Posts Tagged ‘writing center’

Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition by James F. Slevin is expansive and is not intended for writing centers. However, the principles of writing curriculum play directly into the work writing centers. They serve as a guideline for a writing center’s objectives and reflect good pedagogy.

  • The writing curriculum should be built from the intellectual interests of faculty and students.
  • Faculty should be encourage and helped to take ownership of their own courses and the writing program.
  •  Writing programs enact, even epitomize–and do not simply prepare people for–the intellectual work of the university.
  •  Writing seminars entail assessment as part of their intellectual work; assessment should be integrated within and during, not outside and after, the intellectual work of the faculty and students.
  • Writing programs should help faculty develop a sense of responsibility not only for the teaching of writing but for the continuing study and review of its quality.

How do these principles relate to writing centers?

Tutors can act as consultants to survey interests of students. They can sit in on courses and offer suggestions to make the material more appealing to students. Tutors are not faculty; however, they can take part in research and assessment and mentoring. Writing center tutors act as third party readers or can role play a specific reader, which creates real-life writing scenarios. Tutors can constantly assess tutees with open-ended questions during the session about a variety of topics. Writing tutors can engage in meta-cognition by reflecting on their practices and how they grow as writers.

Writing curriculum principles and writing centers have something in common: collaboration through social constructivist theory

Teamwork makes the Dream work

Both essays discussed are from Intersections: Theory-Practice in the Writing Center edited by Joan A. Mullin and Ray Wallace

In Gillam’s essay “Collaborative Learning Theory and Peer Tutoring Practice” the dynamic of tutoring seems to just…work. There’s the whole social constructionist thing going on. Students are actively engaged. Learning becomes outward instead of inward. Writing becomes dialogic and forms part of a larger discourse. The tutoring relationship breaks the barrier of communication because tutor and tutee share the same status: both are students. Both are constantly learning new approaches towards writing.

Abascale-Hildebrand’s “Tutor and Student Relations: Applying Gadamer’s Notions of Translation” describes a more complex process. Tutoring starts off as reflective where

“Each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Which leads to a translative approach where learning and writing work together so students and tutors can make new judgement about the writing process. The beginning of the session relies on a lot of information seeking. The language focuses around the assignment then to academic voice and then to writing (style, tone, organization, etc). Abascale-Hildebrand is very clear that tutoring sessions are not based on “models, methods, or templates” but on “relationships, interpretations, and translations.”

At the core of both of these essays is collaboration. The tutee gains writing skills. The tutor (from what I’ve seen in the research) gets one or all of the following.

I became a better writer. 
I picked up better strategies for beginning and ending essays. I found techniques for identifying writing quirks, including my own. (example: I tend to use “that” a lot). I became better at finding a focused thesis in a garbled first draft. I figured out how to eloquently defend my thesis as well.

I became a better listener.
I could relate to indecipherable chicken scratch professors left all over the page. I knew the stressors of college and how hard it was to find ample time and a quiet space to write. I  got writer’s block and had trouble identifying what exactly needed to be said and how to say it.

I became a better teacher.
I was exposed to confusing assignment instructions and vowed to never to create such horrible prompts. I heard all the tales of woe about unfair grading, boring lectures, assigned busy work, and ineffective research practices. I saw how to push students to be their best. I learned how to encourage them when they were insecure. I saw them come back again and again for advice. I taught them even thought they didn’t need as much help as they thought they did.

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Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing by James Thomas Zebrosk; Chapter 6: A Vygotskian Theory of Writing

I first encountered Vygotsky’s theory of collaborative learning in and educational psychology class at York College. The basis of his theory is founded on the Zone of Proximal Development. It’s easier to show you than explain it.

Pretty much tutoring in a nutshell, right? I was browsing through the stacks at Towson Library and came across this book.

Chapter 6 outlines the ways writing works on different levels. From the looks of it, writing and tutoring are meant for each other like peanut butter and jelly.

  1. Social relation: leads to individual cognition and creates group processes–>writing is collaborative
  2. Developmental: progressive growth, building upon stages–>reflection is necessary in the writing process
  3. Inner speech: used in problem-solving context, may be related to writer’s block–>gets an outlet through brainstorming
  4. Dialogue: language is changing, need constant practice–>connects the inner world with the outer world

Now I’m not a huge fan of theory and prefer praxis instead, but these concepts I can handle. I can’t resist wondering how these levels come into play when two people sit down to revise, say a persuasive piece on why adults should exercise more.

