Archive for the ‘Writing Center’ Category

Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition by James F. Slevin is expansive and is not intended for writing centers. However, the principles of writing curriculum play directly into the work writing centers. They serve as a guideline for a writing center’s objectives and reflect good pedagogy.

  • The writing curriculum should be built from the intellectual interests of faculty and students.
  • Faculty should be encourage and helped to take ownership of their own courses and the writing program.
  •  Writing programs enact, even epitomize–and do not simply prepare people for–the intellectual work of the university.
  •  Writing seminars entail assessment as part of their intellectual work; assessment should be integrated within and during, not outside and after, the intellectual work of the faculty and students.
  • Writing programs should help faculty develop a sense of responsibility not only for the teaching of writing but for the continuing study and review of its quality.

How do these principles relate to writing centers?

Tutors can act as consultants to survey interests of students. They can sit in on courses and offer suggestions to make the material more appealing to students. Tutors are not faculty; however, they can take part in research and assessment and mentoring. Writing center tutors act as third party readers or can role play a specific reader, which creates real-life writing scenarios. Tutors can constantly assess tutees with open-ended questions during the session about a variety of topics. Writing tutors can engage in meta-cognition by reflecting on their practices and how they grow as writers.

Writing curriculum principles and writing centers have something in common: collaboration through social constructivist theory

Teamwork makes the Dream work

Both essays discussed are from Intersections: Theory-Practice in the Writing Center edited by Joan A. Mullin and Ray Wallace

In Gillam’s essay “Collaborative Learning Theory and Peer Tutoring Practice” the dynamic of tutoring seems to just…work. There’s the whole social constructionist thing going on. Students are actively engaged. Learning becomes outward instead of inward. Writing becomes dialogic and forms part of a larger discourse. The tutoring relationship breaks the barrier of communication because tutor and tutee share the same status: both are students. Both are constantly learning new approaches towards writing.

Abascale-Hildebrand’s “Tutor and Student Relations: Applying Gadamer’s Notions of Translation” describes a more complex process. Tutoring starts off as reflective where

“Each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Which leads to a translative approach where learning and writing work together so students and tutors can make new judgement about the writing process. The beginning of the session relies on a lot of information seeking. The language focuses around the assignment then to academic voice and then to writing (style, tone, organization, etc). Abascale-Hildebrand is very clear that tutoring sessions are not based on “models, methods, or templates” but on “relationships, interpretations, and translations.”

At the core of both of these essays is collaboration. The tutee gains writing skills. The tutor (from what I’ve seen in the research) gets one or all of the following.

I became a better writer. 
I picked up better strategies for beginning and ending essays. I found techniques for identifying writing quirks, including my own. (example: I tend to use “that” a lot). I became better at finding a focused thesis in a garbled first draft. I figured out how to eloquently defend my thesis as well.

I became a better listener.
I could relate to indecipherable chicken scratch professors left all over the page. I knew the stressors of college and how hard it was to find ample time and a quiet space to write. I  got writer’s block and had trouble identifying what exactly needed to be said and how to say it.

I became a better teacher.
I was exposed to confusing assignment instructions and vowed to never to create such horrible prompts. I heard all the tales of woe about unfair grading, boring lectures, assigned busy work, and ineffective research practices. I saw how to push students to be their best. I learned how to encourage them when they were insecure. I saw them come back again and again for advice. I taught them even thought they didn’t need as much help as they thought they did.

In the midst of working on my final research paper, I found a pattern between Millennials attitudes and the job skills employers are looking for and the transferable jobs skills tutors bring with them. I’m interested to get the results back from what the undergraduates have to say. As for me, I’m not sure where I fall in the midst of this research. I’m not the most technologically-dependent person. Being attached to my cell phone isn’t a necessity for me. If I text it is out of absolute necessity. I don’t do Instagram, Pintrest, or Twitter. I rarely make Facebook status updates anymore, and I don’t have time to watch Youtube videos. If I watch TV, I do it online, and having cable isn’t part of my budget so I don’t DVR HBO shows.

