Sunday, January 30, 2011

Post Two: "Renting to Own"

Two things about chapter two of "The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring" absolutely struck home to me.

First - The idea of metacognition (thinking about thinking) versus thinking subconsciously, particularly as it applies to the writing process.  This is something I have never considered before, probably because I tend to do most of my thinking internally and subconsciously:  as a reasonably well-trained and skilled writer, I generally sit down, research a topic, and begin writing.  The actual processes of brainstorming, outlining, planning, revising, and so forth are not something that I often consciously consider.  Thus, I think it can sometimes be frustrating for me as a tutor when students have difficulty just sitting down and letting words flow.  After reading about the idea of writing using metacognition, though, things have started to fall into place a bit more.  For students who are less skilled in the writing process, who have practiced less, or who are less comfortable with writing, metacognition is exactly what they need.  Thinking about the steps they need to take to set themselves up for success can only help them become stronger and more confident writers.

I also found helpful this model of writing, which describes writing as a problem-solving activity.  More detail can be found here, but basically the model involves three parts:
1) the task environment, or the motivation for writing
2) long term memory, or information about topical knowledge
3) working memory, comprised of a - planning; b - translating; c - reviewing
After reading through this model in addition to ch. 2 of Longman, the many reasons to help students who come to the writing center become metacognizant of the writing process crystallized.

The second thing that struck me about this chapter was the idea of "renting" versus "owning" your writing.  I completely agree that the ultimate goal of any writer should be to own their writing; however, I think this is where a lot of students who 'hate' writing hit their brick wall.  Since they feel that they are writing to fulfill a teacher's expectations rather than for their own sake, they merely occupy their paper.  They never really own the information, and thus they never engage with the text and never learn to enjoy the writing process.  To further the housing metaphor, these students have a house but never a home.  Students who, in contrast, learn to own their writing - to really engage with what they are saying - have a much better shot at actually enjoying the writing process.  Their purpose goes beyond merely fulfilling an assignment (although they may not realize it), and so writing becomes much less of a bore and a chore.  As a tutor, if we can instill the "own" instead of "rent" mentality in students, I think it will go a long way towards lessening frustrations and helping students at least tolerate, if not enjoy, writing assignments.  While we may not always be able to reach the 'ideal' in practice (after all, check out the definition of ideal - we're talking standard or conception here, not reality), helping students learn to own their writing can at least help us move one notch closer to the ideal we all want to work towards.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Post One: "An Orderly Reason for Personality Differences"

I found the idea that some people judge by reasoning through to an impersonal finding while others judge by subjectively finding personal value to be highly interesting.  Judging things impersonally versus personally has to have a huge effect on the way a person views the world – for some, everything is logically based, whereas for others, everything is intuitively based.  Looking at this from a tutoring perspective, I feel that the two ways of judging affect the way a student perceives a session.  For some, they may judge by reasoning their way to a factual conclusion:  the tutor pointed out x, y, and z, and consequently my paper became stronger in ways a, b, and c.  For others, they may judge the session based on a more subjective, personal conclusion:  the tutor seemed very concerned about my needs and helped me to feel better about x, y, and z.  As a tutor, it’s important to try to empathize with students on both levels, as it may be hard to tell which way they judge; I think that we should try to connect with them on both a rational and intuitive level.  If, as tutors, we are able to connect to students both rationally and personally, they tend to judge in a thinking way, they can logically process the session to come to a reasonable conclusion about its outcomes.  If they tend to judge in a feeling way, they can subjectively decide how the session personally benefitted them. 

Even more so than the two ways of judging, the four personality preferences are really the key factors that make up a person’s attitude and outlook.  Thus, as tutors, it is necessary for us to fully comprehend each of the preferences and their different components so that we can try to understand what makes students tick.  Understanding whether a student is an introvert or extrovert, for example, can aid us in the way we approach a session:  it might be easier to work with an introvert if the discussion is limited to ideas and concepts instead of personal preferences and experiences, while an extrovert might benefit more from a session where the discussion connects elements of the paper to personal anecdotes and preferences.  The introvert may do better with a brainstorming session that teases at an idea from different angles, while the extrovert may do better with a brainstorming session that begins empathetically (I sometimes have trouble brainstorming too; sometimes X works well for me.  Have you used that, or found anything else that has worked for you in the past?)  Since the personality preferences are what makes each student tick, if we as tutors can attempt to find and recognize them, we will be able to better connect to each student and tailor the session to that student’s personality so that we play to their preferences.

However, students might sometimes need to turn to the counterpoint of one of their preferences during the course of a session; doing so can be intimidating, so as tutors we must be supportive and flexible to best help them do so.  This ties in to being able to understand the role of the dominant and auxiliary processes.  Naturally, people prefer to use one process over the other and will, whenever possible, use the dominant process.  However, the dominant process may not always be adequate in every situation, and this is where the auxiliary process must come into play. For example, a student who prefers judging over perception – who likes to come to conclusions rather than allow new evidence – may be great at writing a strong concluding paragraph but have a hard time seeing the opposing point of view in an argumentative paper and difficulty incorporating evidence, even in order to rebut it, that is counter to the viewpoint they have presented.  Conversely, a student who prefers perception over judging – who likes to keep collecting new evidence rather than come to a conclusion – might find it easy to research and gather information about the many different aspects of their topic, but have trouble picking out the most relevant points and synthesizing a conclusion.  Therefore, we as tutors must recognize when a student is struggling because they have to use their auxiliary process.  At these times, we need to be both supportive and useful – supportive in that we must understand they are having trouble using a process that does not come naturally to them, and useful in that we must be able to make suggestions which will help them strengthen the auxiliary process so it is less intimidating to use.

The Writing Center Journal, v14, Spring 1994, published an article entitled “Personality Preferences, Tutoring Styles, and Implications for Tutoring”, which sounds like it could be another interesting discussion of personality preferences particularly relating to what we do.
This article by Bobbie Chan, published in October 2002, also discusses the implications of personality on tutoring: