Writing Centre Self-Reflection
April 14, 2022
I was somewhat nervous when I started working at the Writing Centre. I had never done formal tutoring like this before, and I could tell that there was a lot to learn, once again, in another part-time job. I had previously taught English to second language speakers, both kids and adults, so I was accustomed to different types of learners and ESL students, but tutoring is not the same thing.
My biggest takeaway from working at the Writing Centre this semester was practicing patience with students and figuring out how to best communicate with them so that they learn practical tips for improving their writing and other academic skills.
More specifically, I learned more about how different a North American academic style of writing is from outside the region, and how to better work with students who are not from North America. There was a range of emotions from students who were struggling with this new style of writing, from frustration and discouragement to understanding and clarity. Some students were visibly annoyed at misunderstandings occurring between the instructions and feedback they received from the professor, or even between myself and them. This was somewhat frustrating for me, especially when I felt that I did a good job communicating with them.
It’s nice to end appointments feeling like I’ve helped the students, knowing that they’ve learned something they can continue to apply elsewhere. This happened occasionally, and it makes the challenging appointments worth it. I even had some students (who I regularly met with) email me outside of course-related work, asking if they could pray for me for anything in particular.
I am a fairly organized person, especially when it comes to school and work, but I realized how easy it can be to fall behind when filling out student reports and the embedded tutoring (ET) spreadsheets. In order to stay on top of it all, I tried to end the sessions a few minutes early so that I was able to complete the student reports immediately after the sessions; otherwise, I would forget what was discussed. I think it also was most beneficial to the students themselves so that they immediately received feedback and links/recommendations for the future.
I also completed the ET spreadsheets for the WC and for the professor as soon as I was able to do so. It was a little tedious, and the process was not the most efficient, so I probably would do something different in the future. Particularly, it became complicated to track students who were required to meet with me every week to meet with other writing tutors instead (due to availability). However, I think it was helpful for the students to meet with a consistent writing tutor so that the tutor could familiarize themselves with the student’s style of writing and track their progress. It was also encouraging for me to see their progress throughout the semester.
While it took some adjusting to the Writing Centre’s system of scheduling appointments and meeting with students, the other writing tutors were incredibly helpful in being available for me to reach out to them and ask questions. Emily was also great to work with, and I appreciate how open-minded she is with regard to modifying how something is done.
Something that stood out as important to me this semester was the value of recurring appointments. Throughout the previous semester I had very few repeat appointments, those being primarily from my embedded English class. During the spring semester of 2022 the majority of my appointments were recurring which provided the opportunity to see large improvements over the course of several months. Rather than focusing on small rushed tasks over a brief 30 minute period, a larger intentional focus was placed on general writing improvement over a larger period of time.
For embedded Writing 100 students it was encouraging to see a large increase in the application of learning to their writing. This class begins the semester by combatting the question; what is a thesis statement? From this base level students began constructing paragraphs with a thesis statement and moving onto argumentative paragraphs. Having students book appointments from the very beginning of this process ensured that the clear progression was evident to the tutor. Practicing how to concisely state an argument, and sum up a paragraph was essential for reaching the next step in their writing. Repeated practice has been shown to increase skill, whether in regards to writing or language learning (Hidalgo & del Pilar Garcia Mayo, 2021). By practicing constructing unrelated thesis statements prior to handing in official assignments, repeat writing 100 students were able to expand their understanding beyond what a thesis statement is to what makes a thesis statement effective. To conclude, the writing 100 class was required to complete a research essay incorporating previous elements from the course; this included strong thesis statements and topic sentences. By this point in the course, students that I had been seeing consistently had a stronger foundation, generally, than those who were coming for help for the first time.
With biology lab students, rather than working on a progression based syllabus, repeating students were able to focus on improving their scientific writing with each visit. Scientific writing has different requirements than other styles commonly employed in the humanities. For first year students, often engaging with scientific writing for the first time, practice and instruction is extremely beneficial to their understanding. During a first visit for a lab report the most important task is comparing the report to the assignment instructions and making sure all required elements are included. Once this is completed figures and tables are checked to ensure correct formatting. Oftentimes this will take up the 30 minute span of an appointment, meaning scientific writing itself is not the focal point. As students came for multiple appointments we were able to work on the finer points of writing which benefited the student.
Having recurring appointments over the course of the semester demonstrated to me the benefit of repetition. Together we could move from higher order tasks to lower order tasks which improved the quality of writing for each student. Knowing what to look for within the paper of specific students, as well as strengths and weaknesses, allowed for a more intentional focus during appointments.
Hidalgo, M. A., & del Pilar Garcia Mayo, M. (2021). The influence of task repetition type on young EFL learners’ attention to form, Language Teaching Research, 25(4), 565-586.