Editor’s note: This semester, I asked my senior undergraduate consultants to share their best advice with the rest of the tutoring team. I love what they shared–and was delighted to get some tips-and-tricks from some other centers.
Vanessa Nakoski, Montgomery College – Rockville
Kill the Magic of Editing: While it’s tempting to show off to a student and produce the answers out of thin air, it’s more effective to dispel the mystery. Explain to the students what you’re doing as you’re doing it to model how they might replicate the process.
Instead of simply saying, “I won’t proofread for you,” tell the student “Let me show you how I look at your work to find errors so that you can learn to see your work the way I do.”
Etiquette & Organization: Students usually have a pretty clear idea about what they believe or think, but they get stumped trying to put it on the page. Ask them to state their thesis and then “Convince me out loud!” Students are so polite (and aware of time constraints) that they won’t waste your time rambling. They will get to their main points and put them in order right away. Write down what they say, then show them. Chances are, they’ve just written all their own topic sentences! When they go home, they can repeat the experience by speaking into a voice recorder on their phone.
Rewrite the Prompt: All too often, students write great papers that fail to meet an assignment’s objectives. Go back to the original prompt, and ask the student to rewrite the directions as a To-Do list in their own words. Then work with the student to see what they’ve missed or overemphasized. They can use that list to check their draft like a scavenger hunt.
Abby, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Always start with a smile, an introduction and ask them how they are, even if it seems cheesy. It puts the student at ease and helps you tame any nerves you might have when starting a session.
Xianghui Xing, Montgomery College – Rockville
When tutoring, one can use different instructional strategies ranging from telling, suggesting to explaining. Telling is most direct, while suggesting softens the directness with mitigation. Tutors should be careful in trying to strike a balance. On the one hand, offer clear and effective instructions to students; on the other hand, respect students and encourage them to be actively involved.
Sometimes, going over other’s writing is like a having a private conversation with the writer. Show empathy.
Asking the tutee to read aloud his/her own writing will help the tutee catch problems before and even without the tutor’s guidance.
Tutees have different learning styles, so use a variety of methods to help them learn and improve. For instance, a picture or a diagram may better explain a writing problem than pure words.
Appreciate tutees’ diverse cultural background. Sometimes, what is unclear and vague in English can be the opposite in the tutee’s home culture. Help the tutee understand the difference, yet also show respect for that culture.
Repetition. Repeat important points covered during the tutoring session to reinforce them.
Patience, patience and patience.
Sarah C, McDaniel College
My advice is to not be afraid to look something up during a session. This doesn’t just pertain to grammar or spelling rules, but also to definitions of words or concepts. You won’t always know everything that your writer brings to you, and it’s okay to show that. I had a session once where I thought I knew the definition of a word, but in fact the word meant something different in the context that I knew it (in computer science) than in the context of the writer’s argumentative English paper. If I had just asked about the meaning of the word sooner, I could have prevented some miscommunication that went on during that session.
If you see someone around campus with whom you recently worked, wave or say hi to them. This is especially good with first-year students as it helps them to feel welcome at the Writing Center and just on campus in general.
Sarah F, McDaniel College
If you find issues with both thesis/content and grammar, definitely prioritize thesis and content first and then come back to minor grammar errors if you have time. In other words, don’t be tempted to point out every grammatical detail at the expense of larger-scale issues, especially if you’re running low on time.
Seba wa Lulenga, Montgomery College – Rockville
Write down a summary of the main recommendations during the session and hand them to the student when the session is over.
This allows the student to go home and reflect on the ideas received before applying them to the paper/essay that needs improvement.
Rebekah, McDaniel College
Time management. Keep an eye on the time. If your appointment ends in 10 minutes, but you still have a lot of ground to cover, then suggest that the student makes another appointment. Make sure you have enough time to write your session report too! When an appointment ends on time, the next one can begin on time.
Krista, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Remember that your goal should be to help writers become better writers, not papers better papers.
Keep in mind that we are all just humans–be friendly, warm, and welcoming.
Be sure to understand the writer and what they want to work on before you start giving suggestions. Being on the same page with a shared vision for the session is imperative for progress.
Shannon, McDaniel College
Be patient, and be comfortable with the idea that you still have a lot to learn about people and communicating and teaching. This is not a criticism or an attack on your personality/work/abilities. This is actually a beautiful thing if you think about it. Working in the Writing Center has allowed me to learn innumerable and invaluable lessons about people and teaching, and for this, I am both grateful and appreciative.
Treat each appointment as an opportunity to learn something new and I promise that you will have fun and begin to see yourself grow as a person and a tutor.
Have your own best practices to share? Comment below!