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: seth.czarnecki45@gmail.com

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: tvamosi@mcpsva.org

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 (http://www.ignitetalks.io/). 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 jennycbrent@gmail.com.
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 SLPassino@fcps.edu.

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 hbaran@k12albemarle.org.

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!

Preparing CAPTA Proposals: A How-To Guide for Directors and Tutors

Preparing CAPTA Proposals: A How-To Guide for Directors and Tutors by Kate Hutton

Kate Hutton has co-directed the Herndon Writing Center since 2012. She is the Vice President of and the Conference Proposal Coordinator for the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. Questions? Email her: kghutton@fcps.edu

Are you hoping to have your tutors submit proposals for CAPTA 2017 but feeling unsure of where to begin? Then you have come to the right place! This post is meant to guide directors and tutors who are considering submitting a proposal to CAPTA 2017.

Each year, when CAPTA’s Call for Proposals (CFP) is published, my co-director and I use the CFP as an opportunity for our tutors to engage in studying proposals as a genre, to identify strengths and potential areas of growth in our writing center, and to prepare a presentation on a topic of their choosing related to our writing center.

Our writing center is primarily run through our Advanced Composition course, which tutors can take up to three years in a row. Therefore, our tutors fall into two groups: tutors who plan to re-enroll in Advanced Composition and continue tutoring next year, and tutors who do not plan to re-enroll in Advanced Composition because they are graduating or taking another elective. Regardless of their intent and whether or not they plan to submit a proposal to present at CAPTA, all of our tutors prepare a proposal and a presentation. Their proposal becomes a major 3rd Quarter grade, while they deliver their presentation as part of an in-house mini-conference at the end of the year; their presentation serves as their Final Exam for the course

Below is a step-by-step guide for breaking down the often-challenging process of preparing a proposal. At the end of this post, you will find a copy of our Proposal Project for returning tutors, a copy of our Legacy Project for non-returning and Senior tutors, and a step-by-step timeline .

Step 1: Reviewing the CFP and Identifying a Presentation Topic

As you might guess, we begin the process by reviewing CAPTA’s CFP. While tutors aren’t required to submit a proposal that directly relates to the conference theme, the guiding questions give tutors something to focus on as they reflect on the work of our center.  

Our tutors then meet in their Tutor Families (groups of about 5 experienced and novice tutors who meet regularly to discuss tutoring practices) and engage in a discussion about what we do well as a writing center and what we could be doing better. We then come back together as a class and generate a list of potential topics that tutors can focus on. If tutors come up with an idea to help remedy an area of growth, we discuss realistic ways that the tutor or the group of tutors can successfully implement their idea by the end of the school year.

Tutors then break off as individuals or into groups of up to four. They then have about a week to identify a topic for their proposal. Once they’ve identified their topic, they discuss their plan with me or my co-director, and we either advise them on how they can revise their idea or give them approval to move forward with their topic.

Step 2: Genre Study

Before tutors begin the process of drafting their proposal, we use the resources posted under CAPTA’s Guide to Submitting Proposals to engage in genre study. Tutors are given about a week to review each of the four sample proposals and to make notes on the overall topic, how effectively the author’s ideas are communicated, and how well research is incorporated into the proposal. From there, as a class we identify the characteristics of effective proposals and use those as guidelines throughout the proposal writing process.

Step 3: Drafting

Once tutors have submitted their topic and studied the genre, they then begin drafting. We require our tutors to submit two rough drafts approximately two weeks apart prior to submitting their final proposal. We also require our tutors to have their proposals tutored in the writing center so that they discuss their ideas with their peers throughout the process. This also allows us to provide tutors with feedback and point them in a different direction if need be.

Step 4: Submitting the Proposal

My co-director and I collect final proposals a week before CAPTA’s deadline so that we can provide any last-minute feedback to our tutors. Again, we do not require all tutors to submit proposals to CAPTA, but we have found that most of our tutors do decide to submit their proposal because they have spent quite a bit of time preparing it already. Tutors who do submit proposals to CAPTA do so during class time leading up to CAPTA’s proposal deadline.

