Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS


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Call for papers — Writing without borders: 2014 CWCA/ACCR conference

Canadian Writing Centres Association / l'Association Canadienne Des Centres de Rédaction

Conference information

Please join us for our second annual Canadian Writing Centres Conference which will be held at Brock University on May 23rd, 2014 in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. The conference immediately precedes the Congress of the Humanities  and Social Sciences Annual Conference (CHSS) We will provide a welcoming environment for tutors, writing centre administrators, and instructors for discussions of writing centre practice, theory and  research. In keeping with the theme of the CHSS Conference, Borders Without Boundaries, our theme is “Writing Without Borders”.  We hope presenters will explore this theme in a variety of ways. Topics that derive from this theme could include but are not limited to:

  • Writing support without hierarchical borders:  undergraduate, post-graduate, staff, faculty and mature student support
  • Writing support without disciplinary borders:  responding to cross-disciplinary papers / writing in the disciplines & beyond the disciplines
  • Writing support  without cultural borders; writing support for multilingual…

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Questions as writing tools: tutoring and the art of asking questions

Two articles again this week, Johnson’s 1993 piece, Reevaluation of the question as a teaching tool and Newkirk’s “The first five minutes: Setting the agenda in a writing conference” (2001).

 

Dawson McKay, Senior tutor

Responding to “Reevaluation of the question as a teaching tool.”

Johnson argues that questions are unhelpful in tutoring sessions. She prefers statements, particularly imperative statements. She says that questions often short-circuit student thought processes and that, if questions are asked, students should be the ones asking them.

I could criticize Johnson’s research methods. Is recording what happens with questions in tutoring sessions enough evidence to support his conclusion that tutors asking questions is almost always a bad idea? Instead of questioning her methods though, I would say that, in my personal experience as a tutor, questions are very helpful. I agree with Johnson’s paragraph on the benefits of long pauses after asking questions, and find that when I combine questions with pauses, no problems arise from asking questions. Also, on a more personal level, I do not understand how a tutor is supposed to establish rapport with a student, find out about their assignment, know what that student is feeling, without ever asking one question. I take Johnson’s point about the ability of wrongfully-placed questions to overburden students’ thinking, but she goes too far by not admitting that questions can be very helpful if used properly

 

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Paromtia Trask, Senior tutor

Responding to “Reevaluation of the question as a teaching tool.”

The art of asking questions is a creative process in my view.  Asking too many questions can be an obstacle because it may cause distractions, waste time, and shift away from the true goals of a tutoring session.  Receptiveness on the part of the student may depend on the approachability of the tutor, the ability to relate to the student and the dynamics between the student and tutor.  I think that some may be better than others at asking questions.  Asking questions can show the tutor if the student is paying attention and give the student opportunities to speak if he or she is quiet or distracted.  When giving a work shop about thesis statements, I first asked the student what they believe a thesis statement is.  This helped me meet the student where they are at, rather than treat the session like a generic workshop where information is simply stated as fact from a worksheet.

Writing tools are more effective when they are understood well. I believe asking a student about their idea of what a thesis statement is, is a good way to start talking about thesis statements. At first they may be embarrassed that they have no idea, but they have to get over the fear of not knowing and understand that their academic journey is going to involve processes such as this, so that they do develop good writing skills.  If the tutor has no idea about the student’s prior understanding it will be difficult to know if the session is productive.  The tutor could constantly presume the student already knows something when they do not, or waste time on something the student already understands well.

Overall, I think asking some questions can be productive, however, I would not ask too many and I would not want the student to feel that each question is a stupidity test, because they would probably feel negative about the experience.  This article has some good points, however, perhaps questions could still be positive if the student is also encouraged to ask questions, the questions are in context with the session’s main topics of discussion, the tutor gives ample time for the student to actually answer the question, and finally, the tutor should be positive and provide constructive comments, not criticizing ones. I agree that students should have questions, but I also think it is okay for tutors to have a few too.

 

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Johnson, J. B. (1993). Reevaluation of the question as a teaching tool. Dynamics of the Writing Conference:  Social and Cognitive Interaction. T. Flynn & M.King, Eds.  Urbana:  NCTE, 34-40.  

Newkirk, T. (2001). The first five minutes: Setting the agenda in a writing conference. Writing Centre Theory and Practice. R. W. Barnett & J. S. Blumner, Eds. Toronto: Allyn & Bacon, 302-315.

