Chamberlain, Kalie. The English Tutor’s FAQ’s. Praxis. 2:2 (2005).  http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/praxis/?q=node/28

At the time of publication of “The English Tutor’s FAQ’s,” Kalie Chamberlain was a senior at Southern Utah University completing her English Education degree. Ms. Chamberlain had worked at the Braithwaite Writing Center for three years, rising to positions of Office Manager and Master Tutor; as such, she is eminently qualified to give a brief “Frequently Asked Questions’ for new writing center student advisors.

Chamberlain begins quickly by addressing one of the greatest fears of new tutors, the negative student. Though at first reading it may seem to be simply standard bromides of “encouragement” and “try to relate to the student” – perfectly valid and useful advice of course – a closer look reveals two very central ideas. The first is simply a reminder that “(the tutor’s) enthusiasm is the most effective aspect of a session.” The second idea is almost a definition, or theorem of sorts: “the job of a tutor is to help students gain the life-long communication skills they need to succeed.” Between the two, one has easily understood guidelines of how an advising session or long-term relationship with a student should go. The first serves to remind tutors that while we may feel helpless when trying to help uncooperative, disinterested, or frustrated students, we have much power; our positive outlook can change a students’ outlook on his or her writing abilities. And the second, while more abstract, is equally powerful. Effective, clear communication doesn’t come easily to most, and it can be a life-long challenge to continually improve our communication. But it can also be a life-long reward. The ability to shape peoples’ opinions, explain one’s own, the tools necessary to frame an argument effectively, or to present technical information clearly and plainly – these are skills that separate team leaders from team members. Or to combine Chamberlain’s two ideas: if we can change a student’s outlook on writing from one of having to do a chore to one of enthusiasm and satisfaction, we give that student much more than just a passing grade on their paper. Rather we give them the tools and confidence to tackle any future challenge.

These two main ideas of Chamberlain provide a thorough philosophical underpinning for effective tutoring, but what about the actual tutoring? The nuts-and-bolts of getting someone to be a better writer? As can be seen from the phrasing of the third question, “what do I do with a student who won’t read out loud?” it is clear that Chamberlain agrees with many who feel that reading aloud of papers is very effective, and simply assumed as a best-practice. While I had understood the benefits of this, and how obvious errors and mistakes sound when reading aloud, she also mentioned another benefit of reading aloud. She advises in the sixth and seventh questions to read aloud to the student, with no draft in from of them, and ask questions afterward like “where was it clear?” and “where were you confused?” This process, with the written copy removed, seems to turn the writers’ attention from the micro-scale of the grammatical to the more important macro-scale of content, organization, and writing for the proper audience. I had not considered that reading aloud could help with these big-picture issues, and considered it mostly for grammar and sentence structure only. But I can appreciate how the writer, only hearing and not seeing her words, could find areas to improve the flow and organization of her writing.

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