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UMaine Writing Center Coordinator Harvey Kail Receives National Award

Contact: Harvey Kail, (207) 581-3829; George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

ORONO–University of Maine Associate Professor Harvey Kail recently received a national honor for his work encouraging student collaborations as coordinator of the peer tutoring program at the UMaine Writing Center at Neville Hall.

Kail received the 2004 Ron Maxwell Award for Distinguished Leadership in Promoting the Collaborative Practices of Peer Tutors in Writing recently at the 21st Annual National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), held at Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J.

The award recognizes accomplishment, dedication and leadership in collaborative learning in writing centers, encouraging students to take increased responsibility for their learning and promoting a collaborative peer tutoring environment.

Kail founded the UMaine writing center in 1979 — one of the first in the country — a year after he joined the faculty as an associate English professor. What began as an experimental way to improve writing abilities for non-English majors at UMaine has become a successful experiential learning tool for student tutors and a national model, according to Kail. The center helps as many as 600 UMaine students a year, from all academic areas, with the fundamentals of writing, critical thinking, organization and even tact and diplomacy in giving and receiving written and oral criticism.

Tutors hone their own writing and analytical skills, in addition to developing techniques that bring out the best in peers who take advantage of the writing center services. Many of the students in the peer tutoring program are undergraduates; other tutors are graduate students and center staff.

Student writing tutors get training through a class Kail teaches, ENG 395 — English Internship, after being nominated for the course by other faculty members.

“It’s a great experience,” Kail says. “I’ve heard from about 50 of our past tutors. They can talk in great detail, some from a distance of 15 or 20 years later, about what they learned here and how they applied it to their careers or graduate school and even their family lives.”

An educational concept that blossomed in the mid-1980s as America became concerned about the writing abilities of many young people, writing centers now are springing up in Europe, Asia and South Africa, Kail says.

Because students work with one another in a cooperative atmosphere, their shared experiences tend to be relevant and long-lasting. “It’s learning that sticks,” Kail says. “There’s really something that happens to people’s relationship to knowledge when they acquire it through helping other people.”

In addition to coordinating the writing center, Kail also teaches in the English department, has published on the subject of peer tutoring and composition and is involved with efforts to create and expand writing centers globally. He has also led seminars on peer tutoring in writing centers around the United States and in Germany, Hungary and Greece. Kail is an original participant in the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, which sponsors annual conferences to bring faculty members together with student tutors from around the country.

Continuing his research in the field, Kail co-founded with colleagues at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin, a national Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, which tracks the career development of former tutors from the three universities and shares research and pedagogy with writing centers worldwide.

Kail earned bachelors and masters degrees at the University of Toledo and a Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University. He lives in Orono.

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