Throughout the semester, I could have been more diligent about posting regularly on the blog or responding to questions quicker; I admit this. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t see the benefits of this assignment. Bringing together peer tutors from around the country discussing candidly about their experiences or feelings was quite interesting. It gave students a platform to discuss with other individuals how tutoring was going for them, offer advice to other peer tutors, and promote discussion on questions or concerns one might have with their tutoring techniques. This is all well and good. However, how did we explain this experience to those outside of this blog and quite possibly out of the peer tutoring realm altogether?
Discussing the purpose and goals of the writing center with students, friends, or family members, the major assumption was that peer tutors wrote and/or corrected English papers students brought in. I am sure at least some, if not all, of you have heard this same thing. People didn’t realize that we help guide students, from all areas of academia, through the writing process allowing the student to extrapolate their own ideas from their own work. Simply put, we help individuals become better writers while becoming better writers ourselves. We are not just dumping information on to the student. The tutoring session is an exchange of information. The peer tutor also benefits from the session as well. As Phil Collins once said, “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
Peer tutoring allows students to talk with someone who isn’t seen as a superior. They aren’t intimidated to express their ideas because they know that we aren’t there to criticize or grade their papers. We are there to help and be helped. Peer tutors provide a one-on-one session that is very rarely found in classrooms that can, for instance, encourage non-native English speaking students to become more comfortable speaking English, students that utilize disability services, or students that just want to become more familiar with the written language.
As I explained the nuances of the purpose of the writing center to folks that may not have been familiar with them, I was reminded that I am in a position to improve students educational confidence and career, and in doing so, being able to have my educational confidence and career improved as well. This is something that I am genuinely proud of, even if this sentiment isn’t readily apparent. As I cogitate on the experiences and learning that I have been involved with over the course of the semester, I am truly grateful to have been able to be a peer tutor. I hope this sentiment is shared amongst you all.
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and Knowledge.” -Albert Einstein.
I became very excited upon hearing that we had to blog for this class. I used to blog about professional wrestling before. Therefore, Tutor Musings was familiar ground for me. This was the chance for me to spew words onto a page! Though I definitely put some thought into my posts, I saw this as an opportunity to type without numerous constraints on any topic (of course, it has to somewhat abide by the prompt). Tutor Musings gave me the opportunity to write and share about my life, its accomplishments and its struggles. My voice could be heard. The my only regret was that I did not have the chance to blog more regularly. While I did blog when my group had to blog, I felt that we, as prospective UWTs, could have accomplished a lot of through weekly blogging.
Blogs are more communication rather than simply information. We try to promote dialogue rather than persuade that our opinions are right like in an academic essay. That is why I try to make a connection with the reader. Undergraduates can have the same great conversation here as in a classroom. This group learning experience would help us once we become writing tutors because it challenges us to interact with strangers. I am so glad to listen and to share my experiences with students from three great universities. It is my hope and desire that informal posts can be an integral part of the future UWT experiences.
I’ve decided to make my final project a deliverable about verbal and nonverbal “best practices” for UWTs when tutoring. In my research I came across quite a few studies that talked about “politeness theory” and its effectiveness in tutoring relationships. Politeness Theory, coined by social psychologists Brown and Levinson, suggests two types of politeness that can be employed to “save face” (the “face” being someone’s self-perception and self-confidence) and build strong, positive relationships quickly. These two types are positive politeness and negative politeness… **Negative politeness, you say? How can that be? Isn’t that contradictory? ** by positive and negative, Brown and Levinson denote the type of situation that is being mediated. For example, positive politeness techniques would be used when meeting the tutor for the first time, etc…. Something that wouldn’t potentially “threaten face” of the tutee. Negative politeness techniques are used to mediate potential threat in tutoring situations like revising a paper, suggesting a change, etc. (anything that could make the tutee feel self conscious about their writing or writing skills).
So… what are examples of these positive and negative techniques, and how can they help me as a UWT??
POSITIVE techniques include light laughter/joking, smiling, eye contact, agreement, avoiding disagreement, and attending to the tutee. These are often considered “common sense” when meeting someone new.
NEGATIVE techniques include minimizing imposition (I was hoping that… ), being indirect, using modals (would, could, should), forgiveness (Sorry but can I please..), and vagueness. These take effort “above and beyond” normal interactions between two strangers, but do a great deal of good when approaching sticky topics like poor paper content, lack of organization, lack of clarity, etc.
