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Assessments Show the Effectiveness of Writing Centers
Benjamin D. Collins

It was the first day of the Fall 2006 semester at Monroe County Community College (MCCC), when Dr. McCloskey entered the class and I was sitting in English 151 classroom thinking about how I was not going to be able to earn an A in the class. As he was going over his grading policy, he said something that removed the dread from my mind. He said that anyone who saw a Writing Fellow would receive two extra credit points on each essay. While he only said two points per essay, the total possible extra credit points could make a big difference. I ended up with an A, not only because of the extra credit but also because the Writing Center improved my writing dramatically. In fact, the Writing Center improves students’ grades and writing abilities. In addition, holding it accountable increases the likelihood of students succeeding, while outside assessments of the Writing Center’s performance can lead to further improvements, and, most important, students’ evaluation of its helpfulness is crucial to its success.

Academic accountability is crucial to students’ success during and after school. Without an assessment of success, college programs will not know what is effective and what is not effective. In fact, Grant Wiggins writes of a conversation he had with a researcher for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards who found the best teachers correctly described what went on in their classrooms (291). If teachers do not know how to evaluate their effectiveness, they will not know what strategies to continue and what strategies not to continue. Wiggins goes on to state, tests are not an accurate method of assessing teachers success or students comprehension (291-92). This means student may do well on tests without actually acquiring the knowledge they need to be successful. Teachers and students need an accurate appraisal of what transpires during class periods to be and become successful.

While tests are an ineffective method for accurate assessment, self-assessment in higher education is an effective way to improve the educational process. Self-assessing is effective because teachers and students know when they are appearing to be successful and when they are successful. Students often listen for cues from the professor, so they can create an intelligent façade (Wiggins 290). Teachers—who are not assessing their classrooms—will not discover the students’ façade and not be able to remedy the situation. Thus, if teachers self-assess, students will not be able counterfeit success. In addition, if students self-assess, they will hopefully realize ersatz success in a class will not help them after the class. While they might not realize this, it improves their chances of realizing it if they do self-assess. In academia, self-assessment assists in creating effective educational processes.

Because self-assessments work for assessing classrooms, writing center researchers need to apply them to writing programs. Because objectively assessing writing programs and student writing is difficult, it is essential to understanding the effects of writing centers. In “The Relationship between Writing Centers and Improvement in Writing Ability: an Assessment of the Literature” Casey Jones says, “not only do writing assignments of different types call on different skills, but because writing is less well-defined than most academic tasks, writing performance may be especially sensitive to student motivation” (4). This makes it hard to judge the successfulness of a writer and the writer’s independence, which is the goal of a writing center. Later, Jones cites a study that found the overall quality of an individual essay was a bad predictor of the quality of a different essay by the same student (4-5). Furthermore, writers will have varying levels of motivation on different assignments, so they will try harder on some essays than on others. The same self-assessing strategies that overcome the difficulties of appraising teachers will overcome the difficulties of assessing writing centers.

While writing centers need self-assessment to judge their effectiveness, secondary appraisals of the writing centers effectiveness and success can be informing. Most secondary research on writing centers (while not definitive) is positive. One study found students who saw the writing tutors received better grades (Jones 9). Grades are decent indicators of success, so this study should be encouraging to writing programs; however, it not did specify any particular strategies used by the writing center in question. This means this study in a not a good indicator of other writing centers’ level of achievement. Jones concluded from the available literature that while academic research is not perfect, it suggest writing centers serve both tutors and tutees (17). The more information available to writing center directors and tutors about their successes and failures, the better they can advance to help students.

Since academic research is informative and helpful, writing center personnel can use it to evaluate writing centers. One finding that writing center directors can use to validate writing centers’ effectiveness is a study Jones cites that found students, who experienced anxiety when approaching writing assignments, were relieved to find writing tutors accommodating assistance (11). Because this type of academic research partially uses students’ self-assessment, it is particularly effective. Another study reported “students who used the writing center […] experienced dramatic improvements in their attitudes toward writing […]” (Jones 11). Again, because this is a researcher’s evaluation of students’ self-assessment, it accurately indicates writing centers’ value. Sending surveys to or asking students who have been to the writing center to fill surveys about a writing center is only useful to combat administrators, according to Edward Lotto from Lehigh University’s writing center, and he went on to say their feedback did not help improve the writing center (qtd. in Jones 11). This demonstrates that students’ assessment of writing centers is not very useful to writing tutors; however, their self-assessment will be useful because they understand themselves better than they understand what a writing conference should accomplish.

Teachers at MCCC are a valuable way to estimate the Writing Center’s usefulness. Teachers’ attitudes towards the Writing Center will affect students’ opinions of the Writing Center and thus the Writing Center’s effectiveness. In my study, MCCC’s teachers reported on a scale of 1 to 10 an average improvement of 7.33 in writing ability of students who attended the Writing Center (Writing Center Information). Because teachers think the Writing Center improves their students writing ability, they encourage students to attended and influence their students’ opinion of the Writing Center. One teacher said, “The organization skills are usually improved [and] The [sic] focus on thesis and details are usually better” when responding to what the biggest difference between papers evaluated by Writing Fellows and papers without that evaluation, and another teacher found it depended on the tutor because different tutors focused on different things (Writing Center Information). If teachers notice specific things, as they did, it means teachers are paying attention to the Writing Center effects, so their assessment of the Writing Center is an informative resource.

Primary evaluations by students are an even better way than teachers’ evaluations to examine the Writing Center’s practicality. MCCC’s students are the customers of the Writing Center; therefore, their opinions are the most important opinions, albeit they could be incorrect. In my study of 154 MCCC students from English, Speech, and History classes, 39 had never been to the Writing Center, 76 had been one to three times, 34 four to six, 1 seven to nine, and 6 ten or more (Writing Center Questionnaire). This is a decent statistical base, and the students’ self-assessment of how the Writing Center has affected them should represent MCCC’s student body. Overall, they reported improvements to their grades and writing after attending the Writing Center (Writing Center Questionnaire). Because their opinions of the Writing Center are a major factor in whether they come to it or not, the improvement they reported does not have to be accurate. Their self-assessment of how the Writing Center has affected them gives Writing Fellows a method of determining significance to the learning process.

Students’ reports of grade differences are one way the Writing Center Questionnaire can help determine the successfulness of the Writing Center. While grades are not always an indicator of learning, they are one of its signs. On a scale of 1 to 10, MCCC students reported a 6.24 improvement in their grades as an effect of going to the Writing Center (Writing Center Questionnaire). The majority of students think Writing Fellows improve their essays’ grade. However, the factor the survey did not isolate (for simplicity) was whether they were excluding extra credit or including it. Furthermore, 6.24 is a consistent number too—the Standard Deviation was 2.23 (Writing Center Questionnaire). While more information is always helpful, these numbers suggest Writing Fellows are consistently helping student accomplish better papers. Self-assessments of grades by MCCC students provide useful information to the Writing Centers success.

MCCC Students report an increase in writing ability as a result of going to the Writing Center. Because writing ability is subjective, rating its improvement only works if it is self-assessed. If students think their writing ability is improving, they will be more confident and write in a stronger voice. In a study of MCCC students, 6.14 (on a scale of 1 to 10) was the average improvement in writing ability they attributed to the Writing Center, and the Standard Deviation was 2.37 which suggest students generally agree (Writing Center Questionnaire). These findings are more important than the reports of increased grades because it shows Writing Fellows do not just fix the paper but also help the writer. Another observation from the surveys is that students who come several days before the paper was due reported more of an increase in writing ability (Writing Center Questionnaire). When students come the day the paper is due, the tutor has to focus more on the paper because the students does not have time work on larger problems. It should encourage Writing Fellows that MCCC’s students report improved writing ability after using the Writing Center.

Now that I am a Writing Fellow, I can look back to the time in English 151 and see how much I have improved as a writer. While a lot of my improvement is due to Dr. McCloskey, the Writing Center definitely aided my writing abilities, and I think it helps students’ grades and develops their writing abilities. Periodic assessment boosts the probability of students succeeding, while external review of the Writing Center practices can lead to additional enhancements, and students’ estimates of its helpfulness is crucial to its success. The Writing Center’s current success needs to continue so future student can be writers who are successful.

Work Cited

Collins, Benjamin. Writing Center Information. Dec. 2007.

- - -. Writing Center Questionnaire. Dec. 2007.

Jones, Casey. "The Relationship between Writing Centers and Improvement in Writing Ability: an Assessment of the
               Literature." Education. 122 (2001): 3-20. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community
               College Library, Monroe, MI. 27 Nov. 2007 <>.

Wiggins, Grant. Educative Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey, 1998.


Student-Tutor Empathy and How to Obtain It
Mike Dawn

The most important thing we can do for students is to connect with their interests. First, however, we must understand the student. Before students even meet us, they bear some incorrect assumptions of whom and what we are. Teachers in general could be to blame. They sometimes tear the students’ confidence and create a negative image for anyone in a teaching role. Because we (Writing Fellows) are students, we understand students’ feelings and can discern the best possible remedy. Relating to students eases their fears, which bolsters the confidence they need to write. But it also reinforces our understanding of what instructions will best guide them towards learning. An empathic connection builds the foundation of a great tutoring session.

