THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS

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Am I Being Too Friendly?
Tara Adrian

There is always the question as to how one should act in a tutoring session. What are the right things to say? Should I be talking more? What about giving more advice? One of the questions that many Writing Fellows do not think about is how they should present their character during a session. Should a Writing Fellow be friendly and open in a session, or more professional and like a leader? More importantly, the attitude that the tutor shows will directly influence how much the tutee takes in and learns in a given situation. Being professional will help accomplish a task, but not necessarily through a student’s comfort zone. Through experimentation, surveying, and research, I found that a friendly attitude not only benefits students by teaching them more, but allows the tutor to feel more like an individual, and not just like another teacher.

I relied heavily on personal experimentation for this paper. I conducted four different experiments, two with friendly attitudes and two with professional attitudes. Personal belief is that a friendly attitude is described as being open, talkative, and comfortable with another person. Professional attitude would be that of a strict tutor, and a get the job done mantra. All surveys were done in the Writing Center on Fridays. Through my experimentation, I did simple tasks that many tutors do not think of as friendly or professional when doing the tasks. Simple tasks included smiling, shaking hands, listening intently, and relating to the tutees paper. Although I did not over exaggerate any of these tasks, simple differences in my sessions showed, overall, better acquirement of knowledge from the tutee’s viewpoint.

The first two experiments I conducted were with my friendly attitude. For my first session, I started my friendliness immediately after I met my tutee. I introduced myself, smiled, and asked her how she was doing. She replied “Great!” and from then on we were very open to each other. Throughout the session, I sat close to her, and quietly read her paper with her as she read it. When she asked questions, I would smile and have her help me come up with the answers. This did not make her feel uncomfortable in any way, but more at home. When the session was finished, she and I not only felt like we had accomplished a lot, but that she would no doubt use the Writing Center again. She thanked me incessantly, and told me that I had helped her tremendously. For my second experiment, I used the same approach as my first. Smiling, talking, and laughing with my second tutee allowed her to feel like I was her friend, and not just a tutor. As she read the paper, I related to things she talked about, and by the end of the session, she was open and ready to listen to my input. After the session was done, she told me I had helped her so much that she would book another session with a Writing Fellow soon (Adrian).

In contrast to the friendly experiments, my professional experiments did not result in as positive an outcome. Although some say that tutors need to be professional in the Writing Center, I found that being professional gets the task done, but not as comfortably. I conducted two more experiments in the Writing Center, this time acting professional (more like a teacher). For my third experiment, I immediately acted serious and ready to get the task done. By shaking my tutees hand, I thought that would make her more comfortable, but instead, she sort of froze up. She sat down and was hesitant to read her paper. As she did, I sat back and listened with my arms crossed. She often looked up at me and stumbled when reading. After she was finished reading, I asked her what she wanted to work on. We worked on what she felt needed to be done with the paper, and then I gave my input. After the session was over, although we got a lot accomplished, she seemed uptight and ready to leave. My fourth experiment was with another woman. Although she did not care that I just sat back and watched her as she read, she kept questioning things in her paper and would ask me what I would do. I then asked her to finish reading the paper and that we would go over anything she wanted afterward. After she had finished, she had a lot of questions. I answered all of them, but she was hesitant to ask what I thought about the paper. I gave her advice on how to work on her thesis and expand her examples. After we were done, I told her to come back if she had any problems and to make another appointment (Adrian). She did not make an appointment at that time.

As clearly stated, all of the tutees acquired knowledge through the sessions, but in a different way. All of my sessions went well and were done accordingly, but I found that there was a much better comfort zone with my friendly attitude. Although the tasks were accomplished with my professional attitude, it seemed like the tutees were treating me more like a teacher and not a tutor. I expanded my research to surveys and academic sources to see if my experiments were well executed.

Research through surveys suggests that a friendly attitude benefits the tutee more than a professional attitude. Surveys made were filled out by tutors in the Writing Center, and although only a few Writing Fellows completed them, the results were what I expected. Seven out of eleven surveys stated that it is easier to tutor with a friendly attitude, mainly because it creates a less stressful environment and helps the student not feel as overwhelmed. Only two surveys stated that professionalism is best, because there needs to be a form of respect for the tutor. The rest of the surveys suggested that an equal amount of friendliness and professionalism needed to be used, because it depends on the student as to how one should act in a session (Personal Survey).
Research suggests that communication is fundamental to encouraging students to go to tutors. Communication and trust is necessary to help tutees feel more comfortable in the Writing Center. “A trusting relationship with a peer who holds no position of authority might facilitate self disclosure of ignorance and misconception, enabling subsequent diagnosis and correction” (Topping 637). Topping makes an accurate statement, because if a person is trusting of someone else looking at his paper, then he might be more open to criticism and to fixing it. However, communication in the Writing Center needs to be related to learning. According to Carol A. Lundberg, an Associate Professor at Azusa Pacific University, communication in Writing Centers is fundamental to the education of students; however, the communication needs to pertain to writing. Students engage more in learning and discussion when they are talking about what they know (681). Therefore, communication not only helps the tutees feel like they are a part of the Writing Center, but they will also do better on their work.

Although both friendliness and professionalism accomplish the task of tutoring students, research shows it is both easier and more beneficial to tutor students by means of being friendly. Not only does it allow the student to be more comfortable in the Writing Center, but lets him act more as an individual. Friendliness allows an air of communication through talking to a tutor like a friend, and not having a feeling of being judged. Although professionalism will get tutoring done in both a logical and timely manner, friendliness allows tutees to feel more comfortable, communicate better, and over all, not be scared to death of going to a tutor.

Works Cited

Adrian, Tara. “Personal Experiments.” MCCC Writing Center. Apr. 2008.

Lundburg, Carol A. “The Influence of Time-Limitations, Faculty, and Peer Relationships on Adult Student Learning:
               A Casual Model.” The Journal of Higher Education Nov-Dec 2003: 74. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO.
               Monroe County Community College Library. Monroe, MI. 15 Apr. 2008. <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Personal Survey in Writing Center, Monroe MI. 20 Apr. 2008.

Topping, Keith J. “Trends in Peer Learning.” Educational Psychology Dec. 2005: 25. Eric. First Search. Monroe County
               Community College Library. Monroe, MI. 15 Apr. 2008. <http://firstsearch.oclc.org>.

 

Teaching College Writing in Five-Paragraph Form: Is it the Crutch or Crux of College Writing?
Jeannie S. Connelly

I first learned about the five-paragraph theme while I was in Dr. William McCloskey’s Composition class at Monroe County Community College (MCCC). Dr. McCloskey distributed handouts that illustrated the format of the five-paragraph theme before repeating the outline on the blackboard. As I listened intently to his description of the five-paragraph theme’s components, I realized I subconsciously used a similar style as a guideline in my previous writing. “When you write your papers,” Dr. McCloskey stated, “I want you to have three—maybe four—body paragraphs. Two are not enough; five are too many; three is perfect.” Now I was puzzled. How could he limit people’s writing—their own thoughts on a subject—to a certain number of paragraphs? When I finished writing the papers for his class and heard comments from my classmates, I realized that the way Dr. McCloskey taught the five-paragraph theme did not limit people’s ideas. Rather, it required them to properly develop their paragraphs and determine which of their thoughts best expressed their opinions. These advantages of the five-paragraph theme were apparent to me. However, I still felt that it was not the only way to write a paper and wondered what other people thought about the five-paragraph theme.

