Kocher 1 Tutoring Reflection
During T.A. training I spent a few hours in the RWC learning the ropes of being a
tutor — applying techniques I had read about in class and internalizing the tips that had been given to me by Dr. Wells and fellow tutors. During the five sessions I observed and participated in, I was able to see a lot of the theory we had read at work, and I was able to use a lot of what I had learned to help the students who came in. After having spent so much time reading about what being a tutor involved, it was really interesting to finally have a chance to use it in a hands-‐on situation, and figure out what worked best for me, as well as what worked best for the students I was helping. During these few sessions, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what to expect out of my tutoring sessions. Though the five students I observed and worked with were all mostly looking for help with revisions on fairly complete drafts, they all had different questions and concerns, and each session was a very distinct experience. I feel that it is likely that many of the skills I applied in helping these students with revisions will be equally useful as I help others at various points along the writing process.
The first tutoring session I observed was with a student who was working on a
research paper comparing aspects of the Bible and The Lord of the Rings. Opening the session, Amber asked the student what he was most concerned about and warned him that she wouldn’t be able to make it through the entire paper due to its length. As she read through the paper out loud, her major focus was helping him make sure that his thesis was clearly present throughout the entirety of the essay. Upon completing the introduction, she asked him to identify his thesis, and as she continued reading, she repeatedly asked him to relate each paragraph back to this idea, which seemed very helpful. Continuing through the
Kocher 2 paper, she also pointed out errors and helped him correct them, focusing is on mistakes that she saw repeatedly, such as introducing quotations and consistency of terminology. As she was helping him make these corrections, I noticed that Amber was always careful not to just tell him what to do, or how to change what he had written; rather, she gave suggestions and asked questions that encouraged the student to form the corrections on his own. This speaks to what Severino (2004) discusses in “Avoiding Appropriation,” where she writes that “most tutoring guides … also recommend that tutors not interfere with their students’ control of their texts. They advocate the tutor roles of collaborator, facilitator, coach, and consultant rather than more teacherly, controlling and directive roles of informant, editor, and evaluator” (p. 51). She helped him discover what he wanted to say without telling him exactly how to word it — he maintained control over the paper, despite the fact that she was helping him find better ways to organize his thoughts and ideas. During the second session, Amber was helping a student with a position shift paper that focused on the ways that the deaths of loved ones and her understanding of abortion influenced the way that the student viewed and appreciated life. The focus of this session was on figuring out how to tie the two parts of the paper together — in her current draft, the two sections seemed fairly unrelated. This session was somewhat difficult, not only because of the content of the paper, but also because of the sheer amount of feedback to be considered. The student had just come from a conference with her teacher, so Amber had to balance the suggestions made by the teacher and the desires of the student with her own ideas of how to improve the paper. In “The First Five Minutes: Setting the Agenda in a Writing Conference,” Newkirk (1989) writes that in conferences we “must balance two opposing mandates: on the one hand to respond to the student, to evaluate, to suggest
Kocher 3 possible revisions and writing strategies; and on the other to encourage the student to take the initiative, to self-‐evaluate, to make decisions, to take control of the paper” (p. 317-‐318). Because the teacher had given feedback on the organization and content of the paper, Amber focused in on ways to link the two sections together. She suggested that the student incorporate more information about both topics into the introduction and conclusion to show the ways they are related, but left most of the work — determining how to do this — to the student. In doing so, Amber helped the student find a way to improve the cohesion of the paper without telling her how to fix it. I was co-‐tutoring with Amber for my third session in the RWC. She still had “control” over the session, but I would often jump in with suggestions concerning the problems she was pointing out, and it was fun to bounce ideas back and forth with the student. He was working on a primary source analysis, and though he was initially very concerned about whether or not the essay he wrote was appropriate for the genre, we ended up spending most of our time identifying patterns of errors in his paper. One of the biggest patterns we discovered was his confusion over when to use past or present tense. Linville (2004) talks about identifying these patterns as a means of teaching students to self edit in “Editing Line by Line,” claiming that “convincing a student that learning to edit his own papers is both possible and necessary, however, is a difficult task for a tutor, a task that requires persistent and consistent effort” (p. 85). Amber initially pointed out these inconsistencies in tense by telling him the corrections, but as we moved through the paper, she would have him tell us the proper tense, and eventually he would just mark the errors so that he could return to them later as we addressed concerns about clarity and the use of quotations. As