 


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“How” to tutor, three ways

This week, there are three readings, Gillespie and Lerner‘s “The tutoring process” (Allyn and Bacon guide to peer tutoring, 2004);  Ryan and Zimmerelli‘s “Inside the tutoring session” (The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, 2007); and Woodward-Kron and Jamieson’s “Tensions in the writing support consultation: Negotiating meanings in unfamiliar territory” (Language and languages:  Global and local tensions, 2007).

Stephen Choi, English, First year tutor

Allyn and Bacon:
I liked the more student based view of things. It seemed helpful that they put the process of tutoring into a logical order that focuses on higher-order concerns first. I completely agree that asking the right questions, especially at the beginning of the session, is key to a successful tutoring session, but ‘right’ questions are difficult to define when there are so many different students with different backgrounds and cultures visiting the centre. Perhaps there could have been some mention of adaptability on the part of the tutor. For example, what seems like a higher-order concern for the tutor may not be so important to the student, and perhaps with a good reason that the tutor never thought of. I also believe that there is more merit in straight explanation then many tutors (or writers who write about tutoring) seem to acknowledge. They do mention that something like the purpose of the assignment can be pointed out and explained to save time but there are probably a few more times when that is necessary.

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Jill Stagg, Senior tutor
“Inside the tutoring session,” Ryan and Zimmerelli

The three main topics discussed in the following article are:
– active listening
– facilitating by responding as a reader
– silence and wait time, to allow a writer time to think
In regards to “active listening”, Ryan discusses forms of listening that are best demonstrated by means of paraphrasing, elaboration, and body language. In the act of paraphrasing, the tutor is able to mirror what the speaker is saying during the session, establishing the fact that they not only heard them, but are also hearing what they think the student is trying to say as well. This allows students the ability to repeat certain sentences to see if they would change any of it.

By incorporating the process of elaboration, this gives the speaker room to grow by beginning with one thought, and developing the ideas further. As a tutor, to ensure this process, it is important to address the tutee with more open-ended questions. This will also bring more of their voice into the discussion than your own. Body language in another listening process that lets the student know the tutor is interested and engaged in the discussion. Similar to paraphrasing, in mirroring the student’s body language and understanding their difficulties on a peer level, the student may become more comfortable and inclined to remedy their situation. Another way the tutor can maximize student comfort through facilitation. It is best to describe your reaction as a reader, instead of making judgments about the student’s draft. In the position of reader, this will invite clarification and exploration into the student’s ideas and main focus. It is important to work on getting yourself on the student’s level.
Silence and wait time is a critical and sometimes missed step in the tutoring process, and it is imperative to avoid jumping in too soon. When you allow for silence and wait time, it lets the student learn by giving them the space required to develop their ideas and questions. As stated in the article, 5 seconds can feel much longer than it is, so it is important to feel comfortable giving the student all the time and silence they need.

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Gilbert McInnis, Senior tutor

In “Tensions in the Writing Support Consultation,” Woodward-Kron & Jamieson (WK&J) research and document the tensions between tutors and foreign students. The data of their study is based on audio recordings of 9 postgraduate “Non-English Speaking Backgrounds” (NESB) students. There are three basic “dimension” of the writing process investigated: the unfamiliar territory in the writing consultation (of the tutor), the student’s possible unfamiliarity with the writing requirements, and the unfamiliar territory in the writing consultation (at the centre) involving NESB issues.

There are two central dilemmas for the tutors (and perhaps for the students as well); first, each tutor has to face the NESB issue (an issue of form), which is essentially an ESL writing issue. Second, the “foreign topics” that these students import in their writings raise the issue of to what extent should a tutor know the fields of study of their clients. Here WK&J emphasize the tension of the professors’ insistence that tutors must not deal with content, but only with form. In the 9 case examples, tutors were mostly “unfamiliar” with the content of each student’s research. However, WK&J state that this worked out as an advantage, because it compelled the tutors to focus more on the writing process, rather than on issues involving content, thus satisfying the demand of the professors in question. Lastly, an important issue raised in this study is the importance of tutors’ backgrounds and how diversity might strengthen or weaken the tensions between the form and content issues raised.

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Gillespie, P. & Lerner, N. (2004). The tutoring process.  In P. Gillespie, & N. Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon guide to peer tutoring. New York, NY:  Pearson Education, 25-45

Ryan, L. & Zimmerelli, L. (2010).  Chapter 3:  Inside the tutoring session. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford, St. Martin’s, 17-32.

Woodward-Kron, R. & Jamieson, H. (2007).  Tensions in the writing support consultation: Negotiating meanings in unfamiliar territory. In C. Gitsaki (Ed.) Language and languages:  Global and local tensions. Newcastle, UK:  Cambridge Scholars Press, 40-60