Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS


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“How” to tutor, three ways

This week, there are three readings, Gillespie and Lerner‘s “The tutoring process” (Allyn and Bacon guide to peer tutoring, 2004);  Ryan and Zimmerelli‘s “Inside the tutoring session” (The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, 2007); and Woodward-Kron and Jamieson’s “Tensions in the writing support consultation: Negotiating meanings in unfamiliar territory” (Language and languages:  Global and local tensions, 2007).

Stephen Choi, English, First year tutor

Allyn and Bacon:
I liked the more student based view of things. It seemed helpful that they put the process of tutoring into a logical order that focuses on higher-order concerns first. I completely agree that asking the right questions, especially at the beginning of the session, is key to a successful tutoring session, but ‘right’ questions are difficult to define when there are so many different students with different backgrounds and cultures visiting the centre. Perhaps there could have been some mention of adaptability on the part of the tutor. For example, what seems like a higher-order concern for the tutor may not be so important to the student, and perhaps with a good reason that the tutor never thought of. I also believe that there is more merit in straight explanation then many tutors (or writers who write about tutoring) seem to acknowledge. They do mention that something like the purpose of the assignment can be pointed out and explained to save time but there are probably a few more times when that is necessary.

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Jill Stagg, Senior tutor
“Inside the tutoring session,” Ryan and Zimmerelli

The three main topics discussed in the following article are:
– active listening
– facilitating by responding as a reader
– silence and wait time, to allow a writer time to think
In regards to “active listening”, Ryan discusses forms of listening that are best demonstrated by means of paraphrasing, elaboration, and body language. In the act of paraphrasing, the tutor is able to mirror what the speaker is saying during the session, establishing the fact that they not only heard them, but are also hearing what they think the student is trying to say as well. This allows students the ability to repeat certain sentences to see if they would change any of it.

By incorporating the process of elaboration, this gives the speaker room to grow by beginning with one thought, and developing the ideas further. As a tutor, to ensure this process, it is important to address the tutee with more open-ended questions. This will also bring more of their voice into the discussion than your own. Body language in another listening process that lets the student know the tutor is interested and engaged in the discussion. Similar to paraphrasing, in mirroring the student’s body language and understanding their difficulties on a peer level, the student may become more comfortable and inclined to remedy their situation. Another way the tutor can maximize student comfort through facilitation. It is best to describe your reaction as a reader, instead of making judgments about the student’s draft. In the position of reader, this will invite clarification and exploration into the student’s ideas and main focus. It is important to work on getting yourself on the student’s level.
Silence and wait time is a critical and sometimes missed step in the tutoring process, and it is imperative to avoid jumping in too soon. When you allow for silence and wait time, it lets the student learn by giving them the space required to develop their ideas and questions. As stated in the article, 5 seconds can feel much longer than it is, so it is important to feel comfortable giving the student all the time and silence they need.

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Gilbert McInnis, Senior tutor

In “Tensions in the Writing Support Consultation,” Woodward-Kron & Jamieson (WK&J) research and document the tensions between tutors and foreign students. The data of their study is based on audio recordings of 9 postgraduate “Non-English Speaking Backgrounds” (NESB) students. There are three basic “dimension” of the writing process investigated: the unfamiliar territory in the writing consultation (of the tutor), the student’s possible unfamiliarity with the writing requirements, and the unfamiliar territory in the writing consultation (at the centre) involving NESB issues.

There are two central dilemmas for the tutors (and perhaps for the students as well); first, each tutor has to face the NESB issue (an issue of form), which is essentially an ESL writing issue. Second, the “foreign topics” that these students import in their writings raise the issue of to what extent should a tutor know the fields of study of their clients. Here WK&J emphasize the tension of the professors’ insistence that tutors must not deal with content, but only with form. In the 9 case examples, tutors were mostly “unfamiliar” with the content of each student’s research. However, WK&J state that this worked out as an advantage, because it compelled the tutors to focus more on the writing process, rather than on issues involving content, thus satisfying the demand of the professors in question. Lastly, an important issue raised in this study is the importance of tutors’ backgrounds and how diversity might strengthen or weaken the tensions between the form and content issues raised.

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Gillespie, P. & Lerner, N. (2004). The tutoring process.  In P. Gillespie, & N. Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon guide to peer tutoring. New York, NY:  Pearson Education, 25-45

Ryan, L. & Zimmerelli, L. (2010).  Chapter 3:  Inside the tutoring session. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford, St. Martin’s, 17-32.

