Reflection for Final Project: UD Tutoring Practices

The projects that I have focused on in my first year as a Ph.D. student have largely dealt with writing centers, multimodality, composition, dis/ability and access/ibility, and UD. Thus, this final project was really useful for me as a holistic overview of the work I have done, providing me with an opportunity to reflect on the year’s work and do something more action-oriented than a research paper: brainstorm some UD tutoring practices.

I do want to make clear that I don’t think, generally, that writing centers are terribly inaccessible. They often strive toward accessible physical spaces and flexible pedagogies. However, there does seem to be an inattention to disability not only within writing center scholarship but within dominant writing center practices. WCs may have flexible, alternative pedagogies, but they still default to inaccessible practices. I don’t think this is because writing center patrons and inhabitants don’t care; rather, I don’t think they have clear models for how to do this work. I definitely see the principles of Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning as springboards for thinking about the accessibility of writing centers. I don’t see my project as a clear model for that, necessarily, but I do see it as an opportunity to begin brainstorming about ways we can make writing centers more accessible to the very diverse student populations they serve.

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Final Project: Universally Designed Writing Center Practices

All students come to sessions with a variety of differences, and so what tutors do with a student with a disability should be no different from what they do with any other student.”—Kiedaisch & Dinitz, 2007, 50

In many ways, the space of the writing center is already universally designed. Writing centers have historically been known for engaging with alternative pedagogies; supporting students with different and multiple ways of learning and composing; and valuing students as valuable creators of knowledge. If the resources (e.g. funding) is available, writing centers also tend to be spaces that encourage flexible practices with multiple rooms, different furniture arrangements, and mobile furniture. Despite these great advancements in both practices and spaces, we often default to tutoring practices that are framed for students with particular abilities.

The above video is an example of a standard writing center session (Enter the center, sit down, read aloud, discuss). Who does this standard privilege? Who may be excluded from this space or these practices?

The standards for writing centers are F2F (face-to-face) interactions and the read-aloud model. That is, a student enters a writing center with a written text, meets one-on-one with a tutor, and reads their text aloud—stopping every once in a while to comment on particular points in the paper. These two standards assume a number of things about the bodies that enter a writing center. First, the F2F standard assumes that the best environment for students is in physical, face-to-face environments. Some students may have trouble physically getting to a writing center, and—like the students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) that I discussed in Project 1—some students may be uncomfortable with such close, intimate settings. Second, the read-aloud model privileges able-bodied students who hear, speak, can focus for 30- to 60-minute periods of time, and learn best through listening. Students who do not respond to these practices, then, are treated differently. With increasing numbers of students with documented (and undocumented) disabilities, we must recognize inaccessible tutoring practices and universally design new standards that are accessible to wider student populations.

How Can Universal Design Help?

In order to truly support students’ different bodily experiences and embodied writing practices, writing centers must be pedagogically accessible. Enter Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL offers a way to apply the equitable and flexible spatial principles of Universal Design to writing pedagogies. According to CAST, UDL pushes against a “single, one-size-fits-all solution,” advocating instead for approaches that are flexible, multiple, and adjustable. The principles of UDL—multiple means of representation, multiple means of actions and expression, and multiple means of engagement—can help expand our perceptions of students’ learning and composing practices. These principles can also positively affect tutoring practices.

Tutoring Practices Get a UD Makeover

A major step in universally designing tutoring practices is moving away from the standard read-aloud model, which values print texts. Jody Shipka argues for a broader understanding of texts, expanding the definition to include print and digital texts, embodied performances, photographs, videos, physical objects, and repurposed or remediated objects (p. 300). This definition speaks to the multiplicity of UDL and allows for a richer understanding of pedagogical accessibility: if students want to compose essays, collages, videos, or webtexts, these all fit within multimodal pedagogies. Similarly, if students with disabilities are limited to particular modalities—e.g., a blind student who relies on auditory or sensory modes to write or a deaf student who relies more heavily on visual modes—universally designed practices can more easily adapt to these needs, incorporating rather than accommodating or retrofitting them.

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session: Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session. Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices: “What are you working on?” vs. “What are you struggling with?”

Expanding our sense of texts allows for a more realistic representation of what students are working on when they come into a writing center. In the graphic above, I included one of the main questions tutors ask students: “What are you working on?” Most often, a student is working on a paper, which requires working at either a table or a computer. Reading aloud a paper is certainly an option, but outlining main ideas or just having a discussion about struggles and strengths can be just as useful. Sometimes, students need help with non-traditional texts, such as presentations, videos, or oral presentations, and the standard read-aloud does not work as well. For these particular projects, reading aloud doesn’t suffice.

