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Learning in Style

Amanda Dushane

           
Remember being in second grade, when you first learned about the solar system?  You may remember your teacher explaining it to you with a picture or diagram of the moon revolving around the Earth, with the Earth revolving around the Sun, which is in the middle.  Instead, you may have had a teacher who just said, "The moon revolves around the Earth, while the Earth revolves around the Sun."  Finally, you might have had the teacher who selected three students: one to stand stationary in the middle of the classroom—the Sun, one to walk in a circle around the sun—the Earth, and one to walk in circles around the Earth—the moon. 

Everyone has a learning style that delivers the most benefits to each person's individual personality.  There are three basic kinds of learning: visual (learning by watching), auditory (learning by listening), and kinesthetic (learning by doing).  No matter the variety of students that may be in a single classroom, there is only one teacher who has to get the same point across to all of his or her students.  Whether a student best learns through her eyes, ears, or muscles, she deserves to be taught fairly and equally.  To ensure that everyone gets the most out of their educations, different measures have to be made to compensate for the variance.  To compensate for learning style differences, there are methods and strategies in the Writing Center to revise papers and perform other tasks that correspond best to each learning style.  As a Writing Fellow, I have seen and worked with these various types of learners and have further learned that they each need to be taught in different ways.  I have observed the methods used to put the elements of "stylish learning" into action. Working in the Writing Center gives Writing Fellows the opportunity to reach out to students by recognizing their different learning styles and then finding techniques for drafting, revising, and participating in other writing methods so the student learns the most from the session.  One of the goals of the Writing Center is to make sure that ownership of any project is retained with the tutees.  It is their work, and they must learn how to do it themselves.  We are there to help them as they continue to learn new processes.  One of the ways to make sure that the tutee owns his or her work is to keep the learning process in a familiar environment.  To implement this, we explore new ideas and writing techniques with the tutee in a way he or she can apply the message to his or her own thought process.  It is important to consider the different learning styles so the tutee can most easily apply these rules to his or her own understanding. 

 A visual learner takes in information predominantly by seeing.  Her eyes are her primary sense.  In a classroom setting, she likes viewing charts, diagrams, and maps.  This type will be the student who is always taking notes in class, writing everything down so that everything discussed is in text for her to review later.  A visual learner may say, "I see what you mean" (Taylor, par. 13).  A visual learner may sometimes become distracted when there are other things going on around her that make noise.  When tutored, a visual learner would get the most out of a conference when the tutor points to sections in the paper when explaining something that could be improved upon.  The tutee needs to see something to learn.  She will also benefit from getting worksheets or lists.  Visual learners also respond well to visual stimuli, like colors and shapes ("The Visual", par. 2).

While working in the Writing Center, I have had the chance to observe visual learners. I noticed that they often look at their papers more than engaging in conversation.  I sometimes think that this type doesn't want to pay attention to what I have to say, but instead they are looking at what I'm explaining.  As soon as I realize this, I prefer to turn the conference's focus to less conversation and more observation.  I will refer to textbook materials that the tutee can read for herself.  The Writing Center also has handouts in the form of style and format checklists that summarize writing techniques.  These can be useful to visual learners because they can look at them for understanding.  Once a visual learner has looked at something enough to understand, she can put the concept in her head, and finally take ownership of the idea.  Once she owns the idea, she can apply it anywhere in her life.

 One visual learner I tutored in the Writing Center seemed to have a difficult time understanding what I was trying to tell her about the way her paper needed to be revised.  Her paragraphs did not seem to focus on single ideas; instead, the paper looked more like a tangled mess.  I started by telling her that we needed to figure out a way to rearrange her sentences.  She didn't look very interested.  I noticed that she was doodling in the margins of her paper, a sign of a visual learner ("The Visual,” par. 2).  At that point, I took out three different colored highlighters.  I then showed her how she could separate her paragraphs and sentences into categories by using color, this way she could see the separate ideas in each paragraph.  Then she could arrange the sentences by matching colors into new paragraphs.  While speaking to her, I pointed to the specific places in the paper that could benefit from this exercise.  After "seeing" my explanation, I saw her eyes light up.  She picked up the pink highlighter and began to revise her paper on her own.  I then made sure to write this process out on her Writing Fellow Report Form, because I was confident that she would refer to it because she was a visual learner.

While visual learners are likely to remember best the information presented in writing, auditory learners can be very much the opposite, as they may overlook reading materials ("Recognize,” par. 7).  Auditory learners rely more heavily upon what they hear, to learn information.  Their primary sense is the ears.  Auditory learners "learn best when they can compare ideas and learn by saying what they think and, especially, hearing what they say, how they sound, and how they come across to the [tutor]" (Sims, 172).  They thrive in a classroom that involves discussions and debates.  These students will watch the instructor lecture, taking everything in that he or she says. Auditory learners rarely take notes, as it would be distracting.  An auditory learner may say, "I hear what you're saying" (Taylor, par. 14).  When there are too much visual stimuli surrounding the auditory learner, they may have a difficult time keeping focus.  An auditory learner retains the most information when told how to do something.  Once the tutee hears an idea, she may repeat it, and then put it in her head as a concept in her own words.  Learning through listening gives her ownership of the idea. 

In the Writing Center, I have noticed which people are auditory learners as well.  It's easy to tell an auditory learner because he watches you the entire time as he takes in everything discussed.  He will also engage in conversation and readily asks and answers questions.  The auditory learner gains little understanding from something that is not presented verbally.  Further, when I refer to anything in his paper by pointing to it, he does not seem to notice what I am trying to show him.

