Tutoring and Control and Flexibility

A tutor can do many things to help a student learn how to become a better writer. However, after years if tutoring, a tutor can get into ruts that hinder performance, such as taking on the role of expert. I have been tutoring for several years now and feel that I have things to change with my approach, and I have decided that some good concepts to remember to prevent being a prescriptive expert rather than a descriptive helper are control and flexibility. Control and flexibility are important for both tutors and writers.

Tutors need to work on using the concepts of control and flexibility in their tutoring. Taking more time to ask questions and explain would be more helpful to writers rather than giving advice right away. Control comes into play when the tutor asks questions directed toward higher order conders first. Flexibility comes into play when the tutor works with the answers writers provide, allowing writers to direct the course of the discussion.

Expertise can be helpful in tutoring if it helps writers have more control and flexibility as they write. Tutoring expertise should be used to help writers develop their own successful writing processes and used to help them think of ways to solve their own writing problems successfully. Tutors can ask writers what writing process they currently have and also explain what other strategies can be tried. Tutors can ask questions and explain various ways of solving writing problems so that writers can make choices and try to develop their own problem-solving skills. In the end, writers should gain confidence in their writing abilities because they have developed methods to control and be flexible with their own writing.

Sometimes tutors with experience can get into habits that leave them wondering whether they are really helping students, and they need to spend some time developing new habits. I know that I feel I am spending too much time being an expert sometimes. I also feel that applying the concepts of control and flexibility better would improve my own tutoring.


  1. You've touched on something that is of great interest to me as far as writing center work goes, Jeannette: that our work is always under development. I certainly know that with my WC experience, I am a much different type of respondent than I was 25 years ago (ack!) when I first started. I've also rethought my own take on how writing centers work and how the work we do is best conducted.

    Some might see constant reflection and reexamination of approach as a weakness. I think, however, it is an excellent means of developing a place like a writing center as well as our own "practice" as writing tutors.

    Cool post!


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