THEORY TO PRACTICE ESSAYS

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A View of Both Sides: The Individual and Group Tutoring Session
Rhonda L. Bach

To the benefitPeer tutoring is an experience that benefits both college students and tutors. Each session provides educational value and experience. Students entering the Writing Center enjoy quality instruction from the tutor and the tutors acquire skills that enhance their abilities. Individual sessions are conducted on an appointment or walk-in basis. Students receive personalized instruction from a tutor usually based on a particular assignment. While most tutoring sessions are dyadic (tutor and student) and address a student's specific need, there are also instances when tutors might lead group sessions. Group sessions occur in the review of collaborative work, but most often occur in the form of mini-sessions and workshops. Students wishing to attend a group session sign up for a discussion on a topic, such as essay writing or research papers. While both types of tutoring sessions are beneficial, differences exist in the structure of the tutoring sessions, the methods of communication, and level of student participation. of individual and group tutoring sessions, tutors receive training in structuring meetings around the writing needs of the students. Tutors focus on presenting methods, strategies, and resources to improve writing skills. However, at the beginning of the individualized session, tutoring is unstructured. Students make appointments or walk into the Writing Center for instruction from a tutor. While the tutor will know the name, time, and class of the student with the appointment, the tutor, just as with the walk-in student, does not know the nature of the appointment. The student may need assistance with pre-writing strategies, revision, or editing. Only after assessing the needs of the student can the tutor focus instruction and organize paperwork, as in the writing of an evaluation sheet and supplying appropriate handouts. Dot Stacy, an experienced tutor who enjoys the spontaneity of individual sessions, also conducts mini-sessions held at Monroe County Community College. She contends that group sessions need structure to be effective. As sign up sheets indicate, the MCCC Writing Center mini-sessions are one hour in length. Because time is precious, the method of instruction, timing of the delivery, and preparation of paperwork must be organized before the session begins. I have found this to be true while preparing to meet with my assigned class, who do collaborative work on reports. Two days before the conference the groups turn in their rough drafts for me to look over, prepare notes, and organize forms and handouts. By preparing ahead of time for the group conference, precious time is not lost.

Also precious is the communication between the tutor and the students, both in individual and group sessions. Individual tutoring allows for direct conversation between the tutor and the student. The tutor initializes a casual rapport to set the student at ease and avoid misconceptions about tutor authority. This one-on-one instruction allows the tutor to structure the session around the learning style of the student. As The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors indicates, some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, while still others are kinesthetic or hands on learners. Therefore, the tutor needs to understand and adapt to the various learning styles of each student (46). With group sessions, the individual styles of students are not a part of the tutorial. The dynamics of the sessions change. Instead of the focusing on the individual needs of a student, the session is aimed towards “the general needs of the group” (“Group,” par 1). The camaraderie between the tutor and student diminishes as the tutor comes closer to the role of instructor. While tutoring a small group, I have noticed that communication is one-sided. I am talking; they are listening. The negative aspect is that the student begins to see the tutor as an authority figure. However, when I explain how the group can make improvements in their writing and answer questions, the positive aspect is that the students communicate among themselves, processing the information. Nevertheless, student understanding is always the goal of the tutor, whether accomplished in individual or group sessions.

This leads us into the level of student participation in individual and group sessions. Tutors encourage students to participate heavily in the individual session. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors offers tutoring strategies to encourage student participation, and recommends that students do the majority of the talking. Tutors practice the strategies of active listening, facilitating, and silence and wait time—all to keep the student active in the session. By mirroring, asking open-ended questions, queuing the student with attentive body language, and allowing the student time to answer questions, the tutor organizes the session around the student (16). While I interject with suggestions, students ultimately find some of their own answers to the problems within their writing. In a mini-session, group participation is welcomed during question and answer periods, but disruptive during a tutorial. Tutors need to cover material in a timely manner. The Writing Center tips for writing a research paper alone, numbers seventeen and can cover one side of a handout. This method of tutoring (group session) reaches a larger number of students at one time, but also resembles the setting of an instructor working with students. However, Stacy and I believe that participation in group sessions can be encouraged by conducting workshops. Workshops involve groups in structured mock writing activities. With this method, students learn from the tutor in the beginning of the session and then from each other by working within the group. Allowing students to participate and learn from trial and error is an efficient method of instruction when a tutor is present for questions.

As previously discussed, tutoring benefits both tutors and students, whether it is done on an individual basis or in a group session. While the individual session is unstructured at first, it is effective in meeting the needs of the individual; however, group sessions are structured through detailed planning with a focus on communicating material in a timely manner. In individual sessions, communication directly establishes a connection between the tutor and the student, whereas group sessions resemble the role of instructor addressing students. However, group sessions can increase communication within the group and aid in the understanding of the material covered. This creates a level of participation that is usually considered more prominent in individual sessions. Tutors receive instruction that encourages students to take a dominant role in the one-on-one session. However, participation may be limited during mini-sessions when time limitations are considered. A solution might be found in conducting workshops, combining both tutoring instruction with group participation. Even with the varying degrees of structure, communication, and participation of individual and group tutoring sessions, both the students and the tutors are rewarded with knowledge.

Works Cited

“Group Tutoring.” Canadian Association of Student Activity Advisors. 17 Dec. 2000<http://www.taft.cc.ca.us/Irc/      class/classes/group.htm>.

Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: St. Martin's, 1998.

Stacy, Dot. Telephone interview. 16 Dec. 2000.

 

 

Active Listening: Achieving a Better Understanding
Erin Beville


Active listening involves the full attention of the listener and calls for that person to become involved in what the speaker is saying. Successfully applied to a tutoring session, active listening helps the tutor achieve a better understanding of the person's problems, concerns, and questions. This makes active listening an essential part of the tutoring process. In active-listening tutoring, the tutor takes on the role of listener and the tutee becomes the speaker. Tutors avoid becoming the speaker so that tutees can arrive at conclusions and solve problems on their own, with guidance from the tutor. One can listen actively by being interested in what the person is saying and by asking questions. Paying attention to facial and hand gestures used while the person is talking is extremely important since such things can carry an unspoken message. Active listening requires a person to stop, look, listen, and respond (“Classroom” par. 1).

Paying attention lets the speaker know one is listening and that what they are saying is important to the listener (“Classroom” par. 2). Good listeners stop everything else they are doing in order to listen to the speaker. The speaker must be able to see and realize that he or she has the listener's undivided attention. The listener should also look at the speaker while he or she is talking, and make eye contact by facing the person directly. A pleasant facial expression on the listener's part makes a person more likely to share his or her feelings and concerns. In addition, the listener should watch for the speaker's facial expressions, as well as body language. This may help the listener to better understand what the speaker is saying. Listeners must focus attention on what a person is saying. Paying attention to tone of voice and choice of words helps the listener to see beyond just the words the speaker is using (“Classroom”). A tutee is more likely to participate if he or she can see that the tutor is interested or excited about the tutoring session.