I encountered an auditory learner on one occasion in the Writing Center who was asking for help finding a focus for his topic.  He was writing a paper about the town he lives in.  I could tell that he was an auditory learner by the way he was communicating.  He paid attention to everything I said, asked questions, and lead most of the conversation, which implied progress in the conference.  I decided to tell him how he could find a focus to develop a thesis statement.  We discussed ideas before writing them down.  The conversational tone that took place at the conference seemed to be very effective for brainstorming his topic to find focus and subtopics.  After a short time, the tutee decided that he wanted to discuss the three different types of people in his close-knit town. The best part is that he decided this himself.  This shows that he understood this verbal brainstorming. Sometimes words speak louder than actions.         

A kinesthetic learner will learn best through actively participating by manipulating objects.  His primary sense is touch.  In class, he may best learn by working through an example; however, the kinesthetic learner may also have difficulty when it comes to sitting still during a lesson.  He finds it easier to pay attention when he can move freely around the classroom ("Recognize,” par. 9).  Keeping occupied is a way to stay focused.  A kinesthetic learner might express himself by saying, "I need to get a handle on this" (Taylor, par. 15).  A kinesthetic learner may find difficulty staying focused at a time in which he or she is required to remain seated or is unable to keep busy.  He needs to constantly be doing something in order to feel productive. In a tutoring session, this type of person may retain the most when given different colored highlighters to sort out sentences, or when given a pair of scissors to physically cut apart the paper's paragraphs, followed by the arrangement of them in a more effective order.  Instead of merely being told what to do, the kinesthetic learner needs to be part of the learning process.

 In the Writing Center, I have also had the chance to observe kinesthetic learners.  Tutoring this group can be very entertaining as more creativity comes into play.  They may initially appear as though they are restless as they fidget in their chairs or tap their pencils.  Though it may appear that the kinesthetic learners wants to be somewhere other than the conference, the key is to make sure that they have something to do to benefit their writing.  When they are doing activities related to their work, kinesthetic learners maintain ownership of their work.

I remember a student who I was tutoring in the Writing Center who first appeared to be quite hyperactive.  He seemed restless, as though he could not sit still.  This tutee was tapping his pencil on the table (something that aggravates me because I am a visual person, and am very easily distracted by outside noise).  As he was reading his paper, he continued to shift his position from sitting forward, to leaning back, to crossing his legs.  I decided to find something to keep the tutee more occupied.  Because his paragraphs were not in the same order as the thesis previewed, I decided to create an activity to complete two objectives—addressing this high-order concern and keeping the tutee occupied.  I explained to the tutee that his paragraph order did not match the order of the thesis. I then handed him a pair of scissors and a roll of tape.  I asked him to tell me the order of the subtopics in his thesis, followed by watching as he pointed out the order of the paragraphs in the body.  He understood; they did not match.  Then I told him that he could use the scissors to actually cut apart his paper paragraph by paragraph, and then by taping them back together, the paragraphs would be arranged in the correct order.  He quickly began his personalized revision process, and finally seemed calmer.     

 Regardless of one's learning style, there is always a method that can be chosen to fit individual needs.  The key to understanding the needs of tutees is paying special attention to the way they react to various everyday tutoring processes.  First, the tutor needs to figure out what type of learner the student is—whether visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.  Then the tutor needs to set up the conference accordingly as he takes the necessary measure for the tutee to gain maximum benefit from the writing conference.  When this is achieved, it is usually easy to tell that the tutee understands.  When the tutee can take something she learned and apply it to her own perspective, the tutee truly owns the assignment. The student also understands the process involved behind it, designed to her personal needs.  The tutor will then know that the conference was most effective.

Works Cited

Learning-Styles-Online.com. "Discover Your Learning Styles-Graphically!"  2001.  Learning Styles.com.  18 Apr. 2005.       <http://www.learning-styles-online.com/style/>.

"Recognize the Ways We Learn." Public Management  80.9 (1998): 33-34.  Wilson Select Plus.  OCLC Firstsearch. 
      Monroe County Community College Library.  Monroe, MI.  4 Apr. 2005.  <http://firstsearch.oclc.org/images/WSPL>.

Sims, Ronald R., and Serbrenia J. Sims, eds.  The Importance of Learning Styles: Understanding the Implications for
     Learning, Course Design, and Education.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Taylor, Jackie.  "Learning Styles: A Practical Tool for Improved Communication."  Supervision 59.7 (1998): 18-19. 
      Wilson Select Plus.  OCLC Firstsearch.  Monroe County Community College Library.  Monroe, MI.  8 Apr. 2005.        <http://firstsearch.org/images/WSPL/>.

 

Drawing in the Crowd

Michael Hall

           
The Writing Center is an invaluable resource available to students at Monroe County Community College.  Unfortunately, many students at the college do not know it exists.  And many who do know are ill-informed about what the Writing Center actually does.  And many of the patrons we do have do not feel as comfortable as we would hope.  Something needs to be done to get students into the Writing Center.  And once these students are there, we need to make sure that they feel as comfortable as possible so they are sure to return.  We need to create an atmosphere that is conducive to each individual’s own learning style.  The MCCC Writing Center needs to better inform students of the functions of the writing facility, and also supply more extensive supplementary handouts.  In addition, the center needs to create a more private atmosphere that caters to students who prefer both formal and informal settings.

Many students are unaware of the functions of the Writing Center.  When surveyed, MCCC students felt they were not well-informed about the Writing Center’s operations prior to visiting us (Hall, survey).  Most of our business is due to students who have had past instructors who mandated them to use our services.  But what about all the students who are not required to be tutored?  Should we just rely on information being obtained purely by word-of-mouth?  Although it may work well, it may not be the most efficient means of informing the student body.  We need to take a more active approach of informing students about the resources available in the Writing Center.

