Choose Your Own Adventure: Tutor Manuals, Linearity, and Collaboration
When I was hired as a peer writing tutor at the University of California at Irvine in fall 2005, I struggled to envision exactly what my new job would look like. My fellow peer tutors and I were a pilot program and - as I recently learned - served as the first step to establishing what is now UCI's Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication; therefore, we had no predecessors to answer our myriad of questions. On the first day of training, the five of us wondered what exactly we would learn and shared our mutual fears. What if students do not like us? How can I tutor assignments for courses I have never taken myself? How is a writing consultation different from classroom instruction? What if I do not know a particular rule or concept?
These questions seemed especially pressing because - as I frequently remind my team - I tutored on the cusp of the digital age. No smart phones or computers sat ready to answer any question I might encounter in a session; though the famed Purdue Owl had indeed hatched from its egg, its path had yet to cross my own; and no online appointment system gave me an idea of how many students I might work with during my shift and what types of assignments they would want to work on.
Fortunately, my supervisor developed a thorough training program that struck the balance between the theoretical and the practical, between - to steal the title of Stephen North's foundational work - "the idea of a writing center" and the pragmatic, everyday realities of working in one. While I cannot overstate the influence my training has had on me as a tutor, instructor, and coordinator, I recognize that things have changed dramatically since 2005. New multimedia and multimodal composition possibilities have changed what is expected of and what is possible for a writing center.
I am excited to announce that my team and I are meeting these possibilities head on by creating a new fluid and adaptable training manual. Read on to learn more about the form this new manual will take.
An effective manual should draw readers to it by meeting their needs quickly and effectively.
In Noise from the Writing Center, Elizabeth Boquet talks about dry training and instructional materials: "I look at these collections, with book titles that dictate the practicality of the job (e.g., The Practical Tutor, Meyer and Smith 1987) . . . and I am b-o-r-e-d!!!!" (85). Throughout her engaging work, Boquet champions what she terms "chaos" over order. She also persuasively shows the importance of foregrounding the rationale behind an article, exercise, or technique. Instead of being a linear step-by-step guide, our new manual will function as a resource for tutors to consult when they encounter a particular challenge or question, more Choose Your Own Adventure than encyclopedia.
Taking a cue from the University Center for Writing-based Learning at Depaul University, our new manual will also be visually-engaging and user-friendly. If you click on the image to the left and scroll down, you will see that all of the steps in Depaul's training manual are available by clicking colorful thumbnail images and reading pdf documents created by their staff members.
The Writing Center team truly enjoys working with and learning from one another. We frequently listen in on one another's tutoring sessions to pick up pointers, share successes and challenges during our staff meetings, and look to one another for ways to adapt our services to meet ever-evolving student needs. Staff members will not only collaboratively write and design the new manual but also update it as needed.
When I first proposed this endeavor, my dynamic team responded with their characteristic enthusiasm and passion. Below are excerpts from emails I received from two of the center's professional tutors.
"I love that TWC fosters collaboration. It reminds me a bit of an award-winning theatre or movie production. During their acceptance speeches, the actor or director will often say it was a collaborative effort. During the recent Golden Globes ceremony, an actor commented that his strong performance would not have been possible without the director who guided him and the actors with whom he interacted. Here at TWC, we too have a strong coordinator with a clear vision, and we have a cast of talented tutors. Because our coordinator gives us a little flexibility within his vision, tutors are allowed to play to their strengths. This flexibility allows us to recognize the strengths of one another and stretch ourselves to match those strengths."
--Professional Tutor Mandy
"Collaboration is important to the writing center because, like the training manual, the writing center is a work in progress that dynamically responds to ever-changing student needs. Although there are commonalities, each tutoring session is different, and a good training document will reflect as broad of a spectrum of experience as possible."
--Professional Tutor Colleen
Writing center scholars have created a vast array of incredibly valuable resources in recent decades. I remember receiving a copy of The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors when I worked at UCI. The book is divided into three parts. Part I, which is 35 pages long, discusses the tutoring process. Part II is 340 pages of readings designed to allow new tutors to enter ongoing scholarly conversations regarding writing center theory and practice. Part III highlights the best writing center resources for further study and research.
The true value of the sourcebook only became clear to me over time, which makes sense: the more I tutored, the more I needed the resources it had to offer. Furthermore, despite their many commonalities, each writing center is different and each new tutor comes with his or her own unique strengths. For example, I have had the pleasure of working with - and learning from - technologically adept peer tutors. While they might not have used the phrase "multimodal instruction," that is precisely what these tutors were frequently up to.
Our new training manual will embed articles under a larger banner term or question in order to help team members enter existing scholarly discourse. Instead of having a clear path already marked out, new tutors will be able to focus on the concepts and trends they are most interested in and/or challenged by.
In addition to Boquet's Noise from the Writing Center, others articles and resources that will be part of our manual include:
- Bredeinbach, Cathleen. “Practical Guidelines for Writers and Teachers.” Revision: History, Theory, and Practice, edited by Alice Horning and Anne Becker, Parlor Press, 2006, pp. 197-219.
- Brooks, Jeff. "Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work." The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory, edited by Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blummer, Allyn and Bacon, 2001, pp. 219-224.
- [selections from] Ianetta, Melissa, and Lauren Fitzgerald, editors. The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Resarch. Oxford UP, 2016.
- McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” The Routledge Reader on Writing Centers & New Media, edited by Sohui Lee and Russell Carpenter, Routledge, 2014, pp. 242-256.
- North, Stephen M. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English, vol. 46, no. 5, 1984, pp. 433-446.
- Pemberton, Michael A. “Planning for Hypertexts in the Writing Center . . . Or Not.” The Routledge Reader on Writing Centers & New Media, edited by Sohui Lee and Russell Carpenter, Routledge, 2014, pp. 105-116.
- Shamoon, Linda K., and Deborah H. Burns. "A Critique of Pure Tutoring." The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory, edited by Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blummer, Allyn and Bacon, 2001, pp. 225-241.
- Truesdell, Tom. "Not Choosing sides: Using Directive and Non-Directive Methodology in a Writing Session." The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 36, no. 1, 2007, pp. 7-11.
- [selections from] Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing. Utah State UP, 2014.
While this project is in its early days, we have already created a few thumbnail images and categories. There are no corresponding documents linked to these amazing (great job, Phillip!) images yet , but this page will give you a bit of an idea of how our finished product will look.
Stay tuned for updates . . .
Beck-Kaplan, Colleen. "Re: Project Idea." Received by Randie Sessler, 8 January 2018.
Boquet, Elizabeth. Noise from the Writing Center. Utah State UP, 2002.
Smith, Mandy. "Re: Project Idea." Received by Randie Sessler, 9 January 2018.