Category Archives: Tutors

Harnessing the Power of Mindset


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center Tutor

Flash back to April 4, 2016:  It is the championship game of the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball tournament, and North Carolina and Villanova are tied at 74.  It’s Villanova’s ball, and with only 4.7 seconds left in the game, it is almost certain the two teams will go into overtime play. Then Villanova player Kris Jenkins throws up a three-point shot from just past the center line of the court, a shot that was so far away that it seemed very likely that it would not even reach the goal.  Miraculously, the shot lands in the basket with barely a nanosecond to spare, and Villanova joyously becomes the 2016 NCAA National Champions.

After the game, a reporter interviews Jenkins and asks him if he could believe that he had made the shot (Murray, 2016).  Jenkins responds, “I believe every shot’s going in, so” (Murray, 2016).  The reporter interrupts with a credulous follow-up, “Every one?” “Every one,” continues Jenkins, “so I thought that one was going in too” (Murray, 2016,)   I watched the game-winning shot and the post-interview live, and I was impressed by Jenkins’ mindset.  In fact, his declarations reflect a mindset that all college students, not just college athletes, ought to have.

Mindset is defined as  the “ability of the brain to form points of view in order to adopt behavior, formulate lifestyles, rethink priorities, make choices, and pursue goals” (Poplan, 2016).  As a tutor, I often hear students approach their studies with a mindset that inhibits learning and undermines their efforts.  They say things like “I’m a bad writer.”, “I’ve always been horrible at math.”, or ask “How horrible is this paper?”.    While they may have experiences that make these feelings seem valid, and some subjects may come more easily to them than others, approaching any learning task with a mindset of “I can do this.” will generally lead to improved learning and success.

As a personal example, math and science are subjects that I generally find difficult to understand.  I especially struggle with comprehending topics like algebra, chemistry, and physics, and I worked very hard in high school and college to earn reasonably good grades in the math and science courses that I was required to take.  One summer when I was in college, I worked as an in-home tutor, and one of my students was in high school and needed a jump-start for her upcoming algebra class.  “How can I possibly tutor algebra when I barely understood it myself?,” I wondered.  Regardless, my job was to tutor my assigned students in all subjects, so I borrowed a high school algebra text from a friend and began working through the problems with the mindset that I could learn the material and help my student learn it, too.  Before each of our sessions, I worked out problems in the text, and then I taught her what I had learned.  Together, we learned a lot of algebra that summer.

This experience taught me that I could do things that I did not think I was capable of doing. It was my first time realizing the power of mindset, and it served me well a few years later when I  had to complete tough graduate courses like research methods and statistics in order to earn my master’s degree.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do that.”; think instead, “Okay, I can do this. This shot will go in!”  Whether it is a difficult course, a tough assignment, or a challenging exam, a positive mindset can help you power through and realize success.  Granted, you may not win a championship basketball game or be drafted into the NBA, but a positive, can-do attitude and mindset can definitely help improve your GPA!

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References

Murray, S. (2016, April 4).  Kris Jenkins- Villanova national championship post game interview [Video file].  Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8DcKfEtQjk

Poplan, E.  (2016).  Mindset.   Salem Press Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from http://www.salempress.com/

 

 

 

 

Saving Time with Tutoring


By Amy Sexton, Writing Center tutor

Managing our time successfully can be a challenge for all of us, and college students may be especially busy.  They are juggling school assignments, papers, and seminars and various other major responsibilities including families, jobs, military service, and community work. In the Academic Support Center, we understand that students’ time is limited and valuable.  This is one reason that our centers offer a combined 150 live tutoring hours per week: we know that attending tutoring can actually save students time.

Kaplan students often visit Live Tutoring for help understanding new and/or confusing course concepts or terminology, for example. Because all Kaplan University Academic Support Center tutors hold graduate degrees in their fields, tutors will most likely be very familiar with the concepts or ideas that students are learning about and will be able to explain them in ways that foster understanding. Students can spend a lot of time alone struggling with working a math problem, troubleshooting a PowerPoint issue, or figuring out how to cite an unusual source, or they can invest 20 minutes into a tutorial session and speak to an educator who can provide expert and immediate guidance, feedback, and support.

