“Life is a journey, not a destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I played on the Chapman University Women’s Soccer team for four years. They were a long and difficult four years, to say the least. The thing that sticks with me, even now, after season has ended, are the stupid phrases my coaches would repeat to us every single day. The most common phrase my coaches would tell my teammates and me was: “Stay in the process.”
They said it so much, it got overwhelming—not to mention downright irritating. We began keeping track of how many times they said it during season, and created a drinking game out of it. I wish I were kidding. Every time they said it, we would exchange looks of forced seriousness, all the while rolling our eyes in our heads and repressing laughter. We had girls keeping tallies every time the coaches said it. After season ended, when our dry season came to an oh so tragic ending, they took that many shots (collectively). If they tried to take that on individually, I think we’d have to make several trips to the hospital.
In hindsight, I realize (as hard as it is to admit) there is value to the clichés they shouted at us during fitness sessions and repetitive drills. The repetition may have diminished the effect—but the statement is valid. “Stay in the process.” Life is a process. Writing is a process. Heck, it took me a while to start the process for this “essay”—and I genuinely enjoy writing. It dawned on me as I walked home from class today: Writing tutors aim to confront this issue specifically; Writing tutors aim to ease the process of writing.
Writing is widely believed to be a solitary activity. I used to perceive writing as a solitary activity, myself. Even though I would constantly seek out my friends for discussion when I was stuck or needed inspiration or mental stimulation. I continue to have my best revelations through discourse. And a dialogue about writing is a type of tutoring. It promotes learning, stimulates growth and provokes a writer to discover his or her own capability.
There is no clear role for a tutor—of any subject. Every student is different and requires specific assistance to help them flourish in their own way. Hence, a writing tutor’s role differs from individual to individual. After my experiences in the University Writing Center, my observations in my Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing Class and the style of my Academic Narrative’s class, I realized tutoring is vital to improve writing. I believe there should be a compulsory peer-tutoring session with dialogue before the assignment is turned in, and optional revisions after the paper is turned in. These Writing Center Methods are necessary to promote progress.
My experiences this semester and my observations of my peers made me realize a dialogue about writing is not only helpful to complete an assignment; it’s detrimental to the growth of the writer. Dialogue helps the writers get to know themselves, while helping them recognize their own mistakes— which is empowering in and of itself.
I believe instructors of writing should implement the Writing Center Method in their courses. The Writing Center Method I specifically suggest involves peer-tutoring sessions, dialogue and the option to revise. There is a fundamental difference between peer-tutoring sessions and peer-editing—tutoring sessions involve discussion between peers and equals whereas editing involves solitary work. The Writing Center Method aims to counter this “writing is a solitary act” misconception because the peer-editing methodology is out-of-date and insufficient. But, the standard peer-editing method involving exchanging papers, without dialogue, does little to help the writer improve as a writer. Peer-tutoring sessions focused on mistakes only seeks to intimidate and frustrate the student. Editing a paper without dialogue and explanations only helps the student improve that specific paper, and does nothing to help the student in the future—“when you ‘improve’ a student’s paper, you haven’t been a tutor at all: you’ve been an editor” (Harris, 2).
We must aim to move away from editing and work towards tutoring. This implementation of the Writing Center Method within classrooms is simply “one manifestation—polished and highly visible—of a dialogue about writing that is central to higher education. [Writing tutors exist] to talk to writers” (North, 440). The fundamental nature of tutoring is talking—both to help stimulate ideas as well as to help the writer realize his or her own mistakes. “The essence of the Writing Center Method is talking;” we should aim to bring out the student’s highest potential by focusing the tutoring discussions on the student, and their vision (North, 443). Most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing because they find it alien and difficult. Talking about writing makes the process of writing less daunting.
The peer-tutoring sessions must be student-led. The goal is ultimately to improve as writers. If the peers are fixing every mistake in the paper at hand, the writer will only continue to make the same mistakes. The tutor is most effective when they place themselves beside the writer, and when they relinquish all control, resisting the urge to take over the student’s paper by not holding a pen and dictating the writer’s ideas. “A tutor who frequently tells students what to do is not a particularly effective or appropriate tutor, but a writing group member offering ‘try this/ that’ comments is developing the ability to find revising solutions for a draft in progress at the same time that the writer is developing the ability to weigh possibilities” (Harris, 377). Because ultimately, “[a] tutor, is a hybrid, somewhere between a peer and a teacher, who cannot lean too much one way or the other” (Harris, 380). And the goal is always to improve the writer, not the paper.