Kocher 4 with the previous sessions, we tried to continually ask questions about the paper as a means of helping him clarify and organize his ideas, and this seemed to be quite effective. My fourth tutoring session was the first time I was tutoring on my own. The student was working on his final paper for an Intro to Shakespeare course, and rather than wanting major help with revisions, he was most concerned with his citations, because he hadn’t used MLA before this class. I helped him fix his works cited page, and showed him some features of the Purdue OWL site he hadn’t found himself. More than anything else, I was just helping him figure out how to use the resources he already had more effectively. During the second half of the session, he took over and read through his paper out loud, and found nearly all of the mistakes himself. Most of his questions were about confirming the corrections that he was planning on making, and it was really cool to see how many of the mistakes he was able to catch on his own. In “Self-‐Efficacy and Writing,” McCarthy, Meier, and Rinderer (1985) write that “if writing difficulties result not only from an inability to solve writing problems, but also from one’s own decision that one is unable to solve them, then one important step in improving writing would be to strengthen individuals’ efficacy expectations about their writing ability” (p. 466). I will inevitably come in contact with students who struggle with self efficacy, but it was really nice that my first experience tutoring on my own was with a student who had the self-‐confidence to recognize his mistakes and tackle them head on. The final tutoring session I had this summer was much harder than the others. The student came in with a film review that she had written about Little Miss Sunshine that she wanted to revise and resubmit for a new grade. When she pulled out the paper, it was completely covered with criticism from her teacher, and though she had started on some
Kocher 5 revisions, it was clear that she wasn’t entirely sure of what he wanted her to do. As I looked over the comments he had made, it appeared that his major problem was the way that she had tackled the genre of the piece. Hagemann (2002) addresses the importance of understanding genre in “Teaching Students to Read Writing Assignments Critically,” where she writes that “paying attention to genre helps writers determine the format of a paper and the details that are a necessary part of it” (p. 6). I tried to keep this in mind as I walked through the paper with the student, asking her to explain why she included certain ideas and helping her clarify her argument. In addition to helping her address some of her teacher’s problems, I also made a serious effort to point out things in her paper that were effective, because her instructor had failed to say anything encouraging in his notes. I repeatedly told her that she was on the right track and that her ideas were strong, and that with some changes her argument would become more clear and effective. It was still very hard, though, because she seemed to just want me to tell her how to fix the paper — I think I did a pretty good job avoiding it, but there were definitely times where I wanted to give in and just tell her what she should do. By the end of the session she was more receptive and I was able to help form a plan of attack, but I was still worried that she might not follow through due to her lack of confidence in her own changes.
These experiences that I had in the RWC had a huge impact on the way that I view
tutoring, and will approach it in the fall. In “The Idea of the Writing Center,” North (1984) writes that “in the ‘new’ center the teaching takes places as much as possible during the writing, during the activity being learned, and tends to focus on the activity itself” (p. 439) and this is something I kept in mind as I was tutoring. Though the students I was observing and tutoring were looking for help with what they viewed as a final draft, I constantly
Kocher 6 reminded myself that writing is a process, and that the drafts they were working with were fluid. Looking back on the ideas of this earlier piece, North (1994) writes in “Revisiting ‘The Idea of the Writing Center’” that “[students] will, rather, be motivated to (say) finish writing to be finished with writing; to have their writing finished” (p. 10). This desire to be finished came up in every session that I participated in, and I can completely understand that motivation; as a tutor, however, it was sometimes a struggle to have students step back for a moment and recognize the steps that needed to be taken for them to be finished. This is going to be one of my major goals while I am tutoring. I want to help students recognize that a piece of writing is never finished, and that there is always room for improvement. At the same time, however, I also want students to be aware that even though there are changes that must be made, they’re on the right track.
As a tutor, I view myself as a writing partner of sorts. I am an extra set of eyes to
look for mistakes, making sure everything is going smoothly and reads clearly. While I want the students I work with to view me as someone who is experienced, I don’t want to be seen as an expert who can point out their mistakes and tell them how to fix their papers. Instead, I want to act as a practice audience, and a stepping-‐stone towards independent writing. Rather than providing a service, I want to provide students with tools so that as they gain confidence in their writing and editing skills, they can employ the techniques I showed them on their own. Tutoring really isn’t about going through line-‐by-‐line and fixing every mistake in a paper as I used to believe; rather, it is about helping students help themselves. A huge part of this is helping them recognize the control that they have over their writing. The students I worked with seemed very concerned about what their teachers wanted, and while this is certainly an important thing to think about, I think they
Kocher 7 were sometimes being held back by it. As a tutor, I want to help students embrace their writing as their own, and let their voices come through while maintaining their attention to audience and genre. By helping them see the papers they write as extensions of themselves and their ideas and opinions, I think their confidence will increase, and with it, their level of engagement with writing.
Kocher 8 References Hagemann, J. (2002). Teaching students to read writing assignments critically. The Writing Lab Newsletter, 26(10), 5-‐7. Linville, C. (2004). Editing Line by Line. In S. Bruce and B. Rafoth (Eds.), ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors (pp. 84-‐93). Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Boynton/Cook Publishers Inc. McCarthy, P., Meier, S., and Rinderer, R. (1985). Self-‐Efficacy and Writing: A Different View of Self-‐Evaluation. College Composition and Communication, 36(4), 465-‐471. Newkirk, T. (1989). The First Five Minutes: Setting the Agenda in a Writing Conference. In C. M. Anson (Ed.), Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research (pp. 317-‐ 331). Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English. North, S. M. (1984). The Idea of a Writing Center. College English, 46(5), 433-‐446. North, S. M. (1994). Revisiting “The Idea of a Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, 15(1), 7-‐19. Severino, C. (2004). Avoiding Appropriation. In S. Bruce and B. Rafoth (Eds.), ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors (pp. 48-‐59). Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Boynton/Cook Publishers Inc.