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Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Tutor’s Role: Avoid being Eulah-Beulah or the Village Voice



In On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, Stephen King writes, “In many ways, Eulah-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow!, The Village Voice holds few terrors.” The Village Voice and Eulah-Beulah’s of the world are not models for good tutors. A tutor is not a babysitter or a critic, not an editor and chiefly not the writer.

Sometimes looking at what something is not, helps to clarify what it is. A tutor is a reader and needs to avoid becoming the writer. Writing is a form of thinking—on paper—and the tutor’s role is to help writers to think about their writing. It’s the physical evidence of critical thinking. Understanding how writers organize information and helping them to rethink that information and organization is part of the tutor’s job. One task needed to accomplish this is distinguishing higher-order from later-order issues and prioritizing higher-order issues first. Focus on the 3-4 most important aspects of the paper that could be problems. These issues might not be noticeable to writers and tutors will most likely need to bring them (skillfully) to their attention.

Once writers become aware of the issues in their papers, it’s up to them to devise solutions. Tutors must trust writers are able to do this and not do their work for them. By asking questions that help writers to revise and improve, a tutor guides them to think through their work and come up with better choices. At the same time, this tactic insures a tutor’s comments aren’t overly directive. Questions that are open, not closed, work best and allow writers to think more deeply about their topic.

Clarifying the big issues in a paper doesn’t involve proofreading, editing for grammar or word choice—a topic that writers often focus on. Leaving this later-order concern until last is smart tutoring. It avoids spending time on sentences that writers will eventually cut. Sentence structure, grammar and punctuation do have their place in the tutoring session, after dealing with the higher-order concerns. At this point, resist the temptation to become an editor. It’s best to note repeated errors, explain the rule, and correct one error as an example. Help the writer find and fix the additional errors. Writers won’t learn if tutors do all the correcting.

A tutor should be specific about what works well in the paper and what needs improvement. Thinking through ways to ask the right question is essential. What’s the author’s position? The writer's position? What other evidence might support this? Does this example support the writer's main idea? And always remember to give positive feedback. This is a good example! You really nailed the conclusion! Stephen King’s how-to book about writing warns us, “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it…”—that person shouldn’t be a writer's tutor.

Image Source: StephenKing.com

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reflection: The role of tutoring

From what I have read in the class textbook and from experience, I agree with much of what is said in the book. I think that the tutor is more of a guideline for the student or writer. The writer knows his/her writing better than anyone else. I don't think that the tutor has the authority or knowledge to tell the tutor what is best, but the tutor does play a role in demonstrating to the writer what types of resources are available. In the process of writing a paper, no method is best for all. For certain writers, the process of brainstorming is effective, for others, the process of talking about an idea before writing is effective, but for others, neither of these processes work. I think it is important to make this known to the writer. The tutor should help the student articulate these ideas and ensure that the writer understands the assignment. I don't think a tutor should solely be an "editor," editing and justifying the use of certain words.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

REFLECTION: The role of the tutor in helping with writing.

For me the role of a tutor is one who helps the student with what they are having trouble with. The student is coming to the tutor for help. The tutor should know more than the student, that’s why they are a tutor. The tutor should be able to recognize the problems within the problem, if it’s math, or in the case of English the tutor should be able to see where the piece needs work; whether its grammar errors, punctuation or they should just be able to answer the student’s questions. If the student feels that their piece is too wordy the tutor should give suggestion as to where the piece could use some cutting back.
The tutor can show the student what they might not be able to see. This can help the student learn about how they write. If they struggle with grammar errors the tutor can show them the errors and how to fix them. It should be a learning experience for the student and the tutor. It should not be more work for the tutor by the tutor doing it themselves. It can be easier to just take over but the student is not learning. Let me use myself as an example.
I have had good and bad experiences with tutors. I admit I am terrible at math. I am an English major for a reason. I was very happy when I found out that my school had a math lab with tutors. I spent most of my first semesters of college in the math lab. I was there so much I should have paid rent. I would have never gotten through those math classes without a tutor to help me. I didn’t want to be great at math; I just wanted to understand how the problems worked and how to do them on my own without a tutor.
The not so good experiences came from the tutors who ran through the problems assuming that I would just understand and “get it.” It didn’t happen for me. Part of the reason I am not so good at math is due to my dyslexia. I tend to see numbers backwards when they are written down (27 becomes 72) and when the tutor rushed through the steps of the problem I became more confused. I felt like some tutors were getting impatient with me when I didn’t understand it after they did it for me.  
I understood the problems and how to do them more when the tutor took the time to help me and walk me through it. They didn’t seem rushed to help another student and I felt better doing the work. I became very happy when one tutor got excited with me when I finally understood it. I still don’t understand a lot of math but due to some awesome tutors I have remembered what they helped me with and it has helped me pass a pre-requisite class and I am finally moving on in this subject.
As a tutor we should help the student feel the same way; that they are moving on in their writing. We should focus on the positive more than the negative. If a student brings in a piece of work and it looks like the most horrible thing the tutor has ever seen, they should give the positive first and the negative second AND they should end the meeting on a positive note. Have the student feel good about what they wrote and better about their writing style. In turn we as the tutor will feel better about what we were able to teach them and it will make us feel better about the work we are doing as the tutor. 

