Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS


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Silence as a tutoring tool

Brian Hotson, Director, Saint Mary’s Writing Centre

 

“Silence is argument carried out by other means.” — Che Guevara

 

Working recently with a student, I found us both staring in silence at a page of the student’s handwriting. Five second… 10 seconds… 15 seconds…

Student: “What if the paper is about the universality of addiction and intervention?”

More silence.

“Universality…that’s a word, right?”

Tutoring is an intimate experience and silence creates an intimate space. Silence democratizes the writing and learning processes in general, which “can lead to a sense of teaching-based group intimacy that, ultimately, can enhance the discovery of knowledge” (Lees, 2013). I’ve found that in silence, more answers seem to come up than when the tutoring space is filled with words. The work of silence as a writing tool is similar to that of putting aside work for a time; it allows the brain to re-focus, breakdown, and re-form into something changed or new. When tutoring students from learning cultures of China and Japan, as well as Scandinavia, “appreciating the pedagogical uses of silence can be particularly helpful… where silence plays a significant cultural role and is valued” (Lees, 2013). Used at the right moments, silence allows the student a chance to commandeer the tutoring process, while encouraging his or her own strengths in the knowledge-making process.

Beginning a tutoring session with silence in mind will help mitigate apprehension of silence. In the case of this recent student, he thought that he had no idea of how to tackle his paper when we began, though he knew his topic, addiction and Wind in the Willows and had done a significant amount of research and prewriting. He had time constraints. Using a script of “Let’s think about…” followed by silence at the beginning of the session set a process of talking and pondering at the outset. In this case, the student just didn’t know what he already knew. Silence helped this knowledge come to the surface.

Source

Lees, H. (2013). Silence as a pedagogical tool: Using silence effectively in the university classroom has pedagogical benefits, asserts Helen Lees. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/silence-as-a-pedagogical-tool/2006621.article


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Lessons Learned: One Writer’s Experience with Revision

Sheelagh Russell-Brown, SMU Writing Centre

“The good news is that your paper has unanimously been recommended for publication”—these are the words that every researcher looks forward to reading. But then comes the proviso—“with, however, a few points that need revision.”

As teachers and tutors, we are advised to always precede the negative comments we may be forced to make on our marking with some positive remark. Sometimes we joke about this well-intentioned recommendation, but with this last piece of revision, I wasn’t laughing so much. The process of revision, especially when driven by the comments of three distinct reviewers, is a useful education in what our students experience during their years of university education—the frustration they feel in deciphering exactly what we mean with our contradictory demands and in attempting to retain their intentions in the face of our more authoritative advice.

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“Bad” Writers? Worse Consultations: Confidence and Writing Center Pedagogy

Originally posted in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal

James Garner

“So what brings you into the writing center today?”

“Well, I’m not a very good writer…”

Of the first exchanges I have with students visiting the writing center, some version of the above is what I hear perhaps most frequently. Often, before we’ve ever discussed an assignment prompt or looked at a single line of prose, the student tells me what might be a personal confession about their self-perception as a writer, and in my experience, I’ve found that if that statement goes unaddressed, the session as a whole just doesn’t go well. Helping students who express this concern build their confidence, I think, is one of the most important unspoken jobs that we have as writing consultants not only for the students but, also, for our pedagogy and for the productivity of the consultation.

Aside from the obvious compassionate angle to instilling confidence, this trepidation and negative self-perception has some crucial implications for our pedagogy as consultants. It’s frustrating to think of yourself as a poor writer, to feel that no matter how hard you try to articulate yourself, what you want to say comes out all wrong—and then you’re given a grade on top of that. Continue reading