writers to locate all misplaced sentences. The key to this technique is getting all the paragraphs to represent one color of the paper. If sentences are out of color order, then the writer needs to cut that sentence out and place it with the color it belongs. For example, if the writer has a yellow paragraph with a blue line in the center, he or she should move the blue line to the blue paragraph. The diagrams below (fig. 1 and fig. 2) are examples from this essay on how to use this mapping technique. Figure 1 shows part of a paragraph not unified (the red text sentence is not in unity with the other parts of the paragraph), while figure 2 shows a paragraph that is in unity.
At the essay mini-session, I explained to students the technique of mapping and how to do it with their papers at home. On the way out, many of the students said they enjoyed the mini-session, and they especially loved learning about how to map their papers.
The next diagram is part of paragraph that is in unity:
Organizing a paper is the most difficult part of writing because coherency is important to keep the readers attention. When mapping, students should remember that it may take more than one time to reach complete paragraph unity. When I tested this technique in the Writing Center, I had two students who tried this technique with me. They both said that it was very helpful and that they would try it at home on their papers. I had each student fill out a survey. One student in particular said, It showed me how to combine little sentences into a bigger subject. She suggested to me that this technique can work well in the Writing Center and can help students resolve their paragraph unity problems.
Paragraph unity is just as important as the length or topic of the paper. Students come in to the Writing Center with paragraphs containing good ideas, but they are scattered throughout the paper. Some students have no problem writing a paragraph, but when they read it over it sounds choppy or mixed up and they cannot figure out how to fix it. As Writing Fellows, we try to help writers reach a point in their papers in which all the paragraphs are unified. As Toby Fulwiler, author of The Working Writer, states, Paragraphs are easiest to write and easiest to read when each one represents a single idea (300).
To organize a paragraph, first the writer needs to understand the structure of a paragraph. A book written by Lynn Troyka says that a paragraph is unified when all sentences clarify or help support the main idea (73). The main idea that Lynn Troyka identifies is the thesis statement. All paragraphs must follow the main idea or thesis. For example, if a writer is writing about Great Danes and then near the end he or she switches to Scottish Terriers, the reader is not going to know what the writer is actually writing about. Lynn Troyka also mentions that unity is a clear, logical relationship between the main idea of a paragraph and supporting evidence for that main idea (73). Authors who agree with Lynn Troyka are H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron, the authors of The Little Brown Handbook. Fowler and Aaron write, they will seek and appreciate paragraph unity, clear identification and clear elaboration of one idea and of that one idea only (75). The they that Fowler and Aaron write about are the readers. All readers like to read paragraphs that are easy to understand and focus on only one idea. Mapping allows the writer to reach that point for the readers, because mapping helps the writers place all of their paragraphs in unity.
In the Writing Center, mapping can also give the Writing Fellows a way to help kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic learners like to move around and do something with their hands. Mapping allows the Writing Fellow to involve the student in the tutoring process and give the student a great project. People who like to work hands-on enjoy the mapping process and it gives them a new way to create paragraph unity and have fun at the same time. For kinesthetic learners, Leigh Ryan, the author of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, states, As you read through papers or discuss ideas, ask students to do the writing, underlining, highlighting, or diagramming (47). Allowing the student to be creative and use their hands places the student at ease and will allow the tutor session to go much smoother.
As with kinesthetic learners, visual and auditory learners can also have fun using this mapping technique on their papers. Leigh Ryan also mentions visual and auditory learners in her book. Visual learners, like kinesthetic learners, like to see things written down, but visual learners do not need to be doing something to have a great session. Auditory learners are different from both the visual and kinesthetic because they would rather listen attentively and write down information when there is a break in discussion. Visual learners like to see something, auditory learners like to hear information, and kinesthetic learners like to touch something while in a tutor session (Ryan 46-47).
Most writers, after writing the first draft are probably bored with looking at a computer screen or piece of paper. This mapping technique will give them something different to view and add color to a boring piece of paper. Along with helping to unify paragraphs, mapping allows writers to have fun writing papers. Mapping allows both the Writing Fellow and the student to become involved in the tutor session. Mapping is not an English lesson, but is a fun exercise that student writers can do at home without having to come to the Writing Center, and it is fun to create a collage of colors and ideas using this technique.
