Writing Center deciphers tough assignments

Nina Ruiz
In Motion Staff Writer

Often, when college students receive a set of instructions for a new assignment it’s as if they are reading a different language.

Evan Scherr, left, and Lenny Owens Discuss how they can better help students this year.
Evan Scherr, left, and Lenny Owens Discuss how they can better help students this year.

Knowing how to read and understanding what a text is saying are two very different things.

Some tips and tricks to dissect and decipher passages, literature and directions can be used to avoid emailing your professor at 11 p.m. (an hour before the work is due), ashamed and embarrassed.

Billie Jo Dunaway, a Writing Specialist at the Daytona State Writing Center, observes that when directions are presented a certain way, the physical appearance in itself might intimidate students.

“Directions for an assignment need to have a defined purpose for students. It needs to be clear and the students have to know what they are getting out of the assignment and how it will benefit them in the learning process,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway earned her Master’s degree in Reading at the University of Central Florida and works with students daily to improve their writing and reading skills. Among her tips to improve reading and comprehension skills are to break up the blocks of text into pieces and translate them into simpler terms.

Writing Center computers await new, old students for the coming semester.
Writing Center computers await new, old students for the coming semester.

“Even in just the physical appearance, the directions can be understood a lot easier. Changing the look from paragraphs of instructions to bullet points can really make a difference,” Dunaway explained.

From a student’s perspective, deciphering the hidden messages might be more difficult than simply splitting up the text. La’Kiera Slater, a student at DSC, expressed her frustrations when encountering long blocks of text for what is supposed to be a simple assignment.

“The other day my professor posted long directions and I just stopped reading. I felt like it was too much and I didn’t know what to do,” Slater recalled.

Once students in elementary school have familiarized themselves with the sounds each letter makes, the syllables in different words and what the words actually mean, the importance of improving their skills often seem to come to an end.

Elizabeth Barnes, Chair of Academic Support at the Writing Center, instructs ENC0055L, an English workshop designed to help those who struggle with reading and writing. Students can participate in the workshops while taking their ENC1101 courses, instead of having to take such classes beforehand. The course consists of assessing reading comprehension skills and how to approach issues that students have.

“Students think of writing being so hard, but they don’t really think about reading being hard. I don’t think we’re ready to admit that we find reading difficult. This course is definitely a way to make that part of the conversation,” Barnes said.

Barnes graduated from Stetson with her Bachelor’s and Master’s in English and transfers those skills to the students she teaches. In  the process, she aims for students to apply those same skills in areas of their lives beyond academia.

“The benefit of our studio outside the academic parts of it, is the sense of community the students get out of it. Students learn how to ask for help, learn from each other and realize that they’re not alone when they have questions,” said Barnes.

Reading material outside of textbooks not only transports students to worlds they did not know exist, but it relieves stress as well. According to studies conducted by University of Sussex in Brighton, England, reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. The study shows that subjects only need to read silently for six minutes to slow down their heart rate and ease tension in the muscles.

Hallie Williams, another DSC student, reads novels in her free time and knows how much it’s made a difference in her academic life.

“Reading for fun helps me stay focused. Instead of checking Twitter and getting into a lazy mood, reading helps me stay in the right headspace and keeps my brain active, which translates into my schoolwork,” Williams said.

The dual-enrolled high school student annotates assignment directions to get a better understanding of the content and writes notes on her own work to improve content.

Understanding and digesting the purpose of an assignment that isn’t exciting in the first place is a struggle that every college student faces. Not addressing the problem will eventually lead to further issues that involve comprehending tasks and directions efficiently.

If reading an entire book seems intimidating at first, Dunaway shared one more piece of advice. “Learning and improving these skills can be done just by looking up words you don’t know. I like to look up words I already know, just to get a fuller understanding of their meanings. Understanding what you’re reading opens up a lot of doors.”