Sydney-Stanford Peer Tutors Linkup

What do pumpkins and horse racing have in common? The inaugural peer writing tutor linkup between Stanford University and the University of Sydney. Not only is this linkup the first-of-its-kind, but it occurs on a rare day when a major American holiday (Halloween) and a major Australian sporting event (the Melbourne Cup) coincide.

Vampire Jack-o-lantern slays weakling jack-o-lantern on remote farm!

Halloween is not a huge deal to Australians – it is a commercial holiday enjoyed by a handful of children in a small number of communities. The Melbourne Cup, on the other hand, is Australia’s richest horse race and a major sporting event in Australia.
We call it ‘the race that stops a nation’.

The Melbourne Cup is held on the first Tuesday in November, so it only rarely held on the day after Halloween. Further, given the time differences, at the time our peer tutors link up, it will be Halloween at Stanford and an hour before the big race in Australia – I’ll leave it to greater mathematical minds than mine to figure out how often the day after Halloween is the first Tuesday in November.

The Melbourne Cup - the race that stops the nation (but doesn't stop the bookies).

So, this unique holiday / sporting event leads to an interesting linkup.

From Ben (writing hub associate director in Sydney): Personally, I’ll take the carnivalesque approach and throw tradition and authenticity out the door. I’ll be in a Halloween costume and draw a sweepstakes for our students. I’ll be munching Halloween candy and cheering horses. I’ll be a confused crosscultural rhetorician (then again, confusion might be a healthy state for a crosscultural rhetorician).

From Julia (writing center associate director at Stanford): With that introduction, it would be remiss of me not to also come in costume. Let’s hope I won’t be alone! Also, Andrea Lunsford will be joining us for the exchange.

Can the peer tutors on either side of the Pacific begin the introductions before the linkup by leaving a comment below that answers one of the following questions:
•    why is Halloween so big in America but celebrated less in Australia?
•    do you think peer tutoring would be different in another country? why?
•    what are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a peer tutor?
And don’t be shy… if someone posts something interesting, ask them a question or respond to them.

On the day of the linkup, we’ll be designing a peer tutor training program and posting our designs as responses to this post. So check back soon and scroll through the comments to see some of the great ideas that emerge from the inaugural Peer Tutor linkup.

Ben (aka ‘that Sydney instructor who embarrassed himself by impersonating JFK during the last linkup’)

& Julia (aka ‘the Stanford instructor who will likely embarrass herself by being the only person in the room in Halloween costume’)

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17 Responses to Sydney-Stanford Peer Tutors Linkup

  1. Ana Silvestre says:


    My name is Ana. I’m portuguese with a degree on Envirnomental Engineer and starting a master in Environmental Engineering and Management being that my work will (at least, I hope to work in something about) rehabilitation of buildings and tourism.
    Making a research on the subject in the internet, I came across with your blog – about your article about Alkatraz prison) and though it would be a interesnting idea to exchange informations with someone across the planet about this theme… 🙂
    I think that a conversation and other points of view may help me to structure better the ideas that I’m having now for my project that are, until now, very loose, unfortunatly… So, if you don’t mind to have a correspondent in Portugal, I leave you may e-mail so we may, eventually exchange ideas, thoughs and knowledges. Thank you.
    Best regards and congratulations for the blog.

  2. Laura M. says:

    Am I the first one to post a comment to this blog? Ok, well I guess I’ll go with the first question. I don’t know why Halloween is not a big deal in Australia. I guess it’s because there is not much of a native tradition to celebrate Halloween there. I can only speculate why Halloween is such a big deal in America. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that 1. Americans love any excuse to dress up, 2. Americans love any reason to party 3. Halloween means costume contests which is the perfect chance for any devout American to show up his neighbors and friends with his infinitely more clever costume 4. It’s the only time of year when it’s ok to ask random strangers for candy.

  3. Evan says:

    All of those points sound reasonable to me, although I feel the level of celebration is also probably linked to what immigrants and how many of those immigrants entered each country over time. I also feel like America is very good at commercializing and playing up holidays, so Halloween, with its candy and costumes, is pretty ripe for that. But I’m a bit curious about the Melbourne Cup – is it a race only between horses from Australia? Or is there an international presence?

  4. Victoria says:

    Hi all,
    Although I have grading to do I’m probably not as busy as the peer tutors, so let me weigh in! The Melbourne Cup welcomes all horses who are three years old or over and who can pay the fee! Actually, there might be more restrictions than that, but yes, international horses are welcome! The Cup to me used to mean a fun afternoon at school with special lunch or a break from work, but now I realize that its combination of midday drinking and wild, raucous betting and gambling is what makes it beloved by Australians.

    Now, is there a connection between Halloween and either Thanksgiving or some kind of autumn (fall) harvest tradition? Would this have anything to do with why it doesn’t translate to Australia quite as well? And isn’t All Hallows Eve an English tradition? I wonder why that didn’t make it over to Australia, a colony of the British Empire? Ok, I’ve just looked it up and its Celtic, says Wikipedia!

