Turk on In-Class Tutoring as a "Consultant"
Tisha Turk's article describes a form of tutoring that is less often found at Goucher, but that could change if we can convince WAC course instructors and others that a tutor's presence will improve their students' performance. The observations anticipate some of the later essays' interest in student silences and conversation, the role of tutors in the college's authority structure (or against or outside it?), and the way a long-term commitment to a single class differs from drop-in work.
1) The in-class consultant has an excellent chance to be a participant observer like an anthropologist or sociologist studying a culture or society. The classroom dynamics, their special customs and language, and their long-term aims will help you understand your own classes better, and the more you understand how the class works as a society, the better advice you'll be able to give its writers.
2) The tutor who is allowed to participate in class discussions has many choices to make, and Turk nicely articulates the issues involved. She begins to touch on the same issues we saw in Gilmartin (17-18) about student authority and who gets to say what's what. Helping the class to have a conversation is more an art than a science, but you can learn much from a class that's working well and an instructor who can move in and out of the conversation at the right moments. It's like an enormous, group tutoring session.
3) Professors all need help articulating their expectations of student writing. People who have successful conversations have to share a lot of things, including those expectations, as well as common definitions of terms (i.e., what's a thesis, a logical organization, a scholarly source appropriately used, etc.). However, professors and students are many years and worlds of experience apart from each other. Most professors have forgotten what it was like to be a freshman or a senior because six years or more of graduate school and years of "professing" stand between those days and their current mental states. Others don't think it's their business to try to imagine that state of mind, though they're few and far between at Goucher. Students often have almost no idea, at least as freshmen and sophomores, what drives professors to assign papers or to read papers as they do.
Between the student and the professor stands the writing center tutor, perhaps not exactly "between" so much as "off to one side," getting a view of both sides like a good translator. That position produces priceless insights into what's working and what's not working in the class's conversation. Share what you learn with the writers, and with the teachers if they wisely ask you. Just don't forget that apparently unreasonable behavior on either side probably has its motives, and you should not comment on things that you aren't certain are relevant to the students' needs. Especially, avoid getting sucked into discusing with a writer the teacher's grades on an individual paper. Switch the conversation immediately to the paper, itself, its strengths and weaknesses from the writer's point of view. Grading never pleases anyone, and it may well be the least important thing that happens in college. As one commencement speaker told the graduates, in a year, nobody will care what your GPA was in college, nor will they ever ask what grade you got on any particular paper.
4) When clarifying a paper, start with ideas before mechanics. You may find the signal of confused thinking in a fractured sentence or a misused word, but start with ideas and then move to grammar and syntax. Don't neglect mechanical errors by the end of the conference, but make sense of them in context. Writers understand grammar best in the context of their own writing.