Friday, September 20, 2013


Hello blog!

                The reason I know how to write academic, college level essays is because it has been drilled into my head since middle school. I went to a tiny, private, parochial school in Wyoming. They put forth a classical education outlook and strongly emphasize that their students become proficient writers. The one-on-one and personal approach to writing makes the experience become easier over time.

                Middle school is when I first began to write in the academic style of the “three point, five paragraph essay.” In both grammar and literature classes, I was required to write essays in this style. In high school, I also was required to write many papers for my literature classes. Often, the more papers one is required to write, the better one gets at expressing thoughts and ideas. One also gets a better understanding of the formatting and structure.

                I think the class that I learned the most about the different types of essays and how to communicate effectively through those types of essays, was my “rhetoric” class. “Rhetoric” class was described to me by my teacher as “a mixture of AP English and a speech class.”  I took it for two years and I was required to write many different papers in many different forms. Basically, I learned how to express my ideas and argue effectively using rhetorical devices. One thing that I thought was especially incremental in helping me learn how to write was the use of peer review. My classmates and I would look over each other’s papers and correct them for any errors that we found. We were required to say one thing that we thought the other person did well and then give constructive feedback. That helped me to learn that my writing was actually too structured and I needed to loosen up a little bit.

                By the time I reached college, I was able to test out of English 1010 and go straight to English 2010. I felt like my whole schooling had been to prepare me to go to college and succeed. I definitely felt prepared to write different kinds of essays. However, I realize that most people do not come to college so well prepared for what it is going to be like. As I have seen in the Writing Center, many people have difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas on the paper in a cohesive and well organized manner. I feel very privileged to have had the prior education and experience in writing papers before I ever set a foot on campus.

                In my learning to write a paper, there was definitely a learning curve, but it was less about “learning and experience” and more about “learning and experience over an extended period of time.” Once one gets to college, time has not altogether run out, but I believe that experience is a much bigger factor than time at that point. Time teaches through the use of experience. Experience goes hand in hand with learning. In college, time just gets sped up a little bit.


Expectations (Blog Three)

For the most part I've had positive experiences with students, in which we both enter with pretty level expectations as to what my role was in the tutoring process. I generally set the boundaries as the tutor from the beginning of the session to the end. In one case in particular, however, I had a student step outside of the general framework of the session, requesting that I go over all errors, AND THEN help him complete the "compare and contrast" portion of his assignment.

I explained to him what we do as tutors -- that our role was to assist students in the development of their writing process, not fix students problems for them and send them on their way. He took this well, so it appeared, and then attempted to disguise his previous request. "I need you to help me in fixing all the small issues," he explained, "for my development." I didn't see any reason to argue with him, so I just continued on with the session, consciously limiting my efforts to that which I deemed appropriate.

Identifying trends in his grammar issues, particularly with his misuse of prepositions and failure to maintain either past or present tense, I did my best to show him his own trends, so that he would learn from the experience, rather than just take what I fixed and turn it in without reflection. As we went through the piece further along, I stopped correcting the tense issues for him, and would linger over them briefly as I was reading the piece, until he would pick up on the problem. He began to see it himself without me breaking even for a second, which was rewarding for me, because I saw that he was actually getting it, and relatively immediate to following my instruction.

Before finishing his piece, I began to question him a bit more about his thesis, as I had felt his paper began to leave the track, so to speak. He informed me that he just needed to turn it in, and that he wouldn't have time to look back at the thesis. "I just need to fix all the errors," he said, growing impatient. I explained to him that I hadn't fixed all of the errors in the piece, and that I had emphasized a few points on which to improve, and that fixing all of the issues with the paper would not be conducive to his learning in the long run.

He acted frustrated, questioning me, as if not to believe that I hadn't fixed every grammatical single issue in the paper. He told me he needed to go fix the mistakes we had made, and left in something of a hurry, which was fine with me because we had already been almost fifty-minutes deep into the session.

Although he may have felt somewhat frustrated by the boundaries I did impose as a tutor, I stand by my decision, and I am optimistic that he will be all the more cognizant of the aspects of his writing I did emphasize in our session.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Maybe This is Why I'm an English Major...