I began researching this topic by distributing copies of surveys asking a series of questions about the teaching and application of the five-paragraph theme to MCCC students, instructors, and Writing Fellows. I received over 125 completed student surveys, 2 instructor surveys, and 18 surveys from Writing Fellows. Through my primary and secondary research, I found that college instructors, students, and Writing Fellows have differing opinions on whether or not the five-paragraph theme should be taught in higher education. Some dislike the five-paragraph theme because it is too rigid and think college instructors should not teach it because of this. Others prefer the five-paragraph theme and want college instructors to teach it since it provides students an excellent starting point for writing papers. However, instead of taking an extreme view, I found that most people think college instructors should apply certain aspects of both arguments to their teachings.

Because using the five-paragraph theme requires a writer to fit his or her paper into a certain mold, some instructors and students dislike it. Carrie Nartker, an assistant professor of English at MCCC, is “totally against” the five-paragraph theme and does not teach it because it is “too formulaic” (Q3 and Q8). This opinion coincides with those I had when Dr. McCloskey announced his class must write papers in five-paragraph style. Some students’ topic might not fit in that set structure, and never will, no matter how much the writer tries. Of the students surveyed, 6% thought college instructors should never teach the five-paragraph theme (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students Q5). Most of these people fear that this structure eliminates creativity and benefits writers who care about format instead of content.

Instructors who allow only five paragraphs for a writer to express himself or herself hinder this person’s self-expression. Nartker insists that limiting a writer to five paragraphs “inhibits creativity” and produces poor writing (Q8). Five percent of the students surveyed agreed with Nartker by stating that the five-paragraph theme “ruins all creativity” (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students Q10). Even Dr. McCloskey admitted a writer might feel constrained by five-paragraphs, but argues that once the writer becomes “familiar with the structure,” the five-paragraph theme “won’t stifle creativity” (Q9). Misty Braden, a Senior Writing Fellow, agreed with this opinion: if someone is truly “creative, [he or she] will find a way around” any limitations the five-paragraph theme presents (Q10). If a writer is “creative,” he or she will be creative with the five-paragraph theme. Consequently, this argument presents a slight drawback to the five-paragraph theme, but it is one that writer can overcome.

An extension of this argument is that when an instructor requires students to arrange their papers in five-paragraph style, they focus more on format than content. Elisabeth Rorschach, an associate professor of English at the City University of New York, argues in her article “The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux” that “the preset format” of the five-paragraph theme “lulls students into a nonthinking [sic] automaticity” (Rorschach 19). Many students think that if they follow the five-paragraph theme—writing three body paragraphs that are previewed in the introduction and summarized in the conclusion—they have a well-developed paper. However, well-developed writing is far more than that. Using Rorschach’s analogy, this form of thinking creates a paper that resembles passengers on a train. “Each window reveals a different person, with no real connection between them; they’re held in place by the structure of the train” the people could shift seats and not effect “the contents of the train” or “its effect on the viewer” (18). In the same way, many five-paragraph themes have disjointed paragraphs whose order could be hanged without interrupting the non-existing flow of the paper or reader’s comprehension. Instructors must require more from their students than simply stringing thoughts together in a five-paragraph style. They must require content as well. When instructors want students to write five-paragraph themes, the sole requirement many students hear is “write five paragraphs.”

However, instructors can teach well-developed writing while using the five-paragraph theme. In fact, many find the five-paragraph theme is the best way to teach students about well-developed writing, even if the paper needs to be longer than five paragraphs.
Other college instructors, students, and Writing Fellows argue that instructors should teach the five-paragraph theme because it provides a solid foundation for new college writers. Patrick Dunn, a MCCC Senior Writing Fellow, agrees that the five-paragraph theme is “particularly useful for inexperienced writers who need an easy way to visualize their essays. I have encouraged Comp I students to use it as a model when I am tutoring in the Writing Center.” Twenty-eight percent of Writing Fellows and 34% of surveyed students urge writing instructors to teach the five-paragraph theme in all introductory classes. Sixty-four percent of Writing Fellows and 45% of students desire teachers to teach the five-paragraph theme sometimes, especially if the class has not previously learned it (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students; Personal Surveys of MCCC Writing Fellows). These results indicate students want to learn the five-paragraph theme and should learn it because the format will assist them in college writing. According to Dr. McCloskey, the advantage of the five-paragraph theme is that “it contains the elements—Intro→ Body→ Conclusion—that academic writers need to focus on” to create a well-developed paper (McCloskey Q7). The five-paragraph theme helps inexperienced writers succeed at college-level writing.

Many instructors, Writing Fellows, and students find that the five-paragraph theme, or a variation of it, is the best way for someone to create a well-developed paper. In a section of her writing handbook where Jean Wyrick discusses thesis statements and essay maps, she states that a body of “three points” in a “500-to-800-word” essay allows for adequate paragraph development (41). Dr. McCloskey expounds on this by asserting, “I believe this structure is a sound way to teach the rudimentary elements of an expository theme. As a student grows as a writer, varieties of this structure can be introduced” (Q1). The five-paragraph theme teaches students how to write and how to write well by giving them a format for organizing and developing their papers. Students find this format so successful, that 32% of them and 44% of Writing Fellows believe that the five-paragraph theme produces the best writing, and seventy-five percent of students and 83% of Writing Fellows use the five-paragraph theme, or a variation of it, at least “sometimes” when writing a paper (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students; Personal Surveys of MCCC Writing Fellows). One student agrees the five-paragraph theme “provides a structure” for good writing (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students). Like these surveyed students and Writing Fellows, I use variations of the five-paragraph theme in all of my writings: although the paper might exceed or be fewer than five paragraphs.

Even if a paper needs to be longer than five paragraphs, the five-paragraph theme provides writers an excellent starting point. When discussing larger papers, Wyrick uses a variation of the five-paragraph as a template. She divides her thesis into three main topics and divides those topics into three sub-points (48). Dr. McCloskey follows this model when instructing students how to write research papers. He argues that no matter the length of the paper, a writer can use “the basic structure” of the five-paragraph theme (Q4). This paper is obviously longer than five paragraphs, but I used the basic idea of the five-paragraph theme to write it by dividing my topic into three points and dividing those topics into equal groups. Essentially, the five-paragraph theme format is not so much having a paper five paragraphs long, but it is about dividing a topic by three.

While both sides of this argument have convincing points, college instructors should not take an extreme position. Rather, they should present both sides of this debate to their students, thus offering college writers the opportunity to learn both the drawbacks and benefits of the five-paragraph theme.

Most students (91%) and Writing Fellows (84%) found that they prefer to use the five-paragraph theme, or a variation of it, as a guideline or option, rather than a rule (Personal Surveys of MCCC Students; Personal Surveys of MCCC Writing Fellows). In some situations, the five-paragraph theme might not be the best way to write the assignment or organize a topic, such as with creative writing and analyses. On the other hand, the five-paragraph theme can help writers develop their ideas and determine the strongest points of their argument.

I remember the dread I felt in Dr. McCloskey’s Composition class when I wrote a four-paragraph paper instead of his explicitly required five. I spent several hours trying to find a third division to my paper before realizing I could not divide my topic into three groups; if I did so, it would look as though I was simply trying to fit my paper into the five-paragraph mold instead of writing an focused paper about my topic. This is a classic example of why instructors need flexibility when teaching writing. According to the course requirements, my paper needed three body paragraphs. If Dr. McCloskey had graded my paper based solely on format and not content, my paper would have been incomplete according to his assignment. Instructors need to make sure they do not simply teach the five-paragraph theme in the sense that if the paper contains five-paragraphs, with three body paragraphs previewed in the introduction and summarized in the conclusion, the paper receives an “A” no matter what the content. They need to remember to teach that what the paper says exceeds the importance of its form. As Rorschach admits, “The five-paragraph theme is, therefore, guilty of more than just straightjacketing [sic] our students when they write; this structure is responsible for teachers forgetting how to read and for students missing opportunities to think” (25). If teachers insist students write papers that fit the five-paragraph theme, they could receive papers that are five paragraphs long without the deep thought or contemplation good writing requires. Writing instructors should teach the five-paragraph theme as a tool for use in writing, not the law for every paper.

