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Spell Check: Helpful or Harmful to Students?
Michael Beers

Word processors have provided enhancements to the writing process.  With a word processor, students can type efficiently and edit their documents to complete writing assignments with very little effort.  Word processors provide spelling checker programs to help students edit their papers and check for spelling errors before printing the final copy of a paper.  However, a spelling checker program can be helpful or harmful to students because of the way the spelling checker program is designed. Students are able to check the spellings of words, but the program causes problems because its design cannot check every word in the English language nor can it check the usage of the words in a paper.  Spelling checker programs provide suggestions to students to help students learn how to spell words, but some suggestions may not be accurate to the original meaning of the intended word.  This presents the question, Are spelling checker programs helpful or harmful for students?  As tutors in the writing center, we must consider both the pros and cons when examining spelling errors or using the computer’s spelling checker as a tool for helping students find misspelled words.  The benefits of spelling checkers, and their advancements, lessen the impact of the spelling error in the writing process. However, changes must be made to overcome the limitations in its design before spelling checkers can be a trustworthy source for students

Spell-checker programs offer benefits for students editing their papers, whether they have a learning disability or not, and can even be used as a tool for writing tutors.  Microsoft Word checks spelling as students write, and notifies them of errors with a red wavy line underneath the word.  This visually tells students there may be a problem with the word they intend to use, so the program’s dictionary helps students find the correct spelling of a word.  Students prefer such a method of checking spelling because they find it faster and easier to use.  When surveyed, students chose to check their spelling using a computer’s word processor instead of looking up the word in the dictionary (Random Students, sec 7, q. 5).  Since the spelling checkers in word processors offer a large selection of words, students can benefit from the easy-to-use software.

Spell-checkers provide a useful tool for students to edit their papers by correcting spelling errors.  The assignment students dislike the most is writing because of the long process involved to complete it.  A student must gather ideas, put them into a draft, revise the ideas, and edit for spelling and grammar errors before submitting a final copy.  Because editing is the last step of the writing process, students desire an easy way to make sure their papers are neat and free of minor errors.  Students consistently agree that finding spelling errors is easier when using a word processor’s spell check program (Random Students, sec. 5, q.1).  The effortless design of spelling programs makes less motivated and motivated students use the spelling checker more often, lowering the frequency of spelling errors.  And, since the computer constantly checks for problems in spelling, the student’s editing process becomes integrated throughout the writing process and makes checking spelling more efficient for the student with or without learning disabilities.

Students with a learning disability benefit from spell checkers to find their spelling errors easier and correct them better.  Because the program offers a visual notification of where spelling errors occur, students with learning disabilities can find spelling errors faster and easier.  Charles A. MacArthur, a leading name in research for computer enhanced writing, mentions in an article co-authored by some of his associates a study involving students who have a learning disability.  In the study, the students noticed more spelling errors with the help of a computer instead of noticing the errors on their own. (McAruther, et al.).  Since the program alerts the student to problems and offers suggestions, students can use the computer’s help to overcome difficulties in spelling errors.  In fact, students with learning disabilities have the computer check the spelling and replace the wrong words for them, allowing them to concentrate on overcoming their physical handicaps and create a better paper.  And, using a tool which can help learning disability students find misspelled words in their paper can be used in a tutoring session to help all students find spelling errors and correct them faster.

Tutors can benefit from using a spelling checker program for helping a student find the correct spelling of a word.  Seven out of nine Writing Fellows surveyed state they use a spell checking program for their papers and agree computers are effective in checking spelling (Response).  Computers can even be integrated into a tutoring session to help students find spelling errors and correct them faster.  By performing a comparative study of spelling checker strategies, the computer was able to provide faster results than looking up words in the dictionary. The computer actively checks each word individually for spelling errors and offers suggestions to students for how to correct the misspelling.  This allowed students to find the correct spelling of a word under ten seconds.  Looking up words in the dictionary took more time to find the pages the word was on and finding where the word is located on the page.  Most words were found between thirty seconds to a minute using the dictionary, depending on what page the student was on when given the next word. However, there are some dangers using a spelling checker which must be considered in a writing session before using the word processor as a tool for helping students find spelling errors.

Despite the benefits word processors offer to students, spelling checker programs need to advance further to overcome limitations.  Since programs are limited to their programming and cannot change without updates, spelling checkers can be troublesome when correcting words.  Ingrid Fandrych concludes in “Word Processors’ Grammar and Spelling Assistance: Consequences for Second Language Learning and Teaching,” word processors cannot correct text reliably and are not yet ready to be integrated as a substitution for studying the proper method of correcting errors (sec. “Conclusion”).  Since the reliability of word processors when checking spelling is in question, problems may occur when using a computer to edit a document.  A majority of Writing Fellows stated they do have problems with the spell checker not checking for usage or for misplaced letters and spaces (Response).  Because of problems occurring in spelling checkers, word processors must advance to give tutors and students a reliable source for checking a student's spelling errors and for students to learn from it.

Spell-check programs must offer students an opportunity to learn the correct spelling of words the computer sees as errors.  In another journal article from MacArthur about how computers improve writing, he suggests that spelling checker programs correct a student’s bad spelling habits on the surface, but do not allow the student to learn how to spell the word correctly (pars. 22-23).  Because most spelling checkers come with an automatic correction function, a student cannot find and correct some of their common misspellings of words because they are corrected when they are written.  Having students turn off the automatic correction option while writing helps students overcome this problem.  However, spelling checker programs should offer more for students to help correct these errors themselves, such as forcing the student to correct spelling errors by typing out the correct spelling of words or offering more features to improve the program's definitions to include usage.

 Spell checker programs must evolve into a phrase checker programs to correct misused words and errors from typing by increasing the number of words and phrases to check.  Since improper usage is a common error for students, spelling checkers cannot be relied upon for checking the use of a word in a document.  Eneko Agirre and others in the same field studied a spelling checker in Linux and found the suggestions offered by the spell checkers improve when more context and syntax is analyzed by the computer (Agirre et al. 28).  The definitions within the spelling checker can be updated by manual entry or by updates, making room for improvement in spelling checkers for word processors.  However, students cannot enter every word in the English language, so spell checkers should offer updates to improve the usefulness of the program.  The Writing Fellows responded to a question about updates to a spelling checker program and agreed they would download updates to the spelling checker program if it would make it better to work with (Response).  Requiring updates to improve performance of a word processor helps students by giving them a better consultant when checking for spelling errors, improving the editing process for students.

 Word processors offer spelling checkers to improve a student’s spelling, but is it really helpful or harmful to a student?  Spelling checker programs give several benefits for students.  They rely on word processors to check their spelling of papers faster during the editing process.  Learning disability students even find it helpful for overcoming their handicaps and finding their errors easier.  Tutors can even use this program to help students find the correct spelling of words faster and easier.  However, the dangers of a word processor’s spelling checker program must be considered before using in the tutoring environment.  The spell-check program’s automatic correction function can harm students by not letting them correct the word themselves and learn the correct spelling of the word.  Spell-check programs also must evolve to check for usage errors and make a student’s corrections accurate to the word intended.  Spelling checker programs are helpful to tutors in a writing session, but tutors must consider the dangers of the program before using it as a tool in a writing center.

Works Cited

Agirre, Eneko et al.  Towards a Single Proposal in Spelling Correction.  Proceedings of the 17th International
      Conference on Computer Linguistics: 10-14 Aug. 1998.  Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  23 Mar. 2006. 
      <acl.ldc.upenn.edu>.

Fandrych, Ingrid.  “Word Processors’ Grammar and Spelling Assistance: Consequences for Second
      Language Learning and Teaching.”  The Internet TESL Journal 7.6 (June 2001): internet journal. 
      Public Subscription Service.  23 Mar. 2006.  <http://iteslj.org/Articles/Fandrych-WordPro.html>.

MacArthur, Charles A.  “The Impact of Computers on the Writing Process.”  Exceptional Children 54.6
      (Apr. 1988): 536.  Council for Exceptional Children, 1988.  OneFile Database.  InfoTrac.  Monroe
      County Community College Library.  Monroe, MI.  15 Mar. 2006.  <http://infotrac.galegroup.com>.

MacArthur, Charles A. et al.  “Technology Applications for Students with Literacy Problems:  A Critical Review.” 
      The Elementary School Journal 101.3 (Jan. 2001): 273.  Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2001. 
      OneFile Database.  InfoTrac.  Monroe County Community College Library.  Monroe, MI.  15 Mar. 2006. 
      <http://infotrac.galegroup.com>.

Random Sampling of 25 Monroe County Community College Students.  Computers and Writing Survey
      Apr. 2006.

Response of Monroe County Community College Writing Fellows.  Computers and Spelling Survey.  Apr.-May 2006.

 

Non-traditional Students Equal Successful Conferences
Lisa Ghigliazza

The tutors in the Writing Center at Monroe County Community College see many students throughout the year.  Most of the students are traditional students, those who have come directly from high school to college; there are also many non-traditional students, those who have been out of high school for many years.  I am in the latter category as I have been out of high school for over twenty years and like many other non-traditional students I am returning to college to change careers.  There are many factors that directly affect the outcome of a writing conference, such as tutees’ life experiences—meaning what situations they have encountered, how they have handled them, or what they have experienced in their lives thus far.  The tutee’s expectations and goals for the session and for college overall, such as earning extra credit or improving writing skills, are other factors.  The tutee’s responsiveness or attitude to the tutor is another reason for the accomplishment or failure of the writing conference.  These three factors combined with the status (traditional or non-traditional) of the student may determine the overall success of the writing conference.

On the issue of life experiences, a comparison can be made between non-traditional and traditional students and how this contributes to the overall success of the writing conference.

The non-traditional student brings to the conference a variety of life experiences, more defined expectations and goals, and a responsive attitude.  Non-traditional students are attending college in greater numbers than ever.  John Geiger, et al. reports that “in 2000, 39% of college students were 25 years old or older” (Geiger, et al. 569).  While older, non-traditional students may not be familiar with the expectations of college coursework, they do have life experiences in their favor.  Non-traditional tutees may have established a career or raised a family, and realize what it takes to be successful in whatever they do.  They are prepared to do the work necessary to improve their skills as writers and as students in general.  Every class that non-traditional students enroll in may be a necessary step in achieving their goals, thus developing new skills is a benefit to them.  Non-traditional students have learned how their jobs and lives can benefit from a variety of resources and techniques.  Therefore, they seek to use the suggestions a tutor makes to them in a conference in a more holistic way.

In contrast, the traditional student may have a somewhat limited number of life experiences.  Most traditional students come to college directly from high school.  In just eighteen or nineteen years they have not had the chance to accumulate a variety of life experiences, and their views on academic subjects may be narrow.  Schooling has been the major influence in their lives to this point, as well as immediate family and friends.  School and family may not have required students to interact in a variety of situations or taught them how to solve problems on their own.  Many traditional students also have not decided what their future careers will be; and therefore, they do not see the intrinsic value of writing skills. To the traditional student, a particular class may be perceived as just a pre-requisite that must be taken; and therefore, the concentration during a writing session tends to be more on mechanical issues of the paper and not improving writing skills.  They have not correlated a particular class with their overall success in college or in their future careers.  Tambra L. Donohue and Eugene H. Wong refer to life experiences as learning experiences and state, “younger students [traditional] are less achievement oriented” (Donohue and Wong, par. 8).  This may be because of their limited life experiences.

