How to Write and Communicate

This week’s first reading was a little different from the usual, because it required flipping through an entire book rather than reading one article. How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide by Laura Brown was, in my opinion, the most overall useful reading we had from this class. While it will not help me as much as some of the others specifically in my writing consultancy, this how to manual is perfect for people like me, who work well with examples and need things concise and to the point to ensure that I do not lose focus. As a result, I am likely to use this book regularly in my life going forward, and I am glad that I have my own copy.

It was interesting to see the broad variety of genres, though they are not called genres as we have discussed, included in the book, from athletic resumes to divorce announcements to personal blogs. It really felt like there was nothing the book did not specifically cover, and if there was, it seems that there would be at least a close enough match. I liked that this book includes even more informal examples of writing, because I think that we often forget that there are “right” ways of doing even less formal writing, so it is nice to have a guide for those. It also struck me that this would be a good resource to recommend to clients who come into the writing center, because it is overall more concise and less intimidating than many other more traditionally academic resources. The layout of the book is aesthetically pleasing, more comfortable than crowded, and the directions are more straightforward and concise than convoluted and confusing. Also, the purpose of this book is to teach anyone how to write anything– even basic works that we would expect college students to already know how to write, such as a five paragraph essay. As a result, it is a very effective teaching tool in every situation, especially in but not limited to writing centers, and is much more appealing than a dense reference book or resource. I personally think that students would be drawn into this book by the more personal sections and would then find themselves looking at the various academic and business based sections. Overall, I thought that everything about this book– even the cover– draws readers in, and that what is inside of the covers was no less interesting.

The other reading this week was the latter half of “Communications for Consultants” by Rita Owens. This second half went through the engagement process and the post engagement communication. As stated in my last post, I felt that the engagement communication was less applicable to our purposes and more applicable to businesses because our engagements in the writing center are generally just one or maybe two relatively short sessions. However, there are some components of engagement that endure regardless of length, such as the necessity of communicating and coordinating goals– what we have called negotiation. Owens also mentions that it is important to keep clients updated on what you are doing, which in a tutoring session can help to alleviate awkward silence because the client knows what you are doing. This is something I found myself doing without thinking about it, saying things like “okay, I’m just going to read this over so I can get an understanding about where you are at” so that my client is not just staring at me wondering when I intend on paying attention to him/her. The post-engagement section was far more relevant to the writing center. We can utilize this to encourage returning to the writing center, which brings more business into the center and also allows us more time to really fine tune a paper with a client. Through this, our clients can become “regulars”, who are more aware of how the center works and thus are able to experience more smooth and effective sessions. Overall, the book and article were a bit of a study in contrasts, primarily because they were made for two very different audiences. Laura Brown’s How To Write was made for anyone, which is why it applies so well to the writing center and also to virtually everything else, while Owens’ “Communications for Consultants” was much more narrowly tailored, hence why it was more dense, only applicable to the more business side of the center, and overall more difficult to understand. What both of these readings had in common, however, was the fact that they are both some degree of useful resources both in and out of the writing center and that both can be used as resources in my professional life, though one will be more referenced and the other will be more of something that I think back to as I form my more professional habits.

Communication In and Out Of the Center

The first reading for this week was the first part of “Communications for Consultants” by Rita Owens, and focused on three major sections: pre-engagement, engagement, and post-engagement. This reading, unlike our others, was not tailored towards writing consultancy for writing centers– it was more focused on consultancy in a broader sense, such as in a business. As a result, much of this did not fully apply to us, such as the section on engagement: our entire engagement is between thirty minutes to one hour, so it is not exactly an ongoing project. I found the sections on pre- and post-engagement to be more relevant because, since our engagement is so short, most of our communication will fall into the realms of pre- or post- engagement. The only exception to this is the negotiating that occurs in both business and writing center engagement: both parties setting clear goals will lead to an overall more effective engagement, or session.

The section on pre-engagement focuses on being aware of your audience and of the context surrounding everything. We have discussed the importance of this rhetoric at length, especially in talking about tutor and writer identities and how those might influence a session. The post-engagement session urged those involved to write an accurate but concise summary of events. An overarching theme that Owens argues is that strong communications will lead to a stronger relationship with the client, which is definitely applicable to our tutoring practice.

Overall I thought that this piece could probably be more applicable to us because we were not its audience, but I also appreciated that it served the purposes that it was meant to very well and that its purposes did, in some places, overlap with ours. This makes sense because there are some aspects of the writing center, like consultant-client interactions, that function more like a business than like an academic department. This also made me realize that the skills we are learning here, to be writing consultants for Worcester State, will be highly marketable for the rest of our lives. We can market “consultancy” among our skills, and can also actually use these skills in whatever profession we so choose because while some require more communication than others, every single profession necessitates some aspect of communication, whether it be the primary point of the profession– such as working in public relations– or just something that facilitates the workings of the profession running smoothly– like an interdepartmental memo. The skills we are learning will not just be useful now and as we go on to tutor in the Writing Center, but will remain useful all the way through our professional lives and beyond.

The second reading this week was by the again familiar author in Mark Hall, entitled “Problems of Practice: Developing an Inquiry Stance Towards Writing Center Work”. This reading was more applicable than Owens’, because like much of Hall’s other work it was indeed meant for writing centers. This reading basically discussed the manner in which writing consultants think about the work that they do in their writing centers, and encourages them to develop an “inquiry stance”– meaning that they should think critically about what it is that they are doing in order to continue to gain knowledge and ask questions. Hall encourages the development of this stance through working with other tutors in order to develop more on each question that each tutor has, with the intent of using collaboration to work through difficult problems and questions in order to achieve the end goal, which would be to increase the knowledge of the center as a collective. Hall suggests asking questions with tangible answers that can be researched, so that it is possible to reach a resolution at the end of the session, but not questions that are so straightforward that they do not allow for any discussion. Hall also notes that this can be applied to more than just our writing centers, and encourages tutors to create blogs, like these, to interact and share strategies with tutors everywhere.

Overall I thought that these two readings were very interesting, although also very different. The first reading focused more on business consultations, which meant that we had to interpret how to best apply Owens’ advice to our purposes. Obviously the nature of communication in the Owens piece is going to be more formal and professional to some extent because we are still peer tutors, which means we are not going to behave over formally to our clients. While Owens’ work was still useful, Hall’s was more narrowly tailored to suit our purposes and thus, was overall more applicable. I also liked Hall’s ideas on collaboration, because I firmly believe that we can learn better when we depend on one another, cooperate, and share our resources than when we try to do everything ourselves– trust me, I’ve tried.

Session Notes

This week’s reading was “Commonplace Rhetorical Moves of Session Notes” by Mark Hall. This reading introduces note taking through genres, which is a familiar concept to us. Introducing a new topic through a familiar one made it easier for me to understand what exactly session notes should look like because I already understood genres and how genres relate to examples and the like. The author uses many different examples, which was a useful approach for me because I learn well through example, and the author uses examples of what typical session notes should or will look like– hence the use of genre. The use of the four different examples was a wise choice by the author because it allowed the reader to see a variety of writing styles and rhetorical strategies, which makes the examples more broadly applicable and thus, overall more useful.

The chapter also discusses the implications of the notes on the audience, which in this case would be a client. For the WSU center, this varies because our notes do not go back to the client and therefore our audience is more internal. It gives examples of the various ways in which tutors can accurately and succinctly summarize sessions in order to benefit both themselves and the client. The author organizes these strategies in a chart, which is a nice resource to have because I can quickly look back on it in order to refresh myself on how to write my own session notes. As someone who is generally organized, I love charts and the like as resources because they are a simple and concise way to reference something. This reading had some parallels to the reading on online tutoring, which makes sense because both readings deal with how to effectively and efficiently sum up a session. Although, I do think that in-person session notes are easier because there is more to face to face interaction than to online tutoring, therefore the client would have more context than in an online session. Notes from Worcester State’s writing center do not go back to the client, but if they did, the client would have more context so the tutor could say things like “as we talked about” to jog the client’s memory about a conversation that had already taken place.