Writing is a process. Editing doesn’t contribute to that process of writing; it only focuses on the assignment at hand. When we edit without explanation, we emphasize the assignment over the individual’s overall capability, and the grade over their progress. We need to change our mentality focused on securing a grade, over gaining knowledge, and growing as a writer.
The key to changing this mentality is allowing students to make revisions. When you hand a student a grade on their writing, it may not necessarily reflect their effort, or their potential. A bad grade can also discourage students from trying again in the future, as well as preventing them from changing their attitude towards writing in its entirety. Writing is personal and it places people in an extremely vulnerable position. You’re grading their thoughts, their words and sometimes, their opinions. A bad grade on a writing assignment means their argument or thoughts were not presented effectively; a bad grade on a math test simply means you misunderstood— you did the work wrong, because math is objective. There is indisputable clarity in math corrections, writing involves more confusion. We tend to get lost in correcting mistakes, and we forget the fundamental purpose of writing assignments. Ultimately, educators assign essays with the overarching purpose to promote knowledge in mind. “Students write to learn, not to produce the perfect paper” (Harris).
Revisions allow students to focus on the process, not the grade. My Academic Narratives Professor, Dr. Jeanne Gunner, takes this approach. She gives us difficult assignments, but allows us to meet with her one-on-one to discuss our ideas during the pre-writing phase. She also allows us to make revisions after the assignment has been turned in. This environment allows us, as students, to learn from our mistakes. We view the assignments as ongoing—because we must continue to work on them if we want to get a higher grade. Dr. Gunner provides us with comments focused on our style and our organization—she discusses grammatical errors with us as a unit, to explain how we can fix the mistake in the future. These explanations allow us to improve as writers as we simultaneously improve the specific assignment. Dr. Gunner implements Writing Center Methods by doing so, and it has personally helped me improve immensely. I am being challenged more than ever before. The revisions allow me to continue to revisit an assignment that I would have otherwise disregarded after I was handed a grade—the revisions directly reflect the ongoing process of writing.
Allowing the writer to make revisions involves them in the writing process. Comments made for revisions should seek to explain the issues, rather than simply critique. These comments are different than mere edits, because they are constructive—rather than fix the problem for the writer, the revisions explain how the writers can fix mistakes for themselves. We must “refuse to edit, [because then] we become more active than ever as educators” (Brooks, 2). Comments intended for the writer to revise allow the writer to be pro-active with their writing, and central to their writing process. Hence, even though instructors write the comments, the comments are still student-driven. The comments are written in a discourse-style. The instructor is addressing the student personally by writing a message to them on how they can improve. The ultimate goal is “to produce better writers, not better writing” (North, 438).
No professional work of writing was ever published without elements of the Writing Center Method implemented, before its release. Tutoring, discussion and revisions are vital for people in writing professions. Writing Center Methods are a thing, people. Even if we don’t realize it. I didn’t realize it before. I used to think I hated tutoring—even though I subconsciously participated in tutoring processes all the time—through dialogue, drafts and revisions.
As individuals, we are bound to make mistakes and overlook our own errors. Writing is strengthened when people meet with others “whose primary responsibility, whose only reason for being, is to talk to writers” and help them improve (North, 446). Writing is a process. We must “stay in the process.” Yes, I did just cringe as I typed that out. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s true. Writing is a journey without a destination—like life. We live our lives with the hopes of being happy and achieving success, but there are always highs and lows, and we never know when this life will end for us. I know that is morbid—but it’s true! If we are so focused on the product, rather than the process, we will miss out on the beauty of the experience. Celebrate your progress, never give up, and write it out. Today may be terrible, but tomorrow will be better—and before you know it—it will be over.
College soccer is over for me, and I miss it every day. But, I’m so happy I went through the process, however terrible it was, and finished my senior season. I started off playing no minutes, and finished playing the entire game. I was also the only senior to receive a Team Award and Conference Recognition. At the end of the day though, I am more proud of the fact that I completed four years as a college athlete. Those four years were filled with mental, emotional and physical challenges. I experienced adversity, and eventually, triumph. When I look back, I reminisce on the simple things—the every-day monotonous activities—the process of my tranformation. I grew from an insecure 18-year-old to a semi-confident 21-year-old. That’s progress. (If you knew me personally, you would understand just how much.)
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” – Henry Ward Beecher
Brooks, Jeff. “Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. 15.6 (1991): 1-7
Harris, Muriel. “Collaboration is not collaboration if not collaboration: Writing center tutorials vs. peer-response groups.” College Composition and Communication. 43.3 (1992): 369-383.
North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. 46.5 (1984): 433-446.
Ong, Walter J. “The orality of language.” Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge, 1988. 5-15.