In a North-ward Direction: Audience and Purpose for a Writing Center Manifesto

If I were to write a piece defining the Writing Center, my audience would be MSU students, particularly those who are freaking out about writing, particularly those in the sophomore to junior range who are just getting super confused about the conventions of their discipline. My purpose would be to invite them into the Writing Center to get support for that freak out, to talk through their issues and use a real live person to help them organize their thoughts and feelings. To walk them through the process of learning a new academic language. However, like North, in order to address that audience I would also end up addressing an audience of tutors. Like in our collaborations with teachers, if I am calling for a new section of writers to use the writing center, I have to address the tutors who will be working with them as well.

Response for the Week of 10/27 (Belated)

This week focused on Writing Center methodologies. I found Joyce Neff’s piece on grounded theory difficult to follow, but in class we broke down her methods to figure out that grounded theory basically consists of coding, categorizing, and breaking down the categories you have made. I realize that Neff is writing towards a certain audience and is trying to legitimize her methods, but I thought a more step-by-step explanation written in plain language would have been easier for us to understand. It is strange that our Writing Center Research book does not provide this.

On Friday, we talked about the different definitions of rhetorical analysis brought by Alice Gillam and Peter Carino. While Gillam applies tropes to Writing Center documents, Carino starts with the texts and finds his own commonalities to close read. The idea of rhetorical analysis was very appealing to English people.

Research Project

The proposal we submitted for our research project looks like this:

Though a substantial amount of research has been conducted on multilingual tutees, few studies have focused on multilingual tutors. Furthermore, though research in the field of Teaching English as a Second Language has suggested that use of a student’s first language is advantageous, there is a gap in research of L1 use in writing center sessions.

In light of this gap, this panel presents the results of an empirical research study conducted at Mississippi State University in Fall 2014. The study focused on the use of L1 and L2 in tutoring sessions. In order to better understand how tutees respond to tutoring in L1 and L2 contexts, three tutors were recruited: a Mississippian who identifies as white and Southern, an African-American tutor who has lived in multiple areas of the United States, and an international, multilingual tutor. Two sessions of each tutor recruit, one with a native speaker and one with a multilingual writer, were video recorded and transcribed, documents were collected via photographs, and tutees were interviewed after sessions to determine tutee satisfaction based on language use.

Our panel presentation will discuss the results and implications of our study by addressing the following questions:

(1) How do cultural interactions of the tutor and tutee affect the language used within a tutoring session?

(2) How do patterns of L1 and L2 use with multilingual writers occur in and affect the tutoring session?

(3) How do these interactions affect tutee perception of the session, including satisfaction and affective perception?

The abstract looks like this:

This panel presents the results of an empirical research study focusing on the use of L1 and L2 in tutoring sessions. In order to better understand how tutees respond to tutoring in L1 and L2 contexts, three tutors were recruited: a Mississippian who identifies as white and Southern, an African-American tutor who has lived in multiple areas of the United States, and an international, multilingual tutor. Sessions of each tutor recruit with a native speaker and with a multilingual writer were video recorded and transcribed, documents were collected via photographs, and tutees were interviewed after sessions to determine resulting attitudinal factors.

Our panel presentation discusses the results and implications of our study for writing centers as it relates to multilingual tutors, reflecting on patterns of L1 and L2 use in the tutoring session and how those interactions affect tutee perception of the session, including satisfaction and affective perception.

In order to answer the questions we need to answer, we will need research about:

1. Use of L1 in TESOL

2. The research on multilingual tutors

3. The research on multilingual tutees

4. Research on cultural effects on tutoring session

In order to best design and structure a study, we should read:

1. Case studies

2. Empirical research studies

3. Studies that use satisfaction surveys

Before we can start collecting data, we need:

1. To get IRB approval

2. To work together to construct questions for an exit interview (including questions about background as well as attitudinal factors)

3. To schedule people who are available to act as interviewers at the times we will be recording.

4. To create a consent form

Special Issue of the Journal of Second Language Writing1

This Special Issue of the Journal of Second Language Writing from 2004 focuses on Writing Centers. Articles include “The writing center and second language writers,” “Tutoring and revision: Second language writers in the writing center,” “Novice tutors and their ESL tutees: Three case studies of tutor roles and perceptions of tutorial success,” and “What are the differences?: Tutor interactions with first- and second-language writers.” These articles include case studies and empirical research. There is also a very useful bibliography of recent scholarship.

