Thursday, November 12, 2015

Get Right Back Where We Started From

PeerCentered started around 1998 as an online discussion group for peer tutors in writing centers to talk about issues that they found important.  These discussions took place on a MOO--an online textual world interface where people could text chat with each other.  The discussions were held weekly--and then monthly--and then finally sporadically, as it was seemingly difficult to coordinate the sessions with my schedule.

I was, however, going about it all wrong:  things like PeerCentered work best when peer tutors take the lead in it, and directors like me step away. Directors can provide venues and medium and opportunity for peer tutors, I think, but we should let peer tutors take it from there.

So, without further ado, PeerCentered announces the return of the regular live discussions.  This time, however, instead of a text chat, we're going to be using a Google Hangout that will allow for audio/visual and textual interactions.  Of course, such discussions won't happen spontaneously, and we will need to get a group of interested peer tutors to help initiate and lead the discussions.

This blog post, therefore, is call for moderators for a series of monthly PeerCentered discussions.  If you are interested in leading a discussion, please visit this Google form:  The form asks for your name, your email address, your institutional affiliation, whether or not you are an undergraduate peer tutor in writing, and what topics you would like to discuss during a session you moderate. One doesn't necessarily have to be a peer tutor to lead the discussions, but peer tutors will be given preference in moderator selection.  I would, therefore, ask directors to recruit from peer tutoring staff or students in peer tutoring classes.

When (and if) we get enough moderator volunteers, we'll move forward with determining dates. Once I get enough responses, I'll coordinate with the volunteers to have an open meeting to talk about the best times and dates for the live online discussions.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Training Reflections

As I reflect on what it means to be a tutor in a diverse and inclusive environment I continually come back to our responsibility as tutors to stand strongly in empathy with our writers. To me, this is about finding some way, any way, to connect with another through the experience of pure human existence. We are there to acknowledge writers’ lives, both their joys and their struggles, despite whatever differences may exist between us. Tutors are given a window into our writers’ worlds through their work. I’m struck by what a privilege that is! We are afforded the opportunity to know these people in often personal ways; through sharing their work writers may come to feel more confident in who they are or even to a greater understanding of themselves. As tutors we help others find their voice. That is a beautifully powerful thing. What creates the opportunity for that in any relationship is the presence of empathy. It is my hope that as tutors we take time to consider what that means for ourselves and how we engage with writers. 

Final Training Reflection

At the beginning of the week, when I first introduced myself to the peers I’d be training with, the first “fun fact” I revealed about myself is that I am shy. I clung to that shyness and never really wanted to dig too deep too soon. I was sharing, but there was limit imposed by my own usual uncertainties and insecurities. 

It’s amazing how much can change in three days. During the final training session, it was very clear how far I had come along in letting go of my inhibitions, and how much my peers and I had bonded. These strangers were suddenly my allies, and I was sharing much more than I would have ever anticipated. We all reached much deeper understandings of each other and ourselves because of our newfound willingness to share without fear and to open ourselves up emotionally and intellectually to experiences other than our own.

I realized this simple process of opening up creates the tone and environment that is a critical part of successful tutoring. If both parties involved are willing to open up in order to unearth the fundamental components their own strengths, weaknesses, work practices, tendencies, and even histories, they will be able to overcome any academic obstacles as a team. Becoming a team involves digging deeper than what many have come to understand as the typical tutor-student relationship, and this training period at the Learning Studio gave me the brilliant change in perspective needed to make that possible. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

What is a tutor?

