Perhaps the most frightening moment of any tutoring session is the opening moment. We aren't referring here to the way you greet the tutee - though of course you need to greet him in a way that is frank, focused, and welcoming. Rather, the opening moment that we're referring to is that moment when you have read the paper and are scrambling to come up with what you might say.
Remember: the tutee is probably very nervous as she watches you read her essay. If this makes you nervous, give her something to do. Some tutors ask tutees to write while they read: make a list of questions, create a short outline (ostensibly because it might be useful in the tutoring session), and so on. This strategy has two advantages: one, it keeps the tutee from fixing you in her stare and so allows you to be a more focused (and more relaxed) reader; and two, it focuses the tutee's thoughts back to her paper - which she may have stopped thinking about when she shut down her computer last night. Another way of focusing the writer - and yourself - on the paper at hand is to ask the writer why she came. Are there things you should be thinking about/looking for as you read the paper?
As you proceed through the paper, remember to read in the ways we've trained you to: as a common reader, in order to know the writer, and in preparation for a response. Also keep your eye on the clock: if the paper is unnecessarily long, or unusually difficult to read, you might want to read only part way through, so that you have enough time to address the paper's problems. Some tutors like to take notes as they read; others do not. Whatever notes you make, keep them brief. It's fine to make notes to yourself so that you won't forget to make an important point in the tutoring session. But if you start to scribble frantically on a paper, you're bound to feel the writer's anxiety begin to rise.
Finally comes the moment of truth: you have to turn to the writer and begin. What's the first thing you should say? Always praise something about the paper. Most papers that you see at the Center will have something praiseworthy about them - some particular point that is interesting, an inviting style, etc. If the paper is particularly weak, you might at least acknowledge that the assignment seems very interesting, or that the writer seems to have worked very hard on the essay. You might also return to those concerns that the writer raised before you read the paper. She wanted to know if her thesis was OK? Well, then, that's a good place to begin.
Once you get through the first few minutes, you have to consider what you'd like to accomplish in the session, and how you should prioritize these goals. Of course you should keep in mind the writer's goals for the session - though sometimes you understand that even though the writer is coming for help with, say, the "flow" of the paper, he really needs first to develop his ideas. If you can, try to talk about both agendas at once. In other words, try to determine a way that you can talk about the critical thinking problems in terms of the paper's overall flow. If this seems to be too much of a stretch, tell the writer that you're happy to talk about the flow of his ideas, but that you want to talk a bit about the ideas first. Be sure, before the session ends, that you've made good on your promise to discuss his concerns.
When a paper has many problems, you'll have to prioritize among them. In general, we believe that thinking problems are more serious than sentence problems. After all, we can help writers to compose lovely sentence, but if the ideas are flawed those sentences don't add up to much. That's why, generally, we recommend that you prioritize in this way:
Note that our recommendations are general, not absolute. Every paper is different and calls for different approaches. Sometimes, for example, the problems of a particular paragraph will seem important to the larger argument that the writer is trying to make. You might decide to begin with that paragraph. Be flexible, and follow your instincts - which will get pretty sharp with practice.
After you've tutored a few times, you'll develop a sense of what you can and cannot accomplish in a one-hour tutoring session. You'll also develop a sense for where you are in a tutoring session without having to rely too often on the clock. In your first few sessions, however, you may be surprised at how fast an hour can fly. If you've spent ten or fifteen minutes reading the paper, and another five or ten minutes talking with the writer about his aims, you may find yourself with only half an hour to address the paper's problems.
Try in these early sessions to have a strong sense of what you'd like to accomplish. If you have four problems you'd like to address, and they are all equally important, then try to limit your discussion of each problem to ten minutes. On the other hand, if one or two of these problems are less significant, allot them a few minutes at the session's end.
Often a tutoring session will succeed or fail according to what you didn't say. You'll therefore want to play close attention to the non-verbal, affective elements in tutoring.
The way you close a session is as important as the way you open it. Too often, tutors rush the end of the session, feeling the need to get to the next writer on the sign-up sheet. Don't rush. It's here, at the end of the hour, that you have a chance to synthesize the session for the writer, and to really teach her something about writing. Make sure that in closing you remember to:
After the client leaves, you'll want to write a brief summary of your session in the client's record in the RWIT database.. We ask you to keep these records so that other tutors serving this client can come to the session with a sense of the writer's strengths and weaknesses.
In these files you'll want to address:
In brief, you'll want to record what is it that you would want to know. Be as specific as you can be.
Note: clients may choose to read their session records. Everything that you record in the database should be something that you would be happy having that client see.
Last Updated: 11/29/12