Better Readers = Better Writers and Thinkers


Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

 

https://kuwcnews.wordpress.com/As a writing tutor, I often tutor reading.  Those who understand the inextricable connections between reading and writing will realize that this is not a contradictory statement.  College students often face what may be a daunting task of making meaning from complex texts and other materials and then writing about what they have learned.  For example, an English education major taking a required general education science course may find the more scientific course material very difficult to understand. Even students completing courses in their major may find comprehending the formal language used in academic texts a challenge.  How can tutors and teachers assist students in their reading efforts?   Here are three suggestions based on my work with students:

  1. Help students realize that reading for understanding takes time and effort.  When students tell me in live tutoring that they are having trouble understanding a reading, I always ask them how many times they have read it.  Typically, the answer is once, sometimes twice; rarely do I hear they have read it more than twice.  I often tell students that, depending on the complexity of the material and their familiarity with the topic, they may need to read some pieces five or six times.  Students are usually surprised to hear this number, which indicates that most of them are probably not reading difficult material as many times as they need to be.  Think about your own experiences reading new, complex information.  Do you immediately comprehend the material after one or two readings?  Or, are you like me, and find that you only fully understand after several readings?    Along the same lines, I also talk to students about what it means to read actively.  I ask them what note-taking strategies they are using to help aid in their comprehension.  Often students do not realize that simply taking notes or annotating texts can be very effective reading strategies!
  2.   Demonstrate close reading. One of my most rewarding tutorial sessions occurred when I was working with a student who was having trouble finding and summarizing an article for a course assignment.  He said that he had found a couple articles, but that he did not understand them.   We selected one article, and then, as he listened, I verbalized my own thought processes as I read the first paragraph.  As I read each sentence aloud, I vocalized my metacognition by saying things like “This sentence is about….”  And “I think the rest of the article will be about ….”.  After around five minutes of my modeling close reading, the student experienced a light bulb moment:  “Well, I hadn’t been reading it like that”, he exclaimed.  In my experiences teaching and tutoring students reading skills, many of them are not aware that effective reading involves actively thinking about the material they are reading.
  3. Introduce them to online study aids like Wikipedia and YouTube.  Internet sources, especially sources like Wikipedia, often receive a bad rap in academia, but they can be valuable study aids for students who are struggling to read more traditional course materials like textbooks and lectures.  While students should be aware that internet sources, especially collaborative wikis might not always be accurate, they should not be afraid to use them as auxiliary aids to help them comprehend complex texts and process complicated information.  Teachers can also select and curate these types of study materials for students in their courses.   While students will still need to read and understand their required course materials, exposing them to less difficult readings, study aids, and videos   may give them a starting point for doing so.  Having a starting point for understanding can make any task seem less overwhelming.

Teachers and tutors can easily share these strategies with students in tutorial sessions, writing conferences, course discussions, seminars, and workshops.  By helping students improve and develop their reading comprehension skills, we also empower them to begin writing about what they are reading, and in the process, become better students and thinkers.

 

 

 

 

Teaching Voice with Poetry


By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

While we work with our students toward effective sentences, they (we!) create outcomes, and one of the most important yet least considered of these is voice.  In having spoken with my colleagues and writer-friends, one suggested that the quality of voice is both elusive and immediate, but not abstract—even if not easily taught.  He suggested poetry as a way to bring attention to voice and better writing.  By including poetry in our conversations with students between drafts or in a seminar or workshop, we can highlight voice as an element of style as important as every other academic convention.  Students could learn that within academic writing too, like poetry, there is freedom.   They only need to cultivate it with their unique writer’s voice.

