Teaching Tutors

There were three readings this week: the first was Valued Practices for Building A Writing Center Culture of Observation by Mark R. Hall, the second was Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers by Nancy Sommers, and Situated Learning in the Writing Center by Neal Lerner. As with all of the readings for our class, each of these readings was meant to present us with some knowledge that we will use on our way to becoming writing center tutors.

I don’t think there is any singular “best way” to teach tutors. This is evident for several reasons: for one, no one can agree on the principles and shared values of how to teach writing, so how– and what– are we supposed to teach the teachers (or in this case, tutors)? Also, just like clients, every tutor learns differently, therefore we need to adapt to tutors’ learning style just as we hope they will eventually be able to do for the client. These discrepancies lead to various theories and strategies for not only tutors to use, but how to train them.

The first reading discussed the value of learning through observation. This is something that I have personal experience with because I work at Giguere’s Gymnastics, which is located in Leicester, MA. One of the departments I work iGymnasticsn is the gym itself, teaching gymnastics. It can be an exhausting job, but at the end of the day, I would not trade it for the world. It was here that I learned just how effective learning and training through observation can be because observation hours were a part of our coaching training process. It is useful to the trainer because they do not need to explain every part of their teaching style because the trainee can see it. It is useful for the trainee because it helps them come up with ideas for teaching they wouldn’t otherwise think of– like “flying like airplanes” to move from event to event (see above).

However, as useful and I believe observation in training, I still get nervous when I see either of my bosses– the general manager or the owner– watching me teach. When observing, especially observing someone who works for us, we should be cognizant of the reasons we are watching. In last week’s reading, we learned that oftentimes the only reason teachers notice grammatical errors in their students’ papers is because they look for it. Similarly, if we watch our staff with the intention of making corrections– therefore, looking for something they are doing wrong, we are going to find errors that perhaps do not detract from the quality of the gymnastics class or tutoring session, which is discouraging for the observee and is overall ineffective. For the record, my nerves are mostly on me: neither of my bosses has ever given me the indication that they are watching me specifically to criticize me.

My nerves are indicative of something we must remember when using observation as something other than a training tool: the fact that being observed is intimidating. This is touched upon in the first reading on page 28, where the author says he begins every evaluation meeting by asking whether or not his presence had an effect on the tutorial. It is important to remember that when observing, we do have an impact on our staff, and therefore should consider discounting small errors or tics that could be attributed to nerves. He mentions that he asks his staff to “tell [him their] reasoning for…”. I believe that such conversations are important and that we should be giving tutors the chance to explain their reasoning to us, but I personally think I would get defensive, because in asking tutors to “explain their reasoning” we are effectively making them defend their actions. In situations like these, we must choose our words carefully.

He also notes that the fear that people have about “mindless adherence to protocol” (page 29) is, in fact, fear of rigidity. This makes sense because our primary “shared value”, the basis of our Community of Practice, should be adaptability. As noted earlier, we must be adaptable because people learn in different ways. The idea of situated learning, or learning through an apprenticeship in order to create a community of practice, is useful in securing this because it focuses on more than just traditional classroom learning and is more conducive to one on one education, which during which it is much easier to be adaptable.

This adaptability also proves useful in teaching proofreading, which is discussed in the second reading. Proofreading is a difficult skill for inexperienced writers, no matter how talented. I believe this is partly because proofreading is a daunting task: if we treat proofreading as if it is starting over, it seems discouraging to someone who has already worked hard on a paper. In addition, students are often unable to distance themselves from their work and they see meaning that may not actually be there because they know their intention. However, we should use this to teach them: if we can get them to reiterate their intention, we can use the way that they communicate this to us to clarify what they mean and give them ways to best transfer this meaning into their papers. I personally sometimes struggle with proofreading because, as has become evident through its presence as a common theme in my blogs, I have difficulty discerning what the “best way” to do something is. When proofreading, as with everything else, I begin to worry that maybe another word or phrase or idea would convey my meaning more effectively.

The third reading was on situated learning, which I had to do additional research to understand but what I think is essentially just learning through apprenticeship. I think this ties in nicely to the idea of observation. I learn best through doing, and as such, I believe that situated learning would help me in my efforts to become a better tutor. Overall I thought that this week’s readings were useful because they emphasized practices that are useful for me as a tutor, but also may be less useful for others who do not learn through doing.

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