Thursday, November 11, 2004

A writing center is a writing center

Honestly, I can not imagine what a writing center would be like if students were tutored by appointment only. It seems like that would create more work for everyone involved and, hence, reduce the effectiveness of the entire process. One benefit the Writing Center has to offer is that students don't have to learn how to use it. Many of them already feel out of place asking for help, and might be turned off by the idea of having to go to extra work just to do so. If a student finds a tutor she feels is particularly effective, all she has to do is glance at the wall to find out when she can work with the tutor again. In this sense, students can schedule their own appointments without having anything set in stone.

As for the essays we've been reading in class, I think they can all be applied to drop-in writing centers. Regardless of schedules, we will be seeing a new paper in every session. The same guidelines for good tutoring apply, and we certainly encounter the same issues as other writing centers (ie, reluctant writers, ESL students, controversial subjects). Whether or not a student has an appointment will not change what elements of writing a tutor discusses.

Drop-in writing centers can face one problem: limited time. When I got to work Tuesday, all the tables were full and there were three people in line waiting to be tutored. The students were waiting patiently enough, but it was clear they felt their time was being wasted standing around. In this situation, tutors may become hyperconscious of the clock in an attempt to help as many people as possible. If students were able to make appointments, this would not happen. Then again, if students had to go to the trouble of making appointments, we might not ever have a rush like that. Maybe I'm underestimating their ambition. But probably not.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

problem? what problem?

I’m not sure that there are any problems. I think that in a drop in center students have the best of both worlds. Students have the option of continuing to go back to the same tutor if they feel like they are working well with a certain tutor, and/or they can get many different people to look at their paper. When you get several different people to look at your paper you have the advantage of points of view from several different standpoints. The more fresh perspective that a student can get they tighter their paper will be. Also if the student does not work well with a particular tutor they have the option of never returning to that tutor. From the students point of view they have the perfect set up for the perfect paper, if they choose to take advantage of it.

From the tutor’s point of view it is not too much different. If a student gets attached to a certain tutor it is easy to tell the student that you are going to have another tutor look at their paper so they can get a different opinion. That way a tutor that is struggling with a student does not have to struggle with them all of the time. With each new student that you work with you look at his or her paper with a fresh perspective. Some people may say that it is hard for a tutor to give consistent help to a student that does not get to develop or know any history of the student. I think if constant help is very obviously needed (as in the case of Dwayne) we will talk about that student in our staff meetings or with each other in passing. In other cases when you get a student fresh you have no preconceived ideas about them that could make it harder for you to be truly objective. In my communications class we are learning about how people when given a paper with a girl’s name on it will judge the it more harshly then they will judge the same paper with a boy’s name on it. Tutoring a student for the first time follows sort of the same logic (ok maybe that logic only makes sense in my own mind but now I don’t have the time to change it) when you don’t know anything about them you won’t think “oh crap it looks like I will be explaining commas today again.” You are so caught up with their comma problem that you went through before that you miss other problems or successes that are equally or more important. Am I making sense? I hope so –other wise I will welcome any comments or questions.

What kind of tutor are you?

