Tag: consultant-client interaction

The Inclusive Tutor: Addressing and Redressing Diversity in the Writing Center

Shiva Mainaly, Writing Consultant

What are the attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor? Why do we need an inclusive tutor?
How does an inclusive tutor differ from a non-inclusive tutor? Why is the question of inclusion so important to writing centers?

These are the questions that have compelled me to ponder.

We have sufficient records that our writing center has been visited by a large number of students year by year. Among those students who have visited our writing center, a considerable number of them are non-American, non-native speakers of English, resident students, visa students, students belonging to 1.5 generation, students on F1 and J 1 status. Some of these students are enrolled in undergraduate classes whereas others are enrolled in graduate level courses. These students embody different socio-cultural, linguistic, historical, and continent specific experiences.

The number of those students having unique cultural differences is on the rise. To provide care, support and guidelines, the writing center has been widening its scope. Since the writing center has already taken constructive steps to include students regardless of caste, creed, convention, color, disability and gender, it has been hailed as the hub where diversity, the differential, and disability are carefully accepted and constructive counseling is given keeping in mind the unique nuance, agency and concern of student writers.

To address constructively all those voices, expectations, dignity, agency and sensibilities of students, writing center needs inclusive tutors. Only inclusive tutors can handle with dignity the longings, concerns and curiosities of student writers. In the present time in which writing centers have been witnessing the flow of students both native and nonnative speakers of English, what writing centers need is inclusive tutors.

By an inclusive tutor, I mean the sort of tutor who demonstrates tremendous patience and a sense of acceptance when it comes to looking into the student drafts. Only those tutors who have the capacity to say ‘yes’ to their own weaknesses, frailties, flaws, feet of clay, shortcoming and limitations can accept the others as they really are. Here I am reminded of what Francis Fukuyama in his book Identity says “the longing to get recognition from others is the universal longing everyone is endowed with. It is this longing for recognition from others that drives us to forge and foment the question of identity”.

Below I have presented some attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor:

• The inclusive tutor does not get stuck on any identity category rooted in caste, creed, convention, color and gender when he or she starts tutoring in writing center.

• An inclusive tutor possesses tremendous power of acceptance. In no way, he or she deviates from the centrality of his or her power of accepting difference in any form.

• Language has the power to influence thought and vice versa. So, the inclusive tutor does not believe in the dichotomy of lower order concern and higher order concern.

• The inclusive tutor is always ready to address any concern of students be it grammar and punctuation or structural chronology of ideas without compromising with the foundational belief that writing center is not a grammar fixing center.

• The inclusive tutor acts in an innovative way. Labels, categories, stereotypes and banal modes of expressions are simply rejected by an inclusive tutor.

• The inclusive tutor knows when and how to switch deftly and smartly from non-directive modes of tutoring to directive modes of tutoring.

• The inclusive tutor believes and acts on the assumption that every student writer is a world in himself or herself. And the tutor navigates this world with consciousness.

• The inclusive tutor is driven by the belief that all forms of literacy are interrelated, supplementary, complementary, correlative, and symbiotically linked. Alphabetic literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, community literacy, twitteracy etc. are all important in knowledge making process. The inclusive tutor makes use of anything that serves the best goal of tutor and boosts the institutional prestige and standing of writing center.

• An inclusive tutor forcibly believes that after each interaction with student writer, a new self is born in the life of inclusive tutor.

• The inclusive tutor is a mirror on which student writer finds the reflection of his or her own image, face.

• Writing is not a product of solitary endeavor. It is a product of collective efforts. This is the quintessence of inclusive tutoring.

Feedback Isn’t a Snowflake: Handling Revision Anxiety

This weeDSCN3615k, consultant Karley Miller shares her strategies for navigating multiple (and sometimes conflicting) pieces of writing advice.

My last writing project took me a month to revise. I set a goal to have revisions completed in a week, used that week to think about getting started, then spent the next three weeks stressed about not having met my own self-imposed deadline. Did someone say writing is a process?

