Archive for December, 2013

WCCP: Survey Cover Letter

Greetings from Towson University!

Purpose

I am emailing you because your Writing Center director informed me that you are an undergraduate tutor who has a minimum of one semester tutoring experience. If this is not the case, please disregard this email.

Introduction

I am a graduate student in the Professional Writing Program at Towson University. While pursuing my undergraduate degree at York College of Pennsylvania, I was a peer writing tutor just like you. Currently, I serve as the graduate student board representative for the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Association (MAWCA).

This year, my love of writing centers and collaborative learning has culminated into a formal research project that is going to look at the long and short-term effects of being a peer tutor in college. This study is an extension of The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project (more information can be found here: http://www.writing.wisc.edu/pwtarp/) and will assess the transferable job skills gained from the peer tutoring experience.

I plan to present this research at the 2014 MAWCA conference. I encourage you to come to the conference, which will be held at Salisbury University on April 4-5, 2014.

I will also be writing a report intended for publication that will summarize the survey’s findings. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the paper, please let me know.

How can YOU help?

I am hoping you will take time out of your busy schedule to participate in this important study. Except for your time and trouble, there are no foreseeable risks in participating in the research. The amount of time it will take will vary on your answers and experience.

I trust that the enclosed survey will provide a useful opportunity for you to reflect on your time as a tutor and as a student. Please be honest. What I’m looking for are thoughtful, candid, and detailed reflections on your experience. I know your response will be of great significance to the writing center community.

By responding to the survey and returning it to me, you are, in effect, giving me your consent to use your response as outlined above.

You are not required to complete or to sign the survey or to answer anything that might make you uncomfortable. Your status as a tutor will be in no way affected by your choice to participate or not. The responses will be coded to the master list of peer writing tutors, and should I quote you in any form, I will not use your name and will seek your permission first.

On board? Great! Here’s what to do next.
  1. Fill out the attached the survey as a Word document. Do not include your name anywhere on the completed survey!
  2. Create an email with the subject line: Peer Tutoring Survey Response
  3. Attach your completed survey and hit send.
  4. Save yourself some time. Do not include your name or a message in the email you send to me.

The last day I will accept surveys is Sunday, November 24, 2013. Please return the completed survey to me by that date to ensure your response will be part of the study.

If you have any questions about the project, you can reach me at 717-818-0861 or Cheryl Brown, my faculty sponsor at 410-704-2258 or the Chairperson of the Towson IRB at 410-704-2236.

Thinking outside the Writing Center

Composition Programs need Pedagogical Improvement

Some writing consultants gave responses that reflected on the transferrable aspects of their work. One participant stated his experience as a writing consultant taught him “the failings of introductory writing courses and high school English departments are innumerable” because some college professors and high school teachers expect students to produce verbosity and length rather than organization and logic, which are two essential skills that are needed to produce quality workplace documents. Similarly, another participant was disappointed to see that some students were not given the necessary writing support prior to attending college, which made it difficult to communicate effective grammatical choices during the tutoring session. These are common problems in writing center lore and are often highlighted in peer tutoring guides. The fact that these writing consultants identified them speaks to the fact that these are ongoing stressful tutoring situations in a millennial age.

Aptitudes Obtained

Other writing consultants pointed out the broad brushstrokes that make up the portrait of a writing center. They identified that tutoring is creativity and communication in coordination. Others recognized that tutoring broadens a person’s perspective on reality, on language, on the writing process, on conflict resolution, and on relationship-building. Overall, every writing consultant who was surveyed was positively impacted by their time spent in the writing center. The following categories, Interview Preparation and Career Preparation, will address how this impact affects writing consultants’ professional lives after they graduate and enter the workplace.

Interview Preparation

Many writing consultants identified not having much experience with interviewing. Writing center experience was viewed as a resume builder that improved confidence and increased one’s personal comfort level when interacting with new people (which is always helpful during interviews). While several writing consultants identified they gained a tool box of skills to apply to their own writing, few were able to take the next step: recognizing how to market their skills so they could secure a job or to attend graduate school. Four writing consultants identified that working in a writing center was equivalent to adapting to diversity, attending to multiple needs/disabilities, consulting one-on-one, solving conflict, and assessing student writing.

Career Preparation

When asked how writing center work prepared them for their careers, the writing consultants provided a wide range of answers. One tutor stated that “being a tutor not only helps the tutees, but helps the tutors as well.” The statement encompasses a discernible pattern that emerged in the skills writing consultants developed or the praxis they performed.

Skill-based

  • Learned to ask open-ended questions
  • Trained myself to think before making assumptions about people’s backgrounds
  • Improved communication and interpersonal skills
  • Became more personable and patient
  • Learned to provide positive praise, build confidence, give constructive criticism
  • Understood my own writing practices better by looking at my writing critically, neutrally, and objectively
  • Strengthened the ability to work one-on-one with students
  • Improved the ability to work on a team with other writing consultants
  • Developed a knowledge base in a variety of other subjects

Praxis-based

  • Hands-on teaching preparation
  • Practiced using analytical and critical thinking
  • Hands-on editing practice
  • Focused on a holistic approach to the writing process
  • Hands-on therapeutic communication
  • Relayed information in a way that could be understood by multiple people
  • Recognized that writer has his or her own voice, just as every person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses
  • Held the mindset that writing should be at the forefront of the curriculum
  • Believed in the ideal that everyone is capable of improvement

Likert-Scale Perceptions

The writing consultants’ narratives reflect their perceptions about their tutoring experience and are supported by all five Likert-scale ratings, which received positive ratings. The average, standard deviation, and mode calculations for each Likert-scale rating can be found in the Appendices section.