     Back in California, I was able to attend a great high school: Chaminade College Preparatory. It was known – or at least we were told it was known – that our school had an intensive writing program. It just seemed like normal high school for me. We had 3 required composition courses (freshman, sophomore, and senior years) and 4 years of required literature courses – with an optional elective course for students who opted out of AP Literature in their senior year. 

     In the three composition courses, we were instructed to write a series of 5 essays. These five essays spanned the gamut of personal statements, research papers, argumentative/persuasion papers, advertisement analyses, etc. At each specific grade level, the papers were constant in type but varied in degree of difficulty. On top of the composition courses, we had to take the typical high school literature regiment – Freshman composition, American Literature, British Literature, and either AP Literature or a Tragic Hero course with an added Spring English elective. As such, I was given a solid foundation for my college writing experience. 

     When I started at university, I found myself placed directly into the highest level of Freshman English. I was intimidated by the prospect but found that my writing skills from high school had more than adequately prepared me for university writing. I encountered many students who struggled with even basic Freshman English because their institutions had not prepared them for the rigor of university composition. I was very lucky in being able to attend a school that adequately prepared me for college. 

     As far as my experience in the grad program at Weber, I find that I had the wrong expectations coming in. As Dr. Rogers mentioned in class, some assume that they need to enter the program being able to wield language as if they had already completed a Master’s program. I felt my writing was too lax and needed to be fancied up a bit. I found – as predicted by Dr. Rogers – that I was awkward and began to lose my voice as a writer. Luckily, I have finally found my “happy place” as a writer in a graduate level program. 

     I feel like this semester, while having no official curve, has done a great job of ushering me into a Master’s level setting. I feel comfortable with the coursework and confident in my ability to tackle whatever assignment might be thrown my way. While I never expected a curve, I have been pleasantly surprised that I have acclimated to a new state, classmates, professors, and lifestyle in general. While I don’t assume this curve will remain intact as I progress into the upper echelons of the Master’s program, I find that this “curve” has proved useful in finding a balance at Weber so I can face the higher level Master’s classes with a level of comfort.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

When Students expect a proofread.

Matthew Kunes

I really haven't had much of a problem with this issue, honestly. The only times I have ever done a proofread (strictly) is when, in my estimation, was when that was the only thing the paper (and student) needed at the time. I suppose they bear mentioning, since they occurred early in my experience as a writing tutor, though I already mentioned it on the blog.

I suppose I could reconsider it from a new, two-weeks-later perspective.

So, in reference to my earlier post “My First (writing) tutoring session,” I had a student who brought in a highly structured medical brief on a patient she interviewed herself. Looking over the strictures of the assignment, the student assured me that she had everything that was required for the brief, as she is very experienced writing this type of paper. All she needed was a proofread, she said.

So I gave her a proofread.

That came right after the in-class discussion on focusing on organization, structure, and transitions, areas of writing that this student really didn't need help with (in this case). I was confused as to what I should do: torn between doing what the student wanted, and what I felt the paper most needed (a grammar check); and what I had been told was the job of a tutor.

I sided mostly with the former, but with a perfunctory check over her organization and structure. The meat of the session, however, focused on proofreading.

In this case, I tried to focus on the maxim repeated in class: “The goal of the writing tutor is not to produce better writing; it is to produce better writers.” I tried my best to explain the rules and conventions of grammar and punctuation, in order to empower the student to take these matters in her own hands in the future. I am not sure how well I did.

In any case, now it is pretty common for me to say something along the lines of “It isn't my job to proofread.” Though I, of course, point out grammar errors, it is usually when, as discussed in class, I see a pattern of such errors. I focus on higher level stuff first, giving grammar and usage issues secondary importance.

I'm still pretty new at this, but at least I'm trying!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Shelley Williams/Blog 3: Tutor vs. Tutee Expectations

I have less trouble managing divergent tutee vs. tutor expectations than I do sometimes understanding the instructor’s expectations, but to give a good example of when a tutee’s expectations are not nor may ever conform to a tutor’s training to help said tutee, I offer the following.

