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Making Time and Space for Writing: Student Writing Mentors and the Writing Centre


Making Time and Space for Writing: Student Writing Mentors and the Writing Centre Katherine Harrington Peter O Neill Savita Bakhshi – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Making Time and Space for Writing: Student Writing Mentors and the Writing Centre

Making Time and Space for Writing Student
Writing Mentors and the Writing Centre
  • Katherine Harrington
  • Peter ONeill
  • Savita Bakhshi

Scope of presentation
  • Selected findings from multi-phase research study
    investigating effectiveness of peer writing
    tutorials in context of UK Higher Education
  • Report on first 18 months of Writing Mentor
    Scheme based on feedback from around 1300
    tutorials focusing in particular on
  • Peer tutors views on degree to which they were
    able to work collaboratively and non-directively
  • Students views on degree to which Scheme
    supported their writing development
  • Reflect on key factors shaping student
    experiences of peer-led writing tutorials

London Met Writing Centre
  • Open in October 2006
  • Student Writing Mentor Scheme (peer tutoring
  • Avoid institutional duplication (existing
    Learning Development Unit)
  • Offer something innovative in context of UK
    writing support, where peer tutoring is very rare
    and where degrees have a disciplinary focus from
    the outset
  • Develop an effective, small-scale, evidence-based
    peer tutoring programme for London Met with
    emphasis on training and development
  • Evaluate a model of student-led writing support
    that might be implemented in other Higher
    Education institutions

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Rationale and ethos of Writing Mentor Scheme
  • Fundamental connection between writing and
  • Reflective thought is public or social
    conversation internalised (Vygotsky, 1986). Cf.
    Bruffee (1984 641)
  • If thought is internalised public and social
    talk, then writing of all kinds is internalised
    social talk made public and social again. If
    thought is internalised conversation, then
    writing is internalised conversation
  • It follows that engaging students in constructive
    conversation is likely to lead to better thinking
    and therefore to better writing

Making meaning through dialogue and collaboration
  • Such conversation complements a social
    constructivist view of learning
  • Move toward dialogue and collaboration reflects
    epistemological shift away from seeing reality
    and knowledge as exterior, immediately accessible
    and unproblematically knowable (Lunsford, 1991)
  • Instead, we have come to view
  • knowledge and reality as mediated by or
    constructed through language in social use, as
    socially constructed, contextualised, as, in
    short the product of collaboration (Lunsford,

Peer collaboration
  • For collaboration to be real, there must be an
    attempt to reduce as far as possible the
    hierarchies inherent in the university (cf.
    Lunsford 1991).
  • As such trained undergraduate peer tutors likely
    to be ideal facilitators of collaborative
    learning in fellow students
  • Collaborative peer tutorials in writing as an
    excellent means of getting students engaged in
    their writing of cutting through doubts and
    getting them to actually do something
  • Tutoring in writing is intervention in the
    composing process. Writers come to the writing
    centre sometime during the writing of something
    looking for help. Often, they dont know what
    kind of help is available, practicable, or
    sensible. They seem to think that tutoring in
    writing means either coming to know something new
    or getting something done to or for them. In
    fact, though, they need help doing something
    (North, 1982 434)

Peer writing collaborators and Academic
  • Doing away with study skills
  • Real understanding of the complexities of
    disciplinary writing can only be achieved within
    the subject and through explanations, modelling
    and feedback by subject tutors (Wingate, 2006
  • Students who are themselves engaged with coming
    to terms with the complexities of their
    disciplinary discourse also have a role to play
    in helping other students
  • Moreover, they are close enough to their peers to
    recognise the confusions that they are going
    through, confusions which may not be so apparent
    to a lecturer who has thoroughly internalised the
    epistemology of her or his discipline
  • Collaborating working together might be even
    more effective for real understanding than
    explanations, modelling and feedback

1. Mentors experiences of Scheme
  • To what degree did mentors feel they were able to
    work collaboratively and non-directively with
    fellow students?
  • Research Phase 1
  • Qualitative study, Oct 06 Dec 07
  • Thematic analysis of open-ended comments
    following 1300 hour-long tutorials
  • Informed by Interpretative Phenomenological
    Analysis (IPA) (Smith Osborn, 2003)
  • Prompt Please reflect on your session. (E.g.
    How do you feel you were able to help the
    student? What could have gone better?)

Findings year 1
  • Theme 1 Interpersonal relationship between
  • and mentor
  • Building a rapport
  • Encouragement/emotional support
  • Setting expectations
  • Non-directive enabling
  • Theme 2 Students relationship to own writing
  • Confidence/anxiety
  • Finding own voice
  • Theme 3 Student and mentor working together
  • Collaborating/writing together
  • Informal talk
  • Theme 4 Mentor self-reflections
  • Challenges
  • Satisfaction

Findings year 2
  • Findings from year 1 informed training programme
    for year 2
  • Same themes emerged from data in year 2
  • However, awareness of the importance of working
    collaboratively (e.g., working as
    enabler/facilitator, rather than
    teacher/assessor) was
  • more pronounced in tutors reflections on and
    evaluations of tutorials
  • evident across all mentors, rather than
    concentrated in comments from a few

Mentors comments
  • I think it went very well because she had a lot
    of ideas and how to write coming to her
    practically without my help. It was just a
    matter of getting her to think about what she is
    good at.
  • She wanted me to do more for her, but I put my
    foot down and explained that we could work on
    things together. A tiring, but productive
  • I got Sally to ask herself questions when reading
    the paper and she started evaluating her own
    work more throughout the session.
  • She felt quite embarrassed at first at asking so
    many questions, but after that, it became more
    informal and she realised that I was there to
    help her and not to assess her.

