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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Some Thoughts on Tutoring

As my first semester in our writing center ends, I've been reflecting on what have become key points to me. I view each and every interaction in the writing center as an opportunity to enrich lives – that of the student with whom I’m working, and mine – through the work we do around writing. It begins with checking the appointment notes: I want to call the person by name. If they took the time to note anything about the assignment they’re bringing in, I reference it: “So Amanda, you’ve got a personal essay on your experience with writing!” The interaction begins the moment she walks in the door saying “I have an appointment…” I want to demonstrate, right off the block, that “We’re here to work together, I am paying attention, and I’m so glad you came!” A warm, enthusiastic welcome – and acknowledgment of the information she has already provided – can set the tone for our work together. How many times have I called “customer service” and given a complete accounting of the issue I would like to address, only to repeat it six times to people that don’t bother referring to the information I’ve already painstakingly provided? Perhaps it seems like a tiny thing in the larger picture, but I believe it makes all the difference in that crucial first impression.
Knowledge does not occur in a vacuum; it cannot exist without interaction – human communication. The degree and quality of interactions are widely acknowledged to determine both acquisition and transference. This is truly a collaborative effort, though “collaboration”, it must be recognized, exists on a continuum.
I’ve come to understand “collaboration” as having many different degrees of involvement between partners…sometimes with limited focus and scope, and other times strongly connected in a broadly focused, wide scope. Dialogue is the connection factor, and dialogue can be verbal as well as textual. The interactions may be highly collaborative, or may involve a higher degree of direction from one of the partners.
I must be as flexible, intuitive and thoughtful as humanly possible, because each appointment is different in myriad ways. In a nutshell, it means being highly flexible and responding in-the-moment. It means doing my best to elicit the highest level of engagement I can from the student with whom I’m meeting, watching body language, looking into eyes, asking careful, open-ended questions, and responding thoughtfully. It is being an encourager, translator of professorial instructions, sometimes commiserator, and sometimes teacher or director – as opposed to peer – in our collaboration. It is using all of my senses, intuition, and knowledge to gage the support and assistance I can best bring to our work.

4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your reflection here, Julieana, I've always looked up to you as being such an enthusiastic member of our 303 group. I do a similar thing in liking to read the appointment notes so that I can immediately greet people on a name basis. I haven't really been able to gauge their reaction to this first impression, but I've got to imagine it cannot harm your spoken desire to show the “We’re here to work together, I am paying attention, and I’m so glad you came!”-ness of what we do.

    You brought up a good point concerning how we have to rely on dialogue to first determine what level of directive tutoring will be required. I had a very interesting experience in finals week today where an ESL student was actually resisting my efforts to help, which surprised me a little. Perhaps I was being a little too directive, but in the end I finally had my "ah ha" moment with her. It took an hour to do, but hopefully we both got something out of it.

    I'm really hoping to be at the center and see some of the gang return as well. We've got a good thing going on and I want to keep it up.

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  2. These are all such wonderful points you are making. I recently became a tutor in the writing center, so it has been a slow transition for me from learning in the classroom about tutoring techniques, to actually executing them during tutoring sessions. Sometimes I am so focused on trying to help the tutee, that I forget to do the little things like addressing the tutee by name, as you addressed. I learned how important it is to personalize the short 30-minute relationship with myself and the tutee, through recent sessions. Making eye contact, showing a comfortable body language, and being focused are crucial in the tutoring session as well. The writing center reminded me to be mindful to people I meet, whether it is for a brief moment, or the beginning of a lasting relationship.

