I attended Miriam’s commenting workshop earlier this month (sorry, I thought I’d posted this response already) and saw firsthand how a professor uses the grading rubric. I am now in my third year of tutoring at the Rutgers writing centers and just to be on the safe side, I have always tutored my students as if they had professors with very high, nearly impossible standards. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, therefore, that my fellow tutors and I graded Miriam’s student’s paper too harshly. All the tutors decided the paper deserved either an NP or a C, but Miriam felt that the nearly-developed thesis statement held more weight over the grammatical errors and surface analysis and that the student deserved a C+. I think that tutors have dual responsibilities: we should familiarize ourselves with the expectations of not only our tutees, but also their professors, each of whom places varying degrees of emphasis on certain paper requirements. On the other side of the coin, Miriam explained that tutors should both praise the positive aspects of a paper and the parts that need correction. This was different from an editor’s job, which is merely to passively correct the writing. Our students expect us to be “mentors” of sorts, as Heather and Miriam said during the orientation in the beginning of the year. Therefore, tutors should actively engage their tutees in the writing process by giving praise where it’s deserved and giving criticism where it’s needed. Otherwise, the creative process breaks down when students feel bombarded when all they hear about is their weaknesses. As Mel Levine put it in “The Myth of Laziness,” we all want to succeed. Sometimes it takes only a push in the right direction so students learn the proper skills to critically think. However, if we feel overwhelmed by all the mistakes we make, we lose the will to try anymore for fear of future disappointment.
To counteract any negativity students may pick up from us, Miriam suggested that we limit the number of comments on each page. This is not something to which I had really given much thought. I usually hand back papers completely riddled with comments that point out both the strengths and weaknesses. Still, I find that I say, “Don’t get scared by all the comments I’ve written on your paper! Much of this points out the strong parts!” to new students so they don’t dread asking for help. Some students already receive papers full of red marks from class so they come to the writing center for encouragement and motivation. This is something all tutors should keep in mind. Miriam’s workshop made me realize that even with three years under my belt as a tutor, I still have much to learn.