Extensions: In-House Mini-Conferences

After our tutors submit their proposals, they then prepare presentations on their topics, which serve as their final project for our Advanced Composition course. The in-house mini-conference gives students the opportunity to practice their presentations in a lower-stakes environment, allows them to receive constructive feedback from their peers, and serves as a celebration of all of their hard work throughout the year.

Timeline and Assignments

Below are the assignments and the timeline our Herndon Writing Center Tutors are following as they prepare proposals for this year’s conference.

Assignment: Proposal Project for Returning Tutors

Assignment: Legacy Project for Seniors and Non-Returning Tutors

CAPTA Seeks Nominations for Three Open Board Positions

Would You Like to Join the CAPTA Executive Board?

We are seeking several new positions!
Applications accepted until Dec. 7, 2016

This month, CAPTA will hold elections for three open positions on the CAPTA Executive Board, which meets monthly via Google Hangouts, to discuss and plan events to support the organization’s mission. Members of the Executive Board must be current CAPTA members; they may be directors, administrators, or staff members of secondary school writing centers, or be otherwise involved with supporting secondary school writing centers. 

Board Members need not be local to the Capital Area; we are especially interested in including leaders outside of the region to help support online and digital collaboration projects we hope to continue moving forward as we expand to a national organization. We invite new perspectives and input from directors of high schools, middle schools, independent schools, etc.

The current open positions are:

  • Website Curator (two year, renewable): The website curator will be responsible for the upkeep of website content and design on www.captawritingcenters.org. We use a WordPress site which is fairly intuitive and user friendly, so technical web design expertise is not a requirement. We hope to make our site more easily navigable and robust in content to support for our CAPTA Member Schools and inviting for new schools to learn more about SSWCs and our organization’s mission. The person who fills this position will be invited to propose and implement ideas for developing the website, including publication of resources and blog updates to serve our mission of building community, promoting advocacy, and supporting development of SSWCs. The website curator will also be responsible for providing input and participating on Standing Committees to further the purposes and mission of the organization. They will have voting rights on the Board.
  • Social Media Manager (one or two year, renewable): The social media manager will be responsible for the upkeep of content and design of the CAPTA Facebook and Twitter accounts, working together with the Board and especially the Website Curator, to promote news and events of the organization through these platforms. The person who fills this position will be invited to propose and implement ideas for developing the organization’s social media strategy, including sharing resources and building a network to serve our mission of building community, promoting advocacy, and supporting development of SSWCs. The Social Media Manager will also be responsible for providing input and participating on Standing Committees to further the purposes and mission of the organization. They will have voting rights on the Board.
  • At-Large Middle School Representative (one year, renewable): The Middle School Representative will ensure that our programs and initiatives are inclusive of the needs of our growing community of middle school writing centers. At-large members will be integral members of the board, responsible for providing input and participating on Standing Committees to further the purposes and mission of the organization. They will have voting rights on the Board.

Call for Submissions: Secondary School Writing Centers Toolkit

Call for Submissions: Digital Resource Toolkit for Secondary School Writing Center Directors

Submission Deadline: August 15, 2016 (priority), September 15, 2016 (regular)

Publication Date: On or before November 1, 2016

We invite secondary school writing center directors to contribute to an exciting, updated, and digital new version of the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association’s Resource Toolkit for Secondary School Writing Center Directors.

The first versions of this resource, assembled in 2011 and 2012 by a team of four SSWC directors in Northern Virginia, were designed to support new SSWC directors by sharing artifacts from our centers and exemplars of the kinds of documents and materials we created to support our work and our tutors’ work. More than a theory-based description of writing center pedagogy (which has been widely published elsewhere), we envisioned this resource as a toolkit, which is what we named it, with practical examples, accompanied by explanations, of various documents and materials throughout the phases of establishing and maintaining our writing centers.