Often, talking through a text could be more beneficial than reading it word for word. McKinney (2009) encourages talking—rather than reading—as a way to interact more holistically with all features of a multimodal text (p. 39). This practice is useful for texts that consist of more than just alphabetic text, but it could also benefit students with disabilities. For example, reading a paper aloud for errors may not be as effective when working with deaf students, students with ADHD, or students with pragmatic language impairment (PLI). Students with PLI may struggle with reading and expressing themselves, which can affect listening comprehension (Babcock, 2011 p. 7). By talking about a text, students have more opportunities to engage with the text in ways that reflect overall comprehension and understanding of their particular rhetorical choices.

This is a small but useful adaptation of the read-aloud model. Another way to begin universally designing tutoring practices is to add another question to the initial meeting between tutor and student: “What are you struggling with?” This is often a question that is asked, but it is generally for the tutor to consider while reading the paper. A more universally designed practice encourages tutors to ask students about their writing struggles in order to co-construct the student as a leader in the discussion. It also opens up opportunities for students to decide how they might address that struggle, helping to “provide options for recruiting interest” by optimizing “individual choice and autonomy” (CAST 2011). By determining what students are struggling with—starting the project, focusing, connecting ideas, grammar/spelling, seeing the “big picture,” etc.—both tutors and students can work together to better meet the students’ needs. I call this process developing a “multimodal toolkit.”

Developing a multimodal toolkit involves developing rhetorical strategies that push against fixed communicative interactions and present more opportunities for students. The idea is not to max out all sensory options but to provide flexibility. Konstant (1992) suggests being flexible and using multiple channels: “Try ways of reaching the student through more than one channel at a time. Use combinations of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques—the multisensory approach. Say it and draw it; read text aloud; use color to illustrate things” (p. 7). Konstant (1992) takes an early cue from UDL when she argues that everyone has learning practices that work best for them (p. 6). Similarly, Dunn & Dunn De Mers promote using a “variety of visual, aural, spatial, and kinesthetic approaches to tap into the intellectual chaos that goes into writing.” This means pushing against singular notions of how to interact with both students and texts, and it requires a negotiation between tutor and student. In her work with deaf students, Babcock (2008) suggests explicit dialogue: “Most of all, try to find out what the deaf person needs and wants out of the session, and gear your tutoring toward that” (p. 35). Although most students have more nuanced understandings of their composing processes than we often realize, some students may need a bit more help. If students are unaware of what they want or need, knowing some multimodal practices can be useful.

Both multimodality and UDL ask us to acknowledge that all students have multiple ways of learning and knowing and to be flexible to those different needs. Dunn & Dunn De Mers (2002) suggest flexible practices such as multimodal reading logs, discussions, talking through a draft, and sketching-to-learn. The second graphic is meant to represent some of those multimodal options. For example, if a student is having trouble getting started with their project, the tutor can suggest looking at models of similar projects (e.g. assignment sheets and sample structures of similar genres), organizing the notes the student has on the topic, reading more sources, or writing a letter to a friend explaining the project’s importance. All of these provide ways different from simply reading aloud that can help generate ideas. Similarly, if a student is having difficulty focusing, the tutor can suggest writing in a new mode, setting small deadlines, working on two main goals within the tutoring session and outlining goals that the student can work on later, and getting up and moving around to get re-focused. All of these point to the guidelines outlined by CAST for multiple means of action and expression, providing learners with options for how they navigate particular learning environments.

Universally Designed Writing Center Practices for Students with AS

In project 1, I focused on accessible practices for students with AS because of the highly social and intimate nature of FYC, combined with an increasing number of students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) in postsecondary settings. Like first-year composition (FYC), writing centers are expected to serve diverse student populations, and because of their focus on individualized instruction, they can also be highly social and intimate environments. It is useful to revisit some of the challenges and strengths that students with AS may share in order to gain a better sense of how more universally designed tutoring practices can meet their needs.