The case study article and the article about differences between first- and second-language writers are useful to the research we are doing as models to follow.

Reflection on Space and WAC

What does my Perfect WC say about me?

I think that Prior’s ideas about writing as streams of literate activity influenced me a lot as I thought about the design of the “perfect” writing center. My self-study also made me think about how multiple, diverse conversations go into these streams. Though my writing center is admittedly set up much like Murray’s scenes of writing and may be too separated off, the important part for me is that it is a center in which all types of writing takes place, from the beginning stages to the end. People who need help can come, but people who just simply want a place to write on campus and want to feel supported are encouraged. In an early draft of my perfect WC, there was a top floor with administrative offices and a “Metawriting Room.” I think it is important for there to be a place in the writing center to think and write about and discuss writing itself; I think it’s so important that I decided not to relegate it to a single floor.

How can our Writing Center work with the Maroon and Write QEP?

In Wallace, tutors become pedagogical experts when talking to professors. Though I think this might be a bit out of reach for us, if all students who participate in WAC are encouraged to go to the writing center, tutors will become experts on the types of problems they are running into. A point of contact, therefore, between writing tutors and professors, would be very helpful. Think about what we are currently doing with Dr. Holmes’s Kinesiology students, but on a higher level. Thus, teachers who are at level two of the QEP will be able to get feedback about where their students are and what problems they are running into. As more students from higher classifications are encouraged to go to the Writing Center, group sessions may become more useful. Then, writing tutors who have been trained in writing pedagogy can guide the session, but content knowledge can also be discussed. Overall, I think the most useful way the Writing Center could help the QEP is to be trained on how to use the Maroon and Write rubric, so as to help both professors and students.

The Perfect WC

My ideal writing center has four levels. The first level has a receptionist and two restaurants. The first restaurant is called the PreWriting Cafe. Here, you can get hot beverages, soda, and snacks and sit at small coffee shop tables with dry erase surfaces and markers. Resources and methods  and laminated worksheets for PreWriting hang on the walls, and tutors are available to help students pick their poison. Many students come by the PreWriting cafe to get a drink before going to another section of the WC, reminding them of where their writing began.

Also on this level is the Feedback Grill. Here, students or groups of students can grab a meal with a tutor who will listen to their concerns and read through their paper to give them their reaction. Ideally, students would come to get a bite and to hear the diverse and wonderful ideas that are occurring in writing across campus.

The second floor is the Writing Lounge. There are lots of big, squishy chairs, lamps, end tables, blankets and endless lines of plugs. This floor must be large, because it will quickly become the popular nap spot on campus.Laptops and chargers for an array of devices, along with other resources, are available to check out. Tutors lounge around in official T-shirts to provide resources to writers. Above all, this floor is a place on campus all writers can go to get down to business. There is no music, but headphones and internet radio are available upon request. The silence is not stark, like in the library, but comfortable. A network of writers typing together.

The third floor is the Organization Studio. Here, the walls and floor are dry erase. There are dry erase blocks that can be moved around and printers to print out quotes. Tutors work in-depth with writers here. Resources of sample papers and graphic organizers are available around the floor. Students are often seen sitting on the floor.

The fourth floor houses the Revision Studio and Break Room. The Revision Studio looks more like a traditional WC, with several areas in which tutors and students can talk together. There is a resource wall full of student writing and plenty of water and technology. The set up is such that after a tutor works with a student, they can then leave them to continue working. There are much more tables here so that students can easily focus. Assignment sheets from across campus are available on iPads.

The Break Room is like a smoking area at a bar, without the smoke. Sometimes when you’re writing, you just need to get away and talk with people away from the writing. The Break Room allows for that. It has couches and newspapers and magazines and people ready to chit chat in ways that recharge creativity. The walls are decorated with posters and graffiti.