Dr. McCloskey’s Composition class also showed me the benefits of the five-paragraph theme. When I was attempting to find a third point for my four-paragraph essay, I realized how much this format could help students develop their papers. Often times, student writers do not say enough about a topic when they are writing their papers. Whether these writers have difficulty expounding upon the ideas they have, or condensing their multiple, weak ideas into three powerful ones, the very nature of the five-paragraph theme requires students develop their ideas fully. The five-paragraph theme helps students create focus in their writings.

When one examines both sides of this debate, one can easily see both have valuable points. The five-paragraph theme can limit creativity by requiring students to fit their ideas into the five-paragraph theme style. This often results with writers focusing only on format and not content. Others argue that if instructors teach the five-paragraph theme with enough emphasis on content and development, the basic style of the five-paragraph can help writers create balanced, well-formatted, and well-developed papers, no matter what the paper’s length. To give students the education they want and deserve, college instructors should realize the benefits and drawbacks of the five-paragraph theme and inform their classes about both.

Works Cited

McCloskey, William. Letter Interview/Survey. 9 Apr. 2008.

Nartker, Carrie. Letter Interview/Survey. 9 Apr. 2008.

Personal Surveys of MCCC Students. 9 Apr. 2008—14 Apr. 2008.

Personal Surveys of MCCC Writing Fellows. 7 Apr. 2008—16 Apr. 2008.

Rorschach, Elizabeth. “The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux.” The Quarterly. 26.1 (2004):16-19+. National Writing Project.
               20 Apr. 2008 <http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/download/ nwp_file/970/Five-Paragraph_Theme.pdf?x-r=pcfile_d>.

Wyrick, Jean. Steps to Writing Well: with Additional Readings. 7th ed. Boston: Thomson, 2008.

 

Active Listening Skills
Vicki Frailing

Listening does not mean hearing, hearing does not mean understanding, and neither is sufficient in and of itself. Active listening involves more than the ears; it involves the entire body. Active listening is a technique that can become second nature when used properly. It offers the image that everything the speaker says is of vital importance, and not something to be missed. Active listening, a technique used in writing centers nationwide, is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication. It is a valuable technique that is taught to writing fellows at Monroe County Community College (MCCC). Listening is an art, unlike hearing, which is an everyday function of the body’s auditory (hearing) system. The art of active listening is useful in a writing center. The proper use of this method gives tutees the sense that what they are imparting is important and interesting. It puts them in charge of their papers and the material that is written therein. The technique of active listening does not involve only the auditory system it also involves the use of paraphrasing, open-ended questions, I statements, and body language.

At the beginning of a session in the Writing Center at MCCC, students are asked to read their papers out loud while the peer tutor listens. Before they begin to read, they are also informed that the peer tutor may jot down several notes during the session to help them understand what the writer is saying. Listening, the act of hearing, understanding and acknowledging what was heard, is an active process. It involves the ears, but also requires the full attention of the listener. Max Messmer declares, “building stronger listening skills can prove to be a challenge. People can hear on average 600 words per minute, but even the fastest talker only speaks 100 to 150 words per minute” (par. 3). This statement means that the listener has the ability to do more than one activity while he or she is listening. This permits the listener to multi-task. While multi-tasking may be useful, it does not allow the listener to focus on the importance of what he or she is hearing. In a writing center, and in everyday life, active listening is important. Many times people refer to the golden rule, treating others, as you want them to treat you; if you want someone’s full attention, he or she probably would like yours. Active listening has to be learned and then used. The listener must actively blank out all outside issues and concentrate on what the speaker is saying. Listening, while not listed as a step in the process, is the first requirement.

The next step in the process of active listening is the use of paraphrasing. After the paper has been read, the peer tutor may make use of paraphrasing to relate to the writer what he or she thinks was said. Paraphrasing, using key terms to restate writers’ words, allows the tutor to question his or her understanding of the tutee’s paper. It allows the tutor to restate what he or she thinks are the important points that the writer is attempting to make. This allows the writer to explain and reshape his or her meaning. It also allows the writer to clarify anything that may have been misunderstood. Restating the writer’s words shows that the tutor is not only hearing the writer but is listening with his or her full attention. This gives writers an acknowledgement that what they have to say is important. Even though the tutor is listening throughout the session, and uses paraphrasing to restate the writer’s key words, he or she must also take additional actions.

Another part of active listening is the use of open-ended questions. The action of asking questions about the students writing expresses interest in their creations. Open-ended questions, those that do not allow for a one-syllable answer, are an effective part of the model. This type of questioning, involves the use of statements such as, when you mentioned this topic, or in this paragraph you refer to, which will then allow the tutor to focus attention on a specific area of a student’s writing. Asking an open-ended question, then pausing to give the tutee time to answer, acknowledges the tutee as the expert on his or her own paper. The use of open-ended questions invites tutees to put thought into their answers. It may lead to new ideas or concepts that they had not considered before. Allowing tutors to respond without breaking the flow of the moment is conducive to a positive session. As stated in Effective Writing Center Tutoring Strategies “active listening involves hearing what students have to say, and at times what they haven’t said” (par. 15). This quote references the next step in the active listening process, the use of “I statements.”

The art of active listening is more than listening, then parroting back the tutees words in a paraphrase, or open-ended question. Active listening involves reaction to tutees’ words. “I statements” are used in active listening. The use of phrases such as, I see, or I think you are saying places the writer in the role of authority on his or her paper. Asking these types of questions shows that the tutor is listening and wants to understand what the writer is talking about. There are multiple reasons to use I statements. I statements can be used to let tutees know that what they are saying has been understood. I statements are useful to put tutees at ease, to help them relax, and lead to discussions of problem areas. The use of an I statement by the tutor lets student writers know that they are not alone, that whatever their concerns or problems, it has happened to other people, sometimes even the tutor.

The Writing Center needs to be an inviting place for students to share their work. The student writers’ ideas of the Center depends partially on what they see when they enter. Therefore, the use of positive body language is an important element in active listening. Body language is not posture, it is the attitude portrayed by the entire body from head to feet. Sitting rigidly in a chair, both feet flat on the floor chin tucked to chest and eyes moving to and from a nearby clock does not lead to the assumption that the tutor is glad to see the tutee. Instead it displays the image of time being the important factor in the meeting. Portraying a confident and friendly attitude is partly the result of body language. Greeting the tutee at the door of the center with a smile and casually spoken greeting helps set the stage, as well as taking this comfortable feeling into the session by sitting beside the student writer. The positive body language needs to be continued throughout the session. If the tutor leans slightly toward a tutee with relaxed posture, hands resting quietly on his or her desk or lap, and making occasional eye contact while asking how he or she might help the student continues the use of positive non-verbal communication. The inward lean, suggests that the tutor is eager to hear the tutee. The resting of the hands in a quiet position, as opposed to nervously tapping the fingers on the desk, may lead to a feeling of calmness. Grace Ritz Amigone states, “since the very name ‘peer’ indicates equality, body orientation during a tutoring session can establish the notion of equality” (25). The use of the active listening technique shows a willingness to share information with another person, as opposed to informing them. Equality begins with the art of active listening.

