Writing Center Observation #1

Note: Names have been changed out of respect to everyone involved.

I went to observe a tutoring session with Laura in the University Writing Center today. We didn’t make an appointment and decided to walk in around 11:30 AM. We got placed with a tutor named John.

John sat in a desk in the far corner of the room with a computer right in front of him. There was a space on the desk right next to him where Laura sat down. The first thing I noticed was that Laura and John sat side-by-side. John got a little frazzled when he realized that he didn’t have a “red pen.” I couldn’t help thinking how daunting, especially because we’ve learned in Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing about how using a red pen is always a bad idea. Anyhow, he then decided to use a sharpie as Laura and I exchanged looks of understanding.

Laura brought in a previous blog post that she already published. This definitely changed the dynamic of the tutoring session, because it emphasized that she wasn’t coming in for help—she was purely coming in to observe and experience a tutoring session. John had a huge problem with her sentence: “Speculation describes anything but what he endorses…” He said it was vague and that he didn’t understand it—Laura got defensive and visibly irritated. It was entertaining in a terribly way.

John then decided to have Laura read it out loud so she could recognize her slight grammar errors and make edits. His main critique was that she didn’t explain the article well enough for people who may not have read the theorist. John said: “I think that’s good, I think, again, I think that the only area where it might be falling flat is explaining this stuff to an outsider… you get there eventually. I was … You might put some of that a little earlier before you get a little more into the guys… what brooks endorses and what Harris has to say as well.”

To which Laura retorted: “He doesn’t want summary.” The dynamic was a little uncomfortable. John would offer critique, and Laura repeatedly defended her writing. John eventually said: “You don’t seem to have too many issues with it,” in other words you obviously like it, so why did you come??

John seemed like he was trying to do anything to be relevant. He told her that she used a lot of “sentences with infinitive verb forms.” He explained it as saying, “to run”—it literally just means that she puts the “to” in front of the verbs. He explained that “to” can be a preposition. She also apparently followed “has” with an infinitive. Since this comment wasn’t about ideas or style, and purely about grammar, Laura accepted it and responded: “I think I can change that.”

Overall, I don’t think John was a bad tutor. I just think that Laura clearly didn’t need help or necessarily want help. The whole session wasn’t ideal for either of them because the writing sample brought was already turned in.

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