During my time as a writing mentor I have learnt a lot, not just about mentoring but also about myself. My two years as a mentor have been eye-opening.
I remember how nervous I felt right before my very first session. I thought I wouldn’t be able to help at all and the writer would go away thinking that I was useless. It wasn’t like that at all and now here I am in my final week as a mentor. Now I get excited about my sessions and look forward to the next challenge. I know I am not an expert but I understand that I can make a difference despite this. Sometimes I still get a little nervous about sessions especially when someone has said they want you to “read over my work and check grammar and spelling issues.” Most of the time though I eagerly anticipate meeting the writers who come through the door.
One of the best things for me as a mentor was when we did video sessions. I was really dreading it and was hoping that no one who was seeing me would want to be filmed. Unfortunately, I did end up having my video session. It was however, incredibly useful and it was nowhere near as bad as I had imagined it would be. The camera did make me a little nervous at first but then I forgot it was there and ended up having one of my best sessions with a writer. Even better because it had been filmed I had the unique opportunity to look back on a session with a critical eye and observe things I had probably missed in the moment. Although, watching it back was a little humiliating (I hate hearing my voice on camera).
Working with everyone else has also been a great part of the experience. Having the opportunity to discuss with others how sessions have been going and being able to make use of everyone’s different areas of expertise has been invaluable. All of you make mentoring much more enjoyable and have helped me to see things from a different perspective which has been invaluable for my sessions.
I would also just like to thank Julian, especially, for all his help and support during my time as a mentor and whilst I was on my year abroad. Thank you for helping me develop as a mentor and for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
Sadly, my time as a mentor has come to an end but I am sure that those of you continuing on next year will continue to do an amazing job. And to those who start in September I wish you all the best of luck and hope that you enjoy this role as much as I have.
Many students who come for writing appointments say that they are unsure of how to reference or that they have been pulled up for their referencing on an assignment and so they ask us “How do I do it?”
This can be a quite scary question as the majority of us are only familiar with one or at the most two different systems and even then we probably still have to check occasionally. However, there are a lot of resources out there that we can make use of and recommend to other students.
- Harvard – http://libweb.anglia.ac.uk/referencing/harvard.htm, I use this site a lot, it’s simple and easy to use with everything under clear subheadings so you can find what you are looking for
- APA – https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/, this site again has clear subheadings and uses lots of examples as well as giving advice on style, PowerPoint and statistics
- MHRA -https://blackboard.swan.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/institution/LibraryISSResources/Referencing%20Guides/MHRA%20style%20(brief%20guide).pdf, this is a really useful excerpt from the full MHRA Style Guide which gives you the basics on referencing. The fully style guide can be downloaded for free and for referencing you need Chapter 11
- MLA – https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/Guide70.pdf, this document produced by the University of Dublin gives information on how to reference a number of different sources as well as why referencing is used and useful links for generating reference lists
- OSCOLA – https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxlaw/oscola_4th_edn_hart_2012quickreferenceguide.pdf, this gives a brief overview of how to cite different sources (primary or secondary)
- Vancouver – http://subjects.library.manchester.ac.uk/referencing/referencing-vancouver, simple and easy to use with everything under clear subheadings so you can find what you are looking for
You can also talk to or refer students on to the library staff responsible for their college, contact details for these staff members can be found here: https://www.bangor.ac.uk/library/contacts.php.en
And of course there are a number of books which we have access to which can be useful as well. I found Cite Them Right: The essential referencing guide (2013 edition) a particularly useful resource. It provides a comprehensive guide on what to cite, how to cite and when to cite. Then it has chapters dedicated to several different styles so that you can see how referencing works in your particular style. There is a copy of this book in the Peer Mentors room and Bangor University Main, Law and Normal Site libraries all have at least one copy.
Finally, something that can help make referencing a little easier: RefWorks. All students are able to access this if they log in through their university account. To use it students simply create a list, which includes the books they have used in their assignment and want to reference, on unicat and then they export this list to RefWorks. On RefWorks they can then choose their preferred referencing style and then generate their final reference list or bibliography depending on the system.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of options and there might be other more useful websites or books out there but these are some of the resources I have used and found helpful when mentoring. If you have any suggestions please let me know!
In the coming weeks I will be undertaking a volunteer role as a mentor/coach to secondary school pupils and in preparation for this post I have been assigned some useful reading. I was directed to The International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. This is an online journal which is accessible to all (no need for a password or subscription) and all the articles published have been peer reviewed. Every year two volumes are released, one in the February and the other in the August.