Scenario:
Both tutor and tutee are interested in the topic. The tutee is pursuing a degree in nursing and includes many statistics and jargon in the draft. The tutor’s mom is suffering from heart problems because of her obesity. Both are emotionally invested in the paper. The tutee wants a good grade; the tutor wants the tutee to succeed.  The tutee expresses he has difficulty coming up with strong conclusions and didn’t write one yet.  

Social relation

  • Collaboration between the two incorporates logos and pathos into the paper but retains the tutee’s original thought processes and arguments. 

Developmental

  • The tutor and the tutee work together to define the jargon in the paper. To break up the statistics, the tutor helps the tutee to develop vivid examples and correlations.

Inner speech

  • The tutor asks the tutee to verbally explain the paper in about 2 minutes. While the tutee speaks, the tutor takes notes. There are several similes mentioned. The tutee counts on his fingers when identifying main points.

Dialogue

  • The tutor allows the tutee to use the notes to write a conclusion paragraph. As the tutee writes, he asks the tutee about how to start. The tutor provides several sentence stems for summarizing. The tutee picks the one he thinks is the best fit and begins writing.In the final product, the tutee includes the similes he talked about and introduces sentences with first, second, third.

Incredible. Zone of Proximal Development. Collaborative Writing Theory. All working together. So cool.

A Short Course in Writing by Kenneth Bruffee, p. 208-213

This section of the book was directed towards writing center directors and focused on the idea that “students can often teach each other things which resist assimilation through the direct instruction of the teacher.” It also highlights the benefits that tutoring provides to the tutee: personalized education and improved writing skills. In addition to this brief discussion, there is an outline of possible sample essays for tutors in training to use to practice critiquing one another in a safe zone. A recommended syllabus is listed, but it is meant more for classroom peer tutoring because it focuses on specific subject areas. This book was printed in 1980, and pedagogy has changed. Parts of this section of the book are still relevant but need a little modern-day tweaking to be usable.

There was another section featuring example essays from tutors that caught my eye on page 174. I found this section more valuable because it made me consider the give and take, back and forth discourse that happens during a tutoring session. There’s a lot of learning experience to be had in a tutoring session. Learning to work with someone is one skill not often thought of. Objectivity when critiquing writing and conscientiousness about word choice and tone are more obvious skills.

I have to consider the lessons that have stuck with me from my tutoring experience, and the biggest one has to be tactics for approaching challenges.

  1. Professionalism
    Oftentimes I was asked to edit my peers papers, which was against the writing center’s policy. It was also against my personal philosophy to correct a paper. I preferred to look at the HOC’s (organization, style, word choice). I had to tactfully explain what I could and couldn’t do for the tutee but still retain rapport so the student would return. Tact went hand in hand with professionalism, which was required when a tutee suffered from a severe case of procrastination (one of my biggest pet peeves). I’d have to calmly explain I was limited in time and couldn’t help a panicked tutee bang out 15 pages in a 1 hour session 3 hours before a class started. Oh, and the paper was assigned 2 months prior. Usually it was a freshman daunted by the idea of researching and put the assignment off. Professionalism was giving the tutee a reassuring smile, say “We can do this,” and come up with a game plan. I’d then let the tutee know that the next time around to come to the writing center. A tutor is there to help whether it be time management issues or writing woes.
  2. Organization
    One of my favorite tricks I came up with to edit for organization was to “football it.” One semester, a friend of mine came into the writing center to see me about several papers. A law school application and a history seminar paper were the two big projects he needed help with. When he read his writing aloud he recognized there was no structural coherence. As a result, his insightful arguments spiraled into tangents. The problem was his though process. He couldn’t figure out transitions to link them, and he struggled with grouping similar concepts. We tried reverse outlining (making an outline after the paper is written) which didn’t help. The next trick was to have my friend read a paragraph, summarize it, list the topic on a separate piece of paper, and then repeat the process. We ended up with a series of disjointed concepts. To “football it” we drew arrows between the topics to link similar ideas–resulting in a document that looked like a page out of a football playbook. Breaking down the task of editing for organization became simpler and more fun. To this day, I use the same process for organizing my errands, my homework, finances, short term goals, long term goals…pretty much my whole life.
  3. Perseverance
    My favorite words in a tutoring session were “I can’t.” It was the signal of a severe writing block. Getting tutees to talk out their ideas usually cured this. They’d dictate to me, and I’d scribble furiously for five minutes. We’d look at the swirl of words. Maybe we’d draw lines and arrows. Maybe we’d use highlighters. Maybe we’d talk some more about how the ideas were part of a larger puzzle. None of this was easy. Most times trying to find the core of what my tutee wanted to say was like trying to chip away at a huge boulder to get at a diamond.
  4. Knowing what you’re good at…and what you’re not good at
    Tutoring can be a huge ego boost and it can also show you where you need to improve.
    Weaknesses: Most times I talk too fast and don’t allow people enough time to respond. I can be too directive, so I opt for a minimalist tutoring style.
    Strengths: I’m strong in doing research and finding appropriate word choice. I’m able to motivate the reluctant writers with humor, open questioning, and reassurance.

