Collaboratively Setting an Agenda with Writers in Intensive English Programs

This past year I have been working with curriculum coordinators in DePaul’s English Language Academy (ELA), DePaul’s Intensive English Program, to form a more complete understanding of ELA writers and their writing in the Writing Center. As tutors, we work with ELA writers all the time, but we don’t always know that they are coming to us with ELA writing, and many tutors may not be aware of the complex nature of ELA writing. For teachers and students in the ELA, there may not always be clear expectations for what the Writing Center offers and does. So, there were often instances of misunderstanding, causing the tutorial to not be as effective as it could be.

Writers and writing in Intensive English Programs (IEP), similar to the ELA, are often very different than the writers and writing of other programs/departments. The tasks, elements of writing, structures, and purpose of the assignments are unique. The things we as tutors focus on with say, a First Year Writing assignment or a business class’ writing assignment, may not be as important in an IEP context. What’s more is these programs often have different levels that are focusing on different aspects of language and writing. Needless to say, it’s important to be aware of the differences here so that we, as tutors, can effectively work with them.

Every writer is different and has different needs, which is why Collaboratively Setting the Agenda is one of the UCWbL’s Core Practices. When it comes to working with IEP writers and writing, this setting of the agenda is especially important. As tutors, we should get to know as much about each writer as we can. So when I am working with someone, I always ask them first about their major (if the writer is an IEP writer, they usually say so then). Then I ask about the class and how it’s going; I find this helps ease apprehensions and it gives me a sense of what they think about the course. By this point, it’s clear whether or not they are from the IEP; if they are, I then ask more about which level they’re in and what assignment they’re working on. From there I get into our agenda. It’s not always easy, but here are some tips to help you navigate these appointments:


Things to Know before an Appointment: 

  • If your institution has an IEP and if your Center works with those writers.
  • If there are expectations for working with those writers and their writing (either on the Center’s end or the IEP’s end).
  • As much information about the IEP, its writers, and its writing curriculum (typically they have this online).

Things to Ask to Get Started:

  • Ask what writing level the writer is in.
  • Ask to see the assignment sheet, description, etc.; if there isn’t one, ask for their understanding of teacher’s expectations.
  • Ask what stage in the assignment they are in (brainstorming, first draft, final draft, etc.).
  • Ask if their instructor has provided feedback on a (or this) draft; if they have, ask to see the feedback.

Collaboratively Setting the Agenda with ELA writers:

The responses to the above are crucial for collaboratively figuring out what the writer wants and needs and how to effectively make use of your time. Note that IEP writers can often be timid or hesitant about taking agency over the direction of the appointment. Encourage them to take that agency, and help them to do so. So here are some common elements that their instructors will focus on:

  • Planning
  • Understanding professor’s feedback
  • Organization and development
  • Language
  • Mechanics
  • Using sources