This post is by Melissa Bugdal and Ricky Holtz, contributors to the Praxis Special Issue on Course-Embedded Writing Tutors. Melissa Bugdal, a Ph.D. student studying rhetoric and composition and a Graduate Assistant Director at the University Writing Center at UConn. Ricky Holtz graduated from UConn in May 2014 with a BA in Social Interaction and New Media, and is a graduate student in information management and systems at UC Berkeley.
In our article, “When Writing Fellows Become Reading Fellows: Creative Strategies for Critical Reading and Writing in a Course-Based Tutoring Program,” we discuss methods for engaging First Year Writing students in critical reading and writing practices through a series of small group session plans we called pivot points. Reflecting upon this work pushed us to develop new ways to engage students, led to two regional conference presentations, and ultimately, the writing of this piece.
As we were writing, we found ourselves thinking about ways to sustain the collaborative and reflective aspects of our fellows' work. For Melissa, this meant continuing to use the momentum from the five fellows (all graduating seniors) from the fall 2013 semester into the summer and fall 2014 semesters. For Ricky, this meant applying fellows' practices during his own transition to a graduate program in information management and systems.
Melissa’s Reflection: As Ricky and the other fall 2013 fellows graduated, I revised the in-house fellows' handbook, which is used for training and reference, highlighting the pivot point approaches discussed in our article. The collaborative and reflective processes that the fellows and I engaged in throughout the year reaffirmed that, although we had found some new and creative approaches to fellows work in our program, we couldn’t take these pivot points as inflexible lesson plans. One factor that made these approaches particularly noteworthy was their adaptability to various topics of discussion, texts, and media.
This year, the fellows have found several of these pivot point approaches to be salient to their own tutoring styles. Additionally, we’ve considered critical reading and writing practices earlier in the semester, which has given the current group of fellows room to develop some additional pivot point sessions. The current fellows and I continue to reflect upon successful practices and remind ourselves that while each session plan is one that has proven to be helpful for any number of reasons, what makes it most valuable is the ability for each fellow to make it their own.
Ricky’s Reflection: My work at the Writing Center hasn’t left me - in fact, as seen in The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, my work as a tutor and fellow has transformed the way that I interact with my graduate school experience. As a result of my experience ‘behind-the-scenes’, I can empathize with my instructors; I understand that teaching isn’t easy business. I also find myself aware of the methods being used for instruction. Assignments, lectures, exams, and projects are no longer just tasks to accomplish. Instead, my work as a fellow has encouraged me to engage with my education, thinking about the goals, presentation, and assumptions nestled within the materials put before me.
While I think this critical approach is important in my role as a graduate student, it has also molded my understanding of what classrooms mean. I’m eager to take this organically developed philosophy and apply it in a transdisciplinary fashion. Concepts from natural language processing, culture and technology, and web architecture lend themselves directly to our pivots—thought experiments, full-body learning, and multimedia help explain these concepts in nontraditional and potentially effective ways. While these ideas are experimental, they go back to the idea of showing and not simply telling in the classroom - and more broadly, I’d argue that they show the influence a fellows program has on all parties involved.
Reflecting upon reading and writing pivot points as developed in our fellows program has shown us ways in which fellows' work can inform, and even transform, our roles as graduate students. We are still reflecting and learning from our experiences, and perhaps more importantly, we’re finding ways to apply these lessons to new situations.
[Accompanying image from the UConn Writing Center website]