  • Training and/or experience as a tutor in the interviewing or hiring process for your first job.
    • Ranked somewhat important
  • Your future occupation of the skills, qualities, or values you developed as a tutor.
    • Ranked very important
  • Your future occupation of the skills, qualities, or values you gained from working with others’ writing.
    • Ranked important
  • Your writing center/writing fellow training and experience as you developed as a university student.
    • Ranked very important
  • Your writing center/writing fellow training and experience as you developed as a future professional.
    • Ranked very important

Open-ended Questions Coding

The four coding categories for the open-ended responses highlight a positive trend in the professional skills writing consultants believe they are gaining as well as indicate an enthusiasm for their tutoring work. To create a clearly-defined coding system, I separated professional skills from personal skills, which is a coding strategy that aligns with previous writing center studies (Dinitz and Kiedaisch 1-5; Gillespie, Hughes, and Kail 35-52; Hughes, Gillespie, and Kail 12-46; Kedia 13-15; Welsch 1-7).

On a personal level, writing tutors working in a writing center community have the opportunity to develop empathy, patience, and rapport. Interacting with peers improve their listening skills, a collaborative attitude, and their relationship with writing. There is a marked increase in their diplomacy, tact, confidence, and assertiveness.

Professional skills in the writing center community include teaching/pedagogy training, time management and problem solving capabilities, administrative and public relations preparation, and creative and critical thinking facilities. These skills transcend to holistic thinking with a focus on HOCs and the organization of a writer’s argument. Writing tutors develop analytic skills as they assess and prioritize a session. Writing tutors also hone their communication abilities: they can not only deliver information, but also constructive criticism one-on-one, in group settings, and during cross-cultural situations.

Perceived Transferable Skills

The tutoring narrative gives writing consultants the chance to reflect on the values and attitudes they will take with them when they leave the writing center. The responses were incredibly positive. In summary, the coded categories reveal a positive response from the surveyed writing consultants.

  • Client Relations occurs when tutors prioritize tutees’ needs by approaching a hierarchy of concerns through active listening, genuine praise, and non-directive questioning dependent on the stage of the writing process. Meeting students’ needs varied from drafting, crafting a thesis statement, organization, brainstorming, and writer’s voice. Many tutors were able to identify the personal and professional value of their work because they enjoyed helping people with writing. For others, building confidence was memorable because the act of doing so was a two-way street: writing consultants get confidence by giving the tutee confidence.
  • Interpersonal Skills are demonstrated when tutors improve communication by valuing listening, learning to collaborate, or increasing flexibility when problem solving. The results revealed that the undergraduate tutors favored the conversation and rapport-building aspects of their tutoring experience. One writing consultant identified communication as a significant ability because she had to verbalize her thoughts to different types of people “clearly and concisely so anyone [could] understand my feedback.” A specific skill area was working with ELL students, which proved to be especially rewarding.
  • Professional Development consists of various skills: administration, marketing, critical and analytical reading/writing/thinking skills, pedagogy, diversity training, conflict management, technology use, and mentoring. The tutors found that tutoring taught them patience and confidence. The tutors seemed especially empowered when they could help their peers become better writers by meeting their needs and providing them with praise.
  • Lastly, tutors might identify joining the Writing Center Community as a lasting skill they take with them. Language in the literature speaks to tutors viewing writing as conversation, developing a new relationship with writing, or engaging with their knowledgeable peers. The tutors surveyed pinpointed an improvement in their own personal writing processes because they are able to look at their writing, identify common mistakes, and critique critically for grammar and style.

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Hypothesis

Career paralysis comes from the inability to make a productive decision for the fear it may be the wrong choice amidst an overwhelming array of possibilities (Alsop 13; Winograd and Hais 193; Stein; Vermunt). Making any kind move results in the trepidation contained in T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—“in a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” This uncertainty is a rite of passage that every twenty-something must overcome, and there is no failure: “Failure to [Millennials], in the end, is never finding their true passion” (Alsop 13).

Wearing the Tutor Hat

The way I have made my own career choice aligns with the research discussed thus far. I decided to go to graduate school to not miss out on the opportunity to achieve my dream job of being a writing center director. Where I am now is can be attributed to my time tutoring in a writing center as an undergraduate. I have learned to exhibit appropriate verbal/nonverbal communication, to finesse my organization of time and tasks, to set achievable deadlines, and to improve inter/intrapersonal skills. Additionally, as a tutor, I considered myself a wearer of many hats. I wore the hat of a consultant who surveyed students’ interests and aspirations. I wore the hat of a researcher, assessor, and mentor. I wore the hat of a third-party reader. I wore the hat of someone who engaged students’ metacognition about the writing process.

Based on the literature and my personal experience, I predicted that undergraduate tutors recognize they are gaining worthwhile job experience; however, they do not feel they are ready to enter the workplace. Their lack of confidence would stem from not learning how to apply their skills to a particular career pathway. To test my theory, I chose to replicate the PWTARP study with a new population. Instead of using alumni, I wanted to capture undergraduate tutors’ voices, perceptions, and impressions using a Likert-scale/open-ended survey to gather quantitative and qualitative data.

Population Selection

The undergraduate population for this study was limited to those working in a writing center for a minimum of one semester. Limiting the survey population to undergraduate tutors focuses on the development of transferable jobs skills whereas the PWTARP study addressed how writing center work helped alumni in their careers. Distributing the survey to undergraduate tutors serves as the start of the professional development process. The questions are tailored to spark a thought process: tutors think about where they see themselves, and more importantly, they consider how their writing center experience can help them get them to where they want to be.

The survey was sent to six colleges in Maryland and Pennsylvania (York College of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University, University of Maryland, Loyola University, Salisbury University, and Towson University). The survey and accompanying cover letter are included in the Appendices section. The survey population consisted of undergraduate tutors who had tutored for a minimum of one semester. Once IRB status was confirmed, I reached out to the writing center directors of the colleges I planned to survey and asked for the tutors’ email addresses. I sent a mass email containing a cover letter explaining the research design with the survey attached. Tutors who completed survey and returned it to me signaled their participation and consent. Participation was voluntary with no incentive provided.

Population Size

Fifteen surveys were returned from the selected population of 100 undergraduate tutors. Considering that the survey was sent in the middle of the fall semester when undergraduates are busiest with their academic and personal time commitments, the amount of responses was satisfactory. The tutors were given a month to return the survey because the Writing Consultant Project was part of a credit-bearing course. Sending the survey at a different time in the semester with a longer response time may have gleaned more responses. For the purpose of this research study, the small sample size can be considered a pilot to test the methodologies used to determine undergraduate tutors’ perceptions of their workplace readiness and transferrable job skills. No conclusive theories can be gleaned from this data until it is replicated with a larger sample population. The trends identified, however, are vital to establishing undergraduate writing consultants’ needs in terms of their professional development.

Sample Population’s Demographics

Fourteen participants were female, and one was male. The sample population’s average age was 21, which represents the Millennial generation. One writing consultant had the minimum qualification of one semester of experience; five had two semesters; six had three semesters, and three had five or more semesters of experience.

Training is a pivotal first step of professional development, and ten tutors indicated they had taken a credit-bearing course prior to tutoring while five tutors said they did not receive formalized training. Regardless of their training backgrounds, the majority of tutors participated in regular staff meetings, social events, or regional/national conferences.

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Defining a Writing Center

A writing center possesses charged imagery. Their walls hold an energy that is not only collaborative but also empathetic, which makes it a safe haven for even the most insecure writer. The tables are always full of bustling productivity as the tutor and the writer work side-by-side to share ideas. Paragraphs are rearranged; sentence structure is revised, and style choice is evaluated. In the end, the writer leaves the writing not only with a better paper but also with a better understanding of how to approach the writing process. This noisy hub of conversing, laughing, and learning is home for serious academics, either struggling or successful, who want to succeed in higher education.

No writing center is the same. However, they function in a similar fashion because of Burke’s parlor theory and dramatic pentad.  These theories shape the collaboration, communication, cultures, and communities that make writing centers a successful grassroots movement within higher education. A writing center’s very nature—the centering on developing a writing process—is the dramatic pentad in scholastic hexameter (who, what, where, by what means, why, how, when) described in Burke’s Grammar of Motives (228). Language, when looked at this way, is a mode of action dependent on the situation, circumstances, or dilemma. This inquiry-based, therapeutic language shapes the open-ended, non-directive questions that ping back-and-forth in the writing center.

Writing Center Models

Before Burke is examined in full, however, the different models of writing centers need to be explained. In 1991, Lunsford identified two types of writing centers: the storehouse and the garret (2). The storehouse functions as an information hub that dispenses knowledge out to the individual as he or she needs it. This model is much in line with Freire’s banking concept of education. The garret also focuses on the individual, but in this case, the individual creates his or her own knowledge, voice, and style in a private quest for truth. Lunsford also introduced a new type of writing center based on Burke’s parlor where people of diverse backgrounds socially come together and do work with rhetoric and composition (4). Elbow also favors the Burkean parlor and describes it as a culture of movement:

“Some have already been there a long time working and talking together when new ones arrive. New ones learn from playing the game with the more experienced players. Some leave before others. People continually trickle in and trickle out, but they work and talk together while they are there. Unskilled writers would be there longer, but for that reason, they would often function as veterans, experts, elders, carriers of the culture. They would be better than the hotshot students at the writerly processes of sharing, cooperating, feedback, even revising” (466).

Therefore, writing centers are a perfect representation of the unending conversation that Burke defines in Philosophy of Literary Form. Burke invites us to imagine this conversation as a point of entry that leads toward a larger discussion, a difficult dialogue, and a great debate. The back-and-forth exchange of ideas creates a brighter illumination on the topic at hand even after the participant has long gone.  Boquet’s Noise from the Writing Center describes this kind of tutoring session as having a kind of spontaneous, innovative energy:

We take texts and we turn them around and over and upside down; we cut them into their bits and pieces; we tug at them, tutor to student, student to tutor, back and forth, to and fro, tug-tug-tug. We ball up ideas and we pitch them, sometimes to each other, sometimes away—three points!—into the trash. (Omygodcanwedothat?) (p. 18).

Bruffee considers this natural and unencumbered conversation a “kind of social context in which normal discourse occurs: a community of knowledgeable peers,” and Lunsford considers the exchange as knowledge, power, and control being negotiated and shared (Bruffee 644; Lunsford 5). Just a people come and go in Burke’s parlor, so do the ideas within their conversations. The same holds true for a community of practice where collective knowledge is never static, but always in a perpetual motion (Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder 10).

Communities of Practice

For this reason, a writing center can be considered a “community of practice.” A community of practice creates a particular identity for group members who “share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder 4). Communities of practice are an informal, self-organized joint enterprise that “drive strategy, generate new lines of business, solve problems, promote the spread of best practices, [and] develop people’s professional skills” (Wenger and Snyder 139). These objectives make communities of practice become a “cascading interplay of participation and reification [so] that our experience of life becomes one of identity, and indeed of human existence and consciousness” (Wenger 151). In summation, communities of practice are where learners develop, negotiate, and share our own theories and ways of understanding their reality (Wenger 48).

The community’s perspective-taking accommodates a multitude of new factors, data, inventions, and problems that accumulate over years of working in collaboration. As Lunsford points out, this collaboration is important in aiding practitioners, or members of the community of practice, to unearth new knowledge about problems and abstractions (3). Collaboration also leads to sharper critical thinking, higher achievement, and greater excellence (Lunsford 3).

In any community of practice, these markers are all evidence of success. In particular, a writing center/a Burkean parlor/a community of knowledgeable peers focuses on learning from one another whether one’s status is an old-timer or a newcomer (Theory in/to practice 94). Status in the center of the conversation surrounding writing centers becomes inconsequential. Participation in the dynamic aspects of knowledge creation is vital, and dialectical transactions, not years of experience, are the mark of expertise (Theory in/to 103).

Developing Aptitudes

Tutors who participate in the writing center community learn lessons outside the classroom curriculum (Integrating best practices 29). Teamwork and leadership are obvious skills, but Wenger points out three categories that come with belonging to a community of practice (95).

  • Evolving forms of mutual engagement
    • Discovering how to engage, what helps and what hinders; developing mutual relationships; defining identities.
  • Understanding and tuning their enterprise
    • Aligning their engagement with it, and learning to become and hold each other accountable to it; struggling to define the enterprise and reconciling conflicting interpretations of what the enterprise is about.
  • Developing their repertoire, styles, and discourses
    • Renegotiating the meaning of various elements; producing or adopting tools, artifacts, representations; recording and recalling events; inventing new terms and redefining or abandoning old ones; telling and retelling stories; creating and breaking routines.

Entering an Academic Culture

Within the writing center community of practice, there is an academic culture described by Molly Wingate in 2001. She points out that writing centers permit tutors to gain professional skills, which prepares them for a career choice, management, or client interactions (Wingate 10). Soma Kedia’s anecdotal evidence in her 2007 article, “Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned at the Writing Center” puts these categories into context by commenting on her marked shift from an individual approach towards writing to a collaborative one. By tutoring, she learned to approach a hierarchy of concerns through active listening, genuine praise, non-directive questioning (13-15).

A common theme runs through Wingate’s and Kedia’s observations. Writing centers not only shape better students, but better professionals. Wingate writes, “Those serious tutors and writers grow up, finish graduate school, join professions, have neighbors, children, vote, participate in their local schools, get elected, volunteer and protest. Those writing center attitudes go right along with them as they respect themselves and other people” (14). Kedia echoes this concept of carrying on a trend of responsibility and involvement after leaving the writing center. She reflects that “Writing is so much more than the way we put words on a page: writing is conversation, leadership, even therapy. Writing is subversive social action” (Kedia 15).

Conversations, communications, and collaborations in the writing center make a lasting impact. Tutors who work, learn, write, and play in the writing center are a perfect example of those visitors to Burke’s parlor of unending conversation in Philosophy of Literary Form. Although tutors leave the writing center and pursue other careers and interests, the writing center never leaves them just as Burke never leaves the center of conversation in composition. He writes:

“You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress” (Burke 110-111).

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It’s Not Easy Being Millennial

Young adults who are between the ages of 19 and 33 and born on the cusp of the 21st century face a daunting reality: a high number of highly-educated young adults who are unemployed (Thompson). Economics might be to blame. The 2008 recession continues to delay their career pathways and retirement savings. Well-being might be another cause. These unsettling times means Millennials are surrounded by fear, uncertainty, and doubt because they “lack stable close relationships, a feeling of safety, and a simple path to adulthood and the workplace” (Twenge 136). Perception might also be a reason. Some Baby Boomers view Millennials as being the entitled “Me” generation that appears cocky rather than confident when networking or interviewing.

Facebook Status: Job searching…again.

Although Millennials face numerous challenges, they are more global, more connected, more resilient, more self-reliant, and more adaptive than any previous generation (Burstein 95-96; Woodruff). Social media is the great leveler for this generation. It equalizes access to culture, politics, and social justice. Information’s free flow, social media’s vast transparency, and technology’s inclusiveness creates an innovative spark that is interspersed with millennials’ personal, academic, political, and professional lives.

Millennials as digital natives are more prone to express their views online, connect online, and communicate online, making them more open to innovative possibilities that get published on a large, globalized scale (Burstein 54-59). In order to obtain employment in difficult job market, Facebook, Pintrest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Prezi, Instagram, and blogging platforms are tools for constant networking.

