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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Role of the tutor

Collin Bakker

Reflective journal- What role does the tutor play…?

I haven’t spent much time in the writing center… any time for that matter. I think I had to borrow a stapler from there once, so I guess that means I’ve spent a little time. It’s not really somewhere I’ve ever felt drawn to. To explain, I’m not a natural at writing. I’ve spent many hours late into the night with the word processor. Fighting, mostly… though as abusive as the relationship is, I’ve never felt so rewarded as when we finally put something together that works. Because of that, I feel that I have an intimate understanding of what students are going through when the words just won’t cooperate. Being in this position has its advantages, and disadvantages. I know how frustrating it can be when even after all your work someone has the gall to tell you it’s not good enough. But I’m probably going to try and fix the paper for the student because of it. I don’t want to have to see any student struggle like I did, even if struggling a little is needed. Funny how the best way to help can sometimes be not helping. I know that stimulating critical thinking isn’t doing “nothing,” but you get the idea.

I think that the tutor is almost a deception. It’s like telling the student that there are other students that fix papers. Little do they know our goal is largely similar to that of the professor. Tutors try to help students learn to write papers, not fix problems for them. Not many hungry men asking for food want to go fishing. They just want the food.

The task seems somewhat daunting. I hardly think I’m fit to be telling anyone anything more than “it doesn’t sound good.” What do I do when a peer tells me that they have a teacher that grades papers quite strictly, and I can’t find anything wrong with the paper when they show me their work so far? What CAN I do?

3 comments:

  1. Great use of the fishing analogy, Collin! There is a good joke about it: "Teach a man to fish and you've missed a great business opportunity."

    One of the important parts of WC work, to get all political about it, is helping people to overcome exploitation and become "empowered" to use an 80's term.

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  3. I agree with much that you say. I find that, at first, many students feel a little strange at the concept that a tutor would not simply tell them what is wrong, but would dare to ask the student themselves questions so that they themselves find their weak spots. It is much more important for the student to learn how to better their own papers through the various techniques and suggestions given by the tutors in the writing center. To play off of your own analogy, there is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If we were simply there to ‘fix’ the student’s paper, we would be throwing him/her back into the ocean to fend for him/her-self, one day at a time. However, if we are there to offer the tools needed to survive a lifetime, we are them moved from simply helping to actually giving a service. We would then be doing something of value that can help the student throughout not just their academic life, but for their whole life, as most careers will require people to write in some manner, and those with little or no writing skills will not be looked upon as favorably as those whose skills are stronger. Hey, along those lines, we may as well change the Writing Center’s slogan: “Giving you the tools for a successful, life-long career!”
    Now, to address your final question… sometimes it is hard to think of what to do when you see a well-written paper. Sometimes, you may get people coming in who have no problems writing: they self-edit well, their thesis statement is on-cue, and their paragraphs stay focused. So, what IS one to do? Well, being what I would consider a decent writer, myself, I have actually found some things that can be done to help students whose writing does not need major reconstruction. First, it is important to go over the thesis and topic sentences. While my fellow tutor-classmates and I were doing mock-tutoring sessions using our own papers, I had the pleasure to be tutored by a fellow classmate. I brought my 8 page paper on obesity, which I received an ‘A’ for and which was also being submitted by my teacher for a freshman composition award. This made it near-impossible for us to get an ‘aloud reading,’ and made the whole group of us come up with ideas on what to do for a student whose paper is written fairly well. We decided the following: First, we would have the student read their introduction paragraph, then give a brief description of each subsequent body paragraph, reading only the topic sentence and the last sentence (or two) of each paragraph, finally finishing with reading the conclusion. This allowed us to judge whether there was an adequate hook, thesis, topic sentences, focus, closure to each body paragraph, and a thoughtful conclusion. While doing this, we caught a topic sentence of mine that had been written from before a re-organization and referenced paragraphs as having already been covered when in fact they came after the paragraph in the final draft. While this is not a huge mistake, it is still one that can be caught and fixed with a simple reading. Next, we agreed that any writer who knows what they are doing would know which areas of their paper are so filled with information or references that they might be difficult to understand. One of the best pieces of advice to be given to competent writers is letting them know which areas of their paper are still under-explained. Sometimes, the writer knows what they meant to say, but it may not have come out as well as they thought. The writer can read the areas they think might not be clear enough, and you as a tutor can give valuable feedback to those areas.
    While there are countless ways to tutor, and countless again things to work on, I think this is a good initial format to use until more experience is had with those who write well. At the least, if nothing is found, they have had valuable feedback that their essay is easy to follow, well-structured, and grammatically correct.

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