Writing Mentors FAQ

What is the Writing Mentors program?

The writing mentors are upperclass peer mentors who help students improve their writing in particular courses. Chosen by the professor in the course, the mentors attend most or all of the class sessions and hold group and/or individualized sessions in which they coach students through the writing process.

How are the mentors chosen?

Faculty members, in collaboration with the Writing, Reading, and Speaking Center, choose the mentor they want. The writing mentors program seeks a diverse pool of mentors.

How are the mentors trained?

Mentors are trained through a two-credit semester-long course called Teaching Writing, taught by a Writing, Reading, and Speaking Center staff member. In the course, students read scholarship and advice on the teaching of writing. These articles focus on recognizing variations in the writing process; creating good assignments; offering helpful commentary; working with students whose first language is not English; emphasizing responsible use of sources. Mentors also meet periodically with the hosting professor to discuss course content, expectations and goals for writing and revision and other specifics.

What do faculty members gain from having a mentor in their course?

  • Another mature voice in the classroom, one that can model how to ask questions or how to engage in discussion.
  • A trusted source of feedback to the professor regarding assignments and student reactions to them.
  • A consultant who can give feedback on how the class periods are going.

Does having a writing mentor require the professor to spend a lot more time on that course?

While situations differ, most faculty who have had writing mentors report a time investment toward the beginning of the semester that is more or less compensated for later on: the mentor takes on some of the time commitment of meeting with students about papers, and the professor often sees a better written product at the end of the process.

What does the College require of courses that utilize a writing mentor?

The College requires a course utilizing a writing mentor to be listed and taught as a writing-intensive course.

Are the mentors compensated?

They earn $9.10/hour, and they receive two credits for taking the Teaching Writing course. In addition, the opportunity to work closely with a professor teaching a course may provide the mentor with intensive preprofessional mentoring in the art of teaching.

How often should the professor expect the mentor to attend class?

Many faculty have the mentor attend all the classes. At a minimum, the mentor should attend enough sessions that the students become comfortable and familiar with him or her and that the mentor understands well the instructions and goals for each paper in the context of what the class members are discussing.

How do the mentors work with students?

Mentors may facilitate peer response groups — using a rubric that relates directly to the assignment — and/or engage in one-on-one conferences with students.

How specifically should the mentor communicate with the faculty member about their interactions with the students?

Mentors reflect on their experiences in the courses in a Wiki on the PWeb site for the Teaching Writing course; faculty members can access those Wikis. Generally, mentors have communicated the numbers of students who have consulted with them and the general areas on which the consultation focused. Of course, the mentor and the faculty member may meet to discuss general concerns about the teaching of writing.

Should the professor share particularly good or bad graded papers with the mentor?

Because of the students' rights to privacy of their own work, the professor should not share grades on student work with the mentor. The mentors can see the students’ work if the student gives permission or if the student brings the paper to the mentor. However, since models are extremely good ways of helping students see what is expected, the professor might ask permission of the student to share an ungraded version or piece of the paper with the Mentor or with the whole class.

How can professors add the writing mentor to the PWeb course site?

The instructors can add anyone to the site, except that they cannot list the role of that person as “student.” If they list the mentor as an instructor, teaching assistant/course support, academic support assistant, or grader, then the mentor will have access to student work loaded into PWeb and to grades kept in the PWeb site (which may violate students’ privacy rights). If the professors list the mentor as a course content manager, he or she can access only content; this role offers no access to discussion boards, blogs, or wikis.

How do mentors deal with assuring responsible use of sources?

If mentors have concerns about students’ use or misuse of sources, mentors are instructed to communicate directly with the student, not with the professor. Of course, they may wish to discuss the matter generally with the professor, but they are not expected to identify specific students. By communicating their concerns and by teaching the rules of citation and the art of paraphrasing, mentors treat this situation in a way that is fitting to their dual role as teachers and peers. It remains the responsibility of the professors to deal with misuse of sources in the finished product.

How are we assessing the program?

Faculty members administer to their students an addition to the end-of-course evaluations to gauge their reactions. Faculty members also conducted formal and informal assessments midway through the semester so as to offer guidance to the mentor during the semester. In addition, the Writing, Reading, and Speaking Center director surveys faculty participants and mentors, using their responses to improve the program.

Who is responsible for acquiring the books for the course the mentor will be sitting in on?

This responsibility has been shared: in some cases faculty members have written for desk copies; in some they have shared copies with the mentors; sometimes the students already own their own copies; sometimes the Writing Mentors program buys them for the students. Please consult with the Writing, Reading, and Speaking Center director if you need to have books purchased.

Where did the idea for the program come from?

The idea for the Writing Mentors program came from two workshops during the summer of 2010: the peer mentoring workshop led by Minna Mahlab and the portfolio workshop to assess student writing. Faculty members involved in the portfolio workshop produced important recommendations to improve the way Grinnell teaches writing: strengthening the tutorial (in part by improving training and support and focusing on teaching real revision); making intensive writing courses available across the curriculum; challenging departments and concentrations to articulate the communication skills they are teaching and to specify in which courses those skills are taught ; augmenting the culminating experiences (MAPs, presentations, concerts) with more serious attention to how students communicate.

Does this program have larger goals?

The program is part of a College-wide move toward peer-to-peer tutoring, a model that, in the Science Mentor project, Research Mentors in the Library, and the individual tutoring program, has shown success both for mentors and mentees. In addition, since one of the College’s major goals is to teach students to write, we hope to create a College-wide conversation around writing; instead of having that discussion occur only between one professor and one student, we want to celebrate writing as the profoundly social act it is.

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