The Writing Center as a Friend’s Home

You and your boyfriend just had a big fight. You don’t know if you were in the wrong or if you should stick to your guns. Where do you go? You call up your friend to find out when you can come over. When you arrive, your friend makes sure you feel at home, offering you something to drink and a seat on the most comfortable furniture. And then you get to business. You pour out your problem, telling them why your boyfriend is mad and how you feel like you’re a bad partner. Your friend listens and commiserates, then offers suggestions that you are free to take or leave. You work together to figure out what you should do next.

Other times, you are really excited about something and you go over to your friend’s house so that you can express all the reasons you’re excited. Or you’re not sure how you feel about something so you’ll talk it out with them. Or you just need a space to feel secure and not alone. Every time, your friend invites you in and gives you what you need.

A Writing Center should be able to do all these things: a place where people go to get feedback on their writing, help with putting their ideas together, and sympathy for their plight.

In order to look like a place where writers can go to collaborate like they would with a friend, a Writing Center should have a few things. First, it needs someone to welcome clients in and make them feel at home. Maybe it has water and other drinks available. It should definitely have a restroom. I think in today’s society ample wall plugs and extra chargers truly make a person feel at home. Ideally, there will be comfortable chairs that clients can plop down in and start talking about their experiences with writing right away. The tutor should be just as comfortable as the client. After all, it is the attitude your friend feels for their home that makes you feel like it is a safe place.

Murray’s Scenes of Writing

This week our group talked about scenes of writing in Prior and Murray’s work. Here, I will be responding to the second question we answered about Murray’s scenes of writing.

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Murray, we learned, is responsible for the structure of every writing textbook we have ever read, separating writing into three portions, Pre-Writing, Writing, and Re-Writing. Though the textbooks get Murray’s point a bit confused and end up making these stages far, far more strict and structured than Murray intended, Murray does seem to be far more interested in the individual writer than Prior is. Though Murray urges his readers to think of writing as a process, he is interested in writers working alone to find a “truth.”

In his model, pre-writing must be allowed to happen within the individual. He says that writers should be given plenty of time to pre-write, but they must also work under a deadline. In our representation, pre-writing happens in the classroom, while eating breakfast, and while you’re going to bed, as well as many other times.

Writing, according to Murray, is the stage that takes the least time. Once they’ve pre-written enough, writers sit down and create a draft. In the representation, we show a solitary writer furiously typing at a computer.

Re-writing happens next. Writers must revise their text until it communicates their ideas effectively. Murray says that these scenes may overlap; that is, the writer may need to cycle back through pre-writing when they are re-writing. In our representation, we show a writer thinking, talking, and writing.

Murray has often been misrepresented. He is adamant that writing is a process, not a product and that students should be able to write as many drafts as possible. This idea often gets twisted as teachers attempt to carry it out. Personally, I find many ideas from Murray useful, but not particularly this idea of separating writing into these three “scenes.” As we discussed in class, while writing we are often rewriting sentences, throwing away bits, and stopping to rethink something we thought we already understood. I find Murray’s ideas about teaching writing as a process helpful, but I find it hard to fit the way I write into his model.

Online Tutoring Week

We began the week talking about the practices for online tutoring suggested in the Bedford Guide, Chapter 6. Bedford says that, “traditional students increasingly expect various components of their college experience to be digital” (74). I agree with this. As a “traditional student,” I expect colleges to have websites, and for those websites to be comprehensive and well-designed. I expect to be able to do things digitally that in the past would have required face-to-face contact. I think that the best thing about online tutoring is that it makes options for connecting students to resources almost limitless. Bedford suggests, “if you have access to other technologies, such as audio software, consider embedding audio comments in your advice as well” (78). I argue that EVERYONE has access to audio software. All you need is a basic webcam and a dropbox or similar account, and you can link tutees to videos or audio clips of yourself. However, I think that the use of stock comments that Bedford suggests can get into dangerous territory. Students should always be aware that they are connecting with another reader, not a robot. I very much like Bedford’s suggestion to put online videos on the Writing Center website. I would love for our WC to have a YouTube channel where we give quick tips about writing and engage an online community.

Next, we read “Do You Understand? A Practical Guide to Synchronous Online Tutoring.” I thought that their tip to embrace online silence was good. They warn against thinking that because a tutee is silent, they don’t understand. I think a better tip might be to embed questioning for understanding into the comments themselves. I did not like the article’s suggestion that online tutoring should recreate face to face tutoring. It’s great to talk about agendas and rapport like in face to face tutoring, but there are things you can do online you can’t do face to face, and they should be embraced.

