International students and their view of writing tutor and writing center

            International students from different countries coming to American school are increasing every year. For this reasons, tutors who work at the writing center will work with many international students. These students, coming from many different cultural backgrounds, will have different perspective of the writing center and writing tutors. Tutors will face many challenges when working with these students, as often the tutors have limited knowledge about their background. After researching, I find that internationals students have a false assumption of the writing center and do not know the process of a tutorial sessions. After finding the problem, tutors should explain the students the process of the tutorial session and create an active and comfortable environment for them.    

            First of all, what are international students’ expectation of the tutor and the writing center? In the article Cultural Conflicts in Writing Center: Expectations and Assumption of ESL Students, Muriel Harris asked many international students at his university about their view between teacher and tutor (222-223). This group varied from low to intermediate writing class, and lived in America for few months to many years.  Despite these differences in cultural background, these international students had similar mind-set about teachers and tutors.  They implied that the teacher is more knowledgeable, is responsible to lecture a large group of students about a specific subject, while tutor is less knowledgeable, and is responsible for helping an individual student about a specific subject. This mind-set also leads to another misconception about teacher and tutor. Teacher will only give concepts and information about the subject, while the tutor will fix the mistakes and problems. International students came to the writing center with the outlook that a tutor will fix the papers for them.  This misconception of the writing center is very common, not only from the international students but also from the national students.  

            So why do international students have this misconception of the writing center? This misconception comes from the ideas that writing center is a place to fix any writing problems. According to Stephen North, “a writing center is to illiteracy what a cross between Lourdes and a hospice would be to serious illness” (435). Stephen explains that this false idea of the writing center is known throughout the university.  Professor and teacher generally do not want to personally help the student’s paper when it is full of mechanical error, or when student is struggle with the writing process. International students, not fully understand the English writing process, either struggle to write or is unable identify their mechanical errors. As a result, they were told to come to the writing center to fix these problems. Because of that, students believe they came to the writing center whenever their paper needs to be fixed.

Another reasons why international students see the writing center ask a fix-up center because the process of finding the answer by themselves, rather than by being told is a new concept.  Muriel Harris, in Cultural Conflicts in Writing Center: Expectations and Assumption of ESL Students, finding their own answer is something they may have not experience before (225). In some of the Asia country, asking a question while the teacher is lecturing can be a sign of disrespectful.  Students are expected to write down and listen whatever the teacher lecture without questioning. Because of this, tutor is the only way for students to ask questions and find their mistakes. It is different than American culture because students have more freedom to ask the teachers and engage in classroom discussion. Internationals students may not necessary understand the America culture, so this is a cultural differences issue.

Also, Harris also said that these students believe that the tutor takes control over the tutorial session and it is his duty to help the students, such as correcting error, answering questions and so on (224). In a tutorial session, these students assume that they came to ask questions and the tutor response to all the questions. If the tutor only answerers questions, the tutorial session becomes a one-way conversation. In a tutorial session, both the tutor and the student must be able to discuss about writing. But when the student sees the tutor as the controller of the conservation, the student may see that the tutor is the only person who has the authority to give answer. A one-way conversation completely defeats the purpose of tutorials session, and these students will continue their education with the false assumption of the writing center.

Despite the fact that it is not possible to replace the misconception of the writing center throughout the faculty members, the tutor can explain to the international student this false belief.  Stephen North explains that “the object of a writing center is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction” (438). In other words, the tutor job is not answering any questions that the student has. His job is to help the student with his writing skills. This concept is important, because the student came to the writing center and only expects to get whatever he need from the paper. For example, the student came to the writing center because he wants the tutor to fix the grammar errors. If the tutor focuses only about fixing the grammar error in the paper, then the tutor only focuses about that particular paper. However, when the tutor and the student talk to the student about these errors, the tutor now focuses on the student’s writing skill.

            If the tutor wants to have a successful tutorial session with an international student, the tutor needs to explain to the students the process of the tutorial session.  One of the most important concepts that the tutor should explain to the international student is the idea of writing and collaboration.  Collaborating writing is the process when both the tutor and the writer are actively talk about writing. Kenneth Bruffee, in Writing and Collaboration, explains writing is “a non- foundational way as a social collaborative, constructive conversational act” (54). Basically, writing is simply another way for us to communicate to each other. International students must be able to understand this concept. Constructive conversation about writing would change the student’s writing process completely. The student will be able to answer his own question by discussing writing with the tutor, rather than asking all the questions. Most of the time the students already have the answers, but they simply are not able to put it in writing. Students often don’t know what to write on their papers, but are able to talk about it. Usually it is not because they have no idea of what to write, because when the tutors ask them to talk about their ideas they are able to have a full conversation about that topic.   

             Explaining to the international students the important of collaborative writing will not be enough.  The tutor must create opportunities for the student to talk about their writing and create a friendly environment for the internationals student to feel comfortable. Bruffee explains that “conversation with people we regard as our peers-our equals, members of our own community- is almost always the most productive kind of conversation” (58). In a tutorial session, the tutor should explain to the student that the tutor does not own any authority. Teacher and student relationship, for international student, is a ranking relationship. Tutor and student relationship have to be equal in other for the student to feel comfortable to engage. As mentioned above, student may not participate in the tutorial session if the students feel that the teacher is controlling the conversation. When the student has feel comfortable to talk, the conversation become more productive. Moreover, Harris mentions that some international students feel pressure in the tutorial sessions and need to feel relax to be able to engage (227-228). Pressure can come from many different reasons, from the fear of speaking English to the fear of talking to a foreigner.  Adding the true purpose of the writing center and the process of discovering answer by themselves, some international students will have some trouble talking to the tutor about the writing. Having and off-topic conversation and allowing the students to know the tutor are ways to help the students relax.  When the student is comfortable enough to talk about their writing, the tutorial session become more interesting and the tutor will be able to help the student improving their writing skill.

            International students are consisted of different cultural background, and they are not familiar with the English writing process. Some students may have trouble identified their grammar errors, while some are not similar with the process.  Although it’s the responsible of the writing center to help student to overcome these problems, faculty member cannot assume that the writing center will fix all the problems in the paper.  The writing center should be views as the place to help the student improve their writing skills, and the writing tutor are available to talk about the paper with the student, not fixing the problems for the student.  The tutorial session become effective when international students understand about the process of the tutorial session, and are comfortably talk about their papers. 


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