Friday, November 26, 2004


Are we submitting ideas for the conference that is coming up? Who has the information on that, or is it far enough away that we are not worrying about it until next semester?

I am interested in going and/or presenting—is anyone else planning to go as well? Perhaps we will talk about it in class, but I was just trying to come up with some ideas for a presentation that might also have something to do with my bibliographic essay.

I heard that the title or theme for the conference is “Returning to Our Roots”—or at least something closely approximating that—but I haven’t a clue as to what that’s supposed to mean. Returning to the roots of what? Have writing centers been around that long, and if so, what was the original intention or setup they are alluding to? Is it a return of style, setup, method, outlook/philosophy?

Also, I thought what Tammy noticed with a specific ESL student noticeably improving over the course of the semester was a really great observation. I don’t think I had taken the time to notice, but after reading her blog a few days ago I started to think about what she had said, noticing the handful of ESL students that I usually see every week or two—both in the writing center and the university village. Their ability to write has noticeably changed for the better. A student from Germany I see at the UV every other week has just about doubled his vocabulary, greatly varying his word choice. Also, a few specific ESL students I see often in the writing center no longer have issues with plural and singular nouns, only have a couple article placement mistakes per paper, and most importantly, their ideas are much more organized. They are able to form their thoughts into English and put them on to the page in a way that doesn’t sound, for lack of a better description, like it is obviously translated. Their papers simply sound better to the native speaker’s ear. Anyway, Tammy’s blog got me thinking, and I started to realize what kind of a difference our sessions can make, even if they are frustrating at times.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Please don't cry!

I really liked what the question we had in tutoring class today about what we should do if a client starts to cry. I like the question because I liked the answer that Dr. Rogers gave. He said something to the effect of they cry at times because they feel that they have lost their sense of control over the situation and that makes them over whelmed and upset. He said that if you start with something very small, even if it has to be a local issue, and you work with them on something they can easily do it gives them back some sense of control over the paper. You continue to spoon feed them small controllable bites of their paper until they feel confident in their control of the situation and can go on to the bigger issues that felt so overwhelming to them before.

THIS IS SO TRUE!! I know this is true because I had a situation where I was a client to a Spanish tutor and the session went horrible. I have looked back on the situation many times since then and wondered what that tutor did or did not do to make it such a horrible experience. It was not until Dr. Roger’s comments today in class that the whole situation started to make sense to me.

I was completely frustrated with my progress in my class and I felt a complete lack of control over the whole situation. I came to the tutor praying that he could help me. I explained all my problems and asked for his advice and help. After placing all my weaknesses in front of him (not an easy thing to do) he stared at me blankly. My heart sunk and I felt completely helpless. In a last ditch effort I got out one of my assignments for him to look at. He looked at all of the red marks and it was very obvious that he had no idea where to start. After obviously trying hard to explain some big stuff to me, that might have well have been German for as much as I understood him, I politely excused myself before the tears that were threatening emerged.

I almost immediately started wondering what that tutor should have done if anything to help me. Until now I figured there was no answer, the dumb girl was just too dumb to be helped. I was not satisfied with that answer especially now that I am a tutor. Now looking back he should have just immediately grabbed onto some small thing that he knew with a little coaching he could teach me. If he had done that I would have immediately felt not quite so helpless and dumb. He could have continued to build on that concept and at the same time build up my self confidence. I would have left not feeling that the whole session was a complete waste of both of our time. I would have felt some progress had been made and I would not have felt so completely overwhelmed.

I share this story with everyone so that you can learn from the client's point of view as I did so that no one will accidentally make anyone feel as helpless a client as I did that day. It is a horrible experience that no one should have.

A new me

Addressing changes in the writing center is hard for me, because I really like the way that the writing center currently is. I like the camaraderie that we all share, and I like working without someone always looking over my shoulder. I like that we do not have to report to anyone and that we are given such a large amount trust within our job. I like that we have the freedom to work with students as long as we feel we need to, I like the whole system.

It is obvious that where much is given much is required and that is where we seem to be falling short of excellence. We are lucky to have a job that is so laid back and social, and there is nothing wrong with that until we forget that we are working and not socializing. There is a problem with clients being passed off or socializing getting too loud and becoming unprofessional, however I do not think this is a fault of the system as much as the individual. We need to remember that the freedom that the writing center gives us comes with a responsibility to respect professional boundaries and not take advantage of that freedom in a way that will loose that freedom for us in the future. We have a responsibility not only to the client, but to each other, to our leaders, and to the University.

I feel very lucky to have such a great job; I want to try harder to show my gratitude through my integrity. I know that as I read my own writing I sound preachy and lame and I have much to improve on, but I do not know how to say it in a way that will not sound preachy and lame. It is simply true that when you do your best you feel your best and those around you see that and respect that.

I apologize to all those whose hard work in the writing center has been affected in a negative way do to my actions. I am recommitting right now to be better.

Change at the WC...a necessary evil?

I need to preface this blog with the standard disclaimer: I love you all. Really. (See the teary eyes?) However, my suggestions for improvement at the writing center do not seem to reflect the enjoyment I feel for the company of my fellow tutors.

The best thing (logically speaking, not in relation to relationships, which I enjoy) we could do for the writing center would be to eliminate the possibility of off-duty tutors “hanging out” at the writing center. I hesitate to write this since I know certain individuals will give me a lot of flack about it; however, it would solve some major problems. First of all, there wouldn’t be the ever-present question of “who’s on the clock?” It would be apparent who was because they would be the only tutors in the room. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have the “sure I’ll help him—in ten minutes” because tutors wouldn’t be in the center until they were ready to work. Obviously, there is the question of the computer usage—shouldn’t off-duty tutors be allowed (in this hypothetical situation) be able to use the computers when they are “off the clock?” I would say not. The computers are supposed to be there for the average student to use. I’ve seen many students come in to use a computer, but tutors were using the computers at the time, so the students (clients?) leave for another computer lab.

At the beginning of the semester we talked about having name tags. We have not had them, but they could be beneficial. A student walking into the writing center shouldn’t have to wonder who (out of all the people in the writing center) are on-duty tutors.

Another picky suggestion: if we only had three tables (since there are three tutors on-duty at a time) it would make the room feel less crowded. Additionally, I would love to have a straight edged table rather than a circle table since invariably the client sits just far enough away I have to twist my neck into all sorts of shapes to read along with the client. It’s rather annoying. I don’t remember having the neck contortions when using a straight edged table at the writing center at USU. (Notice how I flaunted my experience there? I have to do it somewhere, just like the “veteran” tutors here…”Oh, them? They’re NEW tutors. I’m a veteran tutor.”)

So, at any rate, I’m glad we get a long weekend. Everybody be good. If you can’t be good, be safe.

darn that sneaky line!

November 24, 2004

I’m guilty of helping a couple people way too much this past week. If I look at it honestly, I have to admit it’s laziness. Sometimes it’s so much easier to just tell them how to do it.
I’ve accidentally discovered another reason for having the student read his own paper out loud: If I read it, I tend to correct as I go, as if the paper were something I’d written.
Now for the visually impaired guy, there wasn’t anything else to do, so maybe I didn’t tromp all over the line more than necessary, but with the girl I was tutoring yesterday, I just took over. She told me I was wonderful, but I think that means I did too much. In both sessions, there was a little voice in the back of my mind, asking, “Who is doing most of the talking here?”
I can no longer do anything I tell my students not to do. I wrote, “I think” in a reading response this morning, and had to backspace over it. I couldn’t let it stay there. Tutoring is definitely making me a better writer. I pay more attention. My Education professors have complimented me. I’m ‘bout written out, though. On break I have no intention of writing so much as a grocery list.
Writing Center suggestions? No! Change is evil!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Suggestions for the Writing Center

The writing center, as far as one semester of experience goes, has met most of my expectations. For suggestions as to what can or should be changed, I’ll first address some of the suggestions that have been written about first, then introduce some of my own ideas.
Ammon’s suggestion: I think the idea of having a group of editors and a group of tutors is a good idea, but a confusing idea at the same time. Is that not what most tutors are right now? Do we not address both global and local issues, depending on what is needed most? Does this not make us part editors and part tutors?
I know we say we are not proof readers, but if someone comes in to the writing center who requests that we proof read his or her paper, do any of us turn that student away? I thought we took that student, looked over their paper, and gave them an honest assessment of their problems. If all they need are basic local issue suggestions/help, we give it to them as long as they are involved in the process. Therefore, where would a special editor come into the picture? Would an editor be someone a student could drop their paper off to, not having to participate in the editing process? If not—if they had to participate in the editing process— then this doesn’t seem much different from some regular session. If all the global issues are fine, then focusing on local issues and playing the role of editor is then needed.
Perhaps this is a time issue? Most of my tutoring hours are at night or late afternoon, so I rarely see the writing center swamped with students for hours at a time, necessitating the delegation of certain tasks to a special editor. Perhaps during the day hours an editor is needed? Just thinking through your suggestion—it is a good idea!
As for my own suggestions, I would like to see the writing center provide better access and support to allow the center to participate in the broader culture of writing centers across the country. My suggestion is kind of a belated one. With this year being the first time the writing center has been involved in the CRLA certification, and with the fact that we are already talking about what we could present at the conference in Provo (Orem?), most of this access and support exists already. However, I think that it would be very beneficial to keep along that path, and for the teachers and instructors involved in the writing center to keep updated about what we can be doing with our tutoring.
For example: the Weber writing center was first introduced to the CRLA certification this year. This is exactly what I am talking about. Most of us are working in the writing center, or I would assume so, because we believe that the experience will be beneficial to our degree, graduate school, or our future jobs. Since CRLA is a national certification, it is imperative that we have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves in this way.
Of course, we already have the opportunity to go through the CRLA certification, but what else is out there? Most of us have only been familiar with writing centers for the past three months and don’t know what else is out there. What publishing opportunities are out there for undergraduate tutors; where and when are all of the conferences (and which do we participate in); what is the contemporary discussion of writing centers focusing on; what certificate/fellowship/internship opportunities are out there that working in the writing center can lead to?
Maybe the suggestions on how to improve the writing center should focus on what can be changed that will help the tutors help the students. But, in my own opinion, we should also focus on what the writing center can do for its tutors. A lot of us have graduate school plans and job plans, and I want to know what we can be doing with our tutoring that can be help us get into graduate school, or our future jobs.
This may be something that individual tutors need to focus on for themselves, but I think it would be better if some of our staff meetings addressed some of these issues. Also, what is going on in writing centers across the country needs to be brought up. As tutors it is like we have an intimate idea of what is going on with writing centers because we work in one, but there is no connection between that and what is going on with everyone else. I personally find it very interesting when Sylvia and Scott start talking about what is going on with composition programs and writing centers across the country. Perhaps they could set aside time in meetings to update and discuss with all the tutors. This will allow us as tutors to become familiar with the culture and community surrounding the writing center and the opportunities it affords.