At the start of 2020, six new Writing Coaches – PhD students with some experience in tutoring and teaching – were trained by Academic Skills’ Learning Advisors in providing one-to-one support to coursework students. In this training, three elements were covered in delivering a successful student appointment: how to instruct students on the genre and best practices of academic writing; how to help students arrive at the answers to their own questions about the content of their writing; and how to motivate students to take on and confidently apply our advice.
Our training in motivation came in very handy with the shift to remote learning.
Along with getting the technical aspects right—using Zoom to provide live, one-to-one support, creating a Wattle site for students to submit drafts, learning to provide multi-modal written feedback for students who couldn’t make a live Zoom session, and promoting this new mode of our service—we also needed to consider how to continue to foster student motivation.
Motivating students over Zoom
Over Zoom it is even harder to notice student cues regarding their feelings about the assignment, or larger issues affecting their motivation to improve their draft. However, Writing Coaches already have training in checking in with how a student is feeling, providing encouragement and optimism, showing concern and empathy, providing specific praise and reinforcing student ownership over their draft. We asked our Writing Coaches to draw on this training so they could continue to attend to students’ academic concerns as well as their emotional needs.
Writing Coach Intifar Chowdhury reflected on what she aims for during her appointments with students:
“Undoubtedly, it is more difficult to build rapport with students during virtual consultations and the inability to do so can act as a barrier to help students with their academic writing concerns. I employ the motivational strategies we learned in our training to empathise with students’ difficulties in remote learning and to express genuine interest in their academic improvement.”
Motivating through written feedback
Students who chose written feedback over a live Zoom session proved a particular challenge. Not only were the new Writing Coaches not trained in providing written feedback, but it was also unclear how to attempt to motivate the students via this medium.
Learning Advisors added guidelines and tips to our Wattle training page on how to provide comprehensive and motivating written feedback: parts: providing an overall positive comment summarising their main impressions and ideas for improvement, providing in-text comments regarding more minor issues as appropriate, providing an enthusiastic voice comment summarising the main message for the student, and providing encouragement and optimism for the revision process.
Here’s how Writing Coach Louisa Talipski reflected on her experiences with providing written feedback:
“Voice comments allow me to humanise my written comments and restate the key aspects of my feedback in a friendly, encouraging tone. I’ve found that I preface general written comments with a positive statement about how well the student has done to put together a draft, and how they’ve built up a really solid foundation to work with. I’ve found that little things like smiley faces and carefully placed exclamation marks can really help convey the impression that there is a person ‘at the other end’ who is motivating the student and wanting them to do well.”
As the Writing Coaches become more confident in understanding the various types of academic writing outside of their disciplines, they also become more confident in their interactions with students in order to provide another level of support for a student’s sense of well-being.
Dr Jillian Schedneck is a Learning Advisor in ANU Academic Skills