Earlier this year, SFU writing center tutor Cierra Eby and director Dr. Brennan Thomas presented a 60-minute panel at the Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association Conference hosted by Towson University. Titled “Strategies to Convey Meaning, Clarity and Communication: Collaborating Effectively and Respectfully with International Student Writers,” the tutors’ panel examined tutoring and tutor-training strategies that enhance international students’ self-efficacy as writers.
Dr. Thomas began the panel by defining writing centers as spaces of collaboration where tutors and writers work to clarify and communicate information. However, in helping international students to convey their ideas or intentions to academic audiences, tutors may experience uncomfortable tensions between guiding writers in finding their voices and lending their own. Of particular concern is the possibility that some tutors will do too much for multilingual writers and risk subverting the writer’s authority and/or textual ownership. Well-intentioned tutors may inadvertently displace multilingual writers’ visions of their texts with what tutors perceive as standard academic prose. To avoid such displacement, tutors should employ a student-centered approach utilizing a blend of directive and non-directive techniques. "We recognize that being directive is sometimes more appropriate than being non-directive," said Dr. Thomas. "We give ourselves that flexibility to be both."
Ms. Eby and Dr. Thomas presented several strategies to promote tutor-learner collaboration without risk of textual appropriation or writer displacement. Ms. Eby described how her experiences as a language learner (she is studying Korean in preparation for an internship) have informed her tutoring approach when assisting international students. “I understand that there is no literal translation between English and Korean,” she told audience members. Thus, when working with students whose first language is Korean, Japanese, or Chinese, Ms. Eby encourages such students to articulate their ideas verbally, if doing so is easier for them, before writing down their ideas. Dr. Thomas also explained how tutors reinforce knowledge transfer during sessions with international students by having them compare their current writing assignments to previous ones or imagine how their present work will prepare them for future assignments. “We want students to see how their prior knowledge can be applied in different writing situations,” she added.
Dr. Thomas and Ms. Eby then demonstrated training methods emphasizing the importance of utilizing student-centered techniques with multilingual writers. One such method, designed to enhance multilingual writers’ academic vocabularies, is derived from Sharon Myers’ studies of international graduate students’ language acquisition. In her article "Reassessing the 'Proofreading Trap': ESL Tutoring and Writing Instruction," Myers observes that "any international graduate students, in particular, usually have a good idea of what they want to say, but are often at a loss as to how to say it." She therefore urges tutors to help multilingual writers find alternative ways to express their ideas. The SFU tutoring staff adapted Myers’ recommendations into a highly interactive and engaging training exercise to teach tutors how to assist international students with the subtle nuances and dense vocabulary of academic prose without usurping their writing styles.
The group’s panel was well received; one audience member even requested a copy of their PowerPoint to learn more about their vocabulary training exercise. Dr. Thomas will upload the presentation materials to the center's website later this summer. She and Ms. Eby would also like to thank fellow SFU tutors Rebecca Norris and Jack Weidner for their contributions to the group's panel, as well as Dr. Renee Bernard and the Center for Academic Success for their support.