On the surface, the job of a writing tutor is simple. We fix essays for students who need help and offer feedback to assist their future writing. However, this stereotype of tutoring comes from those who have never looked deeper into the relationship between tutor and student. When a student enters the writing center, they are welcoming the tutor into their experience of life. What is written on their paper is sacred. It's their thoughts, emotions, history, and potentially the safest place for them to be who they are. It's a humbling honor to be allowed to enter their world. We journey through their headspace to learn how their mind works. Students expose the deepest part of themselves to us, bravely allowing themselves to be vulnerable. We have the task of looking deeper within ourselves and at our own experiences to form questions that prompt the student to research their own story. If the student is most comfortable expressing who they are on paper, we are responsible for keeping that space safe for them, as well as making a safe space for conversation at our writing centers. Tutors are protectors, guardians for those who need shelter from their reality. We break down the walls of insecurity and maintain a space which generates creativity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection

Training resumed today with another introduction of ourselves. We met Caroline today and we went on with our training with her through google chat. We opened up our session with a video of Ant Black talking about racism and oppression. The discussion that followed after was a good ice breaker for the topic. Everyone had different opinions and experiences with racism. As for my contribution to the discussion, I talked about my experience on how people assume things about me just because I'm Asian. People stereotype Asians as smart and are intelligent with Math. But in all honesty, Mathematics is the one subject that I don't excel in. It's a subject that I hate and always struggle with and people assume that I'm a "mathlete" because of my race. I get a lot of questions from different students asking for help in math. It usually starts with "Hey, you're Asian right? So you must be good in Math" or "Can you help with Math problems?". Since people are not really aware of my background, I don't allow myself to get caught up with the assumptions. I can't respond aggressively since people don't know me well besides the fact that I'm Asian. I respond in a calmer way but at the same time, very blunt about the topic. I have to consider the fact that we don't know everyone and people don't know anything about us. Approaching the situation calmly is the best way to handle the situation while at the same time educating others by reminding them that other people don't fit the stereotype that they have about the other person's race or that people shouldn't assume that fast.

Creating Safety Through Connection In Diverse Spaces

After a day spent reflecting on creating a space where diversity is respected, encouraged and celebrated in the learning studio I continually find myself returning to the individual experience. Throughout the day my writing tutor peers and I shared our own reflections on racism both generally and within the context of the education system in which we are working. While we had varied, fresh perspectives on many points there were also many moments of commonality between us, especially in the value we place in these conversations and the importance of creating this environment in our roles as tutors. 

For me,  one contributes to creating a safe space for diversity by knowing your ‘stuff’– all the ideas, values, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions and hidden biases that have come to compose who you are as an individual. It’s about bringing awareness to how these things act as a lens through which you see the world so that, when need be, you can find another lens through which to look. By proceeding with that self-awareness in one hand and a heavy dose of openness and curiosity in the other I think a space can be created in the Learning Studio that feels safe and inclusive for our students and peers.  By having the courage and honesty to bring your authentic self into relationship you invite the same from those you connect with. If we can bring these relational qualities of openness, curiosity, and acceptance into our work as writing tutors then we can help our students to use their creativity and amazingly unique perspectives as assets in their communication and writing.  

Tuesday's Reflection

As a school that openly embraces diversity and individuality, I was stunned and saddened to hear other students tell stories of the injustice regarding race in their departments. I addressed the dance center and the issues I've noticed about the way West African classes are valued as opposed to ballet and modern classes. We discussed the importance of immersing in a culture to learn its art, and the value of broadening our perspectives when learning new things. Relating this to the writing center, I think it's important to remember that everyone has a unique voice and way of expressing themselves on paper. To aid in their writing, we as tutors must let go of our ideas of writing. Though a student might not express themselves as we do, that does not mean they are wrong in any way. We have to immerse ourselves in the mindset of the student for them to positively benefit from our tutoring sessions, which are conversations that generate creativity and thought. Our job as tutors is to enhance a student's writing and their writing experience, not to change it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Freedom From Plagiarism: How Peer Collaboration Helps Students Master & Overcome Plagiarism

Fear and confusion combine in the minds of listeners who know all about plagiarism's negative repercussions, but are only dimly aware of its meaning. Even among scholars the topic is stressful to discuss; some time ago, as I talked with a professor about this topic, I sensed a tone of worry in his voice, as if just raising the idea of plagiarism was enough to summon shame. This fear of committing plagiarism is not a solution because it can either cause or worsen students' struggle with paraphrasing and citation, thus hurting their writing quality and their capacity to participate in our community's exchange of knowledge. Overcoming the fear of committing plagiarism principally requires understanding it through peer collaboration and acceptance—an atmosphere that, at present, are best provided by writing centers.