The studies I researched suggested utilizing negative politeness strategies most when first working with a tutee, as it is important to establish a relationship where the tutor feels comfortable expressing weakness and vulnerability as a writer. By minimizing hurtful imposition on the tutee’s skills, they will be more willing to take risks and make changes as a writer (and therefore make the session successful).
At your next session, try being extra aware and careful with the way you phrase recommendations, comments, and suggestions to your tutee. Your kindness could make all the difference in how the tutee things about tutoring, the writing center, and themselves as a writer in general!
When tutoring ESL students, you should always keep in mind not to take anything for granted. Most importantly though, just because someone speaks with an accent, does not necessarily mean they don’t have a firm grasp on the English language and assuming so could be quite insulting. What you might consider common practice or common knowledge could be completely new or unnatural to non native speakers. When working with native English speakers, you can assume that the writer knows what a thesis statement is, that they know what a paragraph basically looks like, and the connotation of cultural idioms. However, with non native speakers none of this can be assumed. To no fault of their own, the non native speakers might not have this information. Writing structures are not universal and can be quite puzzling for some students. Different cultures think in different ways and therefore they express themselves in different ways.
In order for these students to write successfully in America, they need to be tutored on higher level concerns rather and lower level concerns. These students need to understand not only the vocabulary and grammar style in America, but the conventions and nuances of American rhetoric. Asking the student where they would want to start or what aspect of their writing they feel most uncomfortable with can help you prioritize your session. You only have a certain time limit and only focusing on grammar or only focusing on theme might not necessarily be the most productive.
I would recommend not trying to correct every mistake they make. They may feel self-conscious about writing, and even speaking, in another language and dominating the session or “fixing” their every mistake may discourage them from continuing their writing. One helpful tip might be to point out certain sections of the paper and focus on those. Having the student take notes to resort back to while revising this paper and/or working on future assignments could be quite helpful as well. As with any tutoring session, building rapport is important. However, upholding self confidence, bridging cultural differences, and potentially decreasing shame are challenges that can be unique to ESL tutoring sessions.
I felt inspired to talk about an observation session the I participated in at CU’s Writing Center. At this session I learned more than just how to help tutor students; I learned something that improved my own writing on a “global level”.
The writer came into the tutoring center and met the consultant. The writer was taking a comic books class in which he was required to write an extensive analysis on his interpretation of a single comic book page.
“I have a lot of facts and observations in here,” he said. “But could you help me figure out my main point? I don’t have a thesis.”
The consultant read his paper aloud, making sure to highlight certain sentence level errors with her intonations and pauses. At the end of the paper, she said that she loved that she felt like she was reading the comic book frame by frame and thought the flow of the paper was phenomenal.
At the end of the session, she addressed his questions about his thesis.
“I think you know exactly what you are trying to say. But if you are looking for a grand statement that is completely unique and original, your probably not going to find it. But a thesis doesn’t need to be anything profound, or even summarize your whole paper, it is simply there to guide the reader through the paper.”
This was some of the wisest and most realistic advice that I had heard in a while. So many teachers scare you with your thesis. They tell you that is has to be something that ties the whole paper and is the most fundamentally imprtant part of a piece of writing. I believe that this is over dramatizing the purpose of a thesis. A thesis statement may very well be the foundation of the paper, but it doesn’t have to carry the whole weight of the paper. Rather it is there to help displace the weight evenly throughout the paper.
It is this type of large-scale advice that I find extremely important when working to create better writers
Students often seek writing tutors for help on stuff like punctuation and grammar. Quite frequently, (you) the (good) tutor will read their paper and soon realize that there are much bigger problems with the writing. The paper does have grammatical errors and typos, but fails to meet the requirements of the assignment. Most of the time, comes through in form of bad thesis statements. When I say ‘bad’, I don’t mean crap ideas, but rather that the thesis statement has guided the rest of the paper down a path that doesn’t meet the assignment requirements. The paper itself may be excellent, but in the context of the assignment and how it will be graded, it falls flat. The writer doesn’t even realize this; they think a few commas here and there will get them a in the ballpark of a B+. You, the tutor, recognize the problem, but how does one go about correcting it?
First, get an idea of what the writer’s interpretation of the assignment is. Then, go back to the original prompt and compare the writer’s ideas with the prompt as well as the text (the writer might have different ideas than what they actually wrote down.) Let’s look at an example: the assignment is to analyze how current gun control laws affect the learning environment in the classroom. The writer has summarized gun control laws and his views of them, but hasn’t linked them to how they affect students.
