Self-Reflective Tutoring: Practices & Concerns
2.1 Conferencing with Students
The initial session between tutor and student sets the tone for all future sessions. Therefore, don't rush the getting acquainted period, even when a student just drops in. Take five or ten minutes, if possible, to encourage the student to talk about her writing experiences while you ask the student to complete the "Student Information Sheet." Such an initial getting-acquainted period results in a more relaxed conference, helps build trust, and provides the tutor with an opportunity to observe and evaluate the student's attitude. Don't hesitate to ask students about their previous writing experience, their strengths and weaknesses as writers, and their writing and academic goals.
The Importance of Dialogue
General Guidelines for Conferences
Priorities of Concerns
2.2 A Model Tutoring Session
This material and the preceding section on priorities of concerns has been adapted from Reigstad, T. and Donald McAndrew, Training Tutors for Writing Conferences. Urbana, IL. NCTE: 1984.
When you first meet with a student, take time to get acquainted. Have students new to the center fill out a "Student Information Sheet." If you wish, you can fill out the form while getting to know the student. Find out about the assignment, whether the writer understands it, when it is due. Then determine the kind of writing required (explanatory, expressive, analytical, interpretive, creative, persuasive, descriptive, etc.), and any special restrictions concerning audience, voice, etc., by asking questions such as these: What are you trying to do in this paper? Are you writing to someone other than your instructor? What kind of writer's voice do you think is most appropriate for this assignment? Then try to determine what approach the writer is already using or is planning to use. Respect the writer's judgment: you should not tell the writer what approach to take.
When the writer lacks a partial or completed draft, you can explore with the writer ways of gathering or producing ideas and materials. Try such strategies as oral composing, or talking about the subject; listing ideas, questions, issues, generalizations; or other invention strategies like freewriting, cubing, or clustering, etc. Then explore possibilities for organizing the ideas and materials.
When the writer has a partial or completed draft, analyze first the Higher Order Concerns (mentioned in the previous section). Sit next to the writer and read along silently as the writer reads the paper aloud. Encourage the writer to tell you what she or he wants the two of you to look and listen for. Ask the writer the following questions at this stage: What works best in your paper? What do feel most satisfied about? What works least well in the paper? Which parts did you have trouble writing? Which parts don't feel right?
Stop whenever you wish to explore alternatives with the writer. Give the writer every chance to solve a problem before you offer specific solutions. Your task is to help the writer see the problem and solve it. Avoid jumping in and supplying your solution to the problem. Let the writer do the writing. Consider questions (and strategies) like the following: Does the beginning begin the piece? Does the ending end it? Is the information presented in clear order? Are transitions between paragraphs clear? Are there weak sections that can be eliminated? At what points does the paper need more detail? Is the paper sufficiently complex? Are important alternatives explored? Are important questions answered? And finally, is the paper focused? Does it seem to create a single, dominant impression?
Then you can address the Lower Order Concerns (sentence structure, punctuation, usage, spelling). Look at the sentence structure and mechanics of the draft, but DON'T attempt to deal with every mechanical or grammatical problem; look for the most pervasive patterns of error. Question the flagrantly incorrect or seriously awkward sentences. Discuss sentence variety, length, patterns.
You should encourage the student to find the errors in the paper. If the writer can find the error, ask the writer to give alternatives. If not, point to the error and ask for alternatives before offering them yourself. You can also ask questions about the paper: Do you notice a particular sentence pattern or length? Is this an effective pattern? Or do you need more variety of pattern or length? Are there sentences that can be combined or eliminated? Is the movement from sentence to sentence clear? Are sentence boundaries correctly marked? What types of spelling errors are made? Are there patterns of error in usage or mechanics that consistently draw attention away from the paper's content?
At the end of the tutoring session, review the main points discussed. Recommend specific self-help materials to the writer when appropriate. (Students may use Writing Center texts only in the center, but there are many handouts that can be taken from the center.) Complete the reverse of the "Student Information Sheet" by making a few brief notes on the back of the sheet. Enter the date. Describe the work done using short phrases such as the following: understanding the assignment; considering audience and voice; discussing the composing process; building confidence; discovering a topic; locating information (suggesting sources); compiling ideas; organizing ideas; introducing and ending the piece; staying on the topic; expanding the draft; supplying evidence or analysis; correcting usage, sentence structure, or mechanics; stylistic revision. Then write a sentence or two describing the session's content, taking into consideration what future tutors might need or want to know.
Finally, have the student fill out an evaluation form, and be sure to leave the completed forms in the work-study in-box.
Summary of Tutoring Steps: Begin by making a positive, rapport-creating statement to the writer. Make some positive comments about the paper. (What are its strengths?) First discuss any weaknesses you find in the HOCs. Suggest strategies to eliminate each. Then you can discuss any weaknesses you see in the LOCs. Suggest a strategy to eliminate each. And finally, remember the recordkeeping duties the job entails.
2.3 Some Variations on the Model
Obviously, the tutorial model provided above will need to be adjusted to the tutor's skills and interests, to the student's needs, and to the constraints of time. Reigstad identified three types of tutorial styles, which he termed student-centered, collaborative, and teacher-centered.
A student-centered tutoring style is desirable because it encourages the writer to do most of the talking and most of the work on the paper. The writer even determines the direction of the session, initiating movement to each new phase of the conference.... Student-centered conferences, then, are conducted in an informal climate in which students are treated as conversational equals and fellow writers. During the first phase, the tutor relies on open-prompt questions to draw students out to discuss their drafts or composing processes. In subsequent phases, as students initiate conversation about various problems with composing, the tutor suggests strategies or alternatives.
The collaborative style, too, has merit since the tutor maintains a flexible posture.... The tutorial relationship changes from teacher-student to conversant-conversant several times during the conference..., and tutor and student share equally in the conversation, in the problem solving, and in the decision-making. The tutor, however, initiates the move to a new phase and usually identifies the problem areas on which to focus.
When time constraints dictate, tutors should know that a teacher-centered style may be more appropriate. Even though the ultimate goal of the tutoring session is to help the writer, not the paper, there are occasions in which a brief (three to five minutes) teacher-centered conference is necessary.... In a teacher-centered conference, the student tends to sit passively as the tutor reads through the draft and, pen in hand, corrects mechanical errors or supplies alternative, improved sentences and paragraphs. The tutor asks few questions, and the questions are usually closed or leading. A teacher-centered tutor issues directives for specific revisions to be made.
2.4 Tutoring Online
Some students may choose to e-mail us their work (or a portion of it). These requests will arrive intermittently throughout the term via our e-mail, along with the results of a form that the student has completed (one that includes the same general information as our "Student Information Sheet" as well as some additional context). These papers should be responded to by the end of the next class day.
Responding via email
When responding to the students' work, keep your comments focused and brief. Tell the writer what you like about the draft. Acknowledge that you are not responding to every concern, but instead prioritizing a few items for the writer to focus on. Offer your suggestions with brief explanations and examples, and let the writer know when you are available to meet face to face if he or she wishes. Be sure to use the Writing Center's e-mail account when responding, and complete the same paperwork procedures as you would with a face-to-face visit.
2.5 Assessing Your Tutoring
Neither this Guide nor your reading as a tutor can, by itself, make you into an excellent tutor of writing. Those tutors who progress the most are the ones who reflect critically on their practice, continually assessing their work and learning new skills and strategies. To assess your tutoring, try the following: