An Update on PeerCentered!

Editor’s note: It was my pleasure to meet Clint Gardner in person at IWCA this year and hear more about PeerCentered. The Director of the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, he currently serves as Archivist for the Two-year College Association (TYCA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On his website, Clint shares that “having worked in writing centers for over two decades, I have learned a great deal about writing center theory and practice, one-to-one instruction, peer tutoring, the role of writing centers at two-year colleges, as well as the uses of computers in composition classrooms and in the writing center. My role as Student Writing Center Director at Salt Lake Community College allows me to teach writing to students from diverse backgrounds, as well as to teach tutors how to respond more effectively to their peers. ” Below, Clint shares more about the past, present, and future of the PeerCentered community!

36222_507314723380_2934617_nPeerCentered started out in 1998 as an online text chat for peer tutors. The concept was simple: allow an online space for peer tutors to continue the kinds of discussions that they were having at conferences such as the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and other more regionally-based writing center conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. Initially, the discussions were held weekly, and had a fair number of peer tutor and writing center professional attendees from various institutions around the United States, but we did have one writing center professional join in from Europe on occasion. Time zones do interfere with such live discussions. In the early days, peer tutors did outnumber professionals by a considerable amount—something that would change over time. The live chats were initially held weekly—then monthly—and then finally just a few times a year, mostly due to the difficulty in sticking to such a schedule by the main organizer—me! I fear I realized far too late that I could have turned over the organization and the moderation of the live chats to peer tutors themselves.

After playing around with asynchronous discussion forums which never really took off, I decided to add a blog to PeerCentered as a means of having peer tutors share their experiences in that media with others from around the world. The blog has been moderately successful, given that there have been over 750 postings, and more than 1,100 comments in its 14 year history. PeerCentered averages over 5,000 page views per month, during the typical school year. Contributors have written on a variety of topics ranging from practical tutoring techniques, to more theoretical discussions of how peer tutoring works, language acquisition, or the student’s right to his or her own language, for example.

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Semicolons Like Superglue! And Other “Stickable” Things

Editor’s note: Abby Shantzis and Lena Stypeck are tutors at the University of Maryland Writing Center and have developed some exciting strategies for using analogies as a tool in tutoring sessions. Timely advice as we start the fall semester!

Analogies in the Writing Center

lena and abby

Abby and Lena

Over the past three years, Lena has been especially interested in how students best retain information. As a University of Maryland Writing Center (UMD WC) tutor and now high school English teacher, she’s constantly worried that her efforts are for nothing–what’s the point of explaining something if your client is just going to forget the second they leave you? The issue of retention came to her attention when one of her regulars returned making the exact same mistakes as before, completely oblivious to their previous sessions’ discussions. Lena began to question her own tutoring abilities: If this client had forgotten everything they’d talked about, did her other clients forget, too? How bad of a tutor was she if her clients weren’t learning anything? Was she actually fulfilling the UMD WC’s mission to make better writers, if writers were coming back with the same mistakes? These terrifying–and potentially self-destructive–questions paved the way for research on analogies, which she used to combat student retention issues.

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