Tutor: What is the main point of this paper?
Writer: Facts show that crime is lower when people can conceal carry than when they can’t, and that students should be allowed to carry guns on campus because of this.
Tutor: Ok, so you’re trying to persuade someone that students should be allowed to have guns on campus?
Writer: Well, yeah.
Tutor: Ok, so how do current gun control laws affect students?
Writer: Well, they can’t bring guns into classrooms.
Tutor: Ok. What do you think makes a good student?
Writer: Well, someone who is productive, who can focus, and respectful to the professor and the rest of the class.
Tutor: Do you think that students will be more or less productive if they can carry guns?
Writer: More productive.
Tutor: Why would guns make a more productive environment?
Writer: Well, if someone is paranoid that someone will attack them, they can’t concentrate. When they can’t concentrate, it’s harder to learn.
At this point, we have found the basis for a strong thesis statement that we were looking for, as well as some backing evidence that can be used in the body for support. Note that tutor made the writer say their thoughts, not assuming that what makes a good student to them is the same for the writer. This eliminated the possibility of guiding the writer so say something that they don’t want to; everything on the paper was completely generated by the writer. They also found a new, solid thesis idea (maybe not a statement yet, but at least we know what we are addressing) without the tutor even directly mentioning that the paper previously wasn’t about the correct topic.
From here, you the tutor should go back over the assignment with the writer, and explain how what they just said is what the assignment should look like. This might make the author upset, as the paper they worked so hard on is totally off topic, however, their hard work did not go completely in vain. A lot of the facts and sources used in the first draft are still relevant and can be applied to the new paper. A quick brainstorm between the tutor and writer can help reorganize the writer’s thoughts, and with ideas fresh in their head, the writer can quickly go back to making a solid, clear, and on track version 2.0 of their paper.
A strategy that I find helpful is the ability to make a spider web chart after your paper is possibly complete. This strategy helps you to make sure you remained on prompt and focused during the session; it is kind of like reverse outlining which I just learned about this past week.
What you would do is put your prompt in the center. Next find you topic sentences and put them in circles branching off the original circle. Make sure all of the topic sentences relate to the center circle topic; if they do not work on how you can make them relate.
After you do that we are going to move paragraph my paragraph. Dissect each sentence in a paragraph and see if it goes back to the topic sentence in the circle if so pick the key word in that sentence and attach it off of the topic sentence circle to make the web larger. If a sentence does not belong see if it can be relocated or rewritten, if not then its time to remove. Look at your complete web does everything now lead back to the center.
Here is an example:
Tutor: So what are we working on today?
Student: My article review essay, I’m not sure that it’s on topic.
Tutor: Have you ever used a spider web chart to brainstorm ideas?
Student: Yea, we used them a lot in 10th grade English.
Tutor: Okay, well we are going to use that tool, but in the reverse way. Do you have your prompt?
Student: Yea, here. (pulls it out)
Tutor: Okay now that goes in the center of the blank piece of paper with a circle around it.
Student: (places prompt in center) Now what?
Tutor: Okay each of these 3 paragraphs should have a topic sentence and supporting evidence. Let’s start with paragraph one. What is the topic sentence?
Student: (points to topic sentence)
Tutor: That’s the next piece of your web, put that in a circle and attach it to the first circle. Now can we talk sentence by sentence why they pertain.
Next they dissect the sentences and add them to the web. And basically it looks like a web chart we did at grade school . It is helpful to look back at the pieces slowly to understand how you are doing with staying on prompt.
Here is an example:
Hope this is helpful!
A university community should value the work of a writing center and/or writing tutors because they are providing skills which will always be important in life. In school writing is needed to convey your message to your teachers; it is a vital part of getting those good grades. Writing is not just valuable in school it takes a front seat in jobs and day to day communication. It is a part of more than just a GPA it is the difference between getting a job or not.
I know that at Penn State Berks our teachers often advertise the writing center and there are fliers places. I also know that we just opened a new writing center and it is beautiful, but do people realize that it is there? I was searching around the internet and I found some universities who made videos about writing and its importance in life. They were kind of lame and boring. Take a look for yourself.
If you could create a short quick video that was not cheesy I feel like it would be a great advertisement to stream around campus screens.
I also feel like if you made a coffee shop atmosphere and made it a writing nook and tutors could meet you in there too maybe without appointments it would make students more comfortable. If we just put writing in our normal atmospheres instead of putting people in awkward authoritative-feeling circumstances there may be more students willing to learn.