Upfront Writing Round Table

Upfront Writing Round Table
Upfront Writing Round Table

Turbo tutoring in English pays off

Brett Kolles and John Gianoulis have tried a new approach to help students dial in on their Composition I coursework at Dakota County Technical College. Brett, an English instructor, and John, the Writing Center tutor, concluded that a round-table workshop might succeed, one with four to five diverse Comp I students participating in an intensive exploration of composition rules and elements. The group met once a week for an hour over the course of five weeks, starting in February 2014 and ending in March. The students taught each other as they investigated practices linked to good composition—with the common goal of improving their writing skills. Brett and John were present to guide the discussion and provide expert insights on written communication. The pilot program is called Upfront.

Brett Kolles

“A lot of credit for the idea goes to the Developmental Education Task Force,” said Brett, referring to a committee composed of English and mathematics faculty led by Gayle Larson, dean of technology, business and general education, and Pat Lair, director of student success. “The energy level at our meetings has been incredible. This task force is one of the best committees I’ve ever served on. Upfront’s success is due in large part to Gayle and Pat’s support.”

Brett reported that the first Upfront group included four highly motivated students of different ages and backgrounds. “They gelled as a cohort,” Brett said. “All four stayed with the program and moved up to B-level and A-level work in their Comp I class. Their success in Upfront carried over to other classes and they became more engaged in college overall. They called their Upfront meetings the fastest hour on campus. They wanted to continue meeting when the workshop ended.”

John Gianoulis

John Gianoulis likes how Upfront blended small-group discussion with one-on-one tutoring. Writing topics changed each week, starting with sentence fragments before switching to run-on sentences, possessives, Modern Language Association (MLA) format and citation, and ending with proofreading skills. “We had a great first cohort,” John said. “Students teaching each other in a round-table setup really works. We are excited about moving forward with Upfront and working with new students.”

Dean Gayle Larson noted that Upfront is a solid step toward ensuring student success in critical subjects such as English and math. “Through the Upfront workshop developed by Brett Kolles and John Gianoulis, Composition I students have gained additional confidence and skills in their ability to write, which will serve them well not only while in college, but for the rest of their lives,” she said. “For the students who participated, the extra five-hour investment has bought exceptional dividends.”

Student perspectives

Dean Sazama

Dean Sazama
Age: 23
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minn.
Residence now: Lakeville, Minn.
Program area: Undecided

A 2009 graduate of Lakeville South High School, Dean Sazama enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2010. Dean served for 4.5 years, deploying to Kuwait for a year as an unit supply specialist in the infantry. A first-generation college student, he decided give DCTC a shot on the G.I. Bill. He likes that the college is vet-friendly and his experiences with staff have been “outstanding.” He also likes that the campus has a Wellness Center.

On Upfront: “Upfront has been beneficial and I would recommend the workshop to students who need help with their writing. The learning is more one-on-one. My biggest issues were run-on sentences and commas. I’ve gone from turning in C papers to getting As. I wish the workshop could have gone on longer.”

The father of a 9-month-old boy, Caden, Dean pointed out that he is going to college as much for his son as for himself. “Caden is a little bundle of joy,” he said. Dean has not made a final decision regarding his future career. His goal is to be successful and be happy.

Ron McKeehen

Ron McKeehen
Age: 51
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
Residence now: Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
Program area: Photography

When Ron McKeehen and his wife, Kjerstin, enrolled in the Photography program at DCTC spring semester 2012, they were taking a major step on the path to new careers as a wife-and-husband team. In 2009, Ron experienced a stroke while blowing snow from a neighbor’s driveway. Finding his own driveway blocked by freshly plowed snow and no ambulances available due to the snowstorm, Ron was rescued by his son, who lived nearby and drove him to the hospital.

“I lost all my long-term memory and had to relearn the most basic things,” Ron said. “That is a scary feeling—also humorous and frustrating. The stroke changed our way of life.”

Ron’s stroke rehabilitation therapist advised him not to take on the challenge of college-level coursework. “I’m hardheaded,” said Ron, a native of Detroit, Mich. “I knew I would have to work harder than other students. I put in long hours of study in remedial math and took part in a new English tutoring program.”

That determination earned Ron a 3.99 GPA and landed him a job in the Photography program’s equipment lockup alongside Kjerstin. His mechanical aptitude keeps him busy maintaining equipment. His work ethic motivates him to leave the college a better place than when he arrived.

On Upfront: “Brett and John are taking on the extra challenge of making sure we understand the concepts taught in Comp I. English was the subject I was worried most about when I returned to college. Thanks to Upfront, my writing skills have really improved. I’m getting an A in the class.”

All together, Kjerstin and Ron have six children, Melissa, 24, Michael, 23, Mandy, 20, Maria, 17, Morgan, 13, and Macie, 10. They have one grandchild, Melissa’s daughter, Hailey, a 1-year-old. They have started their own photography business, North Beacon Photography.

For more information about the Upfront program at DCTC, contact:

Banner image: 1919: Dorothy Parker among the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table —image courtesy of the Condé Nast Archive

While writing theater crticism for Vanity Fair, Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood begin a series of luncheon salons at the nearby Algonquin Hotel. A 1938 book party at the Algonquin Hotel: seated, left to right, Fritz Foord, Wolcott Gibbs, Frank Case and Dorothy Parker; standing, Alan Campbell, St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney and James Thurber.