Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting to Know ESL Writers

So I'm beginning the service portion of my service-learning project tomorrow. In order to learn how to teach or foster literacy/compositional skills for the satisfaction of a course project, I will be volunteering as a Student Tutor at a local Elementary School, helping K-6 children improve their reading skills. I've been reviewing the materials provided by my coordinator to help me understand how to help the children best and found a little sheet titled "Getting to Know You". It has two big stars with smiley faces on it as well as pictures of books, cats and hot dogs. Cute. It asks questions like: What is your Name? Do you have a pet? What is your favorite food? Do you like to read? As I was looking at this sheet, it made me realize how important this getting to know you process is in order to help the children feel comfortable. I don't know exactly why that is, maybe it's just to establish that connection, the connection that you care. The connection that engages the student and improves one's capacity to learn. I wish I could say it in a more eloquent manner that really lets the meaning ring out but I just feel like we all learn better when we're smiling.

In reading a book for our course titled "ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors" by Shanti Bruce & Ben Rafoth, I've been learning the importance of getting to know the college students that I tutor as well. I'm realizing that I haven't been acknowledging the differences between myself and the ESL Writers that I tutor, largely because of the risk that may be involved. I really don't want to offend anyone, but the book made an excellent point by inviting tutors to " interest in their home language, country, or culture by engaging them in the kind of small talk that usually accompanies tutoring sessions..." (p. 13). I've been feeling cut-off from many ESL Students and unsure of how to help them, especially when they are not engaging socially. I feel like, when appropriate, if I acknowledge what I would like to know about a Writer that I'm tutoring by asking them, it might fuel the personal connection that I have with them, deepen the waters that we're allowed to swim in, and allow for a more effective and rewarding session.

Working with Students I Admire

Much of my motivation for working in the writing center stems from a desire to teach overseas, namely South Korea and Spain (I know, it’s huge a juxtaposition of cultures), so whenever a student from one of these places comes to seek my advice, it’s only by a great effort of will that I stay my bubbling curiosity from reaching out to slap them with a barrage of mindless questions. Thankfully, our discussions usually move toward something of a more writerly nature.

Occasionally, however, some of those personal questions will seep through on the page. For instance, I read this opening sentence in a student’s paper the other day:

“I was seven when the rebels attacked my village.”

I was so choked up that I couldn’t move on to the next line. The student looked over at me and asked if there was something wrong with the paper. I barked out a laugh.

“No,” I said, “this is a great hook.” My eyes swam in tears, and I did my best to covertly wipe them on the sleeve of my brown hoodie, lest he think I was a big baby. I plastered on my most manly expression (which really wasn’t all that manly), and we continued through the rest of his essay. But every time a full-stop came, the words were there again:

“I was seven when the rebels attacked my village.”

The words remained long after our session had ended.

“I was seven when the rebels attacked my village.”

And continued to haunt me long after I went to bed.

“I was seven when the rebels attacked my village.”

It was only the next morning that I realized what had been bothering me so much. It wasn’t the fact that a village burned down somewhere in Africa, leaving countless of people without homes. It wasn’t that I knew the student it had happened to either. Instead, it was that I had allowed that one sentence to envelop my senses so completely that I neglected to point out it’s ineffectiveness to address the theme of the assignment. The hook had nothing to do with the paper’s topic!
Perhaps if I were a time lord or friends with Doc Brown, I might have been able to reconcile the situation, but unfortunately I’ve yet to make those sorts of connections. So instead, I sent the student an email. I applauded him for making me cry like a seven-year-old boy who’s just dropped his ice-cream on a hot, summer sidewalk, but I also mentioned it was probably in his best interest to omit his hook—unless he could make it work, of course. I felt so bad that I even offered to buy him a bowl of ice-cream.

