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Required = Unresponsive?
Lisa Bale

Working in the Writing Center of Monroe County Community College this semester has been a rewarding experience. I feel that I have learned a lot about myself and about how interesting it is to tutor other students. This experience was interesting because I really did not understand how mutually beneficial the Writing Fellow program is; I do not think I really understood much about the program to begin with. Not only do the Writing Fellows help other students learn more about basic writing skills, they also help themselves keep those skills fresh in their minds and discover new ways to present them to students. Everybody can benefit from talking about or reading his or her paper to another person, even if they do not need help with basic writing skills. I have had the pleasure of tutoring many different types of students, none that caught my interest as much as the required “type” of student. Some teachers require students to see a Writing Fellow and some people believe this practice results in unresponsive students in the writing session. But: being intimidated, being fearful, and being unknowledgeable about the Writing Center can also result in unresponsive students; it’s not just a required visit.

Intimidation can make a student unresponsive. A student could be intimidated by the unknown, or by the first visit to the Writing Center, which could be confusing. There are people walking in and out of the Writing Center, the course content tutors are working on the other side, and an occasional teacher walks through. Right away a student probably would not know where to go. After he or she is directed to the Writing Fellow, the student may have to sit down with a total stranger and talk to this person about writing. The student might not even understand that the tutor is just another student. The student might seem unresponsive just from being placed into a new circumstance. Next, a Writing Fellow tells the student to read the paper out loud. That would probably make a lot of people nervous. Even if this is a return visit, the student might have a different tutor than before, so he or she has to start all over again and get used to a new person. The student could also be intimated by the abilities of the tutor. Just as, “tutors express uneasiness when they are asked to tutor a writer they perceive as a better writer than themselves” the reverse is also true (McAndrew 91). Many students do not want to appear “dumb.” But, while these things may cause a student to be unresponsive, it is usually an initial reaction and cannot be blamed on the practice of requiring students to see a Writing Fellow.

Fear is something that every writer has to battle. According to William Zinsser in On Writing Well, “Fear of writing gets planted in most Americans at an early age, usually at school, and it never goes entirely away” (245). This fear paralyzes some people. These fears can include a fear of failing, fear of not writing well, or the fear of letting someone else read one’s work. The fear of failure prevents many writers from getting started. In the Writing Center, I tutored at least ten students who had no draft and no idea where they wanted to start. I had two unresponsive students who answered all of my questions with, “I don’t know,” if they said anything at all. Both of these students chose to come to the Writing Center on their own. The fear of not writing well can be demonstrated by the student who brings a paper that is obviously a first draft, yet the student does not want to change anything. He may come in by choice, but really just wants the Writing Fellow to check spelling and punctuation; he has no interest in listening to anything that has to do with a thesis or topic sentences. The fear of letting someone else read his or her paper is common. Many people feel that their paper is a part of their soul and even if they want help with their paper this fear is really difficult for them to overcome. All of these fears can result in an unresponsive student whether they are there for a required visit or not.

A third fear may relate to being unknowledgeable about the Writing Center. Most of the time people either do not know the Writing Center exists or do not know what its purpose is. I E-mailed all of the Writing Fellows at MCCC, and I asked them if they had known the Center existed or its purpose before becoming a Writing Fellow. Out of the seventeen responses I received, twelve people that said they did not understand the Center before. The required students who put off their visits to the Center just do not understand the Center. I had a student come in for a session and tell me right away that she was only there for the extra credit. She spent the first ten minutes watching the clock and not responding to my questions, and just when I was about to give up, she started listening and asking her own questions. She told me that she did not realize that the Writing Center was a place that she could see how a reader might respond to something in her paper, and she said that she was really glad she came. Some students, with the belief that a Writing Fellow will edit their papers, become unresponsive when they realize that is not what is going to happen at a writing session. So not knowing what the Writing Center is about can result in unresponsive students.

While, it might be true that some required visits result in unresponsive students, the same can be said for some students who come by choice. The idea that required visits are counterproductive is questionable. The required visit may help and not harm students; and if it helps at least half of the students attending it may be a good thing. Out of the seventeen people that I surveyed about whether or not their first visit to the Writing Center was required, ten people replied yes and said they were happy they attended (Writing). Finding strategies to get around the student’s intimidation, being fearful, and being unknowledgeable about the Center can cut down on the amount of unresponsive students the Writing Center has to deal with. Some strategies might include sending more Writing Fellows into the classrooms so that students see that they are just regular students, providing more mini-sessions (group tutoring sessions) to deal with the fear of writing, explaining to more people what the Center is about, and making the students feel more relaxed once they are in the Center. But if Writing Fellows have unresponsive students, and they have tried all the tutoring strategies for unresponsive students without success, sometimes there is nothing to do but end the session. The Writing Fellow can then move on to another student who may appreciate the opportunity to become a better writer.

Works Cited

McAndrew, Donald A., Thomas J. Reigstad. Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences. Portsmouth: Boynton, 2001.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. 6th ed. New York: Harper, 1998.

Writing Center. Monroe County Community College. Monroe, Michigan. 20

The Art of Questioning: Tutoring by the Socratic Method
Lindsay Dahl

A person who tutors uses his or her knowledge to help those needing assistance in a particular subject area. Writing Fellows at MCCC tutor struggling students, using strategies and techniques to help students improve their writing. Tutors may use a variety of methods and strategies until they find one that works well for them, but I have found that using the Socratic method has proven successful in many circumstances. The Socratic method is the preferred method for many tutors and professors, as they base their sessions and discussions around open-ended questions, allowing students to remain in complete control of their assignments. There are several reasons behind a student’s intent for using a tutoring service. According to a questionnaire that I distributed to students using the Writing Center on campus, most students surveyed come to the Writing Center with the intent of gaining assistance on a particular assignment. Tutoring by the Socratic method allows students to gain that assistance, as it helps them to answer their own questions, learning more about the subject area and about themselves as writers. Writing Fellows who tutor using this method allow students to remain in control of their assignments, as all ideas and answers come from tutees, a better alternative than simply instructing students on what to do. There are three important steps to remember when applying the Socratic method in tutoring sessions. First, tutors should initiate discussions, asking a student an appropriate open-ended question about one’s assignment. Next, tutors should evaluate the student’s knowledge on a subject area. Finally, tutors should reflect on the session, determining its effectiveness. I have applied these three steps throughout my tutoring experience, proving the Socratic method successful.

Many tutors and professors use the Socratic method as their preferred method of teaching because it places responsibility on students, rather than on instructors. According to an article entitled “Teaching With Questions: Socratic Method,” this form of teaching is used to educate students and evaluate their performances, using questions as a guide (par. 1). Tutors begin by initiating a discussion, asking an appropriate open-ended question about the assignment. An example of a good open-ended question that works well in tutoring sessions is simply asking a student what he or she had problems with when working on an assignment. Leonard Nelson, author of the book entitled Socratic Method And Critical Philosophy, states that conversation is the key to successful discussions. Once a person begins with a good question, more tend to follow, creating dialogue between the questioner and the questioned (13-22). Throughout my experience as a Writing Fellow, I found the initiation step to be most important. For example, I met with Cara, a student who was having trouble developing arguments for a debate topic. Her topic was about the disturbance of cellular phones in public places, and I initiated the conversation by simply asking her why she chose that particular topic. She began to discuss her reasons behind the decision, which developed into several excellent arguments. By asking her the right question, I was able to help Cara develop her own ideas and arguments. Many people think that tutors hold all the answers to their questions and concerns. The Socratic method allows tutors to demonstrate other places where answers can be found (“Teaching” par. 4). The ideas for Cara’s debate topic were lying within her; they needed to be pulled to the surface.

Once conversation begins, tutors are able to assess a student’s understanding of a particular assignment, gaining feedback to evaluate his or her knowledge. When a question is asked and a student has little or no response, the tutor can assess that he or she probably does not comprehend the subject area. Good tutors will learn to adapt to their students by expanding or redefining the material (“Teaching” par. 2). Tutors must simplify questions until comprehension is met, an aspect of the Socratic method which Nelson defines as cooperative thinking. Students and tutors must work together, using questions as a guide to further development of ideas and comprehension (Nelson 22). A good illustration of cooperative thinking is when I met with a non-traditional student who was writing an English paper. I initiated the conversation by simply asking what her assignment was about. The woman explained that she did not fully understand the assignment, and I responded with a simpler question, asking her if she had an assignment sheet. We looked at the assignment sheet together, discussing each requirement. She began to talk about things her instructor discussed in class, realizing that she understood more of the assignment than she thought. We worked together using several prewriting strategies, which helped the student organize her own ideas, and write the paper. By evaluating a student’s knowledge, tutors and professors are more effective because vital assessment must be made for the Socratic method to be successful (23).