Because schools condition students to learn only from teachers, and because they come to Writing Fellows to learn, most students assume we are yet another teacher. They treat us the same. Beginning a session, they might mutter about the paper’s due date or patiently, sometimes gleefully, pull out last night’s work. Whether a teacher or their own ignorance misled them, the result is the same. They come to the Writing Center expecting a one-on-one confrontation with a teacher. But, as Jay Jacoby writes in “Shall We Talk to Them in ‘English,’” “the success of peer tutors in writing centers is contingent not so much on what peer tutors are but rather on what they are not” (Jacoby 1). Tutors are not teachers. They are “real people,” as Jacoby puts it (1). Yet, nearly every first-time student I have tutored has at some point answered, “I don’t know. You’re the expert—you tell me,” but I then have to remind them that I, too, am a student. Instead of a one-on-one confrontation with a teacher, students must learn to expect a one-on-one visit with a friend, a visit where the Writing Fellow provides advice for their papers. Jacoby adds, “Tutors need to become aware of when they are talking like teachers and what the possible counter-productive effects of that talk may be” (3), because all too often teachers’ methods do not work.

Teachers often contribute to students’ poor confidence, leaving them less capable of writing than before. The mistakes they make typically derive from their own pedagogy or lack thereof. When a teacher outside the English department marks up the paper for its rhetoric, they do so almost as if to prove their knowledge in such things. They lose sight of the content intended by the assignment. Lou Kelly offers excellent examples in her article “What Do English Teachers Want?” This is one about a student who had made several appointments for the same paper, only to constantly receive a “No Grade” and have to resubmit a revised draft.
From top to bottom the left margins contained solid columns of notations of slight errors in diction (two words used twice in same paragraph), criticism of sentences deemed too short (the ones she had worked so hard to put into correct syntax), others I can’t now remember. I could only feel her valiant effort had somehow been negated. (Downs 2).

The professor destroyed any confidence the student had once held, never pointing to the paper’s good points. Downs offers that if a writer hears only negative criticism, as is often the case with some professors, “writing becomes an intolerable burden. Teaching writing as a process is supposed to ease the student’s anxiety, but we have to be aware that the process can be pressed only so far before we bring about a situation of diminishing returns” (2). This, of course, was one of only a few isolated cases, but Lou Kelly’s One on One, Iowa City Style: Fifty Years of Individualized Instruction in Writing,” we find an entire writing lab whose “accepting and caring interpersonal approach to the teaching of writing had been reshaped by institutional demands” (Kelly 5). Kelly refers to their Writing Center as “the slums of an affluent campus” (8), because none of the students enjoyed their time there. The faculty of the college perceived the writing lab as a penalty for bad students, sending only the worst of writers. Although the teaching methods of the time were less than helpful, students attending the sessions had so little faith in their own writing that they doubted the few things they did learn. Nevertheless, Kelly eventually created a productive environment for her students, breaking past the damage faculty had done.

Knowing how a student sees our instructions, we know how to re-apply our teachings. Kelly discovered this in a roundabout way. Searching for a solution, she proposed something outrageous. She asked students to write without any regard to rules, so that she might better understand them. "Forget the list of stupid subjects you couldn’t write about on the exam. Forget about organization and spelling and grammar. Just try to put on paper what you’re feeling and thinking right now. No matter how confused and angry it sounds. Use the words other English teachers might mark inappropriate or offensive, if you want to. Your paper will not be marked or graded. I really want to know what you think and feel about being here. And about failing the exam. Why did you? After all those years in English classes. Did you fail or did somebody somewhere along the way fail you? Whatever you think, whatever you feel, say it—on paper" (8).

She had connected with what they felt strongly about. The resulting surge of writing from her students was incredible. Kelly remembers, “There was none of the purposeless, formless rambling or the incoherent sentences so typical of their theme exams. Even the spelling and punctuation errors that had prevented them from “passing out” were surprisingly diminished” (8). Most writers suffering a lack of confidence just do not have the interest needed for fluency. They fail to write cleanly, because they do not engage themselves with the content of their paper. Without such a distraction, students worry over grammar; but, because they do not understand grammar, their corrections tend to muddy the paper. Though their writing blasphemed against all our rules, they had finally done something right. They had found a foundation to build upon. To reinforce this revelation, Kelly insists, “In all our requests for writing, we try to convey genuine interest in what they can tell, what they can teach us” (16), because if the tutor sounds interested, we compel the student to focus on content. In so doing, we enable them to develop more fluency (Kelly 14). But how does this far-fetched example apply to us?

By demonstrating how we would use our interests to guide a paper, we provide students a template for how they too can write well; and we do so in a way that teachers cannot touch. All students have some sort of interest, hobby, or expertise about which they are deeply knowledgeable. I am forever bound to Star Wars and constantly use examples from it to follow students’ ideas. For instance, a student struggling with pre-writing was confused as to how clustering works. He was horribly skeptical. After he decided and explained his topic, The Wasteful Confederate Leaders [of the American Civil War], I immediately set up a duplicate of his subject, The Wasteful Imperial Leaders [of the Galactic Civil War]. I quickly sketched out a cluster involving Emperor Palpatine’s frivolous misuse of funds, the political nonsense of the planetary Governors, and the costs of terrorizing their own planets. While the student finished his own version of the cluster chart, I typed up a detailed outline of my cluster, occasionally checking his progress and asking questions to keep him thinking. When he finally glanced up to the computer screen, he was awestruck. I explained how, with a typed outline, we could move sections, add sections, and even multiply the size of our paper by adding another tier of detail. Once he seemed to have a firm understanding, I hit Ctrl+A and then backspace to delete it all. At first, he was indignant, complaining that he had not had time to take notes on it, but I suggested he type his own. When he left the session, he did so with a phrase outline of his own making and a renewed interest in his subject. He was excited to write. How did this happen? I listened to what he was interested in and fueled that interest with my own obsession for Star Wars. We both were excited about the papers we would write, we both were taking the same point of view, and so I knew what his next best step would be. Professors cannot mimic what a peer tutor does, not with a class of twenty or more students. When they try, they inevitably push the students to similar topics, forcing them to lose interest in their content, because they lack the time to have twenty one-on-one visits each week. Teachers cannot uphold empathic connections with all their students’ interests. We can.

In relating to students’ interests, we achieve many things. We defeat the ever-present assumptions that haunt teachers, allowing the student to see us as a friend. We also relieve any anxieties that accompany such assumptions. An empathic bond with the student guides our decisions, and ultimately keeps both student and tutor interested in the paper and its improvement. In addition, the writer finds fluency where he once would have found an endless tangle of grammar. Lou Kelly writes, “We assure them by what we say and by what we don’t do with a red pencil that we are listening to their writing instead of looking for errors” (14-15). Because the only one-on-one teachers are likely to give students is a long list of red marks, we are an essential part of the college’s writing assignments. It is what peer tutoring is all about: connecting with the student in a way no one else can.

Works Cited

Downs, Virginia. “What Do English Teachers Want?” Writing Center Journal 2.2 (1982) 30-32. 22 Nov. 2007                <>.

Jacoby, Jay. “Shall We Talk to Them in ‘English’”: The Contributions of Sociolinguistics to Training Writing Center Personnel.”
               Writing Center Journal 4.1 (1983): 1-14. 30 Oct. 2007 <>.

Kelly, Lou. “One on One, Iowa City Style: Fifty Years of Individualized Instruction in Writing.” Writing Center Journal 1.1
               (1980): 4-19. 30 Oct. 2007 <>.


Relevance and Use of Formal Writing Process
Patrick Dunn

In the academic world, the words prewrite, draft, revise, and proofread are almost synonymous with the very concept of writing. Although the specific names given to these steps may vary, emphasis on the so-called “writing process” they constitute does not. Practically every textbook, manual, and guidebook on writing asserts the importance of some form of this writing process. This raises the question of who really benefits from formal writing process. What does it do for inexperienced writers, and is it even necessary to more advanced writers? The writing process may be a great tool for certain groups of writers, but those individuals may be failing to take full advantage of the assistance writing process can provide. Formal writing process offers a clear framework to initiate writing that is often vital for inexperienced writers, although it is less favored among some more experienced writers.

The traditional four-step structure of writing process is generally regarded as a vital element of any writing. In The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner write that the basic steps of the writing process are planning, drafting, revising, and proofreading (14-18). Various texts describe these steps in various ways, and some may boil the process down to fewer steps with different names, but the basic procedures are the same. The first stage (“planning”) generally incorporates prewriting activities including brainstorming, outlining, and researching. The second stage (“drafting”) involves writing the first formal version of the paper. The third stage (“revising”) involves rewriting and strengthening the original draft(s). The fourth stage (“editing” or “proofreading”) involves reviewing the entire piece for final changes, generally focusing on spelling and grammar issues. Gillespie and Lerner describe the writing process as “an extremely idiosyncratic act” that will change depending on the writer’s personal preferences and skill level (14). This position is somewhere in the middle of other texts’ widely varying levels of insistence upon formal process.

Most traditional writing texts insist upon the absolute necessity of formal process. English Composition and Grammar by John E. Warriner, a relatively average academic writing text, represents this conventional view, asserting: “Whenever you write, whether a paragraph or composition, you are involved in an ongoing process of thinking, decision making, and rethinking […] you will learn and practice the stages of the writing process and the many steps that make up each stage” (3). Warriner portrays the writing process as a very concrete series of steps that must be followed to the letter. This represents one extreme end of the scale of writing process theory, created to give academic instructors a clear and specific set of guidelines for students to follow. The counterpoint to this specific and insistent view is represented by those who present a more personal approach to writing in a non-academic setting.

Certain texts, mostly focused on creative writing, emphasize a less stringent but still necessary use of formal process. The classic writing text The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White addresses writing process in a way that stands in extreme contrast to Warriner’s approach, amusingly including it in a chapter entitled “An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders).” Among the titular reminders, process is addressed in an extremely general way. The closest Strunk and White come to describing a formal process is in their references to “design,” roughly correlating to the “planning” stage, and revising (101-05). Strunk and White write that design, or planning/prewriting, is not a specifically formulated activity, and that the writer need not “sit with a blueprint always in front of you, merely that you had best anticipate what you are getting into” (101). Personal choice is obviously emphasized by this school of thought. The writer is encouraged to use or lose the various traditional steps depending on his or her personal needs, developing a personal informal process and likely inducing a serious cringe from Warriner and his fellow adherents to formal process. What types of writers benefit from these two markedly different schools of thought?

For many new or inexperienced writers, formal process is indeed vital and invaluable. In my experiences in the Writing Center, I have noted that the most confident beginning writers are those who employ some element of formal process. Beginning writers who do not use formal process often seem lost and unsure of how to get started with a paper or essay. In an informal survey of these writers, most answered “Yes” or “Sometimes” when asked if they use formal process in their academic writing activities, none of them selecting “No.” In my tutoring sessions, I have noted that some gentle assistance with activities drawn from the formal writing process may often help a writer out of whatever rut they happen to be in and get their writing back on track.

An inexperienced writer who lacks direction may find formal process extremely useful as a “road map” to move from preliminary ideas to finished draft. The problem of not knowing where to go next with a paper is perhaps one of the most common issues that tutees bring to the Writing Center. Whether simply brainstorming ideas, trying to figure out how to outline or organize their information, or writing a draft, tutees frequently suffer from a lack of direction in their work. In my tutoring sessions, I have observed that a simple suggestion, and explanation, of the next step in the tutee’s writing process can be a revelatory and an extremely helpful experience. Senior Writing Fellow Dani Boling noted, “[…] I think all of our tutees should use the formal writing process. It really shows when they don’t use it as they are reading the paper and random ideas are on their paper in no coherent format” (Boling). For a tutee who lacks direction, formal writing process provides a clearly formulated set of steps to move forward in his or her work.

The methodology of the individual steps of traditional formal process is also extremely useful to the inexperienced writer, leading him or her through that stage of the process. Particularly in the prewriting or brainstorming stage of the writing process, I have found that tutees often respond well to listing, clustering, and other activities that encourage the tutee to put ideas down on paper, subsequently jump starting his or her assignment. A tutee who does not know what topic to choose, or how to subdivide his or her topic, is often surprised to see how quickly these issues can be resolved by doing a simple brainstorming or outlining activity. These apparently simple steps of the formal writing process may come as a surprisingly helpful tool to a tutee who would otherwise attempt to write a complete paper in a first draft. If a tutee can be taught how to proceed through the steps of the writing process, he or she can break a seemingly difficult paper down into a series of simple increments.

More experienced writers value formal writing process to varying degrees. As a writer progresses from beginning to intermediate or advanced level, the steps of the writing process become more fluid and personalized, as in the “idiosyncratic act” described by Gillespie and Lerner. A more experienced writer will eventually figure out which elements of formal process work best for him or her and incorporate them into a personal process. For some advanced writers this may translate to an approach that rigidly follows most of the traditional rules of writing process; for others the approach may involve a more intuitive use of whatever steps the writer finds most necessary.

Some experienced writers still find every step of the formal process to be a vital element of their writing. In her article “Getting Started: How Professional Writers Do It,” Ilena DeVos notes that formal process, particularly the prewriting stage, is of vital importance to professional business writing (DeVos 18-20). Boling also noted the importance of formal process to advanced writers. “I think that the formal writing process is always necessary no matter how experienced the writer is,” Boling asserts. “I’m guilty of skipping prewriting sometimes but it still shows in my draft” (Boling). Indeed, writers like Boling seem to have a hardwired impulse towards rigid adherence to process, perhaps as a result of constant emphasis on it in past school experiences. Although these writers may develop an unnecessary “guilt complex” about following each step of the writing process as they learned it, it still serves its purpose and helps these writers get the job done.

Other experienced writers may utilize only certain steps of the formal process, or else ignore it completely. For these writers, the writing process has become a subconscious undertaking, sometimes occurring mentally or as an organic part of the writer’s personal route to a finished piece. Senior Writing Fellow Kyle Miller initially claims that he does not use the full formal writing process, but upon listing the individual steps of his personal process notes that they do in fact correlate to the four basic steps of formal process (Miller). Miller is a prime example of the subconscious model of formal process use in advanced writers. Formal process is no longer a concrete set of progressive steps to be followed, but an internalized personal path from idea to finished product.

Although formal writing process is commonly insisted upon in writing instruction, views on the rigidity and use of the process vary greatly. The above observations indicate certain conclusions on the importance of formal process to different types of writers. Formal process is indeed important, even vital, to the learning experience for beginning writers; these writers should be most strongly encouraged to employ all steps of formal process. Advanced writers who are no longer struggling with writing have almost invariably developed their own individual version of the writing process. As long as an advanced writer’s process is not fatally flawed in some way, writers should be left to their own devices rather than attempting to force generic steps of formal process upon him or her. The importance of formal writing process is contingent upon the writer’s personal level of experience and development of personal process. Tutors and teachers alike would do well to consider both elements before prescribing another dose of “prewrite, draft, revise, and proofread.”

Works Cited

Boling, Dani. Personal interview. 29 Nov. 2007.

De Vos, Ilena. “Getting Started: How Expert Writers Do It.” Training and Development Journal 42.10 (Oct. 1988): 18-20.
               General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Michigan Electronic Library. 9 Dec. 2007 <http://

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. New York: Longman, 2003.

Miller, Kyle. Personal interview. 28 Nov. 2007.

Strunk, William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Warriner, John E. English Composition and Grammar. Orlando: Harcourt, 1988.


Online Tutoring vs. Face-to-Face
Bradley Geal

Online programs are becoming a popular addition to many tutoring services, as nearly every service becomes more technology based. This is for a good reason. They are a great way to increase the number of people a writing center can help, and they provide a more convenient way for many students to receive assistance with their papers. However, although they are a valuable resource, online writing centers are only effective as a supplement to conventional methods already in place. They might be able to stand on their own, but because of the differences, they would be lacking in certain respects. It is our responsibility to guide students towards discovering the problems in their writing for themselves. The inability to effectively communicate information via e-mails can cause problems, especially when there is a fast approaching deadline. It can also be difficult many times to make good use of the key tools we would normally use to help students help themselves, one example being the Socratic Method. Anyone who has worked with both forms of tutoring in our Writing Center will agree with me that there are clear differences in almost every aspect of how a session takes place.

Convenience is one of the biggest draws of e-mail tutoring. Lynne Anderson-Inman points out in her article that online writing center programs “can better serve students who have to work during hours that the center is open or students who live at considerable distance from campus.” With a computer, internet access, and five minutes, a student can submit a paper to be looked at, where as it would take making an appointment and at least half an hour to go over the paper face-to face (par 2). This means that not only is it much easier for students to receive help, but that the number of people a writing center could help and the range of its effectiveness are also increased. Many times students request to end a little early because they need to be somewhere else right after the appointment, or they are late to an appointment because they had to rush from a class. Online tutoring can help these students receive help at a convenient time. In the same way, it is convenient for the tutor, who does not need to be constantly engaged in conversation to try to get as much covered as possible in the small amount of time in a normal tutoring session. The tutor ends up addressing more than would normally be covered, because time allows for thought and observation. The entire process has a more relaxed nature for both parties.

Notwithstanding E-tutoring’s convenience, there are communication problems that seem to be one of its larger flaws. Online tutoring is limited in how effective open-ended questions can be. It often requires a more prescriptive tutoring approach, using more direct methods to help. Directing students to websites or other forms of external aid is just about the extent of a tutor’s ability to helping students find the answers, because tutors still need to tell students what is problematic in their papers. This, in turn, causes problems like slow response times. An asynchronous dialogue can be detrimental to a student if there is a deadline that needs to be met quickly (Blythe, par. 10). This means that there can be a large difference in the amount of time it takes to return a paper to a student as well. The time it takes in the Writing Center to send comments back to the student is much less than it is for e-mail. Most times, students do not send all of the required information in their first e-mail or they send it in an unreadable format. The tutor needs to respond, and often wait for a response, which, at the least, could waste several hours. Many times, in my experience, I have needed to start to work on papers without some vital information about the assignment to return the paper back to the student in a timely manner.

I have found that it is better to help tutees find their own errors. The Socratic Method is the best way to do this, and it quickly becomes the framework around which the rest of the tutoring session is shaped. It engages the student in the session, and makes it very easy in a face-to-face session to help the student walk away feeling more confident than he or she had coming in; and in many cases, the student learns something that can be applied to later assignments.