I mastered how to avoid committing plagiarism through practice and, most importantly, by making mistakes along the way. Despite first learning about plagiarism in school, I only understood it after practicing how to cite sources by writing entries in Wikipedia. This online encyclopedia was a great venue not only because my grade was not at stake, but also because it provided me with an opportunity to work in an open canvass with anonymity—which was important, in retrospect, because it allowed me to sweep away feelings of embarrassment that could have hindered my writing. My understanding of plagiarism was also shaped by peer-to-peer feedback. As a result, I acquired the self-confidence to fix my own errors, and learned how to properly summarize, paraphrase, and integrate different types of quotes into a written work.

Back in school, my peers struggled to find self-confidence, particularly because they had associated their work and the instructor with failure and criticism. Most of these students feared committing plagiarism and, in their frustration, focused their minds on earning a passing grade rather than on learning how to write using sources. Once in college, many of them continued having the same problem; moreover, at that point their fear extended to all forms of writing.

At Texas A&M University's Writing Center, I worked with students seeking to overcome plagiarism, and also learned techniques on how to collaborate with them as a peer tutor. One of my memorable appointments was with a student who had been admonished for plagiarizing. She came to the writing center with a paper marked with comments and point reductions. The student was confused on how to distinguish between common knowledge and information that required citation. Due to the confusion, she was unable to express her thoughts on paper. Thus, the session initially focused on brainstorming and providing her with the confidence that no one would penalize her mistakes. After the writing was finished, the rest of the session focused on us working together to understand areas where plagiarism had been committed. We also practiced the usage of paraphrases and summaries. Thanks to the writing center, the student left with a new-found trust in her writing.

All in all, peer collaboration has proven time and again to be an effective method to end students' fear of committing plagiarism. Students also need an environment where they can take command of their role as learners and write without fearing negative repercussions. Writing centers house all of these elements in addition to consultants who provide patience, confidence, and encouragement. Therefore, one of our roles as consultants is to help students regain their fundamental right, as writers, to be free from fearing plagiarism.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Writing Centers and Learning Styles

Nowadays, we all know many things affect academic achievement. One factor is learning style, a concept that has received scholarly attention more recently but has been around since the 1920s. Since the goal of the writing center is to improve the writer, part of role of the tutor becomes providing instruction in a manner that the student will comprehend. There are many different ways to offer this guidance, so I thought sharing some information on learning styles for writing tutors might be useful.

What is a learning style? Basically, a learning style is not an ability, but a preference for learning a certain way. These preferences include the things people do to learn things (e.g., making diagrams, re-reading, practice) as well as broader styles (step by step instructions, collaborative learning, etc.).
Research on learning styles shows that individuals differ in how they prefer to take in, process, and acquire new information, but much remains unknown. For instance, scholars and psychologists don’t know where learning styles come from. Are they associated with personality traits? Are they fixed ways of thinking? This research on learning styles impacts education: if it’s true that individuals learn in different ways, what should educators do about it? There are essentially two camps when it comes to addressing learning styles in the classroom. One feels that instructors should diagnose individuals, and then tailor instruction to meet each individual’s learning style. An entire business has sprung up because of these advocates; that is, commercial measurement devices (tests) to help teachers assess individuals are constantly being invented and sold. Unfortunately, most of these tests don’t produce concrete results and there is no concrete evidence to suggest that matching presentation of material to an individual learner makes a significant difference. The other camp sees this lack of evidence and claims that because teaching to individual styles does not work, we should instead focus on multi-dimensional teaching.  