An experiment was conducted at MCCC to test the use of active listening. The experiment involved monitoring Writing Fellows as they worked in the center. The experiment followed six tutors as they conducted two sessions each. The results confirmed the usefulness of active listening (Frailing).

Active listening is a useful technique. It is used in many Writing Centers. It is also useful in daily life. The use of the golden rule of doing unto others, relates very easily to the art of active listening. People want to be listened to, not just heard, but understood. While active listening may seem difficult to learn, it makes a positive difference in tutoring sessions. Active listening helps make a session one between peers, not one between a teacher and student. Before going into a Writing Center, imagine the way people react when they are ignored, then imagine these people are student writers. Ignoring people leads to discouragement, but listening them makes them try harder. Active listening involves more than hearing; it also involves the acknowledgement and understanding of the person who is speaking. The use of techniques such as paraphrasing, questioning, and I statements, combined with positive body language are parts of the active listening technique. When the tutor uses active listening, it can lead to success in and out of the learning center. People will willingly talk to someone who they think is listening to them with undivided attention.

Works Cited

Amigone, Grace R. "Writing Lab Tutors: Hidden Messages That Matter." The Writing Center Journal 2.2 (1982): 24-29.
               19 Apr. 2008 <http://writinglabnewsletter.org>.

Effective Writing Center Tutoring Strategies. 19 Apr. 2008 <http://www.technorhetoric.net / 5.1/coverweb/castlebergclosser/                strategies.htm>.

Frailing, Vicki. Experiment in Active Listening: Observations of a Writing Center 2008.

Messmer, Max. “Improving Your Listening Skills.” Management Accounting (USA) 79 (Mar. 1998): 14. General OneFile.
               Gale. Monroe County Community College Library. 28 Mar. 2008 <http://find.gale.com/ips/start.do?prodld=IPS>.

 

Theory to Practice: Design to Learn
Erica Greenwood

Walking into the Writing Center can be intimidating. The small space makes the room seem clustered with desks and people. Then, when one begins to look around, there is a feeling of strictly business. The space is unappealing to the eye, with fluorescent lighting and an all gray color scheme. This poses the question “Does the Writing Center give students the feel of a creative learning environment?” Answering this question involves looking at the connection between the design of the space and learning. To do this, it is important to consider whether students think design affects learning, what makes a good learning environment, and discover what the positives and negatives of the Writing Center are.

Garnering insight on people’s feelings toward the Writing Center was obtained through a random survey of students and tutors. In this survey, students/tutors were asked if they found that environment does affect their learning. According to David W. Orr, “The typical campus is regarded mostly as a place where learning occurs, but it, itself believed to be the source of no useful learning” (Kushins 33). This statement considers the environment of the space a person is in, and suggests the idea that most do not pay attention to space as part of learning. From the survey responses it could be concluded that the majority thought that environment does affect learning, there was only one person who disagreed. These students share the same opinion as scholars. In an article entitled “Learning from Our Spaces: A portrait of 695 Park Avenue,” authors Jodi Kushins and Avi Brisman explore environment and its relationship to students and how they learn. The article states,” The perspective that the physical structure- the classroom, the building, the campus- in which ones learns is irrelevant or, at best, ancillary to what transpires within the walls of the institution is troubling…” (Kushins 34). The authors make the point that educators who ignore the importance of environment in learning are taking away from their students.

Unfortunately, the appearance of the Writing Center is not due to neglect by educators. The main reason for the appearance of the Writing Center is because the Monroe County Community College (MCCC) Writing Center is connected to the Learning Assistance Lab (LAL). Since the Writing Center is a shared space Mr. Dillon has little say in changes that can be made to the room because this environment was not set up for tutoring writing, it was set up to tutor LAL students. Dillon agrees with the majority of the students in the fact that “environment is terribly important” to learning. In an interview with him a question called for his honest opinion of the center. He said the space is cold, hard, sterile, and institutionalized (Dillon). If he could, he would create his ideal writing center involving more space and creating a cozy feeling using comfortable furniture, a coffeemaker, different lighting, and a different color on the walls. Until he is given a chance to make this ideal space, the current Writing Center will be looked at in case it needs improvement.

As quoted previously by Mr. Dillon “environment is terribly important” in learning. What a person sees, hears, smells, and touches immediately affects his or her state of mind and level of anxiety. The senses are important in making a good learning environment. A person’s senses make it necessary to consider everything that is around the space. Looking at color, lighting, chairs desks, and computer stations, are just some of the things that are going to make up the environment. According to Grace R. Amigone, “A writing lab deals not just with an isolated area—a student’s writing problem—but engages the whole student, a student who is influenced by many factors” (Amigone 28). She also says,” This means the conception of work space is broader than merely a desk or a table” (Amigone 28). This means the room needs to be more than a room with objects in it. The room needs to be a place that stimulates and senses which will in turn get “creative juices” flowing. If the center does not offer what people find a productive environment then the center may in time fail.

Creating a good learning environment also consists of considering the purpose of educational space. The environment created for a space is highly dependent on who will be using it and why they will be using it. Students and tutors at MCCC think that a good learning environment should have stimulating color, open space, and some distraction (Survey). The people who designed the room wanted for LAL purposes minimal distractions and a very professional feeling. This works well for LAL tutees, but is not the preference of the Writing Center staff; most surveyed felt the Writing Center to be bland (Survey).

Fortunately, students and tutors surveyed do see positives in the Writing Center. Some like the organization of the space, while others appreciate the availability of the computers while being tutored; certain students even made comments about the tutors as part of the environment (Survey). One specific person left a comment in which she stated,” The room is boring, but the tutors are friendly and inviting, which made me comfortable” (Survey). Even though there is a lack of control over the appearance of the Writing Center, students providing positive feedback helps show that despite certain environment issues they like the Writing Center.
Though people are fond of the Writing Center, they do not find the environment perfect. When asked whether they thought the Writing Center provided a creative learning environment the majority of students answered no (Survey). When asked what changes should be made to the Writing Center many comments were made. The biggest problems listed for the Writing Center were lack of color, noise levels, amount of space, and lack of windows (Survey). People surveyed said that the addition of color or the possibility of posters or artwork would be a nice way to create a more inviting environment. One person surveyed said, “The starkness of the color in the room makes you feel uninvited and unwelcome” (Survey). Every survey filled out mentioned the possibility of a color change in the Writing Center. Garce R. Amigone points out something such as paint is not just color in the sense of learning environment. Red can stimulate, blue is calming, yellow gives a sense of warmth, and green decreases restless and helplessness (Amigone 28). Whatever color is chosen will immediately affect the center and change the mood created in the environment. This fact is important because success of learning environments depends upon the students and tutees.

The second most popular suggestion was the reduction of noise in the writing center. Although there are some noise prevention items in place already, when the Writing Center is busy and four sessions are going on, noise levels become overwhelmingly distracting. At some points of a tutoring session, it feels as though people are competing to be able to communicate with tutees or tutors. The problem would be hard to fix because noise is directly related to the amount of space the Writing Center. The Writing Center consists of around one-third of the LAL room. The space in the shape of a rectangle with all the tutoring stations set up in the back of the room. The areas are pretty close together, but with the way the room is shaped there were not many options for the placement of desks. Unless the center was moved into its own private room, or separate space, there is not much that can be done.
If the Writing Center were ever moved, students and tutors think that having windows in the writing center would be extremely effective. The harsh fluorescent lighting in the Writing Center is old fashioned and not preferred. Students/tutors would like to have more natural lighting in the room, to give a more comfortable relaxed feeling. According to the interview with Mr. Dillon he also feels this way about changing the lighting. He does not approve of the fluorescent lighting due to research he has read about the negative effects it has on people. Unfortunately, he informed me that the old design and wiring of the building does not allow for any change in this aspect of the Writing Center.

