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Nonverbal Communication: What Is Really Being Said
Jennifer Arnold

Speaking is not the only way that people communicate. Communication can be done with the eyes, hands, facial expressions, and other body movements, which are known as nonverbal communications. With nonverbal communication, people display emotions, feelings, thoughts, and how they generally feel. During a tutoring session, body language is noticed almost as much as what is being said verbally. It is very important to pay attention to the body language that is being sent to the tutee, but also the body language that is being sent from the tutee. In some tutoring sessions, body language is more truthful than what is being said verbally.

Students who are new to the Writing Center usually do not know what to expect, which can make them feel uncomfortable and nervous. Our job as tutors is to make the tutoring sessions as pleasurable as possible. To do this, tutors need to be aware of the expressions and body language of our tutees, and attempt to make the session as comfortable and rewarding as we can. People are not always truthful with what they are saying, and tutors have to ensure that the tutee feels comfortable and welcomed in the Writing Center. We as tutors need to be aware of the body language that we are sending to the tutees, not just the body language that we are receiving from them. According to a survey that I conducted, a majority of the Writing Fellows believe that nonverbal communication is extremely important, because if we do not show that we are interested in the session, it will be difficult for the tutee to remain focused and interested as well. Nonverbal communication during a tutoring session can greatly affect the outcome of the session.

Paying close attention to the body language of tutees can help a tutor gather an impression of how to communicate with them. If a student walks into the Writing Center who appears to be uncomfortable or nervous, the tutor can realize that he or she might have to be extra friendly to help the student relax a little. The Writing Center at MCCC is very institutional looking, and tutors using positive body language can help take the focus off the surroundings. If a student walks into the Writing Center appearing to be cheerful and friendly, the tutor might see that this person is approachable, and spend less time relaxing the student. In either situation, a smile from the tutor is a great start, because this shows the tutee that the tutor is friendly, and easy to talk to.

In his book, Introduction to Psychology Gateways To Mind And Behavior, Dennis Coon states that "The facial and body gestures of emotion speak a language all their own and add an extra message to what a person says" (432). Tutees, as well as tutors, may be sending messages with their bodies that are either voluntary, or involuntary, but these messages still convey important meanings. Although a majority of the students who come into the Writing Center are goal oriented, and are aware of how tutoring sessions go, there are still students who have never been to the Writing Center before and do not know what to expect. If a person is unfamiliar with the surroundings, he or she may tend to tense up and be uncomfortable. One of the most important non-verbals that I have observed while tutoring and while observing tutoring sessions, is the display of the tutee being defensive. According to Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, "Most defensive gestures are instinctive ways of protecting ourselves. Feeling defensive is extremely unpleasant. It's a product of feeling attacked" (286). Dimitrius also states that signs of defensiveness may include crossing arms, keeping the body squared, and leaving the awkward situation as quickly as possible (Dimitrius 287). Although for my study of nonverbal communication, I observed several tutoring sessions, one session stuck out to me when the tutee exhibited all three signs of being defensive throughout the session.

Sue was already sitting down when Mike came into the Writing Center, so he took the seat that was furthest from her. Mike tossed his paper towards Sue, slumped back in his chair, and immediately crossed his arms on his chest. First impressions suggest that Mike did not want to be there, and that he was not willing to get to close to Sue. This nonverbal behavior shows that Mike is not willing to open up, or communicate with Sue, because crossing his arms against his chest shows that he is closed off. Sue easily detected that Mike did not want to be there, so she attempted to be friendlier and display positive body language. She smiled, leaned forward, introduced herself, and asked Mike if he had ever been to the Writing Center before. When he replied that he had not, Sue told him the basics of what occurs during a tutoring session, and had a smile on her face through her entire explanation. Sue attempted to get closer to Mike, but he continued to scoot back further away from her. He appeared to be more interested in getting the session over with than with what Sue had to suggest to with his paper. Mike did not allow himself to be approachable or allow Sue to cross the line into his personal space. When Sue asked Mike to read his paper aloud, he gave her a very disgusted look. Mike tilted his head to the side, shrugged his shoulders, grabbed his paper very quickly from the table, and resumed his posture of slouching back in his seat. Sue attempted to make the session go more smoothly by suggesting that she read his paper, but Mike gave her a quick glance before beginning to read his paper. Sue's eyes became enlarged, as she became aware of just how much Mike did not want to be there, or read his paper to her. As Mike read his paper aloud to Sue, he read very fast, and did not allow Sue to see his paper at all. Sue continued to lean forward with her eyes focused on Mike, which showed that she remained interested in helping him, but Mike's negative body language alerted Sue that she was invading his personal space, which he did not appreciate. After Mike finished reading his paper and Sue began to point out some areas that she wanted to talk about, Mike continuously looked at the clock, never leaning forward, or making eye contact with Sue. At the end of the session, Mike left as soon as he could without saying thank you, or showing any positive reinforcement.

During this tutoring session, although Sue tried to remain positive, Mike's negative body language began to affect her body language as well. No matter how hard Sue tried to get close to Mike, he would not let her anywhere near him. He closed himself off from the very beginning, and did not change his attitude as the session progressed. Towards the end of the session, I could easily detect that Mike's negative body language made it difficult for Sue to remain positive, but she continued to be professional, friendly, and courteous. Although at times it is difficult to remain positive, when the tutee is clearly sending negative body language, our job as tutors is to continue to attempt to make the best overall outcome of the session.

Although body language is very important in detecting a persons true feelings, it is not always best to jump to conclusions and begin assuming ideas that may be untrue. Everyone has a bad day; I know I have, and sometimes it is difficult to maintain perfect posture, keep smiling, and keep one’s eyes focused when having a session with a tutee. Tutors have to remember that the students who come into the Writing Center have bad days as well, and can not always expect them to be fully conscious of the body language they are sending. I would be lying if I said that the Writing Fellows and I exhibited positive body language during all of our sessions, because body language is not something that people are aware of all of the time. It is always best to test the waters, to know what types of nonverbal communication needs to be sent to the tutee. No matter what the situations, I have found it is best to lean forward, smile, nod, and show with body language that I am interested in helping the tutee, and I truly care with what he or she is talking to me about. It has to be said that although we try our best as Writing Fellows to make students feel welcomed and comfortable when they come into the Writing Center, sometimes we are fighting the inevitable. No matter how much positive body language we present, sometimes it just does not work, and we have to accept that. I still remain a firm believer in nonverbal communication, and the effect it has during a tutoring session. Throughout my research on this topic I observed many different people and tutoring sessions. But in the end this theory remained true: positive body language from both the tutor and the tutee equals a positive outcome, but negative body language from either party affects the session altogether, and the outcome is not as rewarding.

Works Cited

Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology Gateways To Mind And Behavior. ed.9. Wadsworth: Belmont, 2001.

Dimitrius, Jo-Ellan, and Mark Mazzarella. Reading People. Ballantine: New York, 1998-1999.

Survey. Personal, MCCC Writing Center. Apr. 2003.

Tutees: Friends or Strangers?
Ryan A. Bunch

While working in the Writing Center every tutor will have to tutor a friend or acquaintance. Many tutors are apprehensive about doing so because they feel odd in a position of authority over friends; because of this, tutors prefer to work with strangers. Tutors do not need to be frightened about tutoring acquaintances. Acquaintance tutoring can be similar to and as effective as tutoring strangers if the correct steps are taken. Through pre-planning and discussing a session with the friend, or stranger, and using correct nonverbal communication, a tutor can make any session, despite the longevity of relationship, into a success. Through personal observation, survey questions, and a small amount of research I was able to conclude that any session with a friend or a stranger can be comfortable and productive.

In my own experiences I have preferred to work with strangers. However, tutoring acquaintances seems inevitable. My first four sessions in the Writing Center were comprised of two females—one friend, one stranger—and two males—one friend, one stranger. Due to the diversity, I chose to select these sessions as my observations. I wanted to use actual sessions as my observation examples so that I did not ruin a potentially good session for a tutee by using him or her as a guinea pig. I expected in advance that my sessions with strangers would be more productive than those with my friends, but that those with my friends would be more comfortable; I soon discovered that I was wrong. In the craft of tutoring, it is difficult to make generalizations, even when friends are involved. Each session is an individual experience and should be treated as such.

The first student walked in, bounced over to the table, introduced himself enthusiastically and explained his motives for coming while I filled out the Writing Fellow report form. He was in a Public Speaking course and had to debate censorship of the Internet with a classmate. His enthusiasm eased my woes a little; however, I was nervous about how to handle the session. I tried to remember all I could from the Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring book from class and follow the recommended procedure. Despite his interest in the topic, the student made little progress on the assignment. He had a few ideas, some miscellaneous notes and a pile of surveys from his classmates. I began with what we had. We discussed how to arrange his debate and make it the most effective and convincing that it could be, and how to prepare for counter attacks from his opponent. The session lasted over an hour and when he left he had an outline, an effective list of information and sources, and a readily prepared counter argument for his opponent’s speech. The session was long, but productive, and fun too. The steps suggested in the Peer Tutoring book worked. I was pleased with my performance and at how productive the meeting was; this gave me confidence for my next session.

Jan and I were high schools friends and I still saw her frequently. She had an informative speech due and discovered that a Writing Fellow meeting would get her a few extra points, so she came to see me. I was glad that she was coming, but weary about playing the role of tutor to someone who knew me so well. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings with any criticism, so I was nervous. She rushed in; she was a little late, and visibly nervous. She frantically unpacked her bag and apologized for being late and unprepared. Her nervousness made me realize that as far as control went, I had the upper hand, and that it was my duty to make her feel relaxed and comfortable. She was in the same productive stage as my first student on a similar assignment so I followed the same format as I did with him. We discussed her information, her topic and how she could arrange it effectively. However, strictly focusing on the subject made the session uneasy; so, I allowed brief deviations from the subject when things got tense. We chatted about friends and the weekend and when we got loosened up, I directed attention back to the assignment and began working again. The laid-back style of the session made it fun, comfortable and productive; however it also made it very long—nearly an hour and a half. This style is effective, but not convenient. If I had an appointment waiting, my session with Jan would have been unproductive.

