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ESL Students in the Writing Center
Nicholas Albano

Being a writing tutor is an art form. There is a specific way to do it, just as there are specific ways to create art. In tutoring, different approaches and styles are used to create a productive environment for the writer, so he or she is able to accomplish the steps in the writing process. Tutoring ESL students (English as a second language) can be viewed as a particular style of painting, to fit our metaphor. The brushstrokes on the canvas, or the tutoring method, are somewhat different from that of native-speaking student tutor sessions. ESL students have different writing problems than native-speakers. ESL students struggle with more technical aspects of writing such as grammar and style. Experts within the English community have identified several of these differences and have attempted to explain why these differences occur. It is the duty of writing tutors to apply their knowledge and skills of working with ESL students to real life situations in a tutoring session if the need arises. Not all writing fellows at MCCC were able to experience a session with an ESL student. Of those who did, including myself, all experienced the same problems with their ESL sessions, which also seemed to highly correlate with the English experts findings on ESL students and their struggle with writing clearly in English.

To tutor an ESL student well, one must realize what kinds of problems ESL students usually face in their writing careers, and also why they’re having these problems. As Joy Reid says, “most American academic prose is dominantly linear, utterly straightforward, and very specific in its presentation of material” (Reid). Native-speaking English students have been drilled with this format since the very beginning of education in the elementary grades—writing an introduction to explain to a reader what is going to talked about, then talk about the subject in the body paragraphs, and draw a conclusion with a brief summary of what was talked about. Research has indicated that these methods are not used abroad; students from other cultures have different writing backgrounds. “Arabic, for example, is an immensely poetic language, filled with coordinate clauses and a tendency toward generality and analogy; use of detail or supporting data is not essential” (Reid). ESL students may be very intelligent and they probably have a good conversational grasp of the English language. Nevertheless, their writing styles do not correlate with American writing styles, therefore when they write, it is not often clearly understood by the audience (or reader).

Paul Matsuda, author of “Composition Studies and ESL Writing: A Disciplinary Division of Labor,” seems to think another large challenge for ESL students is jumping into required English composition courses with no prior English composition experience. English composition courses are obviously engineered to fit the traditional English-speaking student, and most professors are unable to, or ill equipped to accommodate ESL students. ESL students often require direct one-on-one instruction to fully answer their questions and concerns regarding their writing in English. Because instructors do not have time, or simply do not understand how to even begin helping an ESL student, the ESL student is more than likely left behind in the class and continually struggles with course assignments. Although it would be quite expensive for a lot of colleges to create specific English courses for ESL students, writing centers and writing tutors are a helpful alternative. In the writing center, a tutor can create that one-on-one comfortable learning/working environment the ESL student needs to be productive. Mr. Matsuda suggests that if an ESL student, taking an English composition class, is struggling, an opportunity to gain clarity and understanding would be presented by visiting the colleges writing center to see a tutor.

Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, authors of “Tutoring ESL students: Issues and Opinions,” are keen on pointing out ESL students often struggle with awkward grammar. Silva says that some tutors, no matter how good they are, may sometimes be surprised or unaware of how to deal with “unfamiliar grammatical errors, the sometimes bewildering different rhetorical patterns and conventions of other languages, and the expectations that accompany ESL writers when they come to the writing center” (Harris and Silva). It is definitely difficult to explain to an ESL student why “’I have many homeworks to completed’ is wrong or why we say ‘on Monday’ but ‘in June’”(Harris and Silva). At the end of the day, regardless of the writers’ problem, “the goal of tutors who work in the center is to attend to the individual concerns of every writer who walks in the door” (Harris and Silva). It even helps to simply smile, and let them know someone is ready to help in anyway possible, even if it’s just discussing their topic of writing.
It is interesting to me that Harris and Silva stress in their journal article that regardless of the tutor’s experience, regardless of the writers experience, or gender, or race, it is the tutor’s job to provide assistance with the writing process. This is exactly what we strive for here at Monroe County Community College. Yes, even in Monroe, MI, we have some ESL students. Many of them, if not all, have all of the difficulties described above during their English composition courses. ESL students at MCCC have visited the MCCC Writing Center of their own volition on several different occasions.

Less than half of the MCCC writing fellows have seen an ESL student in the past year; it appeared that only Senior Writing Fellows, with the exception of myself, had seen ESL students. From conducting a written survey from the tutors that have seen ESL students, I discovered that most of the tutors knew (or originally thought they knew) what to expect. Most students felt somewhat prepared going into the session because of prior classroom instruction going over tutoring strategies specifically designed for ESL students. Of course, reading a strategy and implementing a strategy are two different ballgames altogether. Identifying problems in grammar and style were easy for all tutors; however explaining to the ESL student why their grammar was incorrect or their writing style unclear was much more difficult to accomplish. Some tutors found it helpful to use grammar books and go through sentence examples with the students to help them understand why certain words are used in sentences and to make words clearly understood in American prose. Other tutors attempted to explain directly to their students about differences in writing styles. Simply talking to the students about their culture and how they write in their culture could prove to be valuable information to the tutor as she attempts to understand what the ESL students do not understand about the correct style/grammar of their paper. Asian cultures, for example, write in a style that is in essence “beating-around-the-bush” because it is impolite to come out directly in writing on a subject, to avoid embarrassing the audience (reader). If tutors listen to this fact, they will know that this might be a trouble spot; whereas someone from a different culture will have other trouble spots. Writing Fellows (the tutors at MCCC) often found it easier to engage a session with European students rather than Asian students who have language styles that are such extreme opposites to SAE (Standard American English).

My experience with an ESL student was with a European student. Just as had been predicted by my classroom training, and the talented authors of the journal articles in the College Composition and Communication journals, my ESL student was struggling to write a cause-and-effect paper. The paper was unclear, there were several obvious grammar and spelling errors, and the style (and format) were something very unorthodox. During the time of the actual session, I had no idea that the reason her style was so different was because she was trying to use the style she had been conditioned to throughout her years of schooling in her native homeland, just as I had been conditioned here in the United States to write information in a direct, non-elaborate style. The student, whom we shall refer to as Mary Jo, was extremely intelligent, and she could identify her problem areas by herself, which is why she had come to the Writing Center; Mary-Jo was conscious of her mistakes and sought help in the Writing Center for advice on correcting those mistakes. The session was comprised mainly of answering her questions. She would identify sentences that did not work, and then ask why they didn’t, or “How come we don’t talk like this?” It really helped Mary Jo to better comprehend the English language in the written form.

Just as professors of English composition classes can be under prepared to accommodate an ESL student, writing centers and tutors can be under prepared. However, taking advanced steps in understanding the differences between ESL students and native-speaking students, and why those differences occur, are important steps in eventually having a successful and productive tutoring session with an ESL student. Reading the sections in the peer tutoring handbook were essential in preparing myself, and other tutors, for sessions with ESL students. Actually having the session and maintaining a conversation and answering questions is different from reading about it. As always, it is important to remember that the writing center’s goal is to assist writers with the writing process, and while we have discovered that different approaches should be taken with ESL students, the end point is still the same—helping students with the writing processes.

Works Cited

Harris, Muriel, and Tony Silva. “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options.” College Composition and Communication 44 (1993):       525-37.

Matsuda, Paul Kei. “Composition Studies and ESL Writing: A Disciplinary Division of Labor.” College Composition and       Communication 50 (1999): 699-721.

Reid, Joy M. “ESL Composition: The Linear Product of American Thought.” College Composition and Communication 35 (1984):       449-52.


 

Non-Traditional Tutees in the Academic World
Carla Bloch

Two types of students exist: non-traditional and traditional. I would like to emphasize the differences between the two when they enter the writing center and also their differences in the academic world. The three main overall differences between non-traditional and traditional students are their ages and enrollment status, writing abilities, and reasons for attending school.

Ages vary between traditional and non-traditional students. In comparison to one another, they are typically at very different stages of their lives. Traditional students are those who recently graduated from high school (typically the semester before starting college), are enrolled at a full-time status, and are still dependent on their parents. I fall under this category, for I meet the above criteria. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a study to create a more precise definition a non-traditional student. The study concluded that a student is non-traditional if he or she meets any of the following criteria: delays enrollment, attends part time for at least part of the academic year, works full time, is considered financially independent, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma (NCES). I would like to focus primarily on age and stage-of-life when referring to students as non-traditional. Because I am a traditional student, it is difficult for me to perceive the experience of “going back to school” as non-traditional students are doing all the time. I do, however, know several non-traditional students and have tutored several, as well. This helps me put their perspective on higher education into focus. One non-traditional Writing Fellow helped me grasp this perspective by saying, “as a non-traditional tutor, I can relate to returning to college after many years of considering it. I experience the same problems non-traditional students have to address.”