I have been thinking more about the topic of our last blog and I have come up with a few more observations. I am not sure if they will help or not but I am going to share them anyway. I was thinking back to my English 2010 class I remember my first experiences with argument writing and the writing center. I grasped on to argument writing more quickly than most of my peers and even though I quickly became good at recognizing fallacies I did not yet have the skill to know how to fix some of them, or how to connect certain parts of my paper to other parts in a way that did not sound bad to me. One of the tutors from the writing center came into our class and gave the little presentation and I decided to take in one of my papers.
When I did I was nervous because I knew that my paper had problems and I was scared that the tutor might think that I was dumb. I was pretty good at local problems it was my global problems that needed help. I can’t remember the tutor asking me if there was anything specific that I wanted them to look for but if they did I lacked the vocabulary at that time to communicate with them. They looked over my paper and fixed a few commas and said “this looks great” and I left. I felt so cheated. I knew that there were problems in logic and organization and that was later confirmed by my teacher’s comments. I felt that the tutors in the writing center were incompetent and vowed that it would be a waste of my time. Instead I started having a friend of mine read through my papers. One day he suggested that I take my papers to the writing center for another pair of eyes to look at. I shared with him my experience and he assured me that I probably just had a bad tutor and to go find another one and try again. He talked me into it and I went back. My second tutor immediately honed in on my global issues and gave me some great suggestions, thus renewing my faith in the center.
Later that semester one of my peers asked me how I was getting such good grades and I suggested that he try taking his papers into the writing center. I had been giving him peer critiques and I saw he had some major global issues. He also was not listening to my suggestions (he did not think it was worth listening to a girl) and I though he would assume a tutor would have more credibility then a girl in his class and listen to what the tutor had to say.
When he finally went in he came back to class pleased as punch because of all the corrections that the tutor had helped him make. As I read through his paper and immediately recognized that the local flow and language was extremely improved yet none of his global issues had been touched. He was convinced that now finally he would get an A. I knew he would be lucky if he got a C. When he got his paper back and it was a C- he was convinced that the teacher was prejudiced against him. He figured the tutor had fixed every problem. He started a vocal campaign against the teacher that I knew was unfair.
Conclusions? We have a responsibility to our students to look at the global problems first. What responsibility do we have to teachers? What other wisdom can be gained from my experience? I know what I learned but it is sort of abstract and I am tired. So tell me what you think.

Walk-Ins Welcome

I honestly don't think my approach to tutoring would change if all of my sessions were set by appointment. I also think that not having set appointments is good for staff morale. What if all the people wanted a particular tutor? It would make those that would be left out (most likely me) just that-- left out.

Honestly, I believe that most of the students that come in, come in on a whim. I doubt that many people, unless they are required to come here, plan a time to be tutored. I can imagine students working at computer labs, being stuck on a writing assignment, and in a moment of desperation, deciding to see a tutor. Also, this is a haven for procrastinators. "My paper is due tomorrow," or "my paper is due in an hour, can you help me?" This just doesn't seem like the type of place to me that people plan their days around.

That's not to say that they can't be helped. Much like barber shops, which are usually (if not always walk-in establishments), we can be helpful. 'Walk-in' doesn't make us 'unwanted'. The few. The proud.....oh wait, that's the Marines. Most people, I think, leave our little cubby hole feeling like they were served well. I'm starting to think we should get tips for good service.

Anyway, if it weren't for walk-ins, we wouldn't have anything to do.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tutor Training

I just had an epiphany. At work tonight, in the writing center, I was trained in the best way I have been so far. Things were slow when one student came in wanting help with a Political Science paper. Dason volunteered to be his tutor. Because it was so slow and I forgot my zip disc with my homework on it, I decided that while writing emails I would listen to the session and see how Dason did it. (I didn't do my observation writeup on it because I just wrote it the day before.) Anywho, the session lasted about 45 minutes. The student kept saying how helpful Dason was being. About ten minutes later a new student walked in. It was my turn to be the tutor, so he got stuck with me. I asked him what his assignment was and he explained the exact same assignment that Dason's tutee had. In fact, my student and Dason's were in the same class. This was by far the best session I have had as a tutor. By mirroring just about everything Dason did in his session, not only was I able to better help my student but I felt the most comfortable I have ever felt in a tutoring session.

I think this gives some insight as to how we might train new tutors in the future. I think we might be able to plan situations like this so a new tutor can see what a real session might be like before he ever gets in one alone. Before we started our jobs as tutors we attended one week of class and mock-tutored a few papers. This was very helpful but it wasn't the most helpful for me. Maybe it was for the other tutors; we did learn in a CRLA class that not all people learn the same way. I guess what I'm trying to say is that as part of the tutor training process it would be nice to figure out a way that a new tutor could observe an experienced tutor tutor a student from a certain class with a specific assignment and then, right after the session, be assigned to tutor a new student in the same class with the same assignment. By training in this way, new tutors will be more confident than if we continue to, after only a week of analyzing papers, leave them on their own to tutor in real sessions. Maybe an alternate way of training would be to require that the new tutor do a tutor observation on an experienced tutor before they are allowed to do a session on their own.