Whether sitting in a tutoring session or riding in a car, students can use mapping on any paper at anytime As long as the writer has highlighters, this mapping technique can help writers develop paragraph unity and organization, and have fun at the same time. When the writer has trouble focusing on organization, mapping is the way to go.
Fowler, H. Ramsey and Jane E. Aaron. The Little, Brown Handbook. 8th ed. New York: Addison-Wesley Educ., 2001.
Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.
In the tutoring atmosphere, there are many important details that a tutor must observe. These details include physical atmosphere, non-verbal cues, tone; and, perhaps most important, the emphasis tutors place on a student's paper. When students come to the MCCC Writing Center, it is usually with the assumption and trust that the tutors they see know more about writing than they do. Because of this assumption and trust, the tutor must be careful about what is discussed in the conference and deliberate about the extent of discussion devoted to each problem area in a student's paper. Many students will listen intently to what a tutor says, believing the most discussed problem area to be the most important problem area. This theory is unquestionably true of e-mail tutoringwhatever the tutor writes the most about is perceived as the most important problem areabut it appears that the same is true of face-to-face conferences.
There are several things a tutor must be concerned with when tutoring other students; no one detail can affect the entire outcome of a conference. Physical atmosphere is important because it affects the student's level of comfort: A small, dark room may cause a student to feel intimidated or frightened, while a bright room with windows and comfortable chairs may cause the student to feel more at ease. Non-verbal cues are extremely important because they also affect the student's level of comfortsome students become very uncomfortable if the tutor sits too close to them; some feel distanced from the conference if the tutor sits opposite them. Non-verbal cues also play a role in the tutor's ability to involve the student in the conference. Observing a student's non-verbal behavior can help the tutors recognize which tutoring approach would be most effective for the students they are tutoring. Another important detail is the tone a tutor takes with a student. A tutor who uses a professional, unfriendly tone, may seem condescending to that student; a tutor who is too friendly may seem inappropriate to the student.
These details and others affect the tutoring atmosphere in a significant way. Another detail, perhaps less noticed among tutors, is the emphasis placed on a student's paper. Emphasis affects the student in a significant way; as tutors use different degrees of emphasis on certain problem areas, they guide the student in a subsequent directionwhether that direction is important or not.
In a small study conducted using my personal experiences in several tutoring situations, I found that the emphasis I placed on problem areas in a student's paper positively influenced what those students perceived as the most important problem area. Each student I tutored was given a short survey to complete after each conference. The survey asked the students five questions:
After our session, what do you think is the most important thing you need to work on?
What is the least important thing you need to work on?
What happened in our session that made you think the above is the most important thing you need to work on?
What happened to make you think the above is the least important thing?
What did I do or say to make you think these things?
During our conferences, I carefully emphasized some points over others, experimenting with the emphasis I placed on problem areas. In some cases I emphasized the lack of an introduction, in other cases I minimally discussed the lack of an introduction while emphasizing incorrect comma placement. In the majority of these conferences, students' responses supported the emphasis theory. One student, who had difficulty writing paragraphs, believed that his most important problem area was a need to be more specific with content in his paragraphs. The student believed the least important problem area to be his topic sentences. Though we discussed several areas during our conference, some more important than being specific, the student focused on what we discussed the most. As I explained a technique for writing paragraphs in an organized manner, I offered the student examples of specifics that would pertain to a topic sentence. This caused the student to focus on specifics in the paragraph, therefore making specifics the most important problem area.
Another student reaffirmed the theory of emphasis and its influence. Our conference focused on her review assignment and its problem areas. She had seen a Writing Fellow previously and had scheduled a second appointment with me. As we read her paper together, we discussed in detail her tendency to summarizea common hazard students face when writing reviews. I explained the difference between summarizing and reviewing, and compared summarizing to ruining a movie's plot for a friend. When telling a friend whether he or she should see the movie you just saw, you are careful not to ruin the story for your friend. You tell your friend why you think he or she should see the movie, and give examples of why you hold that opinion. You do not merely tell your friend the plot of the movie. Using this example, as well as others, focused the emphasis of our conference on the body of the student's paper, therefore leading her in a certain direction of thought. Following our discussion of summarizing and reviewing, we briefly discussed her introduction and conclusion; both were fairly well written, but in need of some improvement. When responding to the survey, she stated that the most important problem area was recognizing the difference between summarizing and reviewing. The student perceived her least important problem to be her introduction and conclusion.
