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Peer-to-peer Tutoring Progresses

By Lily Jamaludin

Introduced to four select classes last semester, the Writing Fellows program at Grinnell College has been slowly expanding. The program aims to facilitate peer-to-peer mentoring regarding the writing process. Upper class students selected by a professor engage in an active process to coach students to improve their writing.

The program originated from a series of portfolio assessment workshops held by the writing lab for faculty members. The faculty members involved in the portfolio workshop produced recommendations to improve the way Grinnell teaches writing. Amongst the recommendations, the need to make intensive writing courses available across the entire curriculum was evident.

“For a lot of people, particularly in majors that aren’t writing-intensive, tutorial [is] the last time you talk about … writing techniques. So they’re not thinking very consciously about their style and things like that,” said Erica Hauswald, a Writing Fellow for English Professor Tim Arner’s “The Craft of Argument” course this semester.

The decision to introduce peer-to-peer writing assistance in 200-level courses like “The Craft of Argument” was not arbitrary.

“We decided … the sort of 200- and 300-levels of writing, … not the tutorials, not the MAPs, but the middle, needed more robustness,” said Judith Hunter, Director of the Writing Lab.

The Writing Fellows program is administered by Hunter. Kathleen Skerrett, Associate Dean of the College, and Elena Bernal, Vice-President for Diversity and Achievement, have also been very supportive in creating the program.

Last semester, the program had four Fellows. This semester, even though the program had not been budgeted for, it was able to place six Fellows into classes: Evelyn Anderson ’12 , Rane Baldwin ’11, Miriam Barcus ’12, Mona Ghadiri ’11, Erica Hauswald ’12 and Claire Reeder ’11.

The Writing Fellows work closely with the writing components of the class, engaging actively and personally with the professor and students. The Fellows are required to attend classes and run workshops or individual writing conferences outside of classes.

“We work one-on-one with the professors, we get to give input on the curriculum and work with the students,” said Barcus, a Fellow for Professor Karla Erickson’s “Human Sexuality” course.

The Fellows serve as an additional resource for the students. Especially convenient is the fact that the Fellows are required to hold office hours, similar to the way that Language Assistants do.

“I know for me, I always have this desire to verify that what I’m doing is right before I go too far with it, and sometimes that’s hard the night before a class. You can’t go to a professor at 10 o’clock at night. … I’ll be holding office hours probably 9 to 10 at night, so someone could come to me in the library and just bounce ideas off of me,” Hauswald said.

For the Writing Fellows themselves, the program is also a valuable experience.

“It’s awesome because if we go into academic professions, it would be great to have this under our belt,” Hauswald said. “I was so lucky; I mean this literally fell into my hands. It’s awesome being able to work with students in the college level too.”

“It’s pretty much the closest that Grinnell has to a TA [Teaching Assistant],” Barcus said. “In a way it’s really active and engaged, and in with the whole Grinnell style, it’s not just, like, do copies for me, or grade papers.”

For Grinnell, the program is part of a college-wide move toward peer-to-peer tutoring—amongst other ongoing programs, such as the Science Mentor project and the individual tutoring program.

“Peer-to-peer instruction, I think, is something that Grinnell has a chance to really excel at and be a leader in this particular field. I’d like to see it continue to grow and develop. …With the kind of enthusiasm and energy that we’ve had so far I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to do some innovative things that we could maybe introduce to other places and be a part of a conversation with other colleges about how peer-to-peer instruction works,” Arner said.

“I think we did look at the sciences as a kind of model to say ‘look, this kind of peer tutoring has been going and has been very successful.’ And so it seemed like, why not have it work in the humanities and social sciences as well?” Arner said.

Although the future of the program remains undetermined, results have been positive.

“It’s unfortunately not a very good economic climate to be adding programs now. … It’s still in the budget review process, [but I] envision any faculty member who really wanted to focus on writing and have that be a major goal of their class [will be] able to get a Fellow into their class,” Hunter said.

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