The more you give, the more you gain

Posted: April 8, 2014 in Writing Center
Tags: , , ,

A Short Course in Writing by Kenneth Bruffee, p. 208-213

This section of the book was directed towards writing center directors and focused on the idea that “students can often teach each other things which resist assimilation through the direct instruction of the teacher.” It also highlights the benefits that tutoring provides to the tutee: personalized education and improved writing skills. In addition to this brief discussion, there is an outline of possible sample essays for tutors in training to use to practice critiquing one another in a safe zone. A recommended syllabus is listed, but it is meant more for classroom peer tutoring because it focuses on specific subject areas. This book was printed in 1980, and pedagogy has changed. Parts of this section of the book are still relevant but need a little modern-day tweaking to be usable.

There was another section featuring example essays from tutors that caught my eye on page 174. I found this section more valuable because it made me consider the give and take, back and forth discourse that happens during a tutoring session. There’s a lot of learning experience to be had in a tutoring session. Learning to work with someone is one skill not often thought of. Objectivity when critiquing writing and conscientiousness about word choice and tone are more obvious skills.

I have to consider the lessons that have stuck with me from my tutoring experience, and the biggest one has to be tactics for approaching challenges.

  1. Professionalism
    Oftentimes I was asked to edit my peers papers, which was against the writing center’s policy. It was also against my personal philosophy to correct a paper. I preferred to look at the HOC’s (organization, style, word choice). I had to tactfully explain what I could and couldn’t do for the tutee but still retain rapport so the student would return. Tact went hand in hand with professionalism, which was required when a tutee suffered from a severe case of procrastination (one of my biggest pet peeves). I’d have to calmly explain I was limited in time and couldn’t help a panicked tutee bang out 15 pages in a 1 hour session 3 hours before a class started. Oh, and the paper was assigned 2 months prior. Usually it was a freshman daunted by the idea of researching and put the assignment off. Professionalism was giving the tutee a reassuring smile, say “We can do this,” and come up with a game plan. I’d then let the tutee know that the next time around to come to the writing center. A tutor is there to help whether it be time management issues or writing woes.
  2. Organization
    One of my favorite tricks I came up with to edit for organization was to “football it.” One semester, a friend of mine came into the writing center to see me about several papers. A law school application and a history seminar paper were the two big projects he needed help with. When he read his writing aloud he recognized there was no structural coherence. As a result, his insightful arguments spiraled into tangents. The problem was his though process. He couldn’t figure out transitions to link them, and he struggled with grouping similar concepts. We tried reverse outlining (making an outline after the paper is written) which didn’t help. The next trick was to have my friend read a paragraph, summarize it, list the topic on a separate piece of paper, and then repeat the process. We ended up with a series of disjointed concepts. To “football it” we drew arrows between the topics to link similar ideas–resulting in a document that looked like a page out of a football playbook. Breaking down the task of editing for organization became simpler and more fun. To this day, I use the same process for organizing my errands, my homework, finances, short term goals, long term goals…pretty much my whole life.
  3. Perseverance
    My favorite words in a tutoring session were “I can’t.” It was the signal of a severe writing block. Getting tutees to talk out their ideas usually cured this. They’d dictate to me, and I’d scribble furiously for five minutes. We’d look at the swirl of words. Maybe we’d draw lines and arrows. Maybe we’d use highlighters. Maybe we’d talk some more about how the ideas were part of a larger puzzle. None of this was easy. Most times trying to find the core of what my tutee wanted to say was like trying to chip away at a huge boulder to get at a diamond.
  4. Knowing what you’re good at…and what you’re not good at
    Tutoring can be a huge ego boost and it can also show you where you need to improve.
    Weaknesses: Most times I talk too fast and don’t allow people enough time to respond. I can be too directive, so I opt for a minimalist tutoring style.
    Strengths: I’m strong in doing research and finding appropriate word choice. I’m able to motivate the reluctant writers with humor, open questioning, and reassurance.

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