Academic Support Center tutors are also extremely knowledgeable about the resources in our centers, including archived workshops, written tutorials, podcasts, and short videos.  We can quickly and easily direct students to these so they do not spend a lot of time searching for the best resource. We can even show them how to most effectively use the resources and services that we offer.

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Tutors can also help students save time by clarifying assignment directions, helping them plan realistic schedules for completing big assignments, pointing out errors in their work, unraveling common misconceptions, brainstorming ideas with them, providing feedback, suggesting revision strategies, sharing our own tips for successful study habits, and much more.

The next time that students say that they do not have time to go to tutoring, ask them to consider the opposite perspective:  seeking tutorial assistance can, in reality, save them time.    If they are Kaplan students, direct them to the Academic Support Center for live tutoring so that they can learn first-hand how working with experienced and professional tutors can help them find answers to their questions, get their course work done more quickly, and save time in the process.

 

Using Video Feedback to Help Students Learn about Plagiarism


By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

As part of our paper review service in the writing center, we routinely provide personalized video feedback along with written comments.  I have found that video review works especially well when I review assignments that have recognizable issues with plagiarism.  We often see possible plagiarism in student’s papers, especially when students are just beginning to learn and use citation.   While our paper review service is not a plagiarism detection service, we are often able to discern problematic areas in students’ papers. Since any issue with plagiarism (intentional or unintentional) can mean serious consequences for students, I usually point out any areas in their papers that may be indicative of plagiarism.   Writing centers are, as Buranen (2009) points out, uniquely positioned to be a “safe place” for students to learn about plagiarism and avoiding it in their writing (p. 8).  Addressing plagiarism concerns can be tricky, though.  Students sometimes equate plagiarism with cheating, and they may react defensively if they feel someone is accusing them of doing something wrong.    Fortunately, a video review provides an excellent vehicle for addressing plagiarism issues in students’ writing through relevant and supportive feedback. For an example, please view the partial  review below (3:53) in which I discuss possible plagiarism in a sample paper:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxxtQh-CefarMFhjQmFWZFRQb1k/view?usp=sharing

One reason that video feedback works well for addressing plagiarism concerns is that the student hears the voice of the person providing the feedback.  If tutors and instructors approach instances of plagiarism with tact and kindness, students will hear these positive elements in our voices, which may dissuade them from immediately reacting in a defensive manner.  If students only read our written comments about possible plagiarism, they may not detect either tact or kindness and instead focus on negative emotions, including anger, defensiveness, or indignity – all emotions that are  decidedly not conducive to learning.

Video feedback also gives educators the ability to show rather than just tell, as I illustrate in the example.  We can show students which words appear to be appropriated verbatim without correct quotation.  Often times, we can easily find sentences that students may have copied from an internet source and included in their own papers, and we can show students these original sources during the screencast.  We can also add missing quotation marks to demonstrate changes students need to make.  If the issue is with lack on in-text citation, we can actually add example in-text citations, again giving students a clear picture of what they need to do to correct any issues.  We can also show students how to use the “Find” function in Microsoft Word in order to ensure that they have matching in-text citations and references.

By using screencasts to provide feedback when students present with possible plagiarism issues in their writing, both tutors and instructors can enhance students’ understanding of what constitutes plagiarism.  In the process, we help create those “safe places” (Buranen, 2009, p. 8) where students can then begin to transform into scholars and researchers who engage in academic discourse and research with integrity and confidence.

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Student watching a video review

References

Buranen, L. (2009, Jan.-Feb.).  A safe place: The role of librarians and writing centers in addressing citation practices and plagiarism.  Knowledge Quest, 37(3), 24-33.  Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/

 

Math Center Tutors


Compiled by Lisa Gerardy, Writing Center Specialist

 

The Math Center is the second oldest center in the Academic Support Center.  It was started by Dr. John Eads in 2006.  Since then, the Math Center has added many resources and services.  In addition to meeting students in Adobe Connect for live tutoring sessions, math tutors also review projects, hold workshops, give video examples of math problems, and create resources. Here are a few of our wonderful math tutors.