My attitude is one of a Millennial though. I collaborate; I delegate; I think I’m entitled; I know I’m privileged; I’m liberal; I demand instantaneous results even when technology fails to work.

So where does that place me in terms of being a researcher commenting on the millennial generation? I’m objectively placed. This generation is my generation, but I see its flaws and inconsistencies. I see how much my generation wants to engage with each other through social media comments and social justice activism. I want to place writing tutors at the forefront of these activities so they are primed to get the jobs they deserve.

When I took this quiz, I scored a 79. Not extraordinarily high. I still consider myself fairly entitled, however. I am entitled to have an higher education, and in gaining that degree, I am entitled to have a full-time job with benefits. Entitled has negative connotations though. Enabled is perhaps a better word. I’m enabled by my constant connection to the ever-shifting trends of social media to promote my ideas, my content, my beliefs. I can create a brand that’s marketable; I can network, but most of all, I can hope my talents will not go unnoticed.

Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing by James Thomas Zebrosk; Chapter 6: A Vygotskian Theory of Writing

I first encountered Vygotsky’s theory of collaborative learning in and educational psychology class at York College. The basis of his theory is founded on the Zone of Proximal Development. It’s easier to show you than explain it.

Pretty much tutoring in a nutshell, right? I was browsing through the stacks at Towson Library and came across this book.

Chapter 6 outlines the ways writing works on different levels. From the looks of it, writing and tutoring are meant for each other like peanut butter and jelly.

  1. Social relation: leads to individual cognition and creates group processes–>writing is collaborative
  2. Developmental: progressive growth, building upon stages–>reflection is necessary in the writing process
  3. Inner speech: used in problem-solving context, may be related to writer’s block–>gets an outlet through brainstorming
  4. Dialogue: language is changing, need constant practice–>connects the inner world with the outer world

Now I’m not a huge fan of theory and prefer praxis instead, but these concepts I can handle. I can’t resist wondering how these levels come into play when two people sit down to revise, say a persuasive piece on why adults should exercise more.

Both tutor and tutee are interested in the topic. The tutee is pursuing a degree in nursing and includes many statistics and jargon in the draft. The tutor’s mom is suffering from heart problems because of her obesity. Both are emotionally invested in the paper. The tutee wants a good grade; the tutor wants the tutee to succeed.  The tutee expresses he has difficulty coming up with strong conclusions and didn’t write one yet.  

Social relation

  • Collaboration between the two incorporates logos and pathos into the paper but retains the tutee’s original thought processes and arguments. 


  • The tutor and the tutee work together to define the jargon in the paper. To break up the statistics, the tutor helps the tutee to develop vivid examples and correlations.

Inner speech

  • The tutor asks the tutee to verbally explain the paper in about 2 minutes. While the tutee speaks, the tutor takes notes. There are several similes mentioned. The tutee counts on his fingers when identifying main points.


  • The tutor allows the tutee to use the notes to write a conclusion paragraph. As the tutee writes, he asks the tutee about how to start. The tutor provides several sentence stems for summarizing. The tutee picks the one he thinks is the best fit and begins writing.In the final product, the tutee includes the similes he talked about and introduces sentences with first, second, third.

Incredible. Zone of Proximal Development. Collaborative Writing Theory. All working together. So cool.

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.