But the point is I shouldn’t have let my feelings get in the way of my ability to help the student. True, it was a potent sentence, but sometimes what we think is best for a paper isn’t always what’s really best. Sometimes we just have to take a deep breath, step away from our feelings a little, and say, “Okay, I’m ready,” and move on. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Smile :)

To whom it may concern:

My name is David Ahlman and for the next year I will be working with a young, high school aged Burmese boy (struggling to speak English, let alone, write it) as a tutor for the Salt Lake Teens Write program put on by the Community Writing Center (CWC) located in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. This program began two years ago geared towards helping under-priviledged high school aged girls improve their writing talents. Today, it is intended to help both teen men and women improve their writing skills in addition to introducing them to different writing styles.

Weekly, I will be held responsible to report my efforts and our regular discussion accomplishments to my superiors. However, during our discussions I will be accountable for the young man's general growth and appreciation for writing. To reach the goal for this growth, I will introduce him to varying, interesting writing styles (some of which are my favorite) in order to spur his desire and curiosity. Such types of writing include, but are not limited to: Poetry, Short-Story, Lyric, Music, and Essay Writing. Also, I will be required to assist this tutee in completing a college essay and application. All such writing (including those collected from our lessons) will be organized and condensed into an Eportfolio I will create for the student for him to carry forward into his collegiate career.

Taking on this task to serve has definitely become a burden, but not overbearing one. I recognize all my limitations and time constraints caused by school, homework, and work, but know I can be a positive, powerful influence in this kid's life. I love writing and am more excited than ever to begin this adventure! Above all these hopes, however, I anticipate he will inherit writing as a hobby and look back on our time together with a smile.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Essays, Reports, Engineering Report?, Wedding Vow?!

The Student Writing Center's purpose to assist fellow writers. Writing tutors examine the pieces they bring forth and give advice to the best of their ability. Today at the center I've come across a some interesting pieces of writing. What I've seen today has me thinking, "At what point, do we the tutors, notice that we will be little to no help on the piece brought to us?" 

Electrical Engineering. How many writing tutors are familiar with this subject? How about the format some engineers are required to place their format in?  If I remember right, the report brought to me was in EEE format or something similar to. This session was interesting, luckily I knew the student from a shared class a few semesters back. We have helped each other constantly, so he was unafraid to bring me up to speed with the correct format. In return I struggled through lots of statistics and unfamiliar terms. I was actually able to help in the end. It turns out he needed assistance with flow and transition between each subject. I may not know what exactly his report was discussing but I was sure able to clean up the formatting and organization of the topics to make it sound better-ish!

A few hours later a student sat down appearing winded. She reached deep in her bag with pauses to catch her breath. First thing that came to my mind was, Yup, it's another last minuter. *Slap* The piece was placed before me with an abnormal title. "Vows."  Oh that's not good.   "I need help writing my wedding vows." I was baffled, nothing could have prepared me for that. I've never been married and every marriage I've gone to, I'd have a notebook or game boy hidden away. I was forced to rely on what I did know and go from there... I was about to read it out loud, then stopped. Part of me felt that this maaayy not be the best thing to read out loud. So I read it silently and broke it up into sections, or tried to. It was everywhere. I can imagine getting married would shake you up so I couldn't blame her, in fact I tried to make a joke or two to help her relax. She just gave me a transparent smile. If she didn't show me how frazzled she felt, her writing reflected it. There were tons of statements that could possibly be taken differently than what she meant. "I will only be loyal to you and your family."  I pointed this out and asked, "So... You wont be loyal to your own family too?" She blushed and scribbled away muttering, "Oh wait! no that's not right!". This occurred several times until the vows themselves. I Googled a couple examples to help her see what kind of promises she could make that were follow-able. 

As a writing tutor I want to help in whatever I can, I enjoy sharing my knowledge with those that ask for it. I know a lot of things but there are many things I have no clue about. Even though the student's thank me for my opinion I'm wondering if I'm as useful as a 'DVD Re-winder'. In a way I'm sure I'm helpful but next time I will be better prepared to be able to assist to the fullest.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yet Another Observation...