Through research, student/tutor surveys, and an interview with Mr. Dillon I realized just how important environment is to people when it comes to their learning. Everything around them has an effect on what they are doing. Most people also have an opinion on how environment affects them. After doing this research it is obvious to me that environment should always be taken into consideration when creating a learning space, but that there will never be a perfect learning environment because of individual preferences.

Works Cited

Amigone, Grace R. “Writing Labs: Hidden Messages That Matter.” The Writing Center Journal. 1982. 20 Apr. 2008                <http://136.165.114.52/wcj2.2/wcj2.2_amigone.pdf>.

Dillon, Timothy. Personal interview. Apr. 2008.

Kushins, Jodi and Avi Brisman. “Learning from Our Learning Spaces: A Portrait of 695 Park Avenue.” Art Education
               58 (Jan. 2005): 33-39 WilsonSelectPlus. First Search. Monroe County Community College Libr. Monroe, MI.
               Apr. 2008 <http://firstsearch.oclc.org>.

Random Sampling of Monroe County Community College Students and Tutors. Survey. Apr. 2008.

 

Theory to Practice: Learning Styles
Tara S. Hubbard

When asked to tutor in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center as a Writing Fellow during my second semester of college, I doubted my abilities as a good writer. I was not sure that I would be able to help others become better writers if I myself did not think I was a good writer. However, after being introduced to a more in-depth understanding of the three different learning styles through the Advanced Composition course, and how they each work, I have learned how to not only develop my writing into college level work, but I have also learned many new techniques on how to successfully tutor others who come into the MCCC Writing Center seeking help.

One of the three main styles of learning is a kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners learn through moving, doing, and touching; kinesthetic students learn best through a hands-on approach. They do best when they can physically explore the world around them. Kinesthetic learners may also find it hard to sit still for long periods; however, that does not mean that they are any less capable of learning than visual or auditory learners. When kinesthetic learners study, there are certain activities that are beneficial to their learning process such as, physically doing things that relate to the topics they are studying. Also, instead of reading directions, or listening to someone tell them how to do something, they would rather try and physically do it themselves. Having this mind-set is not always a negative way to think. Being a kinesthetic learner is a benefit in many different careers. Surgeons, athletes, architects, and gardeners are usually kinesthetic learners due to their dominating motor skills (Stein 10). These careers all involve hand-eye coordination, and being able to use ones motor skills to help them produce something. Kinesthetic learners vary from the other two learning types by needing to be more involved with the physical elements of their learning process.

In contrast to kinesthetic learners, auditory learners learn through listening. They, learn best through lectures, discussions, talking situations through and listening to what other people have to say. Auditory learners listen to the tone, pitch, and speed of someone’s voice, in addition to what he or she is actually saying. They tend to read aloud, and voice record class lectures and discussion to playback later as a form of studying. Auditory learners also are able to hear someone give them a list of tasks to accomplish and not have to write it down to remember it. They are able to recite it to themselves in their head instead of having to see it on paper like a visual learner would. Audio learners are usually successful pathologists, disc jockeys, and musicians, because of their excellent listening skills (Stein 7). They are able to notice notes that are off key, or balance the volume in a disc jockeys speaker.

Unlike auditory learners, visual learners are encouraged to go into engineering, architecture, and other executive positions where envisioning a future outcome is important (Stein 3). A visual learner succeeds in learning environments where the main portions of the lesson are something they can see or watch. Diagrams, pictures, and demonstrations help visual learners to understand the information that is being presented (Norrix 1644). They tend to use arrows in their notes, and draw pictures to help remind them of certain things. They also make lists of things to do that help them stay on task. Visual learners prefer to talk to people face to face, and unfortunately forget people’s names, but remember their faces. They tend to be fast talkers, and have a hard time listening to what others have to say. However, not listening to what others have to say is part of why they tend to be good executives. When visual learners are bosses, or in charge, they tell people what to do rather than having to listen to other people talk and give them instructions.

Now that one may have a better understanding of the differences in these three learning styles, it will be easier to understand the complications that can occur while tutoring them in the Writing Center. Therefore, understanding the differences in these learning types, while also being introduced to some basic strategies for tutoring each style, will help tutors have sessions that are more productive.

As previously mentioned, these three learning styles all comprehend information in different ways. There are different strategies that help us accommodate every individual’s needs while being tutored. For instance, when tutoring a kinesthetic learner it is recommended to take a piece of paper and write all the different high order concerns on it (thesis statement, topic sentences, introduction, conclusion, sub points, etc.) then cut the paper up so that each issue is on its own piece. Then, have the learner take the pieces and place them in a row in the order that they think they should appear in the paper. This is engaging the kinesthetic learner's need to interact with their learning, while still helping them to understand the importance of correct essay formatting.
However, while tutoring an auditory learner it is best to talk out any issues that the learner may have with the paper. If the learner is struggling to remember the order of which comes first, topic sentence or sub points, as a tutor one could make up a rhythmic story, or song about how the topic sentence comes first and relates directly to the thesis. By creating a rhythmic theme, the learner will then be able to sing it to him or herself when he or she needs to remember the order of importance in the paragraph. The singing helps auditory learners hear what needs to be done, so they can then go about completing the task.

Making up a rhythmic tune to help someone understand how to write an essay may work for an auditory learner; however, it would not help a visual learner understand what came first in the paragraph, the topic sentence, or sub point. Therefore, instead of making up a song about the paragraph order, it would be better to write it out for a visual learner. If one has a visual learner tutee that is also struggling with remembering if the topic sentence or the sub points come first, as a tutor one could try to relate the importance of the paragraph form to a hobby or interest of the tutee. For example, if the tutee enjoys playing cards, then draw a pyramid on a piece of paper and label the top as king, then under that put queen, then the jacks, followed by the 10, 9, 8, etc. Next to the word king, write thesis statement. Then, following the queen write topic sentences, the jack would be the sub points and continue to do this with the entire paragraph format. This helps the visual learner see the topics in order of their importance in the paper, and will inevitably help them remember this for their next assignment.

After showing the major differences in each of these learning styles, it helps to understand what kind of learning style dominates the Monroe County Community College Writing Center, if any at all. The responses that were collected from a brief survey showed that the Writing Fellows in the MCCC Writing Center all differ in what type of learner they would be considered. Out of the twenty-one surveys that I received back, seven Writing Fellows considered themselves visual learners, while three circled auditory learner, four chose kinesthetic, and surprisingly seven considered themselves both auditory, and visual learners (Random Sampling). Also, out of the twenty-one completed surveys, ten Writing Fellows answered that they prefer to tutor students with the same learning styles as themselves, while seven said they preferred to work with a different type of learner, and the remaining four had no preference (Random Sampling).

Other responses on the given survey concluded that the majority of the Writing Fellows at MCCC do not do any specific activities to try to determine what type of learner each tutee is. Most responses answered that they usually judge the tutees learning style by verbal and non-verbal communication. In addition, many tutors replied that they can usually notice what type of learner they are tutoring by the different wording, and phrases used throughout the paper (Random Sampling). Kinesthetic learners tend to use phrases like “that is a touchy subject,” while auditory learners say things like, “sounds good to me,” and visual learners use phrases such as “that looks good,” or “that looks better” (Stein 1-7). Therefore, the MCCC Writing Fellows rely on verbal communication between the tutor and tutee while determining what kind of learning style the current tutee uses most.