When teaching and tutoring writing for business, nursing, IT, and the sciences, we stress uniqueness all the time, but more so, “originality,” and our emphasis is anti-plagiarism not the cultivation of an authentic voice.  While stylistic choices of vocabulary and syntax will align writing with a category or genre—formal or informal, academic or literary—voice is what makes a piece of writing uniquely a writer’s own:

Before any thought of writing takes hold, we speak first, day to day, toward morning and our lives.  We talk and move and make ourselves within the piques and lulls as our sound gathers, resonates, and becomes meaningful.  We don’t ask ourselves that it could be either crisp and bitter or welcoming—we rely on the sound we make, our voice. (M. Callaghan, personal communication, April 14)

Voice is intrinsic in our speech and should be considered just as powerful in our writing.  Yet most mentions of voice in tutoring writing will be warnings against the passive voice, which we describe as wordy and unspecific.  For the sake of clarity, brevity, and other rhetorical reasons rooted in audience awareness, we encourage academic writers to use the active voice.  Avoid the “to be + past participle” construction, we say.  Leaving it at that, we strip the idea of voice down to a part of speech or grammatical unit.  We want so much for our students to succeed that we instruct on what not to do instead of what to do or how. 

With all the other don’ts combined—don’t write in the first or second person; don’t write fragments; don’t say “a lot”; don’t be superfluous—writing academically can feel as oppressive as low carb dieting, yet we restrict language choices for good reason, yes?  Readability is paramount:  Writing needs to be clear, accurate, and concise, so a reader can read it.

Yet you know as I do that readers seek mountains more from reading than readability.  Good writing does not equate easy reading.  Along with economical language, we should be encouraging students to make language choices that reflect their authentic voices.  We wouldn’t have to abandon the tenet of readability to do so.  According to writing teacher and author, Donald Murray (2003), “Voice is the magical heard quality in writing” that makes readers keep reading and then read the same author again (p. 195).  Readability is about voice. Instead of verbal dieting, or in addition to it, perhaps, let’s help students to hear language and savor it like every word matters in the same way that it matters in poetry.

Reading poetry is a tangible yet intimate and joyful way to connect with language and fall in love with it or at least hear how language reflects voice.  April, 2016 is the 20th Anniversary of National Poetry Month, so now is the perfect time to read and (re)connect with poetryresources are plentiful. I encourage you to explore and enjoy and invite your students to do the same. I will as well in the Writing Center.  Let’s help our students learn to love writing and reading by connecting them with great examples and inspirational voices in poetry.

POETRY RESOURCES

Poetry Foundation

Academy of American Poets (Poetry.org)

How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch (1999)

VIDEOS AND READINGS

Why People Need Poetry a Ted Talk by Poetry Critic Stephen Burt

Reading by Norman Dubie of “Fever” and other selected poems

RECOMMENDED POEMS 

Poetry” by Marianne Moore

A Blessing” by James Wright

“The Avenues” by David St. John (Podcast)

“Winter Stars” by Larry Levis

Epigram-CallaghanReferences

Callaghan, M. (2005). Epigram. The grace of the eye. Traverse City: Michigan  

Writers Cooperative Press

Murray, D. M. (2013). The craft of revision, fifth anniversary

edition. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Proper Use of Labels in Course Work


Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of Business and Information Technology

Writing a paper or even posting in a discussion board involves more than just writing content; it should include labeling. For a paper, these labels are called subheadings; for a discussion board, it is the subject line.  Unfortunately, the power of the label can be overlooked.  Here are some reasons to use labels and, more importantly, how to use them.

A Word of Caution

First, a word of caution is necessary.  Before using headings in your papers, make sure that you actually need them.  Headings and subheadings are often used to separate sections of a long paper – often scientific publications or upper-level academic writing – and make it easier for readers to follow. However, headings and subheadings are rarely used in short papers, unless required by the professor and the assignment. They should not be used simply to avoid normal transitioning between paragraphs.

Reasons for Labels

A subheading or subject line’s purpose is to help a reader understand the associated content and to be able to find information quickly. It is important for the student to learn how to label information for the workplace, where bosses tend to scan documents for small bits of information and need the guidance of subheadings. It also assists a professor in grading an assignment by clearly identifying and matching sections to the assignment requirements.  In the discussion boards, descriptive subject lines prove an understanding of the material or at the very least provide a unique moniker. (When every initial post is called “Initial Post,” there are no winners.)