According to Rex Campbell, professor of Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri, “Listening involves hearing, sensing, interpretation, evaluation and response” (par. 1). The listener responds actively after he or she stops, looks, and listens. This is an essential part of the process because it lets the speaker know that the listener is trying to understand what he or she is saying. This will let both of them know if the listener actually is listening and understanding. Active listeners paraphrase what they have heard to see if this is what the speaker really meant and to confirm that they understood them. The good listener asks questions that may lead the speaker to his or her own solution or to check for understanding. This is essential in tutoring since the goal is for the tutees to learn for themselves (“Classroom” par. 1). It is inevitable that misunderstandings can arise in the tutoring process and active listening can avoid these. If the listener does not understand, the speaker can clarify the real meaning. The listener acknowledges feelings he or she has picked up so that the speaker feels heard and understood, encourages the person to convey interest, and keeps them talking. Good listeners do not agree or disagree by using noncommittal words with positive tone of voice. According to Poynter.org, these include “I see,” “Uh-huh,” and “That's interesting.” Listeners restate to show that they are listening and understand and to let the person know how they understood what the speaker said. Listeners also restate the person's basic ideas, with emphasis on the facts. Poynter.org states these as, “If I understand, your idea is,” and “In other words, this is your decision.” A good listener reflects to show that they are listening and understanding the speaker's feelings. This includes restating the person's basic feelings by using phrases such as “You feel that,” and “You were pretty disturbed by this.” Listeners restate, reflect, and summarize major ideas and feelings to pull important ideas, facts, and the like together; establish a basis for further discussion; and to review progress. Phrases such as “These seem to be the key ideas you have expressed,” and “If I understand you, you feel this way about the situation” will facilitate this step (“Techniques”). Restating can be especially useful when tutees have problems with their professors. Instead of joining in and agreeing with them, letting students know we understand what they are saying and that we are listening can cool them down and let the tutoring process continue.

When a tutee reads his or her paper aloud or if the tutor reads it aloud, the tutor should stop when he or she thinks he or she has misunderstood. This should also be done just to make sure the listener understands what the tutee means by certain things and to let the tutee know the listener understands. If the tutor does not understand something, it is possible that the instructor will not either. The tutor does not just sit while the tutee reads the paper and does not let the tutee be inactive if the tutor reads it aloud. Both parties should be active at all times during the tutoring process. Paraphrasing is useful in this situation, on either the tutee or tutor's part. This process is more constructive when the tutee reads the paper.

The listener's own feelings and opinions may cloud perception of what the person is saying and the listener needs to be aware of this. If necessary to voice opinion, the listener does so only after having listened and understood (“Tipsheet”). It is important to be non-biased and focus on the writing and what the person says, not what the paper says. Opinions are usually irrelevant, but are sometimes necessary if the tutee needs to address the other side of an issue in a paper.

Active listening shows concern and interest in the speaker, finds better information about the speaker or the situation, encourages further communication, and improves relationships. According to Matt Kramer, it also finds “better cooperation and problem solving from people who feel they are misunderstood,” “calms people down and cools `hot' situations, ” and encourages others to listen. Active listening leads to a better memory of verbal information through responding and restating things. This is especially true if the person is an auditory learner. When one is able to explain something in one's own words, it helps to better retain the information. Kramer also states that, “I understand what you are saying,” “I hear what you are saying,” “I am interested and concerned,” “I accept you as a person,” “I respect your thoughts,” or “I am not trying to change or evaluate you” should be understood by the speaker either directly or indirectly. As an essential part of daily life, active listening can improve self-esteem, help achieve understanding, and help to avoid problems. Tutoring improves the skills of active listening for both the tutor and tutee. By example, a tutor can teach a tutee that active listening improves communication, avoids misunderstandings, and improves relationships. An active listener retains skills for a happy life and improves the self-esteem of the speaker.

Works Cited

Campbell, Rex. Leadership: Getting It Done. Ch. 6. University of Missouri. 6 Jan. 2001. <http://www.ssu.missouri.edu/      faculty/rcampbell/Leadership/default.htm>.

“Classroom Management Concepts: Active Listening.” Best Practices Portfolio. Office of School Readiness. Department of Early      Childhood Education, Georgia State University. 6 Jan. 2001. <http://www.osr.state.ga.us/bestprac/class/cm-3.htm>.

Kramer, Matt. What is Active Listening? Home page. 6 Jan. 2001. <http://www.mattkramer.com/pages/listening.html>.

“Techniques, Active Listening.” Poynter.org. Path: Home; Doing Journalism; Resource Center; Leadership & Management;
      Active Listening Techniques. 6 Jan. 2001. <http://www.poynter.org/research/lm/lm_listen2.htm>.

“Tipsheet, Active Listening.” Owensboro Community College Homepage. Teaching and Learning Center. 6 Jan. 2001.      <http://owecc.net/lad/new_page_10.htm>.

 

 

 

 

Friend or Foe?
Ashley Bradford


Tutoring is not something that is easily accomplished, no matter how well one might grasp the subject he or she is tutoring. Tutoring is the art of building a sense of trust within a matter of moments and then relying on that trust to transmit a message to a tutee. The sense of trust is the foundation of the session that needs to be established somewhat quickly. The entirety of this trust is based on the attitude of the session—whether friendly or professional. The tutee, whose senses are on full alert, especially if it is his or her first visit to the Writing Center, can sense what the tutor is feeling. If a tutor is friendly and outgoing, a tutee is bound to feel comfortable and open. If a tutor is stuck-up or seemingly bored, a tutee is bound to withdraw and wish to be anywhere other than in the session. Dr. William Glasser, an anthropology professor at LA Pierce College in California says, “it takes only three or four minutes . . . to form a positive or negative first impression” (par 1). While a friendly or a professional attitude do not necessarily accomplish much for either the tutor or the tutee, mixing the attitudes together, giving just the right doses of each, provides an amiable working atmosphere. To improve my own tutoring sessions, I experimented with the friendly versus professional attitude theory, using a strictly friendly attitude toward a tutee and then a strictly professional attitude toward another tutee, and compared and contrasted my findings.

Sometimes when a student comes to the Writing Center, his or her first thoughts may be that of insubordination or apathy. When I approached the first tutee, a young woman named Melissa, with a friendly attitude, it immediately relaxed her. We carried a light conversation, with a few comments worked in about the paper she needed help with before actually sitting down to begin the session. It was easy to review her paper, and Melissa did not seem threatened when asked to read her paper aloud or to answer questions about certain parts. When a structural problem did occur within the paper, she was comfortable with my suggestions and helpful hints. By the end of the session, it was not a tutor and a tutee but two friends reviewing a paper.

Keeping in mind some students' reactions to his or her first Writing Center appointment, I was careful when I approached my next tutee. When I approached the next tutee, a young man named Kevin, using a strictly professional attitude; he was not as receptive as Melissa. Though I did smile when I greeted him, it was not exactly a smile meant for comfort; rather it was one of civic duty. Kevin and I carried on a light conversation as I led the way to the table, making sure that he sat down before I did. As we reviewed his paper, I made small notes about mistakes that Kevin had made. I provided him with suggestions for finding those mistakes and then some helpful hints to avoid them in the future. His acceptance was strained, and I realized my professionalism was putting a wall up between tutor and tutee. Kevin was mentally withdrawing from the session to a place where he was not sitting across the table from a smug professional snob.

When Melissa made a follow-up appointment with me, I treated her much as I did during the first session. I made the paper more the center of conversation, though, and she was quick to follow. What I found during this session was that Melissa considered my services to be that of writing a paper, rather than helping with the course of writing a paper. When I urged her to try thinking of ways to revise her paper herself, her reply was for me to just do it for her, that it really would not matter if I wrote parts for her. What I had accomplished with my overly friendly manner with Melissa was that she thought I would bend the rules for just her, and no one would have to know. It was then that I ended the experiment, deflating her balloon of self-righteousness, and insisted on her doing her own work. I had inadvertently created an atmosphere where I could be taken advantage of and taken for granted, with my friendly manner. By being so friendly, I gave the impression that tutoring sessions were not serious but laid-back alternates for students writing their own papers.

When Kevin made a follow-up appointment with me, he was even more reluctant to listen to me, regardless of my smile. I approached the session as I would a job, filling out paperwork and asking all the appropriate questions. Kevin was the client, and I was the boss. When I reviewed his paper, he told me just to correct whatever was wrong so he could leave. By informing him that I was there to help him, not to correct him, he ignored me and slouched deeper into his chair. The expression of `I have to be here' crossed his face numerous times, making the session seem overly long. I was the only one talking, and I realized that he viewed my suggestions as criticism. Nichole Bradford stated during an interview “he was probably resentful that you felt you would treat him like that . . .” Kevin saw himself as the inferior student and me as the superior tutor. He felt he had no control over his paper once I had it in my hands. I put an end to the experiment, recognizing his subtle torture, and loosened the imaginary starched collar around my neck.

After trying both tactics of using a friendly attitude versus a professional one with two different tutees, I realized that neither one of them was a good example of an accomplished attitude during a tutoring session. By being too friendly, I made myself vulnerable to a greedy, somewhat lazy tutee that groped for any easy solution to writing a paper. For her follow-up appointment, I was considered to be an automatic dictionary, thesaurus, and sentence constructor—all free of charge. In the tutee's mind, my time was her time, and my skills could quickly be masked as her own. But by being too professional during the session, treating it more as a job, I scared the tutee to the point that it seemed he would flee. He yielded to only yes or no answers, hoping I would release him and end the session. The tutee seemed less than intent accepting any suggestions, rather regarded them as insults—superior tutor speaking down to inferior student. It is the combination of a friendly attitude and a professional attitude that makes the dynamics of a tutoring session work. By mixing the right components of each, both tutor and tutee are comfortable and are both on equal working ground.

Works Cited

Bradford, Nichole. Personal Interview. 18 Dec. 2000.

Glasser, William. Techniques 3. 2000. LA Pierce College. 18 Dec. 2000.

 

 

 

Active Listening: Interpreting a Student's Plea for Help
Katie Ciacelli

 

Every year hundreds of students, ask for help from the writing fellows at the Monroe County Community College Writing Center. These students are requesting help to improve their writing skills and their grades. The writing fellows are always willing to help any students. Active listening is an effective way for students to improve their grades. Active listening also is a way for the writing fellow to interpret a tutee's desire for help. Writing fellows can use active listening through questions, paraphrases, I statements, or body language for use as an effective tutor. Active listening is not just hearing an individual but interpreting what the individual is saying through words or actions. According to an article in Public Management, “[H]earing is a passive process. . . Listening, on the other hand, requires our active interpretation” (para 1).

Active listening is a skill that writing tutors use on a regular basis. In The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Leigh Ryan describes active listening as a process that, “Takes energy and concentration” (17). In a sense, active listening takes a large effort during a writing session. Ryan also categorizes active listening as one of the three effective, powerful tools for a writing tutor (16). During a session, a tutor must not only evaluate the writing but also interpret the writing that one is hearing and how the student feels about his or her assignment. Peter Elbow states that listening is a skill that requires understanding. Tutors must understand the tutee's subject, his or her feelings towards the assignment, and be able to find a resolution to a student's conflict. Having an understanding, through learning, the tutor is able to meet the needs of the tutee.

One of the best ways to be an active listener is through asking questions. For example, a tutor may want to ask, “What do you want the reader to hear…why did you pick this topic…and what are some of your other feelings?” Questions give the listener authority because they are interpreting the student's subject. Ryan states that questions help tutees move along in a session by encouraging them to continue their thoughts (17). As the tutor asks questions, the student will be able to continue describing the topic. Writing fellows that ask open questions provide students an opportunity to question their own authority and validity in their writing. Asking questions also demonstrates that the tutor is interested in the topic and interested in what the tutee has to say. As the tutor understands the topic, he or she is able to ask further questions and keep the tutee attentive. Through asking questions, the tutee is able to see that the tutor wants to understand the topic and help the student. Asking questions to understand the topic can also lead to other processes of active listening.

Paraphrasing, the restating of the authors writing into one's own words is an effective aspect of active listening. Ryan states that paraphrasing lets the tutee know that the tutor understands him or her and it serves as a way to solve any confusion within the session (17). By paraphrasing, the tutor will be able to point out the important aspects of the student's message. Paraphrasing allows the tutor to reflect on multiple parts of a tutee's writing by combining them. Paraphrasing is also useful in helping the tutor put together what the student believes are the important points for the reader to pick up when reading. Paraphrasing also opens an opportunity for the writer to explore new ideas and aspects of the topic. Through paraphrasing, the tutor is also able to put his or her own opinion into the session.

The use of I statements is another quality of active listening that can help clarify the tutoring session. For example, a writing tutor may say, “I understand what your saying” or “I can see you are prepared.” According to Ryan, I statements are used by tutors to interpret any difficulties in the understanding between the tutor and tutee (18). Like paraphrasing, I statements can avoid any confusion through the explanation of any misunderstandings. Like questions, I statements can motivate students to continue their thoughts. As a student continue to describe his or her topic, the tutor can become more educated on the topic. Unlike questions, I statements are less intimidating to the tutee. Therefore, the tutee is more likely to feel comfortable during the session. From I statements used by the tutor, the students demonstrate that they are more comfortable through their actions.

