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Helping writers improve

Since Christina Salavantis began working for the Department of Sociology in 1994, each year she’s faced with a similar problem. Managing the 19 teaching assistants for SOCY 122, the department’s introductory course, Ms. Salavantis has to get them all on the same page to teach tutorials and mark the assignments and essays of the class’ nearly 800 students.

Student Academic Success Services offers training for teaching assistants and can create resources for faculty. (University Communications)

“Because they come from such diverse backgrounds, we often have inconsistencies among our TAs in teaching style and approach,” she says. To bring them all up to speed, she enlisted the help of the Writing Centre and Student Academic Success Services (SASS). “Having the Writing Centre teach best practices to our TAs helps improve the consistency of grading and better keys them into the expectations we have for students.”

The training the Writing Centre provided for Sociology’s teaching assistants has been so well received that they’ve begun inviting TAs from other departments to participate as well. Students from Political Studies and Health Sciences often join in and the TAs/staff from the departments of Gender Studies, Global Development Studies and Cultural studies have begun hosting training of their own.

What Susan Korba, Director of SASS, wants departments to know is that her staff and services aren’t just for students in need of remedial help. “We’ve had tremendous usage of the Writing Centre and Learning Strategies unit this past year, seeing 1900 unique students and holding more than 3500 one-on-one appointments,” she says. “Given the strong interest in our services we want to find a creative way to work with more students, and one of the most effective ways we can achieve that goal is through partnering with faculty and departments.”

Beyond training TAs, SASS offers a wide variety of support to their faculty partners and is currently running a number of pilot projects. Among these is a custom workshop SASS is creating for first-year students in the English Department, built around feedback the TAs have provided after reviewing hundreds of first years essays. The workshop will address the major common writing errors for students in first-year classes.

“We want to offer support to faculty members in ways that complement their own goals, helping to find out what their students need,” says Ms. Korba.

They’ve begun to work with departments more, seeing steady increases in faculty outreach each year, but the Writing Centre still hopes to do more. “All writers are always improving,” Ms. Korba says. “We can help play a part in that.”

Learn more about Student Academic Success Services at their website.