TAC: Tutoring Across the Curriculum?

This week’s reading was “Tutoring Writing in and Across Disciplines” by Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta. The purpose of this reading was to discuss the challenge of tutoring various writing disciplines, especially one that is not yours. This challenge exists because we tend to subscribe to the Writing in the Disciplines side of the debate– that writing in different disciplines is equivocal to playing different ball games– as opposed to the Writing Across the Curriculum side of the debate that writing is more “singular and uniform” (page 141). It is interesting that we have Writing Across the Curriculum as part of our LASC requirements at Worcester State because in practice the University does have different expectations for different kinds of writing.

These kinds of writing are described as “genres”, which is a concept familiar from previous readings. Genres themselves are a difficult concept because they are so fluid and hard to pin down and are thus hard to describe. However, they are still useful to give us general ideas about what is expected of us and why something that is valued in one subject is de-emphasized in another. This can be seen even in differences such as in citations and what they emphasize. For instance, MLA deemphasizes time because it considers the classics to be timeless. APA values time because the source being current is very important, and NLM values it the most because it is supposed to be the documentation style of “cutting-edge research” (page 145).

Another topic discussed is the idea of generalist versus specialist tutoring. Specialization of tutors is another topic that we are familiarized with from the first week’s reading. We are also all aware that this exists in the WSU Writing Center. The debate is simple: specialist tutors are limited in scope but are very knowledgeable about those topics which they can tutor. Generalized tutors can do “more” tutoring, but their knowledge is less refined. Therefore it is best to find the middle ground because these things do not exist as binary: the right balance of specialization to help the client with the material, but also generalization enough to be able to help in general. The authors call this the grey area of WAC and WID (p150), which is an appropriate name because we must remember that the WAC vs WID debate is not zeros and ones, nor is it black and white– there is a great amount of useful information that exists in the in between.

They also outline strategies, such as acting like an audience member rather than an expert writer and, similarly, not acting like you know everything. The idea of asking questions about genres in the disciplines is interesting because it is a way to find the middle ground between WAC and WID. This can be useful in helping tutors show writers how to “gain access to new disciplines”, while also using that which they already know. Essentially, if we can somewhat transfer parts of genres into other genres we can write across the disciplines without starting from square one. I think this is useful in making sure that we do not discourage students from their writing practice because if they feel like they have to start all over they might default into thinking that they are not good writers simply because they feel intimidated by the effort it seems they need to put in.

“Writing fellows” are simply writing tutors who focus on specific courses. This is a highly concentrated form of specialized tutoring in which the tutor works closely with the instructor, and is less applicable to the WSU writing center because it seems more like a writing TA or the way the Academic Success Center does tutoring than a writing center tutor. Regardless of applicability, the section is useful in understanding different tutoring philosophies. These philosophies, like genres, each have their place. A practice like this would probably be more useful at a larger university because here, there would probably be only one to two students who would actually utilize the fellow.

Overall, I thought this week’s reading was very useful. It provided actual examples of what to say to clients, which I think is useful because I work better off of models and examples than I do figuring things out, which is why I thought that this reading was particularly guiding for me. I also appreciated the explanations as to why the phrases they indicated were so useful because sometimes I worry that there are more effective ways that we end up missing. That fear tends to be assuaged when the author’s reasoning is explained.

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