Boistering Writerly Instincts: Using Role-play to Help Tutors Address Later-Order Concerns
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Students who are selected to be writing tutors or who apply for jobs in the writing center are generally confident in their writing ability and have received reinforcement from faculty and peers that they are “good” at writing. These students often have stories of their friends approaching them for help editing their writing assignments, and they happily obliged. But before their tenure in the writing center, these student writers have rarely been asked to explain why a comma should be placed at a certain location in a sentence or why a particular word doesn’t fit in the context of a sentence. In several tutorials I observed, the tutors struggled to address grammatical concerns in student writing, often relied on instinctual knowledge to identify errors, and sometimes presented rules of thumb as solutions to these errors which resulted in incomplete answers to student writers’ concerns. Tutors use these explanatory shortcuts, I think, for two reasons: 1) they are afraid of becoming too directive–of teaching instead of tutoring, and 2) they aren’t completely sure of the grammatical rules themselves. Breaking tutors’ reliance upon of rules of thumb (like placing a comma where you should pause, and never using “I” in an academic essay) and giving them more concrete knowledge to share with their clients are challenges for tutor training, particularly because many rules of thumb “work” –most of the time. Writing tutors have been rewarded for using these strategies in their own writing; therefore, they share these strategies with their clients in the writing center.