At the University of Chicago Law School, Professor Elizabeth Garrett uses the Socratic method with her students, fostering active learning. She states that learning is the basis for all tutoring sessions and classroom discussions, and using the Socratic method allows tutors and professors to visualize learning as it occurs. Using questions encourages students to further develop their knowledge and comprehension of a subject, provoking deeper learning (par. 2-4). Tutors should also constantly reflect upon their sessions, evaluating their effectiveness. During reflection, it should be evident that learning occurred, with the burden not lying with tutors or professors, but rather with students because they are responsible for all development. As I reflected on a session with Billie, a student working on an English paper, I was convinced that learning occurred because by the time the session was coming to a close, she was pointing out her own mistakes. I recently spoke with her, and she thanked me for my help, while showing me her final draft. I realized that I had little to do with her success, as I simply had asked her what she thought she could improve. She made all the improvements, developing her own ideas. Tutors and professors must simply provide a learning environment in which cooperative thinking and active learning can occur (Garrett par. 4).

Throughout my experience working as a Writing Fellow, I have discovered the Socratic method to be successful and beneficial. The art of questioning can take many forms, but beginning a session with an appropriate open-ended question can open many doors for students. Open-ended questions provoke formal, thoughtful responses, leading to cooperative and active learning. Tutors must assess a student’s understanding on a particular assignment using cooperative learning as a guide to further comprehension. After a discussion is complete, one must reflect on his or her session to evaluate its success and whether active learning occurred. My experience as a Writing Fellow has supported these three steps successful. According to the article “Teaching With Questions: Socratic Method,” the most important aspect of this method is questioning. “To find the answers we must ask questions, and those very questions are perhaps one of the most important tools of teaching” (par. 5-6). The art of questioning continues to make the Socratic method a preferred method of teaching.

Works Cited

Garrett, Elizabeth. “The Socratic Method.” University Of Chicago Law School. 1998. U of Chicago. 25 April 2002      <>.

Nelson, Leonard. Socratic Method And Critical Philosophy. Trans. Thomas K. Brown. New Haven: Yale UP, 1949.

“Teaching With Questions: Socratic Method.” 2001. PageWise. 20 April 2002 <



Active Listening in the Writing Center
Mindy DeShetler

As children we learn to speak at an early age, does this mean they learn to listen too? Listening is very difficult. It is not simply hearing others speak. In active listening one makes an effort to be conscious of body language, to paraphrase what a speaker says, and to listen with empathy. This is not always easy though. Ronald Adler and George Rodman explain this by noting, “We are capable of understanding speech at rates up to 300 words per minute, but the average person speaks between 100 and 140 words per minute” (116). When this empty space is filled with other thoughts, active listening is lost. Since active listening is so difficult, one must make an effort to be aware of body language, false listening, and listening blocks. In peer tutoring, the tutor must understand the importance of listening, beneficial listening techniques, and common errors in listening.

Listening is an important function throughout life. It is especially important during a tutoring session. Through the use of active listening, tutees feel important and cared for. The tutee will not feel like he or she is simply another student. The session will become more personal and students will appreciate tutors for treating them as individuals. If tutees notice tutors pay close attention to what they say, the tutees may become more willing to learn. They will not feel like they are wasting time. Listening is also beneficial for tutors. It is easier for them to take notes, to understand students, and to communicate with students when they listen actively. Overall, listening is the key to tutoring sessions and mastering the techniques is very beneficial.

The first important aspect of active listening is body language. According to Frank van Marwijk, communication consists of 55% body language. People do not talk continuously, but our bodies are continuously giving signals (Par. 1). Body language can enhance communication. Tutors should maintain eye contact with tutees to make the sessions more personal. While listening to a student, a tutor should lean slightly forward and avoid distracting mannerisms such as biting his or her nails or tapping a pencil. This will show the student that the tutor feels what he or she says is important and interesting. Facial expressions are also important when listening. Sometimes a friendly smile is necessary and at other times a look of concern is helpful. Facial expressions depend on the topic of discussion. Expressions show students that a tutor is paying close attention to them and they allow students to see a reaction. Body language conveys a strong message when it is used to enhance listening.

In active listening it is also extremely important to paraphrase. Like Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning state in their book Messages, when one paraphrases he or she takes the words of the speaker and states them in his or her own words (15). If tutors are trying to restate ideas, they must give the student their full attention. Outside sources must not distract them. Tutors must focus on a student if they plan to paraphrase. Paraphrasing guarantees that the student and the tutor are in agreement. McKay, Davis, and Fanning go on to say, “Paraphrasing stops miscommunication. False assumptions, errors, and misinterpretations are corrected on the spot” (15). Once a tutor restates a student's words, the tutor will know if he or she has interpreted the words correctly or if there was a misunderstanding. If the tutor paraphrased correctly, the student will “deeply appreciate feeling heard” (McKay 15). If there was a misunderstanding, the tutor can ask questions to clarify the idea. For example, one day in the MCCC Writing Center I was with a student named Bryan. He was writing a proposal to a problem. After he explained the problem he wanted to solve, I restated it by saying, “So what you are saying is that the problem in need of a solution is disrespect towards others?” He immediately said, “No. The problem is that people always take advantage of others. It is not necessarily always disrespect.” By restating what I thought Bryan said, I learned that I had misinterpreted him. Once this was clear, I could clarify the problem with a question. This was also very helpful to Bryan because he realized that his paper was not clear and he needed to change some wording. Paraphrasing is crucial in the writing center.

Another concept in active listening is empathy. When listening with empathy, a tutor should try to understand where a student is coming from. According to McKay, Davis, and Fanning, “There is only one requirement for listening with empathy: simply know that everyone is trying to survive” (17). It should not be difficult for tutors to listen with empathy. We all write papers and go through similar stresses. When one learns to use empathetic listening it becomes easier for him or her to relate with the student. This obvious relationship between student and tutor makes the student more comfortable, knowing he or she is not the only one with difficulties. I found when I listened with empathy in a tutoring session the student felt comforted and less intimidated. Before the conference the student, Nicole, said she felt stupid for going to the Writing Center for help. She was working on a speech and she had a difficult time coming up with ideas. When I said, “Oh, getting started is always the hardest part for me too,” I could see a sigh of relief. Nicole later said it was nice to know she was not the only one with problems. When a tutor successfully listens with empathy a student will feel more comfortable and the support will be appreciated. Students will be more likely to come back to a writing center if tutors learn to listen with empathy. Active listening is very beneficial to the tutoring process. Techniques such as careful body language, paraphrasing, and listening with empathy, benefit the tutor and the tutee. Nevertheless, sometimes it is very difficult to use active listening and poor listening techniques may take over.

Poor body language can ruin a tutoring session. Instead of appearing like an interested listener, those with bad body language will have a negative appearance. If a tutor leans back with his or her arms crossed, a tutee may feel intimidated. An expressionless face may convey boredom, and it may make a student insecure and uncomfortable. If a tutor glances all around the room, winks at a friend, and stares at random objects, the student will feel like the tutor is not listening and he or she may feel the session was pointless. If tutors maintain body language that conveys he or she is listening, the tutor will actually listen better. Poor body language turns off students and makes them uncomfortable, intimidated, and annoyed.

Another common problem in listening is pseudo-listening, or false listening. According to Ronald Adler and George Rodman, authors of Understanding Human Communication, pseudo-listening appears to be real listening, but it is not (114). It is very easy to pretend to listen. A simple nod and an occasional “Really?” generally do the trick. McKay, Davis, and Fanning say real listening generally tries to understand someone, enjoy someone, learn something, or give help or solace (6). If a tutor is not sincerely trying to do one of these, pseudo-listening will occur. This false listening will often occur when tutors are distracted or bored. It is important for tutors to stay focused during a session. If tutors use pseudo-listening they will not have the ability to help their tutees. They will not fully understand the student without real, sincere listening. If tutors are simply imitating real listening, they are not doing the real thing and the students will not benefit.

There are several blocks to listening that inhibit the effectiveness of tutors. To become a true listener it is important to be aware of them. Common listening blocks that may occur in a writing center include rehearsing, filtering, and placating (McKay 9). Rehearsing occurs when a tutor is thinking of what to say next. Instead of listening to a student’s thoughts and ideas, a tutor is concentrating on what comments he or she should write or say. Another listening block to avoid is filtering. Tutors filter out students’ ideas by looking for key points and ignoring the others. A tutor may filter out all of the information except the topic and maybe the purpose of the paper. He or she may look for certain errors and ignore the rest. One can see how this has a negative impact on a tutoring session. Another common listening block is placating. This is when a listener simply nods and makes meaningless comments just to be nice and agreeable. When tutors placate they are half listening, but they do not actually understand the subject. I caught myself placating in the Writing Center one day when Bryan was in for more help. He really likes to talk. As I was filling out the report form, he was talking about problems in the world today. I sat there nodding and saying, “Really, wow! Oh my goodness!” It didn’t take long for me to realize I was placating. Once I started to actively listen I realized he wanted feedback on the problem he discussed in his paper. He was not simply rambling about the problems in the world; he wanted to know if he had chosen a good one to write about. The first step in eliminating listening blocks is to recognize them. Once tutors do this, they can make a conscious effort to actively listen. These poor listening techniques are detrimental to tutoring because they inhibit understanding and learning.