2. Students views of Scheme
  • To what degree did students feel that the mentors
    provided an environment supportive of their own
    writing development?
  • Motivations for using Scheme
  • Students specific writing concerns
  • Students attitudes to own writing before and
    after tutorials
  • Research Phase 2
  • Qualitative and quantitative study, Oct 06 Dec
  • Feedback following over 1300 tutorials
  • 6 focus groups (n34)
  • Cross-sectional survey via online questionnaire
  • Descriptive statistics and inferential tests
  • Thematic analysis of open-ended responses

Questionnaire participants
  • N 99
  • Gender distribution females (81), males (19)
  • Native languages other than English (71)
  • Studying a variety of different subjects,
    including Psychology (26), IR and Politics
    (14), Art and Design (14)
  • Including undergraduate (75), postgraduate (21)

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Students asked What did you like most about your
  • Thematic analysis of open-ended comments (n66)
  • 1. Mentors approach/process of sessions 25.8
  • laughed about things like bibliographies, and
  • about it together, as she was not sure how it
    worked either
  • Received help or feedback 25.8 (17)
  • 3. Non-judgemental atmosphere/tone of sessions
    18.2 (12)
  • 4. Learnt an aspect of academic writing 10.6
  • building argument and critical analysis, how
    to structure
  • Attitude to self/writing as a result of
    session 7.6 (5)
  • got more confident about my writing
  • 6. One-to-one nature of sessions 6.0 (4)
  • N/A 3.0 (2)

Motivations for using the Scheme
Specific writing concerns
Specific concerns met?
Students attitudes to own writing before and
after tutorials
Students comments
  • On improved confidence in own writing
  • It was fantastic when I found my personal
    abilities for writing during the tutorial.
  • The session has really helped me, my mentor
    helped me understand how to structure an essay
    properly and identify strengths of mine, as Id
    only been able to identify weaknesses. The
    session has given me the confidence to believe
    that I can get a good mark on this module
  • On benefits of peer discussion around writing
  • The session was very helpful. I really enjoyed
    discussing my paper and finding ways to improve
  • The discussion between my mentor and me is
    motivating me to get better in my writing style.
  • With her help, I locate my problem and find the
    solution. I really enjoy this tutorial.

  • Key factors shaping student experience of Scheme
  • Mentor training programme that makes working
    collaboratively the heart of the scheme and which
    encourages continuous reflection on its practical
    application in tutorials
  • Students flexibility and willingness to adopt
    collaborative way of working, even when initial
    expectations of tutorials may differ (e.g.,
    wanting to have something done to or for them)

An emerging model of writing support in UK HE
  • Academic Literacies thinking suggests that,
    ultimately, responsibility for students writing
    development needs to be taken on by subject-based
    lecturers, with support from writing
    specialists/learning development lecturers
  • Embedded, Writing-in-the-Disciplines approaches
    are arguably the only way to reach all students,
    and are therefore likely to offer the most
    effective model of writing development in the UK
  • However, peer tutoring in writing can provide an
    important complement to this work by reducing the
    hierarchies inherent in tutor-student
    relationships and promoting genuine
    collaboration, leading to students
  • increased confidence about their own writing
  • increased motivation to improve as an academic
  • reduced sense of being alone with writing
    struggles (reassurance)
  • better understanding of disciplinary writing
    conventions and expectations (cf. role of Writing
    Fellows in Mullin et al., 2008)

Where do we go from here?
  • Research Phase 3 (in preparation)
  • Relationship between tutorials and quality of
    student writing and achievement
  • Intervention study
  • Observation and recording of tutorials
  • Content analysis of student writing, using
    discipline-specific assessment criteria
  • Correlation with essay and examination grades

  • Bruffee, K.A. (1984). Collaborative Learning and
    the Conversation of Mankind, College English,
    46, 635-52.
  • Lunsford, A. (1991). Collaboration, Control, and
    the Idea of a Writing Center. The Writing Center
    Journal, 12.1, 3-10.
  • Mullin, J., Schorn, S., Turner, T., Hertz, R.,
    Davidson, D., Baca, A. (2008, March 29).
    Challenging our practices, supporting our
    theories Writing mentors as change agents across
    discourse communities Special issue on Writing
    Fellows. Across the Disciplines, 5. Retrieved
    June 17, 2008, from http//
  • North, S.M. (1982). Training Students to Talk
    about Writing. College Composition and
    Communication, 33, 434-441.
  • Smith, J.A. Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative
    phenomenological analysis, in J.A. Smith (Ed.),
    Qualitative Psychology A Practical Guide to
    Methods, London Sage.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and Language,
    revised and edited by A. Kozulin, Cambridge,
    Mass MIT Press.
  • Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with study
    skills. Teaching in Higher Education, 11,

26 Centre for Excellence in
Teaching Learning