Logically then, millennials rely on technology 1) to make life easier, 2) to access information quickly, 3) to play a greater role in political activism, 4) to create a more efficient use of time, and 5) to develop closer bonds between friends and family (Taylor and Keeter 26-27; White 11). As a result, these easily personalized, customized, and individualized tools foster the Millennial generation’s resourceful, innovative, and connected spirit (Kelm 507).

Social media equips Millennials, and they want to use their skills to find the right balance for the multiple obligations that fill their busy schedules (Lancaster and Stillman 55). They have a strong commitment to actionable and realizable goals that can be reached in practical increments. Creativity and communication and collaboration speak directly to the literature surrounding writing centers’ pedagogies, tutors’ transferrable job skills, and employers’ hiring demands.

Assessing Professional Development in Writing Centers

In the writing center, tutees are not only gaining skills; tutors are as well. However, tracking peer writing tutor professional development did not begin until 2000. Wright State University created a survey, distributed it to their writing center alumni, and received the small sample size of 29 respondents. One of the questions was “What, specifically, did you learn from Writing Center training and tutoring?” Writing center alumni responded with the following skills: improving communication, increasing flexibility, prioritizing others’ needs, and adapting problem-solving techniques (Macklin, Marshall, and Law 14).

PWTARP

This finding was formally determined in 2004 by Harvey Kail, Paula Gillespie, and Brad Hughes, creators of The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project (PWTARP) (“The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project”). PWTARP surveyed 126 alumni from University of Maine, Florida International University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison to tackle the question, “What do students take with them from their education and experience as peer writing tutors that would account for this continued engagement?”

The results from the PWTARP’s open-ended/Likert-scale survey demonstrated determined five categories: a new relationship with writing, learning collaborative learning, critical and analytic reading ability, the value of listening, and joining a community of knowledgeable peers. These categories factor directly into the workplace, demonstrating “that the influence of being a peer tutor is strong, and that its effects endure—two years and ten years and even twenty years beyond graduation” (Hughes, Gillespie, and Kail 39).

The PWTARP fostered an interest in the literature surrounding tutors’ career development. Two articles, “Shaping Careers in the Writing Center” and “Putting Your Writing Center Experience to Work,” focused on identifying the workplace skills tutors could promote in a job interview (Welsch, 1-8; Whalen, 9-10). These categories, which were similar to PWTARP, included: administration, public relations, interpersonal/client communication, analytic skills, pedagogy, technology skills, and professional development (Welsch, 1-8; Whalen, 9-10).

Sue Dinitz and Jean Kiedaisch from University of Vermont replicated PWTARP with 135 alumni in 2009. From their survey results, they identified the following four categories of transferrable job skills: interpersonal skills, various writing skills, mentoring, and general thinking skills (1-5).

Writing Consultants are Ready to Work

A Millennial writing consultant already has the ability to be successful in client relations, written/oral communications, and interpersonal interactions because of the time spent solving problems, analyzing tasks, and adapting tutoring techniques. The writing center community has prepared them with leadership abilities by encouraging research presentations and mentoring new tutors. Accurate record-keeping and plagiarism prevention means writing consultants possess strong ethics and integrity. Overall, college graduates who have tutored are willing to tackle problems with professional decorum.

Transferrable Workplace Skills

Writing centers, according to the PWTARP and other anecdotal evidence, create a dialogic, relationship-based culture. Communication through collaboration, through writing and reading, and through a well-established community creates necessary workplace skills employers are looking for. In 2006, an in-depth survey titled Are They Really Ready to Work was distributed to over 400 human resource representatives and senior executives to determine workplace readiness for the 21st century.

The results of Are They Really Ready to Work identify an ideal worker as one who has a professional presence and is willing to collaborate with others to solve problems in an innovative way. The report identified deficiencies that are considered very important but needed improvement: written communications, writing in English, and leadership (Casner-Lotto and Barrington 41). The results also predicted that in the next five years creativity/innovation was expected to be most critical workplace skills (Casner-Lotto and Barringon 50).

More recently in 2012, the Center for Professional Development at York College of Pennsylvania surveyed 415 college faculty members nationwide to establish professionalism traits in college juniors and seniors. The professors’ responses revealed a series of skills that set professional students apart from their peers (Center for Professional Development 18-26).

Professionalism is demonstrated by accepting personal responsibility for their decisions, displaying a sense of ethics, and exhibiting an attentive focus. Time management, thorough preparation, and dependability are also important factors as well as appearance and appropriate dress. Verbal and written communication goes hand in hand with interpersonal skills. Students who are respectful and considerate do not have the negative association of being entitled.

The Writing Center Consultant Project

Assessing transferable job skills aligns with a long trend of collaborative learning, knowledge sharing, personal transformation, and networking. The Writing Center Consultant Project (WCCP) started in September 2013 replicates the PWTARP with a new population—undergraduate tutors—in order to meet the goal of assessing the transferable job skills they gain before entering the workplace.