An Incredibly Bad Practice

One practice to always avoid is copying assignment or discussion questions, making the words bold, and pretending the words constitute a subheading. Copying never proves you understand anything. Questions are too long to use as appropriate labels; they cannot be perused quickly. Importantly, these questions are someone else’s work, so using them is plagiarizing.

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Recommendations

  • Keep subheadings and subject lines short (typically 1-5 words) and descriptive.
  • Pay homage to the rules of netiquette and never write in all-caps.
  • Write formally by avoiding clichés, questions, and conversational phrases.
  • For most circumstances, avoid humor, as not everyone will “get it.”
  • For discussion post subject lines, do not include your name, the unit number, the discussion or topic number, or the name of the unit. These are already known entities and do not adequately describe the content in the post. Besides, the poster’s name is always associated with a post.
  • For assignments, check that the formatting of your subheadings is done correctly. The Writing Center has materials to assist in learning the proper way of presenting levels of subheadings.

Instead of allowing the copying of questions, those who teach courses taken early in a student’s program might consider offering an assignment template that already contains appropriate subheadings. Alternatively, suggesting a simple outline and providing good subheadings can teach the importance of good labeling. Of course, encouraging students to identify content on their own would be optimal.

Conclusion

This is a blog post, so subheadings were really not necessary. However, I hope they helped make the point!  While stealing a question or using “answer 1” as a subject line takes no real effort, labeling well is also not difficult and should lead to good workplace habits. There are many reasons to promote the writing of strong, descriptive labels and to consider teaching the power of the label.

Motivating Online Students to Achieve Success


By Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

 

As I continually see the fantastic work our faculty accomplishes here at the university, I, like many of my colleagues, wonder how we can improve further still. The process of motivating students, particularly in an online setting, proves a challenge at times. I suspect every instructor, on-site or online, would happily agree with that statement. This rarely proves much of a problem, however, as each educator possesses a different skillset to “reach” their students. Some use a more rapport-based approach with students, while others rule with an iron fist to keep students on track and dedicated to punctuality.   I recently came across a student, now one of my favorites to work with, who proved a bit of a challenge for instructors and other tutors alike. These bumps in the road, however, stemmed from the student feeling silenced and misunderstood, both in the classroom and in a tutorial setting. I began to understand the student’s frustration. Instead of suggesting that I do a better job at instructing or anything of the like, the student surprised me with a statement that really made me think differently about how we address students who lack motivation. The more that we spoke at length, the more I began to heed these simple words that we rarely hear from students:  You speak my language.

The biggest issue this particular student faced, indirectly, evolved from feeling lost within the classroom and, therefore, developing a severe lack of confidence. As most any writing instructor will suggest, students who lack confidence tend to make a few more mistakes than a confident writer. That said, the student felt that they were simply not being understood fully. After a bit of prying, the issue, much like many cases similar to this, stemmed from the student not having the confidence to ask their professor or tutor a simple question. The question, in the eyes of the student, seemed far too simple for the course when others seemingly picked up on the material instantly. After some colloquial questioning, the student revealed that they simply felt unmotivated due to their inability to write effectively, particularly with this assignment and the course itself as the pace of the material proved an issue to boot. Tapping into the notion of self-empowerment, not too often spoke of in an online setting, may well be the direction we all need to approach to better propel our students into their desired futures. So where do educators begin? First, why not ask a very simple question?

How comfortable would we be, as a student, if we completely lacked confidence?

In a simple response: not too comfortable. A good number of students, from my experience, on both ends of the spectrum, tend to feel uncomfortable with an assignment at one point in their academic career. Sure, we did as well, but why shy away from exploring the issue further? Taking the few extra minutes, possibly after class or a tutoring session, to explore these queries may well make all the difference in the world. Take the time to sit down with a student, even individually, and listen to their concerns. If the educator can identify the issue of the student, it then we can react and interact to further help students achieve their goals. Speaking of which, why not discuss that issue?

Make their goals your goals.

Why shouldn’t educators focus on the eventual career of the student? If we are here to educate, regardless of the title, our primary concern should be the student. Sure, I am not a nursing major, as many others are not as well, but does that shed our responsibility of identifying what the student wants to accomplish in their lives? Surely this will require more conversation and connectivity with our students, but nothing can help students more than knowing that they have an academic shoulder in respects. Regarding just the one example listed above, I think the case is pretty obvious in that students, amidst the lives they are living, may well need a level head to speak to every now and again. Now is not the time to assume someone else can “fix” the situation; instead, we all can sympathize with our students to comfort them in a way that they feel nurtured, at home, and willing to learn—even if some of them question us the entire way.

Next: Show them “why they are taking this course.”

Every educator, regardless of the subject matter, will likely have heard or read the following question:  Why am I learning this?  When students pose this question, ask them! Why ARE they here learning this? So many times I see students enter a tutoring room asking why they need to know A, B, and C, so why not explore the issue further with the student? Five minutes of our time can make all the difference in the world. Students respond very well to figures of authority, regardless of our style in terms of teaching. Even in a classroom setting, I still find it pertinent to take notice of every student’s name, concern, and desire regarding their academic desires. Simple dialogue, such as staying after class or a workshop, for any student, really does extend that caring element. We can all do a bit more to make our students feel comfortable in any situation—in the classroom or in tutoring. Still, how do we inspire confidence? Simple: How did you get to the place that you are in today?

By believing in yourself! Confidence requires a bit of a nudge.

We all have mentors, even harkening back to when we were in our students’ position, but how many of us take on that “ambassador” role for the university? Many, if not all of our faculty, can easily occupy this role with little worry, but even in a class of 30+, we must retain that role and make sure that each and every student feels valued. Speaking individually with students can make all the difference in the world, particularly when they have questions. The key here is to make sure that all students find enough comfort in a scholastic setting to voice these questions effectively. Even by simply staying a few minutes later just to ask if any student needs further clarification could be the turning point for a shy student to open up a bit.

It should be our top priority as educators to see to it that our students feel valued, comfortable, and confident in each academic scenario. The separation via the online medium can provide a few unexpected challenges along the way, particularly for these nervous students, but it should then be our responsibility to seek out these students and adhere to their needs. Where would we all be if someone did not take a bit of a extra time to help us, as well?

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Knowing What Students May Not Know


By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

My college career began in the early 1990’s, before wireless internet and personal computers were in most homes.  When I was a junior in college, I remember completing an assignment that used the acronym URL. The details about this particular assignment are fuzzy now, but I recall that I had no clue what a URL was, even though the design of the assignment seemed to assume that I did know.   I was a brand new transfer student at a four-year university, and I had just completed an Associates of Art degree and was a work-study student in the library.  I felt like I should know what a URL was, and I remember feeling a sense of shame that I did not.  In fact, I felt so much shame that I was embarrassed to ask any of my professors or the library faculty whom I worked with what the letters URL stood for. So, even though I was a student who prided myself on always doing my best work, I skipped all the questions that pertained to the foreign term URL and submitted an incomplete assignment.

Eventually, I did figure out that URL meant Uniform Resource Locator, and in this case, the assignment was referring to web site addresses.  I share this story to better illustrate an important lesson that I am reminded of  time and time again as a teacher and tutor:  Educators should not assume that students have the knowledge, skills, and expertise that we think they should have.  Whoever had designed and/or assigned the assignment that I remember assumed that I, and many other students, would know, or should know what a URL was.

In my work with students, I have came across many other terms that educators use regularly that may be foreign to students, especially since students often ask questions in tutoring that they might not want to ask their instructors.   I offer here a very small sample of some of the terms and processes that academics may understand well, but students may struggle with.