Last spring semester (2013), I overheard a session while I was not at the time engaged with a tutee. I was baffled at the beyond fast-food light speed at which the tutee expected to garner aid. Initially I thought the student must have a paper due within the hour and clearly had no hopes nor expectations of massive (or maybe any) revision before that time and just wanted the tan sheet of proof of writing center visit. While the latter may be true, what I learned later from the tutor who helped this student was that this was always the tutee’s attitude—the tutee just did not value improving her writing enough to invest the effort to learn ways she could viably, visibly, and markedly (hopefully in grades as well) advance her skills. Since writing well was not a skill she valued, nor could ever see herself valuing it apparently, there was little convincing her that there was a better way or attitude with which she could approach her sessions with a tutor and leave both feeling better about the visit.

Had I ever had the unfortunate privilege or fortunate challenge as the case may be, of visiting with the student myself, I think I would have asked her point blank if or why she was in a hurry and could we not or why not, dig a little deeper into her writing. I would probably preface it with questions about her past grades, her satisfaction with them, her major, her goals, her plans and hopes. Based on all these, but in particular the latter, I would try to find instances and casually use them, of how and when, in her chosen major and hopefully future profession, good written communication would be, and always is, valued and appreciated by any employer and particularly important if one wishes to be self-employed.

That particular student really only wanted to deal with superficial concerns and not big picture things. It’s an interesting consideration for pondering at what point is our effort to improve the writing of our tutees considered by them not only intrusive, but perhaps personality modifying.  If we believe the oracle “I think, therefore I am” and that to write well is to be able to think well (at least as evident on paper), we are, in essence, modifying minds and therefore personalities. But we view this, as educators, as tutors, as students in the academy, as not only a worthy goal but part of the whole experience of academia.  Since the student in question did not see things the same way, I would have to find where her values did/do lie for being in school, and if only to pass the time, getting out with some intended end-game is where I’d have to go to pick this student up off the pavement of walking on the persons she is seeking an education from as she walks the halls of the academy she may not (or ever) value.  In the end, we can a lead student to written rhetorical tools, but we cannot make her pick them up.

Punctuation, Formatting and Formatting

      I’ve only tutored a handful of students, and while a couple have specifically asked for help with thesis statements and higher order concerns, most have come with general, vague symptoms of writing distress. As Claire pointed out in class, sometimes students come in asking for help with “punctuation”, or “formatting” when they don’t know how to recognize or ask for feedback on a more specific, higher level concern.

            Today I had three students ask for help with punctuation and two ask for help with formatting. As I went through the papers with each student, I realized that the punctuation questions were almost always related to sentence structure: IC/DC issues; run-on sentences; sentence fragments and the like. I would point out to the student that her worry over a period, or a comma was more than punctuation, but was a matter of sentence structure. We discussed the structural issue underlying the surface punctuation concern, thus not only slapping a Band-Aid on the paper, but figuring out why the punctuation was important, and how it reflected sentence structure.
            The students today who asked about formatting were not asking about margins and page numbers, but were really asking about structure and organization. One student was having difficulty knowing when to break up paragraphs. Her essay was a single, two-page paragraph. I realized that her underlying concern was not about mechanical formatting, but about structure and organization, so I flat out asked her, “Are you talking about figuring out paragraphs?” She said yes, and seemed relieved that I could give words to her anxiety. We spent a productive session organizing individual paragraphs, then figuring out how to structure her essay with an introduction, support paragraphs and a concluding paragraph. All of this was contained in one word, “formatting.”
            However, sometimes “formatting” really does mean sheer mechanics. Earlier in the semester, I had a student ask about formatting her Works Cited section. We got out the APA guide, and I showed her where to find the information, and then let her start adding the citations into her paper. As it turned out, formatting citations was her immediate concern, but not the greatest skill needing attention. She didn’t know how to use the computer (someone else had typed the paper for her) and had no idea how to format a paper with name, date, class number, title, etc. So, while sometimes a student’s question about vague formatting or punctuation concerns can mask another issue, sometimes a question can truly be a basic concern that needs attention.
            I haven’t had a student come in yet with a paper that had gone completely off the rails, into the weeds and down the rabbit hole (to mix as many of Dr. Rogers’ metaphors as possible). I suppose when that occurs I will have to gently guide the student back on track with guided questions, active listening, and positive feedback.           

Observing Expectations.

I have not yet had the opportunity to tutor a student yet, so once again I will relate this assignment to a session that I have observed. Last week I encountered an ESL student who came in with a higher level economics paper. The student had three separate article analysis’ that were due in a couple of hours. The master tutor that I was observing focused on the “bigger picture stuff” when the grammatical errors were in the forefront.

The student didn’t have any specific wishes for the session, which proved to be more beneficial for them. The tutor I observed was able to then focus on the critical mistakes in content versus merely “proofreading” and attacking minor surface errors. Had the student specifically requested a session on grammar, they would certainly benefit. However, had the tutor focused on this versus the content, the student would have missed the mark on what the teacher expected from the analysis. 

The student went in with expectations of making his ideas clear and concise. If the tutor focused on the surface errors, the student would have left without having his expectations met. Being the only expectation, it was up to the tutor which route to take with the session. Due to the good judgment on the tutor’s part, she was able to take the meeting in the direction that met the student’s expectations. Although she was unable to accomplish everything that the paper needed, she was able to focus on what was important in regards to the rubric. I was impressed with the way that she handled the situation. Sometimes it is difficult to overlook obvious mistakes, it is critical that we first look to the quality of the content before we can dedicate our time to grammatical errors. In this particular example, the student’s expectations were met. After observing this session, I learned a valuable lesson on picking your battles. 

When I begin tutoring I will do my best to adapt what I learned from this experience, and prioritize my time to meet the needs and expectations of the student.

High Expectations

Preston Carter
There have been a number of times when my expectations have been higher than the student’s. Some students have learned from high school and other academic experiences that receiving a passing grade is merely the result putting words on the page. Often, these are the students who ask tutors to only check for commas and grammar issues. Many times they don’t even recognize that there are other things to talk about. They may not have had a class to tell them how to write an essay or an academic paper, or maybe they didn’t pay attention in their classes or need a review of what an essay demands.

I feel that it is my job and business to prepare students for their future classes where professors will fail them for turning in something mediocre whereas they might have previously passed classes by writing a paper that doesn’t quite meet the standards set by the professor or teacher. I tend to handle these situations by referring to the syllabus or rubric that defines the parameters of the assignment. I use the syllabus to ask the student whether they feel that their essay meets the professor’s requirements. Most often, they will ask what they can do to better meet the requirements, and the session is allowed to head down the “big picture” route. It helps to appeal to the idea that every college student is expected to do their best in their work. It is a good ethic to teach students both for academia as well as for the workplace

If the student doesn’t wish to talk about the big picture topics in writing essays and continues to ask for a proofreading session. In these cases, I tend to look for the recurring problems and point them out and ask the student to search for other problems; it might require them to read their essay enough to understand they could use some help in other areas. Even when students are fine with proofreading and turning the mediocre paper in, students are able to take away some grammatical knowledge from the session. Thanks to the personal feedback most professors tend to give at Weber State University and the general student moral of college students, I rarely run into students completely opposed to looking at some big picture topics.

Establishing Clear Expectations

I have been very lucky so far in my tutoring, and the students’ expectations and my own have, for the most part, been comparable. While some of them had not used the Writing Center before, most of them understood that tutors do not write their assignments for them. I have, however, had a few instances where people have requested help with a specific topic, and I can speculate what it might be like to work with a student who thought I was there to help edit or rewrite their essay.

I assume that such expectations would surface in the stage where I discuss the students’ concerns about the essay. I had a student come in once who came in only to get a signed piece of paper stating that he had talked to a tutor. He told me that his teacher would give him extra credit if he saw a tutor, and that he didn’t really have any questions about his essay.  Rather than sign the paper and send him away, I asked him about his thesis and organization, and we went through his paper anyway.

In the future I would handle such situations in similar ways. I would explain to the student that tutors are supposed to help the student become a better writer by teaching them ways to edit and proof read their own paper.  I would then go through their paper with them and look for patterns of error that I would point out to them. Using teaching tools such as FANBOYS, I would help the student understand the rules they are breaking, and what to do when they see it in their writing in the future.

The “big picture stuff” to me isn’t only helping them with a developed thesis, correct formatting, or even conjugating verbs correctly. While those things are necessary to be a successful writer and college student, to me the “big picture” is helping the student become a better writer than they were when they came in half an hour ago.  That is definitely not an easy task, especially if we’re talking about breaking habits that a writer had used (and maybe even used effectively!) for many years.