The Likert-scale/open-ended survey was sent to York College of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University, University of Maryland, Loyola University, Salisbury University, and Towson University. The sample for WCCP’s pilot study was small (15 out of 100 sent surveys were returned); however, the impact of this research is filled with potential. The WCCP revealed that tutors are incredibly enthusiastic about the positive impact of their writing center experience. Participants pointed out the broad brushstrokes that make up the portrait of a writing center. They identified that tutoring is creativity and communication in coordination. Others recognized that tutoring broadens a person’s perspective on reality, on language, on the writing process, on conflict resolution, and on relationship-building. The tutors’ narratives and Likert-scale ratings revealed the trends outlined below; however tutors also identified that they lacked strategic professional development skills such as interviewing strategies and career planning, which would ensure future job placement.

Client Relations

Occurred when tutors prioritized tutees’ needs by approaching a hierarchy of concerns through active listening, genuine praise, and non-directive questioning dependent on the stage of the writing process. Meeting students’ needs varied from drafting, crafting a thesis statement, organization, brainstorming, and writer’s voice. Many tutors were able to identify the personal and professional value of their work because they enjoyed helping people with writing. For others, building confidence was memorable because the act of doing so was a two-way street: writing consultants get confidence by giving the tutee confidence.

Interpersonal Skills

Demonstrated when tutors improve communication by valuing listening, learning to collaborate, or increasing flexibility when problem solving. The results revealed that the undergraduate tutors favored the conversation and rapport-building aspects of their tutoring experience. One writing consultant identified communication as a significant ability because she had to verbalize her thoughts to different types of people “clearly and concisely so anyone [could] understand my feedback.” A specific skill area was working with ELL students, which proved to be especially rewarding.

Professional Development

Consisted of various skills: administration, marketing, critical and analytical reading/writing/thinking skills, pedagogy, diversity training, conflict management, technology use, and mentoring. The tutors found that tutoring taught them patience and confidence. The tutors seemed especially empowered when they could help their peers become better writers by meeting their needs and providing them with praise.

Joining the Writing Center Community

A lasting skill writing consultants would take with them. Language in the literature speaks to tutors viewing writing as conversation, developing a new relationship with writing, or engaging with their knowledgeable peers. The tutors surveyed pinpointed an improvement in their own personal writing processes because they are able to look at their writing, identify common mistakes, and critique critically for grammar and style.

Prioritizing Professional Development

Administrators who ask consultants to complete the WCCP’s Likert-scale/open-ended survey at the end of each semester will gauge their professional development needs. Additional support can be established by distributing a checklist of options provided via the college career center or collaboration with writing center alumni. Some sample options include:

College Career Center Professional Development

  • Resume/cover letter reviews and mock interview sessions
  • Job search strategies and social media branding
  • Graduate school application advising
  • Career interest surveys and career counseling

Writing Center Alumni Networking

  • Provide voluntary community service opportunities
  • Locate internships to strengthen professional development
  • Mentor tutors to help them identify and sell transferable skills
  • Review research presentation applications for national and regional conferences

Promoting Further Study

The WCCP pilot study does not seek to provide writing center administrators a concrete answer as to why undergraduate tutors are unemployed post graduation; rather, it provides insight as to how tutors see themselves as future professionals in the workplace. Research like the WCCP has never been implemented before. Knowing tutors’ perceptions of their workplace readiness in a quantitative form makes implementing career development interventions for an easier transition out of academia. Any continuation of the WCCP will generate growth in writing centers’ grassroots movement of professional development and workplace readiness. For more information or to obtain the survey tools associated with the Writing Center Consultant Project, please contact Emily Raffensberger by email at eraffens@gmail.com.

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Arranged Alphabetically

Article Response: 1 page double spaced, contain name and author of article, brief summary of main points, and a response relaying how the article made you think about tutoring practices.

Blog: Your 500-word posts will respond to the question/s listed on the schedule. When responding to a blog, be courteous and thorough.

Blog Presentation: No more than 5 minutes, informal presentation going over the highlights of what you’ve learned this semester, may be in any format…be creative

Debate: 2 sides; 1 show down. Are you for or against? There is no middle ground. This is ACADEMIA!

Fieldwork: General laundry list of things to do outside of class.

Final Essay: 2-3 page paper explaining why you think you’d make an excellent writing consultant (or…not). Include content from EVERYWHERE and EVERYTHING we’ve learned this semester to support your argument. Be creative, convincing, and concise

Final Oral Commentary: You will be supplied with the scenario of an unmotivated student who comes in with an assignment sheet for a literacy narrative and a laptop. The student is starting from scratch. You have 20 minutes to set goals and successfully tackle one of them. Sound easy? Here’s the catch. The student is one of the following:

  • Learning disabled
  • From Japan and only knows some conversational English
  • Wants to use the session to bash the professor
  • Experiencing writer’s block
  • A procrastinator—the paper is due the next day
  • A nontraditional student
  • Exhibits composition-phobia
  • Just wants the grammar checked, but there are serious flaws with organization

Jigsaw: Reading is assigned during class. A small group becomes an “expert” on one section, creates a visual aide, and presents information to the class.

Lecture Participation: Be actively involved; may be asked to take notes for the class, be able to summarize discussion and apply it to learning goals; use “I would” statements rather than “you should” when talking about best practices; admit when you don’t know something.

Literacy Narrative: Assignment posted on Blackboard.

Open Discussion Day: Topics you choose; discussions you want!

Oral Commentary: Practice the first five minutes of a tutoring session with a partner. Set goals for addressing a literacy narrative assignment for 5 minutes. Instructor and partner will assess your performance.

