PeerCentered is a space for peer writing tutors/consultants or anyone interested in collaborative learning in writing centers to blog with their colleagues from around the world. Bloggers here will share their ideas, experiences, or insight. To contribute to the blog, please contact Clint.Gardner@slcc.edu.
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.
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.
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
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.