Cortni Merritt LAE 5946 Tutoring Case Study and Reflection 11 August 2012 â€œLearning to Tutorâ€?
Prior to Observing During the months of July and August I was privileged to partake in observations at the Reading and Writing Center (RWC) at FSU. These sessions were divided between the center in the Johnston Building, and the evening services at the Strozier Library, in order to observe different environments, student types, and tutors. Each time I visited the center I made sure to check the schedule beforehand so that I would not be arriving at a time when there were no appointments. I also made sure not to observe any one tutor for longer than 1 hour, in order to expose myself to a variety of tutoring styles and approaches to student needs. These experiences are the foundation of my tutoring philosophy and approach to tutoring FSU students in fall 2012. My first experience at the WRC occurred when I scheduled my own appointment while drafting my literacy narrative. Claire was my tutor and my appointment was for one hour. Not only did it give me a sense of the anxiety that a student experiences when coming to the RWC, but it also allowed me the opportunity to observe Claire and her approach to student needs. She was understanding of my anxiety, and asked leading questions to ensure that she understood the nature of the assignment and which areas of the paper I wanted to focus on. She read through my paper silently and commented for clarity, direct prompt address, and content. Overall, the session was
helpful in guiding me toward tweaking text for elaboration and concision, as well as sparking ideas for thoughtful analysis. However, I was frustrated that even when I told her “this is just a draft” or “this section will be worked on later” she still detailed her feedback on parts I would work on anyway. Perhaps this is merely me being defensive, but it also is an example of my awareness of my own writing process and how I don’t want feedback before I am ready for it. That is why I went to my appointment with a draft rather than at an earlier stage. The reality that students will make appointments at the WRC during all stages of their writing processes would be further demonstrated in the following weeks.
Summary of Observations On July 19 I observed Amy and John during sessions with two students. Both students were ESL, and upper-level undergraduates, though I’m not sure if they were juniors or seniors. Amy’s session was with a young lady whose assignment was to write a memo for a business class. The instructions were very precise, and Amy assisted her in compressing all the information she needed into the minimal amount of space. Amy read thoroughly through the student’s paper and referred back to the prompt often while also engaging the student with her own writing, and encouraging her to work through grammar and word usage mistakes. John worked with an ESL student who was finalizing a personal statement essay for medical school applications; they had previously worked together and had established a dynamic. John built rapport and was obviously one reason the student felt comfortable returning to the WRC. Both students showed anxiety about grammar and word choice, and both tutors addressed those
concerns without making them the sessions’ focus. The students were given opportunities to express their anxieties without enhancing those anxieties by making them central to the tutoring. On July 23 I observed Adam with two different students, Amber and Nicole. Both students wrote papers for 2000 level classes. Amber’s was a psychology assignment about absentee fathers, and Nicole’s was a history assignment regarding Native American folklore. Adam addressed the prompts and discussed with the students their papers’ purposes and audiences, as well as concerns they had. This approach provided the students a chance to express their anxieties before the paper was reviewed, and although they both were concerned about “grammar” what they actually needed was help with organization and concision. Adam also gave tips on trimming language, pronoun clarity, and breaking up long paragraphs and complicated ideas. On August 2 I observed Olivia tutoring Danielle, who wrote a 2000-level American history paper. Although Danielle expressed that she needed help with grammar, Olivia deduced that she really needed assistance with cohesion and transitioning between ideas. The essay was well written overall, with minimal errors, and Olivia’s approach included Danielle reading it aloud in order to “hear” where mistakes were occurring or ideas seemed disjointed. Olivia asked several questions to prompt discussion of concerns, and gave a lot of encouragement and reinforcement of a job well done. She complimented Danielle’s solid writing foundation, clarifying that although some of the errors she was pointing out were minor, Danielle had the “luxury of being nit-picky” because of her elegant writing.
In addition to these times in the WRCs, I also informally observed Brett and Stephen in the Digital Studio on July 30 and 31, and August 1, while I was there working on my e-portfolio. My most in-depth observation was of Brett helping a group of students put together a Prezi. He walked them through each step of the process, answered numerous questions about various technological functions, and approached solutions sometimes as exploratory or experimental, saying things such as “I’m not sure what this does – let’s try it and find out.” I found it more difficult to assess whether or not he helped them with their end result as directly as the WRC tutors affected their students’ products, because this was as a collaborative project. Stephen helped me to work through some technical issues with Wix, explaining terminology and demonstrating functions that I otherwise would not have known about. I watched him assist other students in our class also, and found that he was generally knowledgeable enough about Wix and Weebly’s functions to suggest solutions to issues or help students expand their options by showing them available features as well. In this regard, his tutoring sessions were more similar to tutorials, instruction, and demonstration of the programs rather than genuine troubleshooting.