Today’s student writer is a native English speaker who claims to need help with English 1010. She says that she needs help with “MLA format.” First off, I ask the student if she is familiar with the “Purdue Owl” website. The student says she is not, so I provide her with the URL, recommending that she check it out because it should answer any remaining questions she may have after the brief 30 minute tutoring session. Our tutor comes prepared with a book that explains various style guide formats in detail. The student’s assignment has to do with explaining what is wrong with American politics, and how these problems are affecting the American dream (very interesting and relevant topic!) After analyzing what she had written so far, it seems as if the student already has somewhat of a grasp on MLA format.

The main thing she seems to be struggling with is citation. Using the handbook, the tutor explains in detail the components that must be included when using MLA citation: author, publisher, city published, date published, copyright date, etc. She also explains about using 12 point Times New Roman, and that the individual elements need to be separated with periods. The tutor goes on to explain that after listing an author and other information of article cited, all she needs to do is list page numbers. Author names need not a repetition. After having the MLA style explained to her in depth by the tutor and her “MLA guide," the student seems to have a much firmer grasp on the subject. With a little more help from “Purdue Owl,” this student should be very successful in the remainder of her English 1010 class.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Service Learning

Hello everyone. 

Clint (the Writing Center Director and my Professor here at Salt Lake Community College) asked me to share my plans for volunteering this Fall. I’ll be working for the Community Writing Center’s Teens Write Program and most likely be with someone who is not fluent in English to help them express themselves: I’m a little apprehensive. I suppose it’s because I don’t really know what to expect other than the academic world I’ve grown accustomed to.

What have you done to adapt to a new mentoring situation? Any suggestions for writing-ice-breakers (like a game?)

I want to do this because it’s a way to give someone something someone gave me: opportunity. Choosing to work at the writing center has been the best decision I’ve made in college. I’m grateful for the position. I’m grateful that people saw potential in me and gave me an opportunity to utilize it.
As a final thought, an instructor told me about why tutors are needed, why we’re important. She said that “you’re not just helping students learn how to write [or learn a subject], you’re [we’re] helping them graduate from college.” For me, that put tutoring in a different perspective; I hope you also realize how important your role is, that people need you.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice (I've got one: READ THE MANUAL.)



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don't ask me, don't ask me . . .

I was studying at my table when a student walked in who didn't have an appointment but wanted to meet with a tutor. I heard my bosses voice say: "We have lots of tutors available. Lets see . . . there's Alex and Arthur--" I sat at the table trying to study for every subject possible thinking to myself "maybe if I don't look up someone else will meet with him. Yeah: Just look busy. . . Don't ask me, don't ask me, don't--"
"--Alex! Would you be willing to meet with so and so?"
"Of course!" I never disobey a direct command. Usually. Besides, not helping him would've been a huge mistake.

The student had never been to the writing center before but needed help with organization. After telling him about the Center, I clarified "You just need help with organization?"
"Yeah. That's all."
I pulled out a piece of paper and asked him what assignment he was working on.
"An essay for this class, but I just need help with organization."
"Okay." I said. "Do you have you're assignment sheet?"
A puzzled look came over his face. "Yeah . . . well, no. No, I don't have it." I asked him to explain the assignment to me; he did, then I asked him about the outline for the assignment, which he gave me.  
Maybe he just needed to see it on paper. Organization: Check. 

Or so I thought.

"Well" he said, "this is nice and all, but I already know how to write the paper. I just need help with organization."
"Wait, what do you mean by organization?" I asked.
"I need help organizing my folders and stuff--do you do that?--cause I keep forgetting my assignments and I'm failing my classes because I'm not organized so can you help me?"

Oh! Organization! The realization hit me like . . . like . . . a realization! I get it now! "Yes. I can help you with that." I'm pretty OCD when it comes to organization: I told him how I organized my binders, how I limited a binder to one or two subjects each; I showed him how to plan a weekly schedule of assignments (by using his classes) and break studying down by day, shared an app with him called "Task and Cal" that's greaT with a capital T; I talked to him about other organizational stuff, and by the end, I think he felt more prepared. For me though, I realized all the things I knew but wasn't doing! I mean, yeah, I plan sometimes; I organize my stuff every now and then, but I realized I could be doing so much better.