When tutors learn to listen actively, both students and tutors benefit. Students will walk away from the conference feeling satisfied that their thoughts were heard and they will appreciate the help. The tutors will learn to avoid poor listening techniques, which lead to ineffective conferences. Though active listening takes effort, the rewards of a successful tutoring conference will be well worth it.

Works Cited

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

Marwijk, Frank. Body Language. Trans. Suzanne van Leendert. <>.

McKay, Matthew, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. Messages. 2nd Ed. Oakland: New Harbinger, 1995.


Working with Learning Styles
Rebecca Frailing

Everyone learns a little differently, and the tutor needs to understand this in order to make the most out of each session. There are three main categories of learning styles, each having specific characteristics. Some people learn through seeing, others through hearing, and a small percentage learn through physical interaction. Each of these styles requires a different way of explaining what needs to be done to improve the paper, and a tutoring approach that works well with one type may not work at all with another. The tutor must be able to assess which learning style their tutee has, and which approach would work best in that situation. As a Writing Fellow, I have worked with people with each of the different learning styles, and have tried most of the suggested techniques.

The most common learning style is visual, with about 65% of the population falling into this category. Visual learners gather information from what they see, relying mainly on illustrations, written words, and charts or graphs to gain understanding of a subject (“Learning Styles” par.8). These people will usually take notes while the tutor is talking, cover their papers with sketches, and ask for spoken instructions or suggestions to be repeated as they write. Because visual learners rely on sight, the most effective approach is to have typed examples of the proper way to correct the most common errors (punctuation, agreement, transitions) easily accessible. It will take less time to find the one suited to the student. Speaking slowly and clearly, giving the tutee time to take notes, and providing highlighters or markers for them to use in adding to or changing their paper are important. (“Lesson Tutor”).

Next is the auditory learning style, which covers about 30% of the population. Auditory learners need to hear information to be able to remember it. This may cause them to have a difficult time reading or focusing on written explanations. They also have difficulty taking notes while others are speaking (“Learning Styles” par.9). Members of this group are normally very talkative and well spoken, but tend to skip or transpose words when writing. They also use long, repetitive descriptions when writing. Verbal analogies and examples work well for this group, as does reading the paper aloud (“Lesson Tutor”). Although the Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states that the student should read the paper aloud to the tutor (Gillespie 104), it is usually more effective with auditory learners if the paper is read to them in sections. This allows the student to focus entirely on their strength – listening – without the visual distractions offered by reading.

The third learning style is kinesthetic, which is used by the remaining 5% of the population. Kinesthetic learners need to touch and manipulate objects to understand them, and learn through physical interaction (“Learning Styles” par.10). These people are constantly moving, and tend to use gestures to illustrate what they are saying. They have difficulty focusing on spoken or written words, and are easily distracted by background noise. As they learn through doing, computers and reference books that allow the student to look things up are invaluable tools. Also useful are highlighters, note cards, and anything else that can be physically manipulated (“Lesson Tutor”).

It is not always easy to identify which approach will work best, even when the tutor knows the learning style of the person with whom he or she is working. Sometimes the first technique attempted will produce results, other times the tutor will have to use trial and error until something works. One of the visual students I worked with was B.H., a male who was part of my fellowed class. When I met with him, he took copious notes and often asked me to go back over a suggestion so he could write it down. His paper had some minor subject/verb agreement problems, but I had a difficult time explaining the problem in a way that he understood. After I showed him an example in one of the reference books available, he immediately grasped the concept and went back through the paper correcting his sentences.

During my time in the Writing Center, I met A.B., a female first year student who made an appointment to go over a speech she had written. Her paper was well organized and interesting, but contained several sentences with missing or transposed words and phrases. A.B. seemed very focused on everything being said, but remarked that she had a difficult time finding mistakes when reading through her own papers. Due to this, I decided that she was an auditory learner. I read the paper aloud to her, and she easily found and corrected her mistakes.

Another student whom I tutored was K.H., a female with a basic essay for an English class. From the moment she walked in, I knew that traditional tutoring methods would be useless. She was extremely restless and appeared to be unable to sit for any length of time. Her paper contained major organizational problems. Using highlighters to mark her thesis and topic sentences helped her to concentrate a little, but the most progress was made when I offered her a pair of scissors to cut up and physically re-arrange her paper. K.H. became very focused, and appeared to understand what I had been trying to tell her about organizing her paper. She made another appointment about the same paper, and I saw that she had reorganized it correctly and effectively.

Although everyone learns differently, there are patterns to the styles. Once the students’ learning style has been identified, the tutor will be able to choose techniques more suited to the individual. While there is no perfect approach, the general categories are extremely helpful in personalizing the tutoring session to make it more effective and less stressful for everyone involved. The tutor needs to be aware that there is no one technique that will help every student, or even every student with the same learning style. However, knowing the basic learning style of the tutee drastically narrows the possible choices, increasing the probability that a helpful approach will be found.

Works Cited

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

“Learning Styles at Home”. 21 Feb 1998. 27 Apr 2002. <      n2_v76/20149741/p1/article.jhtml>.

Mikola, Joanne. “Learning to Learn in Order to Teach”. 24 Feb 2001. 27 Apr 2002. <


The Effect of Spatial Boundaries on Tutoring: Crossing the Point of No Return
Rebecca James

“Man is a territorial animal very much like his fellow creatures [ . . . ] He draws visible and invisible boundaries which he expects others to respect” (Ashcraft 3). These boundaries are based on an individual’s comfort level within a particular situation. In tutoring, it is necessary for two people, possibly two strangers, to converse in a confined area, as they take turns glancing at a single copy of a draft. At times this may induce a physical intrusion of a tutee’s personal space. However, in working with different students it becomes easier to acknowledge an individual’s spatial limits. A tutor must always be aware of a tutee’s comfort level in relation to personal space, as this can have a great impact on the outcome of a session.

Through previous study of this area, I have learned that psychologists have indicated three main spatial boundaries. These include intimate space, personal space, and social space. Intimate space includes a distance of about one to three inches, and actions may include kissing, hugging, and so forth. This space is usually only open to those close family members such as a spouse, a son or daughter, or a parent. “Friends and relatives may gaze into each other’s faces. Others may not” (Ashcraft 15). Personal space, which includes four inches to a few feet, is open to close friends, some employees, and those included in the intimate space. Social space is that which most others may enter. It extends outward from about three feet. Many people find it necessary to build a wall around the areas which they are able to control, and thus each individual creates his or her own boundaries which are parallel to his or her comfort levels in a given situation.

There are many factors that can determine an individual’s adaptation to his or her personal space boundaries. These factors may include an individual’s experiences, his or her family background, gender, age, cultural differences, and even the area in which one lives. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring addresses one such factor. “Some [non-native English speaking writers] will have very different notions than you do about personal space, and will sit closer or father away than is comfortable to you” (Gillespie 121). This distancing, due to the cultural differences between two people, will play a role in how a tutor and a student interact with one another during a tutoring conference. Gender may come into play in a situation where a female is uncomfortable around males, for example. In another instance, an individual may have been raised to be very open with those that they encounter, thus this person may have a larger circumference of personal space. In most cases, however, personal space is limited and all must be careful not to cross boundaries drawn by an individual to protect his or her own ground.

“When we [ . . . ] experience the invasion of our personal space [ . . . ] we feel distinctly uncomfortable and ultimately threatened. Perhaps this stress cannot be avoided, but it interferes with what we would like to experience from our surroundings” (Worpole par. 1). One student that I tutored this semester truly identified how our society can respond to the trespassing of an individual’s personal space. Anna came into the Writing Center while I was still in an appointment with another student. She patiently waited for my previous session to come to a close until I walked over to the table and sat down beside her. I was sitting a mere three feet to the right of my tutee before I asked her to begin reading her paper. As she began to read, she held her paper at an obvious distance to which I had to strain my eyes to clearly see the words. In an attempt to better follow along with Anna’s paper, I inched closer to her with my chair. At the same time, Anna moved her paper farther to her left. Throughout the session, as I had difficulty noting any mechanical errors in her paper, I also wondered if Anna even realized what she was doing during the session. When I confronted her on this issue, I introduced my ideas for a Theory to Practice paper.

I told her that I was conducting some research on tutoring in the Writing Center, and followed with a question about how she thought the distance of physical space between us affected our conference. Anna said that she had noticed in other appointments as well as ours that it makes a tremendous difference when a student is closer to the tutor, as the tutor is able to read any mistakes on paper as well as hear them read aloud. I found it quite interesting that Anna did not simply address her feelings of discomfort when I moved closer and closer to her at this time, as she had expressed this so well non-verbally during the writing conference. I continued to question her, “I noticed at the beginning of the session that you were holding your paper away as you read, and I was struggling to see it. Why do you think you did that?” Anna hesitantly followed with, “I guess I did do that…hmm…I didn’t really know I was doing that at the time.”

When I asked Anna if she was at all uncomfortable when I moved closer to her in the session, she responded with a simple “No” answer. Nevertheless, I tend to think otherwise. Perhaps she was embarrassed at her actions and my direct attention towards them, for her body language had certainly contradicted our conversation on spatial relationships. At this point I had inferred that it was possible that Anna’s movement in the opposite direction was merely an unconscious act. While she had clearly been moving away from me, Anna was still able to identify that I was just a tutor trying to read her paper, not physically trying to invade her space; but whether she had admitted it or not, physical space had clearly affected our conference. I could tell by her responses to questions on her paper during the session that her mind was elsewhere. The distancing between us had caused her to stress level to rise as she thought about her discomfort instead of focusing on the task at hand.

My next tutee, Katherine, was a little more outspoken when I addressed her on the issue of spatial boundaries. After a very productive session, I asked Katherine to spend a few more moments with me to discuss my theories on spatial relationships. When I asked Katherine how she thought physical space affected the session, she responded quite differently than Anna had. “I am one of those people that definitely likes my own space.” She continued by stating that she had been to the Writing Center before, and although a significant distance was normally necessary for her to feel at ease, she understood that I needed to sit close to her so that I could follow along with her paper as she read it aloud. Thinking of Anna’s initial response, I asked Katherine if she was normally aware of the physical distances during an interaction with another individual. She admitted that she is usually conscious of this and normally very disturbed when a person “gets in her face,” addressing that it can be quite irritating when a person speaks so closely that he or she is mere inches from direct physical contact. Katherine continued further by addressing those that are “touchy feely,” as she called them. Everyone knows the type-an individual who finds it either necessary or beneficial to make a strong connection through touch, whether it be placing a hand on one’s shoulder or otherwise. This introduced a valid point concerning intimate space. Although Katherine generally does not like close personal interaction, she can stand a tutor’s need to cross the boundaries of personal space. However, when someone crosses her intimate boundary, Katherine’s level of control reaches its limit. “I just want to say, ‘Why are you touching me?’ ”

It soon became apparent that Katherine’s feedback would become valuable to my research. I was interested in the contrast between her obviously extroverted personality and her strong opinions on the infringement of personal physical boundaries. From the beginning of our conference I had noticed her open and outgoing qualities, as she was clearly a “people person.” Katherine could easily be labeled an extrovert, even upon first meeting her, but she still needed people to adhere to her spatial boundaries.

When I spoke with one of my friends, a student attending Grand Valley State University, about my research in the area of spatial boundaries, she informed me of a study conducted on the invasion of personal space on Grand Valley’s campus. Students from the Sociology department were assigned the task of approaching a random student in a social environment, such as the cafeteria or library, and invading that student’s personal space. Hannah, the friend that I interviewed, was unwillingly subjected to the studies of one of the sociology students. While she was sitting by herself in the cafeteria at school, reading a book as she ate her lunch, a student approached Hannah’s table and sat down next to her without saying a word. I have known Hannah for about eight years now, and she is one of the most outgoing, extroverted, and friendly people I have ever come into contact with. She treated this scenario as she would any other by greeting this new individual. However, the girl merely responded with a simple hello as she continued to oversee Hannah’s affairs. This is when the situation began to become unpleasant for Hannah. She could not concentrate on her reading anymore, as she was consciously aware of her surroundings. Only later did Hannah learn that the girl was a part of the study and that Hannah had become one of her subjects. I am sure that the student had a sufficient example in Hannah of how an ordinarily outgoing individual can cringe as her personal boundaries are being invaded, as her whole self is concentrated on the discomfort of the physical setting.

The results of this study, and those conducted in the Writing Center with Anna and Katherine, can be applied to any everyday situation, including tutoring. As a tutor spaces him or herself close to a student, he or she must be aware of the effects personal boundaries can have on tutoring. If the tutor moves too close to a student who may have difficulty being close to an outsider, the tutee may redirect his or her attention from the focus of the paper to the level of discomfort caused by the spatial boundary intrusion. In this manner, a tutee can completely disregard the Writing Fellow’s main comments and helpful feedback on the paper, resulting in a conference devoid of all its purpose. Tutors must be willing to rise to the challenge of discovering an individual’s own personal boundaries. It is important that the Writing Fellow sit close enough to the student to read the draft and interact in an adequate space, while still conforming to the invisible boundaries of an individual.

Works Cited

Ashcraft, Norman and Albert E. Scheflen. People Space: The Making and Breaking of Human Boundaries. Garden City: Anchor,      1976.

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

Morrison, Hannah. Personal Interview. 27 Apr. 2002.

Worpole, Ken. “A Space of My Own.” Landscape Design. Apr. 2000: 19. First Search. Monroe Co. Community Coll. Lib., Monroe.
      2 May 2002. <>.



Encouraging Confidence in the Writing Center
Jackie Monroe

“When it comes to writing, we often remember the teachers who encouraged us that we had something to say or demanded clearer and clearer prose or who filled our drafts with red ink. Now think about how you would go about helping someone else learn to write - the advice you would give, the style of feedback, the strategies you would endorse” (Gillespie 43).

Most students dislike writing. When faced with a writing assignment, students often react with dread and anxiety to express their lack of confidence. Many students don’t know how to write, or feel foolish when they cannot find the words to express themselves. Others fear criticism or want to avoid the emotional uncertainty of facing a writing assignment. Many teaching methods can inspire self-confidence and encourage students to write. By awakening a love to compose, motivating students to express themselves, and inspiring courage and self-confidence, these teaching methods help students focus on the basics of writing and express a desire to be better writers. Many schools include peer tutors in the writing program to help students with the process of writing. The writing center is a valuable tool where students can receive feedback in a less threatening and uplifting atmosphere, where peers listen, ask questions, share effective techniques, and most importantly, build confidence.

Building self-confidence through peer tutoring incorporates methods of evaluating student writing, encouraging students to write, listening to the students’ concerns, and providing positive feedback. The first method taught to the peer tutors at MCCC is to ask the student read the paper aloud. In doing this, tutors give value to the work and put the writer in the role of the expert. By not interrupting, the tutor gives the writer and his work significance. Providing positive feedback and encouragement is an important part of being a peer tutor. “Positive comments should outnumber the negative criticism. Areas of promise, striking images, lively language, honesty and individuality are targets for conversational notes and praise” (Colby). The Working Writer advises tutors to “follow the golden rule. The very best advice is to give the kind of response to others’ writing that you would like to receive on your own. Remember how you feel being praised, criticized, or questioned” (Fulwiler 58).

Additional methods for increasing the self-confidence of writers in the writing center include asking open-ended questions and remaining an active listener. “Ask questions more often than you give answers. You need to respect that the writing is the writer’s. If you ask questions, you give the writer room to solve problems on his or her own” (Fulwiler 58). By asking questions, the tutor establishes a relationship with the writer and brings worth to the writing while allowing the reader to maintain ownership of the paper. Through the process of asking questions, the author learns to practice problem solving and act as an editor. Another approach for encouraging self-confidence in writing is to be a good listener. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring suggests to “shoot for no more than 50% of the talking” (Gillespie 103). Talking too much could say to students that they are not important, or that you are not interested in the writing. If a question is asked, a tutor must be patient and give plenty of time for the student to answer. Silence could mean that the student is organizing what to say or write, but the tutor should also be perceptive enough to see when the student might not know the answer. Listening encourages the students to talk about what has been learned in the research step of the writing process. The tutor should encourage the writer to ask questions, which will reinforce the writer in the role of the expert. Open-ended questions lead to dialog, and asking specific questions encourages the writer to give examples, or to show insight, which leads to learning a valuable technique. Listening encourages the writer to talk about the writing, to think out loud and to organize. Listening gives the writer the opportunity to talk about the writing, and gives the writer a sounding board for the ideas that are presented in the paper.

In an informal survey, at the MCCC Writing Center students were asked, “How confident do you feel about your paper?” This was asked on a confidential questionnaire before the session began and again as the session ended. Each student was asked to rate confidence in his or her writing on a sliding scale - from 1 to 10, with 1 the least confident and 10 the most confident. The average student’s confidence increased 2 points from the beginning of the session to the end of the session. When asked if they felt better about their writing, two writers expressed relief at having someone listen to their concerns and to sort through frustrations. The second part of the survey included a sentence that would be significant enough for the student to draw courage from it without giving the student a sense that their work was worthy of a specific grade. The approved sentence, written on the Writing Fellow Report Form and given verbally during the course of the tutoring session was “This is an important work.” This sentence was given to ten students I tutored during the month of May. At the close of the session, the students were then given the written survey asking about confidence changes, but included the question “What one thing did the Writing Fellow say that changed your feelings?” As the results were studied, it became clear that this sentence had no effect on any of the students. Each student gave an individual answer that reflected the paper’s specific difficulties and the techniques given to overcome them. Each student’s confidence increased during the session by addressing specific concerns and frustrations of the work, and by having a peer with which to discuss the work. Students felt an increase of confidence through their own work and understanding.

