Traction and Troublesome Learning: A Praxis of Stuck Places For Course-Embedded Tutoring

Parmiter, Tara K.
Morgan, William M.
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While many composition theorists have tackled the question of how to encourage transfer beyond their introductory writing classes (see Perkins and Saloman; Wardle; Beaufort; Fallon, Lahar, and Susman; Blaauw-Hara), we also need to consider how embedded peer tutors develop their practices as they enter into disciplinary tutoring and, over time, gain traction while tutoring in different disciplines. Whereas in a first-year writing course we might gear our pedagogy to students’ development over a single semester but never fully know how they will transfer their learning into new disciplinary contexts, in an embedded tutoring program we mentor tutors who must transfer their learning and gain traction in new disciplines several different times during their semesters with us. Like Dara Rossman Regaignon, we define “traction” here as the process of engaging rigorously and in authentic ways, rather than passing smoothly over, the difficult analytic and rhetorical frameworks available in all disciplinary learning environments (121-22). We think that successful tutoring in an embedded tutoring program depends on such an engaged learning process. Not surprisingly, however, the experience of moving from class to class and gaining traction in the new one rarely happens smoothly for students or tutors. Instead, both frequently struggle as learning and practice become “troublesome,” and they get “stuck.” Building from the work of Jan H. F. Meyer and Ray Land on “troublesome knowledge” and Leslie Gourlay on “threshold practices,” we investigate how tutor development and student learning in an embedded tutoring program can be understood and cultivated in relation to the idea of liminality that shapes their paradigm for learning. In this context, we offer a rationale for and an analysis of “a praxis of stuck places” for tutor development and student learning in an embedded tutoring program (Lather qtd. in Meyer and Land 379).