Body language is a nonverbal, visual aspect of active listening that any student may demonstrate. In The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, Ryan states that posture and eye contact are a tutor's most common positive signs of body language (18). The tutor sits straight up with his or her feet flat on the floor sitting directly next to the student. Tutors are advised to sit next to the tutees to reflect on the same piece of writing at the same time. Tutors show positive or negative body language, which influences the comfort of a tutee during a writing session. An example of positive body language is a tutor sitting with good posture and attempting to make eye contact with the tutee throughout the session. Positive body language demonstrates that the tutor wants to be there to help students improve their writing. Tutors with negative body language make it evident that they do not care about helping students with their concerns. A tutor sitting slouched over and looking around while the tutee reads his or her paper aloud is an example of negative body language. The use of body language as an aspect of active listening suggests that actions do speak louder than words, even during a tutoring session.

Writing tutors can use active listening to help their tutees to improve their grades and writing skills as long as the tutees want to receive help. Active listening helps to clarify any misunderstandings within a tutoring session. Active listening also helps writing fellows at Monroe County Community College to work hard to improve the writing of others. Becoming an active learner is difficult work and takes a great deal of concentration. As tutors continue their work, they can use active listening through tools such as questions, paraphrasing, I statements, and body language. Once writing tutors are familiar with active listening, they will realize they save time and effort as a result of learning this skill.

Works Cited

“Active Listening.” Public Management 79 (1997). First Search. 16 December 2000. Keyword: Active Listening.

Elbow, Peter. On Writing. Dir. Sut Jhally. MEF, 1955.

Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.

 

 

 

Freewriting Your Way to Successful Writing
Lisa Cousino

Often, the most difficult aspect of the writing process for students is prewriting. One way to have better success at writing is to use freewriting. “Freewriting is a technique for generating ideas” (Fowler 39). For the last five weeks of the semester, I promoted freewriting to the students at the prewriting stage who had appointments with me as a Writer Fellow. I have discovered that students who use the freewriting tool have better success at writing.

Toby Fulwiler, author of The Working Writer, explains that freewriting can be defined as fast writing. You write rapidly in freewriting, and one word inspires you to write another, as well as one idea triggers another idea. In freewriting, you do not worry about grammar, spelling, format, or organization. Freewriting helps you find a focus to your paper. Fulwiler gives three suggestions to follow for freewriting. First, he says to “write as fast as you can” in a fixed amount of time. Five or 10 minutes usually works well. Next, he says not to stop writing until your allotted time is up. Finally, he advises not to worry about how your writing looks or how it is organized because the only audience of this freewriting is yourself (80). Freewriting can also be done on a computer (Ryan 50). I used handwritten freewriting for the purpose of this paper. Before I chose to write this paper about freewriting, I tried freewriting for five minutes myself, and this is what I came up wrote:

Okay, five minutes, what can I write my final paper on? Clustering is a good idea;

I use clustering myself, oh, friendly vs. professional tutoring. That is a good one to use, I am friendly more than I am professional with the tutees. Freewriting is a good one too. A couple of my tutees were in the prewriting stage and used freewriting. Maybe I can write about that. Final paper; what to choose?

As you can see, I came up with three ideas for my final paper. From those three ideas, I narrowed my topic to freewriting because most students can use the help in the prewriting stage of the writing process. Freewriting is one way to help students with this difficult task. After all, freewriting worked great for me!

After I decided to use freewriting as the topic of my paper, I put my theory to practice. I began categorizing the students who had appointments with me. Within the last five weeks of the semester, ten students came to me for a tutoring session. Out of the ten students, three were in the prewriting stage. I used these three student conferences to practice my theory of freewriting.

The first student in the prewriting stage that had an appointment, brought the rough draft of her paper. The assignment was a ten-to-twelve page research paper with 50 required sources for English Composition II. The student was researching the play The Little Foxes by

Lillian Hellman. Although she had the required number of sources, the draft was only eight pages long. The student was frustrated because she did not know how to make her paper long enough to meet the requirement. At this point in the conference, I asked the student if she

had tried freewriting to develop ideas. She had not; in fact, she did not know how to freewrite. I explained to the student what freewriting is, and I showed her the copy of my freewriting, shown above. She thought it was a good idea to develop more ideas for her paper. I told her to take five minutes right then, go to an empty table, and freewrite. The student told me she was able to think of two more ideas that would lengthen her paper.

The second student that came to me with a paper in the prewriting stage had an in-class compare and contrast paper to write. He did not have anything written down. In fact, the only paper he had with him was the assignment sheet with the subjects he wanted to compare and contrast, which were his two best friends. The student said he knew how to write this type of paper; however, he was having trouble generating ideas to compare and contrast. I suggested freewriting, which he thought was an excellent idea. Like the first student, I sent him to a separate table for five minutes. When he returned at the end of the five minutes, he had four ideas about his best friends to compare and contrast. At the end of the conference, he said he was amazed at what five minutes could do.

The third student in the prewriting stage came in with an outline and the assignment sheet. The assignment was again a compare and contrast paper to be done in class. The student said the instructor allowed the outline in class as an aid; however, he only had two points about his subject to compare and contrast. The subject he was writing on was brand name vs. generic-brand microwave popcorn. The student planned to compare the taste and the number of kernels that did not pop, but he could not think of another point to compare and contrast. I asked him if he wanted to spend five minutes of our conference freewriting to gain new ideas. Again, I sent him to an empty table. Because of the freewriting, he was able to think of a third idea to compare and contrast—the size of the popped kernels.

Freewriting is an excellent tool to use in the prewriting process. As you can see, it worked for me, as well as for the three students who tried it. I will continue to use freewriting in my tutoring sessions. Although this strategy does not work for those students further along in the writing process, it is beneficial for many, which is exactly what we are striving for as Writing Fellows: to help each student in at least one way.

Works Cited

Fowler, H. Ramsey, and Jane E. Aaron. The Little, Brown Handbook. 7th ed. New York: Addison, 1998.

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 1999.

Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 2nd . Boston: Bedford, 1998.

 

 

Triangle Template Tool
Donna DeVillez

 

Before my introduction to the triangle concept of organized writing, I had great ideas trapped inside mediocre papers. My technique of revision involved a ream of paper, crumpled and tossed page-by-page into a mountain of rubbish on the kitchen floor. To solve the problem with organization an instructor had suggested starting with an outline. This approach sounded too formal and rigid for my style. As a writing fellow, I developed the Triangle Template Tool and demonstrated its effectiveness in the class I mentored this term. The Triangle Template Tool is simply a guide for writing—including a series of three sided figures designed to help with paragraph development and topic sentence placement.