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face and UD Tutoring Practices that Address Them

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face: How UD Tutoring Practices Can Begin to Address Them

As seen in the second graphic, students with AS are often challenged by nonverbal communications and following social conventions, which makes peer interactions difficult. Though not something I’ve discussed much with practices, space is a major issue of UD that can affect practices. If there are multiple rooms in a writing center, a tutor can suggest meeting in a quieter section. At the Syracuse University Writing Center (SUWC), there is a small room of cubicles at the center’s entrance that can be used for quieter sessions, which could benefit students with AS, students with ADHD who need help focusing, or any student who may prefer to be in less populated areas. Students also have the option to work in a large open room where there are multiple tables, chairs, and computer stations arranged for tutoring (the videos above show a visual representation of this space). Adreon & Durocher (2007) also list “academic content, organization, time management, and study skills” (p. 274) as issues that students with AS often struggle with. Some UD practices that may support these challenges are providing clearly outlined instructions, setting mini-deadlines within sessions, practicing different writing strategies, and using different modalities to talk about the text.

Also important to mention is the possibility of creating Online Writing Labs (OWLs) or Electronic Writing Centers (EWCs). Though this is not possible for all writing centers, creating online spaces where students can interact with tutors can be beneficial—not only for students with AS who may feel uncomfortable meeting F2F in one-to-one sessions, but for a number of students who may be unable to physically access the center or may just be more comfortable interacting online. The SUWC, for example, offers an EWC where students meet with a tutor through iChat or AIM to discuss a paper. The most important thing to remember with such a solution is its flexibility: students have the option to choose what they are most comfortable with.

Conclusion

As we continue to see advances in technologies, changes in educational practices, and increases in disability diagnoses, writing center practices must be more accessible to students of all abilities. Universally designing tutoring practices can make writing centers more accessible to the diverse student populations that they seek to serve. Providing students with the resources to communicate within different modes, to practice and learn new literacies, and to harness their rhetorical abilities should be the goal of all writing centers. When we adopt universally designed pedagogies that support these resources, we acknowledge two things. First, all students have different abilities and knowledges. Second, all students can benefit from engaging with texts in different ways—visually, aurally, and kinesthetically—and in different contexts. Applying the flexible principles of UDL can make writing centers more pedagogically accessible, allowing us to better prepare students to become effective twenty-first-century communicators.

And as Kiedaisch & Dinitz (2007) remind us, employing UD allows writing centers to model multiple, flexible, and pluralistic approaches to learning:

[W]e acquire a new avenue for rethinking and redesigning our writing centers so that they become places where considerations of identity are woven into the fabric of every session, places open to being changed by their constant and varied encounters with diversity, places that are not only examples of but also agents for instituting a pluralistic approach to education. (p. 57)

References

Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 271-279.

Autism Society. Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/aspergers-syndrome/

Babcock, R. D. (2011). When something is not quite right: Pragmatic Impairment and compensation in the college writing tutorial. The Writing Lab Newsletter 35(5-6), 6-10.

—. (2008). Tutoring deaf students in the writing center. In C. Lewiecki-Wilson and B. J. Brueggemann (Eds.), Disability and the teaching of writing: A critical sourcebook (28-39). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

CAST. (2011). The National Center of Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/

Dunn, P. A., & Dunn De Mers, K. (2002). Reversing notions of disability and accommodation: Embracing Universal Design in writing pedagogy and web space. Kairos (7)1. Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/7.1/binder2.html?coverweb/dunn_demers/index.html

Kiedaisch, J., & Dinitz, S. (2007). Changing notions of difference in the writing center: The possibilities of Universal Design. The Writing Center Journal 27(2), 39-59.

Konstant, S. B. (1992). Multi-sensory tutoring for multi-sensory learners. The Writing Lab Newsletter 16(9-10), 6-8.

McKinney, J. G. (2009). New media matters: Tutoring in the late age of print.” The Writing Center Journal 29(2), 28-51.

Shipka, J. (2005). A multimodal task-based framework for composing. College Composition and Communication 57(2), 277-306.

Feminist Pedagogy: Implications for UDL

“[F]eminist theory is still resisted for exactly the same reasons that scholars might resist disability studies: the assumption that it is narrow, particular, and has little to do with the mainstream of academic practice and knowledge (or with themselves).”

“Most fundamentally, though, the goal of feminist disability studies, as I lay it out in this essay, is to augment the terms and confront the limits of the ways we understand human diversity, the materiality of the body, multiculturalism, and the social formations that interpret bodily differences.” — Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, 2002, 3

As evidenced by recent collaborations between women’s (gender) studies and disability studies, feminist pedagogy has a lot to offer the way we think about crafting universally designed pedagogies.

