Learning Style(z)

Matt* and Christine gave an abridged version of their learning styles presentation to the rest of the tutoring staff last night, and there was a lot of discussion about learning styles and how they might impact tutoring.

I had some downtime during a shift and skimmed a few journal articles that cited Gregorc and his measure (the same one that Matt and Christine used in their research). Zollinger and Martinson (2010) studied undergrads majoring in design to see if they had a learning style preference.  Their implications for design teachers might apply to tutors, too:

"Knowledge of learning styles is an important for design educators. Because learning style affects the learning success of students in specific kinds of situations, instructors need to be sensitive to learning style differences. Workshops on recognizing student learning styles should be offered to instructors where they can gain knowledge about learning styles by having their own learning style assessed. Because as Dunn and Dunn (1979) suggested, instructors tend to teach the way they learn, special attention should be given as to how their learning style may affect their teaching and the students’ learning." (p. 12)

Tom and Christine asked us what we thought about tutors recognizing their own styles and trying to adapt to writers.  I think that Zollinger and Martinson warn against teachers teaching to their own style, as if they thought the class was made up of their own clones.  Tutors might want to recognize that what works for them might not work well for others.

As for adaptability, tutors might consider switching their delivery or technique if it isn’t landing with the writer.  Maybe that writer needs to diagram and make webs, but that one needs to talk through it, while that other one needs to do some reflective writing - all in order to make the same point.

Here is their breakdown of styles from Zollinger and Martinson:

Concrete sequential:

  • Derive information through direct, hands-on experience -“seeing is believing”
  • Appreciate order & logical sequence
  • Prefer touchable, concrete materials
  • Ordered, step- by-step presentations help
  • Workbooks, computer-assisted instruction, & assembly kits are appropriate

Concrete random:

  • Experimental attitudes
  • Seeing what “makes things tick”
  • Trial-and-error and risk-taking approaches while exploring unstructured problemsolving situations
  • Need guidance but not domination
  • They like games, simulations, independent study projects, brainstorming, and optional reading assignments

Abstract sequential:

  • excellent decoding abilities with written, verbal, & imagery symbols
  • Like to use reading, listening, & visual skills
  • Like sequential and logical presentations such as slides & lectures
  • Appreciate extensive reading assignments, lectures, & analytical “thinking sessions”
  • Excel in organizing & analyzing research and debating ideas

Abstract random:

  • Emotional and imaginative
  • Learn holistically & prefer unstructured learning experiences (e.g., group discussions & webbing)
  • Like a busy environment and prefer freedom from rules and guidelines
  • This type of learner organizes material through reflection

*In the earlier version of this, I mixed Tom and Vishal’s discussion with Matt and Christine’s and kept referring to “Tom and Christine’s discussion”.  I hope, in time, that I can earn forgiveness.

Scene: The Writing Center at the library

Characters: 1) Writer- he’s a nice enough guy, and is of above average intelligence.  He is motivated to earn a high grade on his paper for the social sciences.
2) Tutor - people say that he is “socially awkward”, that he “refuses to break eye contact”, and that he “scares small children”.  But he knows a bit about writing for the social sciences.

Tutor - “Your citations are missing some of the formatting for APA style.  Let’s talk about how to write those up in the text and we’ll pull some online references that you might want to bookmark.”

Writer - “I know that, but my instructor writes them this way, and he marked mine up last time.  I’m going to keep them this way.”

Tutor - “Oh.  OK.  I also noticed that your draft kind of goes from topic to topic.  Let’s talk about transitions and some ways you can link ideas.”

Writer - “I know.  But my instructor cuts them.  He eliminates my transitions, so I’m going to leave them out.”

Tutor - “Well then.  Maybe we can talk about this …”

Writer - “Wrong again.  I know that technique, but my instructor crosses that out.  He says that only weak writers and lazy thinkers do that.”

(Note: repeat last two interactions over and over for the remainder of the 45-minute show)

OK, so that is a bit of an exagerration, but not too far from the scene that played out in a session last week.  It was frustrating for me as a tutor, and I’m sure that it was frustrating for the writer, too.