 

 Melissa Derby

How long have you been tutoring?

Seven years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy helping others and seeing  them learn.

 

Joe

Joe

Joe  Iannuzzi

How long have you been tutoring?

Four years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I enjoy tutoring to help students in their study of math. Sometimes we get the “aha” moment while at other times we just get them through an assignment or project. I also tutor to keep my teaching/tutoring skills sharp.

 

Samuel

Samuel

 Samuel Chukwuemeka

How long have you been tutoring?

Three years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

Sometimes, math textbooks are not fun to read. Sometimes, videos do not cover everything. Sometimes, PowerPoint presentations miss several steps on how the answers are obtained. So, a student may need to talk to someone who can explain this “foreign” language. That is where Tutor Samuel steps in.

 

Michael

Christopher

 Christopher Zapalski

How long have you been tutoring?

Three years

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

The most rewarding experience of being a tutor is that we get to explore the issues from the bottom up. This is how the student processed the information and is now putting it into practice. Think of it like bouncing a ball. Our job is to make sure after the ball hits the pavement; it goes right back to hand!

 

Miguel Lopez

How long have you been tutoring?

One year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I tutor because it gives me a great opportunity to teach, which I love to do. In particular, I enjoy tutoring because it allows me to target individual student needs, while it keeps me on my toes.

 

Anthony Feduccia

How long have you been tutoring?

One  year

Why do you tutor, or what is your favorite thing about tutoring?

I  enjoy the challenge.  I never know what math topic will be asked next.
It’s always great to hear students say, “Oh, of course that was my error” after pointing out a mistake; or, “Wow, now I understand” after explaining a topic.

Re-establishing Manageable Expectations in Tutoring


Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

 

shutterstock_3629801Here at Kaplan University, our respective support centers housed within the Academic Support Center are lucky. I say this  simply because we possess the ability to share experiences, challenges, and, of course, triumphs between our centers. With this, however, comes a very unique conversation, and one that I found most interesting while creating training tutorials.

Prior to even working on the tutor training project,  my biggest concern  revolved around using neutral language when writing the material for specific tutorials and resources. Because I work only in the Writing Center, my expertise, to be fair, is a bit limited. I tend to write for writers about writing, so I needed to establish some sort of common ground between all of our respective centers. Instead of focusing on the subject matter between each different center and catering the training materials accordingly, our team identified the commonality  that each tutor wrestles with constantly—time, or for that matter, figuring out how to best use the time we have with students.

At first glance this may appear rather simple.  A student enters a tutorial service seeking assistance, each session lasts a specific amount of time, and the student moseys off to accomplish his or her  task upon concluding the tutorial session. Sure, those occasions happen periodically, but what of those situations where a student may not know what he or she  needs assistance with? What if the student has never explored the given concept and, despite your invaluable skills, accomplishing an overview in 20 minutes seems impossible? More often than not, these situations become reality and require a bit of appropriate action in the form of a friendly refresher. With the help of many of the fantastic folks here across the Academic Support Center, these three, very pragmatic reminders  help shed light on the appropriate way to guide our students toward academic success.

1.) Establish what you can accomplish in the time frame of the tutoring session—be realistic.

To put things into perspective for the student, understand his or her reason for attending tutoring first and foremost. A simple greeting, of course, goes a long way, but understanding the student’s  intent for attending academic support services remains key to getting the session started. In the rarest of cases, tutors may also need to usher students to other support centers, so take this time to be sure the student is in the appropriate location. Next, after understanding the student’s intent, rationalize a bit. What can you feasibly accomplish in the time frame allotted for the session? If the student comes in seeking a review of a paper reaching the 40-page mark or an equation that will take hours to complete, rationalizing what can feasibly be accomplished from the get-go allows for a more productive and focused session. Sure, you may not accomplish all of what the student sought after, but at the very least the tutor used the time wisely. This also allows for a bit of reciprocity as the tutor may suggest that the student continue work on what he or she  produced in the session before returning for more help. We can do a fantastic amount of great deeds for our students, but, unfortunately, we cannot extend time. Therefore, simply be honest with your students; they will appreciate it when they come back in the second and third time.