After determining what type of learner the Writing Fellow is working with, it helps to tutor using strategies that accommodate the tutee’s learning style. Many of the surveyed Writing Fellows said that they sometimes find themselves losing the interest of the tutee, because they start using different techniques that were created for their personal learning styles, instead of the tutee’s learning style. Some Writing Fellows also said that they would notice the tutee becoming bored and no longer interested in what the Fellow is saying, and that is how they realize that they are no longer focusing on the tutee’s needs, but have wondered into teaching their own personal learning styles (Random Sampling). In addition to some tutees losing interest, the majority of the MCCC Writing Fellows also noted that they find it the most difficult to tutor kinesthetic learners because they have trouble seeing how their papers are organized. However, tutoring visual learners seems to be the most popular learning style to tutor in the MCCC Writing Center.

Considering what all the MCCC Writing Fellows have gone through in the Advanced Composition course, and that they have all been taught the same tutoring and writing skills, it is not difficult to understand how many of the Fellows at MCCC share the same likes and dislikes of tutoring different learning styles. While kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners all learn in unique, and different ways, we as Writing Fellows are prepared to successfully tutor all three types of learning. Through reading our textbooks and researching past Theory to Practice papers, we have developed a better understanding of how to work with all tutees, and make the MCCC Writing Center a place where everyone’s personal learning needs can be met.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2004.

Levy, Holli M. "Meeting the Needs of All Students Through Differentiated Instruction: Helping Every Child Reach and Exceed                Standards." Preventing School Failure. 81 (2008): 161-64. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. MCCC Library,
               Monroe, Michigan. 18 Apr. 2008. <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

Norrix, Linda W., Elena Plante, Vance Rebecca, and Carol A. Boliek. "Auditory-Visual Integration for Speech by Children
               with and Without Specific Laguage Impairment." Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 50 (2007):
              1639-51. Wilson Select Plus. FirstSearch. MCCC Library, Monroe, Michigan. 18 Apr. 2008. <http:// firstsearch.oclc.org>.

Random Sampling of 23 Monroe County Community College Students. Writing Center Survey. Apr. 2008.

Stein, Jennifer, Linda Steeves, and Christine Smith-Mitsuhashi. "Learning Styles Categories." Online Teaching: Have You Got
               What It Takes? 20 Mar. 2002. 1 May 2008 <http://members.shaw.ca/mdde615/lrnstycats.htm>.

 

Property Values
Alex Pankiewicz

A student writer sat down with me for a session, several weeks ago. We went through the normal steps in a tutoring session—getting comfortable with each other, establishing the main idea behind the paper, identifying specific concerns, and reading the paper aloud. As she read on, I noticed she had at least five citations in every paragraph. I told her to hold on, and asked her to tell me the idea behind a particular paragraph. “Oh, well, I’m talking about how women can perform the same jobs as men,” she says. “No,” I said, “Your sources’ talk about that. I don’t see a single phrase that isn’t cited or quoted here.” She had no ideas, no opinions, and no creative concepts she could call her own. This scenario defines the issue of ownership in many college essays. Maintaining paper ownership is an important concept behind the writing process, which most students either overlook or are not aware of in the first place. Ownership of a paper is often lost when students resort to plagiarism, or focus on writing for a grade without actively trying to understand their topics. However, creating instructional rubrics with instructors or tutors, and participating in peer review sessions can help students "own" their papers.

Students often resort to plagiarism for many reasons, particularly online influences, and do not focus on analyzing and interpreting source material to generate their own ideas. Bronwyn T. Williams observes that students plagiarize because they are "deceitful," "lazy," unsure about how to cite and document sources, or have difficulty writing "with new information and new genres" (350). I agree with his points, for the most part; however, it seems students would have to be awfully malicious to deliberately deceive their teachers. From my experience in the Writing Center, the last three seem most likely. Lazy students simply do not want to put forth the effort, either because they do not understand how to compile a research paper, or they do not want to try. Being unaware of MLA guidelines when it comes to citation can easily hurt the quality of a research paper, as they can be confusing for inexperienced writers. Even more complicating is dealing with unfamiliar subjects, overloading students with daunting amounts of new text and ideas. For these reason, students seek ways to avoid honest authorship.

The Internet has become a major influence on what students think about authorship. Students can buy already-written essays online; they can even go to websites like Spark Notes, and copy and paste chapter summaries into their essays. These manners of plagiarism, while appealing because of the little effort involved, do not exist on their own merit. Online activities influence these acts of plagiarism. Peer-to-peer file sharing, using different existing images for self-definition on personal pages, and video collages all skew students' perceptions of authorship (Williams 352). Music sharing clients such as Soulseek and Bearshare allow people to transfer music to each other, and create their own compilations from different artists. Personal pages on Myspace contain images of actors, musicians, artwork, and other graphics to express individuality. YouTube has made itself famous for its collage of videos posted by its members, even though they have no ownership over the material they use. Chances are, most everyone does not pass off these shared songs, pictures, and videos as their own. However, the Internet still breeds a sharing culture, mixing and matching other authors' material. This leads to students thinking little of source material they cite (if they cite it at all) in their papers.

Students need to focus on analyzing source information and synthesizing their own ideas to avoid simply "patch working" papers. As a Writing Fellow, I have learned not to drop pithy quotes into papers, stringing several lines from several sources together. Young writers often attempt to articulate their main argument or purpose entirely with the source material's words. When writers include little of themselves in research papers, they begin to "patch work" the text together. This is similar to making a mix tape, using the compiled songs to express a particular feeling or emotion, without any material from the creator. Williams writes, "We want students to draw on their creativity and create original work, yet we want them to become readers and writers who draw from the ideas of others" (351). From my experience in the Writing Center, however, those seem to be the two extremes student writers lean toward. There is either too much source material, or too many ideas from the student.

Plagiarizing displays a lack of care or concern for one’s writing. This also leads to writing for something besides ease of completion—writing for a grade.

Students tend to write their papers purely for a grade, rather than finding a deeper meaning in a subject, thus limiting their motivations. Williams reasons that a student find little incentive to write for more than a grade unless a paper deals with "their lives, interests, and individual intellectual questions" (353). As I mentioned earlier, students have difficulty working with new subjects. Unless a field of study applies to them, they may not bother putting any of their own opinions and ideas in a paper. This constricts their desire to understand source material and the purpose of the paper becomes nothing but a factor in their grade-point average. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring states students see writing as a "burden" they must deal with because they have never attempted to find meaning behind their writing (Gillespie, Lerner 22). Their essays become just another obstacle in completing a course’s requirements. With little incentive to understand what they write about, writing, itself, becomes uninteresting; students with this mentality may never excel in their writing skills.

In creating instructional rubrics for self-regulation and participating in peer review sessions, students can ensure ownership of their writing. Generally, instructors offer assignment rubrics for essays, stating expected page length, word count, due date, topics available, and so on. These types of rubrics, however, restrict creativity. Earlier, I cited Williams stating the importance of student creativity in essays, and without that creative quality, students' boredom and frustration is reflected in their writing. The loss of ownership from this can be curbed through instructor-student cooperation, though. Students can maintain ownership of rubrics by setting their guidelines and expectations with teachers (Saddler and Andrade 49). Another means of maintaining authorship is through peer review. Bruce Saddler and Heidi Andrade write, "Peer assessment helps students reflect on their writing, recognize dissonances, and create solutions" (51). The purpose of writing centers lies in this statement. When work with tutees, no matter what aspect of writing we focus on, I always direct them to invent their own solutions.