I know that we all have had to struggle with really nuanced instructors that have their own *unique* way of handling writing, and we might not want to meet with them.  But if it has to be “their way or the highway”, maybe we’ve got to go to them for feedback.  Sometimes you need to get it from the horse’s mouth if you’re looking for feedback that is specific to your instructor/horse/botched analogy.

How have other tutors handled these types of extreme cases?  What have writers found useful in these situations?

Scene: The Writing Center at the library

Characters: 1) Writer- he’s a nice enough guy, and is of above average intelligence.  He is motivated to earn a high grade on his paper for the social sciences.

2) Tutor - people say that he is “socially awkward”, that he “refuses to break eye contact”, and that he “scares small children”.  But he knows a bit about writing for the social sciences.

Tutor - “Your citations are missing some of the formatting for APA style.  Let’s talk about how to write those up in the text and we’ll pull some online references that you might want to bookmark.”

Writer - “I know that, but my instructor writes them this way, and he marked mine up last time.  I’m going to keep them this way.”

Tutor - “Oh.  OK.  I also noticed that your draft kind of goes from topic to topic.  Let’s talk about transitions and some ways you can link ideas.”

Writer - “I know.  But my instructor cuts them.  He eliminates my transitions, so I’m going to leave them out.”

Tutor - “Well then.  Maybe we can talk about this …”

Writer - “Wrong again.  I know that technique, but my instructor crosses that out.  He says that only weak writers and lazy thinkers do that.”

(Note: repeat last two interactions over and over for the remainder of the 45-minute show)

OK, so that is a bit of an exagerration, but not too far from the scene that played out in a session last week.  It was frustrating for me as a tutor, and I’m sure that it was frustrating for the writer, too.

I know that we all have had to struggle with really nuanced instructors that have their own *unique* way of handling writing, and we might not want to meet with them.  But if it has to be “their way or the highway”, maybe we’ve got to go to them for feedback.  Sometimes you need to get it from the horse’s mouth if you’re looking for feedback that is specific to your instructor/horse/botched analogy.

How have other tutors handled these types of extreme cases?  What have writers found useful in these situations?

Starting the Puzzle

I had an appointment tonight with a dude who, simply put, completely botched the assignment for his English class. It was clear he misunderstood what a close reading entails, and as a result, wrote a paper that just did not accomplish what it needed to. Like Jonah Hill in Moneyball, I learned that the best way to break bad news to someone is in a quick, direct way so that you can move on and be as productive as possible.

After we got that bit of awkwardness out of the way, we eventually figured out the assignment and made sure that he knew what to do with his paper. (Side note: grad students need to learn that undergrads don’t get what it means when they say stuff like “how does the author respond to existing narratives of religion” when they really mean “compare and contrast a short story with the Bible.”)

Ultimately, I found that the best way to help him get started on his new version of the paper was just to show him an example of how it’s done. What I mean is that I found a bit of text he could analyze from the story and simply tell him a way to fit it into his argument. You could call what I did, “giving him a textual gift,” but it was more than that. The way that I looked at it was like this: if you have a jigsaw puzzle, you always start out by putting together the edges first, right? Then you move on to the much more difficult part, which is fitting in all the pieces in the middle.

What I did was put together the edges, and showed him a bare-bones version of the big picture. Now that I did that, he hopefully will be able to show his instructor what the completed puzzle looks like.

Resources for Writing Cover Letters

 

Lately, I’ve had a few appointments with students writing cover letters and realized that we don’t currently have a resource on our website for such writing.  I’ve compiled a short list of some resources on writing cover letters that we can direct our tutees to.  I have always found writing cover letters to be particularly daunting and I don’t believe I’m alone in that feeling… so I hope this proves to be helpful. J

 

To start, career services at UConn has some information on writing cover letters.  You can also set up an appointment to discuss your letter.

University of Connecticut http://www.career.uconn.edu/cover_letters.html

 

The University of Purdue has a ton of great writing resources, and I found this website has a lot to offer.

University of Purdue ** http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/681/01/

Some of the sections include:

Cover Letters 1: Quick Tips

Cover Letters 2: Preparing to Write a Cover Letter

Cover Letters 3: Writing Your Cover Letter

Letters Concerning Employment

Academic Cover Letters

It also has resources for action verbs to describe skills, jobs and accomplishments as well as a large skills inventory that can be useful in generating ideas about what skills you want to highlight in your cover letter.  

 

Here are a few others:

 

University of Wisconsin http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/CoverLetters.html

University of California Berkeley (Dos and Don’ts of Cover Letters) https://career.berkeley.edu/tools/resume.stm

University of Kansas http://www.kucareerhawk.com/s/762/2column.aspx?sid=762&gid=1&pgid=310

 

If I come across some more, I’ll add to the list.  Please feel free to add any other valuable resources for writing cover letters.

We don’t really do that here… Or do we?

I recently had a session that reminded me to always keep an open view of our work at the writing center…

The session was with an ESL graduate student anxiously preparing to present a research article in her social networking course. It was her first time visiting the Writing Center and, in retrospect, I realize that I should have asked her how she heard about us or what she knew about us in order to get a better understanding of her views of the Writing Center as a resource (Remind me… why did we remove that question from the intake form???). Initially, I was hesitant to work with the student because she had no written assignment; there was no extensive writing required for her presentation-she simply needed advice on how to present. I’m thinking that assumed that someone at the Writing Center should be able to tell her how to talk about someone else’s writing (research article). Sensing that she had the wrong impression, I wanted to refer her back to her professor as I’m not well versed in the do’s and don’ts of presenting. I picked up on her anxiety and began to talk about typical sessions and how we help writers build confidence in their writing through conversation. It clicked to me that this process goes both ways-writing can build the confidence needed to talk about her research topic. She ended up pulling up an instructional email that her professor sent out; I explained some terms she was confused about and we made a checklist of the presentation criteria.  That checklist turned into a basic presentation outline that we began to develop and apply to her article/topic. She plans to review the article in length and return to the Writing Center within the next week or so. I told her that she should think about running the outline by her professor and that I would be more than happy to be her audience in a mock presentation as she walked me through the developed outline.

I think I speak for all of us when I say writing is not only important when it’s assigned. After my MCB lectures I like to take at most 5 minutes to jot down at least 5 terms, phrases or concepts that were newly introduced in order to get me thinking. When exams are approaching, I sometimes force myself to do chapter or lecture summaries. Writing out our own ideas or putting others’ ideas in our own words helps to conceptualize and it’s a useful technique that we can convey to tutees.

How often do you guys have sessions with non-assigned or non-personal statement writing? Do you think we should encourage these type of sessions? I helped a student outline her presentation-in what other situations do you think we can encourage students to use writing as a technique?

Tutors are Writers Too

Our tutors have been making quite a literary splash lately, winning contests such as the Schreiber Collins Prize for Poetry and receiving grants, short fiction awards, and acceptances to academic conferences. Congratulations to all our writers and scholars!

Here’s another great way to get involved, get recognized, and share your ideas in an academic forum: our own Freshman English (FE) program is hosting its Seventh Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing on Friday, April 6, 2012. The theme this year is “Representing Teaching and Writing Subjects” and Joseph Harris, Associate Professor of English at Duke University and author of Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts and other books, will deliver the keynote address. FE welcomes submissions from instructors, tutors, and students that address issues pertinent to writing instruction from all disciplines and programs. The deadline is Monday, February 20. You can also find regularly updated information about this year’s conference at http://freshmanenglish.uconn.edu/instructors/conference/.

Can the real tutor note please stand up?

Tutors traditionally feel that writing a tutor note is a necessary evil. An unfortunate, bureaucracy mandated byproduct of every tutoring session. But as policy has changed, so must our attitudes about tutor notes. In the past, maybe 10% of our students asked to receive a copy of their tutor note. This statistical fact gave tutor notes little practical purpose other than as session receipts. With the new semester came a new policy on tutor notes and now it has become statistical fact that every student who walks through our doors will receive a copy of their tutor note. This change drastically alters the role of the tutor note from something like a receipt to something like a follow up session. If we as tutors have to write tutor notes and if students will inevitably get the messages, which as curious human beings, they will more than likely read (people LOVE to know what other people say about them, whether in tutor notes or Facebook walls), we should make good use of them. A tutor note as a record of the past, as a session summary does little good for tutor nor student. Tutor notes do not have to be retroactive and in fact, can be helpful tools for extending sessions. If you just worked on a personal statement for law school, include a link to our website’s page on personal statements or a link to the UConn Pre-Law workshop on applying to law school. If you just spent an hour working in verb-subject agreement or properly using articles, send your student links to the OWL pages on these subjects at the bottom of your standard note. If you helped a student with citations, send them a link to your favorite, credible, citation guide. The fact that these notes are sent as emails opens many doors for us. In seconds you can paste in a link that may make a major difference in a student’s writing. Taking the time to do so will not only give your notes purpose, but will advance our mission to not only improve writing, but to build stronger writers. I’ve pasted two examples below that I’ve used in the past:

