Rhetoric and Composition
Department Chair:
Laurie McMillin

Phone: (440) 775-6601
Fax: (440) 775-8619

Rice 116
10 N. Professor St.
Oberlin, OH, 44074

Making the Most of a Course Writing Tutor

Making the Most of a Course Writing Tutor
By Kyle Strimbu '05, Marian Schlotterbeck '05, Laurie Hovell McMillin

There are two kinds of writing tutors/writing associates at Oberlin College: the writing center tutor and the course tutor.  Both kinds are trained in the practice of tutoring writing; both kinds can help at any stage in the writing process.  While much of what we say below about tutors is true for writing center tutors, we focus below on the role of the course tutor.

The View and Ethos of Writing in the Peer Tutoring Program of Rhet/Comp  
  • we see writing as a mode of learning, a way to discover and learn and not just to report learning
  • we understand writing as a process -- tutors can help students at any point in the process
  • writing tutors, teachers and writing classes are not designed to "fix" writers
  • writers at all levels can improve their work by talking and working with others; peer work is not just for the "inadequate"
  • tutors are peers, people "in-between" students and profs, but they are still students themselves

Range of course tutor identities and practices

Tutors can take on a variety of roles, depending both on their own interests and experiences and on the desires and expectations of the professor.

Less involved<----------------->more involved
does not read course materials<----------------->reads all course materials
does not attend class<----------------->attends all classes
does not speak in class<----------------->speaks in class
does not lead class sessions<----------------->leads class sessions
<---------------Meets students outside of class--------------->

(The outliers here would be tutors as spellcheckers on one end and tutors as TAs on the other: neither are roles we'd advise assigning to a writing tutor)

Tutors can do effective work from any place on this spectrum, but teacher, tutor and students need to know and agree on what his/her role is.

What course tutors can do

  1. meet one-on-one with students at any stage in a draft
  2. arrange group brainstorming sessions -- to come up with paper topics, to expand and develop ideas, etc.
  3. conduct small group meetings with tutors and 2-3 students on drafts
  4. look at prof's comments before papers are returned to writers
  5. split the conference load with the professor and meet one-on-one
  6. meet regularly with writers who need extra help, ESL students, at-risk students, etc.
  7. lead out-of-class sessions on paper writing, editing, peer review, bibliographies, plagiarism, Honor Code, thesis writing, how to write a blue book exam, whatever!
  8. help interpret prof's comments to student
  9. help prof understand students' difficulties with a particular assignment
  10. lead in-class group discussions
  11. meet students in library to help them with various parts of research (how to use OBIS, databases, etc.)
  12. help students prepare for oral presentations in class
  13. make your life easier

Best practices for faculty working with a course tutor

  1. Build revision into the syllabus and tutors have a role to play in it
  2. Communicate with your tutor frequently; schedule regular check-in times with each other
  3. Integrate writing into the classroom and syllabus, whether or not the tutor attends class
  4. Put tutor's name and info on syllabus; make him/her an "instructor" on Bb
  5. Require students in the course to meet with the tutor at least once -- one-on-one or group -- so the tutor can demonstrate his/her usefulness.  (Tutors have found that an early requirement can help establish the significance of the tutor.)
  6. Make explicit your policies and protocols for working with the tutor.  For example, is there a penalty for missing a session with the tutor?  What are your expectations?  Do you want a report on the meetings?
  7. Understand that the tutor is someone who is between students and prof; the tutor can both mediate and get caught between them.  
  8. Communicate with your tutor frequently -- did we mention that?
  9. When scheduling due dates for drafts, take into consideration "crunch times" and the tutor's own schedule.
  10. Honor the tutor's work contract -- 6-7 hours for course tutors.
  11. Demonstrate that you, as a writer, can learn from others' feedback on your work
  12. Pick a promising student from your class and encourage him/her to take RHET 481 in the future so he/she can come back and work with you.
  13. Accept that you are also, in effect, mentoring the tutor.
  14. There is a range of options vis-à-vis the tutor's attendance of the course.  Some professors want tutors to attend every class; others do not want tutors to attend because their presence can affect community-building in the FYS classroom.  Many arrangements can work; you simply need to plan to make them work.  If the tutor does not attend the class, it would be wise to set up some other required meetings between the students and him/her.