In The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Leigh Ryan discusses e-mail tutoring and the affect of emphasis: As you write comments, remember that length grants emphasis (Ryan 58). In other words, the more a tutor discusses a particular problem, the more the student being tutored believes that problem to be important. Along with several other suggestions, Ryan discusses the idea that tutors control the guidance they offer by how they emphasize problem areas. If a tutor praises the wonderfully worded introduction of a student's paper in passing, following the praise by elaborating on minor mechanical details, the student's main focus will be centered on those minor mechanical details.
There are many important elements influencing every tutoring conference, whether a face-to-face conference or an e-mail conference. In a face-to-face conference, such details as atmosphere, body language, position, and tone all have an influence on the student and his or her later feelings about the conference. In the same way, tutors must be aware of the affects of emphasis; they must assume that the emphasis placed on problem areas in a student's paper plays an enormous role in the direction the student takes as he or she revises his or her paper.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Through my writing fellow experience I have had the opportunity to fellow many different students with varying academic backgrounds. I used this experience to conduct an observational study. This study helped me determine the different attitudes that exist between the various students that are tutored by writing fellows. The students in my study ranged from students in remedial English courses to students in introductory English courses, from psychology to history, and a variety of other courses as well. This wide variety of tutoring sessions has allowed me to form conclusions about differences in student attitudes; and although every student reacts differently when placed in a tutoring environment, I have found that the single most prevalent difference in attitudes exists between students who are required to see and tutor, and those who are not.
Fred, a student who was required to see me because he missed a class, was the first required student that I had ever fellowed. I remember sitting at my table patiently awaiting his arrival, and just when I had given up hope, Fred stumbled in slightly over fifteen minutes late. Although somewhat annoyed by his tardiness, I was still eager to help. I began my session with Fred just as I began every session; I kindly introduced myself and awaited his response, but a response never came. I continued filling out the top portion of the writing fellow report when Fred interrupted me to ask how long I thought I was going to be because he had plans. I told him that our sessions normally last a half-hour; Fred's response to this was one that I never saw coming. He said, Well, do you think that you could fix my paper in like ten minutes? I'm kinda in a hurry. I didn't know how to respond to his question, so I handed him a Learning Assistance Lab pamphlet and had him read the portion that explains what tutoring is. The pamphlet states, Tutoring may include guided study of the text and class notes, explanations of specific questions, practice problems, and reinforcement of skills or concepts. I explained to him that only he had the power to fix his paper, I was simply there to guide him to the goal. At first he did not seem to understand, but eventually he realized that I could give him suggestions, but he had to do the work himself.
Once he understood the concept of a writing fellow his attitude changed. Suddenly he was more interested in improving his paper, and for the remainder of my time with Fred he was attentive, helpful, and polite; he asked several very important questions and made several suggestions of his own. Fred may be a rare exception though, so what can a tutor do when they are faced with a student that refuses to participate in the session? Leigh Ryan suggests that tutors use active listening, facilitating by responding as a reader, and silence and wait time to allow a writer time to think (16). These tools are very effective in a normal tutoring session, but when dealing with a difficult student they may not always be as helpful. If these approaches do not work, it is important to ensure that the student is actively involved in the session. A tutor might have the student read his or her paper aloud, highlight portions they think need to be improved, or simply ask them questions about his or her paper that requires more than yes or no answers. For instance, when working with Fred I had him highlight his main points and all of the sentences that supported them. By keeping the student involved it is more likely that his or her attention will be on their paper; therefore, it is more likely that the session will be helpful. While tutoring a required student it is difficult to maintain his or her attention, but when tutoring a non-required student the exact opposite is true.
Alexus, a non-required student who came in to see me regarding personal concerns about her paper, was the best student that I have ever fellowed. Alexus was early for her appointment, but instead of sitting and waiting impatiently, she read over her notes while she waited for me to finish my previous session. I began my session with Alexus just as I had began my session with Fred, only this time I received a response and a smile in return. Alexus had to write a paper for her psychology class, and was having a lot of trouble because she had only taken one composition class. She brought in what she had started, and was ready to expand on her ideas. She handed me a poorly written outline with some ideas jotted down, but the ideas that she conveyed were very unclear. I suggested that we start over and begin by brainstorming. She showed much enthusiasm to start over, and during our brainstorming session she decided upon several new ideas. At this time our session was over, and I suggested that she come back for another appointment. Within a few weeks Alexus returned to work on her revision. In this session she was also very excited to improve her paper, and I was anxious to help. We worked on high order problems in her second session, which included paragraph unity and expansion of ideas. Alexus was very helpful in this session because she had specific questions and several suggestions. After Alexus turned in her paper she returned to tell me that she had received an 89%, and that she really wanted to thank me for all of my help. I have seen Alexus several more times since then and every time that I meet with her she is always eager to improve her writing.
In his book The Working Writer, Toby Fulwiler states, Tutoring points are those moments in one's life when something happens that causes the writer to change or grow in some large or small way - more than routine, less than spectacular - perhaps somewhere in between slices of life and profound insights (96). As a writing fellow I have made it my goal to bring the students that I fellow to a turning point in their writing. No matter if the student is like Fred who approached his tutoring experience with the attitude that he did not need help, or if they are like Alexus who acknowledged that she needed help; both students will be subjected to writing for the rest of their lives, and although the required student is more difficult to reach, he or she will be thankful for the help in the end.
Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 1999.
Learning Assistance Laboratory. Michigan; Monroe County Community College, 1998.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998.
As a writer, I found myself having trouble organizing my papers. As a tutor, I discovered that there are many people who share this problem. Therefore, I set out to find a solution. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors suggests that tutors Help writers explore options by mapping out how the paper might be organized. (Ryan 31). Using this suggestion and something I learned in class, I came up with a theory. It was my belief that if I taught my tutees a mapping technique, which involves using highlighter markers to color code ideas, the quality of their papers would improve. Although my sample was small, I feel that I have demonstrated this technique to be an effective method of organization.
My first tutoring session with a student named `Eric' afforded me the opportunity to test the above-mentioned theory. Eric needed help finding the problem with his paper. As he read his paper aloud, I realized that I could not follow what he was saying at all. I started to panic. I asked Eric to let me read the paper again when he finished. As I read, I realized that it was completely unorganized making it difficult to follow. It jumped from one idea to another, and then back again, quite frequently. I realized that if this paper were better organized, it would be good. I mentioned this to Eric, and he told me that organization had always been his biggest problem. I described the aforementioned mapping technique using the following example: If a person writes a paper about farm animals, when he finishes, he reads the paper over using highlighter markers to note each pertinent idea about each animal. For instance, highlight ideas about horses with yellow, ideas about cows with green, ideas about chickens with pink, and so on. Then, simply re-write the paper by grouping all of the yellow sentences together, the green sentences together, and the pink sentences together. This process helps to create coherent paragraphs, which help to form an organized paper. As I was explaining this process, Eric became very excited. He quickly pulled out a notebook and asked me to repeat myself. He then wrote down what I said, word for word. We talked for a while about our mutual writing troubles, and then Eric excused himself. He explained that he wanted to re-write his paper as it was due that evening. Before he left, I asked if he would be willing to come back to the Writing Center when his paper was returned to him. He agreed to do so, thanked me repeatedly, and left. Before meeting Eric, I was afraid that I would not be able to help people. After meeting Eric, I had hope.
Weeks passed with no word from Eric, or any other tutee for that matter. I began to think that people were avoiding me due to an elaborate government plot designed by the C.I.A. I had very nearly convinced myself of this when Eric walked in. All smiles, he approached me, his paper in hand. Proudly, he handed it to me revealing a large red A in the upper right corner. I read the paper and was amazed. I asked if this was the same material he had shown me before, he said it was. I then asked him about his experience with the highlighter mapping technique. He explained that after he left the Writing Center, he went home and spent about two hours working on his paper, and the result was the paper in my hands. He thanked me again for showing him this technique, and said good-bye. My confidence (and my faith in the United States government) restored, I began to look forward to future tutoring sessions with newfound optimism. Could this technique have the same effect on the writings of others? It was my goal to find out.
Time went on and I had other tutoring sessions. At some point during every conference, I mentioned the highlighter mapping technique. No one was as excited as Eric had been about it, but a few tutees agreed to try it and inform me of their results. One such person was a girl named Amy. She came to me very upset. She had written and turned in her first post-high-school paper only to have it returned with a message that said Re-write. Amy explained that she had never received less than a B on anything in high school, and that her parents would not be happy. I asked her if she knew what was wrong with the paper, and she told me that her teacher had explained that the paper was unclear due to disorganization. I explained the highlighter mapping technique to her and she agreed to try it. The very next week, I walked in to the Writing Center and found her waiting for me. She showed me her paper, which was now graded. She was disappointed in the `C' grade she received, but she said that it was better than a failing grade. I asked about her experience with the technique, and she too said that it had only taken a couple of hours of work. I thanked her for coming back, and she left.
