Tag Archives: tutoring

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!



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/





The Academic Support Video Series: A Resource Initiative and Collaboration

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

A tutor’s work is highly collaborative.  Tutors collaborate with students by nature, but tutors also collaborate with one another, with academic center specialists, and with faculty to develop and deliver workshops and to create and curate resources: the print and multimedia tutorials available on the university website and via the classroom portal.   Academic support resources benefit students in ways that are at once personal and far-reaching, immediate and long-lasting, and that are germane to learning—how students learn and what they need to be able to learn.


Research shows, for instance, that interactive video resources are especially beneficial for students with “deficient prerequisite knowledge, . . . non-standard learning paths, and multiple entry points into a degree” as these students will commonly need to learn how to read a data sheet, for example, before being able to use one (Nikolic, 2015, p. 1).  Study skills videos specific to online learning are particularly essential to adult, online students.


At the Kaplan University Writing Center, online students new to academic writing have available a variety of media-rich resources designed for new and developing writers.   However, like most discipline-based tutoring centers, Writing Center resources are contextualized in writing situations.

To meet the need for resources in study skills and student engagement, the tutors of all five centers at the Kaplan Academic Support Center did what they do best: collaborate.  In collaboration with the KU School of General Education too, the ASC has produced a new category of video resources that target diverse entry-level competencies such as time management, computer system requirements, college reading strategies, APA formatting basics, and test-taking tips.  The videos are short, interactive, and meant to help students accomplish day-to-day tasks as well as long term goals.  Faculty and tutors can also rely on immediate access to these pertinent resources when assisting students.


You can access the first wave of the new Academic Support Videos on our public-facing Writing Center page: http://library.kaplan.edu/kuwc.  Please share this page and/or any of the individual video links with your students and colleagues, and keep coming back.  As our cross-center collaborations continue, we’ve expanded the boundaries and reach of our academic support resources, so there’s more to come!


Nikolic, S. (2015). Understanding how students use and appreciate online resources in the teaching laboratory. International Journal of Online Engineering, 11 (4), 8-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.3991/ijoe.v11i4.4562


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.


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:


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.


Student watching a video review


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/


Left Out Online: Students in Need of More

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

kuwcnews.wordpress.comUnderstanding those who feel ostracized within the classroom can be a bit tricky in an online setting. Because instructors and tutors alike work with so many students, a few do fall through the cracks from time to time.  I have worked with so many students in the Writing Fundamentals program and learned that  many share a variety of experiences that certainly impact their writing ability. Some feel they are not heard in the classroom; some feel the professor does not understand them personally; and some just flat out give up due to feeling too far behind or just not good enough. More often than not, the student writes fantastically, but anyone can see the piling amount of anxiety these feelings can potentially create, not only in a writing setting, but across multiple disciplines as well.

As we already do a fantastic amount of great work as is, what else can we do to better the online experience for these students who feel left out or misunderstood? Due to the variety of unique experiences and firsthand student examples, I have combined a list of best practices that I personally employ and could potentially be applied if one of your students falls into one of the categories listed above. By increasing their confidence in the classroom, even if they feel their voice is heard, we will certainly better assist these students in their academic pursuit.

Get to know your students—every single one.

This seems a bit like no-brainer, but at an increasing rate students persistently mention how a tutor or instructor just breezes through the material and rarely gets to know the person on the other end of the screen. Now, this comes with reservation of course, because there is no need to know each and every detail about our students, but making an extended effort to reach out in some way makes all the difference. When students feel some form of connectivity with their tutor or instructor, even if it is as simple as asking about their career or where they live, students calm down considerably and approach their work in a completely different manner. I always employ this method prior to workshops, for instance, to help acclimate the student to the session while at the same time establishing rapport to assist with the conversation. In a classroom setting, this may become a bit more difficult, but try progressively doing this over the course of the term. Some students cannot believe that their professor wants to get to know them personally, so the additional touch could help to improve retention. One of the simplest and tried and true methods for creating this atmosphere directly stems, of course, from common ground.

Common ground breaks the ice and allows for growth.

Finding a few commonalities with students absolutely makes the difference. Thinking back to college, all of my favorite professors shared something personal about their life that I could relate to and, consequently, we created a stronger bond. An example of this first reared its head when I found out one of my professors was and still is just as obsessed with horror film as I am. This opened up an amazing door of opportunity to not only have a place to talk movies, but also produce work that circulated around that very interest—not to mention get some fantastic film recommendations. By sharing where you live, in a general sense, you may discover that you reside in the same state that your student is from. This could potentially lead to a great dialogue on current issues within the area that the student could write about as it affects their lives, as well. I know from experience here at the university that a good number of our instructors and tutors already utilize this technique, but it is easy to forget about this simple trick when we get tied up in all of our work. Popping into class fifteen minutes earlier than expected can act, in a way, as a mini-office hour you house with your students. Since tutoring is a much faster process,  tutors can welcome the student back after the session. Establishing these lasting relationships encourages continued visits, which is all we can really ask of our students. But what of the students who seemingly have problems with every instructor and/or tutor? Certainly they exist, and maybe it is in part because, as educators, we misidentify the problem.

Take the extra time to identify the student’s issue correctly.

Much like when students misidentify what they need assistance with, so, too, do educators sometimes misidentify students’ issues and what they need assistance with. Many of my Fundamentals students come to their first meeting with the excuse “I’m just not good at writing.” As we all know, this excuse typically stems from a lack of confidence in their writing instead of a lack in ability. Once they come to this realization, often after we have broken the ice and established some common ground, their writing nearly instantly improves as was the case with one student whom I worked with. Instead of  allowing this student to feel that he simply could not write well, we re-identified the issue and appropriated their focus elsewhere—on his confidence. Now, still to this day I see this particular student in Live Tutoring and in Paper Review, confident as ever. In a classroom setting, some students may find that the assignment instructions are impossible and that they will never be able to accomplish the task. To combat this, why not ask if there is any confusion and have a different way of explaining the material to better reach your students? The issue is usually not that the material is too difficult for the students; instead, they may just be a bit confused over the phrasing of the assignment. In fact, I think we all have had that anxiety with an assignment at some point, yet we still accomplished completing assignments.

For students, having a sense of comfort in an online setting  brings down a pre-constructed barrier that impedes their development in a scholastic setting.  In the classroom and in tutoring, this should be where our practice begins.

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.





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?