I got home today, did what I showed the student for my classes, and here I am. Telling this story. Life has a strange way of teaching you what you need from where you least expect it.

Observation of Tutoring an ESL Student

This session was between a writing 990 student whose native language was Nuer. (Sudanese dialect) As usual, the tutor begins by asking the student if he has his assignment sheet, the student nods as he accesses canvas on his tablet. Later I would find out that there were actually two assignments, the first of which was to write 20 simple sentences about “civic engagement.”

            The tutor opens the session by asking the student if he knows what the assignment means by “simple sentence,” the student makes what seemed a wild, yet somewhat educated guess. His guess (as expected) is inaccurate. Responding to the student, the tutor then begins his explanation of a simple sentence by telling the student that a simple sentence consists of only one clause. It seems as if the student isn’t familiar with the term “clause,” so I noticed that the tutor refrains from using this term throughout the rest of the session. I thought this was wise on his part as not to confuse the student even further. Continuing his explanation, the tutor informs that the simplest of sentences will consist of only 2, sometimes 3 components: a subject, a verb, and sometimes an object.

Most of the sentences that the student had written were complex sentences, so the tutor helped show him how to make them into simple sentences by removing some of the information from each. The student also strayed from the topic of civic engagement, and the tutor tried to explain to the student that all of his simple sentences must have something to do with civic engagement. Asking the student if he knew what the phrase “civic engagement” meant, the tutor was again returned with what sounded like a wild guess. It seems as if the student doesn’t understand the difference between the assignment (writing 20 simple sentences) and the topic (civic engagement). At this point, the tutor clarifies the difference, and shows the student how to remain on topic with his sentences.

Nearing the end of discussion for this assignment, the tutor reiterates what differentiates a complex sentence from a simple one. The tutor supplies him with good clues such as: if the sentence uses commas, or “and-or-but” words, then it is complex. I noticed that the tutor refrained from using the word “conjunction” to label these words, rather referring to them as “and-or-but” words. In a way, I thought this was polite of the tutor because the student may not be familiar with the term “conjunction,” and use of the word may cause further confusion.

The second assignment the student presented was very similar to the first, but rather than constructing simple sentences, he was expected to construct complex sentences. The topic for this assignment was “family members suffering from poor health.” The tutor again recaps the difference between simple and complex sentences, reading some of the sentences aloud and asking the student if they are simple or complex. The student struggles to answer correctly at first; again, throwing out what seemed like wild guesses. After the tutor again repeats the differences between simple and complex sentences, the student finally proves to be grasping the differences by properly identifying some of the sentences he had written. The student seemed to be in a state of enlightenment, really seeming as if he understood the differences, which I think he did. The tutor asks the student if he has any further questions, the student does not, so they thank each other and bid farewell. It was very interesting to observe how a student went from being in the dark about such a concept, to what was apparently a firm grasp of it in one session. This really taught me how much some of these students can learn in such a short period of time when it is properly explained to them.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Any Ideas?


I'm writing this because I am in need of your collaboration if you're willing to help. I am in a Mentoring Writers class, taught by none other than the illustrious Clint Gardner. One main avenue of learning we are following this semester is the experience of a service-learning project of our choice. My understanding of the purpose of this project is to learn how to tutor effectively through live experience and reflection.

For my project, I've chosen to volunteer as a reading tutor for students reading below their grade level through Americorps at a local elementary school. I'll be working a couple times a week with a couple of elementary students. The proposed focus of my reflection on this experience right now is to try and record and think about the differences I see between what helps students learn successfully when they are in Elementary school and what helps them learn successfully when they are in college. I think it'd be cool to try and explain these differences and to just witness them as well.

My question for you readers (if you're out there) is to see if you'd be willing to supply any intellectual opportunities that you see between these separate environments, those environments being tutoring elementary school students and tutoring college students. I'm worried that my proposed research question for this project does not measure up to the very interesting contrast of these two learning environments that I'm going to get to experience this semester and I was just looking for suggestions. I'd love to hear from you, have a good week!

Evan Peterson

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Waters of Tutoring

I took work off today and decided to devote my time to observing 5 tutoring sessions at the Salt Lake Community College Writing Center (SWC) in addition to receiving tutoring of my own. When I  initially entered the room I was immediately surprised by how many people were there both tutoring and being tutored. I said to myself, "Wow! You're in good company. It appears that everyone is as awful at drafting as you are." This put a smirk and smile on my face followed by a choking chuckle I uttered under my breaththis was the perfect ice breaker into the new and daunting waters of observing tutors and their techniques of which I will be performing soon enough.

My first observation andin my opinionthe best one involved what appeared to be an experienced 23 year old male tutor employed by SLCC helping a 40 year old, Asian born, broken English female student attempting to complete a vocabulary assignment in preparation for a test. They began by first analyzing her assignment criteria. They then dove into discussing the differences between nouns, verbs, and adjectives as part of the said assignment. This quickly transitioned into word definitions, concluding with a brief summary of the discussion from the tutor who, lastly, sent her on her way prepared to ace the test. The flow of the session was sensational, however, throughout the tutoring I was most surprised with how positive and poised; convincing and confident the tutor was. For example, when she needed to know a word definition, he stopped everything they were doing then said, "Here, let's find it!" Next, he then would go to his laptop and together they went to to discover the word's meaning. I found this method of tutoring particular interesting, effective, and (most of all) enlightening. It was obvious the tutor knew the word's definition and could have simply spouted it off to her without a seconds hesitation. Yet, his experience shined through and he knew how important her question was to and for her, and demonstrated through this/his teaching technique that it was equally important to him. He made seeking out the answer a fun finding project for both of them. This experience illustrated to me that the tutor is striving to be tutored as much as he is tutoring; tutoring is a joined and, therefore, an enjoyed experience.

At the end of the session she was so thrilled with the help she received she happily asked him when he will be back to tutor again so she can come and work with him. This is the success of a tutor: being a continual resource of positivity and poise, of convincement and confidence, of friendship and friendliness. It appears that once one chips through the crust and enters the waters of tutoring its difficult to want to come out of it, and easy to want to return to it. I am in the waters of tutoring now: its time to swim.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Intrinsic Motivation

     In my current quest to discover the methods of an effective Tutor, I have stumbled across one idea that particularly excites me, the concept of Intrinsic Motivation.

     I have come to the belief that the best policy a tutor can follow is to facilitate learning in the Writer during the session and to foster independent learning skills so that the writer may learn how to learn to succeed. I learned today at a Tutor Certification Workshop that Intrinsic motivation may be a large driver behind this concept.
     Through discussion, our workshop group deduced that when you teach something to someone, they learn it that's good, but they don't necessarily learn how to learn without the tutor. When you ask them the right question though, well for example: If you're helping a student understand the concept of sensory details, instead of writing a short passage full of sensory details for them and then telling them why those details are called sensory details and what effect those have on the reader, it might be a good idea to have them think of what they've learned about sensory details, and then have THEM write an example, or at least vocalize one to you. Then, when they realize that they've got it, they have a feeling of success which is an intrinsic motivator. That success adds fuel to their confidence of grasping future concepts on their own.
     To keep following this example, if they don't know about sensory details enough to write some, you could write an example, have them identify the details, and then ask them why those details are sensory. My limited experience has to lead me to the conclusion that if you can just involve the writer as much as you can, ask as many questions as you can, and get them to do as much of the work as they can, hands on work, facilitating the work that they do along the way, then you can foster their independent learning and reasoning skills as well as confidence in composition.

