Morgan Aprill is an English literature student at Ball State University with minors in Spanish and professional writing. She is entering her senior year as an undergraduate at the university in the fall. In addition to her work on the “Digital Literature Review,” she currently works as a tutor at the English Department Writing Center. She is conducting a research fellowship with two of her professors about tutoring and composition in second languages, with hopes of publishing the findings in a peer-reviewed research journal. She is a recent recipient of the Carol S Chalk Memorial Scholarship awarded to outstanding tutors in the Writing Center.
I was approached by Dr. Kuriscak, one of my previous Spanish professors, and Dr. Grouling, the Director of the Writing Center, at the end of the 12-13 school year. As a Spanish minor, I took Dr. Kuriscak’s Spanish 202 class at the end of my sophomore year. Both professors knew I worked as a tutor in the Writing Center and that I was also in the Honors College, so they thought I was the perfect candidate for the research they were interested in pursuing concerning alternative tutoring methods. Dr. Grouling had been in conversation with Dr. Kuriscak about ways the Center could aid students who were working on writing for their foreign language classes. The professors came up with the idea of trying out a writing fellow who would work with Dr. Kuriscak’s Spanish composition classes. That’s where I came in.
As a writing fellow for Dr. Kuriscak’s Spanish composition classes this past school year, I have been a resource for her students to use for help with their writing compositions. This is something new as, up until this fellowship, Ball State’s Writing Center has only worked with English writing, and we also haven’t worked with writing fellows as much in the past. Part of this research fellowship is to determine the plausibility of working with compositions in other languages within our writing center. Another part of this project is my own research on writing attitudes and approaches among students within these kinds of classes.
This includes students in language classes who might be studying a language that they grew up hearing spoken amongst their family members and those who did not (heritage language learners versus non-heritage language learners). Part of our work is to collect research on the assumptions and attitudes students have toward writing assignments in general as well as what sort of different processes they take, if any, in approaching writing assignments in either English or Spanish. We hope to use the information we gain from this research to add to the dialogue on the use of writing fellows within the field of writing center discourse.
The use of writing fellows as supplementary resources for classes is something that has been used in centers before, but not many have the foreign language component. We hope to try and assess the feasibility of a fellowship model in which a student who is trained as a writing tutor is assigned to a class in a particular specialized field in which they are familiar. This could help in situations where technical language makes it difficult for the tutor, in a traditional writing center model, to effectively provide feedback to a student due to unfamiliarity with the content. The area of foreign languages is particularly interesting and presents challenges entirely different than a matter of jargon and is something many writing centers do not provide for.
As an English major with a Spanish minor, I am extremely interested in how the construction of languages—on a grammatical and syntactical level—affects the processes of writing and thinking. This is a hard thing to study, but thinking about processes in two different languages can help lead to better understanding of the connections between languages and thought processes. One particularly interesting observation I came upon while working with the students is how one student, a heritage language learner, told me that she thinks in Spanish when she wants to sound more creative, even when writing in English. She explained that, though her thinking can change based on the situation, when she wants to write something in a particularly poignant and creative way she thinks of how it would be stated in Spanish. I have heard it been said before that Spanish is a more artful language than English, and I am interested in pursuing why these assumptions prevail. An additional observation I have discovered through this project is how tutoring in a language that is not my first forces me to focus even more on structure and organization rather than get bogged down in commenting on grammar, something that is so easy to do in my English tutoring sessions, especially those with English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
The professors and I recently presented our findings at the East Central Writing Centers Association Conference at Miami University. In our presentation, Dr. Kuriscak discussed the methodology and findings of our survey; Dr. Grouling discussed the current discourse on the use of Writing Fellows as well as our methodologies; and I presented about the experience of tutoring in a language that is not my first and how it has affected my overall tutoring process. Dr. Grouling and I also discussed some of the findings from our interviews with students in the classes in each semester of Dr. Kuriscak’s class.
This conference was a fantastic experience where I and a few other tutors and professors were able to meet professionals in the fields related to writing centers. It was inspiring to be around others who were as passionate about studying the practices of teaching writing as I am. There were a number of presentations on work other centers in the area have been doing with ESL students as well as their work with bilingual and multilingual center models. It was fascinating and encouraging to hear from those doing the same sort of research. I gained some new ideas for my own tutoring practice and things we can try next year with our own research fellowship. I also was able to do some networking, meeting professors at other universities and a representative from a publishing company from Boston.
The professors and I hope to continue reviewing our data and aim to publish our findings in an appropriate academic journal within the next year. If we get funded again, we hope to implement some of our new ideas for the project within the next year as well as continue accruing new data for our research. I have many ideas for where I will head in the future with my English degree, none of them certain, but I am particularly interested in pursuing the discourse and study of ESL writing tutoring as well as the nuances of thought and writing processes within bilingual or multilingual settings, among other things. This project is helping me explore this interest of mine and will help me later on in my professional career, as I hope to stay involved in academia in some way. I am glad that Ball State has given me all these fantastic opportunities to pursue my passion for language studies, and I encourage my peers to take advantage of all the chances they have while undergrads.