My third session, with a female stranger, was the first disaster. I was not as nervous as I was for my two previous sessions and I felt confident and relaxed about tutoring. She arrived and had an article review to work on. She was friendly, but nervous. In my lack of nervousness I did not take into account her apprehensions. It took less than fifteen minuets for the session to fall apart. She did not understand the assignment and I tried to explain it to her using the Socratic Method (the method of teaching through questioning). There was a complete lack of communication; every attempt to make the point clearer confused her more. As she grew more confused I grew increasingly frustrated and very little was accomplished. It took an entire half-hour session to explain that she needed to form an opinion of the article. Luckily, she got it in the last five minutes, but had to go right at the half-hour mark and would not be able to come back before the assignment was due. I sent her on her way and threw my face miserably into my hands. I felt like I had failed. The session was terrible and my frustration and lack of attention to her feelings were responsible. Unfortunately, this bad experience carried over into my next session.

I saw Mike around campus often and we were well acquainted. He told me a few days prior that he needed help, so I guided him to the Writing Center. When he arrived I was too optimistic about our brief friendship. Again, I forgot to take into account the student’s potential nervousness. I was enthusiastic, but edgy; I had a bad day and wanted to go home. Nonetheless, I remained interested enough to help him. He had little research done, and did not have a paper. We discussed structure, how to set up an effective paper, and what information and main ideas he wanted to concentrate on. I was trying to use the Socratic Method, again, but the questions only confused him. He left with a rough outline and he seemed appreciative, but it was clear to me that the session had not gone well. My bad mood was obvious, despite my attempts to hide it and it made the session uncomfortable. It was frustrating that I was not more help to him.

Driving home I thought about what other tutors do after a bad session. Surely the veterans of the Writing Center have some horror stories. “How do they deal with the feelings of failure that come after a bad session, especially with a friend,” I wondered. I was curious how they felt about tutoring friends in the first place. In my brief experience I already decided tutoring strangers was more comfortable. I preferred strangers for two reasons: first it is easier to be a tutor with someone who knows me as only that, and second, after a bad session I did not feel so much remorse for those I did not know! I wondered if my colleagues would feel the same way, so I surveyed them.

The results I got from my survey did not astound me; tutors preferred working with strangers. I was not only pleased with the responses I got, but surprised at what people had to say about the subject. Many tutors wrote long answers explaining how they felt about tutoring acquaintances. I was surprised to discover that many tutors agree that regardless of who comes in, it is the tutor’s job to make the session productive. Tutors almost unanimously agreed that tutoring and being authoritative with strangers is easier than with friends, and that sessions with strangers are more productive; however, tutors were split almost evenly about whom they refer friends to see, themselves or others.

Of seventeen people polled, eleven preferred tutoring strangers, and nine of ten said that sessions with strangers were more productive. Reasons varied, but the agreement was that working with friends can be counter productive due to chit-chat and gossip, and that it is difficult to be authoritative with a friend, as was my dilemma with Jan. However, one surveyed student stated that the level of friendship plays an important role. Working with a close friend who understands your work will be different than with a classmate who just wants extra points. Even so, no person wants to hurt a friend’s feelings or insult his or her writing ability, so tutors would rather avoid the situation. However, when asked who they wished friends would come see when they do come, the majority wished to be the one.

The split was nearly even, but those wishing to be the Writing Fellow that their friends choose upped the other by two votes. Some preferred seeing friends because they could avoid awkward introductions and focus on working; this is a good point. The beginning of a session with a stranger is consumed getting acquainted and comfortable. Even though they can be awkward to criticize, tutoring friends has the benefit of being direct. Instead of being uncomfortable telling a stranger what you are trying to have him or her do you can blatantly tell a friend he or she is missing the point. However, the trade is even; in either situation there will be discomfort in one area or another. In the area of being uncomfortable one tutor made an interesting point about inviting friends to the Writing Center. The person said that if the friend had never before been to the Writing Center then having a friend tutor them for the first time would make them more comfortable and more likely to return on their own. In this respect there are a number of things that a tutor can do to ease the anguish of their tutees, be they friend or stranger.

To prevent potential disasters while tutoring, tutors can prepare a productive session in advance. Setting goals with friends and creating a comfortable environment are two ways to clear the path toward productivity. It is ultimately the tutor who is responsible for the atmosphere of a session; that responsibility should be taken seriously. The student will respond to the tutor’s attitude, if that attitude is positive, the student will feel positive, and in theory the session will be positive. Dale Carnegie, a pioneer in people and leadership skills, believes that in any situation a leader need be only one step ahead of the people that he or she is in control of. If that leader is too far ahead the followers may view the gap as too difficult to close and want to give up. In this sense, tutors should lead not by being directive, but by asking questions (245-47). Carnegie also states that a good leader (or tutor in this case) will arouse in the other person “an eager want” to succeed (79). If tutor’s talk about session goals and use deliberate nonverbal communication they can be sure the tutee will aspire to succeed.

The first thing a tutor who is worried about tutoring a friend can do is to talk to the friend and set goals for the session. Talking in advance and agreeing on what each party hopes to achieve will make the actual session run more smoothly. Also, the friend and tutor can discuss off topic conversation, constructive criticism, and other concerns of the session. Airing their apprehensions in advance, the student and tutor will be ready to work when the session begins. Setting goals should not be limited to friends; tutors can have a similar conversation with unfamiliar students and achieve the same success (Gillespie, Lerner 39-40). However, such conversation, especially with strangers, is not always appropriate. In these cases tutors can use nonverbal communication to communicate to tutees.
If a pre-session discussion is not possible and/or the tutor feels uncomfortable talking about goals and feelings with a student, as may be the case with a loose acquaintance or a stranger, the tutor can communicate nonverbally. Being warm and friendly (without being overbearing) at the start of a session a tutor will create a comfort level that will create productivity. It is important that the tutor does not make him or herself too comfortable though. If the tutor is too relaxed the student may be frightened by his or her own nervousness and not be able to focus. In this case the tutor risks repeating my third session. Instead the tutor should try and mimic the comfort level of the student and then slowly take steps to loosen up throughout the session. However, one must keep in mind that nonverbal communication is continuous and the tutor must be aware of it constantly (Adler, Rodman 158).

By using pre-session discussion and appropriate nonverbal communication any tutor can make any session productive, even if it is with a friend who expects a free ride or chat-time. Moreover, if a tutor takes these steps to make a session more productive and if it still fails then he or she can be reassured that a valiant attempt was made to make it as effective as possible. If tutor’s use these methods they will be confident in their tutoring ability, and subsequently become better at it. They will find that the rewards of pre-planning will make a student, be he or she friend or stranger, more relaxed and confident and will in turn lead to productive sessions. Tutoring peers brings a great responsibility to the tutor. He or she is responsible not only for the student’s progress, but for the reputation of his or her organization. Due to this, tutors should take every measure possible to help all visitors to the Writing Center to the best of their abilities, regardless of longevity of acquaintance.

Works Cited

Adler, Ronald B., Rodman, George. Understanding Human Communication. 8th Ed. New York: Oxford, 2003.

Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends, and Influence People. Revised Ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936.

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

Personal observations. Monroe County Community Coll. Writing Center. Winter, 2003.

Tutor Surveys. Monroe County Community Coll. Writing Center. Winter, 2003.



Class Plus Tutoring Equals Proper Preparation
David Capaul

According to Patricia Salomon’s 1994 Writing Lab Newsletter article, “Starting From Scratch,” she improved her writing center with training. Before she began a tutor-training program at her university, the college’s writing center received mixed evaluations. People defined the writing center as a “proofreading parlor,” so several English instructors dissuaded their students from using it (15). With the administration’s support, the tutor-training program became a requirement. She first taught five introductory sessions, which covered the basics: tutoring versus editing, improving interpersonal skills, and helping ESL students. The tutors also attended weekly one-hour sessions, which focused “on Writing Center procedures, teaching the writing process, preparing for tutoring, identifying student writing problems, handling problems that might arise in the Writing Center, and tutoring LD students” (Salomon 15). The training subsequently produced great results. In the fall, the number of tutees doubled, and 35% more faculty advertised the Writing Center (Salomon 15). Salomon illustrates the importance of good training, which Monroe County Community College (MCCC) also provides. After examining MCCC Writing Center’s history, I, a Junior Writing Fellow, further recognized the benefits of proper training. When Dr. John Holladay, the founder of MCCC Writing Center, trained the first Writing Fellows in 1988, he required “good books on the topic,” and he monitored them in the lab simultaneously (Holladay). Since he instituted the program, the training remained the same. Timothy Dillon, the current coordinator, still continued the tradition with my class; hence, we underwent Advanced Composition 254 and tutored concurrently. As junior Writing Fellows, he trained us to be consummate writers and tutors: an arduous journey. The tradition obviously illustrated an excellent point. To receive the necessary training, the tutor must attend a class, instead of tutoring without a course. That combination incorporated introductory instructions, instant feedback, and extra practice—helpful practice that some colleges unfortunately lack.

To prepare us, the class began as a “crash course” in tutoring (Dillon). Mr. Dillon provided important information on tutoring, especially tutoring versus editing. We, henceforward, applied a descriptive approach; we guided the tutees, but we avoided editing the tutees’ papers. The tutees own their papers—not the Writing Fellows. He additionally discussed his expectations: punctuality, friendliness, attentiveness, and confidentiality. While we tutored, we represented the college, and encouraged students using the Writing Center. To prevent dissatisfaction, the writing fellows followed the guidelines and maintained professional attitudes, which Mr. Dillon emphasized in class. He thus operated the writing program like a professional business. He clearly maintained the expectations of other directors. Peter Vandenberg, past director of DePaul University’s Writing Center, correctly wrote in his 1999 article for the Writing Center Journal: “We [teachers] typically expect student tutors to replicate dominant institutional and literate values and to reproduce them in others as a condition of employment” (60).

Like Dr. Holladay, Mr. Dillon required some helpful reading. Reading Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner’s 2000 textbook, The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, provided excellent background information; the book introduced the tutorial process. Reading the texts, moreover, formed our tutorial foundation. Mr. Dillon liked the text, but he also incorporated other reading materials, including the Purdue Writing Lab Newsletter. Those materials presented new ideas and great suggestions for tutors. I, for instance, remembered reading Gail Brendal’s 1993 article, “Professional Intimacy.” The article posed a difficult question. To maintain a professional relationship, should the tutor avoid friendships with the tutees? The author avoided personal friendships with the tutees because he feared they would expect more help (11). I did not avoid friendships because I was a writing fellow; however, I respected the rules. The article made me consider an idea that never occurred to me. In addition, Mr. Dillon assigned us to read former students’ theory to practice papers. The theory to practice papers addressed myriad topics, and they served as good guides. For the first assignment, each student read three theory to practice papers, and then wrote three journal responses on blackboard—a new Internet experiment. Since my class recorded journals on blackboard, we read each other’s journal responses. When I responded to other classmate’s journals, I gained wonderful insight. Responding to the journals instilled more useful information into our heads. The class, in brief, allowed student interaction: a support system for the new writing fellows.

While we synthesized the text, Mr. Dillon supervised us in the Writing Center because we immediately started tutoring after class resumed. The class provided the instruction, whereas the tutorial sessions provided the actual experience, which allowed for improvement. He first ensured that the new Writing Fellows used a descriptive approach, so the Writing Center was not an “editing parlor” like Salomon’s writing center was. He also reminded the writing fellows that the report forms should be written out completely. Whether examining the tutorial report forms or directing monthly meetings, he reinforced the objectives of the writing center. Since he periodically entered the Writing Center, the Writing Fellows asked him questions, and he addressed them quickly. When a tutee asked me a question about MLA format, I lacked the answer. Once Mr. Dillon entered the Writing Center, I asked him the question, and he explained the answer better than I could.

If Mr. Dillon was not in the Writing Center, I waited until class, and provoked good class discussions with my questions. To receive immediate direction, we additionally addressed concerns during the class. Whether tutoring aggressive independent (outspoken) tutees or dealing with the fellowed classes (assigned classes for the Writing Fellows), questions always occupied our minds. Once class resumed, Mr. Dillon sometimes asked us if we had any problems or questions; hence, he quickly addressed the concerns. Since some of my tutees, for example, claimed that a certain teacher discouraged thesis statements, I informed Mr. Dillon and asked him what to do. When Mr. Dillon later questioned the teacher, that teacher chided his students because they misinterpreted the assignment—the teacher indeed wanted a thesis statement. The class thereby provided a link to the faculty through our teacher, Mr. Dillon. Since the questions concerned the class, Mr. Dillon informed more than one student. We consequently learned from each other. According to one survey response, “I liked how it was set up because if you ran into some trouble, or had questions about something, they could be addressed right away instead of at a monthly meeting” (Survey of Writing). Whenever I asked Mr. Dillon a question, he incorporated good class discussions allowing the class to solve the problems.

Discussing my first tutorial also stimulated a good class discussion. When asked about my first experience, I mentioned that I praised Esmeralda’s paper. I congratulated her for her thesis and topic sentences. Mr. Dillon quickly questioned my approach. He first asked the class what was wrong with my approach. He next mentioned some scenarios. Since I applauded her thesis, she probably predicted an automatic A, or at least a B+. If the paper received her prophesized grade, she might persistently expect me to ensure her good grades. If the instructor, however, recognized no thesis and no topic sentences, Esmeralda then questions the tutorial creditability. As a tutor, I consequently complimented the tutee, but I used compliments carefully. Initiating fantasy grades establishes a detriment because the fantasized grade could contradict the real grade. The discussion clearly benefited me. Although I made a mistake, I never repeated that mistake because of the class discussion. I additionally reevaluated my tutorial strategy.

The class further incorporated extra practice. To improve our skills, Mr. Dillon first required each Junior Writing Fellow to evaluate a Senior Writing Fellow’s session. The Junior Writing Fellows observed a Senior Writing Fellow during a conference. Since we watched other tutors, we learned their different styles, some of which were worked into our tutorials. I, for instance, admired Sue’s approach. To calm the tutee, Sue displayed a friendly conversational style. She incorporated jokes, and she treated the tutee like a close friend. Watching her tutor improved my mood, and inspired me. I normally applied a very professional approach; nevertheless, I noted the benefits of her approach. When she finished the appointment, the tutee asked for her number and requested another appointment: a testament to Sue’s talent. The assignment encouraged new ideas within me, and my fellow classmates. After the assignment, I examined other writing fellows. Every writing fellow presented something new to consider.

Besides evaluating other Writing Fellows, Mr. Dillon also had us tutor each other in class. When we completed the first drafts of our article reviews, Mr. Dillon assigned partners and we tutored each other. While he monitored the mock tutorial, he noticed tutorial mistakes, and he then corrected them quickly. My partner, for instance, said that I fulfilled the requirements excellently. Mr. Dillon again mentioned that too much praise motivated fantasies. The experience especially benefited some because they had not tutored yet. The Writing Fellows clearly applauded the mock tutorials. According to my survey results, 14 people praised the mock tutorial, especially since it introduced some Junior Writing Fellows to the process (Survey of Writing). Veronica Terry, a Senior Writing Fellow, wrote, “They’re helpful to the Junior Writing Fellows because they show them exactly what goes on during a session. They’re helpful to Senior Writing Fellows because they can see other ways people do things and learn from them” (Survey of Writing).

Compared to other colleges I researched, MCCC’s writing program entailed more preparation. When I attended the Marietta College Conference, I watched a presentation by three students who received no training. A Michigan private college lacked a tutorial class, but the school encouraged tutors to take a basic composition course. After potential writing tutors attended an interview, they entered the writing center. Those tutors never performed mock tutorials or evaluated each other. They even admitted that more practice would help them. The tutors, therefore, performed with limited experience. Without training, a student might develop into a good tutor because each tutorial session requires flexibility; the tutorial sessions entail different circumstances. Patricia Salomon wrote, “Tutor training is no panacea for all tutoring problems. Some tutoring situations will have to be worked out through trial and error” (15). Training did not solve all the problems, but it provided that good foundation. What we learned in three weeks might take these tutors three years. When audience members suggested good practices, the speakers took notes planning to use some of the practices. After I left the presentation, I felt that the speakers lacked the experience that MCCC writing program offered.

Through the introductory course, the feedback, and the extra practice, the course, all and all, produced excellent writing fellows. According to Peter Vandenberg’s 1999 The Writing Center Journal article, “Lessons of Inscription,” he acknowledged “the director’s ‘dual pedagogical charge’—‘we must encourage age growth in the tutor as well as the writer’” (63). Enduring advanced composition and the tutorials ensured that “growth.” Whether requiring reading or implementing mock tutorials, the class provided the necessary training. The process entailed arduous work, but equaled an unquestionable end result—a good tutor. Since MCCC writing program truly trained the WritingFellows well, the faculty commended the program and the students recognized the program’s value. Like Salomon and Holladay, Mr. Dillon illustrated that good training propelled good results. I, furthermore, appreciate our Writing Center’s history because Dr. Holladay’s early experimentation set the precedent for MCCC’s successful writing center—a good course with tutorial training. Dr. John Holladay wrote, “One cannot learn to swim, golf, play piano, or any other skill simply by reading and studying about it” (Holladay).

Works Cited

Brendal, Gail. “Professional Intimacy.” Writing Lab Newsletter. 18.2 (Oct. 1993): 11      <>.

Buck, Amber, Alexandra Faxlanger, and Carolyn Widman. “Teaching the Writing Consultant: What Comes First, the Class or the      Tutor?" East Central Writing Centers Association

Conference. Marietta College, Marietta. 28 Mar. 2003.

Dillon, Timothy J, et al. “Theory to Practice: Building a Writing Center History Through Online Publication of Tutors’ Theory to      Practice Research.” East Central Writing Centers Association Conference. Marietta College, Marietta. 29 Mar. 2003.

Salomon, Patricia. “Starting From Scratch: Developing a Tutor-Training Program.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. 19.1 (4 Apr. 2003): 15      <>.

“Survey of Dr. Holladay.” Field Research. Monroe County Community College. 25 Mar. 2003.

“Survey of Writing Fellows.” Field Research. Monroe County Community College Writing Center. 26 Mar. 2003.

Vandenberg, Paul. “Lessons of Inscription: Tutor Training and the ‘Professional Conversation.’” The Writing Center Journal. 19.2      (1999): 59-83.



Does Gender Affect Tutoring?
Carly Dahl


Do you feel differently around someone of the opposite gender? Does gender affect your comfort level or how you communicate with someone? I have found information on how learning and communication differs between males and females. There are some very distinct differences in each of the learning styles and communications styles. Each of these differences contributes to problems within tutoring sessions. Since males and females often have these different characteristics of learning and communicating, problems arise in, not only in opposite gender tutoring sessions, but in same gender tutoring sessions as well. Women appear to be better communicators yet males find it easier to start the conversation since women often hold back and do not take control of a conversation. There are many factors that affect how a tutoring session will go, and gender is one of those factors.