The most important outcome from research into learning styles is awareness. Just being aware that students prefer to understand new information in different ways goes a long way for instructors. In fact, recent literature on learning styles suggests that both educators and the learners themselves should investigate their personal learning styles. This important concept of metacognition leads to the ability to teach to different styles and provides vocabulary for talking about learning styles, where the learner can express his or her individual needs or adapt accordingly. Teachers are encouraged to diversify their lessons, and learners are encouraged to use different learning strategies and move beyond their preferred method when necessary.

To help us think about the ways we learn and the ways we tutor in the writing center, I’m highlighting 5 basic cognitive styles that relate to learning style. What kind of learner are you? What kind of learner is your client? How do stages of the writing process fit into these cognitive styles, and can you think of ways to alter how you provide instruction to match each style?
1.     Field independent/ dependent. Field independent learners are internally motivated with self-directed goals, structure their own learning, and define their own study strategies. Field dependent learners, on the other hand, are externally motivated, respond better to clearly defined performance goals, need structured guidance from the instructor, and prefer to collaborate.

2.     Convergent-Divergent. Convergent style learners seek the one accepted correct answer from the available information, and divergent style learners tend to produce a number of potentially acceptable solutions to the problem.

3.     Leveler-sharpener. Similar to convergent/divergent styles in many ways, the leveler has a tendency to oversimplify and reduce the complexity of a task, but the sharpener introduces more complexity, treating each detail or event as a serious event.

4.     Holist-serialist. Although these are different cognitive processes, they can produce the same end result. Serialists operate on a step-by-step approach to learning, while holists will use significant amounts of information from the start, looking for patterns or trends to understand the data.

5.     Verbalizer-visualizer. Visualizers tend to learn best from pictorially-presented material, while verbalizers learn best from text-based materials. These styles are seen as incompatible with each other and are often cited as a problem when instruction doesn’t match.

Keeping these basic divisions in our tutor tool-belts might help us recognize how to best present materials to our clients, and practicing different ways to present that material will help us stay sharp (and maybe even save a session where something just doesn’t seem to be working!)

Cassidy, S. 2004. "Learning Styles: An Overview of Theories, Models, and Measures." Educational Psychology 24:419-44.

Coffield, F., D. Moseley, E. Hall, and K. Ecclestone. 2004. Should We Be Using Learning Styles? What Research Has to Say to Practice. LSRC reference, Learning & Skills Research Centre, London.

Fan, J. and L. Zhang. 2013. "The Role of Learning Environments in Thinking Styles." Educational Psychology 34:252-68.

Hatami, S. 2012. “Learning Styles.” ELT Journal 67:488-490.

Pashler, H. M. McDaniel, D. Rohrer, and R. Bjork. 2008. "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence." Psychological Sciences in the Public Interest 9:105-19.

Rolfe, A. 2012. "Learning Styles." InnoAiT 5:176-81.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tutorers as Counselors

   I've just recently climbed aboard the writing tutoring train this past November and it has been great so far! "It's a piece of cake" was my mindset when applying for the position but it is much more...interesting than what I expected.
   I am a graduate student in Rehabilitation Counseling and as I started getting into the motion of tutoring, I realized that this environment was that of a one-on-one session from a counselor! Building rapport, empathizing, listening to their problems and solving them, the whole 9 yards. It brings me great joy to help people and little did I know, this job is perfect practice for someone who is fresh out of undergraduate level of schooling with little experience of counseling.
   Although, not many people that walk through that door are the happiest campers on campus. Procrastination gets the best of most students and of course, we as tutors are expected to help in any way possible for the sake of the assignment. However, students come in with the mindset that we have to fix their last-minute-written paper rather than improving their skills as a writer; if we don't, we endure the wrath of a stressed out student who tries to give all the reasons for extending a session. This is where it becomes challenging. But hey, I never worked in customer service and now, I feel I can conquer the world of sales!
   I initially thought that I could/will fix every student's paper that was placed on the table, the same thing I thought of when entering the counseling program. Tutoring and learning in school made me realize that not everyone that walks through that door gets help, and that's okay. We are here to improve the person's writing ability, not the paper they strive to get the A on. This has been an awesome experience so far, and I'm grateful to have a wonderful UWC staff that guides and supports us every step of the way.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Teaching Talking

“I want to learn how to talk like you.”

“Like me? How exactly do you mean?”

“Like that! You know, how you Americans do… the dah-di-dah-di-dah…” 

And so began my conversation appointment at the Texas A&M University Writing Center.  As usual, I had started off by asking my client what he would like to gain from the meeting. When explaining his goals for our time together, he used his hands to mimic what he had discerned to be my up-and-down pattern of speech. A second year graduate student from China, his concern was that his own speech pattern was coming across as monotonous, and that this was affecting his ability to communicate ideas in both academic and social settings.

This appointment was the first session in a series of five that I had with my client who had just enrolled in our PLACE Program (The Practice Listening and Conversational English Program). His concerns were valid and are often shared by many of the international students who come to the writing center to practice English. As a graduate student myself, I could empathize. I also struggled to communicate my research effectively in a way that clearly explained my thoughts and held the attention of my audience. I could only imagine how this concern would be compounded by trying to present my research in a second language.

The problem being relevant and a widely-felt concern, the question then became how to address the needs of such students in a 45 minute consultation? Before I had the chance to really research strategies, I tried to think of ways just to get the ball rolling and conversation started. My first idea was to watch popular TV clips and discuss the speech patterns that we observed. We began with Friends, noting the elevated pitches and rapid patterns of speech often used by characters when they were excited. We also observed how certain sentences were punctuated with pauses to provide emphasis, and how very often, characters would use hand gestures in paralleling intonation.

This strategy seemed to be useful in helping both of us think about what was actually happening with our voices and how this looked to someone looking and listening in from the outside. Not only did my client seem to be having fun with activity, he also became more assertive in our conversations. I realized that the goal of the conversation appointment should not be to teach English. Instead, a focus on increasing confidence and motivation could help to make consultations more productive and focused. As most students who visit a writing center of their own accord already possess a personal motivation for improvement of certain skills, the real challenge is in promoting confidence. 

It dawned on me that the PLACE program would be an excellent venue for such an activity. If in the first of the five sessions, students were asked to create a short narrative that would be repeated over the course of the following appointments, the consultant would then be able to provide constructive criticism and feedback over improvements in intonation. This strategy could also be helpful in a group environment, where group members could make observations and offer advice to one another at each of the storytelling sessions. 

In summary, I determined that regardless of the tactics I used, I needed to make sure my client understood that my goal was not to teach him how to “talk like me,” but to help him discover the nuances already present in his own dialogue that would make his personalized style of speech an effective tool for communication. Instead of teaching talking, I focused on promoting confidence, and the fact that my student decided to re-enroll in the PLACE program after the conclusion of our appointments, was testament to the fact that he at least in part, found the sessions useful.

Works Consulted
Chiu, Chien-Hsiung (Scott). "Negotiating Linguistic Certainty for ESL Writers at the Writing Center." Order No. 3444496 Michigan State University, 2011. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Golanka, Ewa M., Anita R. Bowles, and Victor M. Frank. “Technologies for Foreign Language Learning: a Review of Technology Types and Their Effectiveness.” Computer Assisted Language Learning 27.1 (2014) 70-105. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Jungmin Ko, Diane L. Schallert and Keith Walters. “Rethinking Scaffolding: Examining Negotiation of Meaning in an ESL Storytelling Task.” TESOL Quarterly 37.2 (2003): 303-324. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
Quenqua, Douglas. "They're, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve." Geolinguistics 37 (2011): 103-05. Proquest. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Murray, Neil. “Ten ‘Good Practice Principles’… ten key questions: considerations in addressing the English language needs of higher education students.” Higher Education Research & Development 31.2 (2011) 233-246.  Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reciprocal Effort

