Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Pure " Tutoring?

There seems to be a need for robust conversations around directive versus purely collaborative tutoring, not only in the realm of tutoring nonnative speakers, but across the spectrum. Shamoon and Burns, in “A Critique of Pure Tutoring”, from The Saint Martin’s Sourcebook, provide both data driven and anecdotal support for deconstructing the orthodoxy of pure, non-directive tutoring in writing centers. There is a disconnection between the views of social constructionists and practices applied in writing centers – practice not matching theory.

To paraphrase what I understand to be our mission: we aim to improve the writer, not necessarily the paper. Shamoon and Burns note that “…students at different stages in their education, from beginning to advanced, are developing different skills and accumulating different kinds of information, thus making them receptive to different kinds of instruction and tutoring” (178). This comment, reinforced with research in acquisition of cognitive skills, seem common-sensical. If our goal is to improve writers, and more directive approaches benefit students at various stages, why would we not utilize more directive models?

I believe that we are constricted by both the connotations and denotations of the term “appropriation”. It is an important issue; we do not want to be “ghost-writers” for students, resulting in plagiarism. However, that seems to be slippery-slope argumentation. Is it not possible to employ alternative practices in the tutoring of writing, as these scholars have demonstrated work well in other disciplines? I don’t see writing as so very different from music and art. If pedagogies have proven beneficial, is it not incumbent upon us, as writers striving for excellence in both writing and tutoring, to explore more directive models deployed in other disciplines?

I am brand-spanking-new to tutoring and the conversations around writing center pedagogy; I can make no claim to expertise. That said, I am not new to life and professional endeavors and have participated in process improvement groups, led small projects, and trained new employees. In reflecting on that work, I discover I’ve typically used a combination of modeling, collaboration and directive teaching to obtain the best results.

I would love to hear from other tutors who may be exploring, or have experience with, tailoring pedagogies to students.


  1. I’m not sure that I understand exactly what you mean by directive and purely collaborative, but hopefully my comments are relevant to your point.

    Andrea Lunsford wrote an article called “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing.” In it she describes several different ideas of writing centers. The first type is a garret where the writer comes and sequesters themselves. Everything comes from inside the writer and the only support from the tutor is encouragement of the writer’s genius. The second is a storehouse where the writer comes to get information doled out to them, and then they leave. I believe that these two models of writing centers are similar to what you meant by being exclusively directive or collaborative.
    You seem to espouse the idea of a combination of the two: outside help from the tutors as well as the inner knowledge of the student. Lunsford’s third writing center model seems to fit closest to that. The final model is a Burkean Parlor (based on Kenneth Burke’s “Unending Conversation”). Both the tutor and the student are coming at writing from the perspective of a conversation. The learning in this type of center comes from the group discussion, a type of negation.

    I wonder if you really mean collaborative versus directive styles of tutoring or if your point is closer to Lunsford but using different terms.

    If you want to read the full Lunsford article, you can read it here:

    Here is the quote from Kenneth Burke on his unending conversation metaphor:

  2. Nice post. I agree with you that students should know the writers of their course material. Quick conversation between the both is also essential. The best way to bridge this gap is to develop a specific blog for the students and teachers. Some students don’t share their problems because of many reasons.