A Comprehensive Look At The Tutorial Experience

Matthew R. Polito

Plangere Writing Center



A Comprehensive Look at

The Tutorial Experience




Throughout the duration of the internship with the Plangere Writing Center, I have learned a myriad of techniques and new ways of approaching the tutorial experience.  Consequently, facilitating my students to not only perform better in their academic courses, but also to feel more confident when approaching writing in general. Each student has individual needs and expectations when entering the tutorial experience and it is crucial as a tutor/intern to understand and manipulate the tutoring experience, such that, it causes the student to not only feel like they have learned something but that their work is being improved as well. During the internship, we were required to read several articles which were designed to improve our tutoring skills and perhaps heighten our understanding of the tutorial experience overall.  Although difficult to understand at times, these reading assignments coupled with various presentations that were made available to interns and tutors, fostered an environment well equipped for continual learning. No matter how prestigious and elaborate ones career or academic title may be, there is always room to learn new things, it is with this knowledge, that we as tutors were able to restructure and manipulate our tutoring techniques to better assist our students. Culture, College Writing Expectations, and the notion of grammar inclusion all have played a crucial role in the formation and manipulation of my tutoring techniques throughout the course of the semester.

Culture often defined as a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group, and often plays a crucial role in the academic achievement of individuals. Muriel Harris sheds light on the importance of cultural influence on academic performance in Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL Students. Using ESL students as the primary example, Harris discusses how the tutorial experience is often plagued with frustration and miscommunication when dealing with a student who is not a native English speaker. Imploring the idea that culture has a significant effect on the expectations, overall productivity and success of the tutorial experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to work closely with a student who’s first language wasn’t English, however during one session a girl by the name of Saraga-a sophomore at Rutgers, of Chinese decent. During the hour session that I had with her, I noticed a disparity between the expectations and motivation of the majority of the students that I tutor and Saraga. Her main concern was learning as much as possible about the tutorial experience, and seemed to be extremely self-motivated- a trait commonly absencent in many students where English is there first language. Research suggests that productivity is the key to success, thus creating a disparity between individuals who have the ability to successfully initiate and complete tasks and those who can’t. Mel Levine, author of The Myth of Laziness proposes a new perspective on the notion of laziness. Utilizing the phrase “output failure” Levine supports the idea that patterns of laziness and production inadequacy is a direct result of a “hidden handicap” that disrupts their output capabilities.  Upon reading the article, I was in almost complete disagreement with Levine.  I agree with the notion that some individuals have a difficult time completing or even initiating tasks and that a lack of fundamental communication competencies can often be a result of a mental or personal handicap. However, I implore those who read this article to dissect the notion of “output failure” as it correlates with laziness since in my opinion people don’t need to suffer from a mental dysfunction or disconnect to produce patterns of laziness.  Perhaps this self-motivation or lack there off comes from a innate desire to not only receive high marks in her classes, but to also learn as much as she can about the English language as possible. The feedback that I gave to Saraga, was clearly reflected in immediate changes in her writing style and formation of paragraph structure. Harris discusses the disparity that exists between various ethnic groups acquisition of knowledge and expectations of the tutorial experience. When surveyed Latin students said that they expected “to be motivated and told they are doing a good job” while Asian American students stated that they expected “the problem areas within their paper to be addressed, as well as writing editing” (Harris 212). This clear disparity between two different ethnic groups forms the crux of Harris research and investigation. Imploring that, both tutors and students need to be on the same page when embarking on the tutorial and that in order for the best result to be achieved it is crucial that tutors understand that all students need to be approached, taught, and corrected in different ways. Using the knowledge I learned from Harris’s and Levine’s articles and first hand experience with various ethnic groups during the tutorial experience, I have now have a better understanding of how to approach each student, insuring that each students needs are equally satisfied and maximum results/progress is achieved.

Understanding the difference in expectation and motivation levels in students based on cultural and environmental factors makes tutors/interns more prepared for the myriad of students they will encounter during the course of the year. A common misconception that seemed to persist was the idea that “college writing” restricted self-expression and forced students to write in a manner, which seems foreign and alien to them. Personal writing can be defined in a multitude of ways, each author constructing their own interpretation of a text, which is then, reflected in their subsequent response papers.  Students are asked to use the texts they have previously read, formulate a stance, and create a response that demonstrates a clear understanding of the text while simultaneously keeping their voice present throughout the paper. Bawarsh and Pelkowski implore that “college writing” promotes structure that compromises student’s ideas and true voice, being replaced by rigid and acceptable modes permitted and often required by academic institutions. While reading this I couldn’t help but notice the direct correlation between the notion of “college writing” and Expository writing. Many of my students criticize the writing style required in expos, claiming “the rigid structure required in their papers coupled with a myriad of complex readings, which in their opinion often have little correlation to one another, makes it difficult to formulate a clear and concise paper” However, I believe that these types of writing courses actually facilitate a higher level of learning, not only helping students write a clear and concise paper, but foster a greater understanding of the texts, which more often than not lacks a explicit correlation. Ergo, students must be able to find underlying meaning within the text, take a stance on that meaning, and then find support within the text that supports their argument. All while following a rigid structural rubric which teaches students how to keep their paper organized yet complex. Although the majority of my students have felt that their voice was lost in the paper, I encouraged my students to stay aligned with the text, create a structured paper that not only incorporates the texts but also presents a stance that is clear and evident throughout the entire paper. My philosophy on writing is, whether writing a free write, poem, article, novel or response paper, the authors voice should always be prevalent. Structured writing only forces students to think deeper and analyze subliminal similarities between texts, which facilitates a better understanding of the texts and solid argument.

The formation of a clear and concise paper posses a daunting task for some individuals. More often than not, the use of grammar is identified by students as the principal challenge that often complicates their papers and cause readers to be lost when reading papers. With that in mind, I implore teachers to teach their students about the rules and implications of grammar. It is important to guide students on how to use grammar properly during the practice of writing, rather than teaching grammar as a separate entity. Grammar can be taught and perfected during the duration of writing perfection, that is to say, that the rules governing grammar are most effectively taught when students can actually see its implications within their writings. This is Rei R. Noguchi’s main point in Grammar and the Teaching of Writing.  Noguchi argues that teaching grammar in isolation is counterproductive, especially as it applies to the mechanics and quality of writing. Instead, use “writing grammar” techniques that eradicate that notion of “formal grammar” instruction, and allow students more autonomy, which will improve individual writing skills while simultaneously facilitating individual’s grammar usage.  When approaching the topic of grammar with my students, I only address issues that seem to persist throughout their paper, so no to overwhelm them with a myriad of corrections and error marks all over their paper. Instead of approaching grammar as an isolated issue in student’s papers, I highlight problem areas in my student’s papers and then at the end of the paper offer advice on how to fix these issues. For instance, if I see that one of my students is having a difficult time with run on sentences, I would highlight, asterisks or star areas in their paper where I see errors in sentence formation. Then at the end of the paper I would use this key, to provide examples of how to reconstruct or manipulate the current sentences to make them flow better while avoiding run-ons.

By and large, I believe that there are many factors that go into the productivity of the tutorial experience, but understanding how culture, college writing expectations, and the notion of grammar inclusion all individually impact a students writing capabilities makes it easier to approach the notion of writing in general. Using these three factors as the foundation for the formation of my tutoring philosophy, I have not only created an environment specifically designed for each of my students but one that allows each student to reach their maximum potential throughout the tutorial experience.


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