Monday, September 16, 2013

Establishing Clear Expectations

I have been very lucky so far in my tutoring, and the students’ expectations and my own have, for the most part, been comparable. While some of them had not used the Writing Center before, most of them understood that tutors do not write their assignments for them. I have, however, had a few instances where people have requested help with a specific topic, and I can speculate what it might be like to work with a student who thought I was there to help edit or rewrite their essay.

I assume that such expectations would surface in the stage where I discuss the students’ concerns about the essay. I had a student come in once who came in only to get a signed piece of paper stating that he had talked to a tutor. He told me that his teacher would give him extra credit if he saw a tutor, and that he didn’t really have any questions about his essay.  Rather than sign the paper and send him away, I asked him about his thesis and organization, and we went through his paper anyway.

In the future I would handle such situations in similar ways. I would explain to the student that tutors are supposed to help the student become a better writer by teaching them ways to edit and proof read their own paper.  I would then go through their paper with them and look for patterns of error that I would point out to them. Using teaching tools such as FANBOYS, I would help the student understand the rules they are breaking, and what to do when they see it in their writing in the future.

The “big picture stuff” to me isn’t only helping them with a developed thesis, correct formatting, or even conjugating verbs correctly. While those things are necessary to be a successful writer and college student, to me the “big picture” is helping the student become a better writer than they were when they came in half an hour ago.  That is definitely not an easy task, especially if we’re talking about breaking habits that a writer had used (and maybe even used effectively!) for many years.

It is for that reason that it is so important to establish expectations at the beginning of the session. Telling the student what we do as tutors and mapping out the plan for the tutoring session help the student and the tutor to be on the same page about the outcome of the session. Furthermore, a session “map” will give the student something to refer back to as they revise their paper after the session. This is vital to our mission to help students be better writers, because, quite frankly, 30 minutes is not enough time to change bad habits or create new ones.  If we as tutors want to help students stay on track, improve their essays, and become more proficient writers, we must establish clear expectations by discussing our purpose and mapping the session out.
- Sam Bartholomew


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