We encourage faculty from all departments to provide students with basic information and orientation on the Writing Center. Here are three simple suggestions:
1. Advertise our services on your syllabus. List our hours, location, and web address, and use or adapt this sample paragraph if you like:
The Writing Center is a free service for any student who aspires to be a strong writer. You can schedule a session with a trained tutor to discuss your writing task at any stage of the process; the earlier you go, the more benefits you’ll see. The tutor will talk with you about your assignment and your draft to help you determine what kinds of revisions you should make. You will become a better writer and thinker as a result of this collaboration.
2. Link our SJC webpage and online scheduler to your Blackboard course page.
3. Photocopy Writing Center fliers and distribute to your students.
Remind your students that the most productive tutoring sessions occur well in advance of the paper’s due date. When students bring in very rough drafts just a few hours before the deadline, their sessions may result in some frustration. Students have the ability to schedule sessions ahead of time at their convenience using our online scheduler, so there’s little reason or excuse for delay. We also encourage students to come early for help with brainstorming, developing, and shaping ideas, rather than waiting until a draft is nearly complete.
Help students set realistic expectations for their sessions. Most sessions last only 25 minutes, so tutors may not have adequate time within one session to “cover” or discuss all of the aspects needing improvement in a paper. For this reason, we often encourage students to schedule another visit later in the week. Also, students should not expect tutors to comment or speculate about the grade a paper may receive; students leave the Center and revise their writing independently, so we have no control over or responsibility for students’ finished products.
Help students understand our policies on editing and “proofreading.” We are careful not to overstep our boundaries as a center for tutoring and teaching; therefore, we don’t proofread papers or make corrections for the student. What tutors WILL do is work with students on visible patterns of grammar and punctuation errors. Students can expect tutors to notice some repeated types of errors, explain rules of proper usage, model corrections within a small section of the student’s text, and assist the student in identifying and correcting a few similar errors before encouraging the student to work independently through the rest of the text.
Carefully consider whether to require students to visit the Writing Center. In our experience, students are most engaged and productive when they come voluntarily out of a sincere desire for feedback and improvement. We encourage you to describe and use the Writing Center as a place of collaboration and critical thinking, not a form of penalty or mere remediation.
We can send a tutor to your classroom for a brief presentation (less than 10 minutes) on Writing Center services. The tutor will bring copies of our fliers, explain our philosophy, give students advice about preparing for tutoring sessions, and demonstrate our online scheduler website (if your room is equipped with technology).
To request a class visit, email Maradee Kern and include the course name, time, location, number of students, and any specific or additional concerns you’d like the tutor to address. We will do our best to accommodate your request within one week; unfortunately, we may at times be unable to visit classes that meet outside of our regular business hours.
Class visits are most popular during the first few weeks of the semester, but feel free to request a visit later in the term when students begin work on any major writing assignment.
My student said the Writing Center was too busy to help her. Why would this happen? Since we can't afford to staff more than two or three tutors at a time, students may not always be able to sit down with a tutor immediately upon walking into the Center during peak hours. Fortunately, our online scheduler allows students to make their own appointments in advance so that they don't have to be inconvenienced.
My student met with a Writing Center tutor and the completed paper was still full of problems and errors. What did the tutoring accomplish? Keep in mind that the typical tutoring session lasts 25 minutes, and students come to the Center with wildly different levels of preparation. For example, some students come in one hour before the assignment is due--even if the tutor has time to read the entire paper, the conversation will probably focus on only the revisions the student can make before class starts. Alternatively, tutors may see only an early version of a paper and spend more time talking with a student about ideas and arguments rather than making specific suggestions about transitions, conclusions, word choice, etc. What the student does (or doesn't) do with the paper after the session ends is up to the student. Plus, even students who don't "perform" well on a final draft may still have gained confidence and learned quite a bit about writing during their tutoring session. We aim for not only better writing, but better writers, which usually takes longer!
What can the Writing Center do for my students who are already strong writers? Our well-trained and well-read Writing Center tutors are excellent resources for strong students who want to strengthen their arguments, vary their vocabulary, improve their style, and in general become more sophisticated academic writers and thinkers. Even students with confidence to spare can benefit from the feedback of another reader/listener, often surprising themselves at how much they can grow just by engaging in conversation with a curious tutor. Especially students who plan to pursue degrees beyond San Jac should train themselves in the sort of stimulating academic discourse the WC can provide. (Plus, tutors truly enjoy working with writers whose mastery of sentence-level concerns has made way for higher-order discussion of content.)