Since I sent my revised draft off to receive more feedback, I’ve had some time to think about the source of my revision anxiety. Feedback. It’s potentially the most important, and confusing, and anxiety-inducing thing (for me, at least, and maybe you too). So, feedback is important (you’re writing for an audience, right?). Not only is feedback from one person important, feedback from multiple people, if possible, is even more important. Feedback, especially from multiple people, can be confusing. Each person comes to a piece of writing from a totally unique perspective. No two people are completely alike—neither is their feedback. This isn’t to say that feedback exists, from each source, as its own special snowflake of insight, but the differences in opinion are large enough to create, like, anxiety frostbite if you spend too long scrutinizing them. Maybe that’s a stretch, but sifting through feedback in order to improve a draft can be stressful, which is why I want to share, with anyone who has been kind enough to read this far, my favorite new piece of writing advice (not claiming it as my own, rather it has probably existed since our ancestors scratched petroglyphs into cave walls, and only just now reached me): writing is much about learning when to listen and when not to.

This is not to say that revision anxiety is cured by seeking feedback from two different people and deciding, after reading their comments, that one person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It is to suggest, however, having a little faith in your own purpose. By the time you’ve received feedback from multiple people, you’ve spent hours turning your thoughts into words on a page. I don’t believe you can write a sentence without some idea of what you’re intending to communicate. This is where learning when to listen, and when not to, comes in. If you have a clear idea of your argument, or your story, or your sentence, for example, not every single word of feedback is going to help you better communicate that idea. For example, if I write, “Feedback isn’t a snowflake,” and you say, “This makes no sense,” I’m not going to change my idea (because I am, at this point, very wedded to the idea that feedback can be compared to a special snowflake but is not, exactly, one), but I might, in my blog, try very hard to explain it because your feedback let me know that I was unclear, and I, myself, am able to understand that this sentence is a stretch. If I can’t explain it, maybe I should cut it.

Moral of the story? All feedback should be taken into consideration, and applied only after you are sure making the change won’t alter your message. Unless, of course, feedback makes you reconsider your message (argument, etc.). In which case, good luck, and the Writing Center is here to give you even more feedback on a new and improved message. Although, as you can see, it’s a process for everyone (very seriously considering revising this blog about feedback/revision to exclude the snowflake comparison, although now I’m thinking the winter theme works nicely with the change of seasons).

You Can’t Teach That: Facilitating Discussion on Tutor-Writer Rapport?

DSCN3709Amy Nichols, Assistant Director

As one of the assistant directors at the writing center, I have the opportunity to teach two lessons in Bronwyn’s “Writing Center Theory and Practice” course, where our graduate consultants receive training during the fall semester. Recently, I facilitated one of our class discussions around “Student-tutor relations in the Writing Center.” Writing center sessions can include wildly varying levels of language and disciplinary expertise between both tutors and writers, making relationship-building critical to successful communication. In addition, rapport is also a crucial (and under-discussed) part of being a successful student, employee, or person generally.

Building individual relationships, particularly in professional settings, is a complex and deeply contextualized activity, and most of what I know about it is instinctive, built on trial and error over time. Because of this, I had a difficult time planning our lesson. For our discussion, I ended up choosing two recent articles from the journal Language and Education: Cynthia Lee’s (2015) “More than Just Language Advising: Rapport in University English Writing Consultations and Implications for Tutor Training” and Innhwa Park’s (2014) “Stepwise Advice Negotiation in Writing Center Peer Tutoring.” Lee’s focus on individual elements that go into building a relationship and Park’s discussion on how to deal with minor disagreements helped us find a way in to this difficult-to-teach subject.

Lee’s framework pulled from discourse and rapport scholarship to detail descriptions of the kinds of behaviors that we often take for granted: greetings, small talk, qualifiers/mitigation devices, open-ended questions, first-person plural pronoun use, and praises/related forms of encouragement (436). Saying hello and chatting about unrelated matters tend to be givens in social interaction, but they can also help ease the tension when two people don’t know one another well. Qualifiers such as “maybe” or “perhaps” and open-ended questions such as “Can you tell me more about your goals for this project/assignment?” help build understanding and ease discussions around disagreements. First-person plural pronouns like “we” and “us” are helpful in creating a more team-oriented work environment during sessions, while encouragement and praise help build confidence.