Thomas came into the Writing Center today to work on a two and a half page essay for her freshman English class. He primarily wanted to work grammatical and sentence level concerns, but we also addressed larger organizational topics. We worked though his paper paragraph by paragraph: he would read aloud the entire paragraph and then we would run through sentence by sentence. We broke from this pattern in the middle of the session to work on transitioning between one thought to the next through the use of clauses or, at times, additional sentences. At the end of the session, we reviewed his most commonly repeated errors and used the margins of her paper to work through examples  of noun verb agreement. We also talked a little bit (using examples in his work) about using prepositional phrases, using articles, and about making sure every sentence has a subject. I’d urge Thomas to use the notes on his paper in the future as a reference and to check out the following list of online resources that can help his work through some of the things we discussed. 

Subject (Noun) Verb Agreement http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/

Prepositions http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/594/01/

Articles http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/540/1/

Thomas came into the Writing Center this afternoon to work on a personal statement for graduate school. Thomas said he had just begun the process of writing and revising his statement and sought our assistance in giving his statement a first review. He started the session by reading aloud. We then jumped into making sure he properly addressed the prompt. We planned out topics he could discuss that specifically responded to the prompt’s second question; why did he want to attend Colorado State specifically. We organized this answer into two parts as Thomas wanted to make sure he mentioned the both the school’s academic and personal appeal. I suggested that Thomas include more in his paper about his experiences as an orientation leader as it seemed like an experience that shaped his path to applying to graduate school. Finally, I worked with Thomas to clean up some smaller grammatical issues. We specifically tried to make some of his longer sentences shorter by cutting out some unnecessary wordiness. I encouraged Thomas to return to the Writing Center in the future as he continues to draft his personal statement and wished him the best of luck in getting accepted to grad school.

 

  • Thomas, I forgot to refer you to these in our session, but they’re some personal statement workshops that we, along with some other on campus groups, help to put on. Hopefully they’ll be useful for you. One is a link, the other I copied in for you.

 

http://writingcenter.uconn.edu/studentworkshops.php

 

Student Affairs Graduate School Applications Resume and Personal Statement Help

The UConn Student Affairs Association (UCSAA) with support from the Department of Career Services on campus is holding a workshop to help undergraduates with resumes and personal statement in preparation for graduate school applications

Please join us Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 from 7-9 PM in SU324 for some student affairs help and advice.

Bring any questions, concerns, resumes, personal statements, or other items you’d like to discuss and we’ll hopefully provide some guidance for you!

The “Ideal Applicant”

"An RA should have strong interpersonal skills."

"A graduate student should be passionate about their field of research."

"An employee should always be a hard worker."

In the Spring semester, the UConn Writing Center sees many students who want to work on Personal Statements, Letters of Intent, and other application-based documents. We (Ashantee, Elizabeth, and Ricky) have found ourselves dealing with papers that discuss “ideal applicants” rather than the person writing the paper.

In a phrase, a person needs to show, and not tell. Oftentimes, the writer is producing quality work, but they need to be reminded that it’s a statement of his or her purpose, or intent. Without the distinction in mind, one can easily write a generic response like those seen above. It isn’t sufficient to lecture the audience about what candidates should or should not be doing - instead, they can become a more active writer, showing how their experiences and skills will contribute to the program.

Ricky’s strategy is to have the writer put their goal at the top of the paper, with optional (but strongly recommended) sparkles for inspiration. Then, he suggests that they list the skills that they see as relevant to the program. Is the writer energetic, or hard working, or responsible? Are they all of the above? Once the list is created, they can group them together, and then show how they have demonstrated those qualities in their day to day life.

