Month: March 2017

Leave the Filibuster to Congress: Knowing and Engaging Your Audience

Leave the Filibuster to Congress: Knowing and Engaging Your Audience

Seth Czarnecki is the Social Media Manager for the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. Questions? Email him:

We’ve all been through it. A presenter with a Powerpoint (maybe a Prezi, if they’re cool) gets in front of a room and speaks for forty-minutes without taking a breath. You have some ideas about the topic but are forced to keep them to yourself as the presenter drones on. By the time the ‘Questions?’ slide appears, the presenter’s time is up.

We teachers have found ourselves in this position when we were in school, and oftentimes, we still do during faculty meetings and professional development workshops. For you students, listening to an unengaging presentation is likely something with which you are all too familiar.

When crafting your presentation, consider the needs of the audience. As writing tutors, you like to talk and are more comfortable when doing so. You operate best in the noise of the writing center. So rather than monopolize the time, engage your fellow tutors and bring them into the presentation with a few simple techniques.

  1. Engage with a question. As tutors, you know the value of a question. A good question can lead the conversation in the direction you want it to go while inviting the writer to participate. The same can be true of a presentation. By leading with an engaging question (about your topic, of course), you communicate that the audience matters—and they do. Once you’ve fielded answers, you can build off of and refer back to audience insight throughout your presentation.

  2. Use a poll. Audience participation is hard, especially when they may not know the people around them. To get feedback without having to engage in the question-wait-hope for an answer model, unleash the power of technology. There are a variety of online tools (PollEverywhere, Participoll, and others) to poll your audience on questions relevant to your topic. Hear what the audience has to say without having to surrender the time to hear them say it.

  3. Get ‘em moving. Many of your audience members will have just arrived from lengthy bus rides. After sitting for an extended time, they may be ready to move. Harness this energy by building in opportunities for them to get out of their seats. You can adapt several teaching strategies, such as the “take a stand” technique or the “stand-up, sit-down” game, to incorporate movement.

As you begin designing your presentation, consider your audience and embrace the collaborative power of the tutoring session. Doing so will make your work that much more memorable.

Open Forum: The Proposal Drafting Process Struggles and Successes

Open Forum: The Proposal Drafting Process Struggles and Successes

Trisha Vamosi has directed the Eagle Writing Center since 2015. She is the Web Curator for the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. Questions? Email her:

At this point time, if tutors/directors followed the timeline from Kate Hutton’s February 13th blog post, tutors/directors should be finalizing the secondary draft this week. Instead of creating a traditional blog post that leads you through another step of the proposal drafting process, I’d like to open up the conversation for tutors and directors alike to share any questions or concerns they have run into during their instruction or drafting process. As comments arrive, the questions or feedback will be posted on this post throughout the week.

Please fill in the form below in order to respond and share your questions, struggles, or successes. Thank you! 🙂

Creating a Snapshot Session with Middle School Students

Renee Brown teaches 8th grade ELA south of Pittsburgh, PA. She is a new member to the CAPTA board, serving as the middle school representative.

Susan Frenck teaches 7th grade English at Irving Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is the director of the newly founded Irving Middle School Writing Center and the CAPTA board treasurer.

The opportunities for middle school students even to attend a regional conference, let alone to

present at one, are exceptionally rare.  However, CAPTA offers just such a unique learning experience to middle school students through “Snapshot Sessions.” These are 10-minute presentations given by one or two middle school tutors; each Snapshot should focus on a single issue of relevance to middle school writing centers.  This begs the question, how do I help my tutors create a Snapshot Session for this conference.  Susan and I are both middle school teachers and WC directors who are facing that exact task as we write this post.  In the hopes of encouraging other MS directors, here are some snippets of our processes and what we hope are helpful insights.

Renee: My middle level WC is based on conversation: conversations between students around writing and conversations between me and the tutors about their “coaching.”  So, it made sense that I started my search for a presenter with a conversation.  I spoke with students who are not only strong tutors, but those tutors who are also strong public speakers. While you may consider having this chat with all your students together, I prefer more individualized discussions.  One-on-one, I explained what the CAPTA conference is about and what it offers.  I then sent the students away with a page full of questions to consider: What do you do when X type of kid comes to the WC; What do you do when X happens during a tutoring session.

