Tanvi Suryawanshi received a BA in Philosophy in 2019 and an MA in Philosophy in 2021 from the University of Mumbai, India. She is currently pursuing her MA in Interdisciplinary Humanities (General Stream) and hopes to advance the subject matter of philosophical anthropology or the philosophy of human nature with special attention to religious, ethical and metaphysical doctrines. At the Writing Centre, she hopes to engage with students to help them find their voice and express their convictions in academic writing across disciplines.
Divyasri (Divs) is a second-year graduate student in the Counselling Psychology program at TWU. Divs understands the value of words as a therapist in training and aspiring researcher. Words, in her opinion, have a lot of power. It is a true gift to be able to write in a way that expresses the passion and intent behind words. She aims to encourage students to be courageous in expressing their ideas and opinions through their writing. She understands the challenges of academic writing and wants to help students feel confident in their ability to communicate effectively through their writing. She specializes in brainstorming for research projects, reflective essays, annotated bibliographies, and APA paper formatting.
Divs enjoys art and literature and loves connecting with people one on one. She is fluent in five languages, including English and French, and she adores learning about different cultures!
Writing essays is a creative process. Not as creative as creative writing, of course, but it is creating an argument. The problem is that not you cannot demand inspiration to strike when deadlines are coming at you like speeding bullets. Many students come to me in the Writing Centre with this experience.
Writer’s block. I hate it; you hate it; everybody hates it. We see the approaching deadline, and yet we procrastinate. I did some reading and found that some psychoanalytic sages have come forth to spew their wisdom.
One day at the Writing Centre, I picked up Dennis Palumbo’s Writing from the Inside: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within. I went to the chapter that was about writer’s block, specifically. In effect, Palumbo said that your subconscious is tricking you by making you believe that you cannot write as well as you can because… well, trauma… such as when you were told you were not good enough when you were a child. I think this experience is a little hyper-specific.
Instead, I read Canadian writer Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She says that inspiration is like a child playing with ideas; let them brew in your head and see the results later:
She says, “Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed. There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid… arranging and stitching things together” (Lamott 181).
This sounds like some psychoanalytic, age-of-Aquarius hogwash, but it has merit! I find it funny that so many anxious students come to me without any idea on what they want to write on, but after a conversation about their interest in the topic, their head starts to clear up.
I remember when I was an undergraduate student in UBC. I think I had like ten deadlines in the next two weeks or less and a biochemistry exam coming up. On top of this, I had to write a 4,000 word paper for my capstone course and I did not know where to start. My head was swimming!
“I know I want to write about the history of medicine, politics, and theology during the Renaissance and Reformation,” I said to my history professor, who was sitting magnanimously, like a good doctor. “But I don’t know what to say.”
“Okay, why don’t you write your paper in three sections: medicine, politics, and theology?”
My head lighted up. Not that I didn’t struggle writing that essay (I actually overwrote it), but a simple conversation was what it had to take. It sounds silly, but your ideas are there in your head. Sometimes you need someone to prod at them for you. And most importantly, identify the parts of what you want to write: in essays, it is all about parts, parts, parts.
Lammott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.
Palumbo, Dennis. Writing from the Inside: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
This semester at the Writing Centre, I achieved a lot more than I thought I would. Firstly, I was able to understand many students’ learning styles and writing preferences and work accordingly. This gave me the ability to make them come back to the WC and soon they became weekly regulars. They enjoyed the sessions and were honest about what was working and what was not. I personally appreciate honesty, so such straightforward feedback kept me going and I learnt increasingly every day. I became used to creating mind maps, flowcharts, tables, lists and much more with the use of white boards, screen sharing, glass boards, as well as TV screen displays. These abilities slowly became a routine, and I was able to send almost 95% of my students home with pictures of our brainstorming and learning from the boards. For online meetings, I was able to use the Whiteboard app on my computer or the Zoom Whiteboard as well as Annotation. The students would always ask for the Whiteboard files at the end as we would produce outlines, topics, action plans, editing strategies and much more during the session. Active listening and paraphrasing were also some of my central ways of making the students feel heard and respected. Especially with returning or adult program learners, it is incredibly important to show mutual respect and understanding as they expect a safe space to be able to honestly ask for help and learn from their error patterns in writing.