Students at Monroe County Community College often combine work and family with their studies. Tutees in the Writing Lab all need more time. Early this fall, I mentored Sarah and suggested the template at the end of her first appointment in the writing lab. After her second paper, I asked Sarah to review the Triangle Template Tool and comment on its usefulness. Sarah responded, “Yes, it saves me time. It makes me develop better topic sentences.” Apparently, the advantage of using the template is time saved on revisions. In my personal observations, overcoming fear is a monumental step in students' educational process, including writing. The fear obstacle slows many would-be-authors. The Triangle Template Tool can help writers eliminate the stress that often accompanies fear. Student authors gain confidence after trying the tool. By reducing stress, some students reported an increase in enthusiasm for writing assignments.

Tools are designed to make a specific job easier. For example, the word processor makes the job of scribing effortless. The Triangle Template Tool makes the task of organization simple. Writing Across the Curriculum Annual Report is a report compiled of surveys taken at Monroe County Community College written by Timothy J. Dillon. I reviewed the 1997-1998 report to support the need for an organization tool. An anonymous student confessed in the report, “I have already revised it 10 times . . . She gave me great ideas on how to organize my thoughts to get my most important points across”(35). The student's comments confirm the need for a reliable method of organization. The Triangle Template Tool is a visual aid representing the five-paragraph theme model. One quick glance reminds a student where the thesis belongs. In addition, this guide reminds the writer the topic sentence should anchor the beginning of each paragraph. It also shows how specific details can be added to support the topic in descending order. Another feature of The Triangle Template Tool, is its usefulness for students at any writing level.

An attempt to document the Triangle Template Tool's usefulness was initially a disaster. Plan A involved handing tutees the Writing Centers' standard survey with verbal instructions to “be specific” at the bottom of the report. One student responded with, “The Writing Center is a great reference for those who are unfamiliar with writing steps. I found the critique a helpful tool used in writing future papers”. Over all, this approach to feedback on the Triangle Template Tool was ineffective because I was asking students that struggle with writing, to respond in writing. By the time I had devised Plan B, the students from my assigned class were familiar with my research. The following details the three questions I asked students in my assigned class as they submitted their third paper for review. The sample Triangle Template Tool was included to refresh their memory:

Fellow Class!

Did I introduce you to the powerful triangle, illustrated below?

Are you using it?

Is it helpful: Saving you time?

Improving your grades on written work?

Are you finding writing less stressful?

Thank you for your valuable input, Donna DeVillez

Triangle Template Tool

Introduction

Grab the reader's attention

Introduce main points (A, B, C)

Thesis statement

Topic Sentence A

Topic Sentence B

Topic Sentence C

Conclusion

Summarize main points

Restate thesis

Several students previously assigned to my partner Trish, requested the secret weapon as they saw my students with the template. It was as if I had handed out party invitations or the answers to their next text. The students who recalled our discussion of the tool during their first conference responded favorably. A few students did not recall the illustration. I suspect they had not been introduced to the concept during their first appointment with me, because their work had been in the very early stages of pre-writing. The final proof of the Triangle-Template-Tool's popularity was demonstrated when a Senior Writing Fellow reviewed this paper. The next time I saw the Senior Fellow in the writing center, she asked for a copy of the template. This surprised me, because I was certain the Senior Writing Fellows had their own writing tools. Apparently, Senior Fellows are always looking for fresh ideas.

Will the Triangle Template Tool work for everyone? English Professor and author, Peter Elbow would not enjoy the simple structure of this writing aid. In Elbow's documentary we viewed in class last week, he commented “skip the outline…just plunge in…make a mess”. Peter Elbow indicated he “gave himself permission to just go rambling on, forging on into the unknown and into I don't know what.” Formal outlines are not for every writer or situation. For example, students with auditory learning styles would not be comfortable using this tool. The template is a compromise between the sentence outline and a free writing style. Student authors could keep this tool handy at their workstation, next to their favorite dictionary perhaps—even laminating it to protect it from over use.

I still enjoy tossing crumpled pages from my revisions across the room, although there are fewer reasons to discard any since I began using this organization tool. I have witnessed the Triangle Template Tool cause a commotion in a classroom, as students recognized its usefulness. It certainly fine-tuned my process of writing. Writers frustrated with their usual approach could benefit by giving the template a try. The frustrated situation I originally brought into the Writing Center was the moment of conception for the Triangle Template Tool.

Works Cited

Dillon, Timothy J. Writing Across the Curriculum Annual Report. Monroe: Monroe County Community College, 1997-1998.

Peter Elbow on Writing: A Conversation with America's Top Writing Teacher. Videocassette. Media Education Foundation, 1995.

 

 

 

Determining the Length of the Writing Conference
Anna Grumelot

 

A tutor wears many hats; one of them is a timekeeper. Many times a scheduled appointment will be too short or too long depending on circumstances. If the tutor has a free block of time, it is tempting to continue on for the next half-hour and have an overly long session. If the student is late and has only ten or fifteen minutes, it is tempting to cram a whole session into a half-hour. Problems arise with the too-short or too-long conference. But experience, awareness, and preparation can help the tutor find a time for each session that is right.

Finding the proper length of time for the writing conference is a challenge tutors face each session. The session that is too short is a problem for the fellow and student. The thirty-minute time block set for each appointment should be the minimum for each session. If a session is under thirty minutes, the fellow does not have time to review the paper and ask questions. Furthermore, the tutor is usually unable to establish a working relationship with the student. The first few minutes of a conference prove to be very important to gain the trust of the student and set a relaxed tone. If the session is rushed, the tutor must forego taking the time to set the person at ease and jump right to the problems of the paper. In a short session, the tutor can not address high order problems effectively—five minutes is needed to read the paper, another five to ask questions so that the paper is understood, and another ten to discuss strategies. When asked about her experience, writing fellow Donna DeVillez commented on fifteen-minute session. She explained that throughout the semester she had several of them. She complained that the fifteen-minute sessions do not allow the tutor to analyze the work thoroughly enough to make the conference effective. In short, conferences under 30 minutes are too short.

Then there is the conference that is too long. This is the session lasting more than forty-five minutes. In long sessions, the tutor and the student are in danger of losing focus and becoming bored. The writing process is a long and difficult task. The tutor must be aware of the overwhelming effect the long session has on the student. This was a problem for me at first. I did not keep track of the time and many of my sessions went to one hour. I noticed that after these sessions, I felt confused and uncertain about what had just transpired. As I thought about them, I began to wonder if the writer felt the same. When I questioned a fellow tutor, she said “An hour was exhausting and felt that the last fifteen minutes were not beneficial to either party because it became redundant” (Bach). My awareness of the potential problem prompted me to take notes and pay attention to what was happening in the long sessions. On one occasion, a student came in with a play review. Her high order problems were paragraph unity and sentence structure. We spent most of the time reading the paper, rearranging ideas, and supplying examples. This went on for about fifty minutes before I looked at the clock. I realized that for the last fifteen minutes I was repeating my self and she was confused. After experiencing the affects of both the too-short and too-long conference, I began to see what it would take to conduct a conference that was the right amount of time.

The ideal session will be just long enough that tutor and the student can review important aspects of the paper. First, the tutor should determine the stage of the writing process. Prewriting and global revision may need ten extra minutes. The student who is coming in for a repeat appointment, may need only twenty or thirty minutes to have the tutor look over the paper and provide final editing strategies. The tutor must also watch for signs that the student is not focusing. Learning to read body language is helpful in knowing when it is time to wrap up the session. If the student begins to lean back in his chair, look around the room, or stare into space it may be time to finish. The most important thing a tutor can do to make a session beneficial is preparation—for example, coming in a few minutes early and having all the necessary forms ready to go. In my followed class, I had the forms filled out ahead of time. Personal notes about the paper helped me stay on track. I also began to position myself in front of the clock; this allowed me to glance discreetly at it a few times. This helped me know when it was time to move on to the next item; and I accomplished more in a shorter amount of time, without the long drawn out hour-long conference. Of course, there are times when the session is going great, the student is alert, and progress is evident. These clues are usually my cue to let the session go on for another ten minutes or so.

While every session has its own unique set of circumstances, finding the right amount of time for each can be achieved through practice and awareness. Being prepared for the session can help the tutor use the time wisely and help make each conference a productive success. By taking note of the stage the paper is in, watching for fatigued and bored body language, and watching the clock, the tutor can avoid sessions that are too short or too long.

Works Cited

Bach, Rhonda. Personal interview. 15 Dec. 2000.

De Villez, Donna. Personal interview. 15 Dec. 2000.

 

 

Required Tutoring Sessions vs. Non-required Tutoring Sessions
Sara Jaeger

During this semester, I have been through several tutoring session. I had sessions in which students came to the Writing Center on their own, as well as sessions that were required by the students' professors. Many of the required sessions were through my fellowed class, but I had others that were regular appointments. I learned about the tutoring process and strategies to help students approach the writing process. I also learned how to handle the different attitudes that I encountered. It found that most of the students required to come to the Writing Center have a different attitude than the students who come on their own.

The students who are required to come to a session are often resistant to help. Their tendencies are arrogance, tardiness, and being in a rush. The required student also is usually indifferent to what goes on in a session.

In my research of required and non-required sessions, I began by giving students a questionnaire.1 In this questionnaire, I asked questions like “Were you required to come here? If not, what made you come?” and many others. I also asked the question “If this session was required, how did you feel prior to coming? Then I asked, “How do you feel after having the session? (See appendix). The answers I received to these questions were very interesting. One student who was required to come told me, “Prior to the session, I really didn't want to come, I didn't think I needed any help.” This answer was interesting because I had the impression that most required students felt this way. He then wrote, “After the session I was glad that I came, and I will be back for my next paper.” Sure enough, I saw him two more times this semester. Another required student answered the same question this way, “This was my first session, and I will not return. I still feel that I did not need any help.” After I read this, I remembered that this student was mostly unresponsive throughout the session.

In the Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, author Leigh Ryan gives many characteristics of the unresponsive writer and how to deal with one. Unresponsive writers often have an attitude of resistance; they might say that they do not want to be there, and some avoid eye contact. All of these characteristics fit the student that I just quoted, as well as some other students that I tutored. Ryan says it is important to “be patient and polite.” Ryan also says to make the session “short but helpful.” These tips make a difference with some students, but not all of them.

A majority of the required appointments was from my fellowed class. These students were interesting because I saw almost every type of student. Several of the students canceled their appointments several times. Then when they did come to the appointments they were often late. Through my fellowed class, I learned how to handle many different attitudes. One student came in sat down and wrote down everything that I said. I was afraid that he would not get anything out of the session this way. So I told him it would be better to listen and talk with me. That way we accomplished so much more. He was very happy with his session, and made more appointments than were necessary. Sessions with required students are quite different from sessions with non-required students.

I found that sessions with students who come to the Writing Center on their own are quite enjoyable. The student who is not required to come tends to be more interested in the session. I can tell that this student wants my help. This student gets involved with the session, and is ready with a draft and questions.

When asked what made them want to come to the Writing Center, the students that were not required to come answered the question much differently than the required students. One student said, “I had heard good things, so when I thought my paper needed some work I thought I should bring it here.” We had a good appointment; the student interacted with me quite well. She had many questions about her paper. After the session, the student was excited about all of the things she could work on at home. She also made another appointment immediately. Another response that I found interesting was about the question, “Have you been to the Writing Center before?” I had a student answer the question with yes, then proceeded to say that he comes to the Writing Center for every paper he writes. This response was, in a way, refreshing to hear. He is proof that the Writing Center is a benefit to students. I had many required students, as well as many non-required. They are all different.

During this semester, I had several tutoring sessions. I enjoyed this experience very much. Through these appointments, I learned a lot about tutoring different types of students. I learned that some students come in with an opinion that cannot be changed. But other students do change their feelings. The more students enjoy their experiences at the Writing Center, the more likely they will come to the Writing Center again. The word will spread.

Note

1The questionnaire was issued to ten students that I fellowed. I asked questions dealing with how the student felt before the session as well as after the session. I gave the questions to students from my fellowed class and students that had regular appointments.

Works Cited

Personal survey. Issued Dec. 15 to ten students.

Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998

 

 

Tutoring: Requirement or Choice
Kendra Maunz

 

Tutoring for the first time was a more exhausting and complicated activity than I ever imagined was possible. There are many theories and practices that can be put to use in tutoring other students. Such approaches can include fixing a student's paper, building confidence, asking questions, and most importantly, trying to help a student learn something new for later use. Of course, different people have different opinions about what works best, but for the intents of the Writing Fellow program, we hold the value of teaching a student how to write better without ever fixing anything for them or making marks on their papers. In my experience, the most significant contrast of sessions is that between the students that attend sessions by choice and those who are required to receive help. By participating in the Writing Fellow program, I have individually gained values about education and teaching.

The most obvious difference is that of the student's eagerness to participate in a constructive conversation and her desire to learn and improve. The tutee that makes an appointment to receive help by choice is the one that is willing to throw ideas around and make changes. Students often come in to the Writing Center and refuse to make any marks on their paper because, “it's the final draft.” The eager student makes corrections everywhere on his or her paper, asks tutors what they think, and asks them to help change something that they do not necessarily think sounds right. These students also ask for strategies and suggestions on how to catch spelling and grammar errors. For example, I asked a student towards the end of a session once if she had any additional questions, and she responded, “do you have any ideas on how I could make this sound better and fit it in to flow more smoothly?” This woman was there by choice.

Of course, a tutor will always get students who do not want to be there and believe that their writing could not possibly improve anymore than it already is. They attend out of requirement for a course. These students have a tendency to be more difficult. Not because they intend to do so, but because they may not talk as much or feel as comfortable, or they may even feel inferior to the tutor. Often tutees fear that a tutor will make fun of them or talk about them later. Sometimes an arrogant student arrives and refuses to change a thing since she feels it is perfect. A student like this shows that she knows even less, because any good writer knows that there is always room for improvement.