Enrollment of non-traditional students has become an increasing trend. This may have to do with the “baby-boomer” generation, according to Thomas Knable in his article “Why are Baby Boomers Returning to College?” He explains that 76.1 million people were born in America between 1946 and 1964. This means that in 2000, boomers were between the ages of thirty-six and fifty-four years. He elaborated on college-enrollment by boomers by citing a study bye the NCES that estimated college enrollment of non-traditional students. The survey results estimated that in 2000, students aged twenty-five or older would outnumber those younger than twenty-five years (Knable). To reinforce this point, the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, 1999-2000 states that adult students make up approximately forty percent of all college students, according to the Journal of Higher Education (Lundberg). I have seen where this may be true. Every class in which I have been enrolled at Monroe County Community College has had at least one student over the age of twenty-five. It has also been reflected in the Writing Center, for I have tutored several non-traditional students and observed conferences of other Writing Fellows. I conducted a survey of current MCCC Writing Fellows recently, and one of the questions inquired about the percentage of non-traditional students they tutor. The average response was approximately thirty percent. This number might be lower than expected because, in addition to age, their enrollment is often part-time. Traditional students, with their full-time status, have more opportunities and requirements to meet with Writing Fellows.

Traditional and non-traditional students often differ in their writing capabilities. My study asked questions concerning universal problems and recognizable strong and weak aspects of non-traditional students’ writing. The most popular response was that non-traditional students have trouble with high-order concerns such as writing thesis statements and topic sentences, organizing ideas, and developing paragraphs. Formatting knowledge seems to be lacking, as well. According to the responses, older students have difficulty understanding the guidelines of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Another common problem was with writing a thesis statement and, in one response, topic sentences. From my experience, topic sentences can be a problem but are typically present in these papers—especially in five-paragraph themes. I have come to realize from working in the Writing Center that students either understand how to write paragraphs or they do not. Five-paragraph themes emphasize the importance of topic sentences and help students organize ideas into logical groups. Without this type of assignment, however, students may stray away from having obvious topic sentences. Problems with paragraph and sentence structure stems from this, as well. I, as well as other Writing Fellows, have recognized many students’ misunderstanding of how to organize ideas and develop paragraphs. Asking students what a certain paragraph is about (I do this with short paragraphs often) can help them organize and develop ideas. According to Vincent Prohaska, et al, some of these problems may occur because students of either variety procrastinate when writing papers. “The Procrastination Assessment Scale-Students (PASS) is still the most common instrument used to measure academic procrastination.” One area of the test uncovered that approximately forty-six percent of participants “reported high levels of procrastination on writing a term paper” (Prohaska).

Different from actual mechanical writing is the confidence of the student. All tutors surveyed agreed that one universal characteristic of non-traditional students is their lack of confidence in their ability to write. However, all tutors also stated that their non-traditional students presented a strong willingness to learn and receive help. Other Writing Fellows have described sessions with non-traditional students as being successful because the student wanted to be there and was actually concerned about the overall paper. This is most likely because they are attending school by choice, not by default like traditional students. Traditional students often come into the Writing Center only because their instructor makes a requirement or rewards extra-credit for doing so. As a traditional student, I can understand why these differences might be so prominent. Traditional students have been attending school full-time for over twelve consecutive years, whereas non-traditional students are often enrolled only part time and have had substantial time off of school since finishing high school or their previous college enrollment. I definitely have experienced the “burnout” factor when it comes to school. Non-traditional students tend to be more focused on what they wish to accomplish; therefore, they want as much help as they can get when sitting with a Writing Fellow. One Writing Fellow said, “One major difference I have noticed is that many non-traditional students come to the Writing Center for help with not only specific assignments but with their writing skills as well, whereas traditional students often drift in for extra credit or a ‘quick fix.’” According to another, older students may be so willing to learn is because they are “just coming back to school after thirty years and may be less familiar with general school stuff than younger people.”

Traditional and non-traditional students also have their own separate reasons for attending college. As stated before, non-traditional students usually enroll in classes by choice with an intended major in mind, whereas traditional students attend by default. From my conversation with older students throughout my enrollment at MCCC, I have found two reasons they return to school after substantial time off. The first reason is for financial purposes. These students may be mothers or fathers who recently went through a divorce. They seek a degree for a higher-paying job to support themselves and their children. Losing a job or having a family accident could also contribute to financial reasons for attending college. On the other hand, older people might choose to enroll in college because their parental duties are over. Some students with whom I have spoken are grandparents! These students are in school because they want to do something more now that their children have “grown and gone.” My best friend’s mother is a prime example of this. She was a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years, and her youngest child recently graduated from high school. I had never been more proud of her than the day I watched her walk across the stage receiving her diploma last spring. As a traditional student, I began college the fall after graduating from high school. Traditional students often experience what I previously called the “burnout” factor in that they are, in a way, in education overload. This causes us to be a bit more apathetic than someone who is full of ambition and wants to learn. As a Writing Fellow, I see this often in students my own age.

Students of every adult age-bracket are enrolled in college. These students often have different writing capabilities along with individual concerns that can be related to why they attend school in the first place. Working with non-traditional students can be very different from working with traditional students. As a traditional student, working with and being in classes with older students has opened my eyes to other views on education and an extreme sense of motivation and ambition.

Works Cited

Bloch, Carla. “Writing Fellow Survey.” Dec. 2006.

Knable, Thomas. “Why are Baby Boomers Returning to College?” 22 Nov. 2006. <http://adulted.about.com/cs/studiesstats1/a/       boomers.htm>.

Lundberg, Carol A. “The Influence of Time-Limitations, Faculty, and Peer Relationships on Adult Student Learning: A Casual
       Model.” Journal of Higher Education. 74.6 (2003): 665+. Infotrac. 12 Dec. 2006. <http://web1.infotrac.galegroup.com>.

NCES. “Definition of Nontraditional Students.” 22 Nov. 2006. <http://nces.ed.gov/ programs/coe/2002/analyses/nontraditional/       sa01.asp>.

Prohaska, Vincent. “Academic Procrastination by Nontraditional Students.” Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 15.5
       (2002): 125-34. EBSCOhost. 8 Dec. 2002. <http:// web.ebscohost.com/ehost>.

 

"I Have to Stay How Long?" Required vs. Non-required Tutoring Sessions
Ashley Braden

I have only been a Writing Fellow at MCCC for a semester and I am convinced that I have heard just about every excuse in the book. “I didn’t know that I had to send you my paper ahead of time” or “I needed to bring a copy of the essay with me?” are sentences that might make me scream if I hear them again. I have seen plagiarized papers, poorly written reports, and have been stood up more times than I would honestly like to remember. On the other hand, I have conferenced with some of the most gracious, friendly people I have ever met. I have been told “thank you for all of your help” and “I really appreciate what you did to get me on the right track,” too. At the Writing Center, it is important to know that there are two main types of tutoring sessions: required and non-required. Both kinds of sessions obviously differ extremely in several aspects.

According to the majority of MCCC Writing Fellows surveyed, non-required students are easier to work with than required students. Nick Albano, MCCC Writing Fellow, said of non-required students: “they bring two copies of their paper and they actively write marks on their papers. They ask questions and tend to sit closer to you. They also thank me for the time I’ve spent with them” (Braden, survey). I have had the same experiences. Let’s face it, as a Writing Fellow, it is much more enjoyable and rewarding to work with a student who has a desire to be in the Writing Center. Most non-required students I have seen this year have been exceptionally willing to get to work, accept constructive criticism, and improve their papers. The outcome of a non-required tutoring session is typically better than that of a required session because non-required students exude a more positive attitude.
Non-required students are more open-minded and professional during tutoring appointments. According to Writing Fellow Christopher Slat, non-required students are “eager to learn and take comments seriously” (Braden, survey). That, I think, is the biggest difference between required and non-required students: eagerness. I have noticed that non-required students not only fully utilize their appointment times with questions, comments, and note-taking, but they also make additional appointments to help improve their papers. Their enthusiasm makes the appointment flow smoother and more can be accomplished. Fervent non-required students responded to surveys with sentences like “It was very helpful” and “I find the information [Writing Fellows] give me useful” (Braden).