Visualizing Writing Centers
I began with the visualization that writing centers of what writing centers are not. Writing centers are not a remediation center. They are not a grammar fix-it shop or a paper-writing service. Then my view shifted to what writing centers are. Writing centers are on display. They are bursting with lively discussions about writing. They are havens for communities of writers. They are also wild and Bohemian, springing up and taking shape wherever they are needed. Elizabeth Boquet describes this liberating space as being “noisy” because of the improvisation that occurs within the discourse and the writing produced. Writing centers’ freeing spirit is tempered by Vygotsky and Bruffee. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development provides order to the complex task of learning to write. Scaffolding is key to this form of instruction because it makes thinking and problem-solving visible. Writing becomes dialogic and outward, and according to Abascale-Hildebrand “each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Community of Practice vs. Affinity Space
By filling in where the student exhibits gaps, the tutor welcomes him into the social construct Bruffee describes as “a community of knowledgeable peers.” Within this community, praxis occurs and theory develops. Just as the tutee belongs to a community of writers, the tutor also belongs to an “community of practice,” a term discussed in Jean Lave’s and Etienne Wenger’s book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. James P. Gee prefers the term “affinity space” because it does not imply cohesion or hierarchy. While “affinity space” applies to writing centers as a whole, “community of practice” is better suited when referring to just tutors. Tutors are ranked by years of experience; they interact on a daily basis; they share a passion for their role in the writing process, and they reflect on their practices in pursuit of becoming experts.

Writing Tutors Practitioners
I advocate for the use of “writing practitioners” who contribute to writing center discourse. As defined in “Mapping Knowledge-making in Writing Center Research: A Taxonomy of Methodology”, practitioners constantly move between practice and theory, reflect and problem-solve, and gain self-knowledge from the experience. Joining in the conversation allows for the growth of the tutor as a researcher, practitioner, and member of the practicing community.”Problems of Practice: An Inquiry Stance toward Writing Center Work” acknowledges tutors as being potential pilots who could direct revisions in assessment or in tutor training. The inquiry stance approach relies on open-ended question posing, collaborative conversations, and purposeful resources. Guided by this approach, tutors are perfect candidates to play within the world of writing center theory as discussed in “Creating Theory: Moving Tutors to the Center”. They can complicate an existing theory, contribute to an existing theory, or create a new theory.

Writing Practitioners’ Roles

  1. Consultants to survey students’ interests
  2. Researchers, assessors, mentors
  3. Third-party readers
  4. Engage students’ meta-cognition about writing process

Great resource for academic writers.



Tutoring Approach

A non-directive tutoring approach helps a student improve his writing skills than a directive tutoring approach. A tutor who uses a directive approach establishes himself as a credible resource by clearly stating how to fix the flaws in a paper, but this approach rarely provides the student with a method to tackle the next paper. A directive approach often generates a sense of dependency between the tutor and the student, which creates problems regarding academic honesty.

Tutoring sessions using a non-directive approach (also known as the minimalist approach) can be time-consuming and challenging since the success of this approach mainly focuses on a grueling question-and-answer session. Because the success of this approach also relies heavily on the student developing her writing skills while simultaneously improving her writing, the student is often frustrated and leaves the session without a feeling of closure. With these facts in mind, a non-directive approach is certainly more difficult than that of a directive approach. However, the former approach is more rewarding because it transforms a struggling writer into an independent one. The rapport and conversations between tutor and student in such a session revolve around changing a dependent, frustrated, or unmotivated writer into a more confident writer who demonstrates an improvement in his writing skills.

Since a non-directive approach is more effective, questions should be a priority in the session. Questions asked by peer writing tutors during a tutoring session are multipurpose. According to Hunkins (1989) in Teaching Thinking through Effective Questioning, questions develop problem-solving strategies, and they trigger reflective thinking. They motivate a student to participate, and they focus a student’s attention. An exchange of questions and answers can build rapport when the tutor incorporates the student’s response to elaborate a point or further the line of inquiry because the reaction validates his contribution (Hunkins, 1989, p. 214).

Tutoring Questions

The questions posed during a tutoring session should result in what Bruffee (1984) calls a “kind of social context in which normal discourse occurs: a community of knowledgeable peers” so student writing appears natural and unencumbered (p. 644). Boquet’s Noise from the Writing Center (2002) proposes a potential structure for a tutoring session that contains spontaneous, innovative energy but still addresses the paper’s structure:

We take texts and we turn them around and over and upside down; we cut them into their bits and pieces; we tug at them, tutor to student, student to tutor, back and forth, to and fro, tug-tug-tug. We ball up ideas and we pitch them, sometimes to each other, sometimes away—three points!—into the trash. (Omygodcanwedothat?) (p. 18).