It is for that reason that it is so important to establish expectations at the beginning of the session. Telling the student what we do as tutors and mapping out the plan for the tutoring session help the student and the tutor to be on the same page about the outcome of the session. Furthermore, a session “map” will give the student something to refer back to as they revise their paper after the session. This is vital to our mission to help students be better writers, because, quite frankly, 30 minutes is not enough time to change bad habits or create new ones.  If we as tutors want to help students stay on track, improve their essays, and become more proficient writers, we must establish clear expectations by discussing our purpose and mapping the session out.
- Sam Bartholomew

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Role of a Tutor

I had an experience recently where my expectations as a tutor were stressed a bit. I was working with an ESL student who didn’t quite understand what the Writing Center was. It was her first time working with a tutor, and she came in with the impression that I was there to fix all of her mistakes for her. I’m sure her instructor had told her something similar to “go to the Writing Center, they’ll help you with your paper.” What she heard was something more like “go and let the Writing Center polish your paper for you.”

As I sat down to begin the session, the student pushed the paper towards me and said, “you need to fix.” I felt perplexed but determined as I pushed the paper back in her direction and assured her that we could go over her paper together as part of a learning process. She then pushed it back towards me, said “yes, you fix,” and proceeded to text on her cell phone. She had obviously come in with a very specific request, and wasn’t concerned about the process it took for her paper to improve.

In the end, it took a little bit of maneuvering on my part to help her get the point. I ended up scooting a little bit closer to her and asking if it was ok if I read the paper out loud. I told her that she could make changes to her paper as I read, and I handed her a colored pencil. This was enough to show her what I expected and what she could expect from her future sessions.

The session went well after that, but it shows that a student can simply misunderstand what we do at the Writing Center. Many students have been told by faculty and peers that the Center will make their papers better. In reality, we are giving students the tools they need to improve their writing on their own. We don’t edit or proofread, but we point out patterns in order for a student to be able to self-edit his or her paper.

In regards to a student asking for proofreading help, I was faced with the challenge of explaining how impossible it is to proofread an unfinished paper. Her paper was a self-reflection that was supposed to be done in four parts. These parts were to be labeled with headings that related to different aspects of the reflection process. Unfortunately, this student had only written three of the four sections. I explained to her that it might be a good idea to work on finishing the paper before we worried about proofreading at all. She assured me that she had it covered, and asked me if I would look at what she had written so far. In the end I obliged, and left her to conclude her paper without my help. While this is what she wanted, I feel as if I should have been able to make her come around to my point of view. Since this experience, I have always tried to enforce the big-picture items. I would say that this is a lesson learned.

Tutor! Not Editor, Not Co-author

Thankfully, I have not had to deal with a ‘proofread my paper’ tutee so far this semester. If I did have someone walk in and tell me to just edit their work quickly because it’s due in an hour, then I would have to sit them down and gently explain to them what it means to be a writing tutor.
As a tutor, it is my job to help the student become an independent learner and a better writer. It is not my job to be their editor, proofreader, or co-author. It is possible for a tutor to be too helpful and start changing a student’s essay until it is a spectacular piece of writing, but is nothing like the student’s original work. That is when the line between tutor and co-author begins to blur, and when it comes to partially writing an essay for the student, that leads us into the subject of academic dishonesty and we really don’t want to go there. Editors and proofreaders exist in the professional world as people who double-check the writer’s work and make sure it is ready for publication. Professional writers, however, generally know their syntax and grammar rules well enough that they write at an advanced level automatically. Students are just students, so they are still learning and building on the skills that have already been formed. Some are more skilled than others, but a tutor’s purpose is to help them build those skills. Being able to write clearly is essential to being a good communicator. Most people in the workforce do not have a proofreader going over their emails before they send them out to co-workers or supervisors or even (gasp!) the executives of the company. There may also be times when something important with a time limit, such as a grant proposal, needs to be written professionally and sent out quickly. There is not time for a poor writer to slowly slop something together and then have it sifted through by a proofreader. That said, it is vital that college students in every discipline learn how to write effectively and independently. Basically, tutors are really just super-nice English teachers who give compact, one-on-one learning sessions. How great is that?!