Thursday, October 21, 2010

Everybody learns

When I tell students I learn or relearn things during our sessions, they're always surprised. And that always surprises me!

I think that the standards of MLA, APA, CMS, etc. are very hard to memorize. When I write a paper, I'm constantly looking up specific guidelines to make sure I'm citing/formatting things correctly. I always appreciate the opportunity to talk to other students about these guidelines and how they apply to a paper because it also helps refresh my memory. I'll be honest--I don't really like citing things, because that means I have to do extra work ;). But on the flip side of that, if I ever publish a work that others use as a reference, I would like to be given credit for my work, so I am happy to give others credit for theirs.

I've learned so much this week alone from one student in particular. I always wonder if what I tell students is helpful. Usually a student comes in for a session and that's the first and last time I see him/her. This is either because the student only needed help with one paper, or because they come in during the days or hours that I'm not here. It makes it all the more special when a student actually tries to coordinate his/her schedule just to work with you.

I don't usually get to see what changes students have made to their papers after our sessions. When I work with one student continually, I always get to see those changes--it's so helpful to both of us. I get to see if what I say to the student makes sense, for one. We all learn in different ways--some of us are auditory learners, while others are kinesthetic or visual learners. We all process information differently.

A student came back to work with me this week and showed a pretty major change in his/her writing. I was so proud--I sound like a mother, but I really was so proud. We don't take the easy route in the Writing Center. We don't correct papers with red pen and reword things for students. That only helps the student for that day, for that assignment. We encourage writers that come in to use their own words, so we'll try to lead them somewhere, but trail off so they can finish the thought. This gives the writers a starting point, so that eventually they'll be able to arrive at the middle and the end of the thought...and in time, they'll even create their own starting points. I was never used to this approach when I was going through school...I was used to the red pen, so I've always wondered if what I say helps...and I've received proof that it does.

I started at the very beginning with this student, searching through a short story, figuring out how to identify the important material, how to craft a thesis from what we found, and how to use the examples that we found as information and support within the paper. We made lists, we wrote, we thought, we read....and it was amazing. The student brought his/her paper back in a couple days ago, applying everything we talked about in the previous session--I immediately saw a HUGE difference.

So, to tutors and writers,

There is no shame in starting with the basics (of finding information to use for example). Knowing the basics as best as you can gives you a stronger and stronger foundation.

We all learn from each other, no matter what type of position we're in.

Always make the person that you are working with feel good about themselves. The better they feel, the more they will want to work. When somebody tells me something like "great job on this, keep going!" It makes me want to go home and write and write and write and.....write! Writers, if you think your tutor is doing a good job and you really understand what they're trying to say, let them know! It really makes our day :)...or week...or month!

Something you'll always hear us say in the writing center is that writing is a constant learning process. No matter if you are a student, a teacher or a published's always a learning process. So keep on going, no matter what....we all have good days and bad days, we all start at different places, but we all learn.

-Jillian Smith


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