Wednesday, we read a self-study of chat room conferences by Dan Melzer. I loved the way Melzer said that online tutoring differed from face-to-face in some good ways. Melzer said, “Although I agree with Barbara Monroe that online tutoring is a ‘genre unto itself,’ I also want to show how we can draw on f2f tutoring strategies when we tutor online” (10). I think this is a much better way to think about online tutoring. Melzer’s self study showed him that he was only able to use small talk to establish rapport when he had repeat visitors (10). I would think that online communication has small talk more built into it than face to face, so this is surprising to me. Melzer was able to use humor, but sometimes it backfired because the tutee could not tell tone in text. Melzer talks about conversation overlap, saying, “Although these misunderstandings were frustrating at first, soon I got used to this overlapping conversation style and I learned to be flexible about moving back and forth. I also learned to constantly signal to the student when we overlapped and I needed to move backwards, or when the overlap caused a misunderstanding” (11). Melzer’s attitude toward overlap seems healthier than artificially embracing online silence as suggested by “Do You Understand?”, but I think both are strategies that can prove useful. What I was really interested in was Melzer’s journey toward breaking up the “walls of text” he found himself sending. He began by breaking up comments to get them to students faster, and then progressed to asking more questions to strike a balance. It seems like because he could see exactly who was doing most of the talking, he was able to adjust his comments to strike a better balance between tutor and tutee talk, something that would not be as obvious in a face to face session (12). Melzer makes a great point when he says, “The problem was not so much with the technology, but with the way I was using the technology” (12). Technology is increasingly being used as a viable form of communication. Online tutors just need to tap into the forms this conversation is taking,

Friday, we read “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product” by Donald M. Murray. Murray uses beautiful language to make his point that it is important to focus more on teaching the process of writing than getting the final product. About the product-centered approach, Murray says, “Our students knew [their essay] wasn’t literature when they passed it in, and our attack usually does little more than confirm their lack of self-respect for their work and for themselves; we are as frustrated as our students, for conscientious, doggedly responsible, repetitive autopsying doesn’t give birth to live writing” (3). This is exactly the attitude I see from students who come into the writing center. Telling students their writing is bad just makes them feel even less ownership of it. Murray says the first step to turning toward process-centered writing is “shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it” (5). According to Murray, in order for students to come up with their own ideas, you have to let them. One of the implications of this approach is that “The student uses his own language. Too often, as writer and teacher Thomas Williams points out, we teach English to our students as if it were a foreign language. Actually, most of our students have learned a great deal of language before they come to us, and they are quite willing to exploit that language if they are allowed to embark on a serious search for their own truth” (4). I absolutely believe that it is important to validate students’ dialects. Standard English should never matter on a first draft. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter at all; however, since it does, I think it’s important for us as teachers to explicitly teach it while still validating students’ home language or dialect. Murray also says something which would make tutoring so much easier: “The student should have the opportunity to write all the drafts necessary for him to discover what he has to say on this particular subject. Each new draft, of course, is counted as equal to a new paper” (5-6). If students were allowed to draft until their paper said what they wanted it to, not only would the drafting process be more meaningful to them, but you wouldn’t get the problem where a student who has to completely redo a second draft is at a severe disadvantage.

Going along with the ideas about the writing process presented by Murray is the suggestions for the writing process in Chapter 4 of the Bedford Guide. I found the suggestion for working with text at a computer particularly helpful. The Guide suggested using the highlight, underline, or bold functions to “ask writers who overuse the forms of the verb to be to highlight all verbs in a portion of the text” and to “have writers highlight the main idea or topic sentence in each paragraph” (46, 47). It also suggests using Enter to break a part of the text into its component sentences, making them easier to see and to examine how the sentences interact. Lastly, it says you can cut and paste the main ideas from each paragraph to make a reverse outline so you can more easily talk about it. All of these things actively involve the tutee and can be done in online or face to face sessions.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that just like every session is different, different formats for sessions, from paper-based to computer face-to-face meetings, to online meetings need both tutees and tutors to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities the format provides.