Learning styles of males and females are very different. According to the article, “Male and Female College Students’ Learning Styles Differ: An Opportunity for Instructional Diversification,” by Gabe Keri, more females are relational learners, while males tend to be independent learners (par. 1). This means that females find it easier to learn within groups or in pairs, being able to converse and discuss with others, while males prefer to study alone, without the distractions of others. This is a factor in tutoring and how each gender may differ. Females may be more perceptive to what a tutor has to say since they are social or relational learners. Because of this, females are more likely to take advice from tutors and apply it to their own work. Unlike females, males may find tutoring as an unnecessary act. They may see this as a distraction to the work that they could do independently. Tutors will often feel the consequences for this type of learner. The males with this type of learning style are more likely to rush through a tutoring conference and treat the session as if it is a waste of time. Because of this, they are more likely to challenge any ideas or advice that the tutors give to them. I have experienced a tutoring session like this before. I would give advice or make suggestions to the tutee, and he would argue with everything that I said. I am assuming that this male has the type of independent learning style discussed in this article, and would rather work independently without others’ input. The learning style differences may also affect tutors and how they act toward the tutees. Since males are known to work better independently, male tutors may not respond to tutoring sessions as well as the female tutors who are more likely to study within groups.

Males and females also communicate much differently in many situations. According to a website by Dr. Beth Vanfossen titled, Gender Differences in Communication; there is an enormous difference in the communication styles and practices of males and females (par. 1). Vanfossen also states that men initiate conversation more often, and talk for a longer period of time than women do (par. 2). This was surprising to me since women are known more as conversationalists than men. Considering the social learning style that most females have, it seems as if they would be more likely to start a conversation with others. Although, it does seem that males are more likely to take control of a situation, such as starting a conversation. Another way in which males take control of a situation or conversation is by interruption. Vanfossen also states that men are more likely to interrupt other people’s speaking. In the same sense, women are more likely to be interrupted when speaking (par. 3). In my tutoring sessions, I noticed the opposite. Most of the males that I tutored were very polite and listened to what I had to say without interrupting me. Yet, I can remember a few females who did not seem as receptive or involved in the tutoring session. Although, a female tutor who responded to my questionnaire asking if gender affects tutoring stated, “I think females are easier to talk to and communicate a lot better.” This communication difference could have a strong effect on how people tutor also. Since women are less likely to speak for long periods of time, or less likely to take control of a situation their tutoring sessions will be affected. Female tutors need to take some control of a session in order for anything to be accomplished, yet it is good that females are less likely to speak for long periods of time since the tutee would not have any part in the session. Since males are more likely to speak for long periods of time, and interrupt more often, the tutoring sessions could suffer from this. The tutee would not have as much input on the session and may be offended by a controlling tutor.

Gender also has some affect on individual’s comfort levels during tutoring sessions. Before I had a chance to tutor a male student, I feared that it would be a very uncomfortable situation and that I would feel much better tutoring a female. I also thought that the male students that I tutored in the future would feel very uncomfortable in the session also and not much would be accomplished. It just seems that people feel a lot more nervous around someone of the opposite gender. This is just what I had always thought, but I never really noticed that I have a number of male friends that I feel very comfortable around. This was always just a situation that I assumed would be uncomfortable but never actually thought it through. After tutoring a few male students I found that my assumptions were wrong. I felt very comfortable and relaxed in each situation. To find out how each student reacted with a female tutor, I held a survey. In the survey I asked each student how comfortable he or she felt on a scale of 1 to 5. Every student replied with a 4 or 5, being the most comfortable. I also asked for specific reasons for feeling comfortable and none of the students mentioned anything about gender adding to their comfort or even discomfort. Yet, when I asked if the tutee would prefer a session with a male or female tutor, one female tutee replied, “I don’t care either way but if I really had to pick I would prefer a female because I feel more comfortable talking about my work with other females” (survey). I found that personalities outweigh gender when thinking about comfort levels. If a tutor is friendly and helpful, the student will feel comfortable during the tutoring session no matter what gender either of them is.

I also wanted to see how other tutors feel with tutoring the opposite gender. I created a questionnaire and distributed it to some of the tutors. Each of the respondents of my questionnaire felt differently on the subject, yet they all agreed that gender does have some kind of affect on tutoring. Most of the tutors, both male and female, feel most comfortable tutoring the same gender, while each of them still feel quite comfortable around the opposite. One of the female tutors replied that the male students will not listen to what she has to say and are not willing to participate during the tutoring session. She stated, “Males are quicker to become defensive and they don’t take criticism as well.” She also said that she is a little reluctant in pointing out mistakes in the papers from male tutees (questionnaire). On the other hand, both of the male tutors that responded to my questionnaire stated that they would rather tutor females. They each mentioned flirting going on during the opposite gender sessions, which I thought was very interesting since none of the female tutors mentioned that factor. I do find this a good point though. Males and females will most likely use some type of flirtation in basically any situation. The male tutors also find it easier to communicate with female tutees and mentioned that the males “try to be all macho and stuff” during the sessions (questionnaire).

After experiencing a number of tutoring sessions with both male and female, and also reading the surveys and questionnaires, I was very surprised. I had predicted that students would feel less comfortable around a tutor of the opposite gender, yet all of the students replied, in the survey, that gender does not really make a difference to them. I also thought that I would feel uncomfortable tutoring males, just as any other tutor would feel uncomfortable tutoring the opposite gender, yet I was incorrect on that also. I felt very comfortable around the male tutees and most of the other tutors who responded to my questionnaire also feel quite comfortable around students of the opposite gender. Since there are major differences in the learning and communication styles of males and females, tutoring conferences may suffer. Tutors need to be aware of these differences to understand, and communicate better with students. Females should not be offended when interrupted by male tutees since that is part of their gender’s communication style. Male tutors should also be sensitive to the fact that females may not contribute to the conversation as much and may hold back their comments. There are many different aspects of each gender that should be learned to be a better tutor and understand both males and females a little better.

Works Cited

Keri, Gabe. “Male and Female College Students’ Learning Styles Differ: An Opportunity for Instructional Diversification.” College Student Journal 36.3      Sept. 2002:433-42. Infotrac. Gale Group. Monroe Co. Community Coll. Lib., Monroe. 13 Apr. 2003 <>.

“Questionnaire.” MCCC. 7-18 Apr. 2003.

“Survey.” MCCC. 7-21 Apr. 2003.

Vanfossen, Beth. Gender Differences in Communication. 1 Apr. 1998. Institute for Teaching and Research on Women, Townson U. 13 Apr. 2003      <>.



The Five-Paragraph Theme Format
Lisa Heck

It is the night before a student’s paper is due and she hasn’t even started the paper yet. After prewriting, the writer thinks about the several different formats that she could use to write this paper. After trying to fit the main ideas, topics, statistics, and other information into a format she wishes that there was just an easier way to organize all of the work. Just trying to fit all of this information in a format takes up most of my time she thought. Could you imagine trying to fit writing into several different formats every time you wrote a paper or tried to help someone else write a paper? There would be absolute chaos if there were many different formats for writing. That is why the five-paragraph theme is such a universal format. It is so much more beneficial that there is a basic format for writing because it is easy to follow and it keeps one’s main ideas and points organized. While using this theme myself, I have also found that this theme works when tutoring others. Also, students agree that this is a good format for writing when they were asked in a survey. There are three main points to a five-paragraph essay: the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion.

The introduction is the most important part of the five-paragraph theme because it contains the first sentence of the entire essay and also the thesis statement. The first sentence of the essay is what captures the reader’s interest, and from there readers decide if they are interested in that particular piece of work or not. The purpose of an introduction is to present the main idea and point of one’s paper, which leads to the thesis statement. The thesis statement can be as long as an entire paragraph or as short as a simple sentence. The point of a thesis is to introduce what the three main points of the paper are. If one was writing about different qualities of birds, cats, and dogs an example of a thesis statement for this paper could be: there are many different qualities to compare when it comes to birds, cats and dogs. By that statement the reader now knows that the paper will be about birds in the first paragraph, cats in the second, and dogs in the third paragraph. On the web site “The Five-Paragraph Essay” the author says that a thesis serves as a “mini-outline” for the paper. (par.1). This leads to the three body paragraphs that will now be discussed, since this writer previewed the topic in the introduction.

The next step in the five-paragraph theme is developing three body paragraphs that convey three main points that the writer wants to convey to the reader. It is easier to divide a topic into paragraphs this way because the paper will present itself as more organized rather than trying to divide the topic by pages or any other way. Blue suggests that once the topic is divided one should “develop a paragraph for each of the three main topics” (par.11) Also when developing the three body paragraphs it is important to start each paragraph with a topic sentence. A topic sentence is like a thesis because it previews, but in this case it previews the paragraph instead of the entire paper. (Blue par.11). Order and sequence are other important points when working with body paragraphs. It makes logical sense that the “first paragraph of the body should contain the strongest argument or the most significant example” (Five par. 2). By doing this, the reader realizes that the writer has significant support for her position. Also, transition sentences at the end of each paragraph help the reader sum up the point that was just made and then introduce the next point. This system helps the reader to follow the sequence and to remember what was discussed beforehand.

The conclusion paragraph brings the paper to a close and ties the loose ends together. In this paragraph, the reader wants to rephrase what was stated in the introduction to bring the paper full circle. Another reason a writer might restate the thesis is to summarize the three main points of the paper and link to the introduction where the topics were previewed. The writer needs to review what has been discussed so the reader does not get lost along the way or confused. When the write does this, the reader is more likely to understand the purpose of the paper. Also at the end of the conclusion paragraph it helps if the writer has a statement to keep the reader thinking, such as a rhetorical question. The point of this is to get readers thinking beyond the paper and into their own thoughts about the topic.

While tutoring in the writing center I realized why this five-paragraph theme is such an excellent model to follow. This theme is a universal format for all writing. When a tutee brings a paper in with no identifiable key points or even paragraph indents, it gives the tutor a format to work with to help the student organize ideas in the paper. The purpose of writing is to convey a point to the reader and to demonstrate to one’s professor a level of understanding of the subject. I once tutored a student who tried to split his ideas by individual pages and by the different sources that he used for his research. He did not know his main points and neither did I, so I told him about the five paragraph theme and we tried to pin point the main ideas that he wanted to convey through out the paper. Once I explained the process to him, he realized how much easier the assignment had become. It was an easier format for him to follow rather than organizing his paper by sources and by pages. Also through a survey that I gave to Monroe County Community College students, I found that students who have used this method to write found that this method is a good format to follow and that it is a good way to organize one’s paper. Many people agree that this is an effective format for writing.