For the past five years, distribution of this resource has been in high demand, but unfortunately limited due to printing and shipping costs. This summer, with funding from George Mason University, we are developing a new digital edition of the toolkit which will be distributed this fall; it will be available in PDF and e-book formats, and we plan to make it downloadable for free. Not only does a digital edition allow for wider and more equitable distribution of the materials, but it also allows for more frequent revisions and updates, which is very exciting.

We are reaching out to the wider community of SSWC directors to invite your contributions to this resource. We invite you to consider the kinds of documents and products you are willing to share with other SSWC directors, including materials you have designed as a program administrator for tutors, teachers, administrators, and other audiences. These artifacts might fit into any of the following categories (described more in detail here):

  1. Planning and Proposal (planning documents, committee descriptions and roles, proposed budgets, administrative proposals, three- or five- year plans, etc.)
  2. Tutor Recruitment and Selection (nomination letters, tutor application materials, tutor selection criteria, selection committee roles, interview materials, etc.)
  3. Initial Tutor Training (training agendas, resource lists, materials designed for tutors to learn about tutoring and/or writing, etc.)
  4. Program Implementation (informational flyers or advertisements, teacher- or tutor-created PSAs for students, teachers, administrators, methods for keeping records on tutoring sessions, tutor reflection logs, tutor evaluation mechanisms, administration meeting agendas, etc.)
  5. Tutor Course Curriculum (syllabi for tutor training courses, writing assignments for tutors, assessment criteria, etc.)
  6. School-wide Writing Initiatives (partnership programs with departments, clubs, activities in the schools, special workshops or outreach initiatives, etc.)
  7. Gathering Evidence of Success: Data and Evaluation (monthly reports, quantitative and/or qualitative data on tutoring, etc.)

If selected, your materials will be included in Chapter 3 (“Implement a Successful Program”) and available in a shareable folder (like Google Drive or Dropbox) as a companion to the toolkit. Your name and school’s name, where applicable, will be included both on the submission itself as well as on the title page as a contributor to the book.

Guidelines for Submissions:

  • Submissions must be original and legally yours to share; any portion of an idea or language that is borrowed or derived from an original source must be clearly credited.
  • Submissions should be sent in editable Word document format, where possible. PDFs, PowerPoint slides, and even digital audio and/or video files are also acceptable; contact capta.connects@gmail.com if you have a question about the format of the resource you submit
  • Submissions are best when they are 1-3 pages in length, but longer submissions will be accepted as well (including Tutor Handbooks, Course Syllabi, for example), especially if we can link to a digital version of the text. Contact me if you are wondering!
  • Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis between now and September 15, 2016, with priority going to submissions received by August 10.

To Submit a Resource:

  • Email the document as an attachment to capta.connects@gmail.com with the subject line: “SSWC Toolkit Submission.” You may remove any identifying information (names, email address, specific dates, etc.) – or it will be done by the editor prior to publication.
  • Submit a Google Form that includes your contact information and a 200 word explanation about how you use the resource and how other directors might adapt it for their own context.
  • You may send multiple attachments in one email, but you must fill out a new form for each resource you submit for the purposes of identifying and sorting submissions.

By submitting you agree that:

  • You have ownership over the materials and the right to submit them for publication; you give permission for their publication in this digital resource toolkit to be distributed for free.
  • Your name and the name of your school will be included on the document itself and on the title page of the book; including your contact information (e-mail address) is optional.
  • You give the editor permission to edit or modify the content or design of the document, including deleting any identifying information (your name, student names, school names) on the document itself and altering the design of the document to fit within the design of the publication.

Attached is an example of how the page with your resource and explanation for its use will appear in the final publication. Please contact me at capta.connects@gmail.com or ajensen8@gmu.edu with any questions. I look forward to hearing from you soon!


Amber Jensen

President, Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association