Maari Carter LAE 5946-01 August 11, 2012 Tutoring Observation/Reflection Paper Over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to participate in tutoring sessions which took place in Reading/Writing Centers at Florida State University. This experience challenged many of the ideas I had about the functional aspects and interworking techniques that keep such a center running in a productive manner. I learned about appropriate practices on the part of tutors to ensure successful learning sessions for students who sought assistance with composition. I also discovered a lot of new pedagogical stances at play within the construct of Writing Centers across various programs; their advantages and shortcomings. Observing the activities as well as my own tutoring experience within the Reading/ Writing Center offered valuable experience which to transfer to my own future in tutoring and informed the development of my evolving pedagogy. I, first, want to examine the students who came to request help with varying assignments and then look at certain behaviors and suggestions of the different tutors and myself who interacted with said students. One of the first students I observed was named Jaleesa. Jaleesa came in with an assigned, reaction paper to Chinua Achebeâ€™s Things Fall Apart. The instructor limited the paper to one page and Jaleesa experienced trouble with contradictory requirements set up by the provided prompt. The tutor responded by, first, looking at three main reactions the tutee posited. In order to narrow down her scope to comply with the page limit, the tutor asked Jaleesa to find three textual examples of
moments within the story that impacted her during her reading. The tutor was supportive of her choices and helped the tutee scaffold her knowledge to form opinions based on initial reactions. Another early tutoring session involved a student named Femkee who needed assistance with a paper for her Race and Ethnicities class. The assignment required the student to focus on three groups of immigrants talked about during course work and comment on their assimilation into American society. The tutee encountered problems incorporating external sources and the paper, itself, contained numerous run-on sentences and the overuse of passive voice. The tutor began by having Femkee read aloud certain sections to rectify the issues with sentence structure.
The tutor also referred back to
areas where the tuteeâ€™s word choice altered her intentions in a way which the tutee was unaware of. While offering corrections when needed, the tutor continued to praise what the tutee had done right in the process. After the tutor had established the tutees confidence about the direction of the paper she effectively terminated the session. Shane visited the Reading/Writing Center to work on a paper for AMH 2097 on cultural group that immigrated to the United States and how they found a niche within American communities. The instructor made comments on her first draft indicating a lack of analysis and underdeveloped push/pull support for her claim. The tutor tackled the main issue central to the claim and led her in a discussion of alternative views of approaching those issues which she could incorporate into her paper to satisfy the push/pull requirement. The tutor also encouraged Shane to provide more personal commentary on what she thought was relevant to her subtopics. However, at some points in the session the tutee waited for the tutor to supply word choices more often than I felt necessary.
This occurred toward the end of the session and in lieu of helping the student too much the tutor segued into closing thoughts and termination. Another student who visited the writing center was Mike who wrote a paper for his English 1102 class on how a television show depicted a controversial social issue. The tutee needed suggestions for connecting an episode of the show “Workaholics” with external opinions and values concerning pedophilia. Mike had good ideas but often made empty claims with no textual support to coincide. The tutor kept the paper between himself and the tutee while he pointed out section where the instructor wanted more analysis and less description. The tutor also repeatedly asked the tutee if “this was what you meant to say?” I noted that word choice was affecting his intent. Mike’s meaning sometimes did not match up to the argument he was attempting to make. We talked about not trying to form the language to satisfy his notion of academic language and complicate his ideas and simply use language he was familiar with. Finally, to fix one last recurring error, the tutor recommended that Mike either record himself or have a friend listen to him read the paper aloud in order to catch repeated changes in tense. Curtis was a sophomore who required assistance with a paper assigned for his Dystopia paper comparing and contrasting the creation myth in Islam and Christianity. Curtis had trouble forming and conclusion and was unsure about what a conclusion should accomplish. I suggested that a concluding paragraph should not be viewed as a way to repeat previously made arguments, but rather a chance to leave the reader with a final thought to consider after finishing the paper. The instructor also commented on the paper that he needed to delve deeper into the differences and similarities among the two religions even within their own sects. The tutor was very supportive of his thesis and discussed section which proved problematic. The tutor asked