Punctuality, preparedness, and desire for improvement are also qualities that are seemingly more important to non-required students than required students. In the four months I have worked in the Writing Center I have not had one non-required student come unprepared. In fact, the worst experience I have had with a non-required student was one when the student showed up five minutes late. For the most part, non-required students show up on time, usually early. They are organized as well. In my familiarity, non-required students are prepared with at least one copy of their papers, writing utensils to take notes with, and assignment sheets with questionable details already clarified by the class’ instructor. Another Writing Fellow adds “They normally come in with goals and questions” (Braden, survey). I have noticed that pattern also. Helping a student improve on his writing should be the goal of the Writing Fellow and non-required students are most likely to help accomplish this. Non-required students typically come with a list of questions, whether it be written or mentally “jotted down,” that they have regarding their papers. They are usually valid questions concerning problems that the Writing Fellows can tackle and answer, and because of the students’ motivation, they can easily understand and fix the errors on their own.

Tutoring non-required students is typically a better experience for the Writing Fellow. Non-required students tend to be extremely prepared and excited about improving on their writing. They accept criticism and use it to develop better writing. Required students, on the other hand, are an entirely different experience. From my semester in the Writing Center, I learned that required students are tricky to tutor. They tend to feel negatively toward the Writing Center and seem uninterested in the tutoring sessions. There is usually a sense of uneasiness between the student and Writing Fellow, and it is a frustrating incident for both parties. Non-required sessions and required sessions are two wholly opposite encounters.

Required session students, for several reasons, tend to be difficult to tutor. My fellowed class this semester, for example, was extremely hard to work with. Although my partner, Jenna Sims, and I visited our fellowed class twice, many students failed to make an appointment at all. Meeting with Jenna or me was required for them to turn in their papers. Furthermore, in several instances, students made an appointment and cancelled, and then did not reschedule. Other times, they just would not show up at all. Most students would not give us their papers ahead of time and became angry when we could not have a conference with them because of it. One student swore at me, another ignored me and walked away, and many showed no signs of wanting assistance with their projects. My fellowed class confirmed my idea that required students, for the most part, are unenthusiastic about visiting a Writing Fellow.

In fact, most students who are required to come to the Writing Center typically come into the appointment with a negative attitude. The initial meeting between a Writing Fellow and a required student is ordinarily not welcoming. “They usually don’t want to be here; like it is an inconvenience for them,” Sims said in a survey (Braden). Required students, at least to my knowledge, have a tendency to be unprepared. Students for my fellowed class showed up without a copy of their papers, without writing utensils, and without any questions or ideas for improvement. They showed little interest in being at the tutoring session, even though they had to conference with me for thirty minutes. When asked about what they needed assistance with, most would reply with answers like “I don’t know” or “I don’t really think I need help; I’m just coming here because I have to get a form.” They were unenthusiastic, uninterested, and ready to leave from the moment they arrived.

Many Writing Fellows this semester have also had difficulty helping required students focus and become involved in the appointment. I’ll use my fellowed class as an example again. The first student I saw for my fellowed class came in without a copy of his own paper. He relied on me to tell him “what was wrong with the project.” After reading the paper, I realized that it was all quotations with no citations. I asked him if he knew about documenting sources and how to recognize plagiarism. He said that he did not care, but he would “work on it when he got home.” He was completely unreceptive to any feedback I gave him. According to Muriel Harris, author of Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Tutors, an article in College English, it is not uncommon for required students to be uninterested in the tutoring session. “A truly reluctant student knows that she doesn’t have to do anything, won’t be graded, and in a worst-case scenario, can silently count the cracks in the ceiling while the tutor talks” (28). Additionally, many of the required students I have seen this semester think that they do not need help with their writing. I surveyed my fellowed class and four out of fourteen students said that they would not come back to the Writing Center unless it was required because they can “manage their writing on their own.”

It is apparent that non-required and required students have different attitudes towards the Writing Center and peer tutoring. Non-required students tend to think positively, while required students, more often than not, are distant and uncooperative. There must be reasons, though, as to why these two groups of students feel so differently about the Writing Center. After surveying students and Writing Fellows, and observing other tutoring sessions, I noticed a couple of reasons students might come into a tutoring session with varying ideas.

Over the course of this semester, I found that required and non-required students take a different approach to the tutoring session. A non-required student is coming of his own free will and has no obligation to be there. He chooses to come with an assignment that he is having trouble with because he wants the help – not because anyone else wants him there. From personal experience, I can say that I am less reluctant to do something if I am doing it on my own. According to Collaborative Learning in Context: The Problem with Peer Tutoring by Harvey Kail, “students are being required to work on their writing together, commanded to learn from each other; they must collaborate” (594). In these “forced” situations, students are less likely to be positive about the tutoring sessions. As college students, we feel we should be able to make our own decisions. It is possible that some students feel that coming to the Writing Center is a chore.

I have also learned that required and non-required students have different perceptions of the Writing Center. When reading the responses on surveys answered by my fellowed class, required students, I noticed that many of them had skewed perceptions of the Writing Center. One student said that he thought, “it was a hassle” (Braden). Another student said that he thought the Writing Fellow would simply tell him “what was wrong with the paper and fix it” (Braden). My personal favorite, though, was the response that said “it’s a waste of my time” (Braden). The non-required students that I surveyed, however, had better ideas of what the Writing Center was about. They said that they believed it was a “helpful environment” with a “staff that always answered any questions” (Braden, survey). Perhaps the initial perception of the Writing Center alters the way students enter a tutoring session.

Also, between required and non-required students, there is a varying level of dedication, interest, and willingness to work. There must be a drive to accomplish a paper successfully for a tutoring session to truly be effective. If the student is not willing to pay attention, make corrections, and participate in the conversation then nothing will be achieved. In my experience and the experiences of the Writing Fellows that I surveyed, non-required students have more of a desire to improve. Thus, their sessions are more effectual and rewarding for both the tutor and student. Because of that, the students are more likely to view the Writing Center in a positive light and also come back for follow-up tutoring sessions. Required students seem to lack that focus and willingness to work hard. They see the Writing Center as something that they “have” to do, not something that they necessarily “want” to do.

Not all required students are unpleasant. I, personally, have had some unfortunate experiences with required students this semester and that, along with the experiences of other Writing Fellows, is what I based my opinions on. While required and non-required tutoring sessions are different, tutors walk into each appointment with the same goal: to help the student improve his writing. Whether the student had to come to the Writing Center or came on his own, the same thing needs to be accomplished. If the student and tutor can find a common ground and work together, the session will be a success.

Works Cited

Braden, Ashley. Surveys. 22 Nov. 2006 – 14 Dec. 2006

Harris, Muriel. "Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors." College English 57 (1995): 27-42. JSTOR. Monroe
       County Community College Library, Monroe, MI. 22 Nov. 2006 <http://links.jstor.org/>.

Kail, Harvey. "Collaborative Learning in Context: the Problem with Peer Tutoring." College English 45 (1983): 594-99. JSTOR.       Monroe County Community College Library, Monroe, MI. 22 Nov. 2006 <http://links.jstor.org/>.

E-Tutoring
Amy Green

Perhaps, in the future, schools will not exist, and people will download information onto a microchip implanted in their brains. If and until that time comes, to avoid going to school, we will need to find contentment with using computers and the Internet. Online tutoring reveals the quick progression of technology within such a short amount of time, and even though online tutoring retains some glitches, it broadens learning on a whole new level. Practically a newborn in the academic world, online tutoring consists of analyzing the processes of the three main electronic tutoring forms, identifying the general problems of electronic tutoring, and finding ways for improving those difficulties.

Online communication in a writing center varies greatly, but three main methods exist in online tutoring. No matter what method a writing center employs, the method focuses on encouraging the students to talk in their writing, which in turn helps the students to grow comfortable with writing. Muriel Harris indicates that writing centers use several mediums, such as, “... e-mail services, on-line discussion groups and bulletin boards, real-time conversational opportunities, and resources writers can use as they write” (1).

Our writing center employs one of the most popular methods of online tutoring, e-mail. As the most familiar form of online communication, e-mail allows one-on-one interaction with another person, while not requiring real-time communication; but e-mail requires a longer period to obtain a response if the receiver infrequently checks his or her e-mail. Queen, a student at Monroe County Community College, says that her lack of a driver’s license makes the online tutoring program convenient, but the long response time does create problems for revising a paper before the due date (par. 2-3). The e-tutoring program at Monroe County Community College maintains a policy of a forty-eight hour turn around period on papers because the e-tutors need time to look at the paper while dealing with other work from their classes. Obviously, no solution exists for this problem, unless the college hires outside people, which costs a considerable amount of money and deprives hard-working students of an opportunity to receive financial assistance from a scholarship.

Multi-User Object Oriented or MOO environments mirror the environment of chat rooms in which students communicate with tutors in real time. Obviously, the time restraints associated with chat rooms create the same problems that time restrictions cause in face-to-face tutoring. MOO environments allow students to attend an appointment with a tutor without leaving the comfort of their homes, and as Harris implies, MOO environments provide a place for writers to talk, in writing, about subjects they find interesting, making the main goal of MOO environments the starting and engaging of conducive conversation (2).

