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Minimalist Theory: When and When not to Use it

Minimalist theory is one of the most valuable tools a consultant has when helping a student improve as a writer. It allows writers to come to their own conclusions and thus helps them improve their future writing. However, minimalist theory is sometimes hailed as gospel and enforced as the only way to consult. While minimalist theory is certainly valuable, it defiantly isn’t the only way to consult nor is it the only way to have a student improve as a writer. It is important as a consultant to be able to distinguish when and when not to use minimalist theory. Minimalist theory is, in its basic form, a type of consulting that allows the consultant to let the writer come to their own conclusions about their writing. It is more hands off and guiding rather than straight up telling the writer what they should do to improve their writing. It may include asking the writer questions or asking them to practice their skills. Take this exchange between a consultant and a Junior writing an inform…

Two-Way Learning

When I first started working in the writing lab as a writing lab consultant, my expectations for the position were very different from the experiences I have been through.I envisioned myself sitting at a desk next to an apprehensive freshman, guiding them through the ins and outs of topic sentences and thesis statements.Don’t get me wrong, I have gone through this scenario dozens of times, but I now realize the opportunity for learning is so much greater than I had originally thought. In the past two semesters, I have found that my original assessment of writing lab practice was a bit skewed.I have since come to the conclusion that tutoring is truly a two-way street of learning, rather than the one-way flow of information I had previously envisioned. I have had so many sessions where both the student and I have come away with valuable knowledge gained through discussion in the writing booth.This should come as no surprise, as there are countless ways in which students and teachers can…

The importance of "improvising" in a writing consultation

Improv comedy is a spontaneous performance without any scripts preparated beforehand. The first rule of improv is to AGREE i.e. to say "yes" to whatever happens. If someone says "There is a train coming towards us" and I say, without thinking much, "What train? I don't see a train", then the only options remaining are to either end the scene or to argue about whether there is a train or not; neither of these options is entertaining for the audience to watch. The issue with my response was that it was not saying "yes" to what was said. If I had instead said "The train will hit us if we don't move", then I have not only said "yes" but also built on top of what was said. This idea of accepting what has been said and then building on it with new information is a key idea in improvisation called the "Yes-And" principle.

Improvisation is needed in a peer-tutoring session since it is not possible to plan out all o…

Learning Alongside Our Clients: the Mutual Learning Environment at Writing Centers

Walking into my first day as a peer tutor at my campus writing center, I worried about encountering scenarios where I would lack the appropriate advice to offer clients. Although peer tutoring interactions routinely place consultants in new waters, I quickly discovered that the uncertainties and accompanying out-of-my-depth feeling are necessary components of collaborative tutoring. This collaboration, in turn, enables mutual learning during sessions in even the most veteran writing tutors. I would like topause and explore this idea of tutors learning alongside clients in the uniquely collaborative, peer tutoring space. I can testify from personal experience that the most meaningful learning I underwent in the peer tutoring environment was distinct from the process of accumulating technical writing expertise. Certainly, my knowledge of academic writing and the mechanics of the English language increased, but the major area of growth for me occurred in less formulaic ways. Not long aft…

Writing Politely: The Difficulties of Conveying Tone in Writing through Cultural Differences

The other day in our Writing Center staff meeting, we discussed methods of being polite in face-to-face and online sessions. Many of the consultants had used some of the “tips and tricks” in sessions before and shared their experiences with what did and did not work in different situations.
However, I noticed that while the politeness strategies were useful overall, they were very America-centered. Many other cultures have different ideas of politeness than we do, and it is important to take that into account when consulting with clients from other countries.
What is politeness?
Let’s start with a discussion on what politeness is. Generally, when we think of politeness, we think of respect. We use language to convey that we respect whoever we are talking to and are not trying to impose ourselves. For example, if I were lost and wanted to ask a stranger for directions, I would use the phrase “excuse me” to get a stranger’s attention. Saying “excuse me” tells the stranger that I might se…