Editor’s note: This semester, I asked my senior undergraduate consultants to share their best advice with the rest of the tutoring team. I love what they shared–and was delighted to get some tips-and-tricks from some other centers.
Vanessa Nakoski, Montgomery College – Rockville
Kill the Magic of Editing: While it’s tempting to show off to a student and produce the answers out of thin air, it’s more effective to dispel the mystery. Explain to the students what you’re doing as you’re doing it to model how they might replicate the process.
Instead of simply saying, “I won’t proofread for you,” tell the student “Let me show you how I look at your work to find errors so that you can learn to see your work the way I do.”
Etiquette & Organization: Students usually have a pretty clear idea about what they believe or think, but they get stumped trying to put it on the page. Ask them to state their thesis and then “Convince me out loud!” Students are so polite (and aware of time constraints) that they won’t waste your time rambling. They will get to their main points and put them in order right away. Write down what they say, then show them. Chances are, they’ve just written all their own topic sentences! When they go home, they can repeat the experience by speaking into a voice recorder on their phone.
Rewrite the Prompt: All too often, students write great papers that fail to meet an assignment’s objectives. Go back to the original prompt, and ask the student to rewrite the directions as a To-Do list in their own words. Then work with the student to see what they’ve missed or overemphasized. They can use that list to check their draft like a scavenger hunt.
Editor’s note: for the first installment in this series, click here. Read on for excellent stories from Lara, Jimmy, and Nne!
NNE NWANKWO Pursuing Political Science, Urban Affairs & Planning, and Creative Writing at Virginia Tech
As a Nigerian (from metropolitan Lagos), I grew up learning and understanding several languages at the same time. Nigeria is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and more importantly, Lagos is the melting pot of the nation. As an Igbo girl, I learned Igbo growing up; and as a contemporary Nigerian, pidgin English is necessary to enjoyably engage in any conversation. As a Lagosian, Yoruba (no matter how little) is important to convincingly haggle with a hawker or to spit fire at a rude neighbor. Furthermore, as francophone nations of Benin, Cameron and Togo border Nigeria, French is the mandatory foreign language in schools. In fact, most contemporary Nigerian songs incorporate a mix of Nigerian pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo, and many times, other minority languages. Sometimes, the songs include French ad-libs also. Nigerian music is a direct representation of the average Nigerian’s speaking and writing patterns – a beautifully jumbled mesh of multiple languages.
Editor’s note: Continuing our previous conversation about the history of the WLN, I asked Dr. Harris to comment on a few other writing center matters, including the history of the Purdue OWL, concerns for the future, and the future of the WLN.
HISTORY OF THE PURDUE OWL
We started the Purdue Writing Lab in 1975 on an experimental basis for a year, and next year, beginning in 1976, it was officially started. But that was long before email or the internet. We developed cabinets full of handouts for students to keep them from taking notes as we talked, and if we took out handouts, we’d mark them up so that they were personalized for the student to take home.
Somewhere in the 80’s when email came along, I thought we should make those hundreds of handouts available when the Lab wasn’t open, so I managed to scrape bits and pieces of funding to get them up on an automatic system so that students could email a request for a list, then email by number which handouts they wanted (all in ASCII characters, of course), and it would come back immediately.
I don’t know how people all over the world learned about that looooong list of handouts, but we quickly realized thousands of requests were coming in. When Gopher became available, we moved to Gopher, and when web browsers came along, we moved onto the web, all the while watching increasing numbers, so that it quickly jumped to millions of requests from all over the world. It’s still well into the millions.
Editor’s note: I asked our fearless leader, Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris, to share a bit of history with us, especially for those of us who began directing in the past few years. I’m sure you’ll find Mickey’s responses to be as friendly and informative as I did! Here’s Part One of the conversation (Part Two can be read here.)
Given that the CCCC planners didn’t expect many people to show up at a session on the little known topic of writing centers, we had a small room in which to gather. But very quickly there was standing room only, and the feeling of delight and amazement was palpable as we all looked around and realized we had colleagues who shared our interest in one-to-one tutoring of writing!
As the session ended and people waiting for the next session began filtering in, I grabbed a notepad and asked those who were leaving to sign up, and I’d try to keep us in touch with each other. Needing a name to place at the top of the list, I called it TheWriting Lab Newsletter, since “lab” had a “hands on, anything goes” connotation that we liked.