One can easily distinguish the type of student just by knowing if he or she is required to be there or not. About nine times out of ten, the students that attend by choice are at the top of the grading scale. They also turn out to be good writers, because they constantly seek help and aim for their own improvement. These tutees are cooperative and open-minded. If these individuals read their papers aloud, they often find their own mistakes and go about correcting them. As a result of feeling comfortable, engaging in conversations, and being open to suggestions, these people also tend to be more pleasurable to work with.

On the other side, the students who are required to come in, lean towards being relatively unspoken and uncomfortable, leading to a more difficult session. However, it is not always a requirement that results in a less cooperative situation. At times a student will come in on her own, but only because her paper is due the same day, or shortly after, and she needs ideas to meet length and other requirements. For example, I had a student make an appointment for a science paper without the course demanding it. He was extremely cooperative and interacting. Together we looked up MLA formatting and parenthetical referencing. He took notes and learned things he had not previously known. This student needed seven pages, but only had three on Albert Einstein and the theories of relativity. He told me that he could not possibly find anything else and needed ideas. I later discovered that his paper was due that day and he was simply skipping class. Hence, these students tend to be larger procrastinators or students who are not as concerned with their grades.

Finally, time management comes into play. In my experience, I have noticed that those people, who are required to attend, often show up late or not at all. On the reverse, the students who choose to seek help, are almost always prompt and always show up. And if they are running late or can not make an appointment, they usually call. This is not only from personal experience, but also from information provided to me by other writing fellows, both seniors and juniors. This makes tutoring much easier. Naturally, how can you teach someone who is not there to learn?

The previously stated is not 100% true, and definitely not always fact. But in reality, the statistics agree with what was discussed and this is the way the majority of my tutoring went this semester. The abilities of these students vary, and just because they may not attend tutoring sessions and seek help outside their own knowledge does not mean that they are poor students. However, if students are willing to make an effort to improve themselves, I think that they are more equipped to learn effectively and quickly. Peer tutoring by fellow students is a great idea. It provides tutees with the chance to talk to someone who can relate to them and their situations. Despite what a professor may say, students never feel equal to or on the same level. They are therefore alienated by the teacher and his or her suggestions. I have learned what an asset this approach is thanks to our Writing Fellow program. And I know that non-required tutoring sessions are more effective, even though those required give a student the chance to become acquainted with the process.

 

The Concept of Creating Manageable Tasks
Crystal Pierce

In working as a Writing Fellow this past semester, I have learned many strategies for improving my writing and helping others to understand and improve their process of writing. One strategy stands out as a significant aid for assisting students with their college papers. In my experience, I have found that when it comes to writing, many college students feel overwhelmed when expected to write a paper in addition to meeting their other responsibilities. Though students may realistically have sufficient time for the composition of their papers, many tend to procrastinate instead of allowing scheduled time for working on the complex process of writing. The concept of dividing a project into manageable tasks and setting specific goals for smaller sections of the project has proved to be very effective in easing students' anxiety about writing. It has also helped them to understand the process of writing, showing them how better management of time for smaller tasks allows for an improved piece of writing, even when pressed for time.

I have learned, and tried to teach tutees, that writing takes much time and effort. It is important to schedule time for working on an essay or research paper. When facing a project that requires serious thought and a significant amount of time, many students start to panic. They come to the Writing Center looking frustrated and doubtful, but my goal is to help lessen that anxiety. Having felt the panic myself, I can empathize with those students who feel overwhelmed by the pressures of academics, jobs, and everyday life. Just as this feeling of panic may apply to any essay or writing assignment, the theory of dividing it into smaller tasks may also apply to any project.

According to The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, writers with writing anxiety may be greatly relieved if a tutor can explain the writing process and help them to divide the assignment into specific, smaller tasks (39). Setting a disciplined schedule for various sections of the writing process can be very effective in creating a well-written paper despite the frustration. Leigh Ryan states, “that breaking down the process of writing into specific, manageable tasks can help writers feel degrees of success along the way” (39). A tutor might suggest that students plan to write an introduction and plan the organization of a paper on one evening, and then work on developing their ideas further the next day. Often, students become aware of anxiety when they think they must sit down and write an entire essay. Small goals and small rewards for each step of the writing process can provide a sense of accomplishment, and increase confidence in working on the next step (Ryan 38-40).

As a tutor, I have applied this theory with students I have encountered. Some of the time, students simply had difficulty starting their papers; while some were burdened by the numerous tasks they discovered after beginning to write. In most cases, tutees were relieved after deciding to divide their projects into smaller tasks. I found this especially effective in working with my fellowed class, an American History course instructed by Dr. James DeVries. For the major paper, they were required to write a six-page assessment of the materials they reviewed about the text of a book, A Midwife's Tale. The thought of completing a six-page paper seemed difficult to many of the students. They were confused by the many questions they were expected to answer in their essays, though all of the materials had been covered in depth. Another concern was that this project was assigned near the end of the semester, yet the reading of the book about Martha Ballard occurred earlier in the course. I wanted to help ease their anxieties, so I shared the idea of manageable tasks.

The idea of completing three, two-page essays, was not so nerve-wracking as the thought of a six-page essay with all its specific requirements. Therefore, I discussed this difference with each student from my fellowed class. First, we discussed the requirements of the first section, the summary of the movie-A Midwife's Tale. Dr. DeVries' instructed the class to take detailed notes while viewing this video, paying attention to the degree to which the movie related to the times it portrayed. This first section entailed summarizing what was in the video and explaining the effectiveness of the characters and props in creating a realistic view of the past. For students who took careful notes, this two-page section was the simplest. When considered as an individual project, this summary seemed manageable to most tutees, and they were more confident about tackling the next two pages.

The second part was to be an evaluation of a movie review about A Midwife's Tale. This section also seemed more manageable when viewed individually, separate from that frightful, six-page project. I was able to help students further divide this section into even smaller sections, since I was familiar with the review format. Some students could easily understand what was expected after we divided the review into three parts—the summary of the review, the evaluation of the information, and the summary of their evaluation of the movie review. When asked to answer the questions Dr. DeVries had included in his assignment sheet, most students knew the answers. It was simply a matter of organizing those answers and creating a well-written review of a movie review. After calming their fears about these first two parts of the assignment, the last section seemed less intimidating.

In conclusion, students were required to study a website devoted to the diary of Martha Ballard, the midwife on whose life the book was written. The site was very interesting, but there were many questions that Dr.DeVries expected to be answered in the essay. When students expressed their difficulties with this section, we worked on dividing it as well. Most of the questions were based on information from the site, from which students had taken notes. Then we separated the questions that asked about their opinions of the site, and finally had three sections of content questions and answers that could be organized into a structured essay. I think this especially helped students who were confused by the informal requirements of the paper. When told to simply answer the questions, some students found difficulty since they were accustomed to creating an essay with specific guidelines. I assisted by helping them divide the project, and by reminding them that MLA format, though not required in this case, would help to organize this series of assignments into one, cohesive paper.