I have found, however, that online programs do have one advantage over face-to-face sessions when it comes to communication. Because the tutor can sit down with the paper and reread it many times, students normally receive comments back that go into greater depth about problems in the paper. In a live session, tutors rarely reach the point where low order concerns such as grammar can be discussed, but comments in an e-tutoring response often include comments ranging from high order concerns like following directions and academic voice, all the way down to lower order concerns such as diction and grammar.

A lack of adequate communication can cause E-tutoring to become a very business-like experience. In the Writing Center, it is about how information is communicated as much as it is about what is conveyed. Tutors work to create a friendly atmosphere that students will feel comfortable in, but with online tutoring it is difficult to create that same level of comfort, partially because it is not easy to express emotion in typed comments. Another shortcoming of an online center appears when it is being used to supplement face-to-face writing center tutoring. Students do not know about the online service that is available. The original purpose of my surveys was to discover how students felt about live tutoring versus online tutoring in terms of convenience and friendliness to see where users of these services felt the strengths and weaknesses were. I inadvertently ended up showing with my survey results that many students do not know about the e-tutoring program. An online program can only be effective if students know it exists, so advertising is important.

McLuckie and Topping state that, “Some areas of skill seen as essential for effective online interaction seem less critical for structured face-to-face interaction or are perhaps more likely to develop spontaneously in the face-to-face environment” (575). A online tutoring services have their strengths that work best to complement the rest of the writing center, and I think it is safe to conclude that they do better as a part, improving the whole program, than they would standing on their own. The advantages of live tutoring seem to cover the areas in which online tutoring falls short. Live tutoring has great advantages in communication as it involves a dialogue between the tutor and tutee, but it lacks in convenience. Online tutoring is very convenient, but can end up taking more time than an appointment with fewer results. E-tutoring is an important part and will, over time, become more important, but it may never replace face-to-face sessions.

Works Cited

Anderson-Inman, Lynne. “OWLs: Online Writing Labs.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 40 (1997): 650
               Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Library, Monroe, MI. 8 Dec. 2007                < login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9705125403&site=ehost-live>.

Blythe, Stuart. Online Tutoring Discussion. July 1998. OWL at Purdue University. 5 Dec. 2007 <                lab/owl/tutoring/ tutoring.html#advantage>.

McLuckie J., and K. J. Topping. “Transferable Skills for Online Peer Learning.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education;
               29:5 (2004): 563-84. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Library, Monroe, MI.
              15 Dec. 2007 <http:/ / login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=13436157&site=ehost-live>.


The Socratic Method
Cassandra Kane

What do you have the most trouble with when writing a paper? This is one of the questions I ask my students when they come to me in the writing center. By asking them questions, I am practicing what is called the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method is a process by which we ask questions of each other to learn about ourselves, others, and things we cannot understand. Socrates of Athens, a great thinker for even today, developed this Method circa 400 B.C. The important people of his time saw this inquiry as an insult to their own intelligence, for which later he was condemned to death. Today, we use the Method in law schools, and other places where learning is important. This Method benefits all who use it and improves confidence, problem solving and critical thinking skills, and can be used by anyone, anywhere.

In order for the Method to be effective in the classroom or in the writing center, the tutor or teacher must establish a sort of trust. This is accomplished as the instructor reveals to the student(s), that he or she does not have all the answers. By establishing a peer-like status, the students may be encouraged to share their thoughts more openly. Socrates was the first to do this. He was told by an oracle at Delphi that he was the wisest person in Athens because he knew he did not have all the answers. By leveling with his pupils he gathered their insights easily. Russ Payne, a philosophy instructor asserts, “In accepting his own ignorance, Socrates exemplifies the sort of humility that is essential to any rational inquiry” (Payne, par. 2). I agree that humility is important when tutoring in the writing center. We are college students tutoring other college students; we have no right to feel above them in any way just because we are in an advanced course. When the students realize that I am also “just a college student” and that I make mistakes as well, they seem more inclined to ask questions. They also tend to get more involved in the conversation. And really, conversation is what the Socratic Method is all about.

After establishing trust, there is the problem of criticism. Students, have a tendency to fear being incorrect. This is an understandable fear for any student. Criticism can sometimes wound a person’s thought process and influence what he or she may say next. During the use of the Socratic Method, only constructive criticism should be used. There all kinds of constructive criticisms, but they are used differently in Socratic inquiries. For example, I had a student come in with a definition paper, who’s name was Kay. She had chosen the word ‘class’ to define in her paper. Personally, I did not agree with some of her definitions, and thought she needed some others. Even so, I asked her “why is this a definition of class?” I asked her a number of times and each time she reacted the same way. Kay thought for a minute, looking at her paper, then replying, “I’m not really sure.” I consider this an example of constructive criticism when using the Socratic Method. By keeping to the line of questioning, a tutor has a lesser chance of embarrassing the student or making her feel she has failed.

The Socratic Method of inquiry, in my opinion and others, is a brilliant pedagogy for instruction. We are always told there is no such thing as a stupid question and the Socratic Method reflects this. By asking questions, we learn so much more than we could by simply listening. The Socratic Method focuses on this through leveling instructors with their students. From a survey that was answered by seven MCCC Writing Fellows, six of them thought the use of the Socratic Method was a good pedagogy as well. The seventh answer, a naysayer said that it is sometimes better to just tell the student what he or she has done wrong instead of watching the student struggle to figure it out. I can understand this point of view, but I do not agree with it. Honestly, by just telling the student the answer, what has she gained? Sure, now she knows what she did wrong, but most likely she does not understand why it is considered a mistake. The student gains nothing from just being told what is wrong. The Socratic Method is designed to help us think for ourselves, and it also helps the learning process. The advantages and disadvantages of the Socratic Method should be considered.

The Socratic Method has a few advantages. It helps improve problem solving/ critical thinking skills and confidence, and it appeals to diversity and difference of opinion. As the person answering the survey mentioned, some people just want tutors to tell them the answers. This may be true, but it is a poor way of thinking. What about when the student is alone, who will tell him or her how to fix the mistake then? The Socratic Method is used to help students think for themselves. If we do not teach people to think for themselves, then what are instructors and tutors good for? The Socratic Method is a way to help students improve their problem solving and critical thinking skills. In a study conducted at Harvard Law School by Michael G. Parkinson and Daradirek Ekachai they found, “Students thought in the Socratic Method class reported more opportunity to practice critical thinking and more opportunity to practice in problem solving skills” (Parkinson 167). Asking questions in the classroom or writing center is important. When we are asking questions, we are learning new material, and analyzing information.

Another advantage the Socratic Method has, is that it appeals to diversity and different opinions. The Method can be used by anyone, and anywhere. It can be used by students, mentors, and leaders. Major Aaron A. Tucker says, “A person in a formal leadership position can use the Socratic Method to persuade, secure support, encourage an active followership, and develop followers for better efficiency” (84). I agree because leaders can use the Method to gather opinions during decision making. The Socratic Method can be used whether in a classroom, a medical facility, or even in someone’s house. The Method itself is effective in groups of peers, because peers are more alike and can be brutally honest with each other.

With diversity, the Socratic Method also appeals to different views. “In the plain truth that people experience the world subjectively, from different perspectives, there is no reason for denying the existence of a shared reality” (Payne, par. 13). I agree because we all live on the same planet, or even in the same neighborhood, but we see things differently. We all come from various backgrounds, cultures, religions, and families that cause us to have diverse opinions about any given subject. In the writing center, this is especially important to understand. I once tutored a student, named Azil. He was obviously of Arab descent so I was wary about tutoring him because I knew they were not fond of women in certain ways. On the contrary, he was very courteous to me and really paid attention when I told him how to fix something. It was a learning experience for me as well. I must admit it gave me some confidence.

The Socratic Method also instills confidence in those who participate. Tucker states, “The student benefits by following a familiar, repeatable thought process (his or her own) and gaining self-confidence” (86). In reality, if someone asks me an academic question, that says she trusts me to give her at least a half-way decent answer. In the writing center, we ask questions such as, “What is your paper about?” or “Why do you think this is important?” By asking questions such as these we make the student feel like the expert, which they should be since they wrote the paper. Many students who come into the writing center tell me they are terrible at writing. When I use the Socratic Method, they become more confident and more interested in why they make certain errors. These students actually seem like they really want to learn. The Socratic Method does have advantages such as building confidence, but there are also disadvantages to the Method.
There are two drawbacks to the Socratic Method: time and the knowledge needed for these inquiries. The Socratic Method can take up a good amount of time. In the writing center, time is usually limited to a half-hour or hour session. To try to accomplish goals in the writing center, we focus on high-order concerns such as a thesis statement first. Another way to help with time is to be specific, or ask specific questions. So, instead of asking, “What about your paper does not fit?” a tutor might ask, “Does this paragraph fit in with the rest of your paper?” Of course, a writing fellow could have the student schedule another appointment, but depending on the lag time in-between, some of the ideas discussed may be forgotten. The instructor has a responsibility to his or her students, as do we in the writing center.

The second drawback to the Socratice Method is the instructor’s unwillingness to do more than ask questions. Tucker reminds us, “Also, the leader must endeavor not to hide behind a veil of questions, never giving his or her own opinions to followers” (86). If a professor does not share his or her own insights with the students, academic discourse may not be achieved. Students may not compare their thoughts with those of their instructors, who obviously know more about the subject. If the Socratic Method is carried out correctly, and the teacher has confidence in the Method’s use, this should not happen – but it does. Some teachers may think it’s healthier to just let the students discuss the subject among themselves without adding in their own thoughts, but this is unwise. The Socratic Method is only effective if everyone is involved, which is why the instructor’s silence could hinder the system.

The Socratic Method started out as a type of inquiry that defied a culture’s logic. Now the Method is used in prominent schools across the globe. The Method instills confidence in students, and helps instructors become better teachers. Appealing to different views and different people, the Method can surely be called a universal idea. The Socratic Method helps improve problem solving and critical thinking skills through discourse with out peers, mentors and leaders. The Method has served me well in the writing center and I suggest its use to other writing fellows. There are those who do not think so highly of the Socratic Method, but this is how the Method began. The Socratic Method is a way to examine ourselves, others, and things we wish to understand. This Method benefits all who use it and improves confidence, problem solving and critical thinking skills, and can be used by anyone, anywhere. Despite a couple drawbacks, the Socratic Method is the right choice in the writing center, and anywhere else where learning is a process.

Works Cited

Payne, Russ W., “Diversity and the Socratic Method.” 12 Dec. 2007 <http://>.

Parkinson, G. and Daradirek Ekachai. “The Socratic Method in the Introductory PR Course: An Alternative Pedagogy.”
               Public Relations Review. 28.2 (2002): 167. Worldcat. Gale. Monroe County Community College, Monroe, MI. 9
               Dec. 2007 <http://>.

Tucker, Aaron A. “Leadership by the Socratic Method.” Air & Space Journal. 21.2 (Summer 2007): 80-87.
               Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College, Monroe, MI. 10 Dec. 2007                <>.


Theory to Practice: Revisiting Stereotypes
Kristen LeForce

The students who come in to the Writing Center can be divided into two separate groups: the students who do not want to participate in sessions and the students who do. Many Writing Fellows would suggest that this means required and non-required students. However, I think that this is an overly exaggerated claim. The students who refuse to participate do so for many different reasons. These students may not care about their work, might be intimidated or afraid of being tutored, might think that they do not need any help, or they might not share their tutor’s love for writing. These students may even be unaware of what we do in a session or how helpful a session can be. As tutors we are obligated to recognize what problems our tutees have and attempt to work against these problems to make a session the most effective, especially since we each are assigned a class with twenty or more required students. If a writing fellow starts a session with a biased opinion and a closed mind about their required student, the session may be worthless for both people involved. If we expect to take credit for helping students, we have to take responsibility for not helping students.

Students who do not want to succeed or who do not have a strong academic drive will resist having to participate in a tutoring session. Participating in a tutoring session may consequently influence them to do more work than they want to, or maybe they are just aiming for that C. In a questionnaire that I gave to 20 Composition 151 students, the students who said their sessions were productive also said they often did everything they could to get a high grade, which included writing drafts early and revising their papers. Beverly Lyon Clark argues in Talking About Writing that tutors sometimes need to be less supportive and sympathetic to students, especially if a student does not put in a good effort (Clark 140). If tutors were firmer with students like this, they could push their students to do better on their papers. Tutors have the ability to teach students about the importance of working hard. Maybe the tutor can stress the importance of students writing drafts early or reading papers out loud to themselves. However, many writing fellows do not want to be firm with their students or put in that extra bit of effort to engage them. Therefore, many students leave the Writing Center without receiving help and without receiving important writing tools.

Students who are shy or are afraid of having their mistakes pointed out to them may also produce unproductive tutoring sessions if the tutor does not manage to engage them in the session. Students who lack confidence in their writing may be depressed and anxious about meeting with a writing fellow who will point out their weaknesses. Instead of assuming that a student will not participate, tutors should try to counteract the student’s shy or anxious feelings. If a tutor does not put in the extra effort to engage these students, their feelings could interfere with anything else the tutor tries to do. Beverly Lyon Clark discusses a few ways to engage a shy or unconfident student in her book. She says that smart things tutors can to with these students are to point out the strengths in their writing to improve their confidence or to talk about the issues you have with writing to make them more comfortable (Clark 142).

Students who believe that they do not need any help will often see it as an insult that teachers are requiring them to see a writing fellow and can become unproductive and unfriendly in tutoring sessions. These students may direct their anger and hostility towards their writing fellow. They may criticize their teachers, the assignments, or their tutors through verbal attacks, their tone of voice, or facial expressions. At first instinct, a writing fellow may not want to work with a student like this. However, writing fellows must not become hostile or defensive in return. They must be able to keep calm to do their job effectively. According to Clark, students are usually hostile out of insecurity and frustration (Clark 145). Tutors must focus more on overcoming the insecurities and frustrations of the students.

As tutors, we must understand that all of the students we will encounter will not share our love for writing and may even detest the smallest writing assignment. It is safe to assume that all of the tutors at the MCCC Writing Center love to write. Why else would they take the time to help others learn to write if they didn’t enjoy it? However, the students that we have to tutor may have bad attitudes about writing. As tutors, we must be able to identify the student’s attitude toward writing because if a bad attitude goes undetected, that bad attitude can limit communication and limit the productivity of the session. A student might say something to her tutor like, “Writing is a waste of time,” or, “This won’t help me in the real world.” Yes, as tutors we are not responsible for making students love to write. But we do need to help them understand that writing will come up in the real world and they have to learn the basics of writing well if they want to succeed. It may be that a teacher has never explained this to them and if we can help students succeed, we have accomplished something. However, if a tutor accepted that a student had a bad attitude and did not work to undo it, the tutor has failed the student.

When I first started tutoring my Fellowed class I remembered all of the horror stories I heard of tutoring non-required students. Some of the senior writing fellows told me that a tutoring session with a required student, especially those in a Fellowed class, would always be a negative experience. However, I found that many of them were really interested and grateful for my help. I gave a questionnaire to ten Senior and Junior Writing Fellows at Monroe County Community College to find out how they really felt on the issue of non-required vs. required students and if they considered themselves helpful tutors. I found that many of them thought that they were helpful tutors but required sessions were automatically bad because of the student’s attitude. Each had different responses to how a required student acted during a session. Some of these were that required students were often rude, did not participate in the session, and often were resentful of being helped. I found this to be very interesting since most of the sessions that I had with required students turned out to be very positive. The only reasoning I could produce was that the Writing Fellows who felt this way must not work hard enough to engage students with bad attitudes. If a tutor thinks that a student will not want to participate because she was required to come, the tutor may not bother trying to help her. According to Beverly Lyon Clark, who wrote the book Talking About Writing, “Usually a problem derives from the interaction of your own (as the tutor) and the student’s feelings and attitudes. Your own lack of confidence and defensiveness, for instance, may fuel a student’s hostility” (Clark 139). I think this has a lot to do with the stereotype against required students. Tutors must lose the idea that required tutoring sessions will always be negative because they’re attitudes will affect required students and the session whether or not tutors notice.

Being required to come to the tutoring center is an invaluable help to students who would not come to the Writing Center on their own. One of my Fellowed class sessions was with a woman who confessed to me at the beginning of the session that she had a learning disability and had trouble with the simplest forms of writing. However, she aspired to work past these difficulties to become an English teacher and wanted to work hard to meet her goal. She applied this hard work to our session, causing it to become very productive. She told me that she had no idea before her Fellowed class how helpful the Writing Center could be and told me she would be making regular appointments from now on. Because of this session, I decided that I wanted to ask other students if their sessions were productive and if they would come back again. I gave a questionnaire to twenty English Composition 151 students asking them several different questions. All of the twenty students said that they were hesitant at first about being required but after their sessions they realized how much they were helped. They all said that they would make appointments with future papers that they wanted to get help on.

Non-required and required students are not synonyms for unresponsive and responsive students even though many writing fellows believe them to be. The other factors that contribute to ineffective tutoring sessions and unresponsive students are not usually realized by writing fellows. The Writing Fellows at Monroe County Community College must realize all of the different reasons behind the stereotypical required sessions if they want to be considered good tutors. If they do this, students will no longer be ignorantly labeled either required or non-required and their real problems will be identified in sessions. This will improve both the tutor’s strengths and the tutee’s strengths.

Works Cited

Clark, Beverly Lyon. Talking About Writing. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P: 1985

LeForce, Kristen. Questionnaire given to English Composition 151 students. 5 Dec. 2007.

- - -. Questionnaire to Writing Fellows. 7 Dec. 2007.


Traditional and Nontraditional Student Differences
Lauren Novak

When students first enter college they notice several differences. The classes are more serious and the students are as well. Not only are the students more serious, there are also many different types of students. They vary from all different age groups. The first class I took in college had many middle aged adults, which was different from what I was used to. There are different types of students who can be classified as traditional and nontraditional. Nontraditional students tend to be older, but also more focused. They seem to attend almost all classes and want to be there. Nontraditional students tend to be part-time students because they usually have full-time jobs. Many of them also have children who are dependent on them, so school comes after their families in many situations. Traditional students are students who have not stopped going to school. They attend college right out of high school. They are usually full-time college students. There are many differences between the two types of students in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center whether in their attitudes, overall performances, or procrastinations; nevertheless, they all come to get help and it is important for Writing Fellows to understand both types of students.

The first nontraditional student I encountered was a woman who had written a paper on the dolls children play with today. She felt strongly about dolls today and how they are not appropriate. The dolls wear revealing clothing such as short skirts and low cut tops and even come in pregnant versions. Along with the overall appearance, they encourage little girls to want to be more like the dolls in which they play with. Since she had little girls who wanted to play with these dolls, she was concerned. This paper was well written because she cared about the topic as well as the paper. Also, it involved her children. One difference I have noticed while working with nontraditional students is many of them have children. A few of these students go to school to show their children how important it is. They then have to work around the lives of the children and that usually involves going to school only part-time, working full-time, or possibly taking online classes to have more time at home.

Coming from the other point of view was my first traditional student, a young woman as well. She was convinced her paper was perfect and was very uncooperative. Though this tutoring session was one of my first, it was also one of my worst. It was difficult to help this student because she thought so highly of her work and what I said did not matter. Even though I noticed several high order concerns, she was not going to go home and fix anything. I knew this, which made the appointment a very awkward half hour. This is where traditional students stand out. They tend to be more confident in their writing. They also tend to be more carefree and not nearly as concerned. I think most of them tend to visit the Writing Center because it is required and not because they are willing to improve a piece of writing. This alone is why I would prefer to work with a nontraditional student. I do not think this is true of all traditional students because it is not. I know some students care more than others and this can be found in both traditional and nontraditional students in the Writing Center.

According to a questionnaire I handed out to the Writing Fellows, many had different opinions on different types of students. I found six Writing Fellows who preferred working with traditional students, while six stated they would rather work with nontraditional students. The others said they had no preference. Most had similar reasons for choosing which group of students they would rather tutor. Nontraditional students tend to be more grateful and want the help, while traditional students sometimes lack respect for the Writing Fellows. The tutees at times feel insulted when the tutor seems to know more than they do especially when they graduated high school the same year. Others noticed traditional students tend to lack care and effort, but are more adamant to get papers written. Traditional students appear to have difficulties keeping appointments. Traditional students tend to have a significant number of cancellations or no show appointments, while nontraditional tend to show up on time and prepared. Nontraditional students have more problems with grammar, syntax, formatting, and overall organization. Similar problems can be seen in either type of student, so it is important to know these are just observations made by tutors.

A change in attitude by the writer can mean a significant difference in the overall quality of a piece of writing. I have seen very motivated traditional as well as nontraditional students in the Writing Center. Nontraditional students generally have been without academic writing for a period of time, so it does not seem to come as natural to them as it would for a traditional student. However, this does depend on how much knowledge the student has acquired prior to attending college. Since nontraditional students tend to come into the Writing Center frequently, they are motivated to get help and improve their writing skills. Marion Eppler, author of “Achievement Motivation Goals in Relation to Academic Performance in Traditional and Nontraditional College Students,” writes how nontraditional students tend to have higher learning goals than their traditional peers. In academic performance, especially in writing, it does not make a difference in the type of student but instead in their motivation and work ethic (abstract) Both types of students have the potential to do well in any given situation. That is why I believe attitude makes a difference between doing well and maintaining excellent grades or not. I have seen many different situations while tutoring in which students are more motivated to work when they realize they actually can do the work and it is not as difficult as it once appeared.

Attitude often reflects performance. Each student performs differently. Performance between traditional and nontraditional students varies. Though I cannot point out a more successful student out of the two types, nontraditional students are more likely to succeed. This is only because they seem to put more time and effort into their writing. They come into the writing center more prepared and organized. Though their work may not be the best, they are ready to make changes and improve. The nontraditional students I have worked with have thanked me a number of times. The students who appreciate the tutoring experience make me enjoy tutoring much more. It is rewarding to help someone who wants to be helped and appreciates it. This is why in the questionnaire mentioned earlier many Writing Fellows could not point out a particular type of student they preferred to work with. They tend to prefer any student who cares rather than a specific type. According to Eppler traditional students are less successful if they do not care while nontraditional students are less successful if they work more hours at a paid job (Eppler, abstract). I observed this to be true in several sessions in the Writing Center.

Most college students procrastinate in some way. Many students cannot force themselves to do a paper until they absolutely have to. I think this is because many students have a fear of writing. They feel like they cannot succeed or produce a piece of writing which meets the professor’s requirements, so they wait to start the paper until the deadline approaches. Procrastination tends to vary as well between the two types of students. It was reported in “Academic Procrastination by Nontraditional Students” written by Vincent Prohaska, Peter Morril, Iraida Atiles, and Alfredo Perez that academic procrastination among nontraditional students is higher in reading weekly assignments and school activities but lower in writing a term paper and attendance tasks (Prohaska, et al. 128). This of course would vary also based on the work ethic the students maintain. No differences have been reported with procrastination based on whether or not students have a high school diploma or not (Prohaska, et al. 132). This supports my opinion that procrastination tends to vary more amongst individuals rather than types of students.

Nontraditional students tend to have different priorities. They seem to care more about their family lives than school and also work significant hours to support their families. I have talked to many nontraditional students while tutoring and they often discuss similar things. One is their children, while another is their job. It amazes me how a student who works more than forty hours a week can manage raising children and succeeding academically. They often take classes more seriously as well. In talking to these students, I have a sense they do better and put more effort into their schooling because they know the significance of an education. Also, they are putting their hard earned money into pursuing an education so they want to do well. Nontraditional students are more grown up and have seen or experienced personally the effects of not being educated, especially financially. One student in particular was laid off from his factory job and he knew he had no choice but to get a degree in hopes of finding a job to support his family. College is taken more seriously if it involves the future of one’s family. A few nontraditional students I have tutored take online English courses. According to these students this is not always beneficial because it is harder for an instructor to discuss your errors and ways to improve them through the Internet. Some professors also require students to see Writing Fellows after each paper, even if it is an online course. If a student is in one of those professors’ online classes she still has to leave home and come to the college campus, which may seem inconvenient to some nontraditional students.

Traditional students also have priorities that differ from those of nontraditional students. They have been going to school for years and this has not changed. They have to do well in school because often they are not paying for their schooling. Many traditional students pay their tuition with the help from their parents. Not paying for their own schooling could make them either more motivated to do well or less motivated depending on the student. As nontraditional students tend to be more part-time college students, most traditional students are full time. With twice the number of classes to attend, traditional students may not always have the best grades. Though some traditional students may not have jobs, often they do. This means a significant amount of time is spent at school but also at the workplace. This could possibly be the reason so many traditional students cancel or do not attend appointments in the Writing Center. Their time is limited, and they either do not feel the help is needed or forget because of their busy lifestyles. They may be unorganized because they simply have no choice. I feel unorganized at times because I do not have as much time for organizing my time as I would like. If time is limited, I can see why students would put more time and effort into the actual drafting of the paper rather than the tutoring session they are attending.

Regardless of what we as tutors see as differences between the two types of students, they all have the ability to write well. They all need the help of tutors just the same and can benefit from the help of writing tutors. Neither type of student has proven to be better writers. Every student has the ability to do well with proper self-motivation and the will to achieve. Traditional students seem to be more carefree and unorganized. They seem to understand the concept of writing because they have been writing throughout their schooling careers. Nontraditional students tend to be more grateful, organized, and willing to accept the advice of a writing tutor. They tend to support their views more clearly. Both types of students have their strengths and weaknesses. As a tutor, I think it is beneficial to work with both types of students. Both types of students present good and bad qualities that may lead to different writing obstacles. Obstacles can be turned into opportunities, however, that only make me more prepared for future sessions. This assures me no two days in the Writing Center will ever be the same. The challenges and obstacles make the tutoring experience more fun. Some differences tend to stand out as significant when looking at the different types of students but are always linked to the individuals. I could study the differences and observe students for days and always come back to the same conclusion that it depends on the writer’s attitude, motivation, experience, and work ethic.

Works Cited

Eppler, Marion A. and Beverly Harju. “Achievement Motivation Goals in Relation to Academic Performance in Traditional
               and Nontraditional College Students.” Research in Higher Education. 38.5 (1997): 557-73. Academic Search
               Premier. EBSCO. MCCC Library. 7 Dec. 2007. <>.

Novak, Lauren. “Traditional and Nontraditional Students and Behaviors in the Writing Center.” Questionnaire. MCCC
              Writing Center. 7 Dec. 2007.

Vincent, Peter Morrill, Iraida Atiles, and Alfredo Perez. “Academic Procrastination by Nontraditional Students.” Journal
               of Social Behavior & Personality 15 (2007):125-35. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. MCCC Library. 7
               Dec. 2007. <http://>.


Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Morgan Sopko

Have you ever been speaking to a person and notice that he or she is completely tuning you out even though looking directly at you? Was it the person’s stance, arm placement, or lack of facial expressions that clued you in? Nonverbal communication and even personal appearance may be the most important part of communicating in the Writing Center; after all, actions do speak louder than words. When working with students in the Writing Center, tutors need to maintain professional body language to help engage tutees into the session and help them feel comfortable. Tutees are directly affected by a Writing Fellows nonverbal communication cues and appearance from the time a tutee walks into the Writing Center untill he or she leaves.

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella’s, in their book titled Reading People, state the importance of making a good first impression and how the first thing people notice is another person’s physical appearance and body language (45). The mornings that I tutor, I take careful consideration with what I wear. Normally, my wardrobe consists of very comfortable clothing that is my personal style; I would not second guess wearing a pair of workout pants or a sweatshirt to class. If, however, I walked up to a tutee asking if he or she is ready to head into the Writing Centering, while I was wearing a pair of baggy, worn out sweatpants, the tutor may take my comely appearance as being unprofessional and amateur, making what I have to say worthless. This has the possibility of ruining the tutoring session even before the session begins. Dimitrius and Mazzarella note, “A tank top may be fine at the company picnic, but not at the company Christmas party or in the office. A conservative suit says one thing about a person when worn to church, but quite another when worn to a child’s Saturday morning soccer game” (47). This implies that personal appearance needs to be appropriate for the occasion. A tutor needs to portray a professional look to gain the trust of a tutee at first glance. If a tutor makes an effort by looking like he or she cares about his or her own personal appearance, it is more likely that a tutee will take the tutor more seriously, allowing for a more successful tutoring experience.

When tutees step into the Writing Center the first thing I notice their facial expressions, including the tutees’ eye contact. If the tutee seems nervous because of his or her eyes shifting around quickly to check out the new environment or eyebrows slightly raised portraying uncertainty, I try to appear as inviting and friendly as possible without scaring him or her off. By smiling when greeting a tutee and asking if he or she has been to the Writing Center before and explaining our procedures, I can help ease the tutee into the Writing Center making him or her feel safe. W.A.L. Blyth’s article, “Non-verbal Elements in Education: Some New Perspectives” published in the British Journal of Educational Studies, implies that these gestures, when genuine, can be key to a person’s understanding of material (113). By making a tutee feel comfortable, the tutor gains his or her trust which gives priority and value to what the tutor says. If a tutee’s facial expressions seem closed, a slight frown in the eyebrows or tight lips, it may mean the tutee is disinterested or is not pleased that he or she has to come into the Writing Center. Robert Ho and Sandra Mitchell’s article, “Students’ Nonverbal Reactions to Tutors’ Warm/Cold Nonverbal Behavior,” published in the Journal of Social Psychology, agrees with this idea that a tutor or teaching figure needs to notice nonverbal behaviors in order to have an insight to what the student tutees feelings are (128). This means that the tutor must work extra hard to appear inviting and to engage the student from the start.

How a tutor positions him or herself to a tutee can either create awkwardness or lessen tension. In Patrick Wise’s lecture on nonverbal communication, he illustrated how a person’s seating position can affect both parties, the tutor and the tutee. If a tutor and tutee are seated directly across from each other, it is more likely to cause tension for both parties because of the forced direct eye contact. The tutor or the tutee would have to turn his or her head to avoid eye contact, which could cause awkwardness. When a tutor or tutee is sitting at a right angle from each other, it creates an opening for the two parties to be able to look away or break eye contact with less awkwardness, but the best seating arrangement is side-by-side. This setup allows for both parties to look away and lets them enter into the conversation by physically having to tilt their shoulders or head towards the other (Wise). This is supposed to create the best atmosphere when dealing with a one on one session.

People communicate without saying a word through personal space and posture. In my survey of Writing Fellows conducted in the fall semester 2007, several tutors noted that they let the tutee sit before they down at the desk (Personal). This allows for the tutee to become comfortable and position his or her chair how he or she wishes, but once the tutor sits down he or she takes control of the situation still allowing for the tutee to move his or her chair back if uncomfortable. Once the tutor sits down, he or she must pay attention to his or her own posture. Leaning back into the seat may indicate to the tutee that the tutor is inattentive and does not care or want to be at the session. If a tutor is leaning forward slightly, still allowing for the tutee to have his or her personal space, slightly nodding while the tutee is speaking shows the tutor is paying attention and is willing to engage into the session. When a tutor appears to be willing to work the tutee is more likely to be willing to work.

Even when a writing secession is ending, a tutor’s nonverbal cues can affect a tutee. When it is time for the tutee to leave, I find it professional to stand up and thank the tutee for coming into the Writing Center. A tutor standing up at the same time as tutee shows that one or the other does not hold dominance, the two are equal. If the tutor stands up and finishes talking to the tutee this would put the tutor in a higher position of power than the tutee which could make the tutee feel uncomfortable. If the tutee were to stand up before the tutor wished, it would give the impression that the tutee either needed more space between the two or he or she would wish to leave the session as soon as possible. If the tutee is a first-time Writing Center user, I always walk him or her over to the log station to go through the processes of logging out of the Writing Center. It is also a good idea to use friendly facials and include a friendly reminder to come back to see a tutor at the Writing Center again.

Tutees are affected by their tutors’ nonverbal communication and appearance from when tutees come into the Writing Center to the time they leave. A good first impression through a person’s physical appearance and body language sets the stage for the entire session. A tutee’s facial expressions and eye contact can be an insight to what a person is feeling. Body position, personal space, and posture can prove to either create an uncomfortable situation or ease a tutoring session. Interpreting a tutee’s non-verbal communication, can help a tutor create a better atmosphere and make the tutee feel more comfortable. When tutors maintain a positive body language, it can increase the success of a session by making a tutee feel more comfortable and trust the tutor.

Works Cited

Blyth, W.A.L. “Non-verbal Elements in Education: Some New Perspectives.” British Journal of Educational Studies. 24.2
               June 1976. Psychology and Behavioral Science Collection. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College Library.
               Monroe, MI 28 Nov. 2007. <>.

Dimitrius, Jo-Ellan and Mark Mazzarella. Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Bahavior--Anytime,                Anyplace. New York: Ballantine, 1999.

Ho, Robert and Sandra Mitchell. “Students’ Nonverbal Reactions to Tutors’ Warm/Cold Nonverbal Behavior.” Journal of
               Social Psychology. 20 Oct. 1982: 121-30. Psychology and Behavioral Science Collection. EBSCO. Monroe
               County Community College Library. Monroe, MI 28 Nov. 2007. <>.

Personal Survey. Nonverbal Communication in the Writing Center. Dec. 2007.

Wise, Patrick. Nonverbal Communication Lecture. Monroe County Community College, Monroe, MI. Mar. 2007.


Have I Motivated You?
Resa Waldecker

Before students can accomplish their goals, there has to be something motivating them to finish. Sometimes all it takes is a bribe, but other times they need someone pushing them. Taking time to write requires students to be motivated. It is the tutor’s job to engage students through praise balanced with criticisms. Four experiments conducted at MCCC, demonstrate the importance of motivation. In the first experiments, the tutor engaged students in conversation. However, in the last experiment neither tutor nor student was engaged in the session. In the end, students in the first experiment left the session satisfied. These sessions made the researcher aware of how motivation affected tutoring and how I needed to incorporate it into my methods. Students who are motivated in a session are not only able to engage better, but leave the session better prepared to tackle their writing problems.

Motivation plays an important role in engaging students in tutoring sessions. Herbert J. Klausmeier argues that a tutor’s primary goal should be to motivate students (Klausmeier 53). If students are not motivated, they will not be able to successfully function during a tutoring session. They would have no reason to improve their performances. Everything a tutor suggested could be taken negatively. Their attitudes might be “Why am I here? This is dumb; I do not want to do this.” Many things can cause poor attitude. A feeling of insecurity in their writing may help them to feel that they will never be able to get out of their mess. When students come to the Writing Center and are suffering from what I will call “apathy block,” it is the job of the tutor to engage students to the point where “I cannot do this,” becomes “This is easy!” Before the tutor loaded them with problem areas, it is key that they let them know that they did do something right. Nobody appreciates criticism, but students are more likely to listen to advice when they know that the one giving the advice is considerate enough to point out things they did well.

At the Writing Center at MCCC, an experiment conducted highlighted the effect motivation has on students. The goal for the first three sessions was to motivate students by praising their work while balancing the negative comments. In all of the sessions conducted, the students were nervous. A student stated that “[she] was a little bit skeptical about coming because [she] did not want her work criticized” (Waldecker). The experimenter empowered students to continue writing by relating to them as a fellow student, not as a teacher. By explaining to them that even the tutor needed to see other tutors and by showing them the methods she uses when writing, she hoped the students related to her struggle. She made it clear that while their papers possessed some good qualities, the students needed work before they were finished. The tutor also let them know that it was possible to fix their problems and that she would help them begin the revising process. She also took her time with the students and made sure they understood what she was talking about. She found that it is important to remember that motivating students means helping them realize (to quote Tim Dillon) “the mountain they are looking at is really a molehill.” It does not mean she would do the work for them. In response to the question “Was the Tutor too impersonal?” One student responded “No, I felt she was very personal and after my session I was not nervous at all” (Waldecker). All of the motivated students had praise after praise regarding the session. When these sessions were over, the tutor left the Writing Center feeling like she had accomplished something; she had motivated a student.