Finding general information in pamphlets online through Gophers or the World Wide Web provides a way in which students receive help on their papers without contacting a tutor. “It also offers MLA and APA information and examples for referencing” (Santovec 4). Since online pamphlets do not require tutors, they cannot provide writers with the objective criticism needed to compose a paper. Providing pamphlets freely to students who need extra help assists writers when no major concerns present themselves, but if the writer develops problems that online pamphlets cannot address, the pamphlets turn into nothing more than a small bandage for a gaping wound.

Providing information and help online in the form of e-mail, chat rooms, and online pamphlets assists a plethora of people, who find problems in coming to a writing center in person. Unfortunately, online tutoring cannot offer some of the benefits found in face-to-face tutoring.

Online tutoring, like any form of tutoring, remains flawed, but to improve the program the problems need identifying and solving. Talking over the Internet cannot replace face-to-face tutoring because of the lack of personal contact, and writing a series of impersonal letters to an unknown person misses the clarity of a silent understanding which occurs between a writer and tutor in a face-to-face session. As Gillespie and Lerner point out, far too often a tutor adds questions to the end of a student’s text, and those questions sound harshly critical to the student (165). Carefully, a tutor must make certain that his or her questions or comments sound neither like a critical teacher nor like an editor’s remarks.

Obviously, the lack of non-verbal cues or body language becomes a major obstacle in online tutoring. As regarding the difficulty of the lack of non-verbal cues, Bert states in the Survey and Questionnaire E-mail, “A flowing conversation is just more conducive to creative energies” (par. 4). Body language and a mutual understanding create a relationship more quickly between the writer and the tutor, and this relationship produces conversation and learning about the topic of a paper and writing in general. While online tutoring eventually induces conversation and a relationship between a writer and a tutor, the response time results in the process taking much longer. In the Writing Center at the Monroe County Community College, the turn around time on papers takes about two days. Such a long response time fails to do much for creating a conversation, let alone a relationship, between a writer and tutor. Describing online how a process of writing functions develops into a difficulty because some things explained in writing become far too complicated for a student to understand, much like reading a textbook. As Hicks, an online tutor at Monroe County Community College, states, “I always feel like I have to cut short my comments or leave things out that are too hard to explain on paper” (par. 5). If problems develop with a lack of non-verbal cues, the student needs to schedule an appointment for a face-to-face tutorial in the writing center.

Using real-time, web-based camera sessions overcomes the lack of non-verbal cues in an online session. Unfortunately, little information exists about web-based camera mediums in online tutoring, but certainly, using such a tutoring medium involves new theories for a novel tutoring method. The process would consist of the writer making an appointment with a tutor, e-mailing the tutor the paper before the online appointment time, logging on with the tutor at the appointment time, and attending a tutoring session without leaving home. Using web-based cameras would eliminate the problem with the lack of body language, while remaining convenient for both the student and the tutor. Unfortunately, two problems exist, one with the cost of installing web-based cameras and two with the time constraints remaining on both the student and the tutor.

Although online tutoring provides convenience because a student no longer needs to take time to make an appointment in the writing center, a longer response period to an online question causes problems for students running out of time to write their papers. As mentioned earlier, tutoring online takes time to e-mail back and forth between tutor and student, since no person lives in front of a computer screen waiting to reply to e-mails. A period of days might pass before a student completely understands some part of writing, like the concept and purpose of a thesis sentence. Tutoring online requires more time than tutoring face-to-face; and therefore, when a student procrastinates and sends in a paper the night before its due, the student cannot receive as much help online as compared to a session in person. As Klammer states, “One time when I sent my paper in I didn’t get [it] back until 3 days later and I had to turn in my assignment before I got to see the feedback on my paper” (par. 2).

Knowing how online tutoring works helps us better understand the downfalls of the program, and with the knowledge of these downfalls, we may learn how to eliminate them as much as possible. Within the vastness of the Internet exists a cornucopia of communication methods, and within these written methods, learning and teaching present themselves in ways that almost all people can access. While online tutoring contains its share of problems with the lack of personal contact, the program provides assistance to a plethora of people previously unable to receive that help. We, as tutors, must learn how to overcome these problems to improve the program for the benefit of the people who need it.

Works Cited

Bert Judith. Survey and Questionnaire E-mail to author. 5 Dec. 2006.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2004.

Harris, Muriel. “From the (Writing) Center to the Edge: Moving Writers Along With the Internet.” The Clearing House 69.1
       (Sept-Oct 1995): 2-3. General Reference Center Gold. INFOTRAC. Monroe County Community College Lib. Monroe, Mi.
       18 Nov. 2006  <http://web5.infotrac.galegroup.com>.

Hicks, Tennery. Questionnaire E-mail to the author. 29 Nov. 2006.

Klammer, Tricia. Survey and Questionnaire E-mail to the author. 5 Dec. 2006.

Queen, Bob. Survey and Questionnaire E-mail to the author. 5 Dec. 2006.

Santovec, Mary Lou. “E-Writing Center Brings Services to Online Students.” Distance Education Report 9.23 (Dec. 2005): 4+.       Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Lib. Monroe, Mi. 18 Nov. 2006 <http://       web.ebscohost.com>.


Formal vs. Informal Language
Sara Hudson

A tutor walks into the writing center on his first day of tutoring. A million questions are running through his mind, but number one on the list is: “How should I speak with the student?” Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary defines formal language as “language of a more complex and elaborate construction and vocabulary than that of informal speech or writing” (251). This dictionary defines informal language as “ordinary conversation or familiar writing” (333). The tutor may be afraid of intimidating the student as a result of speaking formally, but the tutor may also be afraid of losing credibility as a result of speaking informally. The style of speaking used in the writing center can certainly affect the outcome of the tutoring session. During a tutoring session, formal language may intimidate the student and cause the session to be less successful, while informal language may cause the student to take the tutor less seriously and cause the session to be less successful. The tutor must weigh all of these options and decide which style of speaking to use during the session.

I began my research by interviewing a few other writing fellows to get an idea of which style of speaking is used most often in the MCCC Writing Center. The results showed that informal language is used most often. The reason is that tutors feel they connect with the student better when speaking informally. One writing fellow said that, “Informal language does make the student take the tutor less seriously, but sometimes that can be a good thing,” (Slat). My next measure of research was to test this theory. The best way to test this theory was to apply it in a writing center. My plan was to use informal language during one tutoring session with a student and then use formal language in another session with the same student. I intended to do this three times with recurring students. Unfortunately, during my tutoring experience, I only encountered one recurring student. To work around this obstacle, I decided to choose a style of speaking to use on a random student and take observations of how successful the session was.

The first student that I planned to test this theory on was a female. For the first session, I decided to test informal language. She walked into the writing center and proceeded to log in. I casually walked over to her and said “Hey, how’s it going?” A smile spread across her face and she replied, “Great.” We sat down and looked at the paper she was working on, which was a research paper. The session began with her asking me questions about her paper. When I answered her questions, I used phrases that she would understand without doubt. When I referred to her thesis statement, I would describe it as a roadmap for her paper, or a way to organize her main ideas. When I referred to paragraph unity, I would describe this as her ideas flowing logically. When I was answering her questions I noticed her nod, and say things like “Oh, I see.” After I was done explaining things, she proceeded to ask more questions and she explained things to me to ensure that she understood what we had covered. When the session was over, I could tell that she truly understood what we covered during the session.

The student mentioned above returned for another session for a different paper. Formal language was the style of speaking tested during this session. When I greeted her at the beginning of this session I said, “Hello, have a seat and we’ll get started.” Her reaction was a bit different compared to the previous session; she just took her seat. We focused on other areas of her paper compared to the last session. I used phrases such as “Can you locate your topic sentences for me?” She was hesitant because she did not know exactly what a topic sentence was. It took her a minute to ask me what I was talking about. This behavior was much different compared to the last session, because she was afraid to ask me questions. After we discussed topic sentences, we moved on to developed paragraphs. I explained to her that she should support her ideas with details and examples. She gave the impression that she understood what I was talking about, but she still did not ask questions or give me much feedback at all. I think that the student did not take as much out of this session as she did in the informal session.

Compared to the informal session, the formal session was much more professional. The way I chose to speak during the informal session made the student realize that I was her friend and that we were on the same level of intelligence. The way I chose to speak during the formal session sounded more like a teacher than a peer. “Peer tutoring is usually considered less threatening and intimidating [than being tutored by a teacher]. One aspect of this is that the tutor can establish a rapport with the tutee in a way that a teacher cannot,” (Peer Par. 2). Because the goal of peer tutoring is to connect with the student on a level that a teacher cannot, speaking formally may defeat the purpose. The student was much more hesitant to ask questions during the formal session, perhaps because my style of speaking intimidated her. Maybe she thought if she asked me questions, I would think of her as less intelligent. At this point in my research, I found informal language to produce the best outcome during a tutoring session.

From this point, I chose a style of speaking at random and I chose at student at random to test it on. My next session was with a female, and I decided to speak informally. When she walked into the writing center, I noticed she was about ten years older than me and appeared rather mature. She was working on a research paper, but had not actually started it. We talked about prewriting and how to find sources. I spoke with her like she was my friend and I made a few jokes to create an easygoing atmosphere. I do not think she appreciated the attitude I presented. When I made a few jokes, she looked at me like I was wasting her time. From this point the session felt awkward. She did not take me as seriously for the remainder of the session. Speaking informally during this session did not produce a successful tutoring session.

My next tutoring session was with a male, and I decided to speak formally. He walked into the session wearing a collared shirt, looking somewhat professional. He was working on a review of a drama. He wrote very well, and the language he used in his paper was professional. We discussed the global concerns using formal language. He asked me a few questions using the same style of language that I used. I think the student felt we were on the same level of intelligence, but was afraid to show his personality. This tutoring session was a success, but the atmosphere felt more businesslike than friendly.

After completing my research, I have decided that the style of speaking used during a tutoring session should depend on the student. From my experience, informal language creates a friendly atmosphere and the student feels more comfortable. Formal language creates an uptight atmosphere and the student is less likely to actively participate in the session. Of course these experiences do not apply to every situation. If the student appears professional and would like to get down to business, the tutor should speak formally. If the student is hesitant to ask questions and looks uncomfortable during the session, the tutor should speak informally. It is the tutor’s responsibility to make the best judgment on which style of speaking to use during each tutoring session.

Works Cited

Slat, Christopher. Personal interview. Dec. 2006.

“Formal.” Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. 1st ed. 1996.

- - - “Informal.” Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. 1st ed. 1996.

“Peer Tutor.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 7 Nov. 2006. 17 Dec. 2006. <http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_tutor>.


Have You Ever Questioned the Socratic Method?
Jen Shadle

In the MCCC Writing Center a non-directive approach to tutoring is stressed. It is assumed in using a more directive approach we are “band-aiding” the problem. By using any technique aside from the Socratic method, we do a disservice to the writer. Jeff Brooks strongly advocates the use of “minimalist tutoring” stating, “When you ‘improve’ a student’s paper, you haven’t been a tutor at all; you’ve been an editor…We must not become editors for our students and that the goal of each tutoring session is learning, not a perfect paper” (2). If we give suggestions, ideas, or other ways to see things, the next paper will not contain these ideas and will not earn a better grade. We would be creating a false and temporary sense of accomplishment, in most cases. However, an ESL student, confused by our language, idioms, euphemisms, and the way English papers are worded, may require a more directive approach to tutoring.

Writing centers exist to help people learn to write, to help them help themselves. With a skilled writer this is not a problem. Fortunately, the Monroe County Community College (MCCC) Writing Center assists everyone willing to try to better his or her writing. The Socratic method answers questions with questions, assuming the writer will know when and where a weakness in his or here paper occurs. This is not always the case. In criticizing the nondirective style of some writing center approaches, Clark argues:
" True collaborators respond to one another honestly and do not withhold information from one another about trivial  aspects of a paper (spelling, typos, missing commas, for example) because they fear too much assistance. In fact, one  might venture that the more information withheld from a student and the more a tutor refrains from presenting  information he knows, the more he is acting like a traditional teacher and the less likely it is that true collaboration will occur. After all, only teachers, not colleagues, ask questions to which they already know the answers…My feeling is that with such higher-achieving students, the tutor behaves more like a peer than when he deliberately withholds ideas and information, whatever his pedagogical rationale might be" (10-11).

Some students are from non-credit classes and are having severe difficulty writing a one-paragraph paper. They are unsure what a thesis statement or topic sentence is. Writing is extremely difficult for some beginning composition students. Letting students leave the writing center without assisting them could lead the tutee to either not care about writing, or worse, not care about school. The writing center is sometimes used as a last resort.

A student with ideas and an empty page likely has not learned an effective prewriting strategy. In this case, it helps to explain that, “This [prewriting] helps me organize my ideas” or “Have you ever tried freewriting, a cluster, or starting with a basic outline?” We would not say, “I would start it like this.” That would be writing an introduction for a student, a directive approach.
We (tutors) are instructed to use minimalist tutoring to avoid a student coming into what she thinks is an “editing center.” A huge misconception about writing centers is that a tutor will fix a student’s writing or write a student’s paper because he or she does not understand how to do it. Fixing one student’s paper is like feeding a kitten, students would come to the writing centers in droves to avoid work. A recent tutee explained, “Writing is not my strong point.” In this case it was a Children’s Literature student and writing better be her strong point. It may have been a matter of laziness and feeling overworked and a convenient way to say, “I did not finish this, can you?”

While this scenario occurs, we cannot ignore the students who are truly at ends with a paper because they were never taught to write. Using the Socratic method would be similar to asking someone who has never taken algebra, “What do you think is wrong with this equation?” or “Can you think of what might be the answer?” That would be ludicrous. We should explain why the problem keeps coming up wrong in hopes the student could now find the correct answer on her own.

Non-directive tutoring strategies, such as the Socratic method, are emphasized. However, through my observation in the writing center, they is not always practiced. I asked students to rate the overall directiveness of their tutoring style (Shadle, Questionnaire). I expected tutors to say that they were “very non-directive.” However, on average, tutors rated themselves in the middle of the scale.

By using minimalist tutoring when a more directive approach is needed, we are not helping. Sometimes throwing an idea on the table provokes further thought in an unskilled writer and she leaves overflowing with ideas and a sense she can organize them. Nevertheless, sometimes problems need to be pointed out. If the tutee has a five-paragraph essay with four bad transitioning sentences, we (tutors) know the problem. However, the writer may not understand how to connect thoughts from a lack of being taught. Asking, “Where are your transition sentences?” usually helps the student zero in on the problem, unless the answer is, “My what?” Some students have never written a college paper and are missing their target audience. In this case a tutor may have to cite the worst paragraph in a series of paragraphs, explain why an instructor is not interested in the student’s stance on abortion, euthanasia, or how much the student loves her grandmother, and see how she would fix the next section on her own.

Sometimes a tutor will read a compare/contrast essay in the form of a cause/effect paper. If a student has missed the assignment completely, he or she probably does not know the difference. In these cases the tutee’s paper is the only place to start. By explaining, “this would not mean that” they can understand and can fix the rest of the piece. Some students troubled by a writing assignment believe this is the last paper they will write. They do not care what is wrong with their writing, only “this paper.” A more direct approach, if not taken, will only result in the same problems in the next of many writing assignments.

By asking a student if she sees a pattern, a weak area, or problems larger than these after she has stated clearly she does not know what is wrong, is not the answer. I think suggestions are more helpful than more questions in some cases. A directive approach, however, is not always necessary. Most writers do know the problem and can be coached through them. There are occasions this is not the case. However, as tutors, we need to identify these issues, type of learners, and best approach to a situation in which minimalism is not helping the writer but causing further confusion to what someone sees as an agonizing process.

Although we would love for the Socratic method and similar minimalist tutoring strategies to work effectively for everyone, they do not. There are occasions when a more directive approach needs to be taken. Whether the tutee sees no problems in the paper for lack of understanding or simply has never written a college paper, there are cases where a “we” approach should be taken. As Harris notes, “So, while strategies sound useful and easy, they aren’t recipes. Sometimes the best we can hope for is a repertoire of strategies to draw on. When one doesn’t seem to be working or doesn’t fit the way we tutor, we move on to another one. That’s what makes tutoring so challenging and finally, when we’re successful, so rewarding” (31). So long as the student’s own thoughts and words make up the finished product, helping her get there is a matter of degree. Expecting a student to answer questions by being questioned may cause her to simply do the minimum and walk away learning nothing and feeling she cannot write because no one really helped.

Works Cited

Brooks, Jeff. “Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All The Work.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 15.6 (Feb. 1991): 1-4.

Clark, Irene Lurkis. “Collaboration and Ethics in Writing Center Pedagogy.” The Writing Center Journal 9.1 (1988): 3-12.

Harris, Muriel. “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.” A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One. Ed. Ben Rafoth. 2nd ed.       Portsmouth, NH: Boynton. 2005: 23-33.

