Students Teaching Students

BY Zoe Forest | May 8, 2018 | Writers on Writing

The Art of Writing at the Townsend Center is a program dedicated to helping undergraduates of various majors and at different stages of their academic career develop their written communication skills. Each semester the program offers courses for students who have completed their Reading and Composition (R&C) requirements, hosts events and competitions, and, beginning this year, provides an innovative tutoring program for students taking R&C classes in a variety of disciplines.

The Art of Writing tutoring program is unlike other tutoring services offered on campus. Its unique structure and focus on department-specific writing helps graduate, upper-division, and R&C students gain the experience and skills necessary to excel in writing and in the teaching of writing.

The program was born in the Department of Comparative Literature, when former graduate student Laura Wagner and several of her colleagues decided to create a writing tutoring program using undergraduate Comp Lit majors as tutors. Wagner knew that these students would be intimately familiar with what writing for Comp Lit courses looks like, and that, as tutors, they could help their classmates succeed in their specific field.

As word about the program spread, Ramona Naddaff, a faculty member in the Rhetoric department and director of Art of Writing, approached Wagner about creating a similar program for students taking R&C courses in humanities departments beyond Comp Lit. In these courses, students often struggle to think and write in the style of the discipline. Writing a paper for a music or film course, for example, is quite different from writing for an English course—especially a high school English course, which for many R&C students is the style of writing with which they are most familiar.

After a year of planning, Wagner and Naddaff designed a program that engages graduate students and undergraduates in the art of teaching and improving writing. The program works by recruiting graduate student instructors of R&C courses to train upper-division students who have proven written skills and who are majoring in one of the departments in which R&C courses are taught. Once the upper-division students have been trained, they become tutors for students taking R&C courses.

Participants in the Art of Writing tutoring program report high levels of satisfaction. Graduate students consider it an excellent opportunity to improve their teaching skills, as many will go on to become professors.  They also find it refreshing to work with upper-division humanities majors, since grad student instructors more commonly teach courses intended for non-majors who may not have a strong interest in the field.

Many of the undergraduate tutors also have an interest in teaching and appreciate the chance to receive training in how to teach their peers. For the students being tutored, the opportunity to receive discipline-specific help at all stages of the writing process is extremely useful for succeeding in their R&C course. Finally, teachers of R&C appreciate the help their students receive outside of class.