Image from shaggybevo.com. The Far Side, Gary Larsen No copyright intended.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The role of the writing tutor in the student's learning process

This is exciting new territory for me, as I’ve spent my adult life as an editor, which is very different from being a tutor. As an editor, my work was not really in service of the writer, but in service of the publication that employed us both. As a tutor, my work will be entirely in service of the writer and his learning process (and my own learning process, too).

A tutor’s first role is to help the student writer feel at ease in the tutoring session and feel comfortable with the idea of writing and seeing herself as a writer. Next, the tutor can help the writer clarify her purpose and her audience. If the writer has an assignment with detailed instructions, the tutor can help the writer be sure she understands the instructions and knows how to meet the requirements of the assignment. If the writing assignment is less prescriptive, the tutor can chat with the writer about possibilities for topic, genre and tone. Either way, the tutor can ask friendly, open-ended questions to help the writer figure out how she connects with the writing assignment and what she finds most interesting about it. Before the writer sets pencil to paper or fingertip to keyboard, the tutor can help the writer gain a sense of confidence that she’ll be able to do a good job with the writing assignment and find it interesting and worthwhile.

The hardest, most agonizing part of writing for me is just getting started. Staring at a blank page or screen can fill me with dread, and I think that’s true for many writers, if not most, especially inexperienced writers. A tutor can save an anxious writer from having to face that intimidating blank canvas alone. For a writer who doesn’t know how to get started, a tutor can discuss options and help the writer identify what methods or actions might be most helpful for him to get his energy, ideas and words flowing. This year, I’ve discovered how helpful, even essential, it is for me to work with a mentor on de-cluttering and organizing all the stuff in my house. My mentor has even modeled putting me, the student, in charge by starting each session with the question, “What would you like to work on today?” I’ve made wonderful progress and have developed the motto: “Friends don’t let friends clean alone.” Just as my home-organizing mentor has helped me get over feelings of fear and inadequacy even to begin a task that’s difficult for me, a tutor can help a writer break out of isolation and anxiety about writing.

The presence of a tutor can help a writer stay aware that she’s writing for an audience and see the need to have her writing make sense to readers who haven’t been privy to the writer’s internal logic and thought processes. By asking a writer to paraphrase aloud the assignment, subject matter or main point, a tutor can help the writer clarify her thesis. Questions and comments such as, “What made you decide to put this sentence/paragraph after the previous one?” or, “Help me understand the connection between this sentence/paragraph and the next one,” can help a writer think more clearly about organization and how the writer is supporting her arguments.

At this point, after the “higher order” concerns have been addressed, my inner editor is tempted to take charge of the paper or the laptop and start cleaning up spelling, punctuation and grammar. But the budding tutor in me knows that what the writer really needs is for me to keep my hands to myself and offer the kind of non-threatening questions and comments that will help the writer become an effective reviewer and corrector of his own work. As an experienced editor and capable writer, though, I have to say that I still don’t always catch all my own goofs, and it’s incredibly valuable to have a second set of eyes on my writing. So maybe a writer would appreciate having a tutor – without actually touching or taking control of the writer's work – just point to overlooked errors.

Finally, a tutor can guide a writer away from the common tendency toward harsh self-criticism and help the writer recognize and appreciate the strengths of her writing and her writing process. So when, at the end of a project, a tutor asks, “What do you enjoy about what you’ve written and how you went about it?” the writer can answer, “Quite a lot! Thanks!”