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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Tutors Asking ALL the Questions



To my dismay, I often find myself asking more questions than my client during consultations.  I have been a writing tutor for over a year now, and yet I’m still the one asking all the questions.  It seems opposite of what it should be right?  Well, before making any assumptions about my credentials as a tutor, let me explain. 
Questions are the root of all answers.  It is impossible to discover the desired solution if we never ask the right questions.  This is a concept that most people can agree on, but how exactly does it play into tutoring?  Questions are essential for understanding the assignment during the introductory phase of a consultation, for working cooperatively with the client during the collaboration phase, and for receiving constructive feedback as the consultation concludes. 
For starters, every consultation begins with questions.  “Have you been to the Writing Center before?”  “What are you working on today?”  “What’s the main thing you want to focus on during this session?”  Questions are an effective way for tutors to initiate conversation with clients during the introductory phase of a consultation.  Asking questions helps tutors to better understand the assignment, and it points the tutor in a direction of focus.  For example, if a student intends to work on the content of their paper, he or she will not appreciate a tutor who is only focused on their grammar.  Asking these introductory questions also allows us to clarify any ground rules with clients, such as what we mean by “editing.”  It’s important to establish these kinds of roles at the beginning of the consultation to ensure that both the client and the tutor are on the same page.  In order for both the tutor and the tutee to be on the same page, the tutor needs to specifically ask the client what he or she want to focus on.  Asking questions not only allows tutors to grasp the task or assignment at hand, but it also leads to collaboration between the tutor and client. 
Collaboration is a way for tutors to engage their clients as the consultation transitions out of the introductory phase and into a deeper focus.  While collaborating, tutors can use questions to evoke critical thinking, while simultaneously providing encouragement and assistance.  When both the tutor and the client partake in asking questions and giving answers, the entire process becomes more of a cooperative effort.   I find that students often know what they want to say, but need help figuring out how to say it.  In situations such as this, it is important for the tutor to ask questions.  “Can you explain what you are trying to say here?”  “What is the main idea you are trying to get across in this sentence?”  “What’s the significance of this point and is there a particular reason you decided to put it here?”  After all, the client is the only person who knows the answer these questions.  Asking open-ended questions allows the tutor to better understand where the client is coming from and what he or she is trying to accomplish within the assignment.  Having a good understanding of the client helps the tutor assist in a more effective manner.   
In addition to asking questions pertaining to the assignment, tutors also benefit from asking for feedback.  As the consultation concludes, the tutor has the opportunity to ask a few final questions.  These final questions are just as important, if not more important than all the others.  “Do you feel like we have adequately covered your main concerns?”  “Is there anything you still don’t understand or any concepts you would like more clarification on?”  “Do you feel like this consultation has been helpful?”  Asking these questions gives the tutor feedback on how they did.  It is a great way for tutors to recognize any topics they may have covered too quickly or incompletely, and it lets the tutor know what to suggest next.  It also shows the tutor any areas or concepts they need to work on explaining more clearly.  For example, if a client says they are still feeling a little confused about when to use articles, this could signal to the tutor that they need to think of another way to try to explain articles more clearly.  This feedback works as constructive criticism, and it allows tutors to better themselves.
Ultimately, clients are the reason tutors are able to make progress and become more advanced.  All in all, the entire tutoring process comes back to simply asking questions.

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