Syllabus:  Every college class has one, and most professors have written, revised, or edited one.  Students, however, may not know what a syllabus is, or they may not realize the wealth of information that they can access via a good syllabus.  I suggest that instructors begin every new course with an activity, lecture, or previously recorded video that clearly explains what a syllabus is, where the students can find the syllabus for the course, and what type of information students can find in their syllabus.  A syllabus treasure hunt is an especially fun activity that can get students acquainted with the course syllabus.

Rubric(s):  Instructors often tell students to follow the rubric or mention that they grade by the rubric.  Indeed, the rubric is a wonderful tool, but it is a tool that is likely not familiar to many students.   I recommend that all instructors introduce the rubrics that they will be using to assess work to their students and show them out to use each rubric to guide their efforts.  Even better, show students assignments and excerpts that scored very well on the rubric as well as examples that scored very low.  Taking the time to teach students about rubrics should also help generate quality assignments.

Template:  This is another tool that can be very useful to students, if they understand what it is and how they should use it.   Instead of simply telling students that they have a template to follow, consider showing them how to use it.  Students may not realize how they should go about utilizing an APA formatting template, for example.  They may need someone to show them how to personalize the template and replace the information included with their own, especially if they are new to using word processing software like Microsoft Word.

These are only three of the hundreds of terms and terms that educators may understand very well, but that students may need a little extra scaffolding to help them understand them and how to use them.  What are others that you can add to this list?

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Audience Demystified


By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

A common time to teach “audience” to students is during the revision stage of the writing process: “Draft for yourself, and rewrite for the reader,” say a great many writing tutors and instructors. The same goes for long-windedness and correctness: “First express your ideas, and then edit your words,” say many writing experts. Ever since the early 1980s when Peter Elbow wrote about the importance of prewriting as a distinct phase in the writing process, writing has popularly been taught as a recursive process, and not a micro-recursive process where a writer critiques while writing and rewrites before writing more but a process having recursive stages where in each stage writers give concentrated attention to certain aspects of the writing.

“The Recursive Stages of the Writing Process” [PowerPoint Slide]. Adapted from Learn to Edit and Proofread Your Writing presented by Chrissine Rios (2015). KU ASC Writing Workshops

“The Recursive Stages of the Writing Process” [PowerPoint Slide]. Adapted from Learn to Edit and Proofread presented by Chrissine Rios (2015). KUWC Writing Workshops

The prewriting stage, for instance, is for invention—coming up with ideas, questions, and plans.

During drafting, writers generate a discussion having a beginning, middle, and end; a thesis or theme; supporting details and evidence; reflection; analysis.

Then during revision, writers step back and re-see the main idea(s) and revise to bring them more into focus, and this stage, along with the editing stage, is where taking audience into consideration helps writers revise and edit to more intentionally appeal to the readers.

However, at this point in the writing process, the writer should already have a sense of the intended audience for the chosen topic and for the purpose of the writing. Together, the audience, topic, and purpose are what make the writing a form of communication, which is the goal of writing academically, to communicate. In order to communicate effectively, writers have to think about what they are writing and why and for whom. All three of these elements should be considered at the beginning and during every stage of the writing process because they are together what makes the writing situation.

Audience, the paper’s topic, and the writer’s purpose are the writing situation.

“The Writing Situation” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU Academic Support Center

“The Writing Situation” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU Academic Support Center

During tutoring sessions, I’ve asked students who the intended audience is, and one common answer is the “general public” or “society at large.” This is a good place to begin thinking about audience and how it influences what and why writers write.

To reach a general audience, writers will want to take a broad view of the topic and use plain vocabulary and syntax, so the writing is relevant and readable to diverse people. Most academic readers, however, will find such general discussions lackluster because they assume the reader doesn’t know anything. In most cases, the topic and purpose of a college-level paper will be better suited for an audience having college-level literacy skills, so the writer can best demonstrate his or her own college-level literacy skills and college-level learning.

Narrowing the audience helps the academic writer be more specific and develop ideas with more depth because narrowing the audience increases the shared common knowledge between the writer and readers. When students think of an academic audience, however, they will often go too narrow and only consider the professor. Especially when the professor assigns a specific topic and purpose for the writing project, students will be inclined to write only for the professor in response.