Woodward-Kron, R. & Jamieson, H. (2007).  Tensions in the writing support consultation: Negotiating meanings in unfamiliar territory. In C. Gitsaki (Ed.) Language and languages:  Global and local tensions. Newcastle, UK:  Cambridge Scholars Press, 40-60


3 Comments

Bruffee and North – What is a writing centre?

The following commentary is a response to two articles: The Idea of a Writing Centre” (Stephen North, 2001) and “Peer tutoring and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’” (Kenneth Bruffee, 2001). At the Saint Mary’s Writing Centre, tutors are assigned weekly readings and are required, as part of their training, to respond to the readings in a google doc. Tutors are then asked to respond to each others’ responses, and a conversation ensues. We’d like to extend this conversation to and with you, especially with other writing centre practitioners.

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Mandy Lapointe, BA Hons, Religious Studies (SMU); MA candidate, Religious Studies (SMU)

First year writing tutor

 

“The Idea of a Writing Centre” Stephen M. North

Expressing his utter dissatisfaction with the overall image of “the idea” of a writing centre, North uses a number of different examples to illustrate his frustration with ignorance about what writing centres actually do, how they operate, and what they offer to the student writer. North highlights the misconception that writing centres are not for the well-rounded and average writer, but for those “others,” or “impossible” students, who pander to the “fix-it shop image” of the centre, where the main focus need be grammar and punctuation, rather than stylistic thought process. Speaking to what the idea of a writing centre should not be, North identifies two qualifying terms in which writing centres should be concerning themselves with: 1) writing is most usefully viewed as a process, and 2) writing curricula needs to be student-centreed. In this way, North is proclaiming very adamantly that writing centres define themselves in terms of the writer it serves, not the writing. The writing centre should seek to produce better writers, not better writing. Therefore, by motivating engagement of the student in the process of the writing, the tutor fosters organic growth and development of the writing skills, which will in turn permeate throughout the students overall skillset. As a writing tutor then, your responsibility is to act as a participant-observer, always changing depending on the student writer; not employing static rules derived from generalized models, but beginning with where the student is and moving with the student as they grow. As a new employee to the Saint Mary’s Writing Centre, I feel this article presented me with a clear idea of what writing centres should be concerning themselves with – the student and the process of writing, rather than simply editing student’s work, and focusing on grammar and punctuation. In addition, it also stressed the importance of cooperation of the university professors with “the idea” of the writing centre, which I found refreshing and somewhat eye-opening. In order for the writing centre to be fully recognized and used to its full potential, it requires the understanding of all parties involved; the student, the tutor, and the faculty.

“Peer Tutoring and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’“ Kenneth A. Bruffee

Bruffee suggests that peer tutoring as a practice has the potential to challenge traditional classroom learning. Using Michael Oakeshott’s essay on literature in education, he argues that human conversation and reflective thought processes are intimately linked, where the conversation is the public source of learning, and the reflection is the private, creating a cyclical learning process. In doing so, Bruffee also points to the important implications this has on the writing process claiming, “if thought is internalized conversation, then writing is internalized conversation re-externalized.” (7) Therefore, as tutors, our task must involve engaging students in these conversations, as much as we require them to be involved in the writing process. We must ensure the learning conversations we are having are collaborative learning processes, and are similar to the ways in which we want students to write. In doing so, however, Bruffee claims it requires more than selecting “good students” as peer tutors, but having tutors well-trained in the course of study (13). In order to reap the full benefit of peer tutoring, it must be centred on collaborative academic learning, where both students receive genuine educational and personal development. One of the main reasons I wanted to take a position at the Saint Mary’s Writing Centre as a tutor was exactly this reason. As a tutor, I knew I would not only be able to help other students with the process of their thought and writing, but also supplement my own academic development. As a graduate student, the learning process still feels as it is just beginning, and throughout my academic career I hope to always maintain a level of collaborative learning. Therefore, I agree with Bruffee’s argument that peer tutoring has the ability to challenge the traditional learning of the classroom setting. I look forward to working in this type of setting, and I hope to learn a lot about myself and my writing in the process.

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North, S.N. (2001). “The Idea of a Writing Centre” from The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice. Robert W. Barnett & Jacob S. Blumner, eds. Allyn and Bacon, Needhman Heights, MA

Bruffee, K.A. (2001). “Peer tutoring and the ‘Conversation of Mankind'” from The Allyn and Bacon guide to writing center theory and practice. Robert W. Barnett & Jacob S. Blumner, eds. Allyn and Bacon, Needhman Heights, MA