The following blog post developed out of student interest to explore how campus services, specifically tutoring in the Multiliteracy Writing Center, addressed the needs of student clients with various learning needs and the tutors who serve them. That study was conducted by Cristal Gamez (CSUCI, 2018) and was supported by a TLI Faculty Fellow, Talya Drescher, Assistant Professor of Special Education.
I have come to realize that I am privileged in many ways. I’ve had access to a high-quality college education, enjoyed taking classes toward my English degree and have had the opportunity to use my language/literacy skills to help others earn their degree by working as a tutor in the writing center at CI. As I reflect on my four years of college, I can see how my interests have been shaped and clarified over time and the various opportunities that college has afforded me played a role in that process. As a result of my access to education, caring professors and advisors, employment on campus and the eye-opening experiences of the last four years, in addition to being merely a graduate, I am spreading my wings as an activist.
Two things in particular occurred during my time here at CI that allow me to call myself an activist: my employment in the writing center and a class I took as a junior called “Individuals with Disabilities in Society.” Let me start at the beginning. As a junior, I started my employment at the Writing and Multiliteracy Center (WMC). Part of the WMC mission is to be inclusive by providing services to all students; in order to accomplish this goal, tutors must go through extensive training aimed at strengthening their ability to tutor students in writing and oral/visual presentations.
I believe that as a society we should practice inclusivity, and as a WMC tutor I made it my mission to design and implement targeted practices in the Center that would directly benefit students with diverse learning needs. While current training focuses on strategies for the general student population, I decided to advocate for students with learning differences who may need alternate tutoring methods. This idea didn’t come out of thin air; it formed as a result of exposure to a course called “Individuals with Disabilities in Society” which I took at this time.
During my time in the class, I learned about the importance of inclusion and advocacy for students with disabilities in the educational realm. We focused on ways to promote inclusion by creating and advocating for more accessible spaces for students with disabilities as well as learning specific teaching techniques. As a future educator, I found myself intrigued by this class because it opened my eyes to the reality of my future students’ learning needs. Although the class focused on inclusion of students with disabilities in P – 12 classrooms, I asked myself whether these same ideas could be applied in a university setting, specifically the WMC.
Before moving on, I’d first like to take a step back for a moment and allow myself to explain what guided this journey.
A requirement of employment in the WMC is a passing grade in an introductory course on the elements and techniques of college writing used in tutoring sessions and the types of content that are covered in the syllabus range from topics such as tutoring students with ESL backgrounds as well as those who have learning disabilities. However, while the class focuses on teaching potential writing tutors effective tutoring methodology, a large portion of the training focuses on how tutors can improve the WMC’s reach by building trust with the student client. The culminating project for this class was a call for students to pitch an idea that would potentially increase the number of student clients and enhance the supports tutors provide.
The project topic woke the advocate in me and with the new knowledge gained from my Individuals with Disabilities class, I posed the question, “How can WMC tutors improve their skills in order to help benefit student clients with various learning needs including those with disabilities?” In order to answer this question, I sought guidance both from my WMC supervisor and the professor who taught the Individuals with Disabilities course. Together, they supported me in the design and implementation of a formal study to determine current tutor’s knowledge of disability and ways of accommodating students with various learning needs in tutoring sessions. My hope was that this information would eventually lead to improved training and practices in the WMC.
I had never conducted a formal study before, nor did I know that an undergraduate student could conduct one with faculty support. With the help of my professor, I was able to complete and submit an IRB application in order to gain approval for the study. Ultimately, the research instrument which was approved consisted of quantitative and qualitative questions aimed at collecting information that would tell me:
- What type of information might need to be added to a WMC training to improve practices? and
- What information already presented in training was considered useful to tutors?
The process was tedious but my passion for advocacy kept me motivated and I was rewarded with IRB approval: a green light to go ahead with my study. With the research tool in hand and approval from my WMC adviser, I conducted the survey with 11 WMC tutors who were present for mandatory training led by an individual from the DASS department. Results indicate that tutors feel that they have adequate training in terms of how to discuss with student clients campus supports for writing but were unsure how to specifically address supports with student clients with disabilities. Furthermore, findings indicate that although tutors feel confident in their general writing tutoring skills, they hope for more targeted training when it comes to knowledge of disability and how disability might affect a student client’s writing skills. Additionally, tutors indicate a wish to learn more about targeted skills to help student clients with disabilities improve their writing skills during a tutoring session. While my study did not produce statistically significant findings, what I hope it will do is start a conversation; a conversation that can be utilized in order to improve training adequacy in both classrooms and student – based centers such as the WMC.
As a future teacher and former WMC tutor, I cannot help but advocate for students with varying learning needs. As I learned in my Individuals with Disabilities course, it is our duty to provide equal access to education to all students, regardless of strengths and needs. By merging the knowledge gained from this course and through my work as a WMC tutor, I cannot help but think that with targeted training of tutors we can provide a more inclusive environment for our student clients.
Looking back at the research process and the opportunities afforded to me as a CSUCI student, I am thankful for the chance to investigate what I believe is a topic worthy of exposure and conversation. Like my WMC supervisor, professors, the writing center and the university’s mission for inclusivity, I also strive to create an inclusive and accommodating environment for students with disabilities. I hope that with this investigation and blog post I have helped contribute towards the jumpstart of a long and needed conversation and I look forward towards continuing my role as an advocate.