Building confidence can also be achieved through modeling and coaching. This can be achieved by having the tutors use themselves as an example, demonstrating a process to improve writing. Mr. Dillon maintains that a tutor should really be a coach. “Coaches interact with writers. They praise, ask questions, and inspire” (Dillon). By showing themselves as an example, tutors show that they have overcome writing challenges and developed into better writers. This can also be achieved when a tutor asks for help or searches for answers to unknown questions in the course of the session. The tutor sets a pattern for the writers, a model willing to look for answers and to learn from mistakes. The most important step a tutor can take to develop confidence in writers is for the peer tutor to express an enthusiasm for writing. Writing Fellows can express to students that writing is a craft, difficult to master, but an enjoyable and satisfying endeavor. Tutors sharing this passion show that writing can express, contribute, educate and create. William Zinsser declares in his book On Writing Well, “If you master the tools of the trade - the fundamentals of interviewing and of orderly construction - and if you bring to the assignment your general intelligence and your humanity, you can write about any subject. That’s your ticket to an interesting life” (Zinsser 250).

Peer tutors can awaken a love to compose, encourage students to express themselves, and inspire courage and self-confidence motivating writing students to focus on the basics of writing and exhibit a desire to be better writers. Peer tutors can act as an example for writers, showing that writing challenges can be conquered; writing is a craft to be improved upon, and composing is an enjoyable venture. A writing center is a important medium where students can receive assessment in a comfortable and uplifting environment, where peers actively listen, ask open ended questions, share effective techniques, and most importantly, inspire confidence.

Works Cited

Colby, Anita. “Writing Instruction in the Two Year College.” ERIC Digest 1986. 20 Mar. 2002.      <>.

Dillon, Timothy J. Let Your Students Do Most of the Talking...You Keep Coaching. Monroe: Monroe County Community College.      2001-2002.

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

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

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well - The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 6th ed. New York: HarperCollins. 1998.


The Socratic Method and our Purpose
Daniel Rock

A wise professor of mine always said, “You can not write what you do not know.” I was always left thinking that there must be things in our mind, that we know, but for the reason that it is not in our awareness at the time of writing—we cannot write it. This is why the Socratic Method is necessary in tutoring. Tutoring through the Socratic Method operates from the principle that tutees are already knowledgeable of their purpose and direction, but they may not yet be aware of it. In using this method, the tutor’s goal is to probe tutees and ask the questions that would bring about answers to help them realize in words, the vague notions and feelings they have about what they want to say. It is then the tutor’s job to bring this knowledge to the writers’ awareness through this method of questioning, qualifying, restating, and then questioning even further. As Writing Fellows, this is one of our main goals. If we can help writers to have clearer thoughts, then they should have clearer writing as well. It is in this way that The Socratic Method helps the tutor facilitate the writer in a way that lets the writer own the text, and brings the writer to have clarity in of ideas and purpose. When writers have that, they can write.

The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states, “A notion central to writing center work is that writers need to ‘own’ their text” (Gillespie and Lerner 21). If we as tutors were to tell writers’ about their text, more than we ask them about it, then it would be as if we owned the text instead of them. As the tutoring text mentioned above points out, this is not how it should be; nor is it what is best for the writer. Being a writing tutor means our concern should be with what is best for the writer; if we are mostly telling them about what they think or have written, it does not allow the writer to develop and analyze his or her own reasons for what he or she wants to say. If we employ the Socratic Method, however, we would supply the questions and the tutees would supply the answers. In this way, it is only possible that they own the text because they are the ones supplying all of the answers about the text; we are only offering questions that let them exert more ownership. By questioning writers about their ideas, choices, and notions, it will push them to seek why they made the choices they did, as well as why they feel as they do. The Socratic Method brings them to explore their ideas and feelings about writing. It is through this method that we let the text belong to the writer.

A personal tutoring example in using the Socratic Method was with a tutee named Ann. She was working on an argument paper about censorship of the Internet. The student had to write the paper from the viewpoint opposite her own. This provided a great opportunity to employ the Socratic Method, and challenge Ann on her perspectives of censorship. The important thing for her was how strong her argument was, and what better way to test her argument than the Socratic Method. The session became a debate from each side of the argument, with me questioning every point of her position. She would take a stand, thinking it was on firm ground; but when questioned further, found she was unsure. This continued throughout the session until we explored both sides of the argument, and Ann felt she had enough ammunition and clarity of thought to defeat the oppositions’ viewpoint. Conducting the session in this manner, as a debate of ideas, using the Socratic Method, made for a session in which the writer came to know what she wanted to say with more clarity and conviction than before.

This method of tutoring was ideal with Ann because she was an active participant in the session, and was interested in her topic. Where this method of tutoring runs into difficulty is with students who are withdrawn and uninterested in their writing and the session. A tutee named Chris is an example of such a student. In the case of Chris, the Socratic Method did not bear such useful and clarifying fruit as it did with Ann. Chris was quiet and reserved during the session; this made it difficult to conduct the session by questions alone. I had to manufacture more statements and then try to draw out a response. I have found that giving students questions only, may cause them to freeze up and become overwhelmed, as it did with Chris. With such students, the tutor needs to pay extremely close attention to non-verbal cues. By watching the tutees non-verbal cues of discomfort, the tutor can gauge how challenging and direct the questions should be. With Chris, a lot of questioning was almost counterproductive; it worked best to offer a few more comments than questions, and use his feedback on the comments as a springboard for questions. The method must be altered to work for this and many other students. However, even the watered down form of questioning proved its usefulness.

Through the trial and error of putting the Socratic Method into practice from theory, it has shown itself to be at the core of what a writing tutor is supposed to do—facilitate the writer in owning their text. Through questions alone, we would let the writer do most of the talking as we are supposed to do anyway. If we follow through with the method in true Socratic form, it may bring about awkward moments of silence such as what happened in the case of Chris, but the reward is the writer begins to explore, question, and see his or her ideas from another angle. This, in the end, is our ultimate goal as writing tutors.

Work Cited

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



The Importance of Nonverbal Communication
Bethany Slovik

Nonverbal communication is the most effective way of emphasizing and conveying a message, skill, technique, or strategy when peer tutoring. Despite the necessity of advice and aid that writing centers provide, without positive and encouraging body language, a tutoring session could rapidly become a catastrophe. Nonverbal communication varies from person to person, based on multiple differing characteristics, such as sex, familiarity with the program and writing tutor, and without doubt, many other attributes. Prior to my research and observations, I predicted that nonverbal communication would play the most important role between the student writer and tutor when the circumstance was that neither had known each other before they met for the appointment. I assumed that it would be vital to every situation, however valued more in such a situation when dealing with total strangers despite age or sex differences.

The first person I met with for my fellowed class was approximately the same age as me and of the opposite sex. I paid close attention to what he was saying and what he did not say. I had never met or seen him on campus or anywhere else, so this was our first time meeting. He seemed a little uncomfortable at the beginning of our appointment, and although his voice was still shaky at the end of our session, he seemed slightly more at ease. At the beginning of our session, I had waited for his nonverbal cues as to how I thought he would expect me to act. I smiled meekly and politely when he first walked into the MCCC Writing Center. He sat down and seemed jittery. After he let out a nervous laugh, I laughed with him and I could immediately see his tension ease and he became slightly more relaxed, but not entirely at ease. I did not want to laugh before he did, because I have had appointments with people when I laughed first and afterward, the student seemed to think I was not very serious about the assignment or about helping him or her. I did not move my chair closer to him, because he seemed to slightly flinch every time I would use even subtle gestures. For example, he did not understand exactly what a thesis statement was, and after I explained it to him a few different times in various ways he seemed to understand. I became excited because I had been anticipating his understanding of what I was talking about, and I slightly tapped my hand on the table and said “There you go, that’s it exactly,” however he seemed more afraid than congratulated. In this case, with the first time meeting a student, who is of the opposite sex, things went smoothly after I learned his nonverbal cues and patterns, and I realized that he responded best to a quiet physical and verbal tone.

The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring says, “Does a writer slumping in her chair mean she’s bored? Does a writer rapidly reading from his text, barely allowing the tutor to understand or keep up, indicate he’s not crazy about coming to the writing center” (51). It is sometimes difficult to keep from assuming too much about the student writer, especially when he or she gives all of the typical signs of a bored, annoyed, or unhappy student. The writing center is the easiest place to assume things about people; however, it seems to also be the most deceiving of places to read people at the same time. When a writer comes to the Writing Center and does not seem interested in his or her paper, that does not necessarily mean that he or she plagiarized, did not put much effort into it, or does not care one way or another. Maybe the student is having a rough day or could even have a learning or reading disability. The possibilities are unlimited, and it is essential to remember to keep an open mind in the Writing Center, especially about the drafts received from students.

Another person I met with is female and in an older age group than me. The draft of her paper that I received was written on wide ruled paper and photocopied. The paper was not even half of the required length for the final draft and majority of the paragraphs were made up of three run-on sentences. It had no thesis statement, introduction, conclusion, or transitions. I wrongly assumed that this writer did not care about her paper, and I felt that this might be someone who was not going to honestly listen to anything I would have to say and would probably waste my time. I tried to keep an open mind, but it was a little difficult, until I met her. She had a more in-depth copy of her paper with her for the appointment, and she explained that she forgot the due date for the first draft to give to the Writing Fellows and that she had been having trouble with her car all week and did not make it to a few of her classes because of it. She was excited about listening to me and coming to the Writing Center, even though it was her first time there and she did not know what to expect. She was smiling, laughing, and when she sat down, she immediately sat less than an entire foot away from me. I fluctuated from serious, when commenting on her few mechanical errors, to joking to get her to relate and feel more at ease when I sensed slight nervousness. According to Dennis Coon, in Introduction to Psychology Gateways to Mind and Behavior, positive reinforcement is “Responses that are followed by reward [which will] tend to occur more frequently,” which is exactly what this student writer exemplified. Every time she seemed slightly hesitant, I would soothe her with positive reinforcement and she would seem to become more willing to talk after each problem or anxiety was faced and resolved.