Visualizing Writing Centers
I began with the visualization that writing centers of what writing centers are not. Writing centers are not a remediation center. They are not a grammar fix-it shop or a paper-writing service. Then my view shifted to what writing centers are. Writing centers are on display. They are bursting with lively discussions about writing. They are havens for communities of writers. They are also wild and Bohemian, springing up and taking shape wherever they are needed. Elizabeth Boquet describes this liberating space as being “noisy” because of the improvisation that occurs within the discourse and the writing produced. Writing centers’ freeing spirit is tempered by Vygotsky and Bruffee. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development provides order to the complex task of learning to write. Scaffolding is key to this form of instruction because it makes thinking and problem-solving visible. Writing becomes dialogic and outward, and according to Abascale-Hildebrand “each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Community of Practice vs. Affinity Space
By filling in where the student exhibits gaps, the tutor welcomes him into the social construct Bruffee describes as “a community of knowledgeable peers.” Within this community, praxis occurs and theory develops. Just as the tutee belongs to a community of writers, the tutor also belongs to an “community of practice,” a term discussed in Jean Lave’s and Etienne Wenger’s book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. James P. Gee prefers the term “affinity space” because it does not imply cohesion or hierarchy. While “affinity space” applies to writing centers as a whole, “community of practice” is better suited when referring to just tutors. Tutors are ranked by years of experience; they interact on a daily basis; they share a passion for their role in the writing process, and they reflect on their practices in pursuit of becoming experts.

Writing Tutors Practitioners
I advocate for the use of “writing practitioners” who contribute to writing center discourse. As defined in “Mapping Knowledge-making in Writing Center Research: A Taxonomy of Methodology”, practitioners constantly move between practice and theory, reflect and problem-solve, and gain self-knowledge from the experience. Joining in the conversation allows for the growth of the tutor as a researcher, practitioner, and member of the practicing community.”Problems of Practice: An Inquiry Stance toward Writing Center Work” acknowledges tutors as being potential pilots who could direct revisions in assessment or in tutor training. The inquiry stance approach relies on open-ended question posing, collaborative conversations, and purposeful resources. Guided by this approach, tutors are perfect candidates to play within the world of writing center theory as discussed in “Creating Theory: Moving Tutors to the Center”. They can complicate an existing theory, contribute to an existing theory, or create a new theory.

Writing Practitioners’ Roles

  1. Consultants to survey students’ interests
  2. Researchers, assessors, mentors
  3. Third-party readers
  4. Engage students’ meta-cognition about writing process

660px-Blooms_rose.svg

 

Tutoring Approach

A non-directive tutoring approach helps a student improve his writing skills than a directive tutoring approach. A tutor who uses a directive approach establishes himself as a credible resource by clearly stating how to fix the flaws in a paper, but this approach rarely provides the student with a method to tackle the next paper. A directive approach often generates a sense of dependency between the tutor and the student, which creates problems regarding academic honesty.

Tutoring sessions using a non-directive approach (also known as the minimalist approach) can be time-consuming and challenging since the success of this approach mainly focuses on a grueling question-and-answer session. Because the success of this approach also relies heavily on the student developing her writing skills while simultaneously improving her writing, the student is often frustrated and leaves the session without a feeling of closure. With these facts in mind, a non-directive approach is certainly more difficult than that of a directive approach. However, the former approach is more rewarding because it transforms a struggling writer into an independent one. The rapport and conversations between tutor and student in such a session revolve around changing a dependent, frustrated, or unmotivated writer into a more confident writer who demonstrates an improvement in his writing skills.

Since a non-directive approach is more effective, questions should be a priority in the session. Questions asked by peer writing tutors during a tutoring session are multipurpose. According to Hunkins (1989) in Teaching Thinking through Effective Questioning, questions develop problem-solving strategies, and they trigger reflective thinking. They motivate a student to participate, and they focus a student’s attention. An exchange of questions and answers can build rapport when the tutor incorporates the student’s response to elaborate a point or further the line of inquiry because the reaction validates his contribution (Hunkins, 1989, p. 214).

