What’s up Weelic

Weelic Chong ’15 uses his new-found wisdom to offer advice on life in the Writing Center.

A pdf copy with optimal formatting is attached here.



What’s up Weelic,

I have a problem. A student came in and asked that we talk about planning and brainstorming. Then in the end she was having these strange ideas that seem to fit in well. But the ideas don’t work, I know because I took the class before. I didnt want to use that reason, but I said it anyway, and then the session seemed weird and authoritarian. What should I do?

– Authoritarian Marian


Dear A. Marian,

Well, its hard to restrain oneself from contributing advice. After all, I’ve been in this business of giving advice for years, and the joys of it…. But what happens when it’s not finely balanced with panache? It will seem like you are trying to steer the rudder for him/her. Take a leaf from North and get some good old minimalism in your mind. Remember that sometimes less is more. Sometimes that means just talking about one thing to change, or actually saying less, or interjecting less (and best if not at all).

If you queasiness stems from your urge to give the “That’s the way its done” thing, then try giving yourself some space. Listen to his/her ideas, breathe (while trying not to think of other things), and rephrase what you think you’ve heard. Remember the normal discourse is always useful when writing stuff. But sometimes your writer may be making some abnormal discourse that might change things. Or it could be bad normal discourse that should be pruned right away, but that’s a judgment call that you cannot make. Suggest that to the writer, and ask him/her to make the judgment call. Finally, take my advice with a pinch of salt. You can say that to the students too.

To less dictatorship,



What’s up Weelic,

My friend came in. And it’s really hard to help her because she says we will end up chatting. What should I do?

-Ms. Popular


Dear Ms. Popular,

Well, that’s possibly one of the reasons why the writing center is staffed with several people at the same time. Since the writing center is geared with peer tutoring in mind, in a small school you will end up helping some friends. Perhaps it might be hard to be sitting down reading a paper with your chummiest buddy.

If you do have no other choice, try a few things: Printing out the paper gives time to make the essay concrete, and allows one to get away from squeezing in front of a laptop together.

Finally, it is nice to note that there are tutors who have had their best friend come over to spend time on a paper, and it turned out to be a really productive time for the writer. Perhaps North’s “Change the writer, not the writing” would be easier to do if you share a history of positive interactions with the writer (aka friendship). Enjoy the tutoring experience!

To your popularity,



What’s up Weelic,

A tutee came in with a paper that is completely full of grammatical errors. He says it’s due two days later, and he had already done a lot of work on it. The tutee and I don’t have so much time and energy to go through all of that. How do I pick my battles?

-Picky Grammarian


Dear Picky Grammarian,

One way would be put down that editing pen, and to read it for what the essay is really trying to say. Reading such chunky texts aloud might be awkward or potentially embarrassing. You might say that “Reading aloud can be a good way to develop an internal voice.” If possible, allow the student to decide that without directly asking.

It is likely that you will be reading silently. In this case, you could try holding that writing hand to your pants to better resist the urge to write or type something. Allow yourself to ask the writer questions to clarify points raised in the essay, and perhaps mark an arrow at that line to signify that you have asked a question at that juncture.  By the end of this first scan through the paper, the areas where writing is unclear would have been marked with arrows. These would indicate parts where the grammar might have caused unclear meanings.

Sometimes the paper might not seem to have changed much after a long time and it might be discouraging. But often in these cases, more time was spent on talking about on more global concerns than correcting or proof-reading for small mistakes. That’s alright, because you know that when you do focus on the grammar that affects global concerns, you are spending quality time that helps improve the tutee’s writing process. The writing might still be weak, but the writer has emerged stronger from the writing center. As you’ve said, you have to pick your battles.

Divide et impera,



What’s up Weelic,

A student came in, saying that he is stuck. How do I encourage her to generate new ideas and to let her do all the work?

-Writer’s Block


Dear Writer’s Block,

Brainstorming can be difficult and elusive. It is possible that the student has her own way of brainstorming, but somehow it did not work this time. This could be really frustrating, especially if the paper is due soon, so do your best to be encouraging and be a great listener.

Often a lot of internal voice telling us that “this idea won’t work” might do a lot in stifling the creative process. It might be useful to think of divergent thinking, which generates creative ideas, and critical thinking, which analyzes these ideas and fleshes them out, as two sides of the same coin. Encourage your tutee to see only one side at a time.

If done successfully, the tutee can then move on to a period of freewriting. This process of actively generating ideas has also been called “brain barfing” (one of Evan’s favorite term.)

Perhaps later, you can flip the coin and start picking the things that work. For now, just brain-barf. It can be as liberating as it sounds.

To your 85%



What’s up Weelic,

A student came in and felt despondent about writing, and he wondered about the whole point of rhetoric. What might be something to say without feeling stuffy?



Dear Stuffed,

I’d like to quote my fellow writing associate.

“Writing is power, and bad writing has no power. It is our job to empower our students with their own voice.” Josh.

You also should do your best to tell your tutee that he can learn to be a good writer – heck, anyone can! That’s the reason why we struggle to write and choose our words carefully and revise our writing. We know that with experience, we will get better in writing.

Psychologists have known that repetition of positive messages leads to internalization. So get him to repeat that to himself aloud. “I can be a great writer. I will change my feelings of inadequacy.” And repeat it again.

A smoothie at Decafe might help too. The natural sugars help make everything feel better.




What’s up Weelic,

There is this one kid who will come in and sit at the writing center, and do nothing but write. Occasionally he comments on other people. What should I do about this? Should I do anything at all?



Dear Feeling-the-vibes,

How would you feel if you are really feeling it and you are writing in the writing center, and it really works for you, and while you are there, you really get lots of things done? Will you remember the awkward person staring at you? Nope, chances are you will be so engrossed that you won’t remember anything but the writing. (You can refer to Flower and Hayes’ “Cognitive Process of Writing”, but it’s really simpler than that. ) So let the kid do his work, and don’t chase him away, unless he is making highly inappropriate comments in rapid succession. But if not, why turn down someone from a common space meant to make writing accessible to all?

Let the good vibes roll,



What’s up Weelic,

I have been helping ESL students and I find myself lapsing into a certain strategy of helping them. Is this a bad thing ?



Dear Proned-to-categorize,

One way to think about it is this: The individual attention given to each student is at the heart of the writing center. If you are a writing tutor, your job will be best accomplished by tweaking your approach for each student. That means that the onus will be on you to adapt to each student, and so putting on blanket strategies for ESL students – which as you have noted, really varies – would be missing the point for a writing center. So perhaps this might be a bad thing, especially in the long run.

You are on the right track for change because you are observant about your own actions and are continually reflecting. Keep a log of your own actions and your strategy for each session you had. Perhaps you might keep that in the Blackboard journal, or perhaps your personal diary.

Or perhaps you could simply be running out of ideas. Sometimes tag-team tutoring (where two tutors help one tutee) will help you learn new approaches from your fellow writing associates.

Personally, tutoring ESL students can be a most rewarding experience, and made me think harder about the interplay of language and thought. I hope you will discover this as well.

Uniquely yours,




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