Expectations and goals are another area where non-traditional and traditional tutees differ.  According to The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring it is important for the tutor to “clarify the goals and expectations of the writer” (Gillespie and Lerner 50-54). 

In my experiences as a tutor, I have found that the goals of the non-traditional students are to improve their writing as a whole, learn techniques to use in the future, and write the correct way, and not just earn a passing grade on the current paper.  Senior Writing Fellow, Melissa Maxwell comments, “Older student’s are less likely to come [to the Writing Center] just for the extra credit” (Maxwell).  And Jessica Bennett, another Senior Writing Fellow, states, “Non-traditional students in the nursing program are totally immersed in their education […].  They will actually apply the techniques you show them to their writing” (Bennett).  I have also encountered similar attitudes tutoring non-traditional students.  These students made follow-up appointments with me and I could see that they had actually applied the strategies I taught them in our first session.  This correlates to not only successful writing conferences but to overall success in college.  Donohue and Wong support this theory in their paper, “Achievement Motivation and College Satisfaction in Traditional and Nontraditional Students,” by stating that non-traditional students “tend to earn higher grades” and are “more achievement oriented” (Donohue and Wong, pars. 7-8).  This clearly indicates non-traditional students have clearly defined expectations and goals, making the job of the tutor easier and the writing conference more successful.

 Goals and expectations tend to be quite different for traditional students.  Many traditional students have no clear idea of their future goals and therefore do not see the significance of the papers they bring to the writing conference.  The paper is viewed in terms of acquiring a passing grade instead of a process of refining the craft of writing. I have found that traditional student’s goals include a good grade on the paper, a proofreading of the paper, or obtaining the extra credit points for meeting with a Writing Fellow.  Former Writing Fellow, Vickie Dembinski expressed it this way, “[…] traditional students concentrated more on mechanical skills […].  Non-traditional students, on the other hand, focused more on content […]” (Dembinski, par. 9).  There are some traditional students interested in making their papers better but only in relationship to the class it is for, not in the broader sense of improving writing skills.

While successful conferences are affected by both life experiences and goals and expectations of the tutee, they can also be affected by the tutees responsiveness to the writing session.

Non-traditional students, for the most part, bring to the conference a desire to get help.  They are often more receptive to constructive criticism and learn from their mistakes.  Tutors find that using the Socratic Method when tutoring a non-traditional student works well because tutees appreciates being asked their opinions and have already developed problem solving skills.  Non-traditional students can be taught to identify their problem areas when taught the techniques to do so.  According to Bennett, a higher percentage of non-traditional students are more receptive and responsive to getting help (Bennett).  I have experienced this responsive attitude in the non-traditional students I have tutored.  When these tutees were required by their professor to see a Writing Fellow they stated they were glad it was required for them to come.  These students truly desired help with their writing and were interested in what I had to say.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are some traditional students who are not very receptive to coming to the Writing Center.  I have encountered traditional students in the Writing Center who do not really want to improve their writing skills they just want to get a good grade on the present paper or get extra credit for coming to see a Writing Fellow.  Then there are the traditional students who come in because their professors make it mandatory for them to see a Writing Fellow.  These students generally are somewhat angry about being “forced” to come in and fail to see the value of the writing program at all.  Their attitudes express their forced adherence to the requirements of the class and their desire to just get out.              Former Writing Fellow Jessica Hegyi found, “The traditional student does not take the tutorials as serious as the N.T.S.” (Hegyi, par. 1).   Helping traditional tutees to see how improving their writing skills will help them in all their future college work as well as aid them in their future careers can be a daunting task, often met with great resistance from tutees.  However, once tutees, traditional or non-traditional, see the value in improving their skills as writers, a more successful conference can be achieved.      

Whether the tutee is a traditional or non-traditional student, tutors need to identify what the expectations and goals are for the session and for the paper before they begin tutoring session.  Responsiveness of the tutee plays a role in how successful the writing conference will be.  While each group of students present their own set of difficulties in a given writing session, non-traditional students tend to approach a writing conference with a desire to truly improve their writing – not just get extra credit on a particular paper.  For these reasons, non-traditional students tend to have more successful writing conferences than those of traditional students.

Works Cited

Bennett, Jessica.  Personal interview.  3 May 4, 2006. 

Dembinski, Vicki.  “Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Students.”  Monroe County Community College, Theory to
      Practice Essays: The Application of Writing and Tutoring Theories in Authentic Writing Conferences, Fall 2001. 
     15 Apr. 2006 <http://www.monroeccc.edu/writing/theory_to_practice_essays/fall_2001/theoryfall2001.htm#vicki_dembinski>.

Donohue, Tambra L. and Eugene H. Wong.  “Achievement Motivation and College Satisfaction in Traditional
      and Nontraditional Students.”  Education 118.2 (Winter 1997): 237-244. Academic Search Premier.  EBSCO. 
      Monroe County Community College Library, Monroe, MI.  5 May 2006 <http://web19.epnet.com>.

Geiger, John F., et al.  “Differences in Meaning in Life in Students: The Effect of Nontraditional Status and Region of
      Country.” College Student Journal 38.4 (Dec. 2004): 569-572.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCO.  Monroe County
      Community College Library, Monroe, MI.  5 May 2006 <http://web19.epnet.com>.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner.   The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring.  New York: Pearson, 2004.