This reading also included a research aspect that some of the other readings have lacked. For their study, they analyzed the strategies most frequently used by tutors. The implementation of these strategies– moreso, which strategies are implemented– show what the writing centers that each of these tutors hail from find valuable, and what they emphasize when they train their tutors. This can be easily seen through session notes, if the tutor fills them out properly, because they can be looked at to quickly determine what strategies the tutor used in the session. Through looking at these strategies, we can see what each writing center emphasizes. I had not given much thought to this before, but it follows that each center would have a different culture and a different set of valued practices. I think it would be interesting to study these centers and why their practices differ. For instance, what impacts this? Is it region, school size, population diversity, or the like? For instance it makes sense that diversity would play a role: with more diverse populations, writing centers would have to thoroughly train their staff in how to tutor through language barriers. But other factors, such as location, could certainly play a just as important but less obvious role and it could be fascinating to see how or what this role is.

Writing session notes can be somewhat intimidating, because they are the only real record of what occurred during a session. However, this pressure of writing perfect session notes is somewhat alleviated because the notes do not go to the student: the only people who will be reading our session notes understand how hard it truly is to write session notes. This turns out to be a small comfort, because overall, our fellow consultants are going to judge or misinterpret what we mean in our notes less than a client who is unfamiliar with the session notes process would.

This reading was overall very comprehensive and included every part that a tutor would need, from a full definition and explanation of what session notes are, to how they should be written, to why they are useful and what benefits they provide, such as their allowance for the tutor to reflect on the session and a reminder and reference for the student of the suggestions made by the tutor The reading also uses many different visual resources, like charts and graphs, which are useful in breaking up the monotony of the pages and also in providing quick resources that tutors can use with just a glance.

Virtual Tutoring

The first reading this week was “New Media and Online Tutoring” by familiar authors, Fitzgerald and Iannetti. Because the field of those who instruct Writing Center tutors is so narrow, it makes sense that we refer to the same authors. This week’s topic is very techy, which is exciting for me because I love technology and frequently work better online than on paper. However, in tutoring, these non-traditional sessions poise challenges because we as tutors have to amend our practices. The first section of this reading deals with “What’s Old” about the topic (p 167), and discusses the ways that this tutoring is nothing new, because writing has always involved technology and technology has always involved writing. While this was not the author’s intent, this made me think of the diction used when discussing programming: words such as “language”, “syntax”, “fluent”– we speak about programming languages the same way we speak about other languages. In this sense, technology is not without language. It is also worth remembering that tutoring is also about helping people, regardless of how.

The article discussed in depth the idea that tutoring in this form is rhetorical. This is because the rhetoric refers to communication and how communication is used to achieve goals. The forms of communication in tutoring change when tutoring is online instead of in person, but this is to be expected because the most effective rhetoric is always contingent upon the situation. That is a primary component of rhetoric: catering to your audience. The shift from tutoring in person to tutoring online posies its own specific challenges because the tutor cannot gauge the student’s reaction to any comments the tutor makes. It also becomes harder for the tutor to gauge cultural differences, miscommunications, etcetera and to fix them. Thus, the tutor has to choose their words with care to try and choose the words that are the least likely to be misinterpreted. The tutor also must be hyperconscious of his or her tone because tone can be misinterpreted the same way that words can. This article gave useful advice on how to communicate both online and in person. The author also had particular advice on how to adapt one’s rhetoric, but in ways that were more generally applicable than specific– which is ironic, because rhetoric is generally more specific because different strategies are more or less effective with different audiences. Overall, I thought this reading was useful.

The second reading was “Responding Online” by Ben Rafoth. While the author of this reading was not as familiar as Fitzgerald and Iannetti, many of the concepts he spoke about were familiar. We have seen concepts such as minimal marking and prioritizing global over local concerns before, which makes sense because they are cornerstones to having an effective tutoring practice. This reading brought up the interesting notion that online tutoring might have more intricacies than face to face tutoring, which is debatable. I think that in person interactions have more depth because, quite simply, there are more to them. Online interactions refer to text: text sent to a tutor, text sent back to the writer. In person interactions mean that text needs to be spoken word, and there are also various elements of reading body language etcetera that add levels of depth. Nonetheless, the author argues that these intricacies result because the tutor has to consider how the reader will perceive the message without seeing or hearing the tutor’s body language and tone. He suggests that tutors should refrain from suggesting too many changes because the reader may be overwhelmed. The reader could also have trouble figuring out what the tutor meant to emphasize. For instance: if the tutor points out both global and local errors, the reader could fall into the trap of prioritizing local errors over the global errors just because it is easier. Although this is just one example, it is worth noting that the importance of prioritizing does not go away.