Susan Jarratt, a well-known feminist pedagogue in my field, identifies the basic practices of feminist pedagogy as decentering authority, recognizing students as sources of knowledge, and focusing on processes over products (115). What makes feminist pedagogy distinctive, though, is “its investment in a view of contemporary society as sexist and patriarchal, and of the complicity of reading, writing, and teaching in those conditions” (115). Julie Jung identifies similar qualities of feminist pedagogy, set in opposition to qualities of a patriarchal society, which I have included in the following table for a quick compare/contrast:

Table comparing patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy as defined by Julie Jung

The Qualities of Patriarchal Pedagogy vs. Feminist Pedagogy

The similarities between patriarchal pedagogy and feminist pedagogy to normalized/standardized and universally designed pedagogy are readily apparent, at least in the way that we have discussed them this semester. A patriarchal pedagogy is the historically “normed” pedagogy, and, in many ways, is inaccessible to students: it is teacher-student, doesn’t foster a safe or collaborative environment, and devalues students’ differences. A universally designed pedagogy, as we have discussed, moves away from these inaccessible practices to make the classroom a safe space where everyone’s experiences and knowledges are respected and valued.

The connections in practice are not the only value of considering feminist pedagogy, though. Jarratt writes, “Feminist pedagogy needs both to talk about women as a group—women teachers, women students—but also notice differences within gendered categories, especially when it comes to student writing and reading practices” (117). Kristina Knoll similarly argues, from the perspective of feminist disability studies, for paying attention to the “multitude of disability experiences” (124) that students bring to the classroom. The value of recognizing individual differences is important, not to other students, but to recognize and respect students’ different experiences. This has value for better understanding how students can best learn in the classroom and for understanding how, as teachers, we can create environments that are more accessible to students with many types of differences.

Lastly, feminist pedagogy from a Rhet/Comp perspective has some interesting implications for UD/UDL. Feminist pedagogy examines the way language operates within a gendered world (Jarratt 118). This resonates similarly to the way disability infiltrates language: “In the English language, using disability as a metaphor, an analogy and a derogatory term is common” (Ben-Moshe 107). This is important to address, particularly in a writing classroom that highlights the value of language and rhetorical choices because, as Liat argues, this language is offensive, impedes communication, perpetuates false beliefs, and creates an exclusionary classroom environment (107).

Even in a brief summary, it is clear that feminist pedagogy—its student-centered practices, collaborative and egalitarian values, and its goals for critically examining a gendered/patriarchal (“normed”) society and its social practices—can contribute to a larger discussion of universally designed pedagogies.

Ben-Moshe, Liat. “‘Lame Idea’: Disabling Language in the Classroom.” Building Pedagogical Curb Cuts: Incorporating Disability in the University Classroom and Curriculum. Ed. Liat Ben-Moshe, Rebecca C. Cory, Mia Feldbaum, and Ken Sagendorf. Syracuse, NY: The Graduate School at Syracuse University, 2005. 107-15. Print.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal 14.3 (Fall 2002): 1-32. Print.

Jarratt, Susan C. “Feminist Pedagogy.” A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 113-31. Print.

Jung, Julie. Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2005, Print.

Knoll, Kristina R. “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 19.1 (2008): 122-33. Print.

Accessibility in the Classroom

Access should not be viewed as a constraint on architectural design but should be conceived of as a ‘major perceptual orientation to humanity’ (Davies & Lifchez, 1987, 49).

The above quotation comes from Rob Imrie’s article, “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment,” and it frames this week’s readings on physical barriers. Goldstein, Imrie, Strange, and Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson all address physical barriers that range from inaccessible campuses and classrooms to disablist environments to limiting perceptions of disability itself. By positioning access as an orientation to humanity rather than a retrofit—a component that is added to an already-built space—the authors articulate a number of ways to make classroom (and other social) spaces more universally designed and accessible for students.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Polling": Staircase retrofitted with two planks of wood to create an "accessible ramp."

"Polling" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): A building retrofits a staircase with an "accessible ramp," while the man talking symbolizes a disables attitude toward accommodation.

Elisabeth Goldstein argues for the importance of implementing UD in higher education because of the diverse group of people that access campuses: “a widely diverse group of people (students, faculty, administration, alumni, visitors), with varying ages and physical and sensory abilities, makes up the campus community” (199). Goldstein considers a number of places that would benefit from UD, including building entrances, classrooms, furnishings, and sound and lighting. I am particularly drawn to her discussion of building entrances. She describes a building entrance as “the first impression one has of the site and orients the visitor the spaces within the rest of the facility” (200). If a building entrance is inaccessible to particular bodies, then, those bodies are marked as disabled—as unable to use these naturalized features in the ways they were intended (which, I think most of us agree, were ill-intended). Even if a classroom inside an inaccessible building is inclusive and welcoming, the message received from the building itself—Some bodies were not intended to use this building—can impact how a student engages within the classroom.

