Using the Writing Center
Please help students find their way to the Writing Center by providing information on your syllabus.
Many students think that the best time to talk to a tutor is at the editing stage. Encourage students to talk to a tutor during early stages of drafting. Tutors can help students break down the writing process into discreet steps: understanding the purpose of a writing task, making an outline, organizing material, and integrating research.
Students in upper level courses assume that the Writing Center will not be able to help with specialized topics. Let students know that you value writing that communicates not only with specialists, but with a general academic audience as well. Tutors can take on the role of this kind of audience productively.
The benefit of encouraging all students to make an initial visit is that the students who need the most help will be introduced to a valuable and supportive resource. Although a single visit is not likely to improve a grade, students who like working with a tutor tend to return.
The Writing Center is always interested in building relationships with instructors who want to work with tutors. Contact the director to find out about visiting the Writing Center with your entire class for group work or for making an appointment for an individual tutoring session a requirement for students.
You can visit the Writing Center with your class for tutor-facilitated, small-group discussions when students are drafting their assignments. Tutors ask the students to review the criteria for an assignment and then the group discusses how the criteria applies to individual students' work.
We offer two types of workshops, one for helping students brainstorm initial ideas, and one to focus on developing a thesis. Discussions are most productive when students know in advance that they will be expected to participate. Students should also know that they will not be addressing entire drafts, but selections, such as the thesis or, for brainstorming, a main idea and its support. Typically, instructors visit each group to observe the discussion and offer additional input.
Group work is offered week 6 through week 13 of the semester. Workshops are for 50 minutes. To schedule, send an email to the director with information on the type of workshop you want, a description of the assignment, and some altrentative dates.
Promoting Success for ESL Students
UIC welcomes ESL students as part of its mission to create a global and diverse learning environment. These students range widely in their academic experience and use of English. Some of these students are international, but most are students who are living permanently in the US. UIC supports all these students.
The tips we provide here can help not just ESL, but all students:
1. Provide Opportunities for Practicing Writing.
All students benefit from writing frequently. Writing can be integrated into the curriculum of any course. The Writing Center will gladly help any faculty members who would like to introduce writing into their courses.
A simple way to provide practice time is to create more opportunities for your students to write briefly in class. Students can be asked to summarize a previous day’s lecture or to write a response at the end of class. Every exam can include at least some questions that require a sentence or two of writing. Even writing for which you do not give feedback provides opportunities for students to grow as writers.
Students also gain from having opportunities to speak, especially about the contents of their writing. Students who are anxious about speaking in front of a group can develop confidence by speaking in less intimidating situations; they can visit your office in small groups to discuss course material, or they can work in pairs with other students in class.
2. Clarify Expectations.
A comprehensive way to clarify expectations for writing is to give students a grading rubric.
Rubrics can communicate high expectations without being unfair to language learners. Although many language learners will not be able to write in idiomatically perfect English, they can, nevertheless, be expected to demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with course material and write with relative care and clarity. If a language learner demonstrates achievement in all aspects of a writing assignment except for some minor errors, such as the misuse of the articles “the” and “a,” the student should still be eligible for a high grade.
When you hand out an assignment, you can also clarify expectations by reading over the assignment together and asking students to write down questions or a tentative plan. Many of the terms we use in our assignments are not universal. Unless discussed, asking students to “be creative” or “have a solid argument” can be interpreted variously.
One way to show students how these terms are being adapted to your class is to demonstrate how you read and evaluate sample writing assignments. Show students an excerpt of previous student writing and discuss your response using the terms you have used in your description of the assignment. (Even if the writing sample is anonymous, you will need to get permission from students to use their writing.)
3. Create Opportunities for Early and Focused Feedback.
Students can learn much more if they get feedback in earlier rather than later stages of drafting. Students will also be more productive if a longer assignment is broken up into smaller tasks. For example, students can be asked to hand in a proposal or an annotated bibliography before continuing with an assignment.
It is not realistic to expect language learners to demonstrate an instant mastery of writing. Focusing feedback on selected aspects of writing can help students make steady progress. For most writing assignments, it is not useful to comment on all aspects of the paper. Let students know in advance that your comments will center on selected issues that you expect to be addressed in a revision or subsequent assignment.
If a student needs to spend more time editing or proofreading, a good way to help students is to ask them to rewrite a selected paragraph. This concentrated effort increases the chances that the student will remember and learn from errors.
5. Encourage the Use of Tutoring
Some instructors make an introductory visit to the Writing Center a requirement or a way to get extra credit. The Writing Center is able to provide faculty with a record of students who visited. Asking an entire class to visit the Writing Center is a way to support ESL students without having to single any students out.
The director is available to visit a class to introduce tutoring to the students.
Academic Writing Today
Students today have been writing earlier in their lives, communicating more frequently, and accessing a greater amount and range of information. This new literacy has brought fresh energy to our courses, research, and thinking about higher education.
At the same time, students are bringing less experience with forms of literacy that are traditionally academic. They have had less opportunity to read and write sustained arguments, use the research that we have access to in academic libraries, or communicate with audiences that include a professor or a body of students as diverse as the typical UIC classroom.
To learn to write for the academic community, students will need more clarity about how and why we are asking them to write, more understanding about how we evaluate their work, and, above all, more opportunities to practice.