Hegyi, Jessica.  “Tutoring Non-Traditional Students vs. Traditional Students.”  Monroe County Community College, Theory to       Practice Essays: The Application of Writing and Tutoring Theories in Authentic Writing Conferences, Winter 2001. 
      15 Apr. 2006 <http://www.monroeccc.edu/writing/theory_to_practice_essays/winter_2001/
      theorywinter2001.htm#jessica_hegyi>.

Maxwell, Melissa.  Personal interview.  3 May 2006.

 

Overcoming Misconceptions about Writing Centers
Audrey Kutz

I barely remember when I first heard of MCCC’s Writing Center. My Comp I teacher had said something along the line of, “If you need help writing, you can visit the LAL lab.” Great. Whatever. My mind quickly translated the information—“If you are stupid and cannot manage to write a single essay, you can see some professionals who will embarrass you by explaining the difference between a noun and a verb.” Well, I was certainly not a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I could surely manage to write my own papers—without using the LAL. It was not until a later class that required seeing a Writing Fellow that I learned how beneficial the Writing Center truly is. When I later became a Writing Fellow myself, I fully realized how the program worked and how important it is to combat student misconceptions. Misconceptions about writing centers can lead to miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, and avoidance between faculty, students, and writing fellows. Questioned tutors feel they could have more productive writing sessions if students did not come in with erroneous agendas. Solving this dilemma requires better communication, presentation, and staff participation at college writing centers.

College students may shun writing centers because the benefits of seeing a writing fellow are lost in campus miscommunication. George Mason University’s writing center deals with a lot of miscommunication between both students and professors, says Sean Johnson Andrews, in his article “Grammar Fixed While You Wait!” (par. 4). College professors may be the first to introduce writing centers to students, so the instructors’ attitudes toward the writing center can affect what students hear regarding them. If instructors fail to properly communicate the writing center’s services, students may assume false notions. “I was told by the Dean that you would put my paper in APA format,” said one George Mason University student to a writing fellow (Andrews, par. 2). Unfortunately, a misunderstanding between the dean and the writing center, or the dean and the student, caused that particular student to believe the writing center would reconstruct his or her paper. Sometimes faculty members, especially those in the business and health departments, do not fully understand what writing centers do. Some falsely believe writing fellows help the student cheat on papers, or do the majority of the writing for the tutee. Instructors with bad impressions about writing centers may pass negative thoughts on to students.

Some college students come to writing sessions with false ideas about what will happen in a session. They may expect the writing fellow to proofread, edit, or mark errors on their papers. St. Lawrence University has a webpage devoted to dissolving myths about their tutoring service, Munn Writing Center. They say some students think they can just “drop off” their disastrous paper and pick it up later, polished and perfect (Munn). Other students grudgingly attend a session, hoping that they will not have to discuss or comment on anything while the writing fellow does the work for them. Those students may be shocked when they learn they actually need to talk, not to mention make any changes themselves.

Students often expect the writing fellow to be an editor or an authority figure. Andrews says, “The most often repeated requests at the Writing Center are ‘I need you to fix my grammar’ and ‘Can I just get this proofread?’ One of the common misconceptions of the Writing Center is that we are an editing service” (par. 2). Students may also expect the writing fellow to give their papers a probable grade. They hope to see where the paper stands. However, students may not realize that the writing fellow is not an authority and even if the tutor did quote a possible grade, it could differ drastically from their professor’s grade. The beauty of college writing centers lies within the concept of peer tutoring—one college student helping another. The tutees do not have to worry about the tutor criticizing their papers or taking a red pen and marking up their fragile work. Peer tutors know what it is like to have a paper critiqued; they know the pressures of college life, the busyness and the dreadful deadlines. Writing fellows focus on helping tutees become better writers by giving them positive feedback and useful tips and strategies for future assignments. Students coming into writing centers should understand that the tutors are not professors, editors, or criticizers, but rather fellow students who dedicate some of their time to pass on good writing techniques.

Another factor that could hinder students from using writing centers is the idea that seeing a writing fellow makes one appear or feel stupid. This is a common misconception, even among pre-writing fellows. More than half of the tutor questionnaires I received back revealed that a Writing Fellow once had a different opinion about the Writing Center before joining the program (Kutz). Some said they thought the Writing Center was just for remedial students, but later learned just how valuable seeing a Writing Fellow can be for even the most outstanding students (Kutz). In Paula Gillespie and Neil Lerner’s book on peer tutoring, they introduce peer tutor, Andrew Helminiak. Like myself, Andrew once considered tutoring beneath him. He went to a session because it was required and expected to “just go through the motions of being a tutee” (Gillespie 97-99). However, he walked away with a completely reversed attitude. Tutoring benefits all levels of writers from the best to the worst. Attending a writing session should not be seen as an act of weakness or inferiority but rather as a confident approach to success.

From researching the different types of misunderstandings about writing centers, one can start to form an idea of how students conceive these false notions. But how do tutors deal with the unrealistic expectations students bring to writing centers? A level of frustration remains among tutors who have to explain a writing session’s purpose again and again.

Many tutors lament over tutees who walk into sessions with mistaken expectations, but seek ways to prevent misconceptions at the source. As Gillespie and Lerner explain to peer tutors: "In the same way, the writers with whom you will work will have expectations for how you should act, expectations that come from their influential learning experiences. You will need to counter these expectations, open lines of communication, and try to understand why writers are positioning you in certain ways" (Gillespie 55).

Matt Bolinder, a peer tutor at Marquette, was once exasperated at the number of students who kept coming in with wrong agendas. He said many tutees wanted him to read their papers over, tell them what was wrong, and were obsessed over grammatical errors (Bolinder par. 1). Matt decided to research the priorities and beliefs concerning the writing center and find out what was causing so many students to perceive the writing center as a “grammar station.” The results were not what he expected. From the surveys, he saw most students listing organization and structural concerns as the top reasons they came to the writing center (Bolinder). From his tutoring experience, Matt had expected to see grammar and punctuation at the top of the list. Confused, Matt investigated further and came to a conclusion. He found “a breakdown in communication” between instructors and students could lead students to assume their professors wanted their grammar checked before turning in an assignment (par. 15). Eager to combat this miscommunication, Matt’s writing center held a faculty meeting that addressed professors’ concerns and allowed writing fellows to clarify a few issues (par. 20). Such a meeting did not immediately change the reasons students came to the writing center, but it was a start of a better working relationship between the writing center and faculty, and ultimately the writing center and students.

As Matt demonstrated, faculty meetings and clarifications of writing centers are important for combating misconceptions. Advertising writing centers effectively involves positive interaction between writing center workers and faculty members, as well as continuous explaining of writing center goals. Writing centers benefit from having writing fellows and instructors work together. At MCCC, dedicated Writing Fellows work hard to promote the Writing Center through demonstrations and presentations. Each semester, the Writing Center encourages professors to participate in the “fellowed class” program and advertises the Writing Center’s benefits and mission. In a questionnaire, Rebecca Kennedy, head of the promotions department, said, “I think that, because we are trying to promote the program and more professors are talking about it, students’ perceptions of the program are getting better, but there are still a lot who do not really understand what we do” (Kutz). The task is still before the Writing Center, and as some say, it is enduring. Another Writing Fellow clarified that explaining the Writing Center’s services should be a “continued process” because there are always new students coming in (Kutz). Consequently, positive advertisement, presentation, and campus participation should remain strong objectives at any writing center.

When a student comes into a writing center, sits down, and eagerly discusses his or her paper’s structure, the tutor can silently rejoice. There are no requests for grades, or unrealistic expectations—just good, honest questions about the art of writing. Both the tutor and the writer can relax with a common goal in mind: applying the best writing techniques for a particular paper while exploring ideas and strategies for future assignments. The concept is idealistic, but with careful nurturing, entirely achievable.

Works Cited

Andrews, Sean Johnson. “‘Grammar’ Fixed While You Wait!” 4.1 (2001): Writing @ Center. George Mason
      University Writing Center. 3 Apr. 2006 <http://wac.gmu.edu/program/newsletter/newsletter_spring2001.pdf>.

Bolinder, Matt. “It’s Us Against Them...Sort Of.” 18.7 (1994): Writing Lab Newsletter. Mar. 2006       <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/wln/Volume18/18-7.pdf>.

Gillespie, Paula and Neil Lerner. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd. ed. New York: Longman, 2003.

Kutz, Audrey. Questionnaire. Apr. 2006.

Munn Writing Center. “What We Don’t Do: Writing Center Myths.” St. Lawrence University. 3 Apr. 2006.       <http://web.stlawu.edu/writing/myths.html>.

 

Required vs. Non-required
Neil Masserant

“How did I get myself into this? I cannot tutor someone else,” I think to myself as I nervously wait for my first tutee to walk through the double doors. I begin to think of all the horror stories that I had read in the classroom text book and hope that I will never have to experience one. Waiting five more minutes, a door finally opens and a young man named John walks through. We introduce ourselves and my first session begins. “So what problems arose when writing this paper?” I ask him. He replies, “Nothing really, just have to be here.” A person might as well tattoo a note on his fore head saying “Required.” So much for the student yearning to have himself tutored. I would have to work hard to motivate John to work on his paper. Fortunately, I was able to teach John some new techniques in writing, but he definitely gave me an education in tutoring that day. I left that day wondering if a non-required student compared at all to a required student. Which one would prove easier to tutor? As my tutoring continued, the characteristics of these two types of students began to clearly show. The attention given to the paper by the individual and the body language shown by the tutee can single out the type of student, but the tutor must realize what techniques will work best for that student.

Non-required students, I have noticed, often show the most determination and care for their papers. Does this surprise me? No, not really. These students obviously took the time to make an appointment in the Writing Center, so they must care about their writing. One negative side affect of a non-required student, or a drop-in student as referred to by Kenneth Bruffee in “Two Related Issues in Peer Tutoring: Program Structure and Tutor Training” is that a tutor will only see the student once, and therefore does not see the outcome of the work the tutor has performed with the student (76). With a required student, a tutor might have the opportunity to see a student several times. A required student though, not always, but most of the time, will view a paper as just another task in college. The individual has no goal in mind, but to just finish the paper and turn the work in. With this type of attitude, the tutor may have a difficult time dealing with this individual. As Beverly Lyon Clark states in Talking about Writing, “Try to be objective with yourself: the paper is ultimately the student’s responsibility, and improvement in writing isn’t always reflected in improved grades” (144). A Writing Fellow’s job though, requires that we do our best to try to motivate students. I often ask open questions, which require students to answer in other ways instead of the common “yes” and “no.” This makes students become more involved in the session. I also sometimes put on a sympathy attitude. I tell the tutee that I feel for him and that even I have problems writing, but in the end, a writing assignment does not have to ruin a person’s day. Writing after all, brings out our attitudes and ideas. Our writing is our other voice in society. I discuss with the person that having to write can prove bearable, and most of all, often enjoyable. Along with the attitude of the writer to watch for, a tutor must also pay close attention to a writer’s body language.