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  3. There were several things in this blog that stuck out to me and made me really reflect on how I feel, especially as a new tutor. You talked about enriching not only the tutees life but yours as well. Right now, I feel like I am in the writing center to help these students become more proficient writers and self editors. I try to do everything in my power and knowledge to provide the tutee with as much information and resources as I can to better help them. What struck me was that you said it enriches your own life. How is that so? I know that when you are able to teach someone something, you yourself master the material. I have found that by teaching someone sentence boundary errors and that I myself have become more familiar and understanding of them. Is that the type of enrichment you are talking about? Or did you mean an emotional and relationship enrichment? I know the importance of being personable and I loved how right from the start you greeted the student and said, “I’m so glad you came”. I am going to try to say that more often to students who come in because as a writing center we want them to keep coming back and thank them for doing so. I couldn’t agree with you more when you talked about experiences with customer service phone calls. It seems like every time I call I am transfered to a new representative to retell my story and what I need help with. The simple fact that you feel as if no one cares or can help, you can become so disenchanted with the company. It makes me wonder with your next statement that “knowledge cannot exist without human interaction”. With the increasing class sizes and shrinking teaching positions, especially where I live in California, how is this going to effect learning in the future? There are numerous institutions based almost entirely on technology and there is little to no class instruction. I am so repulsed by the idea of online classes due to the lack of human interaction. I heard that they are designing a new online tutoring program where you can talk with a tutor via text over the computer and there are ‘smileys’ to convey emotions including confusion, understanding, and so on. How can that properly assist anyone in retaining enough knowledge and fully understanding material? I agree with you that the connection factor and interaction with the student is essential. You talked about how important it is to be flexible which is so true because no two sessions are identical. I think its important to almost adapt to the tutees personality to create that interaction. I suppose that is one way that we are enriched, though gained interpersonal skills. Back to your blog, you spoke about watching body language, eye contact, open-ended question, encourage, direct, and using all of your senses. This again brings up my concern for writing centers; I hope that we do not see them lacking funds or tutees, ultimately diminishing throughout the country. Those things that you mentioned above are all used during a face to face interaction and cannot be achieved though a lack of it. I have tried to help students who email me their essays by responding with some questions to get them to think critically about their writing. However, I really have enjoyed my time in the writing center so far. It is exciting to see that light bulb go off in the tutees head when they finally grasp an idea. I find that many of the tutees I see are unclear of what the prompt is asking. I had one tutee who came in with a solid rough draft but told me he wanted help with understanding the prompt. By using skills such as reading body language, paying attention to tone of voice, and asking further questions I was able to clarify the prompt and we discovered what his real questions were about the essay. They were not about clarifying the assignment but rather on organizing his thoughts and sentence structure. I really appreciated the things you wrote since they sparked new questions and concerns. I think back to previous tutoring sessions and appreciate the face to face interaction I am able to have to assist tutees.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There were several things in this blog that stuck out to me and made me really reflect on how I feel, especially as a new tutor. You talked about enriching not only the tutees life but yours as well. Right now, I feel like I am in the writing center to help these students become more proficient writers and self editors. I try to do everything in my power and knowledge to provide the tutee with as much information and resources as I can to better help them. What struck me was that you said it enriches your own life. How is that so? I know that when you are able to teach someone something, you yourself master the material. I have found that by teaching someone sentence boundary errors and that I myself have become more familiar and understanding of them. Is that the type of enrichment you are talking about? Or did you mean an emotional and relationship enrichment? I know the importance of being personable and I loved how right from the start you greeted the student and said, “I’m so glad you came”. I am going to try to say that more often to students who come in because as a writing center we want them to keep coming back and thank them for doing so. I couldn’t agree with you more when you talked about experiences with customer service phone calls. It seems like every time I call I am transfered to a new representative to retell my story and what I need help with. The simple fact that you feel as if no one cares or can help, you can become so disenchanted with the company. It makes me wonder with your next statement that “knowledge cannot exist without human interaction”. With the increasing class sizes and shrinking teaching positions, especially where I live in California, how is this going to effect learning in the future? There are numerous institutions based almost entirely on technology and there is little to no class instruction. I am so repulsed by the idea of online classes due to the lack of human interaction. I heard that they are designing a new online tutoring program where you can talk with a tutor via text over the computer and there are ‘smileys’ to convey emotions including confusion, understanding, and so on. How can that properly assist anyone in retaining enough knowledge and fully understanding material? I agree with you that the connection factor and interaction with the student is essential. You talked about how important it is to be flexible which is so true because no two sessions are identical. I think its important to almost adapt to the tutees personality to create that interaction. I suppose that is one way that we are enriched, though gained interpersonal skills. Back to your blog, you spoke about watching body language, eye contact, open-ended question, encourage, direct, and using all of your senses. This again brings up my concern for writing centers; I hope that we do not see them lacking funds or tutees, ultimately diminishing throughout the country. Those things that you mentioned above are all used during a face to face interaction and cannot be achieved though a lack of it. I have tried to help students who email me their essays by responding with some questions to get them to think critically about their writing. However, I really have enjoyed my time in the writing center so far. It is exciting to see that light bulb go off in the tutees head when they finally grasp an idea. I find that many of the tutees I see are unclear of what the prompt is asking. I had one tutee who came in with a solid rough draft but told me he wanted help with understanding the prompt. By using skills such as reading body language, paying attention to tone of voice, and asking further questions I was able to clarify the prompt and we discovered what his real questions were about the essay. They were not about clarifying the assignment but rather on organizing his thoughts and sentence structure. I really appreciated the things you wrote since they sparked new questions and concerns. I think back to previous tutoring sessions and appreciate the face to face interaction I am able to have to assist tutees.

    ReplyDelete