Shadle, Jen. Questionnaire. Nov. 2006.

Friendly Writing Center Atmosphere
Krissy Sheets

It’s 8:55AM on Tuesday morning when you arrive at Monroe County Community College. You slowly head up the two flights of stairs that lead to the Learning Assistance Lab where your appointment with a Writing Fellow is about to take place. Nervously, you walk through the double doors and up to the front desk. You have never used the tutoring service before because you were too nervous and scared to request tutoring. Suddenly, your Writing Fellow walks up and introduces herself or himself and the anticipated session begins. The majority of students who visit the Writing Center at MCCC admit to being nervous their first time. To ease the tension and create a comfortable, friendly working atmosphere, the Writing Center needs to have a friendly room arrangement, accessories, and dress code.

The MCCC Learning Assistance Lab is one medium-sized room split in two, segregating the Tutoring and Writing Centers, with a short divider. There are four tutoring stations set up close in proximity to each other and one square table for the Writing Fellows to sit at when they don’t have a session. To the far left, there are two conference rooms with a big glass window so anyone can see in at all times. White paint covers the walls and is as inviting as a house without electricity. For the most part, the Writing Center is overcrowded and uncomfortable to be in. When each tutoring station is in use, the tutors and tutees complain that they are unable to hear each other, which drastically changes the quality of work the tutor and tutee can accomplish.

“I would like [the Writing Center] to be a laid back and friendly atmosphere. It would allow people to be a little more comfortable with the Writing Fellow. The only change I would make is to have a larger work space to work with” (Sheets Survey). This comment was written from an anonymous tutee who points out the main problem in MCCC’s Writing Center. After I gathered all the results of a Writing Center Questionnaire, five out of seven indicated that they preferred an open space compared to a small area or separate rooms to work in. I found that the University of Toledo and Eastern Michigan University Writing Centers follow an open space environment. “The Writing Center is mostly an open space. We have three circular tables where most of the tutoring is done” (Edgington). Peeking in through the window of UT’s Writing Center after hours, I found it to be a non-threatening area with wide open spaces to learn. There are a variety of colors that are inviting and welcoming.

Mary Zdrojkowski, the Writing Center Director at Eastern Michigan University, also responded to an email I wrote to her asking what their Writing Center room arrangement is. She replied, “We are in a converted classroom near the main entrance of the largest classroom building on campus—not a bad location. It’s a fairly large room, and we have several round, café style tables that are green with a green leaf print covering the chairs . . . .” Open spaces seem to be the most favorable and comfortable atmosphere when it comes to room arrangement. The more spread out a Writing Center is, the more inviting and friendly tutees will feel about the Writing Center which may calm their nerves.

First impressions are important to everyone. First impressions determine how one feels about where they are and what they see. My first thought when I walked in the MCCC Writing Center for the first time was “this is it?” The accessories consisted of a table and semi-comfortable looking chairs. It reminded me of a doctor’s office. The objective of a writing Center is not to make tutees feel as if they are coming into a sterile room where they can’t sit down and relax. Perhaps if the MCCC Writing Center consisted of couches, comfortable chairs, coffee and cappuccino machines, and colorful paintings and walls, the tutee would feel as if this place is one where he or she can come to learn while being comfortable at the same time.

In the Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection journal, the article, “Formal and Informal Dimensions of the Teaching Environment” by Robert W. Heller and Harry J. Hartley discuss the informal (friendly) and formal (professional) atmosphere. They discuss how “the informal organization develops it’s own practices, values, norms and social relations as individuals interact with one another” (367). The atmosphere of the Writing Center affects how people will interact and how they learn. Along with the room arrangement and accessories, the dress code of the Writing Fellows needs to be casual in order to keep the Writing Center a friendly environment.

Revisiting the doctor office feel, if the Writing Fellow had to wear dress clothes, the tutees would feel even more nervous. Writing Fellows are looked upon as the best writers in the College, and to add the professional look may add more stress and nervousness for the student. The friendly, casual dress code, along with open space room arrangement, is a popular standard in Writing Centers with 100% of students at MCCC preferring casual over professional dress (Sheets). The University of Toledo and Eastern Michigan University also follow this dress code and believe it is the best way to go. “We ask our staff to not wear suggestive clothing, to be clean—hair washed, bathed, not marinated in cologne or aftershave, and not to wear anything offensive, i.e. tee shirts with racist, sexist, etc sayings. Other than that, our dress code is pretty casual and our staff may wear tattoos (if not offensive) body piercing, etc” (Zdrojkowski). The casual dress code expresses to the tutee that the Writing Fellows are normal people just like them and relaxes the whole mood of the session. “There is not really a dress code, per se. We do ask our tutors to come to work dressed in casual attire (no ripped clothing, no cleavage but jeans and t-shirts are allowed” (Edgington).

Overall, the atmosphere of Writing Centers is preferred to be friendly and casual. The overwhelming percentage of tutees suggested open spaces for tutoring over closed, separate spaces, and they suggested that they feel more comfortable in that environment. Colorful chairs and walls, along with couches, and coffee and cappuccino machines work well in relieving tutees tension and creating a better learning environment. Lastly, a casual dress code affects the way a Writing Fellow is perceived. By dressing in everyday cloths, the tutee can relate better to the tutor, concentrate more on the paper, and stop worrying about the tutor’s perception. Creating a friendly Writing Center atmosphere could drastically improve learning and focus, while making it more comfortable for students overall.

Works Cited

Edgington, Anthony. “RE: My Name is Krissy from the Monroe CCC Writing Center.” E-mail to Krissy Sheets. 27 Nov. 2006.

Heller, Robert W. “Formal and Informal Dimensions of the Teaching Environment.” Education 91 (1971): 364. Psychology and        Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO. 5 Dec. 2006. <www.ebscohost.com>.

Sheets, Krissy. “Writing Center Questionnaire.” 28 Nov. 2006.

- - - “Writing Center Survey.” 28 Nov. 2006.

Zdrojkowski, Mary. “RE: My Name is Krissy from the Monroe CCC Writing Center.” E-mail to Krissy Sheets. 25 Nov. 2006.

Required vs. Non-required, Male vs. Female
Jenna Sims

Different types of students come into the writing center everyday. Since I have been tutoring I have noticed different outcomes depending which type of student I am working with. There are several groups of students who visit the writing center; required and non-required students, and male and female students. These groups can be further divided into required males and required females, and non-required males and non-required females. Each group of students shows different characteristics and gives different feedback.

Generally, students who come to the writing center on their own show different characteristics than those who are required to come. The non-required students are almost always prepared and ready to get started. They come to the session with an open mind and genuinely want to improve their writing. Students who are interested in a session usually show positive body language and non-verbal cues, while taking notes and asking questions. These qualities are more likely to be true of students who choose to come to the writing center, than those who are forced to come.

With my fellowed class this semester, I have encountered several required students. The requirement was not for a grade incentive like extra credit, but more like a prerequisite for the paper. Students who did not conference with the assigned writing fellow would not be allowed to turn in the assignment. The majority of the students I conferenced did not seem interested in the session at all. One of the significant problems I faced with these students was a lack of responsibility. They did not attempt to get their papers to me ahead of time, like required, and they did not always show up for their appointments in a timely manner, if at all. This seems to be the trend with required students; they do not want to be at the writing center, so they refuse to contribute anything during the session. Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner mention in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring that some required students who do not cooperate or “put much into the session” do so because they are resentful (179). Indiana University states that, “students who are required to be tutored often do not engage in the work of the tutorial with much interest and resist making major changes to their papers” (WTS). Although a majority of my fellowed class students were not open to the tutoring session, like always, there were a few students who were exceptionally involved.

The students I conferenced with who were not required to come to the writing center, but came on their own (without grade incentives), had a different attitude completely. The non-required students seemed much more attentive during the session. They generally came to the appointment prepared and would ask questions, take notes, and summarize what was said. These students were rarely late for their appointments and would sometimes even schedule follow up appointments. Overall, the attitude of non-required students was usually much better than that of required students.

To confirm my theory that non-required students are more involved in the tutoring session, I surveyed other writing fellows 1. According to this survey, 70% of writing fellows said non-required students are more willing to receive help with their papers. Most writing fellows also reported preferring to work with non-required students because these students actually want to improve. All of the writing fellows surveyed described having both positive and negative required students. Although everyone mentioned having positive non-required students, almost three-fourths of the writing fellows said they have never had a negative non-required student. This alone shows that non-required students are easier to work with because they are known to cooperate.

