A blog for tutors to share their ideas, experiences, and insights.

Author Archives: katrae13

This is not the first time that I have used a blog for class. While I would say I am pretty familiar with using blogs, this is the first time that I have communicated with students other than my classmates. I liked the idea of being able to use our blog to share tutoring experiences and different strategies. When readings were referenced in the posts, I felt that what I was talking about in my classroom wasn’t “a waste of time”. It made it clear that we were all on the same page and that we were discussing the same topics. The discussions in the blog helped me understand the reason for what we were learning.

Writing for this blog was more challenging for me than others. I really had to take my mind off of “my class” and pretend that I was only talking to people I didn’t know. It was hard to find the balance between simply talking to other students and academic writing. I tried really hard to keep it right in the middle. Had I only been communicating with students I knew, I would have probably been a little less formal and may have even put less thought into the blogs. The question of what other students were saying about my posts would always cross my mind.

I think the community that developed through this blog was awesome. We were able to openly communicate with each other. We talked about what we liked and what we didn’t like, and it seemed like no one really took offense to comments that went against their opinion (which is something that may be a little more difficult face to face).  I enjoyed being able to communicate outside of class with other students who were learning the same things as me.

While I was reading the article on sentence level errors, I was immediately drawn in by the thought that there is a difference between written and spoken language. This difference comes from the fact that when we talk, our words are spontaneous. We don’t have time to plan out what we say before we say it (in a typical conversation, anyway). I started to think about how often people think quicker than they can speak and end up mixing up words and ideas. Since we are able to analyze and rewrite written work, I think these mix-ups occur less often when writing. I do believe, though, that some bad habits are formed by the way we speak and I think they come through in writing.

The thing I have been trying to pay close attention to, both in and out of the writing center, is subject verb agreement.  Outside of school I waitress. I often find myself speaking very quickly to customers when the restaurant is busy. It is then that I catch myself saying things like “How is you appetizers”. I know that is incorrect, but my mind is going in a thousand directions and that is the sentence that comes out of my mouth. It is frustrating because I often wonder if anyone caught onto it -or if anyone even realized that is was incorrect.

I think (or at least hope) that things like this happen to most people when they are speaking quickly. But, this isn’t an error that should appear in writing because the opportunity to edit and correct your work is available. Since people often write the way they speak, I think a bad habit could easily be picked up with incorrect pairing of subjects and verbs.

While in the writing center, I have seen this issue come about with a lot of ESL students.  In a forty-five minute session, I don’t necessarily have time to explain ALL the rules for subject verb agreement.  From what I can come up with, I think most of the confusion comes from extra words in sentences. In order to make it less confusing, I use the strategy of isolating the subject and verb in the sentence.

When students read their papers out loud, they won’t necessarily catch these kinds of mistakes because they are used to talking that way. By pulling out only the subject and the verb in each sentence it is easier to see and hear that the wording is incorrect.

Student reading paper out loud:  The teacher, who is tall with brown hair and glasses, walk quickly down the hallway and into her office.

Tutor:  Ok, let’s look at this sentence. Do you see anything wrong with it?

Student:  No. I think it sounded fine when I read it.

Tutor: I would like you to highlight the subject of the sentence and then the verb. Then write them down next to each other.


Tutor: Since we have a subject and a verb present, we technically have a sentence. Would you like to read that out loud?

Student: Sure…teacher walk. … That does not sound right… The teacher walks. I think it should be walks not walk.

Tutor: That’s right. If you ever have problems with longer sentences, pull out the subject and verb separately and make sure they agree with each other.

I think this strategy would be especially useful for compound subjects and also sentences with a lot of prepositional phrases. Sometimes students will make the verb agree with the wrong noun because it is physically closer to the verb rather than being the actual subject.  When you pull out ONLY the subject and verb, the student will be able to see their direct relationship.

While grammar rules in the English language have always come easily to me, I remember having a terrible time trying to get through my first semester of Spanish at PSU Berks. I came to college thinking I would major in Communications because, although I loved science, I was deathly afraid of Calculus (which I had to take if I wanted to major in science). I figured I’d be better of trying to make it through Spanish 1 and 2 rather than Calculus 1 and 2. I found out that I was wrong. I would much rather deal with an upper level math course where my answer will be correct in every part of the world rather than a language where grammatical rules can change depending on what side of a country I am on.

I knew Spanish would be challenging for me because the classes I had in high school did not prepare me for any other Spanish classes I would take in college. I remember as the semester came to an end we were asked to write a paragraph about ourselves, in Spanish, and recite it to the class from memory. It only had to be 10 sentences long and it could contain any information that we wanted to share.

I decided to write my paragraph out in English first so that I could get my main ideas down. When I wrote the paragraph I had 10 complex, in depth, and detailed sentences, which I then had to translate.  As I started to translate my paragraph I started noticing that some of the words I have chosen in English didn’t translate into Spanish…some of the Spanish words I came across were incredibly hard for me to pronounce… I couldn’t even begin to focus on correct grammar……it was a disaster. I was really frustrated because in English I had a good, solid, 10 sentence paragraph about myself, but in Spanish I had a mess of words that I couldn’t pronounce.

I ended up writing out ten  simple sentences that I knew were correct and that I knew I’d be able to say to my class.

–          I like to dance

–          My dog’s name is Jersey

–          I have one brother and one sister

I really had to make my writing in Spanish simple so that it was correct. I think, as a tutor, I would help students who do not speak English as their first language by explaining that it is important to get the basics down first. Even though they might understand grammar in their language, English tenses, person, and sentence arrangement can be completely different. I think it requires a lot of patience to pull apart the differences between  English and another language, but it is that patience that will make a non-English speaking student successful in future writing.

A common misconception concerning what a tutor (especially a writing tutor) does has evolved. Before analyzing what a writing tutor really is and what the writing center actually does, I was guilty of believing that if I went to a tutoring session, someone would edit my paper and give it back to me to correct. I think I developed this misconception because of my high school writing experiences.

I was in for a rude awakening when I started my first semester at Penn State Berks. My English instructor assigned a paper – we had to write a researched argument. When it was time to hand in the first draft I expect the same “high school cycle” to repeat. That is NOT what happened. My paper was filled with questions:

How does this apply?…Does this fit?….Why?…

I had NO idea what to do.  My instructor told me to “find the gap in the research” and build my paper off of a central argument.  This was not the typical five paragraph persuasive essay I was used to.  I went home and cried. There were NO comments that said:

Take out this sentence…This should be capitalized…

I had to “take control” of my own paper and I had  no clue where to start.

I didn’t go to the writing center because I had a premeditated idea of what would happen – the editing cycle. I knew that my instructor was not worried about technicalities, so I figured having my paper edited by a tutor wouldn’t help much. I made things a lot more complicated and tried to teach myself how to strengthen my paper.

I would love to see the writing center be noticed as a place students can go for help. Harris points out that students want to do their own work and students need tutorial interaction. I think this clearly defines what type of authority should be displayed in the writing center. As tutors, we are not “ultimate authority” and we should not give the impression that we are. In the end, the student needs to control the paper. They need to write it and edit it because it is their paper. Tutors should strive to help them learn strategies so they can write strong academic papers in the future.

Hello everyone, my name is Katrina and I am a junior at Penn State Berks. I am really excited to start tutoring in the writing center on the Berks campus. Throughout the semester I hope to strengthen my own writing skills. I am very interested in learning the techniques of tutoring and I hope to be able to bring these skills into my major – Biology. To me, writing in science is incredibly important, but it is not something that is easily done. My ultimate goal is to be able to work with other science majors in improving their writing. I’m really interested in using the blog to share our tutoring experiences!