  5. Stanford-Sydney Room E says:

    Word Wranglers


    Proposed Training Course:
    For our proposed training course, we believe that a more practical approach to teaching the class would be more appropriate and beneficial to the peer tutors. We could start with one or two articles and then go straight into looking at other tutors’ work or practice tutoring. More articles could be read later, but we believe that it’s best to jump straight into practical learning. We think that it would be very helpful for tutors in training to observe more experienced, established tutors already working in the Writing Center/Hub. By observing these individuals, we will be better able to pick and choose the tools and strategies we would like to use when we begin tutoring.

    This would definitely be a universal approach, able to be used in either university. We seem to be having the same issues, and these are solutions that would work in either space.

  6. Group Uni: Michael, James, Sophia says:

    We found during our discussion that writers often simply need a sounding board for their creativity. Int terms of creating a training course, we found that practicing tutoring is perhaps the best method of learning how to tutor. We also felt that it was necessary to set limits upon the time given to each student, as this allows the tutor to help more students while forcing the student to examine what they truly need help with.

    One possibility that we considered was that of virtual tutoring, as students are either too busy during their uni days to come in and have a consultation, or may not be working on their essay at that current point in time and therefore aren’t as motivated to get help on it. We understand that of course there would be financial limitations on this, however, we thought that it may be beneficial to have some tutors at the Writing Centre (say from like 9pm – 1am, a time when a lot of students are working) and a skype address which students can call from home to ask questions.

  7. Gloria Jeong, Veronika Valova, catherine, Lucas Rowley, Anika Naidu says:

    but not in stanford

    They should have a reason to come back for more tutoring with you or another tutor.
    leave with strategies – applied in the future
    most are apprehensive bu leave feeling that peer tutoring is a really helpful experience/ resource ← attitudes
    is this right? ← common concerns
    did i answer the question
    ask most for direction ← sounding borad sort of

    our styles vary but we try to use a minimalist model, where we guide student, we try not to TELL them
    we read a variety of different articles and explored various models of tutorinhg, before using elements of each in our ‘toolkit’
    feedback forms, cross-tutor assessment

    tutor traning course
    tutor interview
    less theory more practical
    use personal experiences more
    simulations of tutoring theory

    Tutors need the access to strategies that help them teach students who speak another language.
    We need skills to address students who want answers instead of strategies to become better writers.
    Students are commonly concerned about their grades, not being better writers

  8. Tenyia (stanford) says:

    Feedback – regular meeting/supervision
    alternatives to minimalist tutoring (but not moving too far from that style)
    observation & practice tutoring
    continuing training – peer-to-peer feedback.
    sandwiching? learning give feedback in a constructive way
    learning how to manage time/prioritize/identifying the difficulty
    dealing with weird/difficult situations
    How to model rhetorical devices to students
    Training videos – real life sessions

  9. Sydney-Stanford Group B says:

    Team Spongebob!

    * Problems with ESL students 😦
    * Training on different interfaculty styles
    * Engaging with the students
    o helping them solve their own problems
    o minimalist tutoring
    o questioning
    o ”what are you looking for?” “when is it due?”
    o Triage!
    o Thesis

  10. john lindsay says:

    What attitudes (negative/ positive) do students have toward peer tutoring?
    students are often looking for encouragement in developing their own voice. And this includes challenges to their own style, so that they can learn to incorporate new ways of thinking. Some students express positive attitudes when they are not judged and are encouraged to do what they want in reference to their writing style. Others express positive attitudes when they receive insight into the grading style of the teacher.

    what are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a peer tutor?
    Figuring out what the student desires as feedback from the peer tutor. Each student desire different kinds of feedback.

  11. arielle says:

    I think that what is often the biggest challenge for students is understanding what the professor is asking and answering that question thoroughly, while still expressing their own original ideas. As a tutor, I am often helping students analyze the prompt.

    I think another challenge for students is to clearly formulate your ideas. This takes time, but students are often busy and under a time crunch to finish their papers. As writing tutors, we have to be available at times when students can actually work on their papers (such as during evenings and weekends). We also need to help them articulate their ideas by asking questions and talking through what they are trying to write.

  12. Sonja Swenson says:

    I agree with John that my most frequent challenge as a drop-in tutor is determining what kind of feedback a student wants to receive. I most often get first-year students who ask me to just read over their papers to see if it “makes sense.” Often it takes time to figure out what which part of the paper the student wants to focus on and what kinds of things he/she is concerned about in the writing. For me, a good sign is always when the tutoring session starts to feel like a conversation (and less of the student simply seeking my opinion). In a conversation, I find that students tend to feel a little more freedom to think creatively, and it’s also much easier for me to gauge whether or not the student needs more feedback or more encouragement.

    Another challenge is helping student not to feel discouraged after realizing that, in the aftermath of our conversation, he/she wants/needs to make many more changes than originally anticipated. I try to be positive, emphasizing the progress we’ve made and how much stronger the paper will be after wrestling with it a little more, but sometimes students express a bit of a “I wish I hadn’t thought about that” attitude. It’s true though that even a 20 minute tutoring session can be exhausting for a student — especially if he/she has already spent so much time on it. Sometimes, I think it’s important to help students acknowledge all the work they’ve just put into their paper (and perhaps encourage them to put it aside for a little while and take a break, if possible). This can also be a good point at which to encourage students to come back to the writing center again.