Elizabeth recently worked with several undergraduate writers who were working on applications to academic programs at UConn. When dealing with writers who don’t explicitly connect experience to intent, Elizabeth asks, “How have these experiences helped you develop academically, socially, or in other areas of life? How can the skills and knowledge gained through these experiences be an asset to you if you are accepted into the program?” Sometimes writers get bogged down in listing events, teams, research, and travel but leave out the crucial connection between those experiences and their future academic or career goals. Elizabeth believes that this oversight may be just that - an oversight. Writers are so close to their own stories that the connection often seems so obvious to them, whereas the reader is left wondering why the writer chose to talk about that particular topic.

Those Personal Statement Links

Since I made much of connecting personal statement writers to other resources on campus, I thought I should make it easy to find them.

We talked about ideas for conference presentations at our last staff meeting for the Writing Center, and I was wondering if anyone had an interest in the way we use space in our locations.  Do our visitors perceive more tutor immediacy when they sit in different configurations?  Do they rate sessions as more helpful?  Are visitors rating sessions in the W Center in the library differently from sessions in CLAS?  I’d be interested in looking into that research (as a Communication student, E. T. Hall’s writing on proxemics and Judee Burgoon’s work on expectations violations theory spring to mind).  I’d be up for setting up the framework for a study and analyzing quantitative data if others are interested in some lit. review and write-up of the results.  I’d like to be a guide and have this be more undergrad-driven if people are interested.  Let me know!  You can catch me here - JaletteCom at gmail dot com

We talked about ideas for conference presentations at our last staff meeting for the Writing Center, and I was wondering if anyone had an interest in the way we use space in our locations.  Do our visitors perceive more tutor immediacy when they sit in different configurations?  Do they rate sessions as more helpful?  Are visitors rating sessions in the W Center in the library differently from sessions in CLAS?  I’d be interested in looking into that research (as a Communication student, E. T. Hall’s writing on proxemics and Judee Burgoon’s work on expectations violations theory spring to mind).  I’d be up for setting up the framework for a study and analyzing quantitative data if others are interested in some lit. review and write-up of the results.  I’d like to be a guide and have this be more undergrad-driven if people are interested.  Let me know!  You can catch me here - JaletteCom at gmail dot com

In the scenes compiled above from Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code, our time-steppin’, world-hoppin’, space-jammin’ Doctor decides to take his intrepid young companion, the sassy young Martha Jones, on a date to the theatre. Of course, he doesn’t go to just any theatre. He goes to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to introduce her to the immortal bard himself. And, of course, magical alien antics ensue, throwing the three of them together against the darker forces of the Universe.

 You may be wondering what, if anything, these scenes have to do with Writing Center tutorial practices.  Well, you may have noticed that in many scenes, the good Doctor cannot keep himself from quoting famous writers (from Dylan Thomas to J.K. Rowling), many lines that Bill Shakespeare would like to use in his own writing. Of course, the good Doctor denies him the privilege. However, in other scenes, the Doctor will quote Shakespeare to Shakespeare (lines he has not yet composed), and advised him to write these down.

 I find in these scenes an interesting way to approach the sticky topic of textual gifts. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, a “textual gift” is any language that may be produced by the tutor in a tutoring session that the tutee did not produce. Often, if not always, the tutee will want to use this language verbatim and incorporate it into their own writing. However, many of us balk at this request, as it comes too close to the border of plagiarism for most tutors to be comfortable with.

What the scenes above offer us is a strategy for how to approach the issue of textual gifts. While the Doctor refuses to give him free language (in the sense of another writer’s words), he does offer Shakespeare his own language, something I have termed the textual re-gift. Essentially, if you see a student struggling with language or vocabulary, search their own essay for the words, terms, or phrases that can be used to build a stronger thesis, topic sentence, or what have you. Then, with the student involved, attempt to reassemble this language into the sentence(s) that you think they may need.

 In doing so, make sure you are very clear that while you had a strong hand in producing this particular arrangement of language, the actual conceptual building blocks came from the student’s own work.  This way, you ensure that you do not appropriate the student’s work, or worse, accidentally rob them of their voice and their agency.

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