In my first time at the writing center, I was approached by my tutor, Cole, who was very friendly, addressed me by name, and sat next to me at the table, all things we’d discussed in class as good tutoring practices. As a student using the writing center for working on my Literacy Narrative, I was first struck by the suggestion that I read my piece aloud. Discussed in class, this technique kept me focused on my content, rather than on the (occasionally glaring) mechanical errors of the piece. Cole, my tutor, took notes as I read aloud, and then asked questions based off those notes once I was finished, much like how Ryan and Zimmerelli discuss in their article when they state: “As the writer answers, seek clarification with follow-up questions that encourage him or her to talk more. This time spent talking means that when you finally look at the paper, you will be able to match the writer's goals more adequately with what actually appears in the paper and more readily offer suggestions to make the writing more effective.” (Ryan and Zimmerelli 19) Cole used those questions to guide the session, important because I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was that I wanted to work on, I just knew the paper could use improvement. He helped me rethink my organization, as well as some more topics to go over, and suggested I take some time to personalize my paper, instead of keeping distant and using an academic tone.
My second experience was as a shadow for the same tutor. The student was a registered student through the CARE program, and was also enrolled in the class I was interning with, which allowed a level of rapport to already exist between me and the student, as limited as it might be. I noted that Cole and the student were interacting easily and casually – the discussion between them wasn’t formal, and mainly centered on their previous work, and work to be discussed that day. Any time throughout their conversation that they got off track discussing the essay the student was writing, Cole would gently redirect the conversation back to the paper, conducting the session how Raymond and Quinn suggested: “they [the tutor] must focus their sessions in ways that fulfill the students’ requests for the paper at hand while maintaining an emphasis on facilitating the long-term development of the writer” (Raymond and Quinn 65). Cole obviously had paid attention and taken notes in previous session with the student, as he had in my writing session, and took care to bring up consistent errors the student committed across papers and assignments, and noting where she had improved and overcome those errors.
In reflection, I recognize this as an excellent way to build rapport with returning students; it shows that the tutor cares enough to remember and is invested in the student’s learning. Coupling that with the easy going nature of the session, I am reminded of the concept that: “tutors believe that important learning happens when people are comfortable with one another, when there's an environment of trust established.” (Fitzgerald and Ianetta 17).
I worked with the same student and tutor during my co-tutoring session. This allowed me to better see how more established rapport helps build students confidence and makes it easier for them to discuss things with you. I realize that this is an almost idealized situation, similar to what North discusses when he said: “I want a program in which we’ve gotten to know the writers and the writers have gotten to know us; a situation, in short, in which talk about writing is so common that we can, in fact, carry on such talk” (North 16). The student brought in her paper that was due in the class that I interned in, and so I knew more about the assignment than Cole, since I was in the class when it was discussed. I learned here the importance of having students bring in a copy of their assignment – she left out key components when describing what it was she had to do. If I hadn’t known that she had to include those things, the tutoring session would not have been as successful. In knowing more, I also found the struggle between being directive versus indirective – I used questions to guide her towards revisiting her assignment and the directions, and then based off that, we decided on goals. It was difficult to not flat out tell her what she needed to do, but more beneficial for the student in the long run, and it helped build her confidence that she found the information herself. The student was one that, in class, didn’t talk much, but she blossomed during the tutoring experience, bringing home the idea that “in addition to facilitating a less-structured exploration by the writer than is afforded by the classroom, the tutorial is guided by the writer's own needs and goals, allowing for a high-impact learning experience” (Fitzgerald and Ianetta 18) – the student was active, engaged, and clearly learning throughout the experience, pushing her knowledge of the subject area and composition abilities.
Because I had worked with the same student for the previous two tutoring sessions, I was nervous about tutoring on my own with a new student – I was concerned that I had missed out on learning to handle new and different situations. Happily, this proved not to be the case. The student I tutored on my own was in her first semester and came into discuss the research project for her ENC2135 classroom. She perfectly reflected the situation described by Ianetta and Fitzgerald, who wrote:
“Writers do not smoothly progress through the writing process: a writer might come into the center today thinking she has almost finished her paper and is at the final editing stage. After reviewing her work and assignment sheet with a tutor, however, she may realize she has more to do than she originally planned and leaves the tutorial determined to return to the research process, to restructure the essay, or even start again.” (Fitzgerald and Ianetta 25)
This student thought she was finished, but we ended up having to redo her thesis statement and do some reorganization to more effectively communicate her argument. In addition, it didn’t appear that she had thoroughly researched her topic as much as she could have, and was taking a stance that I wasn’t sure was supported by her sources. Instead of telling her this, I took the advice of Ryan and Zimmerelli, who suggest in their piece to “ask questions that invite her to further examine, explore, and clarify her ideas and approaches” (Ryan and Zimmerelli 25). This nondirective approach was very effective, and she left the session prepared to do some reorganization and reconsideration of the sources she used. It was also interesting to work with this student because I disagreed with her argument, which was a political world situation that I wasn’t sure she was taking the time to look at all the sides of. Being objective throughout the session was a struggle, but one worth having, and I feel better prepared going forward should I encounter that situation again. I realized during the session that it isn’t my job to disagree or agree with her position, but rather make sure that she was supporting it as effectively and clearly as possible, while correctly utilizing her sources.
Each encounter in the RWC brought about unique experiences, whether it was learning the importance of establishing rapport, conducting my tutoring in a nondirective manner, or keeping an objective perspective while helping a student with a paper. I think, most of all, I’ve discovered the importance of not sticking stalwartly to one methodology of tutoring. Students come with different needs, different writing styles, different backgrounds, and in different stages of writing. If we don’t learn to be flexible in the writing center, we won’t be able to provide the best experiences. While it may have been more beneficial for me to spend time with a wider variety of students to better understand how to assess their needs and cater the tutoring session towards those needs, the basis gained here will help me as I continue onwards into the Fall semester.
Fitzgerald, Lauren and Melissa Ianetta. "Tutoring Writing: What, Why, Where, and
When." The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 13-43.
North, Stephen. "Revising "The Idea of a Writing Center"." The Writing Center
Journal 15.1 (1994): 7-19.
Raymond, Laurel and Zarah Quinn. "What a Writer Wants: Assessing Fulfillment of
Student Goals in Writing Center Tutoring Sessions." The Writing Center Journal 32.1 (2012): 64-77.
Ryan, Leigh and Lisa Zimmerelli. "Inside the Tutoring Session." The Bedford Guide
for Writing Tutors. Ed. 5. Boston: Bedford/St Martin's, 2009. 17-40.