A Peer-Tutor Training Montage: Metacognition, Internal Updates, and External Perceptions

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At the 2018 Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) Conference at Virginia Commonwealth University, I had the opportunity to present alongside Erin Chandler (University of Montevallo), James Truman (Auburn University), and Matthew Kemp (Auburn University at Montgomery). Our presentation, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Write: Resistance, Positive Energy, and Progressive Vision(s)," focused on the different ways each of our centers adjusts to and navigates periods of transition.

My part of the presentation discussed how metacognitive approaches have helped me to discover, develop, and express the mission of my center to a variety of audiences, including administrators, faculty, and my own staff members. 

As I have discussed in a previous post about my visit to the new tutor training day at AUM, metacognition is thinking about how we think, or, in the words of Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, metacognition "refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one's understanding and performance." As the Power Point slide above shows, Kimberly D. Tanner, who specializes in biology, broke the metacognitive process down into four steps. I have adapted the four steps to keystone questions I ask my new staff members to respond to over the course of their first three months in the center.  

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For this post, I will show how the four-step process described by Tanner helped my peer tutors better understand the nature of writing-center work.

Peer-tutor responses to preassessment questions such as "What do I already know about The Writing Center?" and "What happens in The Writing Center?" are doubly valuable because they are students here. Their answers to these and other questions let me know how students on campus view the center and the work that happens in it. 

In fact, peer-tutor preassessment answers inspired crucial changes to our promotional materials, social media campaign, and class visits. For example, one peer tutor wrote, "I never knew The Writing Center could help with job materials and scholarship applications." The center's commitment to helping students achieve both their professional and long-term educational goals is now embedded in our class visits, promotional materials, and culture.

As coordinator, I use the muddiest point question to see what new staff members believe happens on a day-to-day basis, the pragmatic realities of working in the center. My favorite question is simple and quite broad: "What is most confusing about what happens in the center?" I recognize that this question is not the most glamorous or well-written, but that is part of the point: I want to stay as general as possible and give new peer tutors the chance to raise concerns about any aspect of writing-center work. 


After completing the training day, shadowing experienced tutors, meeting with me, and attending at least one tutor tune up, new peer tutors are ready for the retrospective postassessment question. In the third slide, one can see the contrast between responses to the muddiest point question and retrospective postassessment. Amanda's responses are especially interesting. In her full response, she discusses how tutoring is a verb, an action, but one she could not quite define. I love that she recognizes sessions are not a type of performance in which tutors showcase their ever-expanding repository of knowledge. Instead, she beautifully articulates the principal function of her job: empowering students with the knowledge they need to be successful.

Camilla and Megan's responses show their growing confidence in their own tutoring styles. Camilla's declaration that "Tutoring is diversity" is profound in its simplicity and accuracy. After all, writing centers work across disciplinary, social, linguistic, technological, and other contexts. Furthermore, a diverse group of tutoring styles is necessary to serve a diverse student body. Megan's response highlights the fact my extraordinary peer tutors embrace the challenges inherent in their positions and recognize how their experience in the center prepares them for their future educational and professional goals. 

While new peer tutors address the first three steps of Tanner's sequence on their own, I ask them to pair up or work in small groups to reflect on what factors had the largest impact on their shift in perception. Working together allows them to discuss and examine what parts of the training, practicum, tune ups, shadowing, and the like were most effective and which parts were, well, less so. This information allows me to diagnose my own practices and make any necessary adjustments. 

In order to make these adjustments, I have developed a way of labeling, organizing, and analyzing the information I gain at the four stages of the metacognitive process. At each stage, I separate peer-tutor responses into three main categories: methodology, expertise (knowledge acquisition), and interpersonal skills. Paying careful attention to how concerns and understanding change over the course of the training process, I change my practices to meet current areas of concern and work to address individual tutor needs. 

The information I gain using metacognitive approaches not only allows me to update internal practices but also improve external perception. I have seen a drastic shift in responses to preassessment questions since my first semester: new peer tutors are beginning their writing-center careers with a much clearer understanding of our mission of empowerment.

Stay tuned as I work to incorporate close vertical transcription into the metacognitive process next seemster!


And, yes, I see myself as the peer-tutors' Yoda . . .