The adjustment to college life is something that many remember as perhaps overwhelming and, at times, confusing. As a Writing Center tutor, Fain Riopelle ’17 has tracked this transitional period by reading first-year students’ essays. “When students first get to college,” he observes, “they’re told that college writing is different from high school writing, but it takes a while to figure out exactly how.” Through an Emerson research grant, titled “How to Argue with Words: A Pre-College Essay-Writing Clinic,” Riopelle hopes to identify common issues with high school writing and create a curriculum that addresses them.
Returning to his native Virginia for the summer, Riopelle will hold two pre-college writing clinics marketed towards rising high school juniors and seniors preparing for college. Each clinic lasts for two weeks, with two-hour sessions every day. From his experience working in the Writing Center, Riopelle believes that early college writers lose their way during the writing process by focusing on formal language, structure, and syntax. “It’s important stuff,” he notes, “but when you focus on it too much, you forget the main point of an essay: to make an argument.”
Major: Creative Writing
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
High School: Collegiate School
Armed with an idea of what to expect, Riopelle can develop drills and exercises to help students emphasize argumentation in their writing. Under the advisement of Margaret Thickstun, the Jane Watson Irwin Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, Riopelle also has access to materials from the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) course that Thickstun taught last summer.
After holding two clinics and gathering information on the most effective teaching techniques, Riopelle hopes that he will have adequate material to create curricula and lessons tailored to the weaknesses of high school writers. “Hopefully,” he explains, “I’ll be able to identify some key exercises, lessons, or anything else that can help students remember to focus on their argument when they start college.” Ideally, these resources could be shared and implemented ubiquitously. Though some may have attempted similar tasks, Riopelle believes he has a leg up, as he will try to teach from a student perspective.
Considering a career in education, Riopelle believes that his project will give him greater insight in the field. In the short term, however, the creative writing major hopes that this experience will at least improve his own skills as a writing tutor at Hamilton. Riopelle is careful not to lose his way in his own research: “This is about learning how to teach writing, then sharing what I’ve learned so others can use it.”