Walker, Kristen. Difficult Clients and Tutor Dependency: Helping Overly Dependent Clients Become Independent Writers. Writing Lab Newsletter. 19:8 (1995), 10-14.
Kristen Walker of Midlands Technical College is an experienced writing center tutor who has provided some advice for dealing with a too-common writing center occurrence – the overly dependent student. She identifies some common characteristics besides simple over-dependence: often they are students returning to school after an absence, and are unaware of the skills and demands required of academic writing; second, they are acutely fearful of failing their classes; and lastly, because of this fear “these students were powerfully motivated to do well.” To frame her analysis, Walker considers the challenges of and solutions for tutors of overly-dependent students in the context of a currently popular topic of debate among writing center scholars: the degree to which a student should be dependent on the writing center.
Walker has this to say about the issue: “The current issue in writing center theory doesn’t seem to be whether clients should be independent of dependent but how dependent they should be.” She speaks about how the old clinic/hospital metaphor is being phased out by many writing centers, but that they still view the end goal as sending “well” clients on their way with no further need for a writing center. Modern theories have changed however, with the acknowledgement and recognition of the needs of writers to collaborate and receive feedback from other writers. This is presented here as the current mainstream thinking within writing center theory. Quoting from fellow theorist Dave Healy, Walker expands on Healy’s three main measures to fulfill both the needs of the student and the writing center. Healy lists these as the need for writing centers to redefine their jobs, provide nourishment to developing writers, and to encourage writers to have a lifelong desire to collaborate.
Taken as a given that a tutor should not “end up doing clients’ work for them,” Walker proposes that a primary way to redefine the purpose of the writing center should be “receiving more information from students instead of giving it.” Her solution, adapted from scholar James Upton, is the Worksheet, designed to get the student to think, write and talk about the assignment before writing or during revising. After this step, students often have a much clearer understanding of the assignment.
The worksheet thus functions both as a means to collect information from the student, as well as a form of nourishment, Walker’s (and Healy’s) next point of focus. The student’s responses to the worksheet should be verified to ensure the student is familiar with all the needs and requirements of the assignment; now the tutor has a jumping-off point for encouragement and nourishment. Confirming to the student that their answers reflect understanding of both the Worksheet and the assignment can reduce the student’s over-dependence. Showing the student how to better self-edit their papers can free them from over-reliance on tutors; after all, any line-editing or proofreading we do as tutors only discourages active skill-acquirement and self-reliance Walker recommends use of Edward Vavra’s sequential grammar system, the details of which are beyond the scope of this blog post, a system shown to be effective in showing students how to correct their own papers.
“True nourishment comes in part as a result of collaboration, collaboration that is neither overly critical nor insincerely flattering.” Walker here recommends another tool developed by Upton, the Reader Evaluation Sheet, adapted from scholar Bill Lyons’ “Praise-Question-Polish” model of writing critique. Throughout the revising process, this sheet can help the student improve their paper, often to the degree that the student keeps the worksheets for future reference. One critical aspect of this worksheet, with Walker quoting Lyons here, is the need for “the comments [to be] ‘as specific and positive as possible.'” It is also stressed here that the worksheet is simply another tool for the student and tutor – a means to encourage collaboration – and not a replacement for discussion or actual writing.
The end goal of all this is summed up by Walker at the end of her piece:
“Clients will then leave the writing center with the sense that their efforts and feedback from others both make a difference in their writing instead of leaving with the idea that the writing center exists to do their writing for them.”