Overall, I thought these two pieces of writing were similar but interesting and I enjoyed seeing where they overlapped. For example, they both emphasize the importance of thinking of the client’s point of view and how the client would be likely to interpret the comments of the tutor. However, the different authors approach this in different ways: Rafoth emphasizes that clients may be overwhelmed and want to prioritize lower-level concerns while Fitzgerald and Iannetti emphasize the use of rhetoric to negotiate the priorities of the session. However, both make it clear that there is some consistency in tutoring online versus tutoring in person, like the prioritization of global over local concerns and the negotiation of these priorities or the use of rhetoric to make sessions overall more effective. Online the tutor’s role evolves but does not change entirely. It is our job as tutors to make sure we are utilizing different tools to make sessions most effective.

Group Tutoring

This week’s reading was “Sponsoring Student Response in Writing Center Group Tutorials” by Magdalena Gilewicz, a professor at California State University in Fresno. This reading discussed the shift in the tutor’s role and the way that the tutor becomes more and more responsible for guiding the session rather than domineering it as now, the tutor can utilize the other students present as resources instead of relying entirely on his/her own knowledge (page 64). Because every student brings their own identity as a reader or a writer to the session, group tutoring sessions can be at best a melding of all of these identities to produce a vibrant, productive session and at worst a clashing of conflicting personalities for the tutor to balance. I see this frequently in my microeconomics tutoring sessions, but the issue for me is less of balancing the way that the students learn and more of balancing whose questions to answer when if they are all working on different topics.

The reading goes on to analyze the ways in which student writers read, and how student readers respond. Gilewicz describes the ideal session as one where “students help students, everybody participates, the writing process is illuminated, products improve dramatically, and the community thrives” (page 65). The tutor’s job is to strive for this scenario, and to work towards it. Gilewicz also comments on the way that students are hesitant to criticize their peers work and will point out lower-order surface errors and then go on to praise content. As peer tutors, I think we are in a unique place to work students through the awkwardness of criticizing another student’s work, because we too have these same feelings. The most important factor we should remember is the fact that these students are in the Center for a reason. These students all know that their papers are imperfect, and are looking for help to improve them– regardless of where that help is coming from. Some of the other factors discussed in the section on how student readers read were familiar, such as prioritizing global concerns over local. This makes sense because, even though we are discussing a different kind of tutoring, some basic principles would still apply. In the same vein, tutors must also be cognizant of how much help they give students and should be striving to teach writing rather than just fixing the papers.

Though there are some similarities between group and individual tutoring as it pertains to what is important, the tutor must get to these end goals using different strategies. The tutor here especially serves as a role model because the other group members will look to him/her to reflect his or her behavior. This is also in part because no student wants to be “mean” by giving any negative feedback to their peer’s paper, even if they are at tutoring to receive that constructive criticism in the first place. Looking to the tutor helps to break through this wall because the tutor is going to be looked at as the expert in the situation, and should use this status to guide the students into utilizing effective tutoring strategies themselves. It is hard to assume this role in a group of one’s peers, especially when you factor in the reality that, through the same identity that makes students unique learners, students are also unique as tutors. If we expect students to assume a mini tutoring role to aid one another in group sessions, we must expect them all to tutor in different ways. However, because students are different learners, this increases the likelihood of there being someone in the room who can explain a concept to a student in a way that he/she will understand.

Overall I thought this article was useful because it did not spend time waxing about unuseful abstract and theoretical concepts and instead just went into the theories that were, indeed, useful. I thought that this article was well organized and that it presented real, useful, actionable strategies that I could see myself applying in my own sessions. However, this did raise some questions for me. In my time spent observing and even just walking by the Writing Center I have not seen any group tutoring sessions occurring. I assume that this form of session is offered, otherwise we would not be preparing for it, so my question is in regards to how often they occur. I assume that part of the reason students do not come for group tutoring is because they are either not being assigned group papers or because they do not know that they have this option. If the latter is more of the case, I think this is something we should work to advertise more. If we make it a “norm”, more students will partake.