After a student’s paper is finished, her sigh of relief can not have been any more emphasized. She thinks to herself that the five-paragraph theme is so easy to use and also beneficial to convey the main points of the paper. Personally, I am glad that there is this basic format for writing because it would be so much more work if I had to figure out another format for writing every time that I had a writing assignment. This theme avoids chaos and also sets up a format for writing that is achievable. When writing each part of this format one has to focus and make sure that all the sentences in the paragraph link to the topic sentence. Also one needs to make sure that the topic sentences link to the thesis, and if everything is cohesive then one has a very well thought out paper. With the five paragraph theme it is easy to check over items because everything is in order. The introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs are the main items of a paper. What would writing be like with out this universal format for writing?

Works Cited

Blue, Tina. “A partial Defense of the Five-Paragraph Theme as a Model for Student Writing.” 5 Apr.2003. <>.

“The Five-Paragraph Essay.” 5 Apr. 2003. <>.

Survey. Personal. Apr. 2003.



The Writing Lab and its Effect on the Tutorial Process
Kenneth Kiefer

Institutionalized. This one word sums up the MCCC Writing Center. Though it may do a very good job of describing the Writing Center, it may not really matter to the tutees who come here for sessions. According to my surveys, only one out of six tutees said that our Writing Center made them feel uncomfortable in any way, though nearly all tutees surveyed stated that their level of comfort was definitely affected by the appearance of a room. The three factors which students felt most uncomfortable about were room arrangement, color and light, and windows. The major concern with students was room arrangement. The room arrangement was the attribute of our writing center that students were most uncomfortable with. Also, the color of our room is very plain and unappealing. As for windows, well, we do not have any, and that is the problem. There are many things we could do to make our Writing Center much more appealing to tutees as well as the tutors who inhabit it every day. But due to my lack of tutoring opportunities, my theory could not be put into practice. So what, exactly, do students think about our Writing Center?

Surprisingly, the students surveyed had very few negative comments on the look and feel of the Writing Center, only one person stated that the Writing Center was an uncomfortable place. This person said that the Writing Center “makes me feel tired, and a little stressed because I associate it with school” (Survey). This person was the first to answer my six question survey, and I expected that others would answer similarly, but the others answered completely opposite. When asked how the environment in the Writing Center made them feel, every other respondent answered with the word comfortable. One tutee even went so far as to say “cozy” (Survey). These answers were a shock to me as I believed that the Writing Center was dull, boring, and, for the most part, stress inducing. Students did, however, find many major flaws in the comfort of the Writing Center. Most of the tutees commented on the Writing Center being cluttered and badly arranged, which was, to them, the largest factor that made them uncomfortable here. Along those same lines, many of the respondents felt that the Writing Center room would be much more comfortable if it were smaller and not so open. Most of the students surveyed also wanted windows and other colors than white. On a positive note, the tutees responded that the people within the room helped make them more comfortable while they were in the Writing Center. Our friendly tutors still, however, do not make up for the poor arrangement within the Writing Center.

Students were most uncomfortable with the arrangement of the Writing Center, and its cluttered appearance. Inside one will find desks spread out across the floor, visible wires, and office desks seemingly in the middle of the floor. Arrangement is important. Elizabeth A. Hebert says that “When children experience a school obviously designed with their needs in mind, they notice it and demonstrate a more natural disposition toward respectful behavior and a willingness to contribute to the classroom community” (“Design Matters” 69). This shows that the way the classroom, or in our case, the Writing Center is put together is important as it makes the student feel more welcome, and more at home. Though Elizabeth may be talking about children her point is realized by all. There needs to be more eye-pleasing furniture arranged in a more student friendly manner. I am suggesting that adding semi-circular couches or love seats with tables in front of them would greatly enhance the appearance and comfort of the room. The use of a semi circular couch would also diminish the chance of the tutee sitting across the table from the tutor. If we were able to arrange these couches in a circle around a central, comforting object, like perhaps a display of foliage with a small fountain to attain the slight soothing sound of trickling water, or something of that nature, students should feel much more comfortable. With some subtle background noise, student may also feel more comfortable reading their papers aloud because they might think that the background noise would fade in with their speech to make their words non-understandable to others around them. The addition of some warm color to this arrangement could very well enhance the comforting mood.

Of the students surveyed, all but one stated that color and light was important to them when searching for comfort in a room. Our Writing Center lacks color in the worst way. Pure white walls represent plainness and institutionalism. Students want warmer tones, something to bring down the intensity and stressfulness of the room. Warmer tones do, in my opinion, add a sense of comfort to a room. Warmer tones mix well with more with the more pleasing yellow light. The colors and lights in the Writing Center as they are now are far too bright, and insist that the student sit up strait, be quiet, and work. With the colors and lights that we currently have, there is very little room for relaxation. Relaxation often brings out the “creative juices” that are very helpful in a writing situation. With warmer tones people tend to feel like settling down comfortably and doing what needs to be done, and at their own pace. I feel that it is important to feel this way, because if one tries to write in an uncomfortable setting where he or she may also feel rushed, the end product isn’t nearly as good as it would have been had he or she been in a more relaxed setting. With dull, darker reds, blues, greens, oranges, and tans color can be added to the room to keep with the warmer tones and give the Writing Center sort of a coffee shop appeal. This kind of appeal would seem like an appropriate one considering many good writers have done their work in coffee shops and that coffee shops are often considered a place to go where one can create. With lightning just as important as color, many students feel that daylight would be a wonderful thing to have in the Writing Center.

The other problem students have with the Writing Center is that there are no windows. Windows provide an opportunity to let the warm daylight tones into the room, as well as give students the opportunity to enjoy the view of the outside. Besides the pleasantness that daylight brings with it, there are learning bonuses as well. Cody Cunningham mentions this about daylighting through the use of descent sized windows: “The idea is to provide daylighting (using sunlight as the principal source of internal lighting) for at least two-thirds of the day, minimizing the need for artificial light in the learning spaces. Learning benefits of daylighting are a real bonus. Studies have shown that students benefited significantly by attending schools where sunlight was the primary source of internal lighting” (“Buildings That Teach”). If studies show that daylight benefits students, and the Writing Center is a learning and discovering environment, then I am curious to know why the Writing Center is in the middle of the building, where no windows that would offer daylight can be placed.

Our library placed all of their study desks by the windows; it seems they must know something that our schools administrators did not when they placed the Writing Center in an enclosed area. If the administrators were worried about money when they placed the Writing Center in it’s current location, maybe they should have considered that “upfront costs for carrying out the daylighting concept into a new school are minimal, and the payback can be realized within about three years. Actually, the added costs of these teaching tools are paid back over time with their influence on the teaching process” (Cunningham). Windows were a major consideration when Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois was built 68 years ago. Here are a couple of tidbits about the school, and what they have done with their classrooms and windows: “Crow Island School won the American Institute of Architects' prestigious 25 Year Award in 1971. In 1990, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated Crow Island a national landmark… Two windowed walls in every classroom invite the outdoors inside” (Hebert). Windows were also mentioned on about 75 percent of the surveys that were answered. It is obvious that windows and daylight are an important part of comfort and learning stimulus.

With the Writing Center avoiding so many important room environment aspects, it is strange to hear that students feel comfortable within the room. I suspect that if a writing center were to be built on the premises stated previously, students would feel much more relaxed and comfortable, and our turnout and results as tutors would be much higher. Having nicer, better arranged furniture, warmer toned colors and lights, and window to let daylight and nature in are all aspects which would help writers think within the MCCC Writing Center. The perfect writing center would be one in which the room had two regular walls with abstract art hanging on them, two windowed walls with a vaulted ceiling made almost entirely out of glass so that the tutees have kind of a panoramic view of the world, dark tan carpet, with maroon couches lined up along the back wall facing the windowed walls and a small fountain/pond display with plenty of green plants. What would you design for a perfect writing center?

Works Cited

Cunningham, Cody. “Buildings That Teach”. American School and University. OCLC First Search. 74 (Aug. 2002): 164-67.

Hebert, Elizabeth A. "Design Matters: How School Environment Affects Children" . Educational Leadership. OCLC First Search. 56 (Sept. 1998): 69-70.

Survey of Tutees. By Kenneth Kiefer. Monroe County Community College.


Theory to Practice: Forced vs. Willing Conferences
Robin L. Kind Jr.

“When you write, that is the closest you will ever be to a creator of your own world.” Tim Dillon professor of Advanced English at Monroe Community College recently made this statement during one of our many enlightening class periods. A writer is able to create, destroy and manipulate his world of writing to accomplish what ever his or her goals may be. When people are serious about writing they recognize they have control and seek to better themselves as writers. Serious writers realize that what they put on the paper or in the computer screen is a part of themselves that the whole world will see when it is finished. “The perfect written work does not exist; the writer will always find corrections to be made”(Dillon). Some of the best writers often find themselves in a Writing Center or somewhere they can seek feedback for their work; not very often are they there to gain extra credit for a class.

“You can count on one thing, attending college means writing papers-personal and critical essays in English, book reviews and reports in history, research reports in psychology and sociology, position papers in political science, lab reports in biology and so on.” Toby Fulwiler states this in the third edition of his book The Working Writer. At some point in college every student is going to have to write a paper that will be graded. Writing Fellows are in the MCCC Writing Center to help students with these papers. The problem that many tutors experience in the Writing Center occurs when a student is required to see a tutor by the professor to pass or receive extra credit for the paper.

I have worked as a tutor in the Monroe County Community College Learning Assistance Lab for one full semester now. Over this past semester the faces of different students seemed to blur as I try to recall them all, but one thing sticks out in my mind. Attitude! It seems as if the student body, although very unique as individuals, can be broken down into two main groups as a whole. The first group includes those students who come to the Writing Center on their own. These students tend to be the type wanting to improve the way they write and acknowledge that they need help becoming the types of writers they wish to be. The second group includes those who are rewarded with extra credit or required to visit the Writing Center by the professor of a course they are taking. The students in the second group tend to have very little if any interest in what the tutor is trying to teach them, nor do they want to cooperate with the tutors’ requests. There are always exceptions to the rules; some students who are required to see a Writing Fellow are very responsive and are there to learn, and there are the ones who come in by their own will but are only willing to listen to themselves.