Curtis to view him as a novice to whom he must explain the main reasoning behind his claim. The tutee was receptive to the tutor’s suggestions and seemed at ease with the paper’s progress at the end of the session. Observation in the Reading/Writing Center informed me of unfamiliar issues surrounding the debate concerning such centers within the field. I found that, despite to previous impressions, the job of the tutor is not to edit papers but to help the tutees expand the ideas already present. I also never considered the stigmas surrounding many students’ ideas of the act of first coming to the center. Often, many feel a sense of failure at not being able to complete the task individually and fear the negative opinions of peer associated with needing help. This is what makes tutor support such a critical aspect of the tutoring experience. Some students simply need a voice of encouragement to provide the confidence needed to execute the assignment. The required readings for class were extremely beneficial in preparing me for what behaviors to expect from visiting students. In some programs instructors may require visits to the center, leading students to be detached from effort during sessions. Another problem is that many enter with unreasonable expectations on what can be accomplished within the limited time period. The tutor’s job is to address these expectations and narrow them down to one or two key concerns to tackle. My thinking toward tutoring changed from seeing it as more of an editing process to viewing it as an opportunity to help students understand their own voice. If the center promotes a supportive atmosphere in which to hone their writing skills, then students will likely return. While observing some sessions I became aware of how professional and ethical issue can arise in the Reading/Writing Center. For instance, one such incident occurred
during the session I sat in on with Shane, previously mentioned in student descriptions. Toward the end of the session, the tutee began waiting on the tutor to supply sentence ideas, coming very close to fishing. This is a slippery slope that I image happens often within tutoring sessions. Had the tutor continued aiding the tutee in this manner, she ran the risk of contributing to the extent that her attributions could need citing. Luckily, the tutor handled the situation splendidly by gearing the discussion to closing thoughts and termination. The process of termination plays an important role in the session itself. If the tutor rushes, the student may feel that the lines of communication are being cut off prematurely. However, if the tutor lingers, the student might use this as an opportunity to extend the session beyond the time limit. I found that these topics were possibilities that I had not anticipated because in my previous tutoring experience most of the students were present as a requirement and were all too ready to be done. The lines of tutor/tutee relationships are sometimes blurred but should never enter the realm of inappropriateness. It is the responsibility of the tutor to provide support without indicating a continuance of the relationship beyond the center environment. I believe that my experience with the tutoring sessions provided me with necessary tools to use in my future teaching and tutoring career. I have a better understanding of how to conduct a session and guide the tuteeâ€™s advancement of his or her assignment. I also think this knowledge will transfer to my future classroom. The goals of what should be accomplished in a session will be useful during the mandatory conferences with first year writing students. By learning to focusing on content rather than mechanics, I am better prepared for evaluating and grading future studentsâ€™ papers. Now I know what to look for and expect rather than holding students to an ideal standard
of what I suppose a good paper should be. The Reading/Writing Center is an important resource available to student within the university. They are able to work along side other students who have been in their situation and gained critical knowledge as a result of their cumulative classes. I plan to always inform my students of this invaluable resource and urge them to make use of what the center has to offer. Throughout my boot camp experience I encountered a variety of essay which broadened my knowledge of how and why Reading/Writing Centers operate and change to suit expanding discovery. I perceive an outward expression of support to be a crucial practice on the part of tutors. A lot of students enter college with habits of process in the act of writing. One habit which can prove troublesome for tutors is a student seeing writing as being an act performed alone, usually away from distraction. To first time visitors to the Reading/Writing Center, the presence of a tutor may feel like an “invasion of this ‘ordinarily solo ritual’” and cause distress (North 1, 12). The goal of the tutor is to put the tutee at ease as best he or she can and establish the first steps to comfortability which will grow with continued sessions. It is important to remember that many incoming students come from institutions that probably urged instructors to “respond to student writing primarily by identifying and penalizing error” (Daiker, 154). Past experience is a primary contributor to a student’s self-efficacy and can negatively affect their confidence. Praise goes a long way in counteracting this disheartenment. Instead of sitting down and marking every writing error, a tutor should “use praise and positive reinforcement” as a strategy for tutoring (Daiker, 154). Many of the readings confirmed my ideas on how much a tutor should participate in sessions. In my own sessions, I consciously tried to limit my own interaction and