Just an idea.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Once I started to think about it I ran into a few problems that are unique to walk-in writing centers. I think the main problem or difficulty is that sometimes it is difficult to really get the feel for a writer and their mistakes when you only see them once. In CRLA the other students seem to know their tutees pretty well because they have scheduled appointments with them almost every week, sometimes even more that once a week. We usually see a student for a half an hour and that’s it. The CRLA tutors always tell stories about how they have a student who learns visually, or by hearing. Diagnosing something like that takes time. We are usually struggling to run through our student’s papers once before they quickly fix them and run to hand them in. Can we really be as effective as the writing centers or as the tutors who have set appointments?

How much can we really teach a student in 45 minutes? I ask this question because an important part of teaching and learning is the review of the previous lesson. If I teach a student about parallel sentences, I can ever know if that student understood what I taught them or if they bothered to apply it to their writing? Most likely I will never see them again. While researching for my paper, I learned that NYU students must make an appointment to see a tutor. I guess this wouldn’t guarantee that a tutor would see the same student over and over again, but I think it would be more likely.

I guess we could invite our students to bring their next paper to us, so that they can see if they have grasped a certain concept.

Another problem that arises from having a walk-in writing center is that if a student has a bad experience with one tutor and then is assigned to come back, then the following tutor is forced to deal with a student who not only doubts the tutor’s capability, but really doesn’t want to be there. I’m sorry if anyone has had my students. I had one of these disgruntled students the other day and it was pretty much torture. The student had tons of mistakes that he believed weren’t mistakes because, according to him, his previous tutor was unable to explain to him why he was wrong. He wouldn’t even listen to me. In any case, if a student worked with the same tutor every time then the tutor would be forced to work with the students that they have either affected for good or bad. It would almost be a checks and balances. It may even fix the problem that was talked about in the meeting Friday.

Anyway, that’s all about that…


This is going to sound egotistical, but bear with me. I haven't tutored someone that I thought was smarter than me. That's not to say that there aren't people out there that are smarter than me, but I can't imagine someone smarter than me needing help with a paper.

Okay, that sounded egotistical. Maybe it was. But that's how I feel and last time I checked I lived in America so I can say what I want. Although, there is the idea out there that the 1st Amendment only applies to those who want to abuse the right like people that want to burn the American flag and idiots that want to walk around naked in Times Square. Also, there's the fact that I'm a white, male Republican, so the 1st Amendment doesn't really apply to me because all people like me want to do is oppress people that are different.

So now that we've established the fact that the 1st Amendment doesn't apply to me, do I have to retract what I said about there not being people smarter than me that need help on a paper? Have I confused you yet?

Anyway, let me discuss a hypothetical situation where someone that is smarter than me comes into the writing center needing help with a paper. In that situation, I would imagine that they are just looking for a second opinion; for a second pair of eyes to spot any mistake, however minute. I would do this for them...maybe an extra comma, maybe a comma splice, maybe a misuse of hypothetical situations linked improperly by commas, as was just demonstrated.

What I'm trying to say (is this five hundred words yet?) is that the world is a confusing place and the only way to get through the confusion is by purposely being confusing. You see, this acts as a negative number on both sides of an equal sign- it crosses out the other. The only way to go through life is to see nothing as certain; everything as uncertain. This makes it so you don't have to have a stance on any certain subject, which allows you 'wiggle room' when someone corners you for an opinion.

As John Lennon once said: "I don't believe in Beatles. I only believe in me." Also, you could say that Ferris Bueller said that John Lennon said this, but to avoid confusion by creating confusion I added this confusing sidebar. Thank you for your time.


In your last batch of reading responses, Jesse remarked that one of the weaknesses of the articles you've been reading is that they do not always "fit" with the drop-in writing center model we have here at WSU. I'm interested in hearing what you all think about this. Are there problems specific to a drop-in center that have gone unaddressed?

What's on my mind

How do we give students the power to write????

Students will not have the power to write well, until they understand who they are. Who are they? They are a writer. Honestly, who has had a session with the student in which the student actually believed that they were a writer? Students have to realize that they are in control. They are not writing this paper just for the professor, or for an audience; they are writing for themselves.

Now, I know what you are thinking; it really isn’t theirs, they have to do as the teacher instructs. That fact alone still does not make it the teachers’ paper. Why would a student writer not take the assignment given and make it something they own. It has been given them for this very purpose.