In writing, time and effort are important elements, but discipline plays its part as well. Writers must set goals to avoid the frustration caused by writing anxiety. The division of a project into several, smaller projects can be incredibly effective in lessening the panic many writers feel. Disciplining oneself requires a strong will, but it is very rewarding to create a well-written essay. Specific tasks completed successfully boost the confidence of those facing anxiety. Creating manageable tasks is the theory that I have applied in tutoring for the fall semester at MCCC. I think that I have contributed to helping others improve their own writing skills, better organize their ideas, and improve their time management skills. I am also confident that this theory will be successful with students I will tutor during the winter semester. I am hopeful that I will learn more about helping writers write; I have found tutoring very rewarding.

Works Cited

Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide For Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998.

 

 

The Significance of a Formal Outline
Cheryl Ramsey

Although students fear producing a formal outline, once they understand the format and construct an outline, they find writing their papers less demanding. Whether a student is writing an essay, review, or research paper, creating a formal outline will make the task less trying. Understanding the format of a formal outline and including a thesis statement is not complicated. Writing a thesis statement prior to the formal outline will allow the writer to focus on her main point. The thesis will highlight the main point and connect all sections of the formal outline. A formal outline assists the writer with developing ideas and creating a well-organized paper; in turn, a well-organized paper will emphasize the writer's ideas throughout the paper. The formal outline previews the final draft; it is a blueprint of the finished piece; it instructs the writer as to how the information is to be constructed. “A formal outline arranges ideas tightly and in considerable detail . . . ” (Fowler 588). Once completed the writer has an overview of her paper.

Many students approach a paper with fear and distress. They are unsure of where to begin. Their ideas become jumbled and frustration invades the students thinking process. The idea of creating a well-thought and organized paper appears hopeless. Assuring students they can write a well-thought and organized paper by simply creating a formal outline intensifies their frustration. Writing a formal outline is not initially an option. I have tutored students who look at me in disbelief when I suggest beginning their papers with formal outlines. Many of them do not understand the format of a formal outline, and this lack of understanding is the greatest deterrence to creating the formal outline.

Learning how to properly format a formal outline will prove to be an asset to the student. Developing a thesis statement is the first step in creating an organized formal outline. Writing a thesis statement will allow the writer to focus on their main point. As the construction of the outline continues, the student can refer to the thesis statement for direction and purpose. “When you lead with a thesis, you tell readers from the beginning where you stand on the issue. The remainder of the essay supports your claim and defends it against counterclaims” (Fulwiler 152). The thesis statement allows the writer to develop supporting ideas; therefore, the supporting ideas are clearer and more focused on the thesis.

Creating focused ideas requires dividing the thesis into parts. When the student has reached this point, he or she needs to ask what it is he or she wants to convey to the reader. Listing each idea with a Roman numeral is the first step in organizing one's thoughts. Whether the student has two or four Roman numeral sections, each number represents one complete thought. A complete thought is a fully developed sentence. These fully developed sentences will probably become topic sentences for paragraphs. Once the ideas have been written, it is important to subdivide the Roman numeral sections. Under Roman numeral I, the writer will have an A. This is the supporting information about Roman numeral I. This should also be written as a complete sentence. The writer must understand, if there is an A, there must be a B. This makes for balanced ideas. The sub-divisions of A and B can be divided further by listing additional ideas under the numbers 1 and 2. Again, it is important to remember that if there is a 1, there must be a 2. Keeping ideas balanced is important to the structure of the paper. An example of the structure of an outline is shown below.

Formal Outline

(Topic of Paper is placed here.)

Thesis Statement: (This is the preview of the paper.)

Introduction: (This is optional. This can be added after dividing the thesis statement, or after the body of the paper is completed.)

I. (First idea supporting thesis.)

A. (First idea supporting I.)

1. (First idea supporting A.)

2. (Second idea supporting A.)

B. (Second idea supporting I.)

1. (First idea supporting B.)

2. (Second idea supporting B.)

II. (Second idea supporting thesis.)

A. (First idea supporting II.)

1. (First idea supporting A.)

2. (Second idea supporting A.)

B. (Second idea supporting II.)

1. (First idea supporting B.)

2. (Second idea supporting B.)

Conclusion: (This is a brief summary of the paper which highlights the thesis statement.)

The amount of subject material will determine the number of Roman numerals used. The sub-divisions can be expanded to fit the needs of the thesis statement. The introduction can be added after dividing the thesis statement or after the body of the paper is completed; it is a matter of preference. The structure of a formal outline creates unity within the paper.

The ideas developed in the outline will unfold in the paper. The more organized the information is in the outline, the better the ideas will form in the paper. A formal outline will give the writer a preview of her paper; it is the blueprint of how to put the words and ideas together in the paper. “An outline will help you to get an overall view of your paper and, perhaps more important, to figure out how each section of the paper relates to the others. Thus, developing an outline can help you to see the logical progression of your argument” (Gibaldi 34). A formal outline will guide the writer from beginning to end. Following the outline as a guide while writing the paper will prevent important information from being excluded. Conveying to students the effectiveness of a formal outline is a difficult task; students view the outline as additional work.

Throughout my tutoring experiences, I have found that students prefer not to write an outline. Other than the lack of knowledge of formatting an outline, students feel they are writing an additional paper. Students need to understand the outline is not an additional paper; it is a tool in creating a paper. I tutored one student on a regular basis for a couple of weeks. She wrote well, but she had trouble focusing on her thesis in an organized matter. Until the end of the second week, I could not interest her in trying an outline. When she was at a loss as how to organize her ideas, she agreed to start with an outline and return to a tutoring session. When she returned, she told me the writing of her paper was less stressful and easier to write. She was able to separate her ideas, add to them, and write an improved paper because her thoughts focused on her thesis. Her paper was organized and her ideas were well developed.

Organized and developed ideas are the purpose of formatting a formal outline. It clears up any clutter the writer has and makes for better writing. Focusing on a thesis statement will allow the writer to format an outline that presents clearer thoughts and ideas. Students need to put their fears of formatting an outline to rest. Formatting an outline is easier than writing a paper without any pre-writing activities. All of the ideas are listed and they are better developed as the outline is formed. Once the outline is completed, the writer has a preview of the paper and will have more confidence in writing a well-organized and developed paper.

Works Cited

Fowler, H. Ramsey, and Jane E. Aaron. The Little Brown Handbook. 7th ed. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1997.

Fulwiler, Toby. The Working Writer. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ.: Prentice Hall. 1999.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association
     of America, 1999.