    When I first began my work at Nova Southeastern’s Writing Fellows Program, I immediately felt close to most of my students, and they have felt close to me. This has made me more eager to help them, and made them more eager to learn while they’re in class or in the studio. Productive sessions are the most rewarding part of my job, especially when students come back again and tell me how well they did and then they immediately want to begin working on their next assignment. Their intention of doing well is inspiring, and I can’t help but take this inspiration outside of the studio into my everyday life.
Being close with students can also mean that their troubling sessions stay with me outside of the studio as well. When I have a troubling session with a student, where ideas don’t come smoothly, or the student is overwhelmed and shut down, I feel that I am inadequate and I also take this feeling into my everyday life, the same way I do during a productive session. I’ve been fortunate enough for this to only happen twice, but it still affected me as deeply as some of my inspirational sessions.  
    A valuable lesson I’ve learned is that in each thirty minute session, there is only so much a writing tutor can do. If the student and the writing tutor give equal efforts, the session is productive. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that not all students come to the studio prepared and not all students think the same way as me . During sessions when a student’s efforts are lacking, I’ve always made up whatever they were missing, so that the lack of work did not reflect my own work ethic. The lesson learned is this: I am not responsible for their shortcomings . There’s a difference between inspiring ideas and inspiring dependence. Once you give a student their missing efforts, you develop poor work habits within them. I’ve noticed that future sessions with the same student result in me doing more than them, and I’m at fault for this. The work I do here is not completely mine, and I’ve had to learn and understand that to get better at my job and to develop positive writing attributes within students.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Getting from Point to Point During Times of High Traffic

Whenever I go into a tutoring session, I like to open up the thirty minute slot that I give students with a friendly introduction and a brief preface  of how tutoring at the writing center works. I’ll usually follow this up with asking them their purpose for being at the writing center. I am fortunate enough to never really have monotony in answers, as the students that I work with have a wide spectrum of concerns in their assignments, even if I happen to work with nothing but students from a single class for an entire shift at work.
However, I notice that students aren’t always exactly clear with how they want me to help them, especially when we, as tutors, get into the busier parts of the semester. For the most part, days at the writing center don’t often get crowded, and the student to tutor ratio isn’t overwhelming. When times at the workplace are as such, it’s not as stressful, and you can often get a full and enriching experience with students. Lately, the front lobby where students wait to be seated has been filling up faster than usual, and being understaffed at our university’s writing center (from nearly twenty employees a year ago, to eight at the present moment) has been as easy as trying to understand why  the meme “none pizza with left beef” exists.
The issue of students knowing what they need to work on, exactly, is one that presents itself more obviously in busier times, and those busier times… well, have been now, for the writing center tutors at the University of Texas Pan-American, soon to be known as UTRGV (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley).. Going from working with, about five, people on average on a weekday, to ten, creates a different, and more hectic, environment for tutors and students, as well as faculty, as our school readies itself for the arrival of the merger with Brownsville. Last Friday, for instance, there were only three tutors on the floor, as opposed to the six that worked the same shift earlier in the semester. Reasons for fewer employees on the work floor include: people finding new jobs, changing their shifts due to school, and, well, life just happening. Finding quality time to give each student that we worked with wasn’t as much of an issue as trying to make sure we got to everybody in time, but that’s not always the case.
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself wanting to go in-depth throughout a student’s paper, and when conflicts arise that get in the way of a full, high-quality session, you have to cut down on the content that you can elaborate on. In my own sessions, I like to cover a little bit of everything, but due to the aforementioned lack of tutors and higher student density at the writing center, I’ve had to put central focus on fewer issues than I usually do. When this occurs, I tend to frame the direction of the session around questions like “What is the primary thing that you’d like for me to work on with you today in your paper?” If a student can give me a straight answer, I’ll put all my effort into working on that specific problem with them. However, if I see another issue, I’ll identify it with the student, and recommend a follow-up session in which I, or another tutor, can help them out with their writing issues. If I’m not able to readily get a single answer from a student, I’ll try to put more of my focus on the introduction, some body sections, and conclusion, and see if I can help with those.
Sometimes, you have to trust your gut instinct and your experiences as a tutor to truly find how to get through condensed sessions on days that are full of traffic, though, and it’s up to you to decide, ultimately, what is best.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bring it Back

