Off to a Good Start: Setting Up Your Students for Proposal Success

Hannah Baran founded the Albemarle High School peer tutoring center in 2013. She is an at-large member of the CAPTA Board. Questions? Email her at

If your tutors are anything like mine, they find that the most difficult parts of creating a CAPTA Conference proposal are selecting a topic and conducting research.  Here’s how I’m guiding them through that process this year.

Selecting a Topic

We actually begin selecting our topics at the previous year’s conference.  On the bus ride home, in between rounds of Heads Up and Never Have I Ever, students complete a guided brain dump of what they learned, including their ideas for good topics for the following year.  I hang onto those sheets and break them out again in the spring when it’s time to start proposing.  I also have students write a reflection in response to questions like What tutoring-related skill are you most proud of? When have you applied a tutoring skill to a situation outside of class?  What would you like to improve or learn more about?  What is our center doing well?  As I get a sense of students’ interests, I also begin playing match-maker, suggesting topics that might be combined to create a compelling panel or workshop.  (Insider’s tip: we receive far fewer proposals for these formats, so they tend to stand out.)  Once students have chosen their topic — at least tentatively — it’s time to begin researching.

Conducting Research

CAPTA Conference veterans will notice that this year’s proposal guidelines have been rewritten to more strongly emphasize the necessity of connecting presentations to scholarship in the field.  This can be overwhelming to students; there is simultaneously so much out there, and seemingly nothing related to their particular topic.  Here is how I help my tutors get started:

  • First, each student develops a list of keywords or search terms. I help out; for example, by pointing out that synonyms for ESOL include ESL and ELL.
  • Our librarians refresh students on the databases available to them as well as “ninja skills” such as using Google Scholar and boolean search terms.
  • This year, our awesome librarian, Monica Cabarcas, also compiled some tutoring-specific websites and journals onto this page.  Note that the first link, to Gale, is password-protected; however, we have found this to be the least useful source.
  • Over the years, I have built up a little library of tutoring books.  Some were purchased with a modest PTO grant, and others were acquired by asking for a review copy from the publisher.
  • I remind students to mine the bibliographies of their scholarly sources to trace useful ideas back to their point of origin.

Once they have found some useful sources, students turn in an annotated bibliography, with a minimum of 3 APA-cited, scholarly sources and a 50-100 word description of the source and how it connects to their topic. I find that after they have completed this process, they feel pretty confident about beginning to draft their proposals.

A note on logistics: Roughly half of my tutors will return to next year’s staff and half will graduate or pursue other electives. All returning tutors are expected to draft a proposal.  I have therefore paired them up, with the non-proposing tutors acting as “research assistants” for the proposing tutors. This technique has inspired fruitful conversations — especially since many of the research assistants are seniors who have presented at the conference previously — and lessened the intimidation factor of the assignment, while ensuring that I’m giving my time and attention to proposals that will actually be submitted for review.  

Best of luck to your and your tutors. I look forward to 2017 being our best conference yet!

Leave a Reply