Instructional rubrics allow students to assess their own writing as well as evaluate it. Establishing personal guidelines for an assignment grants students a refreshing freedom, but these guidelines also allow for progressive reflection periods. As students continue through the writing process, instructional rubrics do not just "teach," but they also serve to "evaluate" students' personal performances (Saddler and Andrade 49). A question in my survey regarding text ownership read, “Do you write with a process, i.e. planning, drafting, revising, and editing?” Surprisingly, sixteen out of the twenty students surveyed answered, “No” (Random). Poor instruction, laziness, or other reasons could have contributed to this result, but an entry-level composition class should stress the importance of the writing process’ steps, either way. Instructional rubrics allow students to check and evaluate their progress through each step; taking advantage of personal assessment can only reinforce their ownership of essays.

Peer review helps students find meaning in their work through critical and comfortable assessment of their writing. Saddler and Andrade recognize that students' assessment of their peers' writing is often similar to instructors' assessment (49). This, perhaps, is what makes the Writing Center so successful in working with students. Writing fellows sit in an academic middle ground, somewhere between faculty and students. As a tutor, I easily see the connection tutees have with me, as I have similar “burdens” as them. Besides being well versed in the writing process, tutors qualify for another application. Writing fellows work with student writers to help them find meaning in their writing (Gillespie and Lerner 23). Tutors’ knowledge in the writing process does not just mean they know the steps in writing, but they understand the process’s importance. They understand they own the process; they understand the meaning of authorship.

Students, however, have little understanding of the importance of authorship. As a writing tutor, the short cuts student writers take discourage me. Plagiarism will probably persist for years to come, no matter how instructors and tutors may try to deter student writers from it. Blatant plagiarism is authorship theft; I can only try, inside and outside of the Writing Center, to promote the significance of written word. Maybe if student writers felt more strongly about their own texts, they would take that significance into deeper consideration. Unfortunately, they rarely look past the word count and due date on assignment sheets. Instead of writing to learn, they write to pass a class. A solution to this apathy toward writing could only take a visit to the Writing Center or a ten-minute freewrite, in which they generate ideas on how to relate a topic to their interests. Creating personal, instructional rubrics to assess one's own text periodically, helps maintain authorship. Writing tutors or instructors can work with students to organize their rubrics' guidelines and criteria for assessment. Of course, the effectiveness of informing students of authorship and its importance depends, entirely, on their willingness to learn.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004.

Random Sampling of 20 MCCC Students. Authorship Survey. Apr. 2008.

Saddler, Bruce, and Heidi Andrade. "The Writing Rubric." Education Leadership. 62.2 (2004): 48-52. Wilson Select Plus.
               First Search. MCCC Lib., Monroe, MI. 16 Apr. 2008. <http://firstsearch.oclc.org>.

Williams, Bronwyn T. "Trust, Betrayal, and Authorship: Plagiarism and How We Perceive Students." Journal of Adolescent
                and Adult Literacy. 51.4 (Dec. 2007): 350-54. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. MCCC Lib., Monroe, MI. 16
               Apr. 2008. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.

 

Ode to the Socratic Method
Valerie Stone

It was the brilliant philosopher Socrates who said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” When one is asked a question, the mind automatically begins to think. Asking students to revise a part of their paper gets them thinking. It works; there is proof of this. Socrates used this form of teaching in ancient Greece with his students and it is still used today. Many different questions can be asked to help students respond. Questions generate debate and dialogue and this is the Socratic Method of tutoring. The Socratic Method implores learning through questions and dialogue. It entices students to question themselves and their papers. In doing so, they are able to achieve Bloom’s highest form of thinking, evaluation, which is critical in the thought process.

The highest form of thinking is evaluation. The ability to explain one’s knowledge with another person is part of evaluative thinking. When a student is engaged in dialogue, it forces the student to use his or her brain. In tutoring, finding the right question to ask the tutee is important. Any question prompts thought, but choosing a question that generates the desired answer is a bit more difficult. Some questions a tutor can ask about the paper include, “Who is the audience, what is the purpose of this assignment, what is the central aim or task in this line of thought” (Paul and Elder 36)? Asking open-ended questions generates in-depth thought. One cannot answer open-ended questions with a simple “yes” or “no”, thus conversation occurs. “Such dialogue empowers the student to question the logic and ideas of the [tutor]” (Tucker 80). The more insight a question has the “harder” the student has to think.

Socrates debated, through dialogue, with anyone whom he could engage. “He took great pleasure in pulling people into conversation, questioning their assertions, and dismantling their philosophies by turning their own logic against them” (Tucker 80). In doing this, Socrates challenged other people’s ideas and thought process. He would also ask his students questions that would “disparage, not necessarily help them” (Tucker 81). He made his students realize that there was no real right or wrong answer, and that the process by which they arrived at their answer was far more important. He was truly brilliant. He practically “tore” down the conventional way of learning at that time—read and recite. This new technique benefited both Socrates and his students, because through open dialogue it created critical thinking.

When a student is able to evaluate, by critically thinking, he or she develops confidence and the ability to pass knowledge on to another person, whereupon it builds. Socrates’ students are examples of this. His most renowned apprentice was Plato. Plato’s most famed under-study was Aristotle, and the list goes on. Socrates pioneered his questioning process into one of the most celebrated methods of teaching (tutoring) that exists today. Even today in the small college of Monroe Community, his methods are used.

While sitting in the writing center I noticed that all of Monroe Country Community College’s (MCCC) tutors ask questions. I quietly observed many tutoring sessions in which the tutor asks the tutee questions about his or her paper. The tutee often responds quickly with his or her insight. The tutors are doing something that all good teachers should; asking questions to implore critical thinking. “Peers can improve each other’s critical-thinking skills and insight through open dialogue that promotes creativity and constructive feedback” (Tucker 86). Peer tutors are very important because of this dialogue. Peers bring something different to the tutoring session from that of the instructor. They present a more realistic observation, from the same perspective. Because tutors have been through the same classes and have had the same instructors, they offer a student’s standpoint. Marshall and Renee (names changed) are examples of why peer tutoring is important.

Marshall has a problem. He comes into the writing center looking for help. He meets with Renee and the two sit down and begin their session. As Marshall reads, Renee looks over the assignment sheet. When he is finished, she asks him if he understood the assignment. He hesitantly nods. Renee then says that she already had that class and that instructor and she knows what the assignment should be. They spend the next thirty minutes discussing what the instructor wants and what the paper needs. Marshall leaves with an understanding of the assignment and his paper’s content. Because Renee already had the instructor and had previously done the assignment, she knew how to help Marshall. The tutors understand the thought process of their fellow peers and can better determine the correct questions to ask. The appropriate question can trigger the right neurons to fire and the suitable thinking process to occur.

A survey, I conducted, asked tutors if they used the Socratic Method and how they used it. Stone discovered that 9 out of 10 tutors usually asked the tutee questions about his or her paper. All of the tutors said that they would help a student who had questions, by asking him or her to find the answer him or herself. The survey also showed that some students were not responsive to the Socratic Method of tutoring. Overlooking these students is horrible for they may be the ones who need the most help. There is a strong possibility that they may learn differently. The most common type of learner is a visual learner. Auditory learners come in a close second. Kinesthetic learners are at a disadvantage. They have to be active or do things themselves to learn. Therefore, if a student does not respond to questions, they very well may be a kinesthetic learner. Knowing this can help the tutee change his or her strategy, from dialogue to something better fit. It is best to make these students feel comfortable instead of “bugging” them with numerous questions. After they have relaxed and both the tutor and tutee can look at the paper, asking thought-provoking questions is then appropriate.

