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What Happens in a Session

The Writing Center

What Happens in a Session

During a session, consultants help students become more proficient writers by focusing on a piece of writing while the student is actively engaged in the process of composing it. We emphasize to students that writing is a process of composing where writers work to clarify their purpose, intention and meaning -- thinking and rethinking what they have to say. Our objective is to help students develop as writers; in other words, beyond merely changing the text, we want students to take responsibility for their learning by developing their own process of writing that they can use throughout their academic career.

Through our publicity efforts, we encourage students to come to the writing center whenever they want to talk about their writing and/or writing assignments with a consultant. When difficulty with a class writing assignment brings a student to us, we play the valuable role of a careful and thoughtful reader -- not judge or critic. We help students to begin to think about planning their essays -- from brain-storming ideas to proofreading and typing. We also focus on other writing concerns such as grammar, mechanics, and usage in the context of a writer communicating meaning to a reader. This type of session actively engages students in the process of reading and revising their writing.

Writing Consultants are not substitutes for teachers, but they can complement what happens in the classroom. When a student begins a writing assignment, a consultant can help the student explore ideas by questioning and encouraging the writer to "get it on paper." When the student has a draft, the consultant functions as an interested reader -- to listen, to ask questions when something is not clear, and to offer interpretations of what the writer is trying to say. As a reader, the consultant's puzzled face lets the writer know that something does not make sense, and that confusion becomes the catalyst for revision. In a similar way, hearing someone stumble over sentences stresses the role of grammar, punctuation, and usage in conveying meaning.

When a student brings a paper to be "patched up," or "fixed here and there," because it is due tomorrow (or that afternoon), the consultant's role as reader is limited. Often, students will ask a consultant to "correct the grammar" since many know that is the first target of an instructor's pen. Tutoring students about their errors is an important part of our work at the CCNY Writing Center. Consultants help students edit their papers, but they do not proofread papers for students. Instead, the consultant sits with a student while he or she performs the proofreading, possibly pointing out errors that the student misses, but trying to help the student recognize the errors and learn how to correct them.

Since time prohibits looking at every error, consultants must determine if a pattern of error exists and then focus on one or two of the most important problems. Consultants try to find the source of some errors, looking to see if the problem occurred because of haste or a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of a rule. Instead of merely correcting an error, a consultant helps the student identify what rules he or she is using and then the tutor either reinforces the rule or explains its restrictions.

Writing Consultants -- mostly undergraduates and a few graduate students -- staff the CCNY Writing Center. The consultants are recruited and recommended by instructors who recognize the student's ability as a writer and as the type of listener and reader that a writing center needs. In addition, those selected to become consultants must attend a training course and complete an advanced grammar course. These are students who are sensitive to the needs of their peers, but also able to make sensible suggestions for helping other students improve their writing skills.