Fall 2013 Meet the Author Discussions

The next round of PeerCentered Meet the Author discussion has been set!  We’ll be having a weekly sessions on Mondays (at various times) throughout October on a broad range of topics. 
Come prepared to talk!  The moderation in this series is going to be much more limited and the majority of questions/discussion items will come from participants.   We, in fact, won’t even have assigned moderators.  I and some regulars will be there and will have our own questions, but then I’m hoping that all participants will quickly get involved in the discussions..
Participants won’t have to hook up to audio or video since all they can text chat with each other, but keep in mind that the conversation does flow more easily when more than just the authors/editors are communicating through live audio/video. 

All sessions will be held in the PeerCentered discussion Tiny Chat discussion space: .

Please announce this opportunity to any peer tutors you may be in contact.  You don’t have to be a peer tutor to participate, of course, but the mission of PeerCentered is all about peer tutoring in writing.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A humbling observation

At some point in your life, either recently or long ago, have you ever believed that you were exceptionally great at some skill? Hour after hour the ability would be practiced until one day someone else does the same thing, just ten time better. It is very humbling.

Yesterday I observed a tutoring session between a writing center Tutor and an amazing student. She was from Africa and spoke several languages! They both sat down and calmly went over what she wanted to do with her writing.  At that moment I became nervous, even though I was just observing. English can be very difficult to those who have not grown up surrounded by the language. The experienced tutor calmly smiled and translated what she wanted to do. "I don't know where to start. What to do."  The Tutor read aloud and broke down the instructions piece by piece, then slowly simplified each fragment so the student could understand what the assignment was really asking. I think it was a great way to approach the situation, possibly too simple for an advanced writer, perfect for one who is struggling writing English.

I was scribbling notes and examining not just what was done but how it was presented. What was just a normal meeting for the experienced tutor and the student seemed very fast paced for me. Obstacles were being overcome before I could reflect on how I personally would have approached it. The process came off as intimidating but at the same time encouraging, since I was actually learning some new strategies.  

Another one of the methods the tutor used that caught my eye, was what he mentioned when the student lost some self-confidence. "I'm not a very good writer." The paper was a personal memoir of their life. He reflected upon what he learned about the student earlier, complimenting and reflecting on; how many languages she learned, her origins, and the personal history she had given him. What makes this stand out is that it is reassurance and it works for the paper. Her spirits were lifted and her participation increased.

Observing other tutors is very interesting. I believe I know a bit about coaching others but seeing an experienced tutor in action can make me second guess myself. It can be viewed as a good thing. The experience proves that I have plenty of room to grow and develop as both a person and a tutor myself.  

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pondering What it Means to be a Tutor

As I ponder what it means to be a tutor, I first think of my own experience with writing. I ask myself why I write and what I hope to accomplish. In other words, I think it best to begin by putting myself in the position of a writer.

If someone were to ask what it is that I like most about writing, I would say that I am most fond of the autonomy it allows me and of how this allows me to connect with others. When I write, I extend a part of myself onto a medium, expressing myself with the hope that I can connect with an audience in some way, that I may both show and be shown, that I may both teach and be taught; this hope is why I write.

Yet I have found that this hope seems less realistic at some times more than others: Reflecting on my writing experience, academic or otherwise, I recall times of inspiration and of frustration, of despair and of triumph. Though one day I may feel like a paragon of writing prowess, I could easily lapse into doubt and frustration the next, as my purpose may be lost in the translation from mind to paper, or perhaps my purpose is ill-formed and lacking—there are numerous possibilities for why I could struggle on a given day.

However, when I have difficulty expressing myself, I find solace in one thing (Well, OK, more than one, but Iron Maiden and chocolate are not particularly relevant here): discussing my ideas with someone else. From another’s perspective, I can see beyond my mental horizon, and discover ideas that are hidden within me, as well as ideas that are outside of me. When I take part in such discussion, I benefit from being shown and taught.

Considering all of this, I believe that the role of a tutor is to provide the aforementioned external perspective.while allowing the writer to remain autonomous. As a tutor, I need not be an oracle; instead, I need to listen, observe, and share, helping writers to see outside themselves so that they may better see ideas and inspiration within themselves.  

Monday, September 02, 2013


I love the English language and especially enjoy finding comparable differences in words that share similar roots. For example, what is the difference between a champion and a championship? The answer: The number of participants. A wrestler may be the champion of his weight class, yet his team-with only his successive efforts-may still lose the championship; “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Ironically, a similar wordy comparison can be found in tutor and tutorship. True of sporting and tutoring, there will always be a teacher and a student; a coach and player; a master and an apprentice. However, is the teacher the only one teaching or the student the only one studying? Of course not; each are being edified by the other; each are learning from one another. Thus I may be a great tutor-an expert in my field of education and writing-but do I embrace tutorship? Do I look down on my student and desire to carry him up the ladder to my level knowledge with a “know-it-all” attitude? Or do I see both of us as a team of masons, of writing; he holding the bricks to be laid and I spreading the mortar for the bricks to be stacked? Thus is tutorship a joined and intended to be an enjoyed experience: like writing, it is not one-way communication, it's a two-way conversation. Tutorship means teamwork.

Roles of a Tutor

There are many roles a tutor can fill; some are more effective and helpful than others. I will endeavor to explain a few of these roles and how they help the writer better understand their own writing.

It is important that the tutor not take on the role of expert. Learning is more collaborative and the session more successful when the writer is the expert, and the tutor is the learner. If a tutor can let the writer teach them about their writing, and why they wrote the way they did, then the writer is more in control and therefore feels less inferior and more comfortable.

A well-seasoned tutor will tell you that their most successful sessions have been when they, the tutor, acted as more if a facilitator of learning, and the writer was the expert of his or her own writing. Writers are more likely to be open to questions, suggestions, and ideas when they feel that collaborative atmosphere come into play; as opposed to the attitude of "I'm the tutor, you're the student, do what I say and you'll pass your class."

Another important role a tutor must fill is that of a peer. We are all writers, and we have all been in the position of needing guidance or feedback on our writing. When tutors are also peers, there is a sense of camaraderie and empathy involved that can take the session to a new level of learning. Trust is also built. Minds grow and prosper in this kind of atmosphere.

-Alexandra Fleischel

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Tutoring: An Exercise in Telepathy

We tend to picture writing as a somewhat isolated process. A man in his pajamas sits in front of computer screen yawning away the tears and three days’ worth of grime as he struggles to fit his words into something resembling a coherent thought. In many ways this is a reflection of my own life, but this picture is only a small part of a much larger process.

In his prologue to On Writing, Stephen King says that “all the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree;” what’s written on a page is the culmination of one writer’s thoughts and life experiences. When we read this page, we are exploring the author’s mind. In a way, we leave our thoughts behind and take up new ideas as our eyes move from one word to the next. It is, in the greatest sense, a meeting of the minds.

But tutoring takes this a step further.

The role of a tutor comprises many functions, but one thing is certain: we are not slave-drivers. Our goal isn’t to gain dominance over a student’s paper. To do so would be an act of villainy to the mind of the writer. Instead, our purpose is to act as a sort of mediator between the writer’s thoughts and the words on the page.

Often times a student comes into the Writing Center because he can’t decide where to go next. Maybe he’s lost in his own writing process, or perhaps he’s gone amuck with his thesis. Whatever the problem is, we’re there to help him gain his bearings.  

If a friend asked you, “Where can I go to eat some awesome sushi?” you’d probably give her a few recommendations based on what you already know about her. Perhaps she only has twenty bucks and so you suggest a few cheaper restaurants. Perhaps she doesn’t have a car and needs something within walking distance.  Or perhaps she doesn’t know the different between chirashizushi and inarizushi. As a writing tutor, our job isn’t to give students recommendations based on what we prefer--even though we certainly have preferences--instead, our job is to give them direction based on what their needs are and where they want to go.

A student already has most of the tools necessary to write well; our job is to help him find them.

William Wall is a tutor at the Student Writing Center in some obscure city which he probably should have ommitted from his original post. His pastimes include reading, writing, interviewing authors and posting book reviews on his blog at