Secondly, all these strategies used were exponentially better when it came to my Embedded class students. I was getting a lot of practice as I would be using these tools for the same concepts and the same class almost every day. It came to a point where I had some standard templates of my paragraph structure notes, essay structure chart, word count, content and source distribution chart, class deadlines and assignment instructions notes, and so on. I would save these pictures or files and was successfully able to transfer the knowledge by reusing them with certain personalized changes for each student. This came in handy even with first timers as seeing that I could reuse my material from sessions with their classmates made them more likely to follow the same writing techniques and come back to the WC. I ended up having more than 100 appointments with my Embedded classes with more than 83% registration rates overall. I had a lot of fun and satisfaction using these methods daily. I was also able to integrate my understanding of Bloom’s taxonomy in my sessions. I learnt that the students’ ability to create tables and charts during appointments and editing their writing accordingly after surely meant that they were evaluating, analyzing, and applying the writing strategies. I also had fun using color coding for sentence types in paragraphs for visual learners. Seeing them come back to the WC with a color coded or edited paper showed me that they understood and remembered the learning from our sessions.
Thus, I had a wonderful time working with my Embedded classes this semester and growing in my teaching style with the use of various visual, technological, and verbal strategies. Last but not the least, I also explored Microsoft Word a lot more and was able to help students use tools like Read Aloud, Dictate, Commenting, Bibliography creation, SharePoint and so on. I can finally say that I am standing up to my expectations as a tutor and hope to keep growing and learning more as I cultivate my strengths as a tutor at Trinity and a teacher after I graduate.
This semester, one area that I focused on is how concision affects the way we communicate and write. Last semester while working on WriteAway, I often gave the suggest to “be more concise” in the little words and turns of phrases that the student was using. But what exactly is concision? An inconcise sentence can be defined has “one with needless words” (Dermer et al. 4), thus advising students to change “this is due to the fact that” to “because” and so on. However, this semester I started realizing that this definition is incomplete. Concision is not solely about the words we use—although they are, of course, important—but it is also about communicating our ideas effectively and charitably. It should never be the goal of a writer to trick the reader with unnecessarily grandiose and complex language in an attempt to sound more intelligent. A writer’s intelligence is demonstrated by insightfully communicating their ideas to their audience.
Excessive words and ideas are an aspect of a student’s writing style: “style refers to those features of a behavior or a behavioral product that may vary while maintaining its primary functions” (Dermer et al. 4). A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee found that “a prevalent, undesirable feature of undergraduate writing is inconcision” (Dermer et al. 4), but with proper teaching and practice, students easily pick up concision. As a tutor, I never want to change the student’s tone of voice in their writing; with proper teaching and practice, a student’s personality can still shine through their writing when they employ concision.
In regard to concision, one success story from this semester stands out to me, as I saw vast improvement between only two sessions. I have a reoccurring student that struggles with inconcision, both on a word level but also sentence and idea level. In particular, his sentences and paragraphs are often too long. I decided to implement an approach he has never tried before to see if it worked. I told him to write the introduction paragraph the way he wanted to during his own time, in between our sessions, and he came to the next session with a 15-sentence introduction paragraph. Then, together, we were able to pinpoint his big idea, main points and condense them into 5 sentences. He was surprised at how he was able to communicate his exact ideas in fewer words. He left the session happy, relieved, and satisfied, which made me feel the same way too.
This success encouraged me to continue suggesting this approach. It’s helpful to revise and condense with a secondary pair of eyes, but I do think this technique could be done individually as well. It is extremely rewarding to see immediate progress in student’s work, but even more so to see them continually implement these changes in future writing.
Dermer, Marshall L., et al. “Fluency Training a Writing Skill: Editing for Concision.” Psychological Record, vol. 59, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 3–20. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/BF03395646.
This semester was my first semester being able to work in the Writing Centre in a face-to-face setting with students. I was able to meet students I worked with in previous semesters face to face and I was also able to meet my coworkers in an in-person setting. This semester, I was an embedded tutor for WRTG 101 and ENGL 101 classes and I am very thankful for the opportunity to build relationships within the TWU learning commons community. During this semester, I worked with students from all over the world, who spoke different languages, had different stories, and came from various education systems. This experience was very influential in seeing how everyone comes with their own educational journeys and how writing was able to bring people together in some way.