Besides the difference between required and non-required students, there is also a difference between male students and female students. According to the survey completed by writing fellows, about half said females were more willing to receive help with their papers. The other half, said gender did not play a role in the tutoring session. One writing fellow said that, “women are typically more eager to work” while another mentioned how several of her male students were extremely late with turning in their papers. This information suggests that females are the optimal students to tutor.

According to the survey completed by my fellowed class students 2, 40% of the males stated that the tutoring session did not help, while none of the females reported this. I think females are more open to suggestions than males. Most males would rather figure things out themselves instead of asking for help. Kassab mentions in the article “Gender-Related Differences in Learning in Student-Led PBL Tutorials” that, “women try to confirm and support each other and achieve consensus in their interactions, whereas men more often strive as individuals to achieve and maintain dominance” (280). Since I am a female, this would explain why the other females in my fellowed class, gave higher markings on the survey than the males. These females may have been looking to me for support while the males may have been trying to be dominant. A male taking the suggestions from a female tutor would be giving her the dominance and could be considered a weakness, so instead, sitting back and doing nothing is a way for the males to maintain their dominance. The psychology behind this shows why the male students did not feel they achieved anything from the session.

According to my research, non-required students are generally easier to work with than required students. Required students usually do not want help, while non-required students are looking for someone else’s opinion. Females also seem to be easier to conference. Males have been reported as procrastinating with their work while females come to the writing center ready to get started. Non-required females seem to be the best students to work with because they have the best attitudes. This may not always be the case, as there are exceptions; I have had one or two required male students who were considerably interactive. In addition, I am a female tutor; required female students may act differently with male tutors, just as required male students may act differently with other male tutors. There will always be exceptions.

Notes

      1 Ten writing fellows completed this survey.

      2 Twelve students completed the fellowed class survey. Ten were males and two were females. This may not be an accurate look at the genders since the class was mostly males.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2004. Kassab,
       Salah, et al. “Gender-Related Differences in Learning in Student-Led PBL Tutorials.” Education for Health 18.2 (2005):
       272-82. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Library, Monroe, MI. 6 Dec. 2006        <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

“WTS Policy on Required Tutorials.” Indiana University. 24 Mar. 2006. Writing Tutorial Services. 21 Nov. 2006 <http://       www.indiana.edu/~wts/policies.shtml#req>.

 

Getting Busy: Peak Times in the Writing Center
Christopher Slat

At the beginning of each semester, Writing Fellows choose times to work in the Writing Center. Certainly, different tutors pick different times for different reasons, but what days and times do the tutees prefer? An analysis of Writing Center data showed that there are some definite trends in Writing Center activity, and the reasons for them can be assumed.

Our Writing Fellows have had a broadly varying number of conferences. Throughout the semester, some have held a lot of appointments, and others, like myself, have seen hardly any students at all. I first became aware of this early in the semester. Within the first couple weeks, some of the other Writing Fellows had already had several appointments before I had tutored a single student. As the weeks passed, the number of conferences I had remained disproportionate. My theory was that my regular scheduled Writing Center time, Friday afternoon, was just less busy than other times.

This study’s purpose was to test my theory by uncovering how many Writing Center appointments were held throughout this semester, and which days and times of the week are most and least busy. This is easy, thanks to the TutorTrac software used in the Writing Center, that keeps track of all appointments made during the semester. For this study, I analyzed TutorTrac data for a period of two months—October 1 to November 30, 2006. This two-month period provides a large enough sample to paint a reasonably accurate picture of typical Writing Center activity. I did not want to include the month of September in this study, because the Junior Writing Fellows did not start working in the Writing Center until September 18 (Dillon), and that could skew my results, especially since only Junior Writing Fellows are currently scheduled to work in the Writing Center on Friday. Fellowed Class appointments were not included in the study, either, because Fellowed Class appointment times are often subject to the tutor’s convenience rather than the tutee’s preference. TutorTrac also handles them differently, making them a bit more difficult than normal appointments to find statistics for.

The TutorTrac data showed that Friday is indeed the slowest day in the Writing Center, and Mondays and Wednesdays are the busiest days. In October and November, a total of 364 non-fellowed appointments were made. Of those, 114 (31%) were on Monday and 103 (28%) were on Wednesday. On the other hand, there were only 31 appointments on Friday—less than 10% of the total number. The complete day-by-day breakdown can be seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1
Number of Writing Center Appointments Per Day, 10/01/06-11/30/06

Day                                   # of Appointments                                                 % of Overall Total
Monday                                       114                                                                              31.3
Tuesday                                        50                                                                              13.7
Wednesday                                103                                                                              28.3
Thursday                                       66                                                                              18.1
Friday                                             31                                                                                8.5

Source: (“Learning Center Schedule”).

Additionally, the TutorTrac data showed that most appointments happen in the morning hours, and the number of appointments decreases throughout the day. Once I looked at all the scheduled appointments by day of the week, I looked at them by time of day. I divided each day into three parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. I defined morning as 8:00 AM to noon, afternoon as noon to 4:30 PM., and evening as 4:30-7:00 PM. I found that appointments were most common in the morning hours, with afternoon appointments in second place, and evening appointments as the least common. So, judging from these results, it would be reasonable— though not necessarily absolutely true—to say that Monday mornings are the busiest times in the Writing Center. Later times on Friday could be assumed to be the least common.

Because the sample size of this study was so small, I cannot draw any conclusions about which times of the semester are busiest, in terms of weeks or months. However, at least one other writing center has found that “Late January is typically a slow time” until the first writing assignments of winter semester are given out (“Voices” 14). Based on this and what I have seen and heard, I think that the beginning of each semester is a slow time at the MCCC Writing Center, with appointments gradually becoming more and more common as the weeks go by.

The findings of this study do not reflect habits at all writing centers. According to Mary Zdrojkowski, director of the writing center at Eastern Michigan University, the busiest days in the EMU writing center are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The writing center is open on Monday, but, Zdrojkowski said students “often cancel because they didn't get their papers done, have hangovers, remained out of town,” or for other reasons. As is the case at MCCC, Fridays are slow days. Zdrojkowski explains this by saying that “there aren’t many classes offered on Friday,” which is likely the same reason why there are not many Friday appointments at MCCC. Also, at EMU, the afternoon is busiest time of day, not the morning. However, it is important to consider the differences between Eastern Michigan University and Monroe County Community College. It is doubtful that any four-year universities and two-year community colleges have identical patterns in writing centers or in any other program.

There a lot of possible causes for the activity patterns observed at the MCCC Writing Center. One obvious explanation for why Monday and Wednesday get the most appointments is because more classes are held at MCCC on Monday and Wednesday than on any other days. This theory is strengthened by the fact that Monday and Wednesday have almost the same number appointments (a difference of eleven), and Tuesday and Thursday also have similar numbers of appointments to each other (a difference of sixteen). This implies that MCCC Writing Center activity depends on the number of classes held on campus on a given day. After all, students are far more likely to come into the Writing Center on a day when they have to be on campus anyway, especially if they live far away. The frequency of Monday appointments also suggests that students might take advantage of the weekend to finish drafts of the papers they hope to bring in. It also could be because of procrastination. As Irene Clark, Director of the University of Southern California’s writing center, notes, students have “tendencies to do their work at the last minute,” and fail to make appointments in advance of when they need them, even when specifically instructed to (519). It is possible that students are trying to schedule appointments late on Friday or on the weekend, and can’t, so they schedule for the next closest time: Monday morning.

There are some potential causes for error in this study. One is that the no-show factor was not addressed. Looking at the tutor usage charts on TutorTrac, there’s no simple way to eliminate the missed appointments, so they were counted with the normal, attended appointments. However, there were probably not enough no-shows in October and November to significantly change my findings. Another potential cause for error is my failure to include the Fellowed Class data into my statistics. My findings illustrate when walk-ins and normally scheduled appointments are likely to happen, but Fellowed Classes contribute greatly to the activity in the Writing Center, and if a tutor is using his or her normally-scheduled time for a Fellowed Class, that time would not be available for walk-ins or normal appointments. Still, I believe my research give a good general idea of the times the Writing Center is busiest.

The Writing Fellow program may want to keep this information in mind when assigning tutors to regular times in the Writing Center. If possible, more Writing Fellows should be in the Writing Center on Mondays and Wednesdays than on Fridays. Of course, depending on the schedules of the Writing Fellows, this may not always be possible. The Writing Fellows should still be able to choose whatever times they want, but should be gently encouraged to sign up for the busier times.

Not all times have equal activity in the MCCC Writing Center. TutorTrac data shows that there are distinct differences between the number of walk-ins and normally scheduled appointments on different days of the week and different times of the day. Although these findings cannot be universally applied to all writing centers, they may be able to help the MCCC program improve itself by making more effective use of its Writing Fellows.

