Need a crash course in tutoring
September 20, 2008 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Next week, I begin as a volunteer writing composition tutor for an 8th grader (whom I have not yet met). I have various training materials from the organization sponsoring the program, but do you have any advice for me? This will be my first time volunteering as a tutor.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Education (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I worked as a writing tutor for three years when I was in college. Our writing center motto was "We work with writers, not with papers." Here are several things we always tried to keep in mind:

Before you even start looking at the paper, talk to the student for a while. What was the assignment and when's it due? What did you choose to write about and how did you go about organizing your paper? What's bothering you the most about this paper -- what major concerns would you like to address?

Try to focus on global-level issues before local ones (clarity, content, organization before grammatical errors). I found that students would often get hung up on the little details at the expense of the bigger picture, or would want me to work as a glorified spell-checker. It's fine to address grammatical issues, but save them for the end of the conference. (This guideline is not always applicable for ESL writers.)

Sit next to the student, not across the table from him or her. Don't let the student try to shove the paper in front of you (they often try this). Instead, be sure that the paper either stays in front of the student or between the two of you -- it's important to send signals that this is the student's paper and the student's alone.

Don't hold a pencil or pen in your hand. It's the student's paper, and only the student should take ownership of it by writing on it. (Don't underestimate this temptation! I had to sit on my hands sometimes). If you want to take notes while the student is reading her paper aloud (see below), use a separate piece of paper and explain to the student that you're going to be writing some notes.

Have the student read the paper aloud. This may sound silly (to one or both of you), but it has a dual purpose. You and the student can usually ferret out any wonky-sounding wording, and it will keep the student engaged in the conference, instead of a passive participant in an editing process.

Try to be non-directive. Ask (lots and lots of) questions! Instead of, "This paragraph is out of place" go for "Why'd you put this paragraph here?" or "How do you see this paragraph fitting in with the rest of your argument?" This keeps the kid on their toes and makes him do the thinking about his paper.

I hope this is what you had in mind! Please feel free to MeFi mail me if you've got any questions. I adored my job as a writing tutor -- I found it was one of the most rewarding parts of my entire college experience. Good luck!
posted by sciapod at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

I was going to post pretty much what sciapod just did. Great advice! Though I would add that since it's an 8th grader and not a college or high school kid, some of the suggestions will have to be modified... 8th graders don't always get to choose the topic for their papers, for instance.

The student will probably need more work with general organization than with grammar and spelling, but if the broader questions that sciapod suggests aren't working, try breaking his paper down into an outline. Seeing why something doesn't fit where might be helpful as a more visual tactic.

Also, the parents might be better prepared than the child to properly articulate just what he's having problems with, if they're already interested enough to have arranged tutoring.

Kudos to you for doing this!
posted by GardenGal at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2008

Second everything sciapod said. Focusing on global issues first is key with writing tutorials, as much as the grammatical mistakes may nag at you. Another key point sciapod makes is that many students will try to press their papers onto you to do their work for them. Resist the temptation to do so; remember who's paper it is, even if you know you can improve it on your own.

Also remember that people have different learning styles, so you may have to try a few different teaching techniques before you find one that matches the student.
posted by bargex at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2008

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