The peer writing experience during the 2007/8 school year, at the University of Windsor, has been very rewarding. In this age of MSN and Facebook, the idea of two people sitting, huddled over a piece of writing, and talking about writing, and how to best communicate via the written word seems an unlikely thing; yet the process of peer collaboration in the writing process is needed more than ever. I feel as though I did help other students in a meaningful way with their papers even though it was mostly local editing and proofreading. I did have a chance in the second semester to have discussions with some students about the goal of the Academic Writing Centre (AWC) to collaborate during the writing process, with the understanding that the paper belongs to the student and that I, as a writing assistant, may offer suggestions which the student can consider. The experience was extra special as well because of the other peers I worked with: Mahinaz, Amira and Jessica. I felt welcomed and accepted as an equal and I was always happy to help and offer advice when I was asked. I have been privileged to work with Richard, Dave and Jennie, and I am very happy to be able to come back in the fall and be a part of the work of the AWC.
So, what was it like out there? My first shift in September was at the student centre and I remember feeling quite exposed in that vast space with my red T-shirt! Almost without exception, students felt better about their paper after having it looked over. I found that in looking over other papers I came to see how incredibly important punctuation alone is in creating meaning and understanding. My own writing has benefited out of the experience of peer tutoring. The library seems a better fit for our work, and the CAW centre is just too large and busy. I am sure other locations, such as the residences, offer somewhat similar settings as the library. I benefited a great deal from the weekly meetings and the readings. I will value the courseware package always, and the readings and references in it.
The international students are by far the largest percentage of students I helped. I am literally awed at the efforts they make to gain a degree far from home, in a different culture, using English as a second language. Discussing the collaborative process with them was minor compared to their need to have the papers proof read. Native English students were more open to that global discussion and even then, the drive to produce a paper for the best mark overshadowed any possible joy and interest in a discussion of the writing process. Somehow, the idea that we “write to learn” seems an alien concept for many students. Writing is supposed to be a process of intellectual and even personal discovery. I think there is supposed to be some pain in the writing process and of course no sane person goes around looking for ways to torture themselves! However, discoveries of any kind will entail emotional and spiritual turmoil and I don’t think any level of the education system is designed to grapple with this, and as a result students miss out on a particular kind of learning experience. Learning seems to have become another commodity and universities seem to view students as raw material to be credentialzed for profit; the ideals of reflective and critical thinking risk being lost. In my opinion, writing centres and peer writing assistants are the key to restoring meaning to learning, and I know I am fortunate to be a part of this process. I surely hope the university allows the expansion of the peer writing program.
April 3, 2008