Improving Writing Skills with Peer Tutoring

The ability to organize and express thoughts in writing takes the courage to be open to critique, to engage in self-reflection, and to hone process and product through continued effort. Working with a peer tutor at the UIC Writing Center can be key to building communication skills.

Vainis Aleksa and two students

Vainis Aleksa (center) confers with Cesar Alfaro (left) and Nitesh Patel.

The Writing Center, a unit of the Department of English, provides free services to all UIC students. Tutors are students from a variety of majors trained in peer tutoring methods via coursework in English 222 or 482.

“The peer tutoring relationship is very different than the traditional roles of student and teacher,” explained Vainis Aleksa, director of the center. “We use the term ‘peer’ to denote a partnership relationship. Tutors are not set up in the role of authority or expert. They are not there to pass judgment, but to advise and help the student navigate their own process. In that give-and-take the tutors also improve their own communications skills, both verbal and written.”

“In peer tutoring the roles of teacher and learner are blurred. In a good session we’re both teaching and we’re both learning,” agreed Sara Rusnak (English 2012), who worked as a peer tutor for three years. “It’s also incredibly rewarding to help someone learn. The experience has really demonstrated the value of effective, positive communication.”

Two students discuss an assignment

Meredith Maresh (right) discusses an assignment with M. Grace Tagare.

“Being a tutor made me a better listener,” noted Meredith Maresh, a senior double-majoring in communication and theatre performance. “I have developed the ability to hear not only what the writer verbalizes, but what they say with their body language and what is ‘said’ in a moment of silence.” Maresh, who is volunteering for the third year, also thinks that tutoring is a “good way to give back to the university community.”

The center has recently launched the new Writing Partners program which will enhance services for ESL students. Coordinated by Lydia Saravia, Writing Partners is supported by grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education and will match up tutors who have special interest and training in ESL teaching with ESL students enrolled in the English department’s “Introduction to Academic Writing for Nonnative Speakers of English” course. Charitainne Williams, coordinator of the ESL program, designed special training units for the tutors to help them meet the needs of English-learners.

Esi Abbam Elliot (PhD marketing 2012) came to the center for assistance while writing her dissertation. Peer tutoring enabled her to refine her ideas and develop a more organized, focused and logical writing style. “I would encourage my colleagues—especially international students—to make consistent use of the Writing Center. Better writing skills have been key to my academic achievement, including publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals.”

Students work on an assignment.

Dincy Poulose and Joe Franco work on a project.

“The Writing Center supports monolingual English speakers who are interested in improving their writing skills and also works extensively with ESL learners,” explained Williams. “Bilingualism is increasingly important in a global world and the center seeks to support the academic goals of students from all linguistic backgrounds who are working to create or maintain mastery of written English.”

Photos by Joshua Clark