I have a student with extremely poor grammar skills. How can the Writer’s Center help? These students can really benefit from repeat appointments with the same tutor (easily accomplished via the online scheduler). Tutors may even want to work with the student on previously graded writing to isolate and practice a few essentials at a time. In a 25-minute session, if a student's working draft is full of usage and mechanical errors, the tutor will usually focus attention on one particularly egregious paragraph or on a couple of recurring error patterns, modeling correct structure and then asking the student to identify and correct similar errors themselves until comprehension is achieved. Clearly, multiple sessions are best in these situations. (We have also linked several useful grammar practice sites to our web page under Resources for Writers.)
Should I require students to meet with a Writing Center tutor? While this may sound appealing, we actually find that tutoring sessions are more productive when students come on their own terms and timing. You may discover that positive incentives for tutoring work better than what could be perceived as punitive measures by the student. If you'd like to require each student to come at least once, we'd suggest allowing students to choose when and for what assignment, maybe within a range of some sort. (From an administrative standpoint, it may also be difficult to accommodate large numbers of your students when they've been directed to see a tutor within a limited time frame.)
I asked my students to get their papers signed by a tutor, and students were refused. Why? Tutors have been trained not to sign or stamp a student's paper, partly because some may misconstrue this as a form of approval or endorsement of the paper by the Writing Center staff. If you just want evidence that the student met with a tutor, the easiest solution is to email Maradee Kern and ask for a list of students who had appointments during a certain date range. This "report" takes less than 30 seconds to generate and shows the names and visit dates of students who listed you as instructor for the assignment they worked on.
Why was my student told that the Writing Center doesn't "proofread" papers? Since we are at heart a teaching facility and not an editing service, our tutor training emphasizes the difference between "proofreading" and teaching editing skills. Granted, students who use that term often don't realize its connotations, so we often explain up front that we don't proofread for them; rather we sit down and read a paper for clarity of ideas and language, then engage the student in making the necessary improvements themselves. We hope that faculty will use other terminology as well when describing our tutoring services, just to prevent any confusion or disappointment for students.
My student reported having a bad experience with a tutor. How should I address this? Sometimes writing is a sensitive business--both students and tutors are liable to have bad days, maybe even on the same day! When it's an issue of personalities clashing, we hope a dissatisfied student will return again to meet with a different tutor for a different experience. In the event of poor customer service, inappropriate behavior, or other unacceptable attitudes or actions, please have the student contact me directly so I can assess and rectify the situation.
How is a WC session any different from/better than the help I provide during my office hours? While instructors are the content experts and final arbiters of students’ work, those factors may actually discourage some writers from coming to office hours and showing their messy drafts and jumbled thoughts. The Writing Center may function as a “safe zone” for some students who just want a second set of eyes or ears. While tutors and instructors share the same goals and maybe even similar conferencing styles, students often perceive tutors as less authoritative and therefore less “judgmental” of their efforts. This feeling of acceptance can lead to some very fruitful tutoring sessions.
What kinds of training or qualifications do WC tutors have? We hire tutors with degrees in English or closely related fields, and we give preference to those applicants with previous teaching and tutoring experience. All tutors receive training in writing center best practices and participate in ongoing professional development, frequent staff meetings, and creative projects to improve WC services and increase student success. Tutors are supervised by the faculty coordinator, Maradee Kern, a full-time professor of English with 15+ years of experience in teaching, tutoring, and student services administration.
I don't teach English--how will the WC tutors help students write in my discipline? Good question. Our philosophy is that tutors don’t need to be content experts to help students communicate clearly in writing. No matter what type of assignments you give, tutors can help students clarify their focus, organize main ideas, adjust their level of detail, revise for appropriate audiences, improve style and mechanics, etc. We also strongly encourage faculty in every discipline to provide us (and students) with copies of your instructions; that way everyone is clear about the goal of the writing task. You may also want to provide sample student work, or even come to one of our staff meetings and talk to the tutors about your standards.