Challenging one’s own thought process is vital. Only when students question themselves, how or why they think that certain way, can a different perspective be attained. In doing this the process of the mind can be manipulated, so the one can change his or her state of mind. This is especially helpful when writing in different styles or tones. Evaluating a variety of ways to think makes it easier to choose the mental state one wants to be in. This often makes it easier to write.

There are so many good uses for the Socratic Method. It has survived through many centuries and has proven itself to be probably the most concrete form of learning. It invokes critical-thinking and learning through questions and dialogue. Both the tutor and tutee build upon their knowledge through this method. Socrates states that “Wisdom begins in wonder.” This thought provoking statement is an example of how brilliant one can become by simply thinking for oneself. Forever will the Socratic Method live, so long as people have free minds and think for themselves.

Works Cited

Paul, Richard W and Linda Elder. Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life.
               New Jersey: Prentice. 2002.

Tucker, Aaron. “Leadership by the Socratic method.” Air & Space Power Journal. 22 June 2007. <http://www.au.af.mil/                au/cadre/aspj/airchronicles/apj/apj07/sum07/tucker.html>.

 

The Art of Listening
Stefanie Thomasma

My family and peers have often told me, that I am a good listener. However, sometimes I feel that I have trouble focusing on other people when their ideas are not interesting. I face this problem quite often in the writing center when students read their papers aloud during our sessions. The mission statement of our writing center states that “our goal is to help all students at MCCC become better writers by providing an opportunity for close and regular contact with a supportive yet critical audience” (Holladay 1). This concept of “close and regular contact” and “supportive yet critical audience” cannot be carried though without the skills of listening. These skills help students relate to the peer tutors who separate them from the authority figures in the school. However, certain factors tutors face can hinder portraying good listening skills. These factors include distractions in their work place, uninteresting paper topics, and disinterested attitudes of certain students. Because of these many challenges, it is important to develop adequate listening skills as tutors in the Writing Center.

Listening skills are very important for tutors to develop while working in the writing center. According to Gail Tanaka and Kelly Reid in “Peer Helpers: Encouraging Kids to Confide” peer tutors and peer helpers bridge the gap between students and authority figures such as teachers and administrators (1). Because of this factor, students are more comfortable discussing issues with their peers. To help the student keep that feeling of comfort and to make the session more effective, it is very important for tutors to develop good listening and communications skills. According to Habibah Elias in his article “Listening Competence among University Students,” active listening can help reduce misunderstandings and strengthen a person’s ability to empathize with others (3). Showing an interest by exhibiting quality listening skills will help the student become more confident in his or her writing and in many cases the student will “work harder to send information” to a receptive audience (Elias 3).

One of the main struggles that tutors deal with when listening during a tutoring session is distraction in the writing center. This issue can be a result of small workspace and over crowding, two factors that affect our particular Writing Center. Through a Survey conducted in the writing center, I have discovered that many writing fellows have expressed that their issues with listening are partially because there are too many other things going on the Writing Center that draw their attention away from their tutees. How can we overcome this problem without expanding the space we have in our center? Elias suggests that one way to improve listening skills is by looking at the person speaking. By doing this, the tutor will be able to pick up on “non-verbal signals” from the tutee which may, in turn, help them understand the tutees confidence in his or her paper (Elias 3). Looking at the student will also help block out other visual distractions that may hinder a tutor from listening. Some Writing Fellows have also suggested mentally repeating what the tutee is saying and concentrating solely on the content of the paper as way to eliminate distractions in the rest of the room (Thomasma).

While room distraction is one reason tutors have trouble listening, focusing is not the only factor that affects a tutor’s ability to listen during a session.

Another factor to look at when discussing tutor’s inability to listen is a boring paper. Fifty percent of the tutors that took my survey have stated that they struggle with listening when a paper does not hold their interest or is difficult to understand (Thomasma). Writing Fellows who struggle with this problem have explained that by keeping focused and listening for errors in the paper, they have been able to listen and respond once the tutee is finished reading his of her paper. One tutor even stated that he or she would listen as if he or she would have to write a response once the student finished. By listening with the intent to respond, tutors have been able to keep their focus and form helpful ideas about the writing. Elias explains that a good listener must give his or her full attention to the channel of information that the reader is expressing. “Listening is actually more than hearing as it involves sensing, interpretation, evaluation, and response as well” (3). By interpreting and evaluating, tutors can stay focused on the subject even if it one that does not seem to have much value to them.

Distractions and uninteresting papers play a large role in hindering listening skills; however, through my survey, research, and personal experience, I believe that the characteristics of the tutee is one of the strongest issues that effect listening skills.

Despite the short amount of time that I have spent as a writing fellow, I have encountered many different types of students. Some of the students have been very eager to receive assistance with their papers. They have expressed a willingness to hear my advice and input their own opinions as well. I think my ability to listen to these students has not been much of a struggle. However, there are other students whom I have worked with that do not have the same attentiveness as the first students. I remember one tutee in particular who did not have any interest in the writing center. She made her appointment because it was a requirement for the class, but she did not want my help, and she did not seem to show much interest in her own paper. I asked her to read it aloud and when she did, she slouched down in her chair and spoke very monotonously. Her attitude towards her paper and the experience of tutoring made it very difficult for me to stay focused on what she was saying. I started to feel as though there was no reason for me to listen to her if she did not even care about her own work.

Other tutees in the Writing Center have agreed that certain characteristics of inattentive students such as monotonous reading and body language have affected their ability to listen to what the student says (Thomasma). One way to overcome this issue is by keeping a positive attitude and focusing on the job that the tutor is there to do. As tutors, we are not there to make the student care about their writing; that is something that only the student has the power to do. What we are there for is to show the student how to be a better writer, and that is a task we can achieve by listening for any errors that need to be addressed and presenting ideas that will help the student improve his or her work. One cannot fully listen or understand what the tutee is saying if he or she is judging or disagreeing with the student (Elias 3). To exhibit good listening skills to uninterested students, tutors must remove their own opinion of the person, at least until the session is over and the job of the tutor is complete.

Because of many issues that confront writing fellows during a session, it is important for them to develop quality listening skills. These issues may include difficulty listening to their tutees because of distractions in the room, student’s papers that do not hold the interest of the tutor, and certain characteristics of students who do not appear to care about their assignments. There are many steps that can be taken to improve listening skills of the tutor, and I think these steps must be taken to uphold the standards of out writing center.

Works Cited

Elias, Habibah and Zaidatol Akmailiah Lope Pihie. ‘Listening Competence Among University Students.” U.S. Department
               of Education 18 June. 2003: 2-9. ERIC. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Lib. 20 Apr. 2008                <http//:web.ebscohost.com>.

Holladay, John, comp. and Tim Dillon rev. Writing Fellow Handbook for Writing Consultants and Tutors. Class Handout.
               Monroe County Community College. (1995): 1.

Tanaka, Gail and Kelly Reid. “Peer Helpers: Encouraging Kids to Confide.” Educational Leadership 55 (1997): 29-31.
               ERIC EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Lib. 13 Apr. 2008 <http//:web.ebscohost.com>.

Thomasma, Stefanie. “Writing Fellow Survey”. Survey. 20 Apr. 2008.