Yet questions in tutoring sessions should not be arbitrary or haphazard. Questions move a student from lower-level thinking to higher-level thinking. Questions have two purposes: to lead and to probe. To establish when these types of questions should be asked, clear learning objectives must be established early in a tutoring session. Objectives personalize writing strategies and confirm that a student’s needs and concerns are met while also addressing a teacher’s objectives (Gillespie and Learner, 2008; Harris, 1992; Ryan and Zimmerelli, 2010).

Tutors who use leading questions guide the student’s answer by suggesting how to respond to a question. The result is a directive statement disguised as a question, and it is dichotomous, invoking either a yes or a no response (Harris, 1986, p. 65). However, leading questions do have merit in tutoring sessions. They seek to find out the student’s prior knowledge; they test whether the student understands the concrete, and they build upon the student’s existing foundations (Fredricks, 2010; Ross, 1998).

Probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage of a tutoring session are more diverse in nature. They ask for a rationale behind student reasoning, which prompts the student to do a multitude of tasks. These include any one of the following: define an audience, develop supporting details, explain a process, summarize the paper, reevaluate an answer, or find appropriate applications based on prior knowledge (Chuska, 2003; Gillespie and Learner 2008; Hunkins, 1989; Ross, 1998). According to Duke (1975) and Hunkins (1989), probing questions also help the tutor determine objectives and build rapport. Harris (1992) confirms this and adds that probing questions during the “setting the agenda” stage help the tutor negotiate, multi-task, or chunk the session to meet the student’s needs and concerns (p. 278).

Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Center

Knowing what approach to take and which questions to ask can improve the tutoring session immensely. One methodology that accomplishes this goal is the long-established Bloom’s Taxonomy, which was designed in 1956. The Taxonomy was not intended for tutoring purposes; however, it does serve as a cumulative hierarchy to engage the student in lower-level thinking prior to higher-level thinking (Benson, Sporakowski, and Stremmel, 1992; Granello, 2001). To achieve this, Bloom’s Taxonomy classifies knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as the six domains of cognitive processing, and each category is broken into clearly defined subcategories that develop learning objectives that are feasible and measurable (Bloom, 1982, p. 18).


Benson, M. J., Sporakowsk, M. J., and Stremmel, A. J. (1992). Writing reviews of family literature: Guiding students using Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives. Family Relations. 41(1), 65-69.

Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1982). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Boquet, E. H. (2002). Noise from the Writing Center. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Bruffee, K. (1984). Peer tutoring and the “conversation of mankind.” College English. 15(7), 635-652.

Chuska, K. R. (2003). Motivation, participation, and higher-level thinking. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Duke, C. R. (1975). The student-centered conference and the writing process. National Council of Teachers of English. 64(9), 44-47.

Fredricks, A. D. (2010). The teacher’s handbook: Strategies for success. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education/ Lanham MD 2010.

Gillespie, P., & Learner, N. (2008). The Longman guide to peer tutoring. New York: Pearson-Longman.

Granello, D. H. (2001). Promoting cognitive complexity in graduate written work: Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a pedagogical tool to improve literature reviews. Counselor Education & Supervision. 40, 292-307.

Hunkins, F. P. (1989). Teaching thinking through effective questioning. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Harris, M. (1986). Teaching one-to-one: The writing conference. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Harris, M. (1992). Collaboration is not collaboration is not collaboration: Writing center tutorials vs. peer response groups. College Composition and Communication. 43(3), 369-383.