On the up side, students who consider the audience the professor will usually write within the parameters of the assignment requirements and strive for correct usage of standard American English and academic style. On the down side, writing for such a narrow audience as a highly educated professor who already knows more than the writer about the topic, can be very nerve-wracking; nothing will sound right to the writer, so it won’t sound right to the reader either.

The most effective academic writing I see is written for an educated audience within the student’s discipline of study or specific field because this is where the assignment will also usually situate the topic. I’ve learned from tutoring writing, however, that not all students automatically consider others in their field of study–other interested learners, educators, or professionals in the field—the intended readers. Helping the student see themselves within a discourse community in which their writing is adding to the body of knowledge on a topic is an important and fairly quick lesson to relay, and it can make all the difference in the student also knowing how to narrow the focus of topic and define a clearer purpose.

The narrower the audience, the more the writer can and must know the topic and express a clear purpose.

“Audience from General to Specific” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU ASC

“Narrowing Audience” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU ASC

Some of the best student writing I see is in response to assignments that identify an intended audience in the directions: the business letter assignment, the proposal, the memo, the blog post. . .. However, sometimes the intended audience is harder to decipher from the directions.

I recently read an information technology assignment to write a white paper that explains the benefits of a new computer system, and “to explain” is usually to inform, but white papers are usually persuasive, so the purpose would likely be to convince the audience of the merits of the new system. I initially thought the student was to write informatively, but then it seemed he was to persuade. It could be both, but then, is the audience those who want to understand the benefits, or do they need to be convinced of them, and would those who approve already want to treated as though they don’t, and would those who need persuasion even read what they don’t see the point of?

Sometimes too, there are so many directions—explain this, list that, compare those, describe these, and finally, analyze this, and evaluate that, and all in one 3 to 5-page paper—the writer’s concerns are rightfully on addressing all the subtopics and demonstrating comprehension rather than who the intended audience is. But then, they also do not know where to begin, which is what brings them, thankfully, to the writing center.

Knowing the topic, purpose, and audience helps writers
know where to begin and which direction to go.

The exception to my advocacy of considering the audience early in the writing process is in creative writing. Poets, fiction authors, creative nonfiction essayists, memoirists, and other writers in the arts or really any writer who writes professionally or for the love or art of it, write with or without a particular audience in mind. These writers create their own audience. They put their voice, expression, and creations into the world and see how, where, and for whom they make an impact. Yet even then, the goal for many if not all is for the writing to connect with somebody, and when there is a somebody, there is an audience. In academic writing, we often begin with no intended audience in mind but try to identify one while prewriting.

If you teach or tutor academic writing, help your students consider audience at the onset of the writing assignment. Use yourself as an example of the typical academic reader to help them with the expectations of academic style, but also have them think of the audience as others like them who are interested in their topic or directly impacted by it, those who read at their writing level, and who are purposely reading to glean new information, beliefs, or understanding.

Additionally, if you teach within a specific discipline like behavioral and health sciences, education, criminal justice, law, IT, . . .  fire sciences, help students think about the expectations for communicating within that discourse community. Help them imagine where writing is used and why one would write on the assigned topic. Also, as one of my first writing instructors taught me, have your students imagine readers as nice people who care about what they have to say.

Finally, introduce the element of audience at the beginning of the writing project, and encourage writing as a process, so students have the opportunity to show what they know and write well.

Consistencies between Centers: Common Problems, Unified Solutions


By Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

 

https://kuwcnews.wordpress.com/This past week, the Kaplan University Writing Center took part in a fantastic live discussion with other fellow writing centers from around the country during this year’s International Writing Centers Week. While our presence was felt on a variety of additional platforms, the live chat that occurred on Twitter really opened my eyes to the overwhelming support felt between all of the centers. The beauty of this sort of interaction is that it not only brought quite a few of us together, but for the first time, at least in my experience, both on-site and online writing centers discussed common issues, via an online platform.  For whatever reason, this seemingly made everyone in attendance feel like a unified writing center.  At this point, I sincerely believe that everyone in attendance lost track of which centers were online and which were on-site, except, of course, myself—The Writing Center Grinch of the evening. What about our identity? Why have we worked so hard to identify ourselves as an online presence? This looked to be a long evening.