2.) Remain consistent with your session format: Greet, assist, conclude, and invite back.

Of the three suggestions, this tends to outweigh the others in that, regardless of the student or the assignment at hand, each session should conform to a general model. The best and simplest way to ensure accurate timing involves sticking to a rather rigid routine with the freedom to adjust accordingly during the tutoring itself. In terms of percentages, ten percent of the session should be devoted to greeting and concluding the session accordingly; the remaining eighty percent, of course, occupies the duration of the session. Certainly these numbers will fluctuate a bit based on the context of the session, but the majority of the session must be devoted to actual instruction. By limiting the introduction and conclusion of the session to approximate times, this best assists the student with feeling like he or she was  treated to a service and not just ushered through so that the tutor can take the next student. From a tutor’s perspective, this also allows for more productivity and will actually assist further with time management. By actively thinking of three sessions per hour or even two sessions per hour, tutors can then be better prepared for what all they may have to accomplish.

3.) Keep control of the session; you are the professional, so make the experience professional and consistent for the student.

Extrapolating a bit off of the last reminder, maintaining control of the session is key to accomplishing a consistent model that the tutor can then replicate elsewhere. We want our students to interact with us, of course, but too much interaction, or too little, for that matter, can lead to awkward questioning or, in extreme cases, resistance from the student. As we want to always avoid these situations, adhering to the student’s request is just as important as making a suggestion for a better, alternative route. As we are the professionals in this situation, we should  never feel that we  are unable to discuss a different plan of action with the student so long as the end goal of the session pairs with the student’s satisfaction. More often than not, when a student comes into a tutorial service frustrated and irritable, this more than likely stemmed from confusion.  A  bit of guidance, as we are all more than capable of providing, helps immensely. Building this level of professionalism will also  help build our reputation, so take the time to assert your expertise while also ensuring that the student receives the best help that we can offer.

All of these reminders may seem like the re-invention of the wheel for some tutors, and that is a fantastic problem to have. For the others, much like myself, seeing this on the page really does make a difference. By focusing our time on the respective sections of each tutorial session, this difficulty becomes one of the easiest aspects of our job. Once in the rhythm of establishing a goal early and vocally with the student, sessions tend to move more quickly, as many of our tutors are happily reporting. It is because of our expertise that we can make adjustments accordingly.  As our outreach  continues to improve, both in numbers and in quality,  prioritizing these tasks will elicit increased student satisfaction across all centers.

Addressing the Whole Student


Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

There seems to be a fascinating approach to coaching overpaid athletes these days in the form of addressing the “whole player.” I say this in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion because being paid $250,000 per week must be incredibly difficult. I can only imagine the corners they must cut to make ends meet.

Levity aside, I really began assessing this notion of the “whole player.” How can this be defined? The “whole player” includes the human being behind the flashing lights and immense paychecks. These people have families, other interests, plenty of obligations, and  emotions. In very much the same way, when considering our students, how often do we consider the “whole student?”

The need to address the “whole student”  became much more evident when I helped a student nearly in tears. The shakiness of her voice, coupled with what she viewed as scathing comments by her instructor,  set the tone for our live tutoring session. After prodding a bit and uncovering the requirements of the assignment, the student appeared to calm down considerably—that is until I pulled up the draft to dissect some of the commentary. Immediately she shut down;  the sea of commentary filled the margins from the first page to the last and seemed to overwhelm her.  Many of the comments hearkened back to three weeks prior when the student, based on her word, had to miss a considerable amount of class time due to a variety of issues concerning her mental health.