  13. Melissa Johnson says:

    I agree with Arielle that one of the students’ biggest challenges is figuring out what the professor is asking for in a prompt. I find that, especially for IHUM (Intro to Humanities) papers, many students have problems with the balance between expressing their own ideas and grounding their argument in the text.

    I think that a proposed training course would be very practically oriented. I think it’s good to read papers at the beginning as an introduction to the broader writing tutoring community as well as the academic discourse around tutoring. However, I think that tutors would benefit more from practicing tutoring techniques instead of reading about the theory behind them.

    The training course would include a lot of observation as well as practice, not only with actual tutees, but also with other students in the class, in order to give tutors lots of feedback and exposure to a broad range of tutoring styles. I think it would also be helpful to have lessons devoted to tutoring for each stage of writing: tutoring in the brainstorming stages, for overall structure, for sentence clarity, etc., and guidelines for what sorts of questions and strategies are good to ask and use at each stage to help the student develop their paper.

  14. Jessica Guenther says:

    Hi Everyone! Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the meeting on Halloween. However, I have looked through the agenda and come up with a few answers to the questions 🙂 I also really enjoyed reading through all of your posts!
    I have been tutoring since the beginning of last year, and have found that a majority of students come to my office hours looking for validation that they have properly addressed the prompt given to them/properly completed the assignment. The second most common reason that students come to see me is because they want to make sure that they are supporting their thesis, or that their thesis is strong enough. My goal as a tutor is that when a student leaves the session, he or she feels confident that a) their paper is on the right track b) they have a clear picture of how to improve their writing in the time they are given. I always try to work within the time limit of a paper, and try to give tips that the student can apply to their entire paper (as well as some specifics). That way, I feel that students are able to improve their writing, rather than simply their paper.
    As a tutor, I feel that the best preparation is learning from experience. I think it would be a good idea to practice tutoring other “apprentice tutors” in the tutor training course. I also think that being assigned a tutor “mentor” at Stanford could be helpful for new tutors (although I realize this may not work in Sydney yet).

  15. Jaslyn says:

    I wasn’t able to make the meeting either but will share a thought ex post facto —

    I think one of the most interesting challenges for a writing tutor is to figure out the root cause of a student’s concerns. I always begin sessions by asking students what they are concerned about or what they want to work on. Sometimes, though, what a student thinks is the main issue with her paper isn’t. I see this the most with freshmen who don’t realize they don’t know what’s being asked of them. A lot of times, they come in saying they need help with “organization” or “clarity” — just throwing out buzzwords of the writing process without actually having enough critical background to be able to know what their problems are. Those cases are particularly tricky, because sometimes they don’t need to reorganize — they need to rethink and rewrite. (This year, I saw one IHUM paper that didn’t analyze the text at all!) That’s a much more “teachery” role than we usually have to assume. I find it helpful to think of myself as a liaison between student and teacher, and to make it clear that I’m not judging — I’m trying to put them in a position to succeed.

  16. Evan says:

    I agree with Jaslyn that there are often times, especially at the start of the year, when students will come in either with no idea about what worries them about their paper, or not realizing that a problem exists. Sonja makes a great point about the importance of conversation in a session, and I always strive to get the tutee actively involved in that way, rather than passively waiting for me to give more feedback. If people tell me that they want help with “organization” or “clarity,” etc., and seem to be throwing out a broad term because they don’t quite know what to say, I always try to get the conversation started there, to figure out what aspect of organization has them feeling unsettled, or what parts of the paper they worry may be unclear. Often, this discussion can lead to not only a more focused sense of what aspects are worrying the student, but also lead to the discovery of some other aspects of the paper that are problematic, but which the student didn’t quite know how to address. Still, I find that students are work with tend to be very good at being aware of (at least some) weaknesses in their papers.

    In terms of a writing tutor training course, I agree with all of the above posters who extolled the virtues of hands-on training. I believe a big part of being an effective tutor is being able to set the student you are working with at ease and to naturally start that conversational flow, which is something that only comes with practice. Working with other tutor trainees could be a way to do this, or at least having time to observe (or at least talk with) trained tutors a couple times is definitely key.

  17. Kezia says:

    Here are some of my ideas for what a training course for peer writing tutors could include. I definitely agree with the groups and individuals who spoke about practical training. It is helpful to start tutoring and then be able to see what works for you and what doesn’t. However, before actually starting to practice I think that observations are critical. I think new tutors should first learn by looking at more experienced tutors and taking notes from what they do: their techniques, how the tutees respond, what worked for one session and why, how different atmospheres are created in the tutoring session and works best . I also think the new tutor should be able to talk to the more experienced one after the observation sessions. Such conversations would be rich with information for both parties. It would also be good to have a resource manual of sorts for tutors as well. This would include practical things such as grammar rules (that I’m sure we’re all a bit rusty on), points about citations, a few articles and maybe templates or formats for things like resumes, journal articles and op-eds. I think that a training course with these elements has the potential to work both in Stanford and in Sydney.

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