Classroom visits, presentations at freshman orientation, and guided tours are options that could better inform students about the purpose of our Writing Center.  When asked which they would prefer, most students replied that all the options would make a significant difference (Hall, survey).  There is no better time to reach out to new incoming students then at their freshman orientation.  Students, anxious to get started with their first year of college, are looking for anything to make their academic life a bit easier.  A presentation by the Writing Center could help relieve that anxiety.  This presentation could involve telling students how we can help them at each level of the writing process.  By explaining to students how important writing is in the academic world, they may begin to realize that the best time to start learning how to write properly is now.  By clarifying our functions and our boundaries to the students, we may just increase the number of students who take advantage of the excellent resources we provide.  But what about the students who choose not to attend freshman orientation?  Visiting classes, which have a significant amount of writing, could resolve this problem.  In addition, guided tours of the Writing Center should be included with any option made available.  Only by getting the students into the facility will they truly understand what we do.  And it is more likely that students will use our services if they are familiar with the Writing Center.

Also, the name Writing Center distorts our image to the student body.  Many students feel that the name Writing Center gives a false impression about the functions of the facility (Hall, survey).  We know as tutors that we should concentrate on making better writers, not better writing.  So how does that reflect our mission by having the term Writing in the name of our facility.  A name change to “Writers Lab” at BGSU was received well by faculty, tutors, and students (BGSU).  The new title focuses more on the student than the product, and that is exactly what we want to do.  To the student, the word Writing relates directly to his or her writing.  This is where our “fix-it-up shop” mentality comes from.  But what about the term Center?  It has a remedial connotation to it.  Students view it as a place for deficient writing.  No wonder so many students have misconceptions about what we do.  Our name says it all.  But by moving the focus from the students’ writing to the students themselves, and showing how it is not a remedial workshop, we may be able to bring about a positive change in the Writing Center’s image.  We need to look more deeply into the title of our Writing Center.  A simple name change could do a world of difference.

There is also a lack of supplementary handouts available to students.  We attend a community college.  Community colleges have many non-traditional students who lead very busy lives in which they have little time to attend tutoring sessions.  Although it is obvious that nothing can replace a one-on-one tutoring session in the Writing Center, some form of information is better than none at all. 

Handouts in the Writing Center should be more extensive and convenient for students to access.  At the present time, handouts are located in the tutoring area.  Although this may prove easy for a tutor to get for a student in a session, it proves difficult for a student just to come by and pick one up.  By placing the handouts closer to entryway, we could make it easier for students to stop by and pick some handouts up without feeling uncomfortable.  Not only could this layout prove to be more accessible to students, but it could also be used to get more people in to the Writing Center.  I believe that students would take more advantage of it if they knew it was a common area.  This way, students would come into the Writing Center to browse through our selection of handouts.  While there, they may find that the Writing Center is not as intimidating as they first thought.  The goal is to get people into the facility.  Then, if they see the friendly atmosphere, they will be more likely to find out what it is all about.

Discipline-specific handouts may help students and tutors in the tutoring session.  Both the student and the tutor could benefit from having these informative handouts available.  There could be handouts on how to write a biology paper, a psychology paper, a philosophy paper.  True, assignments sheets may help a little in this area, but they vary from being vague to precise.  But if we could develop handouts with a specific major in mind, students and tutors might be more productive in a session.  The availability of these handouts could help the student on the move, or the tutor in a bind. 

Students should be made aware that online handouts are available.  Although many students are aware of the Writing Center website, most have never visited it and were unaware that it provided handouts (Hall, survey).  So not only do we need to improve the marketing for the physical Writing Center, we need to improve it for the abstract Writing Center as well.  All the handouts that we have available in the Writing Center should be mirrored on our online website. Institutions like Hamilton College have discipline-specific handouts available online (Hamilton).  The more convenient something is, the more likely it will be used.  A good idea might be to remind students about our website on the Writing Fellow Report Form.  Not only will it help students on the move, but also help students taking distance-learning courses.  If we have the means to provide the information, then we should.

 The Writing Center should create a more private atmosphere, and should cater to both formal and informal settings.  Many students who come into the Writing Center are already uncomfortable.  We, as tutors, know this.  So we need to make students feel as comfortable as possible.  But the present state of the Writing Center is not helping.  First, we do not have a very private work area.  And second, we cater to students who learn best in a professional atmosphere.

A more private tutoring environment would produce better tutoring experiences.  Privacy is a large concern among both tutors and students (Hall, survey).  Many people are insecure about themselves.  Students are insecure about their writing, and tutors can sometime be insecure about their tutoring techniques.  And when people feel insecure, they do not perform as well.  The social zone is “between four to 12 feet” (“Comfort,” par. 8).  This is the ideal amount of space there should be between different tutoring sessions.  However, we know this is usually not the case.  Multiple sessions seem to take place in the personal zone that is “between 18 to 48 inches” (“Comfort,” par. 7).  Having sessions going on this close together causes both students and tutors to become insecure and results in sessions becoming less productive. 

 The Writing Center should have formal and informal areas for tutoring sessions.  At Monroe County Community College, half of the students prefer a professional atmosphere in the Writing Center while the other half prefers a more informal setting (Hall, survey).  So why not cater to both of those need?  At the Bowling Green State University Writers Lab, there are “couches for writers who prefer a very relaxed session, and desks for those who prefer more formal ones” (BGSU).  Students have their own personal learning styles.  Some students may be able to relax and open up in an informal setting, while other students would prefer a formal setting to get the job done.  By giving students options, sessions may become more productive.