Questioning becomes immensely important during these sort of therapy-like sessions. One wrong move could spiral the student further out of control, so I decided to keep the focus on the issues the instructor continually brought up. What happened three weeks ago? How, with my degrees in English, could I help with any sort of mental health issue? At the time I found myself a bit nervous, but I decided to just listen. That’s it. Sure, our session ended up being a bit longer than most, but after ten minutes of airing her frustrations and explaining her issue, her tone completely changed.  After this session, I tried to think about it from a student’s  perspective.

What kind of people did we enjoy most in school?t I think I can speak for the majority when I say that most of our favorite teachers, tutors, and faculty were individuals who truly cared—and cared for the students around them. We are all professionals, here to help, and when this student was finally able to openly and honestly speak about her condition and how it directly impacted her ability to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks she could not understand, she found a sympathetic ear. I may not have a fancy couch in my office where students can  vent  frustrations while I jot notes on a pad of paper aimlessly, but simply listening, a very honest skill, meant the world to her. We have all been in similar situations at some point, especially during our first years in a collegiate setting. Most of my best memories and interactions with professors occurred in a private setting where I could further explain any given issue and gauge the professor’s persona. Sometimes, realizing that a human being, more than likely burdened with multiple other issues, sits behind the name that we see on the screen remains key. Taking a bit of extra time out of your day to understand where a student is coming from, regardless of  if you agree with it or buy into it, alleviates a great deal of student-felt stress. By realizing that a student is, in fact, a whole person, we can then begin to progress forward as I did in this session.

My student became jovial, even joking with me to an extent in following e-mails regarding her progress on the next assignment. She became whole again, and it all boiled down to the simplest of mottos, one which I aptly remember from a bumper sticker: Bark less and wag more. As professionals in the field of higher education we must remember that students, at times, need a bit of extra attention to really bring out the best in their abilities. I still work and communicate with this student quite frequently, and I fully intend on continuing my work in this area to see a fantastic person reach her lofty and achievable goals.

Factoring in Feelings in Online Tutoring


Molly Wright Starkweather, MA,  Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

Girl hiding behind blue book.

©2015Clipart.com

“Why should we as tutors prioritize the emotional issues of our students?” This is a question that comes from a healthy place of caution, respecting the difference between the role of a tutor and the role of a counselor or mental health practitioner. One game-changer in dealing with students who might or might not present with difficulties is to use what Dr. Noreen Groover Lape (2008) of Dickinson College describes as a “pedagogy of empathy” (p. 3). This concept of incorporating empathy more fully into effective pedagogy acknowledges the role of the tutor as distinct from that of a therapist, yet it also accepts the reality that students are going to come to tutoring with emotional baggage that tutors might have to help unpack and put away in order to focus on the task at hand.

Another influential expert in using empathy for the purpose of effective instruction is Dr. Becky Bailey of the Conscious Discipline program, whose 2000 book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline addresses principles of guiding young children, principles that are so universal that leaders in business, higher education, non-profit administration, and other organizations can incorporate them into everyday tasks and communications. From this volume, it is easy to see that there are several ways of helping students process emotions appropriately within the role of tutoring, including

  • recognizing the student’s positive intention,
  • empathizing with the student’s emotions,
  • offering positive choices while reinforcing clear boundaries,
  • and offering specific encouragement rather than general praise (Bailey, 2000).

The ideas from Bailey’s parenting text do not necessarily involve a parent guiding a small child; instead, the overall context being assumed by Bailey is that there is a facilitator or guide who is working with a learner. Age, ability, expertise, experience, and other potential factors in setting up a power differential between the two participants are reframed as potential factors in communicating consciously.

While it might seem all too rare and even impossible, there are times when students arrive to tutoring with potentially distracting positive emotions. For instance, a student might come in thoroughly excited about a thesis statement he has created, but it turns out that he accidentally plagiarized much of it from a source he had read when building his reference list. Another student might be pleased with her well-researched marine biology paper, but most of her in-text citations are made up of quotes from the Bible describing beautifully written (yet completely irrelevant to the assignment) descriptions of the creation of the oceans. Like in all cases where a student comes in awash in strong feelings (whether positive or negative), it is important to meet the student where he or she is.

In the case where it might feel like you must burst a student’s bubble, start by acknowledging the positive intent behind the writing the student has brought in. Consider with the student the time and effort it took to create something of which the student is clearly very proud. Validate that effort and praise the intention behind the effort, offering possible visions of what the student had in mind when choosing a course of action, but use language of validation and praise subtly by describing the best possible intention of the student without using language of assessment (especially avoiding assessment terms like “good”).

  • “You wanted to root your thesis statement in the most accurate and timely scholarly literature available, so you thought of your sources when you wrote your thesis statement.”
  • “You wanted to convey to your audience the beauty and majesty of the oceans in this marine biology paper, so you chose to show how oceans are portrayed in the scripture of your faith.”

By describing the positive intention, you are not telling the student that he or she made the good or right choice; rather, you are validating the positive feelings the student has about the hard work he or she has done. It is like when a chef makes ratatouille but over-chops the vegetables, making the texture more like a salsa than a ratatouille—there was hard work, but there was perhaps too much hard work focusing so much on one task that the end product came out differently from the original intention. There might be over-thinking and over-working going on when a student brings what she thinks is an organized marketing plan but is in reality a lengthy advertisement for a company. Taking that step back and acknowledging the student’s intentions will allow you to accomplish the crucial first step of meeting the student where he or she is.

After acknowledging the student’s positive intentions, use those positive intentions as the foundation for showing a better course of action than what was taken.

  • “There is a risk that your voice will be lost in the current phrasing of this thesis statement. Since your thesis can only use sources to support your ideas (and not the other way around), you must identify your original contribution to the academic conversation. Let’s use some templates to explore where you might disagree with your sources, or perhaps where you might agree but with a difference or a new perspective on the situation.”
  • “The use of scripture here might be less effective than using another type of source. Since your audience includes a diverse student body who is held together in this class by the merit everyone finds in current scientific literature, consider reaching out to all members of the audience by finding equally majestic descriptions of oceanic development among revered scientific texts.”

At no point in these discussions is the current writing labeled as incorrect or wrong. Instead, the choice the student has made is presented in its best possible light but is also recognized as less effective than a different choice that better carries out the student’s positive intent.

One emotional issue that might present a predicament to the tutor is when a student is adjusting to a new culture. Some of Kaplan’s students are from other countries and  are adjusting to living in the United States; others might be students from the U.S. who are living abroad due to military or work service. In the 2000 language pedagogy textbook Teaching Language in Context, Alice Omaggio Hadley describes how students get frustrated and overwhelmed when at first they think their new cultural setting is parallel to their home culture but learn that there are unique cultural phenomena that will not translate from a more familiar framework into a less familiar context. For instance, a student who was educated through secondary school in China might have the ideal of always using another scholar’s exact words and never paraphrasing out of respect to the source (Gillespie, 2012). That student might experience a difficult transition to a U.S. academic writing ideal of paraphrasing in order to keep control of the source’s information in the hands of the writer. Likewise, a student from the U.S. might experience similar culture shock when living abroad.

The key to handling any tutoring situation in which a student arrives with emotional issues is to meet the student where he or she is and guide the student back to the task at hand, which is to make sense of the current task or project for class. That process might involve noticing the student’s emotions (“I can tell you seem frustrated about this”), acknowledging the student’s positive intention (“You wanted to ____, so you ____”), and pivoting to offer a more effective course of action (“To reach all of your audience, you might choose different sources”). While we cannot guarantee a solution to every student’s problems, and while we are not trained therapists, as tutors we are capable and confident in showing support for the whole student, feelings included.

 

 

References

 

Bailey, B. (2000). Easy to love, difficult to discipline. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Gillespie, G. (2012, March 2). Guide to advising international students about academic integrity. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2012/03/guide-to-advising-international-students-about-academic-integrity/

Hadley, A. O. (2000). Teaching language in context. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Lape, N. G. (2008). Training tutors in emotional intelligence: Toward a pedagogy of empathy. Writing Lab Newsletter, 33(2), 1-6.