Rob Imrie argues that this received message, the idea that some bodies simply are not considered, is indicative of a larger “able-bodied” society (129). Imrie writes, “This has led some commentators to regard the built environment as disablist, that is, projecting ‘able-bodied’ values which legitimize oppressive and discriminatory practices against disabled people purely on the basis that they have physical and/or mental impairments” (129). Inaccessible buildings and classrooms reinforce this disablist environment. When Imrie discussed the able-bodied workforce, I immediately thought of how that translates to the college campus environment. Many campuses still create barriers for students with disabilities because college campuses were originally designed for able-bodied students.

This is where Universal Design can begin to play a role in creating built spaces that are more flexible and more accessible. However, UD cannot necessarily change the disablist attitudes Imrie discusses. UD cannot only influence physical environments: it must also affect attitudes. If a space is redesigned to be more accessible, this change inevitably has to reflect some changes in attitude and thinking, as well, because if a space is redesigned without critical understanding and respect of persons with disabilities, I’m not sure it could successfully be universally designed.

Carney Strange acknowledges the importance of understanding, arguing that instructors need to understand not only students with disabilities but also the larger social and physical conditions of the larger environments they inhabit (20). This is not a passive understanding, though. Strange argues that, through understanding, we can begin to create environments that are safe and inclusive, promote involvement, and offer full membership in the “community of learning” (23). Necessarily, this shifts away from acknowledging the inaccessibility of physical environments, moving toward a broader understanding of the inaccessibility of spaces and policies and practices. Spatial inaccessibility, then, becomes tied up in larger social structures.

Though Strange briefly mentions policy and practice, James Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson take them up in more detail. They describe disability law as a marker: “[T]he law writes on particular disabled bodies, no two of whom have the same needs, a generalized grid or map labeled ‘disabled student’” (298). Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue that this is a homogenizing attitude, that instructors must do more than what disability and accommodation laws can provide. For them, this seems to come down to flexible pedagogical practices that require instructors to be comfortable discussing difference, to understand the many differences between students with disabilities, and to “be willing to assist each (disabled) student to coconstruct the best individualized learning relationship” (300). That is, supporting students with disabilities in the classroom moves away from legal accommodations to constructing and negotiating a collaborative plan for what that student wants and needs.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Homework": Teacher asks blind student to read chalkboard.

"Homework" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): The teacher asks a blind student to read the chalkboard, an example of how accessibility is also pedagogical.

I appreciate this shift in accessibility from the physical to the pedagogical, because, as Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue, instructors often cannot change the physical environments. However, instructors can make their classrooms more accessible through their pedagogies—through adaptation, flexibility, and open discussions of disability. Addressing accessibility as implicated within larger structures—physical environment, social construction, policy, and pedagogy—becomes more critical and holistic. Depending on how much power we have over the physical design of our classrooms, it also becomes more action-oriented because we can address accessibility through the choices we make within our classrooms.

 

 

Goldstein, Elisabeth. “Applications of Universal Design to Higher Education Facilities.” Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Ed.  In Sheryl E. Burgstahler and Rebecca C. Cory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2008. 199-212. Print.

Imrie, Rob. “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment.” Ed. Tom Shakespeare. The Disability Reader: Social Science Perspectives New York: Cassell, 1998. 129-46. Print.

Strange, Carney. “Creating Environments of Ability.” New Directions for Student Services: Serving Students with Disabilities. Ed. Holley A. Belch.   San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. 19-30. Print.

Wilson, James C., and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “Constructing a Third Space: Disability Studies, the Teaching of English, and Institutional Transformation.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities  Ed. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. New York: MLA, 2002. 296-307. Print.

Presentation Styles

I didn’t have to blog this week (notetaker, what what?), but the readings about PowerPoints and various presentation styles made me think of Larry Lessig who, I would argue, is a great presenter. His style mixes the oral and visual in ways that are really effective. The repetition of key ideas and spelling out of entire thoughts is helpful for me because I struggle with processing large amounts of new, spoken information. You don’t have to watch the whole video to get the gist of his style, but if you’re a geek like me, you may just be interested in listening to him talk about copyright & IP laws 🙂