Overall, we need to work on our marketing, information availability, and the general atmosphere of the Writing Center.  We need to get information about the Writing Center out to the student body more efficiently.  We need to find ways to draw the students into the facility.  And when we get them, we need to make sure they are presented with an environment conducive to their own learning style.  The MCCC Writing Center needs to better inform students of the functions of the writing facility, and also supply more extensive supplementary handouts.  In addition, the center needs to create a more private atmosphere that caters to students who prefer both formal and informal settings.  We need to try to draw in the crowd.

Works Cited

 BGSU. Bowling Green State University. 17 Apr. 2005. <http://www.bgsu.edu>.

“The Comfort Zone.” Asia Africa Intelligence Wire 18 Dec. 2002: 14 pars. InfoTrac. Monroe County Community
      College Lib. Monroe, MI. 17 Apr. 2005. <http://web6.infotrac.galegroup.com>.

Hall, Michael J. Survey. 4-15 Apr. 2005.

Hamilton. 2005. Hamilton College. 17 Apr. 2005. <http://www.hamilton.edu>.

 

Socratic Method in Tutoring

Ashley Johnson

The Socratic method is an effective tactic in discovering answers to questions. This method, invented by the philosopher Socrates, first proved its usefulness in ancient Athens in debates and discussions Socrates held with students. When used in tutoring sessions, a variety of questions are used to help create a dialogue with the tutee. Creating a dialogue in any tutoring session helps put students at ease and increases ownership over their papers. Tutees become more focused, attentive, and intent on working on their pieces. Asking questions to tutees prompts them to support their logic behind their ideas, causing them to reach higher levels of analytical thinking in the process. This method helps students uncover errors and question preconceived ideas already in their paper, overall helping them to become better writers and critics.

 The Socratic method gave birth to philosophy in Greece and helped to establish Socrates’ philosophy of endlessly questioning life. He used this tactic to slowly chisel away at problems, eventually revealing a truth or coming closer to an answer. The method became a discourse between two or more persons, each sharing their ideas and thoughts. Recursive strategies were used by all of Socrates’ students by repeatedly reflecting and questioning offered ideas and adding new ones. “This give-and-take method of investigation is called “dialectic” or the “Socratic method”—and it is still the essential method of the philosopher” (Gill 8). Socrates questioned his pupils on subjects ranging from justice, knowledge, and religious beliefs, among others. The father of philosophy presented a stream of questions to his followers, challenging them to think on higher levels and provoking issues. Socrates challenged knowledge and what he felt the citizens of Athens knew, and proved that no one knew or possessed as much knowledge as popularly believed.

A variety of questions can be used in the Socratic methods to help tutees become better writers. The types of questions include “directive questions, open-ended questions, advisory questions, content-clarifying questions, and opposition-based questions” (Gillespie 96). Using a combination of these proves efficient in tutoring sessions. Open ended questions, arguably the best and most used by Socrates are questions that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. Examples of these include “How is this paragraph effective to the whole of your paper?” or “Why did you choose to write about this topic?” Socrates engaged in these types of questions often to reach conclusions, as did the rest of his followers. Used in tutoring sessions, tutees become more aware of their thought processes, reasoning, and how effective their essay represents their ideas. The other types of questions, such as content-clarifying and directive, are narrower and include questions like “What did you mean by this sentence here?” and “There is a word flow problem in the beginning of paragraph five. Can you point it out for me?” The key in tutoring sessions is to use a combination of these types and to adapt to each tutoring session by using the questions most effective for the tutee.

The majority of my tutees to whom I issued questionnaires, benefited from the Socratic method; those who did not appear to benefit did not engage themselves in the tutoring session. Ashley, a tutee in the latter category, appeared listless and withdrawn during the session. She responded to questions given with short, curt replies. This was reflected in the questionnaire she completed: Harrison rated the Socratic method as a 3 out of 5 in the amount the method helped her (Survey). It became frustrating for me as a tutor when the tutee avoided putting an effort into answering the questions I presented to her. I noted that her body language reflected her inattentive and uncommitted attitude; Ashley did not lean forward during the session but leaned back and placed her chair a slight distance from the table. The tutee was distant both physically and mentally. I tried various types of questions, primarily open and content-clarifying questions, and even commented on her hobbies she had included in her paper. The Socratic method, I realized after the session, can be very useful but only if the tutee willingly participates.

Kristina represents the majority’s opinion since she found the Socratic method highly helpful in her tutoring session. In her completed questionnaire she reported the method to “help me realize that I must explain more in my paper. Just because I know what I mean does not mean my reader does.” Another tutee, Penny, reported similar results: “It is a good approach, which makes you look at things differently and actually comprehend what you could do differently” (Survey). Both tutees reported a 5 out of 5 in rating the method’s helpfulness, and reported a 4 and a 5 in the likelihood they would use the method if they were writing fellows. Both engaged in the questions, presented ideas to me, and thoroughly appeared helped by the session. The conversation that was created put the tutees at ease and made them realize I was a tutee and not a professor with a red pen. Due to this, the tutees’ own concerns were brought up in the sessions along with mine, and an exchange of ideas and questions occurred. When the tutees are attentive in a session, the Socratic method sets a relaxed mood and the tutees are less nervous about voicing their concerns and questions. By doing this, tutees are more likely to reach an understanding about concerns to address in their writing.

Questions help students see their paper in new perspectives and uncover problems overlooked. Asking tutees questions help them become better critics of their papers and to reach higher levels of cognitive thought. I use the Socratic method in the majority of my tutoring sessions, and have found it extremely useful. I enjoy using this tactic because it helps to clarify the student’s paper for me, and simultaneously lets the tutee and me compare the content to the clarification to see if they match. If we reach the conclusion that it does not, I address this to the tutee and ask how she could include what she said to me in her paper. The method helps tutees to see the importance of ensuring clarity in their papers, provide examples to ideas, define terms clearly (especially jargon), and overall explain ideas in a more concise and presentable manner. If a tutee does not understand something that I suggest to her, then the comfortable atmosphere the method provides makes most tutees feel safe enough to do try. Tutees at times may suggest ideas on improving their papers and defer to me for confirmation on the effectiveness it adds to their work. The Socratic method comes fully into focus here, and a bandying of ideas and questions occur and a solution is reached. 

The Socratic method is useful and effective in tutoring sessions, as it was for Socrates in ancient Greece. While Socrates used the method for philosophical questions, the same method can be used for tutoring and writing questions or concerns. The results I received from my questionnaires primarily supported the use of the Socratic method in tutoring sessions. When students put forth effort and become fully engaged in the tutoring session, the method helps them to gain new insights to fix problems such as ensuring clarity, paragraph unity, flow, or logical presentations and organization of ideas. The method is useful for me to clarify tutee’s papers and the thought processes behind tutees’ ideas. It causes both tutors and tutees to focus on concerns and to generate ideas in working toward solutions. The Socratic method is the most effective method I have used in tutoring and will continue to use it in my tutoring sessions.

Works Cited

Gill, Jerry. The Enduring Questions: Traditional and Contemporary Voices. 7th ed. Australia: Wadsworth, 2002.

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

Survey. Personal. MCCC Writing Center, Apr. 2005.

 

The Difference Between Traditional and Non-Traditional Students

Elyse Peterson

Going to college is an experience I am thankful for.  I consider it one of best choices I have ever made.  After I graduated from high school at age sixteen, I took a five year break from my education.  I did not accomplish too much during that time.  Now that I am back to school, I have never been happier.  I finally feel like I am on the right track in life again.  However, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had headed to college straight out of high school.  Would I have worked so hard to get good grades?  Would I have appreciated my education as much as I do now?  These are questions I will never know the answer too.  But they have prompted me to ask the question “What is the difference between traditional and non-traditional students?

What exactly are traditional and non-traditional students?  A traditional student is a young adult who has headed to college anytime within the first few years out of high school.  They are usually full-time students and are financially dependent on their parents.  Non-traditional students can have several characteristics.  They have taken a break from education and are part-time students.  They are financially independent and have full-time jobs.  Many non-traditional students have dependents other than their spouses, such as children, and have received high school completion certificates such as the GED rather than their high school diploma (National 6).  In 1999-2000, 73% of undergraduates had at least one of these characteristics (National 8).  Up to 28% of undergraduates are highly non-traditional students (National 9).  From 1992-1993 to 1999-2000, non-traditional student percentage has increased.  This increase is expected to continue (National 10).

Non-traditional students have some factors working against them.  Working and worrying about money, taking care of a dependent, and trying to do well in school is a lot for one person to take on.  How do they do it?  Or more important, how do they do in college?  Non-traditional undergraduates actually do very well.  According to a two-year study, non-traditional students scored higher on the pre-assessment and post-assessment ETS MFAT tests (Jonas 1).  How is it possible for students who have so much more responsibility than the traditional student to also score higher on tests?  The answer is life experience.  I asked two non-traditional students why school was so important to them.  One single mother told me to her school was the key to success.  Another woman told me that after a series of low-paying jobs, she realized that school was a great way to gain respect in a very competitive world.  Both non-traditional students pointed out that with hard work and determination it was possible to accomplish just about anything.  As I learned more about traditional and non-traditional students, I became interested in their work ethnic in the MCCC Writing Center.  Would I notice any differences by observing them?

The first tutee I observed in the MCCC Writing Center was a non-traditional student named Katie.  After high school, she had taken several years off before returning to college.  Katie was one of the most open and attentive students I have ever tutored.  She asked me just as many questions as I asked her, which is not normal in a tutoring session.  Usually I am the one asking questions in an effort to get ideas generated.  Katie also took notes, which I found interesting, and at the end of the session she was very appreciative and thanked me for my time.  She helped make the tutoring session a pleasurable one, and she was more than willing to discuss ways to improve her paper and formulate a plan.  The second non-traditional student I tutored was an older woman.  Her name was Linda, and she came with more than enough research for a ten-page paper.  Like Katie, she asked many questions and took notes.  Neither non-traditional tutee was a writing genius.  However, they had good work and I realized much of this was because of their preparation and motivation.

The first full-time traditional student I tutored was a young man named Sean.  Overall, we had a successful session with constant interaction.  Sean had not come with a paper, but he had brought a backpack.  In the backpack were a mess of papers with jotted-down ideas and a thrown-together outline.  He showed me what he had, and we began to talk about what he planned to do with his paper.  Together we worked on organizing his ideas and making a schedule so it would be possible for him to complete his ten page paper within a week’s time.  At the end of the session he thanked me, and he told me I had helped give him some direction.  The second traditional student came four days before his ten-page paper was due.  He only had one page written.  He told me he was a notorious procrastinator.  He was laid-back and calm throughout the whole session, even though I was nervous for him.  He gave me the impression that he had no worries and was only at the session because he was required to come.  However, when I began to ask questions and suggest ideas, he became involved in the session.  We could not do much more than plan and develop ideas.  I wished him luck, but he seemed unconcerned.  I can imagine him rushing to finish his paper the night before it is due. 

 What I noticed most about these traditional students was their confidence.  All of the students I observed were a part of my fellowed class.  Their assignment was a ten-page paper, and it required a lot of extra work.  To my surprise, almost every traditional student came to the tutoring session with next to nothing accomplished.  The rough drafts they turned in consisted of one to three pages.  This did not seem to bother them.  The funny part is that I think I was more bothered about this than they were.  Their confidence is founded on two factors, the first factor being that school is something these students are used too.  School has been a big part of their lives for just about as long as they can remember, so it is not something that intimidates them.  This was just another paper, and when they finished it, they finished it.  The second reason for their confidence is their financial dependence.  They have never had to work to survive, so they do not know first-hand how important their education is.  In contrast, experience has made non-traditional students lose this carefree confidence.

 Non-traditional students on average were more prepared then the traditional students.  When they came to the tutoring session, they brought research and had at least five pages of their paper written.  I was impressed with their interest in improving their writing versus the worry-free attitude of the traditional students.  They took notes and were dedicated to doing a good job.  The non-traditional students took their classes seriously and were willing to put time and effort into their work.  There are a few reasons for the non-traditional student behavior.  If these students do poorly in their classes, no one will be there to bail them out.  They would simply have to give up their dreams and go back to working at their full-time jobs.  They have chosen to come to school.  They are motivated enough to squeeze in school between their time at home with their children and their busy schedule at work.  This is something that is important to them.  Also, life has taught them that to succeed, hard work is mandatory.  The reason non-traditional students take the tutoring sessions seriously is because they take education as a whole seriously.

 Neither traditional nor non-traditional student were better writers.  The amount of talent was equal between the two.  The difference between their work ethics in the MCCC writing center was primarily the result of life changing experiences.  My observations and research made me thankful for the break I had taken.  Maybe I had needed it.  It does not matter that I am older then most students.  I am motivated and prepared to take education seriously because this is something I want to do.

Works Cited

Jonas, Peter M. “Non-traditional vs. Traditional Academic Delivery Systems: Comparing ETS Scores for Undergraduate
     Students in Business Programs.” Annual Forum Paper. 1999. ERIC. EBSCO. Monroe County Community College
     Library. 4 Apr. 2005. <http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&an=ED433751>.

National Center for Education Statistics. “Non-traditional Undergraduates.” 2002. National Center for Education Statistics.
      4 Apr. 2005. <http://nces.gov/programs/coe/2002/analyses/nontraditional/sa02.asp>.

Peterson, Elyse. Personal Observations and Conversations. MCCC Writing Center, Apr. 2005.

 

Don’t Judge a Writing Center by Its Cover

Kristina Pope

Looks can be deceiving. People who look mean may really be nice, books that appear boring may be intriguing, shirts that look too small may be a perfect fit, foods that seem disgusting may taste great, and writing centers that look intimidating and institutional, may be welcoming. The Monroe County Community College Writing Center has an institutional appearance. Jazzing up the physical appearance of the Writing Center, particularly one that is shared with other different types of tutors is not a priority or necessity. Whether or not the issue is addressed, the atmosphere of a writing center does play a small role in the tutoring session. How the lab looks and feels plays on an individual’s comfort and focus level. Three aspects that contribute to the atmosphere of any writing center are the physical environment, the people who work and travel through the area, and the mindset of the students being tutored and the one’s doing the tutoring.

It is amazing how physical surroundings can affect people. Elementary schools have plain colored walls, usually white, cream, or tan. This is no coincidence; it is done for a specific purpose. The school is trying to create a calming environment for young students who struggle to relax and stay focused on their teachers and school work. Bright colors are too stimulating for children to learn in; the response may result with a classroom full of kids bouncing off the walls. The reverse concept should be applied to writing centers. College students generally do not bounce off walls, so having boring earth tones on every side is not necessary. Actually, incorporating color to the structure of a writing center may prove to stimulate thought processes and creativity. More importantly, using bland “institutional like” colors, may intimidate the tutees into feeling they have entered a hospital setting, not an academic student-oriented area. Since the Writing Center is not a hospital with an E.R. or surgical room, our environment should not reflect that. Nevertheless, incorporating color and student artwork could be just what the doctor ordered.

A tutoring environment should correspond to the needs of students receiving help. If a student is distracted by the cold environment she is placed in, the session will suffer. Instead of paying attention to her paper and correcting problems with it, she may think about how much she wants to leave and how uncomfortable she feels. Monroe County Community College Writing Fellows attempt to make up for the Writing Center’s uncontrollable institutional surrounding by pleasantly greeting people as they come in, showing them where to sit, and then taking a seat close, but not too close to them. Invading a tutee’s personal space can also affect the outcome of a session. If a Writing Fellow sits too far away, the student may feel like the tutor does not care, does not want to be there, or is disinterested in what he or she has to say. If the tutor, on the other hand, sits too close, the tutee feels intruded on, and depending on the person, may feel very paranoid (Wahlstrom, par. 3).

Authority figures are all around college students. From their parents, to their instructors, to their employers, they cannot escape from authoritative adults. With that in mind, when a tutee walks into the writing center and is approached by an adult, he or she may appear a little insecure. From a survey I conducted about the MCCC Writing Center, every respondent preferred being addressed by a student upon entering the Writing Center. Tutees who had an appointment with me, and were greeted by an adult sitting at the front desk, looked like they had seen a ghost, and started looking around for me (a fellow student). When approached by a fellow student first, their faces seemed more at ease, and their body language was more open and inviting. Not only does the first person tutees see when entering the Writing Center affect them, the people who walk in and out of the area may also spread discomfort. More than half of the tutees who responded to my survey said they had been distracted by teachers and administrators who regularly walk through the Writing Center. We, as college students, spend enough time in the presence of authority figures—it is nice to be able to communicate and receive help from someone who is not old enough to be a parent, and has a demeanor similar to that of a friend.