Tutoring Questions

The questions posed during a tutoring session should result in what Bruffee (1984) calls a “kind of social context in which normal discourse occurs: a community of knowledgeable peers” so student writing appears natural and unencumbered (p. 644). Boquet’s Noise from the Writing Center (2002) proposes a potential structure for a tutoring session that contains spontaneous, innovative energy but still addresses the paper’s structure:

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).

Yet questions in tutoring sessions should not be arbitrary or haphazard. Questions move a student from lower-level thinking to higher-level thinking. Questions have two purposes: to lead and to probe. To establish when these types of questions should be asked, clear learning objectives must be established early in a tutoring session. Objectives personalize writing strategies and confirm that a student’s needs and concerns are met while also addressing a teacher’s objectives (Gillespie and Learner, 2008; Harris, 1992; Ryan and Zimmerelli, 2010).

Tutors who use leading questions guide the student’s answer by suggesting how to respond to a question. The result is a directive statement disguised as a question, and it is dichotomous, invoking either a yes or a no response (Harris, 1986, p. 65). However, leading questions do have merit in tutoring sessions. They seek to find out the student’s prior knowledge; they test whether the student understands the concrete, and they build upon the student’s existing foundations (Fredricks, 2010; Ross, 1998).

Probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage of a tutoring session are more diverse in nature. They ask for a rationale behind student reasoning, which prompts the student to do a multitude of tasks. These include any one of the following: define an audience, develop supporting details, explain a process, summarize the paper, reevaluate an answer, or find appropriate applications based on prior knowledge (Chuska, 2003; Gillespie and Learner 2008; Hunkins, 1989; Ross, 1998). According to Duke (1975) and Hunkins (1989), probing questions also help the tutor determine objectives and build rapport. Harris (1992) confirms this and adds that probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage help the tutor negotiate, multi-task, or chunk the session to meet the student’s needs and concerns (p. 278).

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Center

Knowing what approach to take and which questions to ask can improve the tutoring session immensely. One methodology that accomplishes this goal is the long-established Bloom’s Taxonomy, which was designed in 1956. The Taxonomy was not intended for tutoring purposes; however, it does serve as a cumulative hierarchy to engage the student in lower-level thinking prior to higher-level thinking (Benson, Sporakowski, and Stremmel, 1992; Granello, 2001). To achieve this, Bloom’s Taxonomy classifies knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as the six domains of cognitive processing, and each category is broken into clearly defined subcategories that develop learning objectives that are feasible and measurable (Bloom, 1982, p. 18).

Sources

Benson, M. J., Sporakowsk, M. J., and Stremmel, A. J. (1992). Writing reviews of family literature: Guiding students using Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives. Family Relations. 41(1), 65-69.

Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1982). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Boquet, E. H. (2002). Noise from the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Bruffee, K. (1984). Peer tutoring and the “conversation of mankind.” College English. 15(7), 635-652.

Chuska, K. R. (2003). Motivation, participation, and higher-level thinking. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Duke, C. R. (1975). The student-centered conference and the writing process. National Council of Teachers of English. 64(9), 44-47.

Fredricks, A. D. (2010). The teacher’s handbook: Strategies for success. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education/ Lanham MD 2010.

Gillespie, P., & Learner, N. (2008). The Longman guide to peer tutoring. New York: Pearson-Longman.

Granello, D. H. (2001). Promoting cognitive complexity in graduate written work: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a pedagogical tool to improve literature reviews. Counselor Education & Supervision. 40, 292-307.

Hunkins, F. P. (1989). Teaching thinking through effective questioning. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Harris, M. (1986). Teaching one-to-one: The writing conference. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Harris, M. (1992). Collaboration is not collaboration is not collaboration: Writing center tutorials vs. peer response groups. College Composition and Communication. 43(3), 369-383.

Ross. E. P. (1998). Pathways to thinking: Strategies for developing independent learners K-8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