The last two people that I met with for my fellowed class were both people I had known prior to our meetings in the Writing Center. The female student had been in a few of my classes in previous semesters and one this semester and we talked frequently. The male student went to the same high school as I had, and I had been in a class with him during last semester. The female student, about my age, seemed more apt to talk during our meeting than the male student, who is slightly older than me. They both knew me equally well before coming into the Writing Center; however, the male student did not seem as comfortable as the female student. He was confident about his paper, and showed little concern for it, but there was something that seemed to hinder our meeting. The female student jumped right into the session, asking questions, taking notes, and rewriting parts of her paper right then and there. The male student never responded much differently throughout our appointment together, staying unusually quiet physically and verbally. I came to realize that he was not used to me being slightly more serious as I was in the Writing Center; he assumed that we would not really talk about his paper, and his scrunched up and interrogative facial expressions led me to believe this. I acted about how I usually did around each of them; however, I closely observed both of their nonverbal cues as to how they expected me to act around them, seeing as my role as a Writing Fellow in the Writing Center plays a different role than just another student they have or had class with at one time or another. I was reserved and polite to begin and waited for their actions before I reacted without notice. I did not outburst with laughter as I may have while talking to either of them in class; however, I was not unaffected or emotionally detached from either appointment. At one point, the female student seemed to tense up, and I realized that this was at the point where I changed from telling her what was interesting and well developed in her paper to a few mistakes she made with grammar and an awkward or wordy sentence here or there. I realized this as soon as I told her some things I thought could be improved or worded differently so to clarify for the reader. She probably felt judged because she knew me, and my high academic standards, based on my personal disclosure in class. I simply followed up with positive reinforcement making sure she knew that she was on the right track and that she was not far from completing the assignment according to the professor’s expectations. This put her at ease once again and there were no problems after that point in our appointment session.

Despite varying situations or encounters in the Writing Center, nonverbal communication is always valuable, effective and inevitable. Sometimes people try to project a certain image of themselves to others. Even when these people are not attempting to do so, they are constantly producing an image to the public through their body language, otherwise known as nonverbal communication. I found that there is no way to avoid using nonverbal communication, especially in the Writing Center. The age of the student writers did not decide the way they treated their assignment or me during our meetings. Whether I knew the person prior to the session or not was important, because the students who knew me outside of the Writing Center seemed to have some unknown hindrances in the way they acted in the Writing Center, perhaps feeling more closely scrutinized by someone they knew, as opposed to a total stranger that they would probably never see again. The male students were not as willing to talk or give ideas as the female students. In Nonverbal Communication in Human Behavior, it says “In naturalistic interaction-that is, settings where people are interacting more or less naturally and are not aware of being observed-females predominantly choose to interact with others (of either sex) more closely than males do,” (Knapp 115) showing that perhaps males are not as willing to interact as females in any situation and not just in the Writing Center. Nonverbal communication is one of the most important variables to consider and recognize in the Writing Center whether with students of varying ages, opposite or same sex, or previously known before the appointment. Nonverbal communication seems to be either more necessary or else less effective, however, when dealing with male students whether acquaintances or total strangers. Once again, the most important idea to remember while assessing the student writer’s behavior and paper is to keep an open mind to what they are saying, but also to what they are not saying.

Works Cited

Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology Gateways to Mind and Behavior. 9th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Thomson Learning,

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Needham Heights: Pearson Education
     Company, 2000.

Knapp, Mark L. and Judith A. Hall. Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. 5th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Thomson
      Learning, 2002.


Ethics and Standards in the Writing Center
Amanda Southerland

“Our mission is to help each writer improve each piece of writing. We are willing to accept small successes, and we will try not to expect too much. We are not miracle workers; we recognize our limitations. In many cases we are dealing with problems that have developed over many years. We cannot solve all writing problems in an hour or two—or a semester or two” (Holladay and Dillon 1).

The MCCC Writing Center is a place for students to go and work at becoming a better writer. Writing fellows are tools used to help a student with a specific paper, while at the same time teaching a student how to improve his or her writing techniques. As mentioned in the Writing Center Handbook, working with students requires responsibility and trust on the Writing Fellows part (Holladay and Dillon 2). The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states, “An important part of being an ethical tutor is to treat writers with respect, admiration, and sensitivity” (Gillespie and Lerner 150). These characteristics are the basis for the ethical standards that all Writing Fellows should follow. There are two important ethical standards that I observed and tested in the Writing Center. Writing fellows should never suggest a grade for a paper and they should always honor the confidentiality of the tutorial relationship.

The first ethical standard I tested involved suggesting a grade for a student’s paper. As mentioned in the Writing Center Handbook and the Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, Writing Fellows should never suggest a grade for a student’s paper (Holladay and Dillon 2; Gillespie and Lerner 160). This suggestion for a grade may be direct or indirect. It is the Writing Fellow’s responsibility to help a student improve his or her paper, not to grade a student’s paper. At times Writing Fellow’s may praise a section of a student’s paper, but it is important for the tutor to make it clear that their comments do not mean that the student has an “A” paper (Holladay and Dillon 2). There are many times that I had to remind myself of this ethic while I was in the Writing Center.

As mentioned above, Writing Fellows should never suggest a grade for a paper, whether this is in a direct or indirect manner. An example of directly suggesting a grade would be saying, “I think this a “B” paper.” However, most suggestions for grades are indirect and unintentional. When tutoring I find it very important to focus on the positive part of a student’s work, not just on the negative. When explaining to a student what is good about his or her paper, I always try to show ways that it could be improved and techniques for these improvements. By teaching a student strategy to make the paper better, my hope is to show that his or her paper is not flawless and there is always room for improvement. Although, my intentions are good, a student may not always interpret them that way. Writing Fellows do not know everything and this should be explained to each student.

When interviewing Kathleen, a student in my fellowed class, I asked her if she felt my positive comments meant that she had an “A” paper. She responded, “I don’t think I have a perfect paper, but I probably won’t change much in that section, unless we talk about certain things that should be changed.” I also asked another the same question. Danielle responded, “No, I don’t think that means I have an “A” paper. I just think that you feel that is a strong part of my paper.” Each student interpreted my positive comments similarly however, Kathleen felt the only weaknesses in her paper were the one’s we discussed. I explained to Kathleen that just because we did not discuss a part of her paper, does not mean it is perfect. I also explained that I do not know everything about writing and I, like her, make mistakes. This shows the importance of Writing Fellows carefully choosing their words, so that student’s do not interpret them incorrectly and think that they have a perfect paper.

I also tested the ethics of confidentiality and what affect it plays on people returning to the Writing Center. When tutoring a student, it is important for the student to understand that the issues discussed in that session are confidential. This confidentiality will hopefully allow the student to feel more comfortable and open during the session. This in turn will make the session more productive. Not only is it important to keep the session confidential; it is equally important to keep the knowledge you have of instructors’ assignments, policies, and grading procedures confidential. Breaking this confidentiality would be helping a student cheat. It would be giving one student an upper hand on all of the other students.

Through a survey I conducted, I found that four out of five people would not feel uncomfortable if I discussed another person’s writing with them or if I discussed their writing with another person. However, of the students mentioned previously, two responded they would not care if I discussed their paper, only if I did not mention their name. When asked if they would come back to the Writing Center if they felt there was little confidentiality, three of the five said that they would not return. This survey stresses the importance of confidentiality because without trust, half of the students that visit the Writing Center would not return. When working in the Writing Center, I expressed confidentiality by not mentioning the names of past student’s I had tutored and by using hypothetical examples, rather then mentioning specific instances and names.

Ethical standards in the Writing Center should not be taken lightly. Ethics are related to our values and morals; our ethics consist of what we view as right and wrong (Gillespie and Lerner 147). The two most important ethical standards that Writing Fellows should follow include not suggesting a grade on a paper and honoring confidentially. It is important for Writing Fellows to uphold these ethical standards that have been set before them. The standards may be tested on a daily basis. The ability to adhere to the standards not only strengthens the individual, but also the Writing Center as a whole.

Works Cited

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

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



Fixing Papers vs. Building Confidence
Jenelle R. Tansel

What is more important, fixing papers or building confidence? Tutors are taught that they should help students become better writers, not necessarily fix their papers. Yet, many students who come into the MCCC Writing Center think that the tutor’s role is to only fix and correct their papers. Students may not realize that by focusing on fixing the paper, the skills needed in the writing process will never be learned. It is only by showing the student how to write, will he or she learn the writing process. I asked four different students various questions in the Writing Center after their tutoring sessions on how confident they were as writers. From the answers that I received from these questions, I came to understand that by teaching students how to “learn to write” they become more confident in their papers and in themselves as writers. I decided to write on this topic because I could relate to it. As a writer myself, I have struggled with confidence in my writing.

Many students who come into the writing center think that the Writing Fellow’s job is to fix their papers—mostly correcting grammatical errors and punctuation. Many students do not understand that by doing this that nothing is learned or accomplished. Instead, tutors are taught to help the student as a writer, not on particular paper. This may be difficult to understand for many students, but once they understand, they realize how important the Writing Center is and how helpful it can be. Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner state in the book, The Allyn and Bacon Guide To Peer Tutoring that “tutors don’t fix texts; we teach writers how to fix texts” (22). They also point out throughout the book that writing tutors are not to prescribe, but they are to describe. This means that the tutor should not spoon feed the student, giving him answers to everything. Instead the tutor’s role it show the student how to find the answers they are looking for. By showing the student, he or she learns it much better than if the tutor were to simply provide the information.

When students come to the Writing Center, they may lack confidence as writers. It is the tutor’s job to help build that confidence. According to William Zinsser on writers, “they must relax and they must have confidence” to write genuinely” (20). Students may lack confidence for many reasons. First of all they may be shy or quiet individuals. Beverly Lyon Clark says that, “students who lack confidence in their writing may have poor self images and may be depressed and anxious” (141). This may be reflected in the writing as well. On the other hand, students may simply lack confidence in writing. This may be because they have not been educated about the writing process, may not understand the assignment, or their writing may have been criticized at one time. Another more obvious reason might be that the student has a learning disability that prohibits that student from being confident. Whatever the case may be, the tutor must find a way to help build the confidence level in these students. The way this is accomplished is by working with the student on the paper. The tutor must understand that the paper is a tool for helping the student learn how to learn. According to Gillespie and Lerner, “as a tutor, I am not there to solve [writers] every problem with the assignment, but to help them think through how they can solve those problems on their own” (5). Today writing is viewed as “an act that requires practice and feedback, not simply the display of information in predetermined forms” (Gillespie 12).

In the MCCC Writing Center, I decided to find out what the writers thought about confidence. I had originally planned to focus on the writer’s paper for two of my sessions, while the other two I was going to try to focus on finding ways to build confidence in the individual, while not directly working on the paper. But I found this to be difficult because I was constantly using the paper as a tool in building their confidence. So instead I recorded on paper, four different writers’ answers to questions that I had written beforehand. All the questions that I asked were the same for each student.

From the students I interviewed, only one was a male, the rest were females. The papers that the females were working on were all from English classes. The male was a student from my fellowed class, so I was given the opportunity to read his paper before the tutoring session. As a tutor during each session, I strove to evaluate each person’s confidence level before I interviewed him or her. Only one female made it very obvious to me that she was very confident in her writing. She was a non-traditional student, meaning that she was older and not directly out of high school. She was an English Composition II student who was writing a book review. I could tell that she was very confident in herself and in her writing by her actions and her writing style. The other students did not seem as confident as the non-traditional student. Yet, this was only my analysis of each individual. It is difficult to recognize confidence in some people, especially if they show a shy personality.

So at the end of the tutoring session, I politely asked the students if I could ask them a few questions in regard to writing. The first thing I was curious about was whether or not the student had ever been to the Writing Center before. As a student myself at Monroe County Community College, I know that there is a number of students at the college who have never been to the Writing Center. The answers that they gave me did not surprise me. It was the first time for two of the students, while the other two said that visited the Writing Center often. I then asked the two students who came to the Writing Center often if they thought that their writing had improved from coming to the Writing Center. They both simply stated yes with no hesitation. I was pleased to hear this response, because many students do not understand how helpful the Writing Center can be.

The following questions that I asked each student had to do with confidence. All four students stated that they were confident in their writing. On a scale from one to ten, on average they gave their confidence level an eight. From this, I asked each student if he or she felt that his or her paper reflected confidence. Only one student, a female whose paper was for an English Composition class, said that she did not feel that her paper reflected her confidence. I was curious by this answer because when I thought about it, I wondered how this individual could be confident in her writing, yet she felt her paper did not reflect it. She responded by trying to explain to me that she wrote the paper in a short amount of time, and the paper that she had with her was not her best work. I then was anxious to ask all four students if they felt more confident in their writing after the tutoring session, in comparison to how they felt about their confidence before the tutoring session. All four stated that their confidence level had risen as a result of the tutoring session, thinking that the tutoring session was successful. The last question that I asked them was if they felt that they needed to have confidence in themselves before they start a paper. All four students replied that yes, having confidence is important.

After conducting this research in the Writing Center, I came to understand that there are a few factors that may lead an individual to have a greater confidence level. The most important one being that the more the student used the Writing Center, the more confident they were in their writing. Another factor that may have lead to an increase in confidence level was the amount of experience the individual had in the writing process. For example, the non-traditional student that I tutored was very confident in herself and in her writing. Her writing reflected this. She wrote with confidence not only because she had experience but also because she had taken advantage of using the Writing Center.

As a writer, I struggle with confidence in my writing as well. While the students that I interviewed all stated that they were confident in their writing, I on the other hand, find writing to be a struggle. I have never considered myself to be a good writer. Because writing can be so difficult, it is easy to lack confidence in myself and in my writing. Yet I found that the more I write, the more confidence I gain. Just as the non-traditional student that I tutored had confidence because she held experience and took advantage of the Writing Center, my confidence as a writer has grown just the same. The more I know, the more confidence I have. The more confident I am in my writing, the more genuine it will be. This will then produce good writing, maintaining a positive outlook on my writing.

So what is more important, fixing papers, or building confidence? The answer is simple. I have concluded that tutors build the writer’s confidence by using the student’s paper as a tool. The tutor’s goal is not to tell the writer what is wrong with the piece of writing and tell the writer the answers. Instead the tutor’s goal is to show the writer. Again, the tutor describes, not prescribes. By teaching students how to find answers on their own, showing them strategies or techniques that will aid them in their writing process, the student will grow as a writer. The tutor uses the writer’s paper as an example, so that the skills the writer learns for writing that paper will be carried over to other papers in the future.

Works Cited

Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing, A Guide for Tutor and Teacher Conferences. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1985.

Cox, Jesica. Personal interview. 3 April 2002.

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

Seegert, Jordan. Personal interview. 26 March 2002.

Tuttle, Kim. Personal interview. 10 April 2002.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 6th Ed. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998.

Quint, Kristen. Personal interview. 1 May 2002.



Required Tutoring: Helpful or Hurtful?
Veronica Terry

Tutoring students in writing is a trying task. Constructively criticizing people on one of their most personal avenues of self-expression is rather difficult for someone to do. But what happens when the person criticized does not desire to receive the advice that the tutor has to offer? As a Writing Fellow, I have encountered many students that did not choose to come to the Writing Center for a conference with me. Instead, a professor expected them to see a writing tutor as part of an assignment or extra credit on a paper. These students presented an interesting approach to the session. Students forced to visit the Writing Center tend to act disinterested, withdrawn, and uncooperative. They find the sessions boring and do not hesitate to show it. Students who have visited the Writing Center, both required and not required, expressed various opinions about their peers attending mandatory conferences. Most of these views coincided with my beliefs regarding teachers’ control over the way a student learns.

There are many different reasons that students believe that Writing Fellow appointments should be required. Of course, it is beneficial to even the best students to have their academic papers read over by an objective party. This helps them recognize mistakes that they possibly overlooked. A professor requiring a student to visit a writing tutor is just for that purpose. Every person should be aware of errors in his or her writing, especially if it goes unnoticed. In a Writing Fellow questionnaire I issued to visitors of the Writing Center, I asked students how they felt about teachers making Writing Fellow visits mandatory.1 Five of the ten students that responded felt it was a good idea. Eric wrote, “Teachers should call for students to see a Writing Fellow because it helps get ideas down in case you didn’t write what you wanted.” Eric was not required to come to a conference, but had been to the Writing Center before by his own choice. Amy was required to visit the Writing Center for a conference. She declared, “I thought [coming to the Writing Center] would be a big hassle, but after the first time I came, I think it can be valuable.” She is one of the many regulars of the Writing Center who takes advantage of the service that we offer.

Not all students that I asked were as excited about required tutoring. Five questioned students expressed negative opinions concerning forced tutoring. Typically a student who does not come to see a Writing Fellow on his or her own terms does not gain as much as a student who recognizes that he or she needs help. Christina, a Speech student who made an appointment at the Writing Center stated, “I don’t feel that teachers should make students see Writing Fellows because if they don’t want to do good on a paper, then let them be. They will just be hurting themselves.” Students who are reluctant to seek help tend to be reluctant to listen; therefore, they do not obtain the amount of knowledge that one might gain from actively listening to what the Writing Fellow has to offer. Another student, Stacy, who also came for a conference on her own accord, shared the same view as Christina. When asked if she believed students required to attend sessions gained less from the conference than those who came on their own, Stacy answered, “People will only go because they have to. They won’t try to get anything out of it.” Unresponsive students lack the enthusiasm needed to make the conference a success. Stacy acknowledged that students use the Writing Fellow program only because they have to, not because they intend to achieve any understanding of the process of writing.

Some students required to come to the Writing Center feel that our service is a waste of their time. These students are easily recognized during a conference by their indifferent attitudes toward the advice given. Body language is a good sign of a bad conference. If the tutee seems to be elsewhere, chances are that is the case. The person may be looking around the room or squirming in his or her seat. A student such as this acts uncooperative and distant. Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner, coauthors of The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, state that a writer who does not want to cooperate will give “I don’t know” answers or “monosyllabic and unenthusiastic replies” (163). These symptoms could be an indication of forced tutoring and perhaps a lost cause. The session becomes a waste of the student’s and the tutor’s time. According to Gillespie and Lerner, letting these non-communicative tutees “off the hook” may possibly encourage them to return for a real conference later (164).

Each semester, every Writing Fellow at MCCC is assigned a Fellowed Class, in which the tutor must conference with every student in a certain class. Conventionally, every student in that particular class must attend at least one conference with the designated Writing Fellow. Forcing students to receive tutoring can irritate them tremendously. The irritated students can take two paths: not attend the session or attend the session. For those that do not attend, not much can be said for them. They may have missed a very important half hour of learning. But those who decide to go to conference, even if it is against their own wishes, exhibit some obvious signs of boredom and the I-don’t-want-to-be-here syndrome.

I was assigned to fellow half of a Political Science class; the other half was fellowed by my mentor. Thirty students were enrolled in the class, although by the time we began conferencing, there were nineteen. Of the ten students I had, about seven of them showed up for a session with me. Out of those seven, four or five were obvious with their annoyance of having to be there. They acted uninterested in what I had to say and answered most of my questions with “I don’t know” or worse yet, “I don’t care.” They seemed to be in a rush to leave. One student was at least five minutes late and began gathering his belongings only ten minutes into the conference. I felt as if I was not doing my job by my inability to hold his interest with my questions and comments. I also felt used because I knew that they were there only to acquire my Writing Fellow Report form. These conferences only lasted about twenty minutes total and usually after the student left, I felt as though they had never come in. The Penn State Writing Center discusses the hopeful outcome of sessions with unwilling writers in section two of “The Peer Tutoring Handbook.” It states, “In these cases, our guidance will hopefully get even the most reluctant of writers to take an active role in the tutoring session” (par 1). The key is to remain optimistic that the tutor will be able to bring the required tutee into the conference so that they may leave with more knowledge about some aspect of the writing process.

There are many difficult elements in tutoring a required student. It is the tutor’s duty to encourage the student to become involved in the conference. Even indifferent tutees enjoy talking about certain parts of their writing, and the tutor must find these characteristics to get the writer to start talking. Sometimes, though, there are students that are so upset about coming to the Writing Center that there is no way of getting them to open up about their writing. In cases like these, I believe it is acceptable to let the conference go nowhere. A Writing Fellow cannot expect to teach every student that enters the Writing Center something about writing. But by experiencing the unresponsiveness of disinterested students, the tutors will learn more about dealing with reluctant writers in peer tutoring and ultimately more about themselves.

     1 Questionnaire was anonymous. Names have been made up.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Needham Heights: Pearson, 2000.

Penn State Peer Tutors. “The Peer Tutoring Handbook.” Penn State University. 1 May 2002. <      dept/cew/writingcenter/handbook.htm#tutwrit>.

Personal Survey. Issued 18 April 2002 to 10 Students.



How to Achieve a Happy Ending
Sally A. Venia

“Nothing is ended with honor which does conclude better than it began” [Samuel Johnson: The Rambler No. 207] (Bergen 197). This may sound somewhat dramatic, but the statement rings true when it comes to a tutoring session. The end of the session leaves a lasting impression and the full effect of the appointment on the tutee. Using the right tools aids the tutor in creating the result. The summary of all that was said is what the tutee will use to improve his or her paper. For this reason, more emphasis needs to be placed on the summary and the way it is conducted.

To reach this summary point, at the beginning of the session, the tutor has the writer read his or her paper aloud. During this time, the tutor often makes notes of important areas of concern to discuss with the writer. Knowing the kind of help a writer hopes to receive facilitates this process. From these notes, the tutor talks with the writer about suggested improvements in the paper. After the notes have been discussed, the tutoring process reaches its peak. The time has come to summarize. Summing up what needs to be done to refine the writer’s paper is one of the final phases in the tutoring process.

Since summarizing occupies one of the most significant steps in the tutoring session, timing is important. Therefore, the tutor must keep this in mind as the session progresses. To allow enough time for an effective summary, the tutor needs to keep an eye on the clock (Clark 132). For this reason, it is helpful for the tutor to sit facing the clock. The tutor should be positioned in this spot before the tutee arrives to avoid any awkwardness at the beginning of the session. Glancing at the clock to check the time appears less conspicuous than looking down at a watch. The tutor must gage the time needed to summarize depending on how many topics were covered in the session. The tutor should also try to avoid rushing through the summary with the writer. After all, this is the culmination of the appointment.

Having attended a meeting that focused on the Writing Fellow Report, I came to realize how beneficial the summary and the report really are. The Writing Fellow Report acts as the perfect tool to make the summary process work for the tutor and the tutee. Working with a fellowed class, I put an emphasis on the use of the summary even more. I employed three types of summaries whenever possible to enhance the effect of the session for the writer. Asking the writer to repeat what had been covered was used when I felt the meaning was not clear. I also used oral summaries of what had been suggested on the written report at each session.

After the appointments were over and their papers were complete, I interviewed some of the students, tutored by others as well, to get their reactions to how useful the written and oral summaries were to the papers they had written. One student commented that both the written and oral summaries helped her a great deal. She made two appointments at the Writing Center for her assignment and both times the information aided her in drafting a better paper. She referred to the Writing Fellow Reports for ideas and comments that had been made during her sessions (Pearch). Regarding the oral summaries, on the average, a person remembers only fifteen percent of what is heard (Sheppard). Every student I spoke with used the information on the written form to work on his or her paper.

As effective as the summary is at the end of a session, summarizing can be conducted at different times during the tutoring session as well, depending on the student and the type of paper. Every situation is unique and every tutee understands things differently. For these reasons, a short summary can be a tool to reinforce an important point in a paper, especially a lengthy assignment such a research project. Learning to judge how the tutee has comprehended what has been said may take some time, but remains essential in making sure the writer has a good grasp of the ideas presented. At this point, the tutor can have the writer repeat the information as given. In this method of using summary, the tutor knows the writer understands what the tutor was suggesting. “If the summary is difficult for the tutee, stay [on the subject] until he or she can repeat [the information] with ease” (Tutoring). Having the tutee repeat the summary is a good habit to develop while learning to become a tutor. Likewise, properly filling out the written report aids in the summary process.

A Writing Fellow Report such as the one created by the Writing Center at Monroe County Community College is not used by all writing centers. In fact, as Sue Mendelsohn, Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Writing Center informed me, the University of Texas Writing Center does not have a written form. “We do not mandate that they [the tutors] summarize either in writing or via discussion or questions put to the client” ( Mendelsohn). Although it is suggested, that tutors decide whether or not to summarize. Even without a form, Ms. Mendelsohn often uses summarizing in her tutoring sessions.

For an effective session, however, having the written form to give to the writer as he or she leaves is a valuable tool. The MCCC form has two sections to assist the tutor and writer in giving clear meaning to what was addressed and the advice given during the appointment. Checking the boxes correctly aids the Writing Center Director in seeing which areas students seem to need help most often and aids the tutor in remembering to mention the details of the session. The tutors may use the form as an assurance that their message has gotten across to the writer.

Learning to become a competent tutor can make the tutoring session a successful and rewarding experience. Using resources for improving writing such as reference works and the Writing Fellow Report can make the session a productive experience for the tutee. Having a tutor who can guide the tutee in the right direction with the help of the right tools makes the effort worthwhile for the writer. Tutors should remember to leave time at the end of a session to summarize; or better yet have the writer repeat what was covered using the written report to strengthen the session’s effectiveness. Applying all three methods for summarizing: repeating, the oral summary, and session may be the way it ends rather than the way written report will assist the writer not only on the project he or she is working on, but on future assignments as well. The key to a good writing it begins. As Samuel Johnson states, the conclusion should be “better than it began” (Bergen 197). A good summary will go a long way on the path to better writing.

Works Cited

Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1985.

Evans, Bergen, comp. Dictionary of Quotations. New York: Delacorte Press, 1968.

Mendelsohn, Sue. “Summarizing in a Face to Face Session.” On-line posting. 25 Apr. 2002. < >.

Pearch, Kim. Telephone Interview. 24 Apr. 2002.

Sheppard, Kathy. Interview. 8 April 2002.

“Tutoring Techniques.” Owens Community College Tutor Training. 21 Mar. 2002. <
      /tutortech.html >.