 The mindset of the tutee can directly affect the session. If a student has negative preconceived notions about writing centers and tutors, she may have an imaginary wall that needs to be broken down. One popular mindset among students is what they believe the tutor’s job is. In their eyes, it may be to listen to their problems, correct all of their errors, and tell them the grade they most likely will receive. When that happens, a tutor must knock down all false beliefs and explain the real purpose. After common ground has been established, the next step is working with the student to set an agenda for the session based on at least one higher order concern, and something the student feels the need to work on. Another misconception tutees have about tutoring is that by seeing a tutor, their papers will be perfect and they will receive an “A.” When is not to true, they may feel disappointed and let down. It is important to never guarantee a student’s grade, or whether the instructor will even like the paper.

Now that the tutee has been analyzed, the tutor’s personality can also affect the outcome of a session. If a tutor is cold and formal, the student is forced into reverting to bad experiences he or she has had with authority figures. They may feel inferior and become insecure about talking and asking questions. Instead of being open and honest about problems and questions, they may feel stupid and fear they will be made fun of—like a little kid back in elementary school. No one wants to worry about sounding ignorant and unintelligent. If the Writing Fellow is the polar opposite, and is too informal, the student may feel like tutoring is a blow-off thing and may become too comfortable. They allow themselves to go off on other tangents—one’s not related to their assignment (Gillespie 26-28).

Three factors that determine the atmosphere of any writing center are the physical surrounding, people commonly in the area, and whether or not a tutee has a wall that needs to be broken down. Making a student feel comfortable, letting him or her know your role as a tutor, and focusing on the content of the paper are the goals of MCCC Writing Fellows. Tutoring is beneficial to tutors and tutees alike if the atmosphere is right. Monroe County Community College’s Writing Lab is not large, is not run exclusively by students, is not void from authority figures, is not full of color and student art, but that does not mean progress can not be made. It just means the tutor has to work a little harder to get the student to feel welcome and able to open up.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Paula, and Lerner, Neal. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004.

Pope, Kristina. “Writing Center Survey.” 4 Apr. 2005.

Wahlstrom, Ralph, L. “A Gorilla/(Guerilla) in the Writing Center.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. Purdue University 26.8
      Apr. 2005.

 

Whistle While You Write: Friendly Writing Center Sessions

Craig Ringbloom

One of the most essential aspects of the writing session is the incorporation of a friendly tone presented by the tutor, acknowledged by the writer, and expressed throughout the entire tutoring process. This tutoring process is vital in developing an understanding of the writing processes of those who visit the writing center, while simultaneously educating the writers of the importance of strengthening their writing skills and style. When the tutor and writer expect the same appreciation for one another’s time and effort, friendliness and cooperation are the best ways to show each other thanks. Those who visit the MCCC Writing Center are important to the tutors and staff who work there, and in the long run, benefit the entire college as a whole. “Planners of the University of West Cape’s Writing Centre saw it necessary not only to provide a service for students, but to use the project to engage in dialogue with lecturers about writing practices and the role of writing in the curriculum” (Leibowitz). Those individuals who improve their writing not only excel in academics, but also in their careers, which in turn builds positive reputation for the college from which they graduate. Writing centers, in essence, eventually amplify the overall success of academics and careers, and will certainly continue to do so in the future.

            The tutors’ presentations of themselves and the writing center are essential in creating the comfortable, “at home” feeling in the center’s environment. Writers who visit a writing center do not always approach at their own free will. Some writers draw near merely for extra credit on their assignments, while others may come by request of their instructors. However, there are also those writers who come for help and guidance in their writing processes, and the tutor consistently delivers. Tutors tend to be grouped based on their writing experience and practice rather than on stereotypical judgments of appearance and behavior. Unfortunately, some writers are repelled from the writing center, and most usually for three main reasons: Tutors are sometimes mistakenly revered as “gods” of writing, and they stain their victims’ papers with their blood (red ink); writers are fearful of embarrassment and disappointment for writing such “terrible” papers; writers may also be frightened of the tutors themselves, judging their appearance and behavior right from their first meeting. It is the tutor’s job to present in a professional, yet somewhat informal way to make writers feel important and welcome.

 The writing center environment should be a friendly, yet professional place to experience the tutoring process. As stated by Dr. Casey Jones, of the University of Maryland at College Park, in his article “The Relationship between Writing Centers and Improvement in Writing Ability: An Assessment of the Literature,” “not only has the writing center ‘movement’ enjoyed astounding momentum, its core theoretical assumption – that writing is a fluid learning “process” which takes place in an active social context – has received widespread adoption within academia and is rapidly supplanting the traditional “product” approach to composition teaching practice.” Those writers who find their way to the writing center usually wish to discover their own writing processes, and in turn be given the opportunity to improve upon them. Unfortunately, writing centers are not always as pleasant as one would hope for. Some are noisy and crowded, while others are unorganized and offensive, depending entirely on how the institution views the center’s appeal, reputation, and benefit to its students. The most enjoyable writing center environments are quiet, much like the atmosphere of a library, with only a few conversations taking place between tutors and writers. These settings tend to be relaxing, offering writers comfortable and roomy stations to sit and discuss their papers with tutors. The pleasant location often feels friendly, with writers warmly welcomed upon arrival. Writers appreciate this kind of environment, as they are more able to enjoy the tutor’s company and writing session overall. Tutors also benefit from forthcoming writers, as they may similarly enjoy the writer’s presence and ease of the writing session. The tutor should choose a suitably relaxing area to work with the writer. Writers tend to be more open to tutoring when they are most comfortable and welcome in the situation. A suitable location for the writing session may be at a clear, large table with enough room for the writer’s and tutor’s papers, as well as space for intense discussion around the table. The tutor should also provide seating for both the tutor and writer, most preferably chairs positioned at the table to provide for close engagement, but not so much as to intermingle between personal spaces. This station should be far enough from another station as to obstruct any distractions and dialogue from others in session. This area will provide for a more direct, secure connection between the tutor and writer. Making this connection is vital in continuing with the writing session.