Reflection Based on these sessions there are many behaviors witnessed that I would like to emulate, and some which I specifically do not want to make a part of my tutoring interactions. There are also a few things that I didn’t see happen but would like to attempt, though perhaps with some trial and error I will find they aren’t successful or
there isn’t enough time to incorporate them in a half-hour or hour long session, and that is why I did not observe them. The most beneficial thing I observed, and something I will attempt to do in every session, is allowing the student to lead by asking multiple questions and addressing their specific concerns. I know that I am confident in my understanding of a topic if I can explain it to someone else, and I feel that giving students opportunities to explain will save time and avoid my misunderstanding and having to search through their paper to support wrong ideas. I will attempt not to talk over the students or prevent them finishing their thought during explanation. Giving ample encouragement and reinforcement throughout the interaction so students are built up by their strengths and gain confidence to focus on improve-able areas was obviously beneficial as well. Reinforcing students’ confidence in their knowledge of the subject and what they’ve already written makes tutoring sessions a fun, interactive, productive experience. It also eases students’ anxieties about being labeled as “remedial” for seeking help, letting them feel competent and reassured of their own abilities. The tutor having the student read their paper aloud to check for sentence structure and textual cohesion was one of my favorite approaches. I’d like to mimic Olivia specifically because she asked the student prior to reading if she was comfortable with the material being read aloud. This seemed polite and encouraged the student to invest in the interaction as well as take agency in the writing process. As the student reads, it seems most helpful to stop occasionally when questions about clarification arise and address issues immediately, rather than waiting to repeat an entire section and address multiple points at once. Giving the student examples of general
suggestions appears to help them understand advice; specifically with grammar rules because they can witness problems in context. I feel that students learn more from having concrete examples to reflect on when rewriting on their own. Helping the student to maintain their voice and style throughout the paper is another tricky task for the tutor, but students seemed less defensive if they did not feel that the tutor tried to change “everything” they’ve already written. Something that I aim to make the most of as a tutor is ensuring the introductions and first few minutes of a session are smooth, welcoming, and comfortable as it is essential to setting the tone and success of the overall meeting. Although I didn’t see any tutors really encouraging students to return to the center, I do want to be a “cheerleader” and salesperson for the WRC, because I understand how important word of mouth advertising is. I’d also like to encourage students to schedule future appointments as early in their writing process as is comfortable, so they can reap the maximum benefits from visiting the center multiple times, or avoid rushing to “perfect” their papers at the last minute. I specifically want to avoid a few things I observed, such as eating or drinking in front of students during sessions. Having a bottle of water at hand is as far as I’d like to go. I also want to make sure every student who approaches the tutoring area is sufficiently assisted, although I don’t know how I can make this happen. Lastly, I want to avoid reading silently and then giving feedback, because I feel it wastes the student’s time and creates an awkward, anxious atmosphere.
Assistive Course Readings Although all the readings from these past weeks will be helpful in tutoring, I found that several were better demonstrated to me, and it will remain more prudent for me to remember when I begin tutoring. Of course, North’s “Idea of a Writing Center” and “Revisiting the Idea of a Writing Center” are integral for tutoring because of their foundational ideas of what a writing center is and is not. Although each student thought they needed help with “grammar” it actually was not their biggest issue, and several tutors did a fantastic job of redirecting the students’ attentions. Only one student I observed really viewed the WRC as a “fix it” shop where she expected her paper to be polished and perfect by the tutor, but I can imagine it happens often. Newkirk’s “First Five Minutes” is probably one of the most important articles in light of what I witnessed. Olivia, John, and Adam did well to establish relationships and set agendas for their sessions in order to reap the most benefit from the time. In addition, Linville’s “Editing Line by Line” will be important as it may be difficult for me not to become a proofreading overlord who dominates the conversation by correcting every error. Rather, I must remember to show students examples of issues in their own writing and teach them how to avoid making those mistakes in the future. Since the tutoring session is separate from but an extension of the classroom, the focus should be one-on-one teaching, while giving the student a practice audience. Dagher’s “Making Learning Personal” Universal Design Guide addresses the importance of this and how it allows exploration of student potential, building off existing strengths to overcome weaknesses. Finally, the unique voice that an ESL student contributes to an academic dialogue in any discipline is something to keep in mind as a
tutor as well. Matsuda and Cox’s “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text” were both demonstrated to me, and will be important to revisit to remember that part of an ESL student’s style comes from the fact that they are not native English speakers. I will work to support and encourage these students to maintain their heritage and the integrity of their own unique (and sometimes very colorful) language choices and expressions.
Tutoring Philosophy My philosophy as an FSU tutor is simple: help the students learn to “fish.” I want my tutoring services to be student-centered, low anxiety, and guided by the student’s needs. I believe it is important to show them where they make mistakes, why each is considered a mistake, and demonstrate how to spot the same kinds of mistakes in the future so the student can become self-reliant, improving their own writing. Aiming toward higher order, non-sentence specific tweaks and improvements, will help students focus beyond the issues they spot or imagine. Students need experienced input to truly polish their writing, and as a tutor it is my objective to be a soundboard for their ideas and guide for the technical. As important as it is to help them gain knowledge, I must restrain my actions by not invading their writing and subduing their personal style. In overwhelming them and trying to “perfect” their paper, I could rob them of their confidence in what they do and the idea that their writing is already “good” and communicates what they know. If a student leaves their session with me having learned one thing they end up using the next time they have a writing assignment, then my tutoring is worthwhile and I am successful at making better writing exist in the world, one person at a time.