Group Tutoring

This week’s reading was “Sponsoring Student Response in Writing Center Group Tutorials” by Magdalena Gilewicz, a professor at California State University in Fresno. This reading discussed the shift in the tutor’s role and the way that the tutor becomes more and more responsible for guiding the session rather than domineering it as now, the tutor can utilize the other students present as resources instead of relying entirely on his/her own knowledge (page 64). Because every student brings their own identity as a reader or a writer to the session, group tutoring sessions can be at best a melding of all of these identities to produce a vibrant, productive session and at worst a clashing of conflicting personalities for the tutor to balance. I see this frequently in my microeconomics tutoring sessions, but the issue for me is less of balancing the way that the students learn and more of balancing whose questions to answer when if they are all working on different topics.

The reading goes on to analyze the ways in which student writers read, and how student readers respond. Gilewicz describes the ideal session as one where “students help students, everybody participates, the writing process is illuminated, products improve dramatically, and the community thrives” (page 65). The tutor’s job is to strive for this scenario, and to work towards it. Gilewicz also comments on the way that students are hesitant to criticize their peers work and will point out lower-order surface errors and then go on to praise content. As peer tutors, I think we are in a unique place to work students through the awkwardness of criticizing another student’s work, because we too have these same feelings. The most important factor we should remember is the fact that these students are in the Center for a reason. These students all know that their papers are imperfect, and are looking for help to improve them– regardless of where that help is coming from. Some of the other factors discussed in the section on how student readers read were familiar, such as prioritizing global concerns over local. This makes sense because, even though we are discussing a different kind of tutoring, some basic principles would still apply. In the same vein, tutors must also be cognizant of how much help they give students and should be striving to teach writing rather than just fixing the papers.

Though there are some similarities between group and individual tutoring as it pertains to what is important, the tutor must get to these end goals using different strategies. The tutor here especially serves as a role model because the other group members will look to him/her to reflect his or her behavior. This is also in part because no student wants to be “mean” by giving any negative feedback to their peer’s paper, even if they are at tutoring to receive that constructive criticism in the first place. Looking to the tutor helps to break through this wall because the tutor is going to be looked at as the expert in the situation, and should use this status to guide the students into utilizing effective tutoring strategies themselves. It is hard to assume this role in a group of one’s peers, especially when you factor in the reality that, through the same identity that makes students unique learners, students are also unique as tutors. If we expect students to assume a mini tutoring role to aid one another in group sessions, we must expect them all to tutor in different ways. However, because students are different learners, this increases the likelihood of there being someone in the room who can explain a concept to a student in a way that he/she will understand.

Overall I thought this article was useful because it did not spend time waxing about unuseful abstract and theoretical concepts and instead just went into the theories that were, indeed, useful. I thought that this article was well organized and that it presented real, useful, actionable strategies that I could see myself applying in my own sessions. However, this did raise some questions for me. In my time spent observing and even just walking by the Writing Center I have not seen any group tutoring sessions occurring. I assume that this form of session is offered, otherwise we would not be preparing for it, so my question is in regards to how often they occur. I assume that part of the reason students do not come for group tutoring is because they are either not being assigned group papers or because they do not know that they have this option. If the latter is more of the case, I think this is something we should work to advertise more. If we make it a “norm”, more students will partake.

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