Numerous different types of articles are included within the journal from typical academic research style papers to reflective essays and book reviews. The field of mentoring and coaching is explored from a variety of viewpoints such as that of coaching/mentoring adolescents or how coaching/mentoring is utilised within major companies. Reading through the journal gives you an idea of the important role a mentor/coach can play in the lives of their mentees or learners. It is also a reminder that coaching and mentoring is a field of work which is in a constant state of change and evolution.
As a result of having read a few papers included within the journal I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my own mentoring experience and how I can use what I have learnt from the current research into the area to improve how I mentor/coach the students who come to see me. It has also highlighted the differences which exist between mentoring/coaching someone on a regular basis to how we mentor/coach the students who come to see us as they typically only see us once (though this is not always the case). This journal is a very useful tool for anyone who mentors/coaches/advises and I would recommend checking it out.
If anyone is interested in reading any of the articles in the journal the link is posted below. All past issues of the journal from their first issue published in August 2003 to their current February 2016 volume can be accessed online. They have also published a number of ‘Special Issues’ which can also be found on their website.
Hopefully you will find the journal helpful or at the very least interesting!
The International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. 2016. Available at: http://ijebcm.brookes.ac.uk/ (Accessed 25 Jan 2016)
Rachel Ruegg is an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in Japan. Her recent study published in 2015 explores whether peer or teacher feedback is more effective in helping students become better writers.
Over a one year period all of Ruegg’s EFL students received teacher or peer feedback on every preliminary draft they wrote. The students were split into two groups, one received only teacher feedback and the other only peer feedback. A pre-and post-test was used to measure the students progress over the year. This test was the writing section of the institutions proficiency.
Ruegg found that the group who received teacher-only feedback improved significantly more in their grammar than the group who received peer feedback. She suggests this could be due to the fact that the teacher provided more feedback focused on meaning-level issues and content than the peers did. She concludes however, that perhaps the best method is to use both teacher and peer feedback to help students improve.
How can this help us?
Obviously, in our writing centre we are all native speakers of English or Welsh so when giving feedback we might not have the same issues that some of the peers in this research had (they were native Japanese speakers, learning English and giving feedback on written English work). Additionally, not all of the students who come to see us will be EFL learners but this paper still offers a useful insight into feedback in general and the benefits to the student of receiving both peer and lecture/teacher feedback. An interesting aspect of this study was how the feedback was given. Each student was given a feedback form where they were allowed to detail four questions which they wanted the peer or teacher to give them feedback on. The final fifth question was for the person giving feedback to give the writer something constructive to work on. This way of structuring the feedback is very similar to how we work. Writers come to us and they tell us what they want to work on or what they feel their issues are and then we work with them on that.
In summary then Ruegg’s research provides a useful insight into how we can individualize feedback for writers and the benefits of having feedback on writing from both teachers and peers. Although, her study is focused on the benefits to EFL students her findings about feedback in general can be applied to native-speakers and their writing.
Reference: Ruegg, R. (2015). The relative effects of peer and teacher feedback on improvement in EFL students’ writing ability. Linguistics and Education, 29, pp. 73 – 82
John Bean’s “Dealing with Issues of Grammar and Correctness” (2001) is essential reading for anyone who is going to be working with writers.
It is incredibly easy when looking over someone else’s work top focus only on the surface problems that you can see in the text such as “bad grammar”, which as Bean notes is often the non-standard way of saying something. When we focus solely on the grammar of a piece though we lose sight of the bigger picture. Helping someone correct their grammar in a piece will give them a grammatically correct essay but it will not improve their skill as a “good” writer.
A piece of writing which is well-written will have strong ideas which are developed and explained in detail. It will also have a clear and organised structure to it. These aspects of writing however, cannot hope to be improved through the improvement of grammar but as Bean highlights in his piece grammar is often improved through the improvement of idea development and structure of an essay. As mentors then we should try to focus much more on what is actually written rather than how it is written.
It may also be counter-productive to constantly be drawing the writer’s attention to their grammatical mistakes because it may make them lazy or encourage them that these are the only problems in the piece. The writer who is told how many mistakes he has made and where they are in his paper will no doubt correct these when he comes to revise his work. He will probably not look at the rest of the writing as a whole though because his attention has been drawn to other areas. Mentors and advisors to writers are well placed to help the writer in the improvement of their work through our discussion about the work in front of us which prompts the writer to reconsider how something is structured or whether their argument is clear.
In short then it is important to remember, when doing our own writing or helping someone else with theirs, that although grammar does play a role in “good” writing it is not the biggest factor. If we focus too much time and energy on “fixing” work then we may fail to notice the bigger problems that are present in a piece of work.
Reference: Bean, J.C. (2001) Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning into the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass