Tutoring Creatively

By October 25, 2012Peer Writing Tutoring

As a creative writer, I have gotten more than once during a tutoring session, students asking how in the world I could possibly be qualified to tutor when I have no expertise in their field. They hear my major, and the kinds of writing that I usually do, and automatically assume that all I know how to write are short stories and novels. When these cases come up, they can be a serious problem because a writer can become pretty unreceptive if they don’t think your advice is valid. There are many ways to handle these situations and hopefully get an appointment back on track. You can explain how everyone who works in the writing center goes through the same training, so we are all equally qualified. You can explain how even though you aren’t in the same major as them, you can still look for clarity, structure and flow because you should still be able to follow the paper. Regardless of the approach you choose to take, these appointments can prove to be difficult and usually end up making you feel either under-appreciated or frustrated.

Despite the fact that we all work together as tutors, we come from a variety of different backgrounds. We are from all over the country, even the world, and study a plethora of different subjects, many of us studying more than one, and we all specialize in various citation styles and types of writing. We all bring our own, unique tutoring philosophies to the table when we meet with writers, but we all tend to focus on tutoring in relatively the same way. Some of us are more hands on, some of us are more physical and actually touch, even cut up, papers. Some of us are more minimalist, while others are more directive. But these are all variances of similar tutoring styles that come from different philosophies. This might be because we all went through the same training program, we all work in the same place and see, to an extent, the same writers, we recommend the same resources and use similar commenting programs and methods. None of us typically incorporate what we are studying into our tutoring in terms of style

…At least, I didn’t until recently. When a friend asked me to help her with a research project on incorporating creative writing practices into tutoring appointments, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t even look at the handout she gave me that explained what she wanted me to try and do before I agreed. I was just… instantly intrigued.

This request got me to thinking a lot about how I could possibly incorporate the techniques I use to write in a format I truly love, into a tutoring appointment. First, I had to consider what my process even is. I had never really embraced free writing. It helps me in an academic setting, but when I actually sit down to write a story, I’ve never actually used freewriting to kickstart my ideas. I do, however, once I have a general idea for my story, tend to write out the basic format of my dialogue first. This is because it is usually what I struggle with most, so, writing it out, then writing out the narrative, and then modifying the dialogue as necessary is much easier for me than making the dialogue fit within the narrative. It also gives me a good guide for what general direction I want my narrative go in.

So how can I apply this technique in a tutoring session? Well, if a writer is struggling with a position paper and presenting their argument both clearly and thoroughly, I could ask them to write out a dialogue with two people discussing the topic on opposite sides. That way they would have their argument, a counter argument, and can use this dialogue as a way to figure out how they will refute the counter argument. Depending on the person, an argument might be much easier to look at in this format than in paragraph form.

Another way I could apply this in a tutoring session is creating a series of questions for a writer to answer. If I find a student is struggling with putting their ideas in a paper format, then I could write out a series of questions for the student to answer about their topic as if they were being interviewed on the topic. Whether the writer is answering these questions aloud while I take notes, or writing their answers down themselves, many times it is much less daunting or difficult to write down the answers to questions than it is to write a full paper. It also makes it easier to point out places where they need to expand or add evidence. They could then take their answers to these questions and convert them to more of a paragraph form.

These two options/techniques are not both explicitly creative. They are, however, inspired by my major, my field of expertise, and can be applied in nearly any tutoring session, even with writers with a completely different major or focus. People in other majors could probably come up with the same techniques that I have listed here, but I encourage you to come up with your own. What are you studying right now in school? What are you learning in class? Does the field you are in require you to do any kind of prewriting techniques that others don’t? Do you take any unique approaches to writing that other fields might not make you do? How can you take these approaches or styles or what you are learning and apply them to an appointment in order to help writers?

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Martina M. says:

    Your interview activity is such a great idea; I haven’t thought of that. I feel like many of us already do that in tutorials when we ask writers about the topics they’re writing about, but framing that as an interview activity might make a writer more comfortable or even think of questions that an interviewer would want to ask, which could lead to considering the topic through a different angle.