Two years ago, Frances Huckaby noticed a consistent problem with the students in her early childhood education courses. The majority of them struggled to develop basic ideas and clearly write about them.
“Sometimes the problem was structuring an argument, and other times the difficulties were a variety of grammatical challenges,” Huckaby said.
Though the TCU Office of Admission requires prospective students to submit a 300-to-500 word essay in their application to the university, the struggle for students to write effectively is a problem many professors encounter.
“The main thing I see that I think a lot of other professors see is that we draw a very specific student to TCU in terms of SAT scores,” said Travis Mann, who teaches first and second year English composition. “A lot of students come to college prepared to write for high school, but in many cases they’re not really prepared to write for the college level.”
For three years, however, Mann has helped provide an avenue for professors like Huckaby to address the problem. In 2006, former English department chair Dan Williams submitted a grant proposal for the creation of TCU Writing Associates, a program that would hire undergraduate and graduate students to serve as tutors for specific classes over the course of a semester. The proposal was accepted, and has been funded by TCU’s Vision In Action program since 2006.
The program was first implemented in fall 2007 with 18 writing associates. Since then, it has expanded to 27 writing associates placed in all academic disciplines at TCU. The program has tutored an average of 350 students per semester and reached more than 700 students in the 2008-2009 school year. Mann estimated that in 90 percent of these classes the program has been successful.
“All of these professors, without fail, say that this is a great program, that it has really helped their students, and that they can focus more on the content of a student’s paper as opposed to teaching writing,” Mann said.
While it has expanded in the past two years, the program is seeking additional funding to remain active. The Vision In Action grant will run out at the end of this academic year, and without a source of funding the program’s future is uncertain.
Huckaby, who has used writing associates in her courses since 2007, said she would recommend the program to other professors.
“Since I’ve used the program, few student papers are submitted with structural or organization problems,” Huckaby said. “Through their work with the associates, students can push the development of their writing a bit further.”
The Writing Associates program offers the same one-on-one tutoring services as the TCU Center for Writing, but the benefits differ.
“The Center for Writing is fantastic at what they do,” Mann said. “But with us, the student-tutor relationship can be built over a semester. And that relationship helps students and writing associates begin to focus on writing as a process, a skill that takes time to develop.”
Although Writing Associates aims to help students in every aspect of writing, the program should not be viewed as an editing service, Mann said
“A lot of people unfortunately still think of the Writing Center, and our program to a degree, as a place to fix commas and grammar,” Mann said. “And while we will talk about those things, that’s not what we’re about. We want to teach students that writing is a process, and that what they go through in that process is extremely important.”
Professors interested in using the program in the spring semester should contact Travis Mann at [email protected], or visit www.wa.tcu.edu for more information.
Megan McGuire is an advertising/public relations major from Austin.