Writing at Penn State Learning, commonly known as the Penn State Writing Center, is a resource you might’ve heard of but probably haven’t used. Whether you’re unsure about how to make an appointment, nervous about the writing process, or anything in between, we’ve figured out exactly how it functions so you don’t need to.
The Writing Center is headquartered in the Boucke Building. Tabitha Fisher, the writing and languages co-curricular programs coordinator, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center. She’s also in charge of its tutors, who are also full-time students attempting to help their peers.
“We staff the center through English 250, the peer tutoring and writing course offered through the English department and taught by our scholar-in-residence for writing and communications, Beth Parfitt,” Fisher said. “We also staff through the applied linguistics department, through Applied Linguistics 250.”
Those classes are locked courses, meaning that enrollment is by application only. Once enrolled, students learn how to prompt writers to think critically about their work and find where improvements can be made. The coursework focuses largely on the rhetorical characteristics of texts but also identity and goal-setting. They begin tutoring while paired with a mentor who currently tutors at the center.
“There’s a lot of reading about how to approach writing from a perspective that values strong rhetorical moves. This is the concept of, ‘How do we read writing in a particular way, and how do we approach people and working with writing?’” Fisher said. “The other major component is their practicum. They observe their mentors and then complete a certain number of tutoring tutorials themselves, plus reflections of these tutorials. The students will complete the course requirements and receive approval from their instructors, at which point they apply for the job with Penn State Learning and complete the hiring process.”
Fisher says the center is a huge benefit on campus that all students should consider using.
“On the ground, we benefit individual writers who are looking to become better, more skilled, or more accurate writers in that practical way. As part of that, we want to be building their confidence as writers, and as people,” she said. “We serve a lot of students who come from generally underrepresented populations and perhaps don’t have as much confidence in themselves to excel academically.”
Fisher says she wants her staff to work with students to show them that their ideas are important. Reaching goals and providing benefits beyond academics are top priorities, too.
The center also offers benefits for instructors.
“Through the writing center, we offer workshops where we visit a classroom and not only touch on writing skills, but provide a companion to the instructor to support their curriculum and their goals within the class,” Fisher said.
Fisher also feels the tutors benefit from their work at Penn State Learning. She wants them to come out of their time at the center with stronger presentation skills, professional skills, and closer relationships with departments across campus.
Sessions at the center are available in 220A Boucke Building, the Search Bar at Sidewater Commons/W102 Pattee Library, and even online. A full schedule of hours is available here.
After checking in via Zoom or through a receptionist, students will discuss their goals and soon connect with a tutor.
“When they connect with the tutor themselves, they can expect to start having conversations about their goals for their work,” Fisher said. “If it’s an assignment, you’ll discuss things like ‘What is your instructor requiring? What do you want to accomplish in the text? How can we collaborate to make those goals possible?’”
Over the course of a session, you’ll address your goals and concerns, including your work’s material, tone, or anything in between. Some students even come to the writing center for help with editing, rather than an entire, from-the-ground-up effort.
“People usually come in with the idea that you’re going to ‘fix’ my paper, but, the process of writing is more complicated than figuring out where a comma goes or if punctuation is correct,” Fisher said. “We work with those things, but we train our tutors to understand the broader needs of the assignment. Someone can take your paper and mark through all the things that are incorrect, but are you learning anything from that process?”
Fisher sees Penn State Learning’s goal as creating better writers, not better papers. The process hopes to create a collaborative experience between writers and tutors to give any writer advice that they can continue using throughout their time at Penn State.
Fisher’s best advice to students? Come in expecting a conversation with someone who really cares about helping you achieve your goals.
Dana Osgood, a current peer tutor at Penn State Learning, says tutoring can serve as a good break from the hustle and bustle of student life.
“It feels really nice just being able to help people,” Osgood said. “The writing center is like an escape, and it’s just really great to be there.”
Osgood also gave her best advice about what to expect when showing up to an appointment at Penn State Learning.
Osgood’s advice is simple, too: Be ready to listen and learn.
Head over to Penn State Learning’s website to learn more about its services, hours, and offerings.