Peer-run program offers writing help

Yale undergraduates can now schedule formal appointments with their classmates — in addition to their residential-college writing tutors — for help in reworking any assignment from term papers to lab reports.

Under the new Writing Partners program, which was launched last week, students can take their papers to undergraduate and graduate tutors for criticism and advice. The program is the latest initiative of the Yale College Writing Center, which was created at the beginning of the last academic year to provide support for undergraduates, who must fulfill a new writing requiremen outlined in the 2003 academic review. About 20 students have come to the writing center in the past week, Program Director Alfred Guy said.

Sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students will comprise the staff of Yale’s new writing program, Guy said, and instructors of writing-intensive courses nominated students for the tutoring positions last spring. Once selected, the tutors were trained to read and edit student papers effectively.

“The worst writer at Yale is still a pretty good writer,” said Bridget Deiters ’07, a tutor under the new program. “I just think people are hesitant to have their friends and peers review their papers. I think that this will create a vehicle for fostering that and creating better writers.”

The Writing Partners program is similar to writing tutor programs at a range of schools including Princeton, Harvard and Johns Hopkins University, said Guy, who has worked as a writing tutor at Princeton and Johns Hopkins. Guy said he thinks the new program will encourage more students to use peer editing as a tool to improve their writing.

“If we are saying, ‘It’s helpful to show your writing to a sophomore,’ maybe then they will think, ‘It’s helpful to show your writing to your roommate,” he said. “If you ask the right questions, anyone can help you with a piece. I am confident that the demand for tutoring is just going to grow.”

Michael Cautero ’09 said that although the center, located next to the Off-Broadway Theater, was difficult to find, the peer tutors helped him improve an essay for his English class.

“I think it’s a great idea to have the writing center open for drop-in hours,” he said.

The Committe on Yale College Education’s 2003 report recommended an expansion in the writing tutoring program to accompany the institution of a writing requirement. Starting with the Class of 2009, all students must take two courses that are designated writing-intensive and span a large range of departments including some physical sciences.

Other schools have long-standing writing programs that require freshmen to take a prescribed course or courses in expository writing. Harvard has had a writing requirement since the 19th century, while this year is the first that Yale has had any such requirement.

Yale College’s existing writing tutoring program, the Bass Writing Tutors Program, will continue to operate as it did before through the individual tutors in each residential college. It is unique to Yale in that it provides one-on-one writing instruction with accomplished professional writers. Most schools only have student tutoring programs with either graduate students, undergraduates or both serving as tutors.

Princeton began using undergraduates as tutors in 2001, when it instituted a freshman writing requirement, said Amanda Wilkins, assistant director of the Princeton Writing Center. Before that the program had consisted exclusively of graduate student tutors.

The expansion of the program to include undergraduate tutors allowed the number of students who use the Princeton Writing Center to increase by more than three-fold since 2001. More than half of those students who seek help with papers are freshmen, Wilkins said.

“We have been able to significantly expand our offerings,” Wilkins said. “In Princeton’s case, we have been very, very pleased.”

The new writing center is open most weekday evenings and students may stop by without appointments.

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