Supporting Student Success with Embedded Tutors

This semester, I have been honored to serve as the First-Year Composition Embedded Multiliteracy Tutor Faculty Development Lead, working with the Writing and Multiliteracy Center to support composition faculty using embedded tutors (called EMTs) in their first-year courses.  It’s certainly the longest title I’ve ever been able to put in my email signature, and it has meant that I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of what the WMC offers to students while supporting faculty in their use of EMTs..  In this post, I hope to share insights gained through conversations with faculty and WMC leadership, as well as my own experiences, including EMTs in my Fall 2022 courses. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Embedded Multiliteracy Tutors, they are trained Writing and Multiliteracy Center tutors requested by faculty and “embedded” in a specific section.  The EMT’s purpose in the course is to be a resource to students as they develop as writers. The tutor can come to class meetings, participate in canvas activities, run review sessions, and do a variety of other things agreed on by faculty and the WMC at the start of a semester.  While my position has had me working with composition faculty, the WMC supports a culture of writing across the curriculum, and EMTs are available to any faculty member who wants their students to have some extra writing support.

The EMT program prides itself on being customizable and responsive to faculty needs, which means it takes a bit of pre-semester planning to get the EMT’s plan for the semester mapped out in a way that works for faculty, the WMC, and the tutor, but it is time well spent. Once the plan is made, there are several things faculty can do to help the EMT be effective for student writers in the course.

1. Communicate with the tutor and WMC leadership. 

Keeping lines of communication between faculty, the EMT, and WMC leadership open is vital to an EMT’s success.  This might look like… 

  • Faculty reaching out to the WMC Leadership to request a workshop based on a newly identified need or ask for a modification to the tutor plan. (Tutor plans are flexible, but that means there’s a lot of scheduling work going on behind the scenes!) 
  • WMC leadership clarifies the unique role the EMT plays in the class for faculty.
  • Faculty sharing a common challenge students are experiencing on a writing assignment with the EMT. 
  • Faculty meeting with the EMT to explain goals for a review session and share an exemplary assignment. 
  • The EMT shares a question that has come up for multiple students with faculty.

These are only examples of the ways that communication between faculty and the WMC can help the EMT program reach its full potential. Every time I use EMTs in my own courses, I am reminded of how important it is to keep an open mind and reach out to my tutors and WMC Leadership as the new challenges of the semester reveal themselves. 

2. Make the EMT a part of the community. 

EMTs can come to many class meetings or no class meetings, depending on faculty needs, but I have found that EMTs in my courses can be more effective when I do some work to fold them into the class community. 

I start off my semester by making sure that students know their EMT’s name, and during weeks the tutor isn’t in class, I consistently remind students that the EMT exists and when they’re available for tutoring at the WMC. When tutors are in the classroom with me, I like to include them in class discussions, as well as give them time to work with students in small groups and individually. 

At this late point in the semester, students in my classes know that the EMT is going to be a built-in part of the peer review process they go through for each major assignment. My tutors comment on a selection of student drafts and visit class on the days peer review groups meet.  I have recently noticed this strategy pay off as students who were reluctant to visit the WMC at first reach out to the tutor they’re familiar with from their section to book appointments. 

The work of making an EMT part of the class community has also paid off for me when assisting struggling students one on one. When the rubber hits the road, the EMT is a trusted name and resource. More than once this semester, I’ve been meeting with a student to help them get back on track during student hours, and it’s so nice to be able to offer, “Remember Natalie, who comes to class on peer review days? Would you like to make an appointment with her right now?” 

However, you use your EMTs, finding ways to include them in various aspects of the students’ experience of the course can help the EMT to build rapport with their sections that will pay off when it’s most needed. 

3. Use Canvas to Drive Student Engagement With EMTs 

This semester, I’ve come to value the ways in which Canvas can be used to “nudge” students to take advantage of their EMT or the WMC just when that nudge would be most effective.  

I’ve started linking to the EMTs page in Canvas when giving feedback on student drafts. (Yes, each EMT has a page in my Canvas! The WMC makes a customized module for each section with an EMT, complete with a personalized message from the EMT for students in that section.) If a student does well, along with any other personalized feedback, they get a comment like, “You’re off to a good start! Have you thought about talking to our tutor as you revise? Here’s their page.” If they turn in nothing, they get a comment like, “If you’re struggling with this assignment, you can come to my student hours or talk to our tutor. Here’s their page.”  

I’ve also started putting “Make a WMC appointment if you need to” with a link to the center’s appointment page on my “Things to Do” list in each module overview.  A student who doesn’t see the need for tutoring the first week might just decide they need one in the twelfth, and I want them to have the information they need at their fingertips in the moment that they have that “lightbulb moment.”  

Most recently, I discovered that scheduling a course announcement a few minutes before a tutor-led review session can drive students who need it to those sessions.  In an entirely unintended (and very anecdotal) incident, I had scheduled two tutor-led zoom workshops on consecutive days in order to increase the likelihood that students would be able to attend.  On the first workshop day, even though I’d announced it ahead of time and explained the benefit of going, no students decided to come.  On the second day, on a hunch, I scheduled a Canvas announcement to go out five minutes before with a link to the workshop, and all three students (in an online asynchronous class of 17) who showed up did so because they got the reminder – and were able to work with a tutor on a complicated assignment because of it. 

Next semester, I’m thinking about taking what I learned and sending out reminders five minutes before all of my tutors’ scheduled tutoring hours the first week or two, just to get students into the swing of things! 

4. Reward Student Engagement With EMTs or the WMC

For a long time, I have been hesitant to require students to visit the WMC as part of their course grade.  I worried that going through the motions would not serve the reluctant student.  However, I also know how crucial it is for our first-year students to start accessing campus resources in their first semesters at CSUCI. 

This semester, I split the difference by making EMT visits one of only two ways that students could “make up” missed work in my class or earn some “points in the bank” as a cushion against a portion of future missed points.  (The other way is meeting with me!)  At first, I noticed that many of the students who were taking advantage of this opportunity were, as expected, high-performing students, but as the semester has progressed, the work that I’ve done “selling” the idea of the tutor and folding them into the course community has started to bear fruit, and more and more of my first-year students are starting to book appointments and see improvements in their writing and engagement in the course because of it. 

Last Thoughts

Learning how to fold an EMT into my courses has been a many-semester journey for me, and I’m still learning!  Being part of the WMC team has given me a window into the variety of creative ways faculty across this campus are using EMTs in their courses and the hard work that WMC tutors do in order to serve students in their embedded sections. I encourage all faculty who have a significant writing component in their courses to check out the EMT program and find out how an embedded tutor might be able to support your students. 

For more information about EMTs, you can visit the WMC pages introducing faculty to embedded multiliteracy tutors in first-year composition courses or the embedded multiliteracy tutor program for any course with a significant writing or presentation requirement. 

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