Students do not look at themselves in this way. Just yesterday I had a student say that she hates writing papers. Why? Because they are not for her, it is just to fill an assignment. If students look at writing this way, then their writing will always lack something, or at least someone: themselves! I think that I am guilty of this all the time. Where is my confidence as a writer? I always think that I need to worry about who I am writing too, and what discourse community that I am coming from. I should honestly care about what others think, if I do not I will never get anywhere with my writing. But it still comes down to the fact that I write what I want to write when I want to write it. When a professor gives me an assignment, I am afforded the perfect opportunity to become a good writer. The definition of a good writer being: Someone who can fill the given assignment using their own words so that what they want to say is understood. This is extremely difficult. Becoming this good writer is most likely a life long process. However, students need to understand the opportunity that they have and the power that lies in that opportunity. If we want students to write well they have to utilize this opportunity and write for themselves. This brings us to the idea of Purpose vs. Point. If the student cannot find a purpose, besides what the teacher has assigned, in which they can express themselves then the paper will not be complete. If they cannot find their purpose then there will be no point, and the student is left to feel like they have not written anything.

So how do we solve this problem? You tell me. I think that my mind is still toying with the whole idea of empowering the student in order to create good writing. Trying not to be too cheesy, I would start by simply telling the student that they are the writer. I would talk to them about the opportunity that they have every time they are asked to write, and I would do it enthusiastically. I think that asking good question and digging up what the student really thinks is an important tool in empowering them. This takes us back to emotionally charged sessions. They are not all bad. Perhaps we need to bring more emotion into some of our sessions, creating an environment where the student is actually challenged to think and feel and write for themselves. Much more could be said on this subject so I ask… What do you think? How do we empower students to write well? Am I nuts?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Physics & Writing Center Credit

I'm usually not one to put things off but lately it's something I am very good at. I didn't even post a blog last week. I'm getting hit with new assignments all over the place. And it's not like the new assignments are replacing old ones; they are just being added on to my regular work load. For example I am trying to get started on my bibliographic essay but I still need to do my blogs and responses. If it sounds like I'm complaining, it's because I am. I don't want to say that I have it harder than anyone else in our class; I obviously don't. There are those of you who are in the education program and from what I hear it is pretty rigorous. Props to ya'll!

IN response to last weeks prompt, let me say this. Just last Friday I was asked by a student to help him with a paper. It was an assignment for a physics class. Gulp. I asked him what the assignment was and he told me that he was supposed to explain in layman terms what his favorite physics activity was. I wasn't quite sure what layman meant so I asked him to explain it in terms I would understand. Boy did I feel dumb after that. Anyway, he wanted to know how he could do the assignment because he only understood physics by its technical jargon. I said, "Don't ask me how to do it. I don't know jack crap about physics. Why don't you try writing it and then when you're done, I'll read it and let you know if I understand." So he started writing but unfortunately my shift ended before he did. Hopefully I was of some help.

Now that that's out of the way, I would like to talk a little about what I am thinking about for my bibliographic essay. Maybe by writing it down in this blog I can sort out a few things in my mind.

The majority of the research I have been doing is on what types of writing centers are out there. I've read up on typical writing centers and college writing centers that go a little against the norms; I've read about the uses of online centers, and even writing centers that colleges have set up in high school and elementary schools. It's been interesting to see the goals and the tactics that these writing centers have to accomplish them. It was interesting to see that not only do most of them focus on improving the student's writing ability, but that they are focused on changing students' perception of writing and the writing center. They don't just want to help "remedial" writers, but they want to be an audience for more advanced writers as well. Many of them are focused on being an outlet to writing classes. What I mean by this is that students, to get full credit for their writing class, are required to spend an hour a week in the writing center. This opens up the ability of the writing professor to focus on more global issues during class time. There is one school I read about that, in any of six writing classes, the student pays for 4 credit hours in a 3 credit hour course. The fourth hour of the class is spent in the writing center. Though the students only receive 3 credit hours, 1/4 of the grade comes from assignments given and completed in the writing center. The writing teachers in this school are very pleased with the progress students in these classes are making. I don't know how many students receive our services per week but at this particular school, the writing center had 1500 clients a week! Pretty impressive numbers.