Return to Prewriting

By Ashley Freeman

“Welcome to the studio! You’re still working on the research project, right? What can I help you with today?”
“I don’t really know. I just feel like I have too much to do and no time to do it. Can you look at what I have so far?”
           “I can, but I’d rather you tell me what’s making you uncomfortable about the assignment first.”
           “But, I don’t know what it is.”
           What is one to do when a session begins this way? How do you handle it? Do you silently agree and take a look at the student’s paper, or are you persistent in getting some sort of answer out of them? When is it time to stop asking and turn to something else? Do you really want to read and judge their paper without setting some sort of goal for the session? These all seem like unanswerable questions, even though all of my fellow tutors reading them are silently answering them in their heads yet avoiding the “comment” button.
           Some of us may treat this student the way we would treat an unresponsive writer. Being told the student doesn’t know what he/she wants to do is almost as nerve-racking as no response at all sometimes. If this is how you decide to perceive the situation, Muriel Harris suggests that you try empathizing with the writer, or ask him/her engaging questions, or even ask him/her if he wants to reschedule for a better time. While rescheduling may help with reluctant, unresponsive writers, does rescheduling work for an unsure writer who is seeking out help, but doesn’t know how to express his concerns? I don’t think so.
           I believe positive engagement is the best starting point for every session. In my experience, an unsure writer can turn into an all-out boisterous idea machine if you only smile and ask questions. I pretend that any subject is a subject I’ve heard nothing about before and that I want to know more. Rescheduling makes me sound uninterested and I don’t think students will come back to see me or feel helped if I seem uninterested. So, I break the ice, instead.
           “Well, tell me about your research project again. I’ve always found biology interesting, but I don’t understand it very well. Would you mind explaining the biology part of your paper to me?”
           … “Wow. I didn’t know that! What have you learned about it since beginning your research?”
           … “That’s interesting, too. Where did you write about that?”
Once I start asking questions, I notice the writer usually becomes increasingly confident in his/her project. When I talk to the writers like this, I understand the information they’re trying to present and I can help them find where they’re uncomfortable, or they discover it themselves when I ask a question they don’t know the answer to. I often choose this method because it’s a way of starting from the prewriting stage, but with increased knowledge and confidence.
According to Leigh Ryan and Lisa Zimmerelli (2010), “the interaction between tutor and writer as questions, answers, and ideas… largely determines the content and direction of any tutoring session”. I agree wholeheartedly. When I don’t know what direction to take, I talk and talk and talk. Questions receive answers, and answers formulate ideas. Taking things back to the prewriting stage when things are directionless is something every tutor should try. But, maybe you should discover your own pre-writing methods. My favorite way to help students pre-write is by asking them to talk to me as a friend, not a tutor.
“Tell me about your paper as if you were talking to your best friend. What important parts are you going to tell her? What’s most important here?”
My experiences have taught me to innovate and make myself comfortable with the student and the student comfortable with me. Atmosphere is everything. Step away from the computer. Step away from the pencil. And communicate. You can always open a document or find a piece of paper, after you know what you want to say.

Reference: Ryan, Leigh, and Lisa Zimmerelli. "The Writers You Tutor." The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. Print.
Refer to The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors for more recommendations on tutoring styles and tips.