In Oolong’s writing of “Neurodiversity is for Everyone”, they mention that “[p]eople have very different experiences of the world, and unless we listen to them when they tell us about what makes their lives difficult and what helps, we often make things worse.” I am grateful that I was able to work with the same students each week because it allowed me to understand their needs as a learner even better. For some students, I learned that communication would be more effective through in-person meetings rather than online meetings, so I made sure I was available to meet in person with them. For other students, I knew that examples and speaking slower would be more beneficial for them, so each week, I knew to keep these things in mind as we worked on their assignments. I knew that I needed to be aware of learner differences and be sensitive to the ways that different students progress in their writing skills. I had one student who needed more support in essay structuring and thesis statement development so I made sure that these were the focus of our meetings each week. I wanted to be intentional in how we used our meeting times and provide guidance for ways to move forward. For this student, I learned that giving them a list of tasks to work on before our next meeting was a good way to keep them on track guide their writing processes, so I made sure to spend the last five minutes our every meeting to create a list with them about where to go from here. It is through learning about our students and what they really need is that we can create spaces for them to learn more effectively and efficiently.
I am grateful to have worked at the writing center again this semester. The community is always so encouraging and welcoming and I want all students to know that we really do intend to help you in any way that we can. As a writing tutor myself, we are students ourselves and we understand that sometimes it is difficult to ask for help. I would like to assure any student that is hesitant about coming to the writing center that it is a safe space for everyone.
Oolong. (2019, October 19). Neurodiversity is for Everyone. https://oolong.medium.com/neurodiversity-is-for-everyone-f375a27aa3c9
This semester was an overall challenging time for me. I started off the year with being a student leader, a new commuter, and an 11:07 improv cast member, along with being a student. I did not think much of adding tutoring to that equation until it got unhealthy for me. As the semester progressed, I stepped out of my student leadership and improv positions. This way, I was able to provide more time for the first and second-year students who needed my help. Something that caught my attention the most this semester was our last project with Neurodivergent learning because it helped me learn a lot about myself. In sixth grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD, specifically dyscalculia. This was also around the time my family moved from India to Egypt where I went to an American International school. Upon starting my middle school education, I was put in a class called “Learning Ed,” which was nicknamed the class for “dumb kids.”
When you are only 13 years old, and an adult tells you that you belong in the dumb class, you believe them. My whole personality revolved around theatre and the arts because I was not smart enough for anything academic. It was only after coming to university that I realized a substantial portion of the arts is based on history and academia. Since I was not in any kind of learning ed class, I knew I had no one to rely on, to vouch for my laziness. Although I appreciate what this class was trying to do for me in middle school, it hurt me so much more than it helped. This is also exactly the reason I started tutoring. I know that there are students who feel the same way or are told that they are only worthy of getting C’s and lower or B’s and lower. The first way I tried to implement aspects of Neurodivergent Learning, was through outlines. Usually someone with ADHD is scattered and has a lot of ideas with potential but is unable to pin down exactly what they want to talk about in their paper. I started by asking them what they are most interested in and making a bullet point list of everything they said. From there, I would ask them which of those ideas applies to the topic. If they struggle, I jump in and offer some of my suggestions. Having a visual list is a way of putting those chaotic ideas on paper where they are tangible. Another important thing to keep in mind is the attention span of a Neurodivergent learner. It is usually noticeably short and can be a problem when they book a session for an hour. I made sure to pay close attention to the student’s ability to respond and add to my suggestions. If I noticed them getting distracted by their surroundings, not responding at all, or constantly trying to change it topic, I would ask them if they really need the whole hour or we could cut it a little short. I also made sure to ask them if I was speaking too fast, too slow or they were able to follow my guidance. There are multiple ways of outlining and brainstorming, so I made sure to diversify my approach to certain assignments. For example, I would try and use pictures and diagrams to the tutee through screen share to visually illustrate my point.
In terms of my struggles, I often got caught up with minute details. A vivid example is when a student asked me the difference between points and pointing. The sentence was “This quote pointing to the idea that racism is active in North American factories.” In that case I told the student that he should use points instead of pointing, but could not really explain why. I know that this happens, and is normal for me to experience, but it really ruined my day. I ended up getting a little bit of help from another tutor who told me about past participles. There were multiple small things like this where I just could not explain why a certain word makes more sense in a certain context.
For the next semester, I hope to give myself a little more time in the day to work on any grammar issues I have. I also hope to be in person a lot more, so that it will be a lot easier to communicate with people who can help me.