allow the tutees to be more proactive in their revision and reflection. A huge part of this agenda is decided within the first few minutes of a session, where a student gauges just how much the tutor will contribute and just how little they will have to. Anson’s essay was particularly helpful in establishing my ideas on this subject. I agree that the beginning moments of the session should be used to give the appointment “a mutually agreeable and mutually understood direction” (Anson, 328). By outlining the expectations of the session both parties are clear as to how the time will be spent, which leaves little room for misinterpretation of purpose. While some of the readings confirmed my beliefs on tutoring, others challenged previous practices and ideas. My tutoring experience prior to Florida State consisted of assisting student athletes at Ole Miss who were specifically assigned to me. This situation was slightly different than tutoring individuals who randomly seek help with papers. During my appointments with the athletes I was encourage to focus on grammatical errors in their writing and not contribute to the general concepts of their papers. The Reading/Writing Center, here, proposes a new direction to which I am unaccustomed. Whereas I use to view tutoring as a fix- it workshop for writing, I now see the larger prospects of how a center can be a “vital and authentic reflection of a way of thinking about writing and the teaching of writing” (North 2, 437). I have come to consider the writing center to be the front lines of the changing landscape of what constitutes composition. Writing Centers allow tutees to take a closer look, outside the classroom, at their process of conveying ideas, free from the pressures of performing in front of an instructor. I also admit that prior to observation I did not consider the writing
center in terms of long term learning. I failed to recognize the center’s ability to foster a fluent conversation about writing between tutors and tutees (North 1, 16). Through the readings I also encountered knowledge that played into previously learned lessons. For instance, at Ole Miss there was a very tangible gap between the tutors and instructors within the institution. I was as North describes required to maintain a “distanced relationship” between the classroom teachers (North 1, 16). Often times I felt that this separation inhibited me in my ability to fully assist students with their assignments. A major problem with this separation occurred over my or the student’s misunderstanding of a proposed writing prompt. Sometimes I encountered prompts which did not clearly outline or limit options which ended up confusing students with overloaded expectations (Harris, 190). How is a tutor suppose to clarify something they are not at liberty to discuss with the teacher for either institutional rules or in the vein that such questioning feels subversive? I think that Hagemann proposes a reasonable solution to this problem. In teaching the students ask “diplomatic questions of their instructor” a tutor can increase the likelihood of the student coming to session with a greater understanding of what is required. In other words, they must be our eyes and ears with the instructor and learn to effectively relay knowledge to their respective tutors. A major shift in opinion occurred while reading several of the assigned essays on termination and how to close a session. I did not consider how deeply some students may feel regarding the shared time with tutors. I always felt that the relationship between tutor and tutee was important, but did not stop to think how interaction could be a motivator for the student returning a second, third, or fourth time. At the center of this shift is how my definition of termination has been altered. Termination can only be
accomplished successfully when there is a clear “understanding of each other’s roles” on the part of tutor and tutee (Marx, 55). The tutor should establish a sense of authority and remain firm in bringing the session to a close, not allowing the student to deviate into another topic. This is important in taking the work outside of the writing center. The point is not to create a dependency in which the student runs to the writing center every time a paper is due then forget what they learned until the next time a paper is due. The goal should be to create habits that will transfer knowledge gained during sessions and help the student “look prior to and outside of these discourses in order to explore what it means to write” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski, 54). My experience in the writing center of the past few weeks has been both and interesting and challenging. My expectations of what to expect have changed and my excitement over the benefits of tutoring has grown. The writing center is a place where students can take a closer, more critical look at writing assignments and, hopefully, cultivate skills which will transfer across genres. It is the tutor’s responsibility to take up where instructors leave off and provide individualized attention to help students produce intelligent and meaningful compositions. I am looking forward to participating in this aspect of the department, knowing that the experience and lessons learned will only strengthen my ability to perform in a classroom setting.
Works Cited Anson, Chris. “Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research.” National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, IL, 2011. Bawashi, Anis and Stephanie Pelkowski. “Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal. Vol. 19, No. 2, 1999. Daiker, Donald. “Learning to Praise.” National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, IL, 1989. Harris, Muriel. “Assignments from Hell: The View from the Writing Center.” National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, IL, 2010. Hagemann, Julie. “Teaching Students to Read Writing Assignments Critically.” Purdue University. West Lafayette, IN, 2002. Marx, Michael Steven. “Bringing Tutorials to a Close: Counseling’s Termination Process and the Writing Tutorial.” The Writing Center Journal. Vol. 11, No. 2, 1991. North, Stephen. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. Vol. 46, No. 5, 1984. North, Stephen. “Revisiting ‘The Idea of a Writing Center.’” The Writing Center Journal. Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994.