Hello there. My name is Taylor Smith! I am a writer and MFA candidate at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. I have been tutoring professionally for 6 years now and am working on a collection of poetry that I hope to have published within the next year. I am very patient, I have a strong passion for the English language (languages in general, I might add: I spent one year in Italy, and I taught English in China for two months), and I have experience working with ages 7 and up (I've worked with professional writers, published authors, teachers, college students, graduate students, and elementary school and middle school students). Some of my favorite writers include Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, Nin Andrews, Sharon Olds, and T. C. Boyle. I personally prefer to meet in person; however, I understand if some people might feel more comfortable, or if it might be more convenient to work online. I will say, though, that my purpose as a writing advisor is, as the great Stephen North said, to make better writers, and not just better writing. I am interested in helping each individual writer learn the craft of writing so that they can become self-sufficient in their own way. I am not a copy-editor, nor am I a quick-fix advisor. I take great pride in that statement.
As for the fun stuff, I'm an active writer, an active reader, a musician (I play guitar, and played in a band for a number of years), a movie-watcher, a swimmer, a traveler (Mozambique, Costa Rica, England, Ireland, France, Germany, China, Canada, Italy, and Spain), and a tea-drinker. I love studying theoretical physics, philosophy, religion, and science (space exploration and astronomy). And I appreciate the act of listening to and collecting vinyl records (Bob Dylan, Wilco, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, Pink Floyd).
If you have any questions, I would be happy to talk with you.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Wittenberg University - Bachelors, English
Graduate Degree: Chatham University - Masters, MFA Creative Writing
Chess, Pool, Writing, Reading, Playing Music, Listening to Music, Studying Physics, Watching Movies
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
I personally prefer to meet in person; however, I understand if some people might feel more comfortable, or if it might be more convenient to work online. I will say, though, that my purpose as a writing advisor is, as the great Stephen North said, "To make better writers, and not just better writing." I am interested in helping each individual writer learn the craft of writing so that they can become self-sufficient in their own way. I am not a copy-editor, nor am I a quick-fix advisor. I take great pride in that statement.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Depending on how much I know of the student based off of his or her profile and based off of prior conversations, I would be interested to know the student's purpose in seeking out a writing advisor. By understanding their concerns, interests, strengths and weaknesses, I'll be able to better help the student in his or her writing. After that, I would work on understanding the student's assignment and go from there (It could be a first draft, a brainstorming session, or a grammar and rhetoric worksheet, or perhaps a reading assignment--all of that would change my approach: we might work on a thesis statement, an outline, or maybe just talk about the paper topic for a while, or maybe just head to the basics and talk about grammar and rhetoric).
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Everything, when it comes to writing, is based off of grammar, syntax and diction. The voice, the tone, the structure, all of the themes and ideas that come out in literature and in academic writing occur because the writer is able to craft a sentence based off of grammar, syntax and diction, and that is why we have such great writers as Emily Dickinson, Hemingway, and Sharon Olds. My goal as a writer is to help the student become fluent in those three areas. From there, I can help a student work on being more creative, more academic, more experimental or more concrete (or a combination of those elements). In the end, I hope to help a writer develop a confident voice and strong understanding of the English language.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Writing takes discipline. I know how difficult it can be to make a schedule and to stick with it, but there are certainly methods and techniques to stay on task. As paradoxical as it might sound, some technology can actually help keep people on task, and there are other mindfulness techniques, too, that can help. But in order to stay motivated, and thus, to stay disciplined, you have to find a way to be entertained and passionate about the subject at hand. I personally believe writing is everything. It is our culture, our way of communicating, our way of expressing ourselves. We would not be who we are as a species today if we did not have writing. So, short answer, I like quotes, I like movie quotes and book quotes, and I think quotes can help a lot, as can stories. There are as many ways to stay motivated as there are books.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
I would take it slowly, and encourage the student to relax and take it slowly, as well. You have to be patient and know that there are a million different ways to look at one single thing, one single sentence, image or story (theme, metaphor, idiom), and there are a million different learning styles and approaches. I've been working as a writing advisor for 6 years, so I'm sure we'll be able to figure it out. But what's important to know is that there is an answer (even if the answer is a question), and we will figure it out together.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Some have trouble with grammar, some have trouble with vocabulary, and some have trouble with metaphors and idioms, but there isn't a single hurdle that we cannot overcome. I would first work on figuring out what the real problem is (vocabulary, etc.), and then I would work on helping the student understand that specific problem. Sometimes it helps to look at pictures, sometimes it helps to talk more, and sometimes it helps to sound out the words with a friend. I spent a year in Italy and had to learn Italian, so I know what it's like to learn a new language (even if you're a native speaker struggling to read, my experience can help you).
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Listening. As a great teacher once said, "I figured out pretty quickly that if you're teaching, and you're not learning, you probably aren't teaching very well."
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
There are a million ways to get excited and engaged with the English language. Movies, books, music, poetry, it's all connected, and if you love one of those, I guarantee I can show you why the other ones are important and exciting, too.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
I would be a horrible advisor if I didn't ask questions, and that's the best way to know if a student is understanding the material: if they can talk about it, if they can answer my questions and discuss the topic fluently, then I can be sure that it's all getting through.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Everyone has their own niche. I've been in creative writing workshops for years, with incredibly developed (published) writers, and with more amateur writers, but everyone has the opportunity to find their own niche and develop and grow as a writer. I am good at figuring out a student's strengths and encouraging them to work on those strengths and to feel good about them.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
By listening to the student. I am a writing advisor for them, and so it is my job to be able to listen to their concerns and needs. And if the student is more introverted, that's okay--everyone has their own way of communicating, and whether that is through writing or through talking, doesn't matter, I am excited to help and figure out what it is the student needs.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
I was a very quiet kid growing up, so I know what it's like to be an introvert (I'm a poet!), but I've also taught in a classroom and given presentations and done poetry readings at public events, so I also know what it takes to be confident. I am very flexible and can work with any type of personality. I would first figure out how the student worked, what their style was, and then I would do my best to work with that student based off of that style.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
As an exercise in my first writing center (Wittenberg University), I was required to sit on my hands and only ask questions for at least three writing center sessions. I've also been known to pull up apps on a smart device. It really depends on how distracted the student is, and what his or her learning style is. Sometimes it's best just to talk, create outlines on a piece of paper, stuff like that, and then sometimes it's helpful to look at a book or an application or a game.