Panel Discussion: Work with 3-4 assigned group members; address the tutoring scenario of an unmotivated student by looking through the less the instructor provides; gather resources (those provided and researched) and post to blog prior to presenting. Form a cohesive, interactive, insightful 30 minute presentation. You will be assessing your partners’ participation and they yours. The class and the instructor will be assessing your panel as a whole.

Patchwork Quilt: Hands-on creative project involving markers, crayons, chalk, and construction paper (instead of patches)

Prezi: Kind of like a PowerPoint but awesomer (yes that is now a word). If you’ve never used this program, consult the “How To” video before asking me. Be sure to post to your blog!

Scenarios/Concerns: Scenarios consist of made-up tutoring situations; concerns will cover various topics as they arise from your tutoring observations/sessions; you will be graded by sticky notes—must have four sticky notes (signifying four worthwhile/meaningful contributions) to get full credit.

Speed Dating: Reading is done outside of class. Notes are typed and a hard copy brought. Small groups work together to combine knowledge and to create a “dating slogan” (i.e. a key idea from the assigned text). Individuals speedily mingle with members of the class.

Tutoring Reflections (Observation): must not refer to tutor or student by name, use “I would” statements, try to see where theory/philosophy comes into the session, total 250 words.

Tutoring Reflections (Self): same as above with the addition that you must assess your own strengths/weaknesses/concerns/comprehensions

Webcast: 3-5 minute video with voice over, text, pictures, music, etc. Spoken dialogue must equate to 500 words, which you will turn in. Be sure to post to your blog!

Written Commentary: You will be provided with a former student’s literacy narrative. Consider HOCs & LOCs as you comment on the word choice, style, content organization, clarity, and grammar. Assess whether this is an A, B, C, D, or F paper.

Schedule of Events, Rebellions, Mischief, and Mayhem

Date In-class Activity Homework Assignment
1/28/14 Introductions

Teaching philosophy

Syllabus

 

Longman Tutor Guide, Chapter 11 “Writing Centers: Historical and Theoretical Contexts”

Blog

  • Create blog on GoogleBlogger & share link with me.

 

  • Respond to the following:

What are your learning goals for this semester?

1/30/14 Lecture Participation

Longman Writing Center Guide, Chapter 2, Christina Murphy, “The Writing Center and Social Constructionist Theory”

Blog

What does it mean to teach writing?

2/4/14 Online class Blog

  • Choose 5 classmates
  • Respond to 2nd entry (100 words per classmate)
2/6/14 Jigsaw

Vygotsky (ZPD) and North (Idea of a writing center revisited)

Prezi

Compare/contrast Vygotsky & North

 

Read for Debate

Trimbur’s “Peer Tutoring: A contradiction in terms?” & prepare for debate next class

2/11/14 Trimbur Debate

Literacy Narrative assigned

Literacy Narrative Draft
2/13/14 Panel discussion assigned

Group work time to prepare

Literacy Narrative

Draft due NEXT class!

2/18/14 Turn in Literacy Narrative Draft

Peer response

Fieldwork

  • Make tutoring appointment for literacy narrative
  • Group prepare for panel discussion
  • Post materials on blog
2/20/14 Prepare for presentation & grade partners Fieldwork

Get literacy narrative tutored

Practice for presentation

 

Blog & Read

Peer response vs. Tutoring (support with Harris’s “Collaboration is not Collaboration is not Collaboration”)

2/25/14 Literacy Narrative Final Draft DUE

 

Discuss tutoring sessions

 

Panel Discussion

Build rapport & negotiate goals

Blog

Respond to panel OR reaction to teaching

 

Fieldwork

Arrange an observation time w/ mentor

2/27/14 Panel Discussion

Learning style & direct/minimalist

Blog

Respond to panel OR reaction to teaching

3/4/14 Scenarios/Concerns

Dos & Don’ts of Commenting Styles

 

HOCs & LOCs

Reflection

Observe a tutoring session

3/6/14 Scenarios/Concerns

Teaching Invention

Reflection

Observe a tutoring session

3/11/14 Scenarios/Concerns

Tutoring WAC: Tutoring in all Disciplines

 

Written Commentary assigned

Written Commentary

DUE next class 3/13

3/13/14 Scenarios/Concerns

What do you do with the first five minutes?

 

Oral Commentary assigned

Oral Commentary

DUE after Spring Break on 3/25

Spring Break: No class!

3/25/14 Oral commentary presentations & feedback Reflection

Observe a tutoring session

 

Article Response (bring hard copy)

  • 250 word response to assigned Bruffee sections
  • 250 word response to Inquiry-Based Research article
3/27/14 Speed Dating

Bruffee & Inquiry-Based Research

Reflection

Tutor with student for ½ session

Compare/contrast your style with mentor’s style

 

Blog

Writing Center-related curiosity explained using Inquiry-based Research format

4/1/14 Scenarios/concerns

Cultural diversity & belief systems

Blog

How do I react to new/uncomfortable situations?

4/3/14 Scenarios/concerns

Learning disabilities & emotional students & knowing your resources

 

GoogleForm Options

Blog

How can I accommodate my tutoring to meet a student’s needs?

 

Webcast

Create a 3-5 minute webcast resource.