Eric and Amy were the only tutees to actually share their results with me, but obviously, the highlighter mapping technique gets results. Both of these tutees stated that this technique was not difficult, and that it saved them time and stress. Based on these two examples, I feel that this technique has demonstrated its value. If this technique was used more widely, it could greatly improve the quality of everyone's writing. Therefore, it is my plan to continue teaching this method to others, and use it myself.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd Edition. Boston: U of Maryland, 1998.
All students learn by different means. Some students might learn best by hearing, while others learn best by either seeing or doing. Studies on effective training strategies show that participants retain the following: 10 percent of what they read; 20 percent of what they hear; 30 percent of what they see; 50 percent of what they hear and see; 70 percent of what they say; and 90 percent of what they say and do (ServSafe 149). Trainers must meet the needs of the students by applying the appropriate learning style strategies at the appropriate time. The three major learning styles include auditory learning, visual learning, and kinesthetic learning. My experience as a Writing Fellow at Monroe County Community College has allowed me to teach students using the different learning style strategies. I identified each student's learning style and worked with each person based on my knowledge of the different styles. All tutors should identify learning styles and tutor based on the student's ability to learn.
Auditory learners understand material when they hear information. They enjoy class discussions and are talkative with others. An article entitled, Recognize the Ways We Learn, states that auditory learners are likely to talk as well as listento ask questions, to discuss their experiences, or to think out loud (par. 4). Auditory learners can be identified by their eagerness to listen. Note taking may be observed after the discussion is over. When tutoring auditory learners, it is best to read instructions, notes, and material aloud. Leigh Ryan, author of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, feels that repeating and rephrasing the material is most beneficial to the tutee (47). Reinforcement of key points will also help auditory learners remember the discussion points of the session.
While tutoring my fellowed class, I observed an auditory learner. Sara was an average student with a decent paper. During the tutoring session, I explained writing strategies many times. She listened to every word I spoke, but she did not understand what I was trying to teach her. I asked her if it would be easier to write what I was trying to tell her on paper, but she said that she learned best by hearing information. Although it required several attempts of rephrasing the information, she finally understood what I was trying to teach her. Sara, like all other auditory learners, needs to hear what is being taught to fully understand.
Visual learners need to see the information being conveyed to understand. These learners desire to see words written down and enjoy looking at graphs, diagrams, and pictures. When written material is presented to a visual learner, they will pay close attention. In a tutoring session, the tutor must allow the visual learner to perform most of the work. Ryan suggests, Rather than simply talking, work from written material, pointing to, circling, or otherwise highlighting information as you discuss it (46). Many tutees will take notes as the session is conducted. They write in the margins of their papers and make corrections as suggestions are made. Their notes serve as reminders of the material discussed in the session.
I concluded that Judy, another student in my fellowed class, is a visual learner. Judy's first paper was filled with inconsistent comma errors. She either had a comma where one was not needed, or she was missing a comma where one was required. After explaining the comma rules to her, I thought she understood. When tutoring her again, the problem still existed. This time I gave her the Writing Center's handout on comma rules. We sat down and reviewed the rules presented on the handout. Once again, Judy said she understood. Her third paper proved that she truly learned the rules. The handout on comma rules worked because she was able to see the rules, and seeing them allowed her to understand.
Kinesthetic learners understand by conducting hands-on experiments. They learn best when they are able to handle and examine items, and have an opportunity to practice new skills. Kinesthetic learners are bothered by long periods of sitting idle, particularly if they are not engaging in some kind of physical activity. These learners tend to take study notes to keep busy but often do not need them. Ryan suggests that the student should write, underline, highlight, or diagram while the paper is being read (47). Mapping ideas in essays can be accomplished by allowing the tutee to use different colored highlighters to highlight sentences that should be grouped together. Sections of the paper can be cut with scissors and rearranged to form an effective order. These strategies allow kinesthetic learners to be actively involved. If kinesthetic learners are not active in the session, they will have a difficult time remembering the information discussed.
