Student-Faculty Partnerships: Professor Heidi Taylor (Sociology) and Sophia Rintell (‘19)
Each spring, we carefully partner more than thirty Bates faculty members with course-attached peer educators, or PWSAs (Peer Writing & Speaking Associates), so each partner-pair can begin to co-plan their strategies for supporting first year writer-speakers in their fall writing-intensive (W1) First Year Seminar (FYS).
Engaging students as partners in the FYS classroom can be a highly effective pedagogical practice with benefits for everyone involved: first-year students see how approachable faculty can be while taking a critical first step into the exceptional peer-to-peer support venues available to them at Bates; PWSAs act as friends and mentors to first year students while gaining teaching and learning leadership skills; faculty get a student perspective on assignments and projects, as well as greater insight into what their students are struggling with.
As we begin to galvanize the fall cohort of 2019 FYS instructor-PWSA partners, we asked one amazing pair that really rocked the 2018 semester how they made it work. Their responses are below.
How often did you meet to communicate with each other and what did you talk about?
Heidi: It was very helpful and convenient that Sophia was working on her thesis with me, so we naturally met every week. Often we would take a few minutes at the start or end of thesis meetings to talk about the FYS a bit, which meant we were always checking in with each other. I was able to fill her in on upcoming assignments, and she was able to give feedback on her student meetings.
Sophia: Like Professor Taylor wrote, we were able to meet almost every week to discuss my senior thesis, and as a result, we almost always had the chance to check in about the FYS. In addition to talking about upcoming assignments, I was also able to provide generalized feedback about how students were doing with their assignments, which areas multiple students struggled with, and questions I had that would enable us both to better support the students. Meeting so frequently, not just for the purpose of the FYS, meant that Professor Taylor often had a sense of my own personal workload (I was also taking another course with her too!), and we could work to structure my role such that I could devote an optimal and reasonable amount of time to working with the students. For example, we were able to plan ahead for weeks when students would be required to meet with me.
In what ways do you think was your partnership successful?
Heidi: The students greatly appreciated the help they received from Sophia – they often mentioned in both in class and during individual meetings with me. It is great for them to get to know an accomplished older student who they can talk to about academic and non-academic issues.
Sophia: When there were parts of assignments that multiple students had questions about, I was able to ask Professor Taylor those questions if I did not have the answer and report back to all the students. Sometimes it is difficult to interpret a writing prompt, and it was helpful that I was familiar with Professor Taylor’s assignments or could easily ask her questions. To that end, it was helpful that I already had a history of taking classes taught by Professor Taylor and had some familiarity with her style and preferences, even though I did not take her FYS. The pre-existing working relationship proved beneficial for the two of us working together this semester and hopefully enabled us to better help the students.
What advice would you give to future FYS instructors and FYS PWSAs in order to have a successful partnership and help first year students?
Heidi: I think what was most helpful was having Sophia get to know the students very early in the semester – actually, before it even started! She was at one of our first-ever meetings, for the Common Read Brunch, which was very informal, and held outside…mostly just a conversation. So she was part of the group from the start, in a very laid-back non evaluative environment. She came into class just a couple weeks later to lead a great discussion about writing and was able to connect with students because she was already part of the group. This got the semester off to a great start, and I think probably increased the number of students who sought out her help.
Sophia: Meeting in person or over email frequently was important. I often didn’t realize I had things to check-in about until we were meeting. I also think both Professor Taylor and I emphasized my role as a student rather than an authority figure, which allowed my work with students to feel more informal and comfortable, yet still useful.
What was your favorite, or most enjoyable, part of the partnership?
Heidi: I loved getting reports about student meetings from both Sophia and the first year students. Sophia would come in and say “I had a really great meeting with a student, we really worked through some issues, and I think I was able to be helpful.” And then a student would come in and say “I had a great meeting with Sophia! She really helped me clarify my argument!” It was always great to see how rewarding the relationship was for both the PWSA and the first year student.
Sophia: It was really fun to have the chance with work Professor Taylor in a new way beyond being a student in her class. Having a more developed relationship enriched both the PWSA experience and the thesis experience. It was very special to be able to get to know a professor and feel that a professor knows a little more about my involvement at Bates beyond the classroom.