Ross. E. P. (1998). Pathways to thinking: Strategies for developing independent learners K-8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Your topic should be narrowed to meet the interest and expectations of a single audience. Your first paragraph contains a thesis/main point that demonstrates you are thinking critically. Your thesis/main point should be clear and specific, but doesn’t make the reader say, “So what?” Structure for your argument should be shaped by support that is contextualized. Make sure to explain why your evidence relates back to your thesis. Your support should build credence to your authority as a writer. Write what you mean to say–even if saying it requires multiple drafts and revisions. This effort will develop your memorable individual voice. Developing ideas over a course of several readings will create a completed design that offers a package for the reader to open up. Inside the package is form, structure, order, focus, and coherence. Clarity is the bow on top, which provides a sparkly incitement to begin unwrapping the many layers of meaning within the text.

For an example of what great writing looks like, read Arthur Miller’s Tragedy and the Common Man.

Tutoring Evaluation

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Writing Center
Tags: ,

From Thom Hawkins, University of California–Berkeley Writing Center

Listening–I try to be an attentive listener by practicing the following techniques:

Infrequently Sometimes Most of the Time
I use regular eye contact 1 2 3
Smile, nod, or use other gestures that signal my concentration and receptiveness 1 2 3
Concerned body posture, free of distractions 1 2 3
I avoid interuptions, even for the purposes of clarification, until a student has completed his/her message 1 2 3
I use wait time to avoid cutting off a student’s statements and provide enough time for reflection and self-criticism 1 2 3
I take notice of how the student is delivering his/her message including nonverbal clues 1 2 3
While the student is talking, I am thinking chiefly about what he/she is saying, not revealing my own thought on the topic or planning my next statement 1 2 3
I frame my response in the context of the student’s experience not my own 1 2 3
I encourage a student to answer or attempt to answer his/her own questions 1 2 3
To check my understanding, I briefly paraphrase the student’s ideas in my own words 1 2 3
I avoid verbosity and make my questions brief but specific 1 2 3
I don’t overwhelm my student with too many questions 1 2 3
On average I wait more than five seconds between asking a question and saying something myself 1 2 3
I avoid answer my own questions 1 2 3
I balance my questions between open/closed type and between the socratic/discovery type 1 2 3
The intention of my questions is to enlighten, not to intimidate 1 2 3

Explaining–I try to give clear explanations by practicing the following techniques:

Infrequently Sometimes Most of the Time
I give short explanations with appropriate examples or demonstrations 1 2 3
I ask the student to perform a task which will help me measure his/her grasp of the concept or skill 1 2 3
I ask students to provide examples after they have understoon my explanation 1 2 3
I am cautious about giving advice based on my own experience because I am aware my student’s background may be different from mine 1 2 3
I observe my student’s learning habits and structure my teaching approach to his/her needs 1 2 3
Whenever possible I model useful behavior rather than give a long explanation 1 2 3
When it comes to learning I am suspicious of flat yes or no answers 1 2 3
Once I identify students’ typical learning style, I point out strengths and weaknesses so they can be aware of how they learn best 1 2 3
I delay my correction of a wrong answer so that I can first question my own preconceptions 1 2 3


Infrequently Sometimes Most of the Time
I try to make each tutoring session a joint effort with at least 50% of the work coming from my student 1 2 3
I find out what my student already knows. I discover what he/she needs to know, and then I show him/her how to learn in a way that best suits the individual learning style 1 2 3
I try to concentrate on real learning and self-improvement not just on earning a better grade 1 2 3

Tutoring Advice

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Writing Center
Tags: ,
  1. Have a mission statement prepared to persuade reluctant writers.
  2. Ask questions–lots of questions.
  3. Have another tutor critique your sessions.
  4. Provide positive reinforcement
  5. Find a specific example of what is quality writing and what needs work in the student’s paper.
  6. Focus on the process, not the product.
  7. Build the student’s self-confidence and efficacy.
  8. Develop rapport and trust.
  9. Use reader response and modeling.
  10. Keep a strong sense of ethics and professionalism.
  11. Comments should identify flaws in logic and point out areas of befuddlement.
  12. Remember that vague comments create frustration and apathy. Keep your advice text-specific with the caveat that every writing situation is unique.