While in Advanced English I was required to read past students’ Theory to Practice papers and comment on them. That is the reason I decided to write on this topic; I did not think that the students who had conducted similar tests and research were correct, and so I wanted to prove them wrong, only to find that my research would produce similar results. This past semester I have conducted experiments in the Writing Center with the students I have tutored. My experiments were simple; I would go through the conference as normal, paying close attention to the reader’s reactions and attitude, and at the end of the session I would ask if the student was required to see a Writing Fellow. I found that a majority of the students came to get help because it was required. Six out of ten students were not there on their own will and it showed in the way they acted. I tutored Jessica and Christy both there for different reasons.

Jessica, was my first student. She came into the conference and sat quietly for the first few minutes, but I think that was because I was nervous as a first time tutor. She said that she was not required to see anyone but wanted to get better grades in her English Composition class. As she became comfortable she completely opened up to me and told me what were her strengths and weaknesses, and what she felt she needed help with. She was prepared with an assignment sheet, a pen, paper and a great attitude. She was very responsive to the questions that I asked her and found two things that she could improve. After our first conference, I asked her if she would like to make another appointment but she declined. I did see her many times after that because she was very interested in writing and made other appointments with me.

Christy, was a student I tutored towards the end of the year for another class I am also taking. The professor offered the class extra credit to see a Writing Fellow. On the day of the appointment Christy showed up ten minutes late with out a paper and when I started to go over the steps of free writing she asked me if there was any way that I could just give her the sheet she needed for extra credit (The Writing Center Report Form.) because she already had the paper done but had forgotten it at home. I responded that I could not just give them away and that she would have to bring the paper in for us to talk over so we could see what if anything could be worked on. The response I received was really surprising. She stood up and said forget it I was only receiving three points extra credit anyway. This student made it very obvious that she came in not wanting to improve her writing, and she left the Writing Center with the same skills she came in with.

In further researching the subject it occurred to me that my research would be more valid if I could get other tutors’ input on what experiences they had with these types of students, so I emailed a survey to the whole Writing Fellow staff. The email asked how long the tutor had been a Writing Fellow, how many students they had tutored, if the tutor saw any difference between the attitudes of students who are forced to come to the Writing Center and those who come on their own, how many students wanted to better their writing skills or how many just wanted extra credit, and what could we do to change the way students see the Writing Center. The responses that I received were surprising but supported my conclusion; it seems as though on an average roughly seventy percent of the students tutored by Writing Fellows at Monroe County Community College are just looking for extra credit or are required to see a Writing Fellow.

From those who are forced to those who are willing to visit the Center, I believe that the attitude problem may come from a misunderstanding of exactly what the Writing Center is here to help students accomplish. What can be done to change the way the Writing Program is seen by students was the last question on my survey. Almost all of the Writing Fellows believe that through word of mouth and continued advertising we can help students to understand what the Writing Fellows are he for; maybe we could make an introductory commercial about the Writing Center and play it on the school television monitors. One positive thing about being required to see a Writing Fellow is that once the student visits no matter why they are there they leave knowing what to expect, and see that we are here to help them help themselves. This at least helps bring people into the Writing Program and it is up to the Writing Fellows to keep them coming back.

Works Cited

Dillon, Tim Personal interview. MCCC Advanced English. 23 Apr. 2003.

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

Personal Survey. Issued 7 April 2003, To 33 Writing Fellows.


A Writing Center Atmosphere
Victoria Schmidt

There are places in this world that make us feel comfortable and places that make us feel uncomfortable. An operating room with bright lights, a silver operating table, in a small enclosed space does not sound very inviting. However, a psychologists’ office that has a large comfortable chair, colorful paintings on the walls, and tall dimly lit lamps in the corner, sounds quite inviting. This same theory can be applied to writing centers across the United States. For example, a brightly lit, cluttered room with people dressed in business suits is more than likely going to produce a feeling of uneasiness. Warm-lighted rooms with open space, interesting art on the walls, and people dressed in casual attire, would make anyone feel as if he or she is welcome. A writing center is a place where students should feel welcome and not overwhelmed. Upon entering, a student should be able to walk up to a tutor without hesitation and feel as if he or she is equal in status. If a student feels inferior, he or she is going to be less likely to “open up” in a tutoring session, therefore making the entire process of tutoring irrelevant. A writing center’s atmosphere can directly affect a tutoring session. Whether it is the lighting, the furniture, or the people, a wring center must feel comfortable.

The atmosphere of a writing center can directly affect the way students react when they first meet a tutor. Monroe County Community College, for example, has a very uncomfortable setting. In the Writing Center there are four round tables on the right hand side, and numerous round tables on the left side of the room. A desk is positioned in front of the four round tables, and then another desk is placed near the opening of the doors to the writing center. There are two secluded glass window rooms off to the side of the four round tables and cabinets located throughout the room. The room is brightly lit with nothing but white walls and “drab” carpet. When mid-afternoon comes rolling around, there is barely any place to sit. All of the round tables are used and the Writing Center becomes more cluttered than it already is. The noise level can be a bit disturbing to other tutors and also to other students. I surveyed twenty people who are frequently in the Writing Center and one hundred percent of them agreed that our Writing Center was very uncomfortable and unwelcoming. When asked if the physical atmosphere of a writing center can effect a tutoring session, one hundred percent of the people surveyed said yes (Schmidt). This is an overwhelming account of how people feel about writing centers. Notably, most people would prefer a comfortable atmosphere over an uncomfortable one, but one of the other questions that was put into the survey I conducted, asked what could be done to improve our writing center. There were a variety of answers but a few of them entailed; couches, soft chairs, color, and less institutional, more of a coffee house setting (Schmidt).

There is an article written in the Writing Lab Newsletter from Purdue University that is titled “A Gorilla/(Guerilla) in the Writing Center. In the beginning of this article it compares and contrasts a new beautiful Midwestern university to the author’s own writing center. She discussed how the two were drastically different from one another and why she felt compelled to express her opinion on the subject. To give a visual aid, I am going to welcome the auras of the two writing centers into this paper. The author says: “they ushered me into a huge white room, florescent lights overhead, and shining chrome-edged study carrels and room dividers arranged efficiently throughout.” Then she goes on to say: “When you first enter my writing center…the dÈcor, more reminiscent of a low-rent coffee house than an office or classroom, is furnished with several small, seventies-green, moth-eaten couches. On the walls, in need of paint, are hung faded posters of the Che Guevara, Mao, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and two painting by student artists, both painfully introspective neither particularly good. You think, “Students decorated this place”(Whalstrom 1). The feeling of the two different writing centers is automatic. The first writing center sounds as if one is going to be taken in for a doctors’ exam. It is that feeling of going to be judged or “examined,” a feeling that most people generally dislike. The second writing center is one that gives a feeling of home, or being at a friend’s house. The feeling is as if one was visiting a friend or pulling up a chair at home.

There are a few writing centers that are set up in such a way to make students feel “at home.” At Adirondack Community College director Charlotte Smith says that the space at her center is palatial. There are windows looking out into the woods, the centers have sofas and chairs for students, and there is another room that is windowless, but is large and colorful. East Central University’s writing center consists of three rooms. There is a “noisy” room with a desk, stuffed chairs, a couch, and two tutoring rooms with three or more tables (Otto 6). These two rooms both have different descriptions but nevertheless still have the same common theme. A nonprofessional work environment that is set up to accommodate the students’ needs. However, in contrast to the two writing centers that are described here, there are many writing centers that do not have this set up. Actually, a majority of the writing centers had cubicles in which the students were secluded. For example, at the University of Illinois, Urbana there are four cubicles in the main tutorial rooms and one cubicle in the engineering facility. The reason for the cubicles is that some students prefer to not be heard or seen in a writing center. There are many reservations for students upon entering a writing center. One of these reasons could be that the student is only required to be there and does not want to be seen, or does not believe that the tutor will have anything constructive to say. A second reason for cubicles could be that the student feels as if he or she is receiving the tutor’s full attention without any distractions. These reasons are quite understandable but are not very common. There will always be students who feel as if they are “too good” for the writing centers, or ones that would rather be alone, one-on-one with a tutor rather than in an open space. However, most students do not prefer the cubicles, which are stated in a few of the descriptions in the following examples. The Rhode Island community college says that their center is the size of a very large classroom with a lot of open space, as opposed to cubicles. They state that “ninety-five percent of the clients prefer this arrangement (Otto 5). Purdue University also does not contain cubicles because students like open spaces and round tables where they can ask questions across the tables. Evidence shows that students prefer open spaces, and round tables over the cubicles because this causes a sense of being secluded and evaluated.

Tutees want to communicate with their tutors like the tutors are their friends, rather than a teacher. Before I became a Writing Fellow, I was intimidated by the Writing Fellows. Not only was the Writing Center a very uncomfortable place, but (in my eyes) so were the tutors. These people were the “best of the best” at Monroe County Community College and I wasn’t going to have my paper torn apart by them. I remember when I first walked into the Writing Center, my initial thoughts were “this place is not just a writing center, it is a study hall.” That made everything about the writing center slightly disturbing for me. No one took the time to come up to me, and I wasn’t just going to sit down at one of the round tables. This is why chairs and couches would be of great value to a writing center. If someone had been sitting at one end of a couch, I would have been more inclined to sit at the other end of that couch, rather than sitting right next to someone at a table. Couches are associated with “hanging out” and if you are “hanging out” with someone, than she is probably a friend.