During a tutoring session, the tutor, if paying attention, can conclude whether the tutee cares for the session or not clearly by looking at the non-verbal communication of the student. The body language of a tutee tells the tutor exactly what the writer thinks of the current session. Non-required students, I have noticed, often show the most encouraging body signals during a session. Good eye contact, nodding of the head, or just leaning forward in the chair exhibits good body language. Those characteristics show that the writer truly cares about his work and that the tutee will take in the information suggested by the Writing Fellow. A non-required student may often show positive signs of attention, but a required student often does not.

 Often, the required student displays uninterested non-verbal cues because the individual does not want to attend the session. The session is a nuisance in this person’s life. A tutor can tell right away whether the tutee is paying attention to the session. Throughout my short history as a Writing Fellow, I have had many experiences with this type of individual. Examples of a person not paying attention include staring off into space, rolling eyes, and lying back in the chair. If a student sits with legs crossed, this shows boredom. Often a student may use monosyllabic and unenthusiastic replies when in a session as noted by Paula Gillespie and Neal Learner in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring (179). When a tutor has the ability to spot these body cues, the tutor should then have to ability to counter-attack them with certain techniques.

As a tutor in the MCCC Writing Center, I had a walk-in student visit me for a session in which knowing certain techniques worked to my advantage and the tutee’s advantage. As she walked in, I instantly could tell this student was pressed for time by her fast paced walk. Her name was Stephanie, and her professor required the students to see a Writing Fellow for a book review paper. As soon as we sat down, I heard the usual verbal language. “I just got done writing this an hour ago,” and “How long will this take?” She also noted that the paper has a due date two hours from now. I answered the lone question and began to the best of my ability to calm her down. I told her that she might have the opportunity to gain an extension on the paper if she shows her work to her professor, but first she would have to fix up her paper to make the work presentable. That brought the tension down somewhat. After she had read her paper aloud, I began to discuss some concerns that had come to my attention. I could tell she had a hard time paying attention to the session, so I repeatedly asked her to reiterate what I had said. This required her to keep alert so that she did not feel stupid in front of me.

Another technique, that I find useful, may help the student identify her problems and then correct them. I tell the student that I notice something wrong in a certain sentence; I then ask if the individual can spot the error. If not, I proceed to point out the error to the student and then show the person ways to fix the problem. Once the student understands why the error happened, I have the student practice the learned methods in front of me. I think this technique works extremely well because the individual has shown the tutor that the person can now spot and fix the problem. Often when a student comes into the Writing Center, the person feels nervous about having to see a tutor. A person can spot this just by looking at the student’s face. A few questions can help break the ice with the student. I may just ask them how well her day has gone or any other friendly type of question. I feel this helps the student realize that Writing Fellows are actually college students like themselves. We are not writing geniuses. The techniques used by a tutor will all vary in every session. Some may have usefulness in one session and may not in another one. The tutor though, must learn to recognize which techniques suit which student best so that the session can benefit both individuals in the end.

Tutoring a required student or a non-required student will always differ in many ways. No two individuals prove alike. Through research though, I have concluded that required students show the least concerns for their papers, which therefore, makes them more difficult to tutor. Tutoring required students is not impossible though. With the proper techniques and having the education to spot the signs of an unmotivated student, a tutor can accomplish a successful session with the individual. This of course will not happen regularly, but as a Writing Fellow continues to tutor more, the numbers will continue to improve. Patience is what the Writing Fellow must develop as a tutor. A tutor cannot expect the tutee to make a complete turnaround in one session. In the end, cooperating with the tutor is completely up to the tutee. The Writing Fellow controls the session, but the tutee controls the paper. The student has the ability to do what one desires, and no one else can control that fact. The unwilling student will always exist, but with the proper education and techniques, the difficulty of tutoring the reluctant student will reduce.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. New York: Pearson Education, 2004.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. “Two Related Issues in Peer Tutoring: Program Structure and Tutor Training.” College Composition
      and Communication (Feb. 1980): 76-80. JSTOR Monroe County Community College Library. Monroe, MI. 3 May 2006       <http://links.jstor.org>.

Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1988.

 

Do I Have to; or Do I Want to? Required vs. Non-required Students
Sarah Queen

Tutoring students in the MCCC Writing Center can prove difficult when the student does not want the help. Some students come into the Writing Center looking for guidance, while others need a report form for extra credit.  This is but one comparison between a required student’s visit and a non-required student’s visit. Tutors need to be aware of a student’s feelings about a writing center and the approach that should be taken to have a successful session. Student attitudes and behavior during required and non-required sessions differ due to the communication between the tutor and student.  Required students may become non-required students after a productive, comfortable session.

Student’s attitudes about tutoring sessions reflect their reason for having them. This means that if students are forced to attend tutoring sessions, they may feel they are being told that they cannot write.  Sometimes the task of going to a writing center is rewarded with extra credit.  These students normally behave the same as in a required session—sitting in the chair waiting for time to pass. Teachers may also punish students who do not make appointments by lowering their grades.  The students who come into a writing center with papers in which they presume are completed—simply looking for a writing fellow completion form—are the students who believe they do not need help.  These students often exhibit the same behaviors as a stubborn child who knows that his or her way is the right way.  Occasionally a student will ask questions about a surface error, but when a bigger problem is addressed she may dodge the criticism with a roll of the eyes or a harsh explanation. Non-required students, although they may not be completely open to changing all of their work, are usually more understanding of the tutor’s suggestions.  “Student’s who come in on their own accord are actually interested in writing and/or self improvement,” stated Amanda Lundy, senior Writing Fellow at Monroe County Community College.  Not only are the attitudes of the students different, their behavior also signifies their true feelings. 