Wait time is important at this age, so I gave my students a few days to ponder the questions related to the conference theme.  The next conversation with those students asked what insight they have to give to other MS tutors based on the work they have done. I asked questions like, “What are the best/most successful/most difficult sessions you had this year.” These conversations varied in length, but talking about what each tutor saw as his/her expertise was vital.  Based on these conversations, each potential presenter can craft his/her proposal.  It’s a bit cliché to use the “think-pair-share” model, but that’s essentially the format that is currently helping my tutors to draft a proposal for the Snapshot Sessions.

Susan: The writing center at my school uses Google Classroom as a way to communicate and collaborate. I plan to use the platform to help my tutors generate Snapshot session topics. By using question feature, I can ask the tutors to reflect on their experiences and provide answers that will be displayed for the group. Some questions I will ask include (1) “What is something that has surprised you about your work in the writing center so far?”, (2) “What is something you think the students at our school would like to experience in the writing center?”, and (3) “If you could share one interesting idea or lesson with other middle school tutors about writing centers, what would it be?” I expect that those answers will provide solid starting points from which we can create excellent proposals.

Since the Snapshot Session format was inspired by Ignite sessions, I plan to share some effective Ignite examples with the tutors ( The emphasis in showing Ignite sessions will be on the length, focus, and variety rather than on the specifics of the Ignite presentation format. Once the students see how a single good idea can become an effective, albeit brief, presentation, the tutors will have a better frame of reference and feel more comfortable with the idea of crafting their own presentations for CAPTA 2017.



Why Should You Present at CAPTA 2017?

As a normally shy student, who does not like to volunteer to talk in front of large groups
of people, the idea of submitting a proposal, knowing there is a presentation in front of strangers
in my future, is daunting. However, I decided to present at CAPTA 2016, and recommend that
you do it too. Here’s why:

  1. The chance to present at CAPTA is a opportunity that few students get in high
    school. Successfully presenting at a conference (or maybe a few) is a great
    experience to have before going off to college or getting a job. Also, presenting at
    a conference looks great on college applications and resumés. It shows your
    dedication to your school and writing center, as well as your drive to share your
    ideas and help others.

  2. Usually for school presentations, the topics are not subjects we are passionate
    about; however, at CAPTA you get to talk about something you are interested in.
    As tutors, we enjoy teaching others and are excited to share our knowledge, so
    why not share your knowledge with other people who are just as passionate as
    you are!

  3. Going along with that, at CAPTA, you get to hear great new ideas from other
    schools that you can bring back to your own center. For example, at the
    conference last year, a school suggested that we hang promotional fliers on the
    back of bathroom stall doors where people are forced to look at them. My school
    hadn’t thought of that! We come from new and old writing centers, each having a
    different perspective on problems. The CAPTA conference gives us a place to
    share our different backgrounds and offer solutions to each other’s problems.

  4. There are many of us who dislike public speaking, but the only way to get better
    is to practice. Presenting at CAPTA is a fun way to get your practice in, and since
    you aren’t getting a grade, it alleviates some of the stress that come with school
    presentations. Besides, you will be in a room with tutors who are excited to hear
    what you have to say and want you to do well, so it can’t really be that bad!

I hope this has inspired you to submit a proposal, and we look forward to seeing you at the
conference this year!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at
Jenny Brent
CAPTA Student Representative
Hayfield Secondary

Examining Your Topic: Choosing the Best Means of Research for Your Question

Stephanie Passino, Hayfield Secondary School, Hawks Writing Center Director

Once you have an idea for your proposal, you will need to conduct research. Many students tend to choose topics they have personal experience with from the work they do in their center.  This is a great place to start! I’ve provided some guiding questions to get you started along with some suggestions for how to conduct reliable inquiry.

How can you conduct research on your own center to help you answer your research question?
You will need to consider a few items:

  • Who will need to be involved?
    • Tutors, tutees, directors, administrators, teachers, community members, etc.
  • What type of information are you hoping to discover?
    • Quantitative or qualitative
  • How will you collect your data?
    • Survey/questionnaire – electronic or hard copy
    • Interview

Items to keep in mind when collecting your data:

  • You will need to have a distinct sample size – consider what it truly representative of your center, school, staff, etc. You will want to include demographics in your data that represent your school.  This will vary by school.
  • Timing – will you collect data during the school day? Which classes/students will you target? Be sure to distribute your means of collecting data in a timely fashion.
  • When creating a survey, questionnaire or interview questions, use neutral language. Be sure to write non-leading questions by avoiding words with positive/negative connotations.
  • Comparison point – Would it be helpful to enquiry about other writing centers and their procedures? How can this be done?

Best of luck with your research! Feel free to email me with any questions at