When tutees feel comfortable due to the atmosphere and the friendliness of a writing center accommodations, then they will be open to new ideas and be willing to listen to what others have to say about their writing because it will not feel like criticism but rather friendly advice. This is imperative during a tutoring session because people do not enjoy being told what to do. Whether it is in their job, for school, or by friends it is not an acceptable custom in our society. Most people would rather be told that their work is perfect and if it isn’t, they would rather have someone else do the work for them. That is what most students who are visiting a writing center believe is what the tutors are there to do. Not give them suggestions, but to correct the paper for them. Some students actually become defensive when a tutor does not perform this task for them. If the MCCC Writing Center was more like a coffeehouse, where people come to “hang out” and talk they would become accustomed to what actually happens in a tutoring session. This would also bring more students into writing centers because they feel as if they can “get away” from their teachers and their homework and get the opinions of their fellow peers. In a quote from “A Gorilla/(Guerilla in the Writing Center” the author states, “My writing center isn’t especially revolutionary, at least not in the radical sense. It is, however, a place where students create an environment, where ideas and dialogue matter more than appearance and technology, where teaching is learning and learning is the result of teaching.” If a writing center is truly a learning center, than it must be portrayed as just that. We as students learn through our experiences and remember the places and people that make us feel most comfortable with who we are and what we represent. The MCCC Writing Center’s atmosphere and the people who conduct learning there, can, and should be one of the most memorable experiences for a student.

Works Cited

Otto, Larissa S. “Writing Centers Across the U.S.A.: A Common Bond?” Fall 1999. <> Apr.      2003.

Schmidt, Victoria. “Writing Center Survey.” 2 Apr. 2003.

Wahlstrom, Ralph, L. “A Gorilla/(Guerilla) in the Writing Center.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. Purdue University 26. 8 Apr. 2002.


Socratic and Interest Make Best Appointments
Renee Turner

A student walks into a writing center with intentions of receiving help on his research paper in his economics class. The topic of his paper is about how the President’s current fiscal policy is affecting the economy’s Gross Domestic Product. He is frustrated because he is uninterested in the topic of the paper about which he has just written. When the tutor questions him about why he wrote the paper he responds: “I don’t know, because my teacher made us write it to pass the class.” Throughout the entire tutoring session he carries on with the same negative attitude and has no interest in working on his paper. He feels forced into writing about something that he has no interest in, whether it be because he is not confident of himself or whether he simply doesn’t understand the subject well enough. When his tutor asks him questions he tries to respond with as little as possible and for some questions not at all. This scenario is a too common occurrence in writing centers. Not all students can take interest in every subject that they have to write about, so many respond with negative attitudes towards the assignment. Tutors need to worry about keeping the students’ outlook positive about their writing, but how can we accomplish this when a student is just too uninterested and does not want to participate in working to better the paper? The best way to make appointments run smoothly and to make students comfortable is to mix the Socratic method of tutoring with subjects that the person has a relating interest.

The Socratic Method is a common method that not only be used in classrooms, but that also proves to be effective in tutoring atmospheres. The Socratic method is thinking that is driven by asking carefully chosen questions (Elder). These questions are open-ended questions. Open- ended questions are questions that can be answered with more than just simple yes and no, they are questions that drive conversation during a session. The concept of the Socratic method is effective during tutoring sessions for many reasons. First, it allows for the work of the student to stay in the student’s hands. This is an important point because in a writing center we are there as tutors, not as editors. It is very simple to keep the work in the writer’s hands. A perfect example of this would be an appointment I had with a girl named Samantha. I asked her if she could point out her thesis for me, she responded that she didn’t understand what a thesis was. I explained to her what a thesis was and gave her an example statement. Afterward, I once again asked for her to point out her thesis statement. She found her thesis statement with ease and success. This is one example of how the Socratic Method is so helpful in tutoring sessions instead of asking Samantha to find the thesis, I could have simply pointed to it and continued on to the next subject to be filled out on the MCCC Writing Fellow Report form. It won’t always be easy to dig answers out of students though; students tend to deal with answering educational questions two different ways. First, the student could respond with something along the lines of what Samantha responded with, she embraced it to learn from the question I asked. Then there are the difficult students who answer questions with answers that we tutors are thought to want to hear without actually understanding, or they can also just stare at us if they can’t find something witty enough to say. In trying to avoid as much of this as possible, a tutor may find the Socratic Method is most helpful. We have to ask nice questions without trying to push the tutees to saying anything to get us off their backs (Elkind).

Another great way to make a session the best it can be is to intermix subjects that the student can relate to when looking at his or her paper. Sometimes, papers are assigned that are very difficult. Like the scenario described earlier, not many students are excited when it comes to having to write about economic fiscal policy and its effects. When students are unhappy about the subject they do not feel sparked to work hard and make it a great paper because there is no excitement in it. I read a helpful article on Purdue’s website that was about one of these difficult sessions. It was entitled “Tutorin’ is like Torquein” by William Perkins. William describes how the session went from beginning to end. The student named Ed was very uninterested in a paper that he needed help on. After a difficult time with starting to work on the paper William decided he needed to take another approach. He began to question Ed about what his hobbies were and Ed responded that he enjoyed working on motors; doing things like tearing the motors apart, fixing them, and then putting them back together. William carefully examined what Ed was saying, and then explained to him that working on a paper is almost like working on a motor. He explained how we had to separate each sentence, fix them all and then put it back together for a final draft. This allowed Ed to really understand how to deal with his paper in a way that he could understand and that was somewhat fun for him. In a writing center we don’t even need to go as far as William did. My fellowed class appointments (a class I am assigned to work with) seemed to run more smoothly than some of my regular appointments (walk-ins, etc.) because the tutees all had a passion for what they were writing about. The class was an early childhood development class, and they all had to do a case study on a child. I noticed that these students were happier to talk about and work on their paper because of the interest they had in the subject. They wanted to make their papers the best because they took pride in their work. My only one outside experience was a little more difficult because the paper was not a subject that the tutee enjoyed writing about. I had to really dig around and help him think of topics that were interesting and beneficial to him.

Both of the methods discussed are great to use in writing center. The Socratic Method allows writers to take control of their writing, and in many ways it keeps tutors from becoming too prescriptive when helping tutees with their papers. Finding a relating interest also works well because it allows the student to become actively involved in his paper without feeling pressured to do so. In my survey one student responded on interest tutoring by saying: “It’s always easier to write about something you enjoy and can relate to.” Both are equally as good, but they are even better when they are combined together. It will make a comfortable and easy-going session for both the tutor and the tutee.

Works Cited

Elder, Linda, and Richard Paul. “The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, and Learning.” The Clearing House. 71.5 (1998): 297-301. First      Search. 7 Apr. 2003.

Elkind, David H., and Freddy Sweet. “Classroom Dialogue Stimulates Respectful Relationships.” Schools in the Middle. 8.2 (1998): 38-44. First Search. 7 Apr. 2003.

Emerson, Roberta J., and Karen Groth. “The Verbal Connection: Effective Clinical Teaching Maximizing Student Communication Skills.” Journal of      Nursing Education. 35 (1996):275-77. First Search. 7 Apr. 2003.

Survey. Personal. MCCC Writing Center, Apr. 2003.



Opposing Viewpoints: Friendly vs. Professional Tutoring
Jacob Wheeler

As a newcomer to the world of peer tutoring, I have found myself struggling to find the best possible way to approach and talk to students who come to the MCCC Writing Center. My theory to practice research is based on finding an answer to the confusion between friendly and professional tutoring through interviews, surveys with students and fellow tutors, and observations of how some students react to the different personalities. How a tutor approaches and treats a student throughout a session in the Writing Center is an important issue to consider during the tutoring process, because it can set the mood and be a deciding factor as to how well the session goes. I remember the day of my first tutoring session. Earlier that morning I had checked the appointment book to see the name of the student I would be tutoring. When she entered, I stood, introduced myself, and used her name as a means of immediately eliminating any discomfort. The response from that particular appointment was very positive; however, I was not convinced that the same type of attitude would work in other scenarios. I was concerned that other people with different personalities would not respond the same, which is why I decided that a conclusion to the debate between friendly and professional tutoring could not be reached without conducting research.

I felt the best way to establish my research was by talking and interviewing others on the subject. For this portion of my research, I interviewed two other Writing Fellows, and a student who, for reasons of privacy, will be called John Doe. The Writing Fellows I spoke with on this issue were Robin Kind, a Junior Writing Fellow, and Katy Pushka a Senior Writing Fellow. I asked Robin and Katy the same two questions. First I asked, “When you greet and approach a student in the Writing Center, do you generally present a friendly or more professional attitude.” To this question Robin responded, “I’m actually probably more friendly, because I find that it relaxes them (the students)” (Kind). This was an excellent point by Robin because I too feel that a friendlier attitude between the tutor and tutee can relax the situation. Katy responded to this question by adding, “when I approach someone in the Writing Center, I generally do so in a more professional manner” (Pushka). When asked the second question, “do you find that more students commonly respond positively to the atmosphere you present to them”, Katy stated, “students respond more positively when I act professional, because in a way it assures them that I can help with their problems” (Pushka). To this question, Robin replied, “usually I find that tutees respond better with friendliness, but there is a fin line you don’t want to cross with being too friendly” (Kind). When a session crosses the line into being “too friendly”, the session looses its importance and little tutoring is actually preformed. I talked with John Doe one morning after a tutoring session I had with him on a speech paper. I asked John, “When you’re being tutored, do you feel more comfortable if the tutor acts in a professional manner or a more friendly manner.” John replied with, “I’m a friendly kind of person, so it is easier for me to relate in a friendly atmosphere” (Doe). After reflecting on these interviews, I could see that there were supporters on both sides of the fence, and at this point in my research I was kind of leaning toward the belief that friendly tutoring is a more effective style. However, I still had strong concerns as to whether or not a session can remain on task if a friendly attitude turns into “too friendly.”