Post to blog 4/15

4/8/14 “Hear it from the Pros” panel

Becoming a Professional

Fieldwork

Vote on GoogleForm

Choose 2 Writing Center Articles

4/10/14 Open Discussion Day Fieldwork

Draft 1st article response & take it to a writing consultant

 

Final Copy DUE 4/17

4/15/14 Webcast DUE

 

Scenarios/Concerns

ELL & Citation Styles & Grammar & Knowing Your Resources

Fieldwork

Draft 2st article response & take it to a writing consultant

 

Final Copy DUE 4/17

4/17/14 Patchwork Quilt

What is tutoring?

 

Final Drafts of Article Responses DUE

Reflection

Tutor for ½ session; record competencies/concerns

4/22/14 Lecture Participation

Negotiating power, privilege, and place within writing centers

Reflection

Tutor for 1 hour session; record competencies/concerns

4/24/14 Final Essay topic assigned

Brainstorming/Invention time with peers

DUE 5/13

 

Blog Presentation assigned

Due 5/13

 

Final Oral Commentary assigned

Sign up Schedule

Fieldwork

  • Check email for Final Oral Commentary individual scenario & schedule
  • Prepare for a 20 minute Oral Commentary/mock tutoring session with instructor
  • Schedule an appointment with writing consultant to review Final Essay Draft
4/29/14 Online Class Blog

  • Post Blog Presentation idea
  • Post Oral Commentary outline
  • Respond to ALL classmates with 100 word feedback response for BOTH assignments
5/1/14

FINAL ORAL COMMENTARY

(see emailed schedule for assigned time & date)

5/6/14
5/8/14
5/13/14 FINALS WEEK—Party Time!

Snacks and drinks will be provided; feel free to bring a treat to share

  • Blog Presentations
  • Final Essay Due
  • Create thank you cards for mentors

Thanks for a great class and all your hard work!

Writing Center Resources

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Writing Center

Writing Center Websites

Professional Articles: https://writinglabnewsletter.org/

Professional Articles: http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/index.php/praxis

Landmark Articles: http://writingcenterjournal.org/

  • Authors: Kenneth Bruffee, Muriel Harris, Stephen North, John Trimbur

The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project: http://www.writing.wisc.edu/pwtarp/

Writing Consultant Online Resources

OWL Resources: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/

OWL Resources: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/

OWL Resources: http://www.hamilton.edu/writing/writing-resources/writing-center-handouts

Chomp Chomp Youtube Videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/GrammarBytes/videos

Chomp Chomp Grammar website: http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm

DePaul Writing Center Tutoring Scenarios

Pedagogy Websites

Vygotsky: http://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html

Learning Styles: http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm

Learning Disabilities: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/what-are-learning-disabilities

ELL: http://bankstreet.edu/literacy-guide/english-language-learners/strategies-working-english-language-learners/strategies-tutors-attitude/

Writing Center Textbooks

The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring

The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors

Practicing Peer Review

The Longman Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice

  • Jeff Brook’s “Minimalist Tutoring: Making the student do all the work”
  • Thomas Newkirk’s “The First Five Minutes: Setting the agenda in a writing conference”
  • Judith Kilborn’s “Cultural Diversity in the Writing Center: Defining ourselves and our challenges”
  • Julie Neff’s “Learning Disabilities in the Writing Center”

Writing Resources

Title

Author

Teaching with Hacker Handbooks:

Topics, strategies, and lesson plans

Marcy Carbajal Van Horn

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves:

The zero tolerance approach to punctuation

Lynne Truss

They say; I say: The moves that matter in academic writing

2nd ed.

Gerald Graff &

Cathy Birkenstein

Woe is I

The grammarphobe’s guide to better English in Plain English

Patricia T. O’Conner

On Writing Well: The classic guide to writing nonfiction

25th ed.

William Zinsser

The Everyday Writer

Andrea Lunsford

Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and other die

Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Sample Syllabus

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Pedagogy

The greatest sign of a success for a [tutor] is to be able to say,

“The [writers] are now working as if I did not exist.”

~Maria Montessori

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you’re dead and rotten,

either do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading”

~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

Writing Consultant Training

Meets Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00-3:30

Instructor: Emily Raffensberger

Office Hours: Monday 11-12; Wednesday 11-12; Friday 11-12

Email: eraffens@gmail.com–>will respond between 8AM-9PM on weekdays; 9AM-5PM on weekends

Plagiarism Policy:

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarizing: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source.”

Plagiarism will NOT be tolerated. All sources must be documented in MLA citation style. Style guides can be found online at OWL Purdue and Dianahacker.com. Hard copy style guides are available for use in the writing center. Plagiarized material must be rewritten for partial credit.

Attendance Policy:

Attendance is required. Missing more than one week of class (two classes) without an excused absence will lower your grade by one letter grade. Unexcused late arrivals and early departures will count as partial absences. If you miss class, obtain notes and assignments from another student. Be responsible and exchange phone numbers and email addresses.

Course Objectives

Personal, academic, and professional development gained through
reading, writing, speaking, and thinking

Grading Scale

Assignment

Points

Percentages

Article Responses

45 (15 pts each)

13%

Blog Posts

10

3%

Final Oral Commentary

40

12%

Final Paper

40

12%

Literacy Narrative

20

6%

Oral Commentary

20

6%

Panel Discussion

45

13%

Participation

10

3%

Prezi

10

3%

Reflections

25 (5 pts each)

7%

Scenarios

45 (15 pts each)

13%

Webcast

10

3%

Written Commentary

20

6%

Total

340

100%