I identified Mike, a walk-in appointment, as being a kinesthetic learner. Mike had a research paper that contained an abundance of information. While he read the paper aloud, I realized his ideas were scattered throughout the paper. The paper needed to be in chronological order, but his ideas jumped back and forth. I did my best to explain the problem, but he did not understand. He wrote notes as we discussed the problem, and my explanation was clear, so I concluded that he must be a kinesthetic learner. For reassurance, I asked his if he would learn better if he participated in an activity. After I had his permission, I retrieved three different colored highlighters from my backpack. I asked him to highlight information pertaining to different sections of his paper. We read over each sentence and identified which section it belonged to. He thought this strategy of mapping to be fun and effective. Because he is a kinesthetic learner, he needed to be active in the session to learn.
With students having different learning styles, it is important that a tutor can adjust to the tutee's individual style. Every effective tutoring session must be conducted differently to meet a student's needs. After identifying the student as an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, the tutor can skillfully conduct a productive learning session. The knowledge I gained from being a Writing Fellow has taught me how to deal with different types of students while they are learning. I will use this knowledge in many years to comeeither in tutoring situations or in employment situations.
Recognize the Ways We Learn. Public management 80.9 (1998): 33-34. WilsonSelectPlus. OCLC FirstSearch. Monroe
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
ServSafe Coursebook. Chicago: National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, 1999.
|Setting a Tutoring Agenda
Who decides the direction a tutoring session should take? Is it the tutor who is there to assist the student with her writing, or is it the student who has written the paper and knows the subject? Should a specific agenda be set at the beginning of the conference? Wondering the answer to these questions and their significance in improving my writing conferences, I tried bothtaking charge of the conference's direction and agenda and allowing the student to do so. The results, useful to consult for future writing conferences, are reported here.
To some extent, an agenda was set at the beginning of each writing conference. Each student was asked for an assignment sheet and a description of her understanding of the assignment. This often revealed student problems or misunderstandings. The student then read her paper aloud. Asking questions of the student based on what has been discussed and discovering the areas the student would like to cover, aid in deciding where the conference should now go. As Leigh Ryan explains in The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, certain factors affect what will be on the agenda for the remainder of the conference:
where the writer is in the composing process
the constraints imposed by the assignment itself, with the limitations inherent in it and those imposed by the teacher (length, number of resources, and so on)
the time remaining before the paper is due
the willingness of the writer to work with the tutor and improve the paper (15)
With consideration for the information gained to this point in the conference, a tutor may decide to set the agenda or allow the student to set the agenda.
For the students I met for a fellowed class (Writing Fellow assigned to an individual course), I set the agenda for the writing conferences. Because I was able to read the papers ahead of time, I set a tentative agenda for approaching the problems I noticed in the papers. Following the preliminary interactions of each conference, I attempted to push my agenda without asking the student for questions and concerns first. One woman reacted with some hostility. She had specific questions of her own, and by over looking those I excluded her from the interaction of the conference. In those fellowed class conferences that followed, I allowed more student interaction in discussions while trying to incorporate the plans I had for each conference. The students developed greater interest in the conference, as they were more involved, and I was able to use, at least some of the things I had planned.
To examine the effect of allowing the student to determine the direction and set the agenda for a writing conference, I worked with a student who made several appointments with me. The sessions always began with the student reading her paper aloud. As she read, she found problems in her own writing and asked questions about awkward aspects of the paper which she could now see by incorporating her hearing and vision into the writing process. I never attempted to set an agenda for this student's tutoring sessions. The student directed the conference toward problems she could identify, making explanations of those problems of great interest to her. Then, by assisting the student in those writing problems, she seemed more likely to retain and use the advice I had to offer.
Because circumstances of writing conferences vary so greatly, it is difficult to decide whether the tutor or the student should take control of the conference. It is intimidating to the student for the tutor to seize complete control of a conference. The interaction necessary for a good professional relationship between tutor and student requires the student have some control over the agenda of the conference. In some cases, as with the student who essentially set the agenda, a student may learn more through self-discovery, using the tutor simply as a sounding board. In others, a student may not be able to see her own mistakes and the tutor may need to take control. By judging each session using the factors affecting the agenda, discussed by Ryan and student reactions to the tutors approach, one may determine who should set the agenda.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998.