The second part of my research involved gaining information through anonymous surveying. I passed out two different surveys on this subject, the first went out to other Writing Fellows, and the second was passed out to a variety of students. I wanted the survey to the students to be anonymous as a means of avoiding complicating biases. I tried to make this survey completely non-preferential to gender and race. Out of twenty-two surveys returned to me, the results were somewhat not surprising. Ten of the twenty-two surveys (45%) were for more professional tutoring sessions, and twelve surveys (55%) were for professional atmospheres (Survey). The results were nearly split down the middle. It was at this point when my research began to clarify and take shape. There is of course diversity in the Monroe County Community College student body; however, there were interesting differences in the surveys. One of the questions in my survey asks the student if he or she would rather be approach by the tutor, or if the he or she would feel more comfortable going to a tutor who remained seated and composed. The interesting results in the surveys were that six of the twelve students who favored friendly tutoring would rather approach a tutor who was seated and composed, and two of the ten students who favored professional tutoring stated that they would rather have the tutor approach them (Survey).

The only portion of my research that took a slant in one direction was when I experimented with both professionalism and friendliness during my scheduled tutoring time in the Writing Center. I conducted my experiment on two students, tutoring the first with a more friendly and relaxed attitude, and the second with a more professional and straightforward style. During my professional tutoring session, everything went quite well. When the student entered the Writing Center, I was looking through my folder, so I motioned for his or her attention and pointed toward the appropriate table. I waited for the student to sit first, to avoid there being too much space created between us, and then began the session. I conducted myself in a productive manner, concentrating solely on the paper and the problems the student was having. The session produced excellent results and I felt the student was honestly grateful for my help. The experiment with a friendly personality, however, did not produce such a wonderful outcome. I began this session by walking up to the student, greeting the person with an encouraging smile, and escorted her back to the table. Before even filling out the top portion of the Writing Fellow Report form, I struck up a conversation with the student about school and classes, attempting to relate to her in some way. I got things back on track by asking the student to read the paper out loud, a tactic thoroughly explained in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Getting the writer to begin the session by reading the paper out loud accomplishes several goals, but most importantly keeps the writer in control (Gillespie 26). This process went well, but it was the only thing that went well. By striking up that original conversation, I had released the talking devil from this student. I was continually struggling to keep the student on task, and I kept getting the impression that the student wanted me to solve the problems by myself, since we were now “such good friends.” Needless to say, this session also relayed positive information back to me about professional attitudes in the Writing Center.

All students are different in some ways, and all have their own personal preferences, which help them to learn. The outcome of my theory to practice is that the opposing viewpoints of professional tutoring versus friendly tutoring are fairly balanced out. The two choices both have obvious pros and cons, and there are students who favor and respond well to each style. It is acceptable for a student to decide conclusively on which type of atmosphere he or she prefers, because it is important for the student to be the most comfortable. But tutors should be more flexible with how they approach and talk to their tutees. A good tutor needs to be able to identify with the mood and general personality of the student, and accommodate those needs accordingly.

Work Cited

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

Survey of Writing Fellows. MCCC Writing Center 26 Mar. 2003.

Survey. MCCC Students, MCCC Writing Center. Apr. 2003.




Lead By Listening
Eric Wickenheiser

We have all been there. We have all been engaged in a conversation with someone and it is obvious that he or she is not listening. And whether or not we are aware of it, this affects our “performance” in the conversation. We think to ourselves, “if he or she is not listening then why should I”? Sometimes we can become defensive or angry, certainly when the topic of discussion is important to us. Poor quality communication is something we must avoid at all costs in the Writing Center. Not only do we need to be excellent listeners, but we also need to know how to act when the other person is not really giving it his best. Most of us know the signs of a good or bad listener, and most of us know what it takes to be a good listener. This knowledge is vital to being a good tutor. We also need to know how people react to good or bad listeners. Tutors should use this information to ensure a positive outcome of the session.

The signs of a good listener should be well known and be easily identified by us as tutors in addition to knowing why we should have these skills. Why? The same way we become upset when someone does not listen to us, tutees can be frustrated if they think they are being neglected. If we do not make it clear that we are listening, our actions could be easily misinterpreted. By knowing the typical and obvious aspects of an attentive listener, we can make sure to present these traits to the student. It is quite possible for someone to be seriously listening to someone else, while slouching, head rested on his or her hands, and looking down. Sometimes that is how I look when actually I am hearing every word that is said to me. It looks as if one could not care what was being said. Put yourself there, would you think that the tutor was listening if he looked like that? What it takes to look like a good listener is easily learned.

The physical requirements of being a good listener are obvious to spot and should be well known. This includes sitting up, making eye contact, leaning forward, not interrupting, and making it clear that you are present and attentive. Not having good posture implies that one is tired, bored, and would rather be somewhere else. Looking like you are really listening is not so distant from looking excited. Eyes wide open and focused and trying to get as close to the source of excitement as possible makes you appear to be absorbed into the conversation. Equally important is learning to wait to speak. Even if you are listening, it is aggravating to the other person to be interrupted. Ken Fracaro says that, “It is easier to speak than to listen because of how the mind works” (Par 4). So we must try and oppose these tendencies as much as possible. But there is much more to this than merely looking like you are hearing what the tutee says.

In contrast to the physical appearance of a good listener, to be an effective listener is, “an enormous challenge and is the single most important element in the writing process” (Fracaro Par 5). Being patient, asking questions, summarizing what you have heard and staying focused on the speaker are only a few aspects of being a good listener. Patience is vital to communication, especially when tutoring. It may take time for students to get the right words out, or they might have a lengthy paper on a topic that does not interest you. But tutors cannot listen if they are in a hurry. Also, asking questions is a good way to make sure that the tutor got the point or understands what the tutee is saying. And it keeps the tutor involved so he or she does not become bored or distracted. This, like summarizing what was have heard, also verifies that the tutor is listening. Lastly, staying focused is another difficult, yet important part of the session. All of the other skills will be wasted if the tutor cannot concentrate on the session. But if effective listening is so difficult, then why try? There is no small answer to that question.

There are many benefits to being a good listener according to Ken Fracaro but I found that five of these apply especially to tutors. These are increased knowledge, broader understanding, reducing misunderstanding, developing insight, and winning the speaker’s trust. When tutoring someone we need to know as much about the person, the assignment, and the problem at hand to help as much as possible. We all know that we cannot learn while we talk. More than knowing the situation, a tutor must understand what is going on. And again, we must listen to gain understanding. In the same way that we try to increase our understanding as much as we can, we must inversely try to limit our misunderstanding. If we are talking too much, we begin to make assumptions about the student, the writing, and even our understanding of it all. Another benefit that comes with quality listening habits is insight. We can begin to see what the future actions of the writer might be and this helps us guide them. Fracaro says that, “Insight may be the single most important part of having wisdom, one of the greatest strengths a person can possess” (Par 10). Out of these five rewards for listening the last is the most important. When we listen and the speaker knows it we will win his or her trust. When we are one on one in the Writing Center, we must have the writer’s trust. More can be accomplished if the two people are comfortable with each other. Now that we know how and why to listen, let’s see what we can do with our newfound listening skills.

When in a tutoring session, both parties are influenced by each other’s listening skills and will react accordingly. Just as important as knowing listening skills is the ability to not be discouraged when the student is not doing his or her part to pay attention. Tutors know what a good listener looks like and can tell if the student is really listening. And sometimes they will not be. If tutors become emotional, it might only make things worse. But if they provide a good example, knowing that it might be contagious, there is hope for the session. Paul Schrodt says that people experiencing negative engagements with others sometimes experience informational reception apprehension (IRA) that affects a person’s ability to receive information. He describes it as an, “[…] anxiety which triggers deficiencies in an individuals ability to receive, process and interpret, and/or adjust to information” (Par 10). This makes sense. We want to be negative to a person who does not listen to us, we want to shut off to them, but we cannot let this happen while we are tutoring someone. Knowing this only gives us more reason to try our best to be good listeners because we know what to expect from the student if we do not do our job as tutors. At this point, we have only discussed the theory, but how would this work when applied in the Writing Center?

Over the past three weeks I have recorded numerous tutoring sessions of mine in the Writing Center on tape to see how students would respond to my attempts at being the best listener as possible. Over all, the students were quite responsive in comparison to previous sessions I have had. When the students saw that I was really focusing on them and their work they would reflect this positive attitude back to me. In one case, Jenny, a speech student who was having trouble pin-pointing her topic came to see me. She sat down and proceeded to discuss the assignment with me. In reality, I probably said only a few sentences but that did not matter. When she realized that I was listening the best that I could, she opened up and verbally worked out her topic. I was just the catalyst to get her thinking. But to see if this effective listening thing was really working I had to see the negative side to it. Realizing that the Writing Center is not the best place to work on bad listening skills, I began to take notes of conversations I had outside tutoring session in which I would not be fully present. And as one might expect, the responses were quite negative. Most conversations ended quickly and some even abruptly. But in fear of losing friends the experiment did not last long. Nevertheless, I got the results I needed. So being a good listener definitely works in enhancing a conversation. This means that we should apply our skills to the Writing Center knowing that the outcome will be better.

As tutors, we can use the information we have gathered about good listening skills to make sure the student has a positive experience. If a student is not listening we know that something is wrong and possibly under our power to correct (learning styles, discomfort, personal problems, etc.). People generally reflect others attitudes; we can stay positive in hopes of receiving it back or even changing a poor or negative student’s attitude. Listening is the most important part of communication and certainly of the tutoring process. It is our job as tutors to make sure that we are in control of the situation, and knowing how to present good listening skills is vital to that. So don’t be part of that negative cycle of poor communication, lead by listening.

Works Cited

Fracaro, Ken. “Two Ears and One Mouth.” Supervision 62.2 (2001). 14 Apr. 2003 <>.

Schrodt, Paul. “Aggressive Communication and Informational Reception Apprehension: The Influence of Listening Anxiety and Intellectual Inflexibility on Trait Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness.” Communication Quarterly 49.1 (2001). 14 Apr. 2003 <>.

The Writing Center. Research documented and recorded form Mar. 21st to Apr. 5th, 2003.