Some thoughts on tutoring

  • One on One
    Almost always, you will work with one person at a time to help him or her become a better writer. Sometimes you'll work in a small group. Most students do not make appointments.

  • Peer tutoring
    You are a peer. You can identify with a tutee's concerns, but you don't design the course or grade the papers. Think of all the freedom that gives you and how comfortable writers feel when they come to you for help.

  • Beginnings
    Always introduce yourself and make the writer feel comfortable. You'll not only put him or her at ease, but you'll have a better sense of what examples, etc. will seem helpful. Ask the writer to fill out the top part of the pink sheet.

  • Triage
    What do you do first? What do you do second? First ask the writer to identify the task(s) he or she would like to work on. Ideally, the writer is in charge of his or her own learning. After that, use the pink sheets for guidance on what to do first, second, etc. "Higher order concerns," in general, should be worked on before "lower order concerns." Why work on punctuation if the organization is weak? By the way, you probably never need to work on spelling. Remind students to use a spell checker before they hand their papers in.
    It always helps to read the whole paper--or better yet have the student read it aloud to you-- before making suggestions. Otherwise, you're apt to concentrate on minutia.

  • Grades
    Maybe the paper will get an "A," maybe not. Grades are not your job. Your job is always to help the student become a better writer. If a tutor "fixes" a paper without the tutee learning anything about writing, the session has been unsuccessful.

  • Time
    Most sessions last 45-60 minutes. Sometimes you'll deal with the concerns at hand and be done in 15 minutes or so. Occasionally, sessions will run longer than an hour. But remember that very long sessions, 2 or 3 hours, tend not to be productive. Everyone gets tired. If long sessions happen often, ask yourself if you're trying to make every paper perfect. Then remember, that's not your job. Decide on a few important concerns to work with on each paper. Then stop.

  • Ownership
    The paper belongs to the writer, not to the tutor. The tutee decides what, and how much, to change.

  • The writer's responsibility
    The more the tutee does, the better. For example, he or she might
    • read the paper to you, catching many of his or her mistakes
    • take notes on possible changes to make
    • make corrections on his or her own paper
    • work on a problem (e.g. organization) and come back for additional help.

  • Learning styles
    What works for you may or may not work for the tutee. You like to see things written down? Maybe the tutee needs to talk things over, or draw a diagram or story board. You don't find formal outlines helpful? Fine...but maybe an outline will work for the tutee. Stay flexible and open minded.

  • Ask questions.
    Then listen. Who is doing most of the talking? Aim to have the tutee talk 90% of the time. You'll probably never succeed, but your sessions will be better because you've tried.

  • Share your experiences
    Most tutors are juniors and seniors while many of the people we tutor are freshmen. It's all right to comment on your good learning habits. You can mention that you visit the professor when you have questions, or that you always read the text a couple of times. (Just don't be holier-than-thou.)

  • Ethics
    • We don't discuss tutoring sessions outside the Writing Center with other students. Ever.
    • We don't give ideas though we may ask questions that lead a writer to think more deeply about a subject.
    • We are part of the academic system. We work with faculty to help students learn. We make information about students who have come to the Writing Center available to faculty (but not to other students). We don't criticize faculty or their teaching methods or their grading.
    • We don't help with take home exams unless we have specific permission from the instructor.
    • We don't help a student in the same class as us.

  • Referrals
    Make referrals as needed. For example, you might refer a student with personal problems to a counselor.

  • Unreasonable requests.
    Someone has stopped by your room at midnight, asked you to read his 120 page thesis, make corrections by morning, and return the paper. Smile if you like. But say no. If the person is persistent, you can say the director:
    • won't allow you to tutor outside the Writing Center
    • won't allow you to tutor except when the Writing Center is open
    • won't allow you to make corrections without the writer being present.

    If you ever feel unsafe, call Security immediately.

  • Record keeping
    Fill out pink sheets and enter the information into the computer.

  • Meetings
    Bring problems to the weekly meetings. Others may have ideas that will help you become more effective.

  • Be kind. Be fair. Assume the best in others. Enjoy the experience.