From Nathalie Virgintino, St. John’s University

June 17th, 2014 by Brad Hughes No comments »
Nathalie Virgintino, St. John's University, New York

Nathalie Virgintino, St. John's University, New York

As a doctoral fellow interested in writing studies, this past semester (Spring 2014), I took a graduate seminar titled Critical Issues in the Teaching of Writing: Histories, Theories and Practices of Writing Centers and one-to-One Teaching taught by Dr. Anne Ellen Geller at St John’s University in New York. From the moment she told me about the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, I thought of Concordia College – NY, my alma mater, as a perfect place to gather research to add to the PWTARP. The Writing Center at Concordia College is a small one, but it’s one of the spaces on campus that is always bustling with dialogue and full of learning. When I heard about the PWTARP, I began to think about how much my experience as a peer tutor impacted me as a graduate student, as an instructor and in daily life. My experience as a writing center peer tutor gave me confidence as a student while learning to work collaboratively and listen carefully to others. I learned these skills in the small writing center at Concordia, which serves a small Lutheran, liberal arts college.

The list of alumni I contacted all tutored in the writing center at Concordia during their time as undergraduates. The group I surveyed included men and women from the age of twenty-two through forty who graduated anywhere between 1995 through 2013. The survey reached eighteen active email inboxes and I received seventeen completed surveys, a response rate of 94%.

The results of the survey show that those who worked as tutors in the writing center were deeply impacted by their experiences they carried with them post graduation. The experiences in the writing center allowed these alumni to develop significant skills including confidence building, collaboration, listening skills, analytical skills, a different relationship with writing and an overall stronger educational experience. Those skills developed in the center were not only useful during the undergraduate experience, but also in career choices, graduate school choices and relationships.

One of Concordia’s strongest values is its emphasis of creating and serving a community. The responses to the survey made it clear to me that the writing center at Concordia creates and supports the space where students, peer tutors and professors discuss writing. During peer tutors’ service to the community, they learn about themselves as students and as individuals, making them more confident and also strengthening their communication skills. Some sample responses:

Working with others and their writing has helped me be more understanding and insightful to the way other people think and communicate. It has made me a better writer and a better communicator. And it has helped me hone my analytical and critical thinking skills.

I always felt privileged to work in the writing center as an undergraduate student. I had more practice with writing than other students. The resources I had access to were more than helpful for my personal works. The writing center was more of a family to me than a work space. I saw the other tutors as role models. Their knowledge of writing exposed me to the complexity of the writing process both creatively and academically. If I had not worked in the writing center as an undergraduate student my perspective on writing could have withheld my development and interests as a writer. I believe that the writing center should continue to resemble what is now and always been writers who carry the existence of literature and language via community.

I find myself completely at ease, whether I’m talking to a laborer fixing a section of railroad track, or meeting with the top Executive at a Fortune500 company.

Using the resources the PWTARP offers gave me insight into my own experience as a peer tutor during my undergraduate experience. It made me think about what I truly learned during my time as a tutor concretely. But even more so, I believe the PWTARP reminds us of how insightful such experiential learning can be for peer tutors.

The above is a short summary of the research I completed this past semester for the graduate seminar on writing studies I was part of. If you’d like to read the full project or know more about my research, feel free to reach out to me at Nathalie.Virgintino13[at]stjohns.edu. I’d love to hear about the research others are working on and contributing to this insightful project.

–Nathalie Virgintino, St. John’s University

From Kathy Evertz and Rachel Zucker, Carleton College

May 4th, 2011 by Brad Hughes No comments »
Rachel Zucker Kathy Evertz

Rachel Zucker and Kathy Evertz

We were excited to learn more about the experiences of our former writing consultants and to contribute to the PWTARP. In the winter of 2011, we sent surveys to 54 former writing consultants. We received responses from 41 consultants, a response rate of 76%.

We were particularly interested in learning what they learned about writing, about themselves as writers, and about the writing of others. What were the most significant skills, values, and/or abilities that they developed in their work as consultants? How did their experiences as writing consultants shape their approach to work and graduate school after Carleton?

I learned how to ‘consult’ rather than ‘instruct.’ The experience of not telling someone what they should do, but instead walking them through the process of deciding what to do and granting them agency over their own problem has been incredibly valuable both personally and professionally.

While many writing consultants reported that their experience allowed them to grow as deliberate, conscious writers, most focused on other rewards they gained from their work. Alumni said the job enhanced their collaborative skills, taught them how to negotiate relationships in a variety of settings, and taught them to ask generative questions.

Many noted that they gained a better appreciation for clarity. One wrote that working at the Writing Center “drummed into my head that WRITING IS COMMUNICATION. If you want people to understand what you are writing, you must make it clear for them.” One alum sees the Center as a microcosm of the College, noting that the Writing Center “has everything that’s best about Carleton: a thirst for knowledge, optimism, a refusal to take itself too seriously, value for important things (honesty, truth, equality for all students), a belief that every single student should be cherished and that every single student has unique ideas….”

For more, please visit https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/asc/writeplace/applications/alumni/

–Rachel Zucker, Psychology Major, Carleton College Class of 2011, Data Analyst
–Kathy Evertz, Director, Academic Support Center, Carleton College

From Aryanne Schommer, St. Thomas University

April 19th, 2011 by Brad Hughes No comments »
Aryanne Schommer at the SWCA Conference in Tuscaloosa, AL

Aryanne Schommer at the SWCA Conference in Tuscaloosa, AL

It has been an interesting three years tutoring at the University Writing Center (UWC) at St. Thomas University (STU) in Miami. In my first “tutor biography” on our writing center’s website, I called tutoring symbiotic, stating that I would learn as much from the students I tutored as they learned from me.  Now, when I look back at what I wrote as a sophomore, I am still amazed at the opportunities that have come from my work at the UWC.

Last semester, I began researching the history of the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA), and, in the process, began to learn more about the writing center world that I had become fascinated with.  When I met Dr. Paula Gillespie one afternoon at the FIU campus to discuss the SWCA and to learn more about the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, I became inspired to transfer the project onto a visual medium.

The Writing Center Alumni poster (see below) showcases the potential future for all writing tutors. It is my goal that this poster showcases what I feel are my own future possibilities because of the work that I have done within the field. The Writing Center Alumni poster represents the important abstract and tangible connections that inspired me to originally conduct more research on the field. These connections are not only fostered by the tutees that enter through our doors, but have also been experienced by the tutor alumni that have greeted them on the other side.

The poster was an integral part of my lunch-hour plenary, “SWCA at 30: Past, Present and Future,” at the 2011 SWCA Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has been proposed by the SWCA executive board as a poster for members.  At the 2011 STU Undergraduate Research Symposium, I was awarded the Dean’s Excellence in Research Award for both the research and the professional outcomes that have arisen from the project and the poster.  Without my work at the UWC, such professional opportunities would have never been created.

Aryanne's poster about Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research

Aryanne's poster about Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research

–Aryanne Schommer

The PWTARP Poster at IWCA-NCPTW, Baltimore 2010

November 19th, 2010 by Brad Hughes No comments »
PWTARP research poster from IWCA-NCPTW, Baltimore, November 2010

PWTARP research poster from IWCA-NCPTW, Baltimore, November 2010

As part of the Scholar-to-Scholar poster sessions at the recent IWCA-NCPTW conference in Baltimore, the PWTARP team (Harvey, Paula, and Brad) proudly shared our findings with many colleagues from around the US and beyond.  Many thanks to Terry Maggio, from UW-Madison’s Writing Center, for designing this gorgeous poster and a big thanks to Jon Olson for sharing these wonderful photos.pwtarp-image1pwtarp-imag2

From Jill Gladstein, Swarthmore College

August 9th, 2010 by Brad Hughes No comments »
Jill Gladstein

Jill Gladstein

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Writing Associates (WA) Program at Swarthmore College and inspired by the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, we decided in the fall of 2005 to survey former WAs about their experiences in the program and what they took from these experiences to their lives after college.   In the fall of 2009, we resent the survey to students who had graduated since the first survey.  In total we surveyed 554 alumni, and we were able to use 297 completed surveys for our analysis.

In the spring of 2009, two current WAs analyzed some of the data and produced an initial report that was sent to alums and some people on campus. These students were most interested in the questions:

  1. How did your time as a WA influence your college experience?
  2. What were the downsides to working as a WA?
  3. How did your experiences as a WA transfer to your current profession?

They expected alums to comment on how their writing and tutoring skills improved, but they did not expect to hear alums mention such things as the ability to negotiate, to maintain diplomacy, and to develop a reflective practice as something they took from their time as Writing Associates.  The alumni survey gave both alums and current WAs an opportunity to reflect on the knowledge gained through this opportunity of peer tutoring.

During the spring of 2009, a faculty committee utilized some of the results from this study to support a proposal to redefine the WA position as a fellowship rather than employment because of the educational benefits for the WAs themselves.  Instead of providing anecdotal evidence, we were able to provide both quantitative and qualitative data to support our claim that peer tutoring is an educational experience for Writing Associates.

For more information about this research with Swarthmore alumni, please contact Jill Gladstein, Director of Writing, Swarthmore College, jgladst1@swarthmore.edu.

–Jill Gladstein

New Directions for Research about Tutor Learning: PWTARP at CCCC 2010

March 29th, 2010 by Brad Hughes No comments »

CCCC2010_pwtarpCCCC2010_pwtarp_audience2During CCCC in March 2010 in Louisville, Paula Gillespie, Harvey Kail, and Brad Hughes presented findings from the PWTARP research project.  We also invited participants in our session to come up with new research questions they’d like to answer through future research about tutor learning.   That lively group (pictured above) came up with many fascinating research questions.  A special thanks to session chair Jon Olson for taking these photos.

Here are some of the research questions that participants in our CCCC session came up with:

  • What else did tutors learn from working in the writing center?
  • What did they learn about other disciplines, or what more did they learn about their own?
  • Does the length of time someone was a writing tutor influence how much they learned?
  • In what ways were tutor alums’ career choices influence or altered by having been a peer writing tutor?
  • How have their writing center experiences complicated or made more difficult their occupations?
  • How did tutors translate tutoring skills to the workplace?
  • How did tutors translate tutoring experience and skills to graduate school, and what differences do they see?
  • What happens to students who don’t succeed as peer tutors?
  • What’s the relationship between parenting and being a peer writing tutor?
  • Do tutors benefit because writers are losing?
  • How do writing center directors/administrators/educators get in tutors’ way?
  • What’s an administrator’s role in a community of practice?
  • Peer tutors can be a self-selected group.  Did peer tutors refine skills they already had before starting a tutor-education course and before starting work as a tutor?
  • Did tutors see their work as scholarly?

And some future research questions Paula Gillespie would like to answer about listening skills:

  • At what stage of your training or work as a tutor did you become aware that your listening skills had developed?
  • How do you use your listening skills in your profession? Would you give an example?
  • Do you use your listening skills in your family or life relationships? How?
  • How did your listening skills affect the students you worked with? Can you give an example?CCCC2010_pwtarp_hkCCCC2010_pwtarp_audience3

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Do you have other research questions you’d like to answer about tutor learning? Please share them by adding a comment below. Thanks!

–Brad, Paula, and Harvey

From Sue Dinitz and Jean Kiedaisch, University of Vermont

March 11th, 2010 by Brad Hughes 1 comment »
Sue Dinitz (l) and Jean Kiedaisch, with Ron Maxwell

Sue Dinitz (l) and Jean Kiedaisch, with Ron Maxwell

From the moment we heard about the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, we felt the University of Vermont Writing Center would be an excellent site for contributing to this research.  Our Writing Center has been run by the same co-directors since the year after it opened (1982), and so we have a personal connection to the over three hundred tutors who have worked here.  We sent out the survey in the summer of 2007 and think we reached about 200 of our 300 former tutors (up through 2005).  Over 130 tutors eventually returned the survey.  At the 2008 International Writing Centers Association Conference, we reported on what tutors saw as the importance of peer tutoring in three areas:  their college experience, their development as writers, and their careers.  We further explored this aspect of the surveys in an article in The Writing Lab Newsletter (“Tutoring Writing as Career Development,” 34.3, November 2009, pp. 1-5), where we analyze what specific abilities and skills tutors felt they gained from tutoring, the range of career paths tutors followed, and how the abilities and skills developed through tutoring were instrumental to tutors’   success in a wide range of careers.
–Sue Dinitz and Jean Kiedaisch

From Terry Zawacki, George Mason University

March 11th, 2010 by admin 1 comment »

Terry WAC photo

In spring 2009, undergraduates who had taken the one-credit experiential Peer Tutoring in the Disciplines course at George Mason University within the past 10 years were contacted and asked to fill out a survey asking them about what communication and community skills—academic and interpersonal—they felt they had acquired through the experience and how they were applying these skills in their lives after college. All of the respondents gave glowing reviews, with several saying the experience played a role in their being awarded prestigious graduate fellowships and entry level jobs requiring strong communication skills.  The fall 2009 WAC Program newsletter features an article about the results.

The survey project was motivated by a national research project (The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project) undertaken to determine the significance of the tutoring experience for tutors, even after they graduate from college, leave the writing center behind, and immerse themselves in their post-graduate careers. Our survey eventually diverged from the national version, because we were most interested in learning more about whether and how our peer tutor alumni have made use of their Writing Center experiences. We wanted to learn about their career paths and whether or not their tutoring experience influenced their career choices and/or enhanced their resumes.

Though we have a small pool of alumni from which to draw (63 peer tutors and writing fellows over the past 10 years), we are encouraged by the number of responses we have received thus far. We were helped in our efforts to locate our former peer tutors by the Alumni Office, who also helped us develop our survey and accompanying letter. We plan to continue our efforts to reach our alums, from whom we have received overwhelmingly positive responses about the value of the experience to both their college lives and lives after college.

–Terry Zawacki