In the final experiment conducted at MCCC, the tutor’s approached the experiments with a persona the opposite of “motivating.” By situating the chairs farther apart from each other, the tutor created the atmosphere she wanted—professional. She also dressed more formally than is usual for any tutor. When the student came in, he was very nervous and untalkative. Instead of diving into the paper immediately after he had read it, the tutor sat there reading over the paper with an inquisitive look. To be polite, she offered him one small praise for double spacing his paper. Other than that, she did not hesitate to begin her list of criticism. Outside of talking about where he went wrong, the tutor did not make an effort to engage him in a discussion. It was clear that the atmosphere she created and the conversation was uncomfortable. Everything she said to him would be met with a nodding of the head and a shaky “ok” or “yea.” This discussion was more of a one-sided conversation because he was too afraid to talk with her. The students that were motivated left the session feeling less anxious, whereas, this student left the session looking even more baffled than when he walked in.

These observations, taught me that motivation plays an important role in tutoring sessions. There was a distinct difference in what the tutor noticed and what her surveys tell her about the sessions she conducted. The first experiments went well—the tutor was able to focus the attention on the paper and there was no confusion about how to go about fixing the paper. One student commented, “She made sure I knew the things I needed to [know] to make my paper better and the errors I need to fix” (Motivation). Both the tutor and the students left feeling like they had accomplished something. On the other hand, the last experiment was a disaster. The environment the tutor created was uncomfortable; therefore, the student was afraid to converse with her. It was apparent that she and the student wanted to leave the session as quickly as possible. After observing the positive feedback the laid-back sessions received, I have changed my style to a balanced, but leaning more towards a laid-back nature. Amy Green, a Senior Writing Fellow, states that tutors should point out things that need improvement, but they also need to know how to balance their negative comments with positive ones (Green). Everything in life needs to be taken in moderation, tutoring motivation included. Even though tutors need to balance their negative comments with positive ones, they also need to lean towards an overall positive nature. Tutors do not want to have a cynical approach to students. Tutors need to be aware that a motivating attitude will more likely encourage student participation in tutoring sessions; therefore, the results of the sessions are going to be better. Another benefit of a positive attitude is that it allows the tutor to dictate what needs to be discussed and set the goals of a session. Tutors are the ones who need to always be in control of the session. By instilling motivation, a tutor will not only raise the student’s self-esteem, but will also take control of the session early on.

Students come into writing centers very nervous about accepting criticism. It is imperative that the tutor knows how to motivate these students from nervousness to empowerment. If students are not motivated, the session may not be successful because the tutor may not be able to engage with them. The four experiments conducted at MCCC, led the researcher to the conclusion that her tutoring methods need to be more laid-back. In the first three experiments the tutor motivated students by letting them know that (even though it was not going to be easy) it was possible to get through their papers. The final experiment the tutor performed, she played the role of a teacher in her outward appearance and personality. She did not engage with the student and her attitude was unapproachable. Her surveys and mental notes both tell her that students who are motivated in a session are better equipped to fix their writing errors.

Works Cited

Green, Amy. Personal Interview. 7 Dec. 2007.

Hull, C. “Drive Reduction Theory.” 25 Nov. 2007. <>.

Klausmeier, Hervert J. "Tutoring to Increase Achievement and Motivation." Theory Into Practice 19 (Winter 1980): 51. Academic               Search Premier. Monroe County Community Library, Monroe, MI. 8 Dec. 2007. <>.

Waldecker, Resa. Motivation and Writing Survey. Random Sampling of 4 sessions. Dec. 2007.


Keep Your Space Out of My Space
Chrissandra White Eagle

Have you ever been in a situation when someone invaded your personal space? The sitcom, Seinfeld, poked fun at this situation, calling the personal space invader a “close talker,” a person who moved in too closely while speaking to another. The show may have made us laugh, but when you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s a good bet that you won’t be laughing. I have often wondered if everyone feels this way and, if so, what distance is too close? In tutoring, it is necessary for two people to communicate in a confined area; at times this may provoke a physical invasion of a tutee’s personal space. Throughout my experiences tutoring, I have noticed that a tutor must be aware of a tutee’s comfort level, as this will have a great impact on the end result of a session. Effective interactions in tutoring require that we understand not only our own spatial behavior, but also that of others.

Personal space involves the invisible boundaries surrounding an individual that are maintained by the individual in relation to others. If someone pierces this boundary, he or she may feel uncomfortable and move away to increase the distance between him or herself and another person. This personal distance is not due to personal hygiene issues, but because closeness lends a sense of intimacy that is at odds with the person’s relationship to the another individual. While some prefer conversations from afar, others may prefer to make their point at a closer range. Generally, when two people are talking to each other, they tend to stand a specific distance apart.

As Hall put it in the book The Silent Language, “space speaks” (Hall). Look around you. Are you in your space or someone else’s space? If you are in your own, take note of the ways you have claimed it. What have you done to tell others, “This space belongs to me”? Human beings, much like other animals seem to have a need to claim and stake out space to call our own. We defend territory, invade that of others, put distance between others and ourselves, and avoid using certain spaces.

Whether we realize it or not, we spend a great deal of time negotiating the space we must share with others. The difference between peace and war, success and failure, good relationships and bad, often come down to the way we use space. The way we interact spatially with others and the respect we show for others’ sacred spots or space can be critical components in effective communication, and tutoring. Furthermore, our ignorance to the spatial needs or behavior of others does not excuse our abuse or misuse of space.

In the Writing Center, tutors sessions are scheduled at an, “at need,” basis. We generally see students within a few days, or even hours, before a paper is due. While some students will have an ongoing relationship with a particular tutor, we are generally meeting with complete strangers. Therefore, we should “try to avoid physical contact while tutoring, this, obviously, may lead to discomfort.” (Gillespie) Touching is a bit too intimate for casual acquaintances. Shaking hands when initially meeting or parting is acceptable, but this is only momentary.

Through my observations at the Holman Learning Center, or HLC, I have found that the tutoring sessions, “are very interactive, and tutors will lead [the student] in doing [their] own work.” (Holman) Due to the mission and goals of tutoring at the HLC, a tutor is unable to meet with a student just a few times or on an “on-call” basis. Peer tutoring at the HLC is a commitment of at least one hour a week, though tutors may work with a student for up to two hours a week as a general rule. The regularity of meeting with the same person for weeks on end builds a trusting relationship between the student and the tutor that seems to increase the effectiveness of the tutoring sessions throughout the semester.

Personal space is considered an invisible bubble that surrounds us and expands or contracts depending on personalities, situations, and types of relationships. Hall suggests that the type of interpersonal relationship in which we are involved affects the distance we place between ourselves and others. Our comfort level varies depending on our spatial orientation with others and their relationship to us. Hall describes four interpersonal distance zones that are characterized by the type of communication relationship involved. The four standard zones are as follows:

1. The intimate zone represents the innermost interaction region. It ranges from touching to a distance of eighteen inches.
2. The casual-personal zone is the next region of our personal space bubble. It ranges from eighteen inches to about four feet.
3. The socio-consultive zone ranges from four feet to eight feet.
4. The public zone represents the outer region of our interaction space bubble. This zone begins at eight feet and extends to the outer limits of interaction potential.

As tutors we must maintain a distance that is comfortable for ourselves and the student involved. While we generally find ourselves within the casual-personal zone, my studies suggest that most tutors, as well as tutees, prefer to interact within the socio-consultive zone instead. Some have even recommended that we remodel the Learning Assistance Lab, increase the desk space in the Writing Center, or use round tables, to allow them to make themselves comfortable at whatever distance they like.

The chart above shows the results of surveys that have been taken anonymously by both tutors and tutees. The results show that on average, Writing Fellows and HLC tutors are much more comfortable in closed quarters with strangers, casual acquaintances, and friends or relatives. Tutees from both locations seemed to be more comfortable from afar. The trend was that tutees, on average, preferred to have conversations with strangers at a distance of at least 13.5 feet, while Writing Fellows and HLC tutors were comfortable at distances of at least 8.5 feet. (Writing Center and Holman)

When tutoring, we may, inadvertently, encroach upon the personal space of a tutee. When this occurs, the tutee may exhibit some signs of territorial defense, which can involve two primary methods. The first method of defense involves preventative measures, the actions someone takes before encroachment begins. Individuals use prevention as a form of territorial defense through a combination of assertive postures, stances, stares, and gestures known as offensive displays. (McCroskey) This form of defense is seen more often in tutoring. Offensive displays reflect the old adage that the best defense is a good defense. It simply calls for the owner of the space to look aggressive and formidable to potential encroachers.

The second primary method of territory defense is called, reaction. This method of defense is important if preventative measures cannot be taken, or have all together failed. When a student’s territory is encroached upon, the student will most often react by moving away from the tutor, to reclaim their personal space.

As a culture, we use space differently from that of other cultures. As individuals, we may differ in our use of space depending on our age, gender, personality, and background. The way we use space, claim it, defend it, or allow others to enter it has a great deal to do with the nonverbal messages we transmit to others. If the student physically back away from you, it is more than likely because you have unconsciously invaded their territory. Try to be aware of this so if the person to whom you are speaking backs away a little; don't try to close the gap.

Works Cited

Hall, Edward T. The Silent Language. New York: Anchor, 1973.

Holman Learning Center. Eastern Michigan University. Ypsilanti, Michigan. 5 Dec. 2007.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Learner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring: 2nd Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2003.

McCroskey, James C. and Virginia P. Richmond. Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations: 5th Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2004.

Writing Center. Monroe County Community College: Learning Assistance Lab. Monroe, Michigan. 3 Dec. 2007.