Creating a comfortable feeling for the atmosphere of the writing center is very important in keeping the writer as the focus of attention. Attention is important to both the tutor and writer. The tutor expects a considerate writer to provide complete attention to discussion and comments during the writing session, as does the writer typically expect of the tutor. Once both parties become critically engaged in the tutoring process, the learning and application processes typically ensue. Tutors show the writers several strategies and methods for different stages of the writing process, and furthermore provide an explanation as to the importance of using such tools when writing in the future. “Writers need to develop control of these strategies, and this control includes not simply knowing what strategies might be available, but knowing how to use a strategy” (Gillespie 19). Cooperative tutoring is the easiest form of tutoring, in which both the tutor and writer benefit from the experience. The tutor departs from the writing session with yet another rewarding experience, and quite often more knowledge about writing than he or she had before the session. The writer leaves the session with newfound knowledge and motivation for use in writing papers in the near future, and more often than not writers feel a sense of approval and gratification with their own writing.

The writer must first acknowledge the time and effort put into creating a friendly writing session environment before he or she can show appreciation for it in return. After most tutoring sessions, writers leave with a sense of accomplishment and fortitude, for which they should be indebted to the tutor. Tutors tend to be very good at fulfilling their goals, which include providing writers with information about writing, techniques and methods to improve writers’ processes, and satisfaction when the session has come to an end. The effort put into a typical writing session by the tutor includes keeping the writer interested, helping the writer understand and develop his or her own writing process, and answering any important questions the writer might have about specific aspects of the writing process with regards to his or her assignment or in general. The writer should always be the center of attention in a tutoring session and should continually be treated as thus. Writers may be kept interested by displaying positive body language (e.g.: leaning inwards or smiling) and reinforcement, such as complimenting and praising the strongest aspects of their writing. This manner of keeping the writer interested is extremely important and should be accepted by all writing tutors. Understanding the effort put into the writing session gives the tutor a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, while the writer gets the attention and honor for participating throughout the session. The tutor should also, as often as possible, show appreciation for the valuable time the writer spent on the session, and the writer should thank the tutor for helping the writer understand and develop his or her own writing process. The time the writer spent on the tutoring session is not only valuable to the writer, but should also be appreciated by the tutor in turn. The writer, whether they demonstrate it or not, is always somewhat thankful for the time spent on the tutoring session. Some sessions, however, do not always illustrate the effort a successful session would show. There are those writers that get frustrated and pressured by daily tasks, and not many people under stress are willing to approach a writing session with a smile on their face and a handful of motivation. There are also tutors, who also happen to be writers, who face similar situations and stress each day. It takes the cooperative effort of both the tutor and writer, regardless of the conditions and emotions faced by the two of them, to exit a writing session with a feeling of accomplishment.

 Expressing friendliness throughout the entire tutoring process keeps the writer interested in what he or she is learning, and in the meantime illustrates the role of the tutor in appreciating the valuable time spent by the writer for the tutoring session itself. A friendly tutor would greet the writer as he or she enters the writing center, guide him or her to the nearest station, and then begin, follow through, and end the session on a good note, without pressuring or exhausting the writer in any way. Writers tend to work worst under pressure, strain, and lack of motivation, so why should they have to experience these conditions when preparing to work on writing? Tutors must try to keep the session calm, simple, and inspirational to a degree, which keeps the writer attentive and ensures an ultimate success to the session. Keeping the writer interested and appealed by the tutoring session is the one of the means by which the tutor can further the writer’s understanding and development of his or her own writing process.

The tutor’s role in the writing session is not only to further educate the writer on his or her own writing process, but also to encourage the enthusiastic return of the writer to the writing center in the future. The tutor’s main goal of the writing session is to create an understanding, between the tutor and the writer, of the importance of a well-developed writing process. The tutor should also promote the writer’s revisit in the future, which should be supported by the very helpful, educational experience he or she had with the tutor. The writer, after experiencing a very helpful and friendly tutoring session, should feel comfortable enough to return to the writing center for assistance with future assignments. Not many people avoid places they enjoy visiting, even after being there only a single time.

 Once again, one of the most essential aspects of the writing session is the incorporation of a friendly tone presented by the tutor, acknowledged by the writer, and expressed throughout the entire tutoring process. As was illustrated, this tutoring process is vital in developing an understanding of the writing processes of those who visit the writing center, while simultaneously educating the writers of the importance of strengthening their writing skills and style. Writing is the most creative, thoughtful, and unique forms of communication, which is why those who tutor it maintain an important task of helping those in need of assistance with writing. In essence, tutors promote and motivate writers to communicate better in both professional and informal means. Have you made your next appointment in the writing center yet?

Works Cited

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

Jones, Casey. “The Relationship between Writing Centers and Improvement in Writing Ability: An Assessment of the
      Literature.” Education. 122.1 (Fall 2001). Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. Monroe County Community College
      Library, Monroe, MI. 11 Apr. 2005 <http://web2.epnet.com>.

Leibowitz, Brenda, and Kenneth Goodman. “The Role of a Writing Centre in Increasing Access to Academic Discourse in a             Multilingual University.” Teaching in Higher Education. 2.1 (Mar. 1997).  Sociological Collection. EBSCO Host. Monroe
      County Community College Library, Monroe, MI. 11 Apr. 2005 <http://web2.epnet.com>.