Our center really prides itself on our online success—and for good reason. Because of the separation from our students, we face different challenges than on-site centers, just as   these centers face a variety of issues we do not, as well. There were plenty of other online centers in attendance, so I questioned why did I care so much? Here I was, ostracizing myself, and I wondered why the lack of identity was so widely accepted and not even mentioned. Having participated in many of these chats before on separate topics, this time the vibe just felt…different. I really racked my brain during the first fifteen minutes of the conversation trying to come up with the “perfect questions” to ask in an attempt to veer the conversation in favor of our center’s desired subject matter, but before I could even begin to type, I realized that nearly all of my ideas were currently being thoroughly discussed—and at a pace that nearly matched the speed of light. Because of the commonalities I noticed among all our conversations and contributions, I quickly became much more comfortable with the conversation evolving around me, simply due to the fact that we, as writing centers, share many of the same issues. On-site or online, writing centers appear to face nearly all of the same issues while tutoring, and I found myself personally humbled that I thought our practice differed that much from our fellow tutors elsewhere.

The first and greatest issue that really caught my attention revolved around tutoring ELL students. Here I thought I crafted the best questions under the proverbial sun, only to find out that literally three other centers asked the same question—with nearly the exact same phrasing. The dialogue boomed from this point, as one might expect, with all types of centers providing a fantastic amount of feedback. This instantaneous sort of communication sent me straight back to grad school and for all the right reasons: the issues we confront in our centers are, in fact, interesting topics for an active and lively conversation. All of those moments when professors used to harp on the “conversation of Composition” came swirling back, and I found myself feeling a bit proud of participating in an actual, active dialogue. At times the session almost felt like a (fun) graduate classroom where everyone could speak as he or she wished, no single person felt shut out or silenced, and the focus remained on one subject until all opinions were exhausted. Sound like paradise? It nearly was—at least in terms of academia.

We covered a variety of subjects ranging from ELL assistance to tutoring quality writers with experience—at times the trickiest of sessions. Each question received an intense amount of response—see above about the near light speed interaction—and nearly every contribution was unique compared to the others. As I mentioned before with the lack of identity, I found myself, at just about two questions into the conversation amid the sea of responses, forgetting which centers were which—on-site and online became obsolete. It was a bit simpler to keep track of at first, but once the information, links, and best practices began flooding in, and I even had to say this to myself, who cares? All the people in attendance showed up because they wanted to learn, help, and share experience. My wall of separation between centers seemingly began to topple.

With so much positivity from all of the tutors in attendance, many folks walked away with a greater understanding of ELL practices, how to best assist experienced writers, how to handle unruly students during a tutoring session, alongside a variety of other writing-center specific topics that filtered in during the hour. What made this feel like even more of a collective effort occurred when centers and tutors alike began providing a slew of articles and tutorials on these subjects to better supplement what we lacked in 140 characters. Not only did this level of sharing make said Writing Center Grinch’s heart grow three times in size, but this act alone also added an increased desire to better assist our students in need by furthering my understanding with said literature. No longer could I view a distinction between on-site and online writing centers; instead, I found an amazing group of tutors who simply wanted to better themselves as educators. Furthermore, I saw a group of writing centers, each with its own unique and talented tutors, all vying to offer any form of advice to better each center in attendance. With more conversations like this, writing centers, in fact, all academic centers and academics alike, will benefit greatly in their attempt to help shape and educate students effectively. On-site, online, or even in space, for that matter, as long as we are actively helping our students to the best of our abilities, which sometimes requires a bit of help from fellow colleagues, we can only continue to grow and provide better, more meaningful service for our students.