What would you do if…

  1. A student tells you that he or she has given up and is dropping a class.
  2. The student is writing a 15-page research paper at the last minute.
  3. You’re reading a paper about a topic you ethically disagree with.
  4. The student seems anxious about being critiqued or is unsure of her writing abilities.
  5. A few minutes have gone by, and neither you or your student have said a work. The silence is getting awkward.
  6. A student has begun to go past the allotted session time, and you have another student who has already arrived for his/her session.
  7. Two engineering students are co-writing a paper, but only one of the students shows up to the session.
  8. The student has not made an appointment but demands to be seen immediately.
  9. The student says, “I don’t see why I have to learn this subject/do this assignment.”
  10. A student wants detailed information on a campus-related issue during your session that is not related to her paper.
  11. A student needs to print his schedule now and has been sent to the Writing Center, which does not allow students to print (unless it is a paper for the session). When he arrives, he is loud, angry, and late for an appointment.
  12. You have down time between sessions.
  13. The student says, “Can you check my grammar and/or punctuation?”
  14. During the session, the student begins badmouthing the instructor.
  15. The student says, “I don’t think my main point is clear.”
  16. You’ve met with a student several times during the semester. The student confesses he has stopped going to class because “you explain it better.”
  17. The student says, “My paper doesn’t flow, and my professor says I need to connect everything together.”
  18. The student talks about personal problems instead of school work.
  19. The student says, “My paper is all over the place.”
  20. You and the student have been working together for almost an hour, and the Writing Center is about to close. The student asks if the two of you could go to the library to work.
  21. The student says, “I just can’t get it. I study all time. I don’t know what to do.”
  22. The student is overwhelmed by other concerns.
  23. You’ve worked through your discomfort about the student’s disability, but you still don’t feel that you are able to help the student learn the material effectively.
  24. The student says, “I don’t think I have enough information in this paper.”
  25. The student is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to be around.
  26. The student says, “I don’t know how to get my ideas into writing.”
  27. The student wants you do to all the work/write the paper for him.
  28. The student shows up consistently late or is a repeated no-show.
  29. An adult student makes an appointment per suggestion of his psychology professor. He is not majoring in psychology and feel that the class and this suggestion of tutoring is a waste of time. The student wants a good grade, but he is not open to the idea of tutoring. He obviously needs help, and you would like to see him return to the Writing Center.
  30. The student says, “I don’t have any idea what to write about.”
  31. The student asks you a question you don’t know the answer to.
  32. A first year student is sent to the Writing Center by his advisor after he got a mid-semester grade warning in two of his classes–one of them being a developmental English class. He got a B average in high school English. He doesn’t see why he was placed in the developmental English class; why he is failing, and how the writing center can help him. He knows everything about writing, or so he says.
  33. The student says, “I don’t understand my assignment.”
  34. A student who speaks both Arabic and English comes into the writing center at the suggestion of her English composition teacher. The student is an engineering major who thinks she knows enough English and that formally studying English is “stupid” because she doesn’t need it at this level. She has obvious ESL issues in her writing.
  35. The student writing a creative nonfiction paper says, “My paper is not creative, and I need more descriptive language.”
  36. The student brings in a take-home exam and wants your help.
  37. A student wants two hours of tutoring per week. You have been working with four students who are in the same class. You find that you are repeating yourself four times and that you are running short on time.
  38. One of your students tells you he has been openly ridiculed in class by the professor.
  39. Your student just wants you to fill out a memo stating that he/she has been to writing center for extra credit.
  40. The student thanks you for your help and compliments you on your tutoring abilities.

Refer to these videos for more role-playing scenarios

WCCP: Demographics 

Age

Experience

Gender

Training

Major/Minor

Graduation

21

5

Female

No

Biology/Spanish

Spring 2014

21

5

Female

Yes

Mathematics

Spring 2014

22

7

Female

Yes

Secondary English Education/Special Education

Spring 2015

21

3

Female

Yes

Communication Arts with Journalism & Public Relations Focus/ English and Marketing Management

Spring 2014

24

2

Female

Yes

Secondary English Education

Spring 2015

20

2

Female

Yes

Professional Writing

Spring 2015

21

2

Female

Yes

Secondary English Education

Fall 2014

21

2

Female

No

International Studies and Economics

Fall 2014

19

1

Female

Yes

Professional Writing/ Creative Writing and Music

Spring 2016

21

3

Female

No

Secondary English Education

Spring 2014

20

3

Female

No

Nursing

Spring 2015

22

2

Male

Yes

Professional Writing

Fall 2013

21

3

Female

No

Secondary English Education

Spring 2015

20

3

Female

No

Mass Communication with Public Relations and Advertising Focus

Spring 2014

21

3

Female

Yes

English and Film Studies

Spring 2014

Average:

21 years old

Mode:

3 semesters

Mode:
Female

5 no

10 yes

1st: Secondary Education English
2nd: Professional Writing/English

3rd Communication

Mode:

Spring 2014

 

Writing Consultants’ Future Career Plans Writing Consultants’ Future Graduate School Plans
7 teaching public school/college English or writing 3 professional writing or rhetoric & composition
4 international/public relations; non-profit event planning 2 college or public education
2 film criticism or publishing/editing
2 nursing or optometry

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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