Works Cited

Clark, Irene L. “Portfolio Evaluation, Collaboration, and Writing Centers.” College Composition and Communication 44(1993):       515- 24. JSTOR. Monroe County Community College Lib., Monroe, MI. 17 Dec. 2006 <http://www.jstor.org/search>.

Dillon, Timothy. MCCC Writing Center Director. Personal e-mail. 13 Dec. 2006.

“Learning Center Schedule.” TutorTrac. Monroe County Community College Computer Network. Monroe, MI. 01 Dec. 2006.

“Voices From the Net: Writing Center Promotion Week.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. May 2004. 05 Dec 2006       <http://writinglabnewsletter.org/archives/v28/28.9.pdf>.

Zdrojkowski, Mary. Personal e-mail. 04 Dec. 2006.

 

Normal is Exceptional: Cultural Norms in Tutoring
Geoffrey Wykes

Sometimes, a conversation can get suddenly uncomfortable. It can’t be defined, just someone “rubbing” someone else the wrong way, or maybe a subtle and unpleasant feeling that a person is staring. It’s that mysterious “something wrong.” Most of the time, though, this “something” is definable: crossed cultural boundaries. In the United States, staring into someone’s eyes is aggressive, and touching someone in a conversation is out of the question, unless the people involved are intimates; but in Arab society, conversation demands eye-to-eye contact, and touching is infrequent but normal. That “something,” then, happens when people fail to pay attention to cultural norms. In a tutoring environment, this can be devastating. If the student is made uncomfortable by the tutor, the entire tutoring concept is useless. Awareness is always a first step, and knowing the cultural expectations of likely tutees can make sessions far smoother and more helpful. Normal is exceptional; by making a session as normal as possible, a tutor can help put students at ease and help them learn. Through body positioning and visual cues consistent with accepted cultural norms, tutors and tutees can more easily exchange information and make the most of a session.

While there are at least six factors that influence interactions (Hall 1006), body positioning is the most important for writing center conferences. Conversations involve far more than just words, unconscious pieces of information that either lend support to or detract from the verbal aspects. It is very difficult to hold a conversation while standing back-to-back; it deprives the participants of important information. This is particularly evident in situations such as Internet message boards and chatrooms, where sarcasm, for example, is often taken improperly unless all participants in the conversation have some prior knowledge of each other’s communication tendencies. In a face-to-face conversation, sarcasm is conveyed through visual cues such as exaggerated gestures and expressions. These are missing in the stripped-down, casual style of Internet communication. Since most peer tutoring within a writing center is loosely face-to-face, awareness of these other avenues of communication is critical.

While it may seem self-evident that full-body positioning plays a critical role in conferencing, the main factor is actually shoulder facing. Called the sociofugal-sociopedal axis (Hall 1008-9), this is important because shoulder direction indicates attention. In a conference with a tutee, it is particularly important for the tutor to convey their full attention beyond simple eye contact; if a tutor is sitting at a computer, with their shoulders facing the computer but their head turned to the tutee, it is implied that their full attention is directed at the computer and the conference with the other student is but a momentary diversion. Hall defines shoulder-to-shoulder positions at 0 degrees as best for “direct communications where the intent of one or both of the participants is to reach the other with maximum intensity” (1009), making this position technically ideal for tutoring.

Realistically, however, this position is unlikely to be comfortable with most American students. O. Michael Watson and Theodore Graves studied two-person conversations, comparing sets of two male Arab students with those of two male American students, all friends beforehand. (972-73) The results were striking—Arab students, on average, placed their shoulders at between 15 and 45 degrees while American students placed their shoulders at 90 degrees. This position is described by Hall as being “more casual and less involved” and usually includes a mutual interest (1009). This is the best positioning for tutoring sessions because it conforms to American social norms (most, if not all, tutoring sessions are with unfamiliar students) while still maintaining attention on the tutee’s text.
Within the MCCC Writing Center, the workstation tables are nominally set up to allow a range of facings, allowing for moderate variation; but observing my own sessions showed that, at the start of the session, the initial angles selected were between 100 and 120 degrees. I usually attempted to compensate, either twisting in my seat or turning the chair, and this usually had the effect of normalizing the session, placing it closer to an ideal 90 degrees. At least once, however, my attempts resulted in the student visibly backing off, as though increased facing was repellent. I turned the chair back and attempted to avoid an uncomfortable silence by immediately directing attention to the student’s paper instead; I was only moderately successful, however, illustrating that while knowledge of norms is useful, they are only medians.

Closely related to shoulder facing, but considered a separate factor by sociologists and anthropologists, is the factor of “visual directness” (Watson and Graves 980) or more generally “vision” (Hall 1012). Cultural differences are especially broad in this case, because of the fine control that humans have over both their vision and their ability to determine the visual focus of others (Hall 1013-14). Hall points out that in Navajo culture, it is improper to “gaze directly at others,” and Greek culture involves much eye-to-eye contact (1012). This is not simply a matter to be aware of for tutoring a foreign-born student, but one that tutors need to be aware of for all students, considering the amount of information conveyed by sight. A male tutor incessantly staring at a female student’s chest can make the session highly ineffective and legally challenging, while avoiding looking at students will produce the feeling of ignoring them, damaging efforts at collaboration. One of the most significant problems students face is a perceived impersonality of colleges (Hawkins 65); since a peer tutor is supposed to help students in a personal and intimate manner, an impersonal, disinterested tutor is no help at all.

In Watson and Graves’ study of visual directness, a scale from 1 to 4 was used, 1 denoting direct eye-to-eye contact and 4 “no visual contact” (975). Arab students averaged 1.05, meaning that most of their conversations were eye-to-eye, while the American students averaged 2.86, suggesting that their conversational eye contact was mostly indirect in nature (Watson and Graves 980). While some students may not be culturally American, most will be, demanding a minimal degree of direct eye contact. Because human vision is remarkably accurate when determining where another individual’s eyes are looking, deviation from a cultural norm will almost certainly be noticed and can negatively influence the session. In most of my tutoring sessions, I noticed that, while direct eye contact occasionally happened, it was at the beginning or end of the session. During the session, eye contact was rare. Most of the time, both mine and the tutee’s eyes were directed to the text, with the occasional glance at the other’s face. In my case, afterwards, I realized that my glances at tutees were to gauge their interest. I can only assume that students were performing a similar analysis upon me.

Seeing and being seen is directly connected to writing-related peer tutoring. Because both tutor and tutee are students, a rapport already exists, one that can be easily destroyed by a tutor becoming what Kenneth Bruffee calls a “little teacher” (qtd. in Podis 70). In American culture, direct eye contact is confrontational and aggressive, but it need not be so in a physical way—teachers can be, and often are, intellectually or socially aggressive, perhaps staring at a student in an effort to coerce the student into giving an answer, or confronting a student to see if the student studied. A fellow student is not expected to act in this manner, and staring at a tutee in this manner can destroy the pre-existing rapport and, by extension, the entire reason for tutoring.

While it may seem obvious that body positioning and vision affect conversation, it is the details that make all the differences. It is not necessarily head positioning that denotes attention, but rather how one places their shoulders; eye contact is not necessarily the most important factor in a conversation, but the cultural norms determining appropriate eye contact are. Perhaps the most interesting factor, though, is that, as regular, every-day humans, both tutors and tutees perform judgments on these actions automatically and continually as a function of our culture. It is normal for conversing Americans to sit at a 45-degree angle with each other, because they feel this to be the most comfortable—and this comfort is what a tutor strives for. Comfortable students will readily learn, and comfortable tutors will find it far easier to help them. Knowing what that un-definable “something” is can save a session from disaster—or simply be more normal.

Works Cited

Hall, Edward T. “A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behavior.” American Anthropologist 65 (1963): 1003-1026. JSTOR.
       Monroe  Community College Library. 16 Dec. 2006. <http://www.jstor.org/search>.

Hawkins, Thom. “Intimacy and Audience: The Relationship between Revision and the Social Dimension of Peer Tutoring.”
       College English 42.1 (1980): 64-68. JSTOR. Monroe Community College Library. 16 Dec. 2006.
       <http://www.jstor.org/search>.

Podis, Leonard A. “Training Peer Tutors for the Writing Lab.” College Composition and Communication 31.1 (1980): 70-75.
        JSTOR. Monroe Community College Library. 16 Dec. 2006. <http://www.jstor.org/search>.

Watson, O. Michael and Theodore D. Graves. “Quantitative Research in Proxemic Behavior.” American Anthropologist. 68.4,
        971-85.1966. JSTOR. Monroe Community College Library. 2 Dec. 2006. <http://www.jstor.org/search>.