I don’t know about the consultants (feel free to comment!), but it was really helpful for me to have a conversation about those elements of a writing center session that often go unrecognized and (seemingly) unnoticed, but which can make a real difference to the success or failure of a session. For example, a few of our consultants shared that small talk tends to make them uncomfortable, particularly if students responded to small talk by discussing their frustration with particular assignment or situation, while another shared that she sees such situations as an emotional opening to help writers address their concerns. Understanding a variety of approaches to such small interactions and the rationale beneath them gave me more resources for interacting with a variety of personalities.

Park’s article details the ways in which advice resistance is a negotiated construction for both the tutor and the writer. She discusses the steps that resistance, acknowledgment, and resolution move through within sessions, and I thought her work might prove a helpful springboard for discussing the ways in which we negotiate advice resistance in our own sessions. We did discuss ways that we tend to navigate through (or around) resistance during our discussion. One of our consultants commented that, while she was aware of her own intentional practices in navigating resistance, she had not thought about the fact that writers might also follow certain linguistic formulations in constructing their resistance, such as saying “Yes, but what I was really trying to do there was….”. We also discussed the ways in which people from different classes and cultures might navigate resistance more or less directly than the examples in the article, which led one of our consultants to ask a very helpful question about balancing a knowledge of intersectionality (every person is different) with strategic approaches to consulting (we have to apply concrete strategies to our work).

Ultimately, I enjoyed our discussion, but I would love to hear some comments. Consultants, how did the session go from your perspective? Colleagues (and that includes you, too, consultants), how would you/do you encourage productive discussion on building relationships/rapport during writing center sessions? Writers, what kinds of discussions have been most helpful to you in moving your writing forward?

University Writing Center (r)Evolution?

Cassie Book, Associate Director

Many posts here on our blog are about the writing and tutoring processes, but another important part of “who we are and what we do” is participate in scholarly conversations. This month I attended the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) annual conference. The theme, Writing Center (r)evolutions, challenged me to rethink my own assumptions as a consultant and administrator. I’m sharing a few of the half-formed thoughts and questions. I want to invite you into my conference experience. By doing so, I hope to blur the invisible boundaries between daily practices, personal reflection, conversations, and research; I want to make our behind-the-scenes writing center conversations a bit more visible.

  • Foremost on my mind is the University Writing Center’s impending move to the first floor of the library. We’re excited to gain a more visible space and digital consultation rooms. But we’re also gaining new neighbors: the Digital Media Suite, REACH Computer Resource Center, and Research Assistance and Instruction. Stacy Rice’s presentation confronted anxieties that exist when separate centers, such as writing, speaking, digital, or communication, have somewhat overlapping missions. She challenged all centers to not attempt to divide communication into different realms and instead simply respond rhetorically to the writers and composers who seek response and feedback. Our new space and location affords us the opportunity to collaborate in ways that previously may have been difficult. Will each center embrace opportunity or retreat into our separate spheres? What are the best ways to collaborate?
  • Regardless of any (r)evolution or renovation, I think it’s safe to assume our writing center services will always include the individual consultation. Yet, writing center research still has work to do in understanding the dynamics of writing tutoring. Molly Parson’s research focuses on consultants’ perceptions of conflict during sessions. Parsons made me think about the expectations consultants and writers have for sessions. She seemed to suggest that while both sides may think “good” or “productive” sessions will be those that steer clear of conflict, but, in reality, conflict can spur ideas and those “ah-ha!” moments. Do we learn because of, not despite, conflict?
  • We work with many multilingual writers. Nicole Bailey’s presentation suggested that centers should consider providing tutoring in writers’ home languages when possible. Her ethnographic research in a multilingual university in South Africa suggests that when writers feel comfortable, they will learn more. She’s already embraced the practice at the writing center she directs. How can we bring writers’ home languages into the writing consultation?
  • All the consultants in the University Writing Center are graduate students who complete a course called Writing Center Theory and Practice. Kelsey Weyerbacher and Jack Bouchard, two undergraduate consultants, presented their experience and research data. Their perspectives challenge the (mis)conception that a tutor is just a tutor. Yet, writing centers are fruitful sites for research that informs issues of learning, writing, development process, response, space, and conversation. What happens when tutor-initiated research becomes the rule rather than the exception?
  • Matt Dowell’s presentation suggested that writing centers should pay more attention to paratexts—handwritten notes, charts, marginalia, and drawings—written or drawn during sessions. These texts may have untapped potential. In a separate presentation, Matthew Rossi argued that doodling in sessions can create opportunities for common ground and understanding that talking simply cannot.

Finally, a panel organized by Muriel Harris challenged writing centers to better use online spaces—listservs, blogs, databases, and websites—to share across centers and among local contexts. An important question that arose during the discussions was: Who do our blogs reach? Our UofL Writing Center blog had 7,541 unique visitors in 2014. We’ve had 6,263 so far in 2015. But who are you? Is there a better way to reach our target audiences?

To that end, I encourage you to be radical—comment on the blog and let us know. What are your thoughts on writing center (r)evolutions?

Collaborative Relationships: Multiple Sessions and Extended Projects

Brit Mandelo, Consultant

While the majority of our sessions are one-offs—a single meeting with a client, or multiple sessions each on a different piece of work—there are also, occasionally, larger projects extended over many meetings: thesis work, research projects and the like. Though I appreciate and enjoy all the sorts of work I do in the writing center, I’ve found that these can be the most rewarding and intriguing sorts of partnerships. The process of collaboration is distinctly different when it’s extended over several sessions with the same goal in mind; a space opens up for an authentic and often personal relationship to develop.

When a client comes in for several appointments each week, slowly working through an entire long project with me, I not only get a sense of their personal interests, academic interests, and writing style, but also of their deeper-seated needs and expectations. The dialogue that we can then develop—balancing theoretical and structural concerns over one week with usage and style concerns the next, for example—allows room for flexibility and intense collaboration that a single fifty-minute encounter can’t have. In some sense, this is just really obvious: of course working with someone for six hours is more intense and allows for more connection than working with someone for one hour. In another, I think there’s something more intriguing going on when it comes to issues of identity and communication.

The first session with a client often consists of a “feeling out,” be that first session the only one or not. The client and I aren’t yet familiar—I can’t be sure where their strengths lie, or their weaknesses, or what their concerns are (the ones they’re willing to acknowledge out loud, and the ones they aren’t). So, we end up working out a lot of that communicative background while discussing the writing in question. There’s work being done below (or above?) the level of the client-as-writer; we’re often also learning how to communicate as two individual people with distinct skills and needs. As we all come from unique identity positions, with significant differences between each of our roles within the university, engaging in that process of “how to talk to one another” is essential before productive work can begin. Sometimes it takes five minutes, but sometimes it takes the whole session as we come together over a piece of writing.

However, given even one more session on the same piece of work—when we’re both already familiar with each other and the project in question—much of the proverbial throat-clearing and the sounding-out process that opens a first session have already been taken care of. Often, we’ve had a chance to work through structural and theoretical concerns with the piece, too, if it’s shorter. That second session on the same piece allows us to dig deeper, answer further questions that might have developed in the interim, and slip into a more comfortable space with each other. Multiply that by a few more meetings, and the collaborative opportunity consistently develops into a real relationship based on the writing, but also on each of us as individuals with specific needs and skills—which we’ve had several chances to fit together, like puzzle pieces, for the most productive possible arrangement. After having this happen reliably several times, I now wish that more clients would make several appointments for their projects, so that this same comfortable space could develop between more of us.