Tutor Tune Ups

In addition to training, I lead my staff through interactive workshops, which I affectionately call tutor tune ups. During these tune ups, my team and I address specific challenges we are encountering in the center. At the most recent tune up, I focused on the genre approach to tutoring and revision operations.

Over the course of the last year, the center has established productive partnerships with the health sciences, philosophy, psychology, and several other departments. Naturally, working with new programs means tutors encounter new assignments and new challenges. I see the genre approach as one more way to empower my team.

As you can see in the above Power Point presentation, I began the conversation by discussing the movie Lights Out. I, like all but two of my staff members, had not seen the movie. We started to try to piece together what the movie was about by discussing what one might expect from a horror movie: jump cuts, some hint at the supernatural, ominous music, curses, and the like. I then asked my staff to consider the other ways we encounter genre on a regular basis. We discussed other movie genres, musical genres, Netflix genres, and more. Together, we concluded that genre looms large over much of the media we engage on a daily basis.

I wanted my team to apply this same awareness of genre and characteristic features to the types of writing we encounter in the center because genre can present a challenge for students. Some students struggle to decipher the features of an unfamiliar genre; others draw on their own definitions of key terms or phrases and misinterpret the requirements of a particular writing assignment. In our center, for example, we see this misinterpretation with descriptive essays. Instructors want students to avoid narration, but many students slip into first-hand narrative and address the reader in the second person as they describe a particular event or memory.

To help my staff become more comfortable with issues of genre, I asked the tutors, who worked in pairs, to choose four genres of writing we encounter in the center – ranging from research papers to résumés – and list five characteristic features of each. Before they even saw my instructions, the tutors began creating Venn diagrams showing the shared features of the different genres.

We then shifted gears to examine one of the trickiest parts of the writing process: revision. As a writing center, we often encounter students who want to revise their writing or have been told by their instructors that they need to revise. As a peer tutor at the University of California at Irvine, I remember struggling to define just exactly what revision meant. Fortunately, my supervisor, Sue Cross, introduced me to the revision operations, the key actions students can take to improve their writing.

We set out to define and explain exactly what we mean when we ask students to revise. During our conversation, we discussed how revision meant reviewing the requirements of an assignment, checking for grammatical issues, proofreading, and the like. While these observations are certainly apt, I wanted the tutors to begin to consider the actions students take when they revise their work, what we are asking them to do when we say “revise.”

In Revision: History, Theory, and PracticeCathleen Breidenbach discusses the importance of clearly defining revision: “Dividing revision into different types of revision (deep or global revision versus surface or final editing) and into different aspects and strategies seems the only way to see the process with clarity and communicate revising moves to those who would like to do it better” (199). Breidenbach, building on the work of Meredith Sue Willis and others, draws a distinction between addressing surface errors such as typos and mechanical issues and what she calls “deep revision.” I particularly appreciate the fact she breaks revision down into “moves.” While Breidenbach’s work offers an in-depth discussion of how writing instructors can break old habits, I want to focus on the ways in which I integrate “revising moves” in the center.

Like Breidenbach, writing center scholars have observed that revision is a process that contains multiple parts. The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors distills the revision process into four distinct operations: addition, deletion, substitution, and reordering (88). These operations are useful because they give writers a foothold, a set of actions to complete. The four operations act across four different levels of writing: word, phrase, sentence, and theme/argument. Naturally, applying the operations successfully requires an understanding of what words mean, what constitutes a phrase and a sentence (clauses), and how to develop a successful argument or idea. Helping students utilize the operations requires a deft hand.

During the tutor tune-up, we focused on the different ways we can use reordering to help students. Even though Breidenbach’s concept of deep revision draws a clear distinction between revising mechanical errors and more global concerns such as structure, my staff and I discussed using reordering – one action – to address both mechanical errors and higher order concerns.

The tutors rightly observed that the concept of reordering provides a graspable through line across a multitude of writing and revision challenges at both the local and global levels. We even talked about using the revision operations to explain fundamental parts of writing. Or, in other words, using a revision operation to explain one of the four different levels of writing.

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I thoroughly enjoy seeing how my amazing team employs the genre approach and revision operations in our center.

Works Cited:

Bredeinbach, Cathleen. “Practical Guidelines for Writer and Teachers.” Revision: History, Theory, and Practice, edited by Alice Horning and Anne Becker, Parlor Press, 2006, pp. 197-219.

Ianetta, Melissa, and Lauren Fitzgerald, editors. The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Resarch. Oxford UP, 2016.