AUM Training: Piloting Ideas, Metacognition, and Multilingual Learners

On Friday, August 18th, I had the pleasure of attending AUM’s new tutor training. Learning Center Coordinators Matthew Kemp and Ann Gulley ran an energetic training that equipped their team of over forty with the tutoring and soft skills necessary to guide student learners across disciplinary boundaries. While this blog post certainly cannot capture the enthusiasm I felt as an observer and participant, I hope it gives a small window into what was a wonderful day.

 

“Every Year is a Pilot Year”

At the start of training, Matt proclaimed, “Every year is a pilot year.” The phrase, which Matt made clear was coined by his former mentor and thesis director Dr. Elizabeth Woodworth, permeates all of the LC’s practices. From developing new approaches to tutoring and brainstorming new ways to connect with students and faculty, the AUM team constantly looks for opportunities to improve and grow.

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In fact, Matt piloted a new idea during the training. With every staff member wearing grey AUM Learning Center shirts and carrying a flyer detailing the center and its services, the LC team marched to Goodwyn Hall to participate in new student convocation. In pairs, staff members circulated among students and introduced many new Warhawks to the services of the LC. Matt’s team then lined up in front of the gymnasium to applaud and cheer for new freshmen as they walked into the gymnasium for the official start of the college-wide event.

I was both impressed and inspired by Matt’s willingness to try something new in order to connect with students early on in their academic careers. At WCC, we are also working to make The Writing Center part of the college culture. We participate in new student orientation and visit a variety of classes, including English, physical therapy, nursing, speech, and ethics. During the summer semester, we also partnered with our career services coordinator and presented at WCC’s College Prep 101 camp for local high school students as well as the college’s Jump Start Program for students who tested into developmental math, reading, and/or writing. After the training, Matt and I brainstormed new ways  to connect with respective campuses.

 

Metacognition

When the tutors returned from the convocation, Matt asked for feedback and ideas for attending other campus events. This spirit of reflection was present throughout the day. For example, when the training shifted gears to the day-to-day aspects of tutoring, Matt asked everyone to complete a metacognition exercise. Simply put, metacognition is thinking about how we think. In the exercise, which can be found below, staff members were asked to think about their tutoring skills and process.

 
 

The exercise allowed current tutors to share their experiences and offer advice to new tutors. Many seasoned tutors discussed their ability to diagnose a student’s need quickly and effectively. At WCC, we do a similar exercise: seasoned tutors discuss their processes and share information they wish they knew when they first started. This information varies from tutoring tips to specific grammatical concepts and beyond. Both approaches to training help new staff members realize that you cannot reflect on your tutoring process until you have had a few sessions.

 

Tutoring Multilingual Learners

During a special breakout session towards the close of training, Matt introduced a special guest speaker: Dr. Lilian Mina. Dr. Mina, an Assistant Professor of English and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) expert, offered pragmatic tips for students tutoring multilingual students. While I have worked with multilingual learners as a peer tutor at UC Irvine, a private tutor in New York City, and here at WCC, I appreciated the opportunity to hear from and engage an expert.

At the start of her talk, Dr. Mina discussed the importance of understanding how different multilingual students learn.

 
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First-generation students and generation 1.5 students, a phrase referring to students who arrived in the U.S. as children or adolescents, are “ear learners.” These students are comfortable speaking English but may struggle with more formal academic writing. In contrast, international students,  are “eye learners.” These students are familiar with the formal rules of written English but may struggle with listening and speaking. The distinction between “ear learners” and “eye learners” is especially important with writing center discourse focusing more and more on mutlimodal instruction.

According to Dr. Mina, one of the most important things a tutor can do is explain the rhetoric employed in certain disciplines. Helping multilingual learners better understand the purpose and audience of their writing can help make any assignment easier. Writing tutors can also assist multilingual learners by showing the connection between assignment expectations and the genre features of writing in particular disciplines. The genre approach to tutoring, which I covered during a tutor training exercise last month, is especially useful for multilingual students.

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I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing AUM’s new tutor training firsthand, and I look forward to sharing my experiences at the upcoming Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) Symposium at the University of Montevallo on Friday, September 15th.