Observation Reflections

My observations allowed me to better see the varied but similar methods of tutors in the SWC. When you shadow multiple tutors over a period of time, it becomes obvious that each has their own style, knowing what works for them. For example, some tutors choose to read to themselves before offering any critique, some ask the writer to read aloud, and some choose to read along together, asking questions along the way.

I think a big lesson to take from the experience is that tutoring is by no means a science. While we may come up with theories about how the ideal tutorial looks like, we really can never rest on one idea over another because two things will always remain true: there are many ways to teach and there are many ways to learn. Because of these two truths there can never be an ideal tutorial, in my eyes. Sure, we aim to be as thoughtful and considerate as we can, but a tutor will rarely hit that perfect pitch within a 30-minute period; the situation just isn’t built for this.

This may be a weird way to characterize this process, but I’ll stick with it: the writing center process seems akin to one’s experience on a roller coaster. Riders vary greatly; some can’t wait out get on the roller coaster and feel that thrill and come out a more experienced person; others may be afraid of fast machines they don’t understand. They may wonder, "Will the car flip when it goes careening through a sharp turn, or will I make it out alive after being tossed and turned and suspended upside down and then set straight again?" The great thing is that roller coasters, much like tutors, also vary in shapes, sizes, speeds, twists and turns, so the rider has many choices.

Getting back to the tutor not being able to match the style of the writer within 30 minutes: the flip side is that writers are free to sign up for as many appointments as they want with the same tutor; over repeated sessions, the tutor can get to know the writer, how they write, and what they’ll likely need help with. I experienced a similar situation with a writer who came in to me for tutoring. He had visited the SWC previously and received help specifically with his organization, so when I began helping him I could tell he focused on his organization and didn’t need help with it; this allowed us to work on other areas in which he did need help.

I enjoyed doing my observations, especially because I can apply it to my work in the SWC. They allowed me to see the different ways I could approach a tutoring session. The experience gave me good ideas about what to do with my own sessions because I could sort of cherry-pick the things that I thought worked from the different tutors I oversaw.


  1. David6:53 PM

    Those are interesting insights, Joe. I agree with you when you point out that there is no "template" for the perfect tutoring session. As a tutor in training, I've found that each session varies to such a degree that no one approach fits all students. To try and apply one can be detrimental, I think. So instead of arming myself with such a template, I try to keep a few things in mind, many if not all of which have occurred to you already.
    During the initial stage of the session (greetings, prompt queries, ect.) I try and get an idea of what kind of student I'm dealing with. Once I've determined the kind of student I'm tutoring, there's only so much I can do in response, but it helps to know how to engage with any student. Oftentimes, this process unfolds by itself; I've found sessions where I take on a more directive style to better accommodate a student, even though such an approach is not always recommended. In two words, I sum up this process as "being adaptive".
    The second thing I keep in mind is to keep a compassionate stance. This is a little harder to explain. I find that it's easier to help a student if you care about them on some level. Moderation is important though. Caring "too much" might lead you to place responsibility on yourself for them to get a good grade on the immediate assignment instead of helping them over the long term by helping to improve their writing ability. I've found myself in this position a few times, myself. And if you care to little, or maintain a professional gap top large to allow for compassion, then you risk alienating and/or discouraging a student. I remember once disregarding the intensely personal nature of one student's work because I thought to respond otherwise would violate my role as a tutor. Looking back, I wish I had expressed appreciation for his sharing the work with me. He appeared fine, at least, but I remember it nonetheless.

    Anyway, those are some of the things I keep in mind when tutoring. Hope it helps!

  2. Allison10:24 AM


    Many of the observations you've mentioned are thoughts I have considered as well. We had to observe other tutors over a period of a few weeks, and I realized that each person had their own unique style. This was great in terms of pulling strategies that I felt could benefit my own tutees and also seeing any strategies that I should, perhaps, avoid. This uniqueness, in turn, also became frustrating, for when other tutors observe me and give me their critiques, it is almost impossible to have everyone pleased, for what one tutor may tell me they liked, another tutor may advise me to change.

    Having said that, I agree there is no such thing as an "ideal" tutorial. It in nearly impossible to tackle everything within that 30 minute time frame. Many times you are only able to hit one key issue when there are still several others that need to be dealt with as well. This is why it is so important that we stress to our tutees to come into the WC as early as possible (and when they do come to the WC, to come ON TIME). The sooner they come in, the more time we have to play around since, as you said, they are able to make as many appointments as they like. Furthermore, I think it's incredibly gratifying when a tutor has been able to establish regulars. Not only do you get to know the tutee and their writing style better, but you know that the tutee genuinely appreciates your help or they would not be coming back time and again.

  3. Joe, your comparison of English to a science and the roller coaster analogy were absolutely brilliant.

    As a writer and English tutor, I too have experienced riding the roller coaster in the Writing Center.

    First, while observing and reflecting on tutoring sessions, I was bewildered at the philosophy of the Writing Center. I was under the impression that tutors' immediate concerns were to scribble the essays with criticism, corrections, and comments. However, I instead witnessed tutors addressing higher-order concerns, informing tutees of various writing strategies, and helping them become better writers. This "shock," per say, helped me realize that a focus on the immediate paper is subordinate to giving them additional strategies for future papers.

    Secondly, when I first started group tutoring with a faculty tutor, I felt the thrill of being the authoritative figure. Although I conducted each session in favor of promoting discussions and forming a peer-to-peer relation with the student, I couldn't help but feel that I was still in charge. In comparison with your analogy, I somewhat feel like the architect of the roller coaster. Most of the time, I control the dynamics and physics of the tutoring session, for the tutees look up to me as a superior counterpart. Needless to say, I'd rather be the person riding on a successfully built roller coaster, not the engineer constructing it.

    Lastly, contradicting my second statement, not all tutoring sessions go well. Tutoring, as you said, is not a science. There is no definitive approach to a single tutoring session, and improvising plays a key role in maintaining a good tutor-tutee relationship. You've help reminded me of this; we are all students of the English language, and there will always be room for improvement.

    Great blog, Joe. Thank you for the insight.


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