After collecting surveys from thirteen MCCC Writing Fellows asking them for their opinions about required and non-required students, I was bombarded with repetitive answers.  Each writing fellow described characteristics of required students similarly.   “Unresponsive” “distant” and “uncooperative” were the most common adjectives used in these responses.  Apparently, required students have given themselves a bad reputation for having attitude problems.  They may seem distant and disinterested, watching the clock and counting down the minutes until they are free.  Normally they are inactive listeners, which mean they may be unresponsive and may make communication difficult for both people.  Characteristics that the tutors listed about non-required students read a little differently, “interested” “focused” and “ accepting” were a few of the descriptions repeated throughout the surveys. Non-required students would be active listeners, most likely asking questions and paying attention to questions being asked and advice that is given.  However, miscommunication does not completely rest in the hands of the student.

As tutors we need to understand how our attitudes and behaviors can affect the student’s comfort level.  Kenneth Bruffee, professor of English at Brooklyn College, claims that required tutoring is an extension of the classroom in which the tutor is considered to be a second teacher.  He also states that this may make students uncomfortable with asking questions, and cause intimidation and miscommunication between students and the tutors.  We may assume that when students seems distant or unfriendly that they do not want to learn.  This, however, may not be true; we never know what events may be going on in a person’s life or how a student is feeling about sitting in a writing center chair. It may be up to us as tutors to change students’ minds about the tutoring process.  Required students may be intimidated by the idea of needing help.  If we become frustrated or give-up in any way these students will see tutoring as a waste of their time.  If we look disinterested in their work, or watch the clock, they will be less likely to ask questions. If a writing fellow goes into a session with either high expectations or low expectations this could be the driving force of the session.  To make students comfortable we have many options as tutors.  We must always greet them in a friendly manner and use a soft tone of voice that is un-intimidating.  Required students, as well as non-required students, do not like to be talked down to or yelled at by a tutor.  We must also sit with an appropriate amount of space between the students and ourselves.  Making eye contact when speaking to them is important in active listening, but a comfortable level of eye contact needs to be maintained.  When students feel as though they are on the same level as the tutor, they may open up with questions.  As long as we understand the importance of our behavior, we can create a healthy tutoring environment for both types of students.

 Required students are more likely to become returning non-required students after a successful session.  The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring defines the ideal session as “two peers having a conversation about writing, where each is equally likely to ask a question, move the conversation forward or point out his or her confusion as a reader” (37). A session such as this does not occur often, and when one happens it is most likely between non-required students and tutors.  Per my survey, 54% of MCCC Writing Fellows are up to the challenge of required or non-required students, 38% would rather work with non-required students, and 8% wanted to work with required students only.  These percentages show the more desirable choice for a tutoring session.  Although required students may be uncooperative at first, we have the power to sway their opinions and bring them back for further tutoring.  Bruffee makes the point that since students are required to come to the writing center, we will be able to see their evolution in writing, whereas, drop-ins may come in once and never again. 

Tutors will always have their favorite types of sessions, but whether they like them or not, required students are here to stay.  Any tutoring session can be productive if both parties are willing to communicate.  Tutors will benefit as well as students if we take the time to understand how the student needs to be approached. A comfortable environment is important for both types of students to succeed.  Student attitudes and behavior differ during required and non-required sessions, as well as tutors’ attitudes and behavior.  Communication is the key to a successful session and a returning non-required visit. 

Works Cited

Bruffee, Kenneth A. “Two Related Issues in Peer Tutoring: Program Structure and Tutor Training.” College Composition
      and Communication 31 (Feb. 1980): 76-80.  Firstsearch JSTOR. Monroe County Community College Library,
      Monroe, MI. 19 Apr. 2006 <http://www.jstor.org/>.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner.  The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring.  New York: Pearson, 2004.

Personal Survey in Writing Center, Monroe MI. 19 Apr. 2006.

 

Does Gender Affect Tutoring?
Jessica Winger

How much work is accomplished during a session depends on how aware the tutor is of different students’ learning styles. Females and males differ immensely in the way they learn, communicate, and relate to their comfort zones. Knowing the differences between these factors, for both genders, may become the deciding factor of the success of the session. Differences in gender, within learning and communication styles, affect both the tutor and the tutee. There are four different gender combinations that occur within the writing center: a male tutoring a female, a male tutoring a male, a female tutoring a male, and a female tutoring a female. These different forms of tutoring relate to opposite and same sex tutoring. Different characteristics of learning between females and males tend to create problems within the tutoring sessions. To achieve the greatest amount of success in a session, it is important to be aware of the difference between female and male learning styles.

When it comes to learning styles there are major differences between females and males. According to an article, “Male and Female College Students’ Learning Styles Differ: An Opportunity for Instructional Diversification” by Gabe Keri, males tend to be independent learners, while females are relational learners. This means that males prefer to study alone, without the distractions of others, while females find it easier to work within groups or pairs. That females prefer to work in groups, may explain why they come to the writing center more than males. Females are relational learners and may be more receptive to what a tutor has to say. Females are, therefore, more likely to take the tutor’s advice, applying it to their papers. My experience in the Writing Center has suggested that females tend to be relational learners, taking my advice and applying it to their papers. Female students have often come back to me, showing how they applied my advice to their papers. Unlike females, males work independently and may view tutoring as an unnecessary act, viewing the sessions as a waste of time and a distraction to the work they could be doing. This type of learner often sets up problems for the tutor, wanting to work through a session as quickly as possible. Independent male learners may question why they are in the writing center, this then provokes them to question the value of the tutor’s opinion. I experienced an opposite gender tutoring session in which the male student spoke the whole time about how he already knew everything. There was no point in him being there, no matter what advice I attempted to provide, and he was very reluctant, feeling that there was no help for available to him. During the entire session, I felt as though he was rushing the session, not allowing me to get a word in. This particular male seems to have the learning style discussed in this article. Ultimately, the success of a tutoring session may rely on how educated the tutor is on the different learning styles between the genders.

When it comes to communication, men want to go straight to the point and fix the problem. This must be why Dr. Beth Vanfossen states that men tend to be the first ones to initiate the conversation, with the intent to speed up the process (1). In my observations men do not want to waste time; they want to go straight to the problem so that they can fix it. I have noticed that when it comes to finding the problem, males want to find their own mistakes; it’s when they cannot find them that they get discouraged. I had an experience with a male student who had several serious problems within his paper. Asking him questions about his paper did not seem to help; he could not grasp the root of the problem. He picked up on me trying to direct him to the problem and quickly became frustrated. Men want to have complete control of the conversation, correcting their own mistakes (Roberston 2). A male tutee taking control of the session, however, is not entirely wrong if the session is controlled in a constructive manner. This is an excellent way for males to find and correct their own errors. It is important though that males understand that there is more than one way to do things, and there is no shame is receiving help. Males taking control, talking the most, is a good thing except when it comes to male tutors. When males are engaged in a session, they should be aware of how much control they are taking. Male tutors need to control the session enough to help the student, without taking away ownership.

A male’s need to be in control of a session can put females at a disadvantage. According to Margaret Robertson article, “Overcoming Roadblocks in Gender Communication,” in opposite sex scenarios females tend to allow males to do most of the talking, afraid they will be judged on their opinions (2). For female tutees to accomplish anything in a session, they need to start taking a little more control. Female tutee’s allowing tutors to do all the speaking is not going to help anyone. Sessions tutored by females may be more beneficial to students due to the lack of talking. Allowing tutees to find and correct their own errors is crucial to allowing them to maintain ownership. Both females and males need to find a balance of communication to create the ultimate learning session. One might think that tutoring in same sex sessions is pointless; nothing may be accomplished due to the balance in communication and learning styles. However, just the opposite may be true. When conducting my survey, I gathered that both females and males prefer to be tutored by the same sex. Females said it was because they could open up and relate better to females. Males also stated that they preferred being tutored by males because “they could go in and quickly get the job done” (“Survey”).  Female and male tutors both need to be able to find a balance in how much communication should occur on their part.

A person cannot have a successful session without considering the different genders’ comfort zones. I remember fearing my first male tutoring session, anticipating it to be awkward. Being so nervous, I could only imagine how nervous the tutee felt. Noticing I had a number of guy friends that I felt comfortable around, I questioned why this was any different. Was it because the tutee was a stranger? Was it really just the gender difference? It was then that the answer came to me: my authority. I found that the center of my fear was due to my position of authority. I feared his judgment of me, wondering if I would even be able to help, I became terrified of the session. As the session progressed I soon found that working with a male was no different than working with a female. It seems that people feel more nervous around someone of the opposite sex and this influences the success of the session. I conducted a survey in the MCCC Writing Center to see if this theory held true. Results from the survey showed that both females and males preferred working with the same sex. One female tutee replied, “I feel more comfortable when working with females, due to their compassionate side, I do not feel as though I am being judged.” Throughout my tutoring sessions I have concluded that if a tutor is friendly and helpful, the student will feel comfortable regardless of the gender difference.

Gender differences also occur within the tutors themselves. I distributed a survey to see how gender affected tutors. The results showed that gender was not a concern to them. It is good that gender does not change their perspective of the session; however, they should be aware of the differences so they can better prepare for their sessions. Although gender was not a concern among the tutors, most of them expressed that they would prefer working with females to males due to females being more receptive (“Survey”). Either way tutors need to be aware of the communication and learning differences to achieve the greatest amount of success in a session.

After experiencing a number of tutoring sessions, with both females and males, conducting surveys, and gathering valid information, I have found my predictions to be incorrect. I thought that students would feel as I did, uncomfortable within opposite gender sessions. I was proven wrong. Most tutors, and tutees felt that after the first initial fear of opposite sex tutoring they found the sessions to be most helpful, as long as the tutor was polite and helpful. There are major differences in gender between their learning and communication skills, and comfort zones that affect how much success will come from a session. Tutors need to be aware of these to achieve the most successful sessions.

Works Cited

Keri, Gabe. “Male and Female College Students’ Learning Styles Differ: An Opportunity forInstructional Diversification.” College       Students Journal 36.3 Sept. 2002:433-42. Infotrac. Gale Group. Monroe Co. Community Coll. Lib., Monroe. 10 Apr. 2006        <http://web7.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark>.

Robertson, Margaret. "Overcoming Roadblocks in Gender Communication." 1997. The Army Chaplaincy. 9 Apr. 2006       <http://www.usachcs.army.mil/TACarchive/ACComo/ robertso.htm>.

“Survey.” MCCC. 14-25 Apr. 2006.

Vanfossen, Beth. Gender Diff. in Communication. 1 Apr. 1998. Institute for Teaching and Research on Women,
        Townson U. 10 Apr. 2006  <http://pages.townson.edu/itrow/wmcomm.htm>.