When in doubt, ask a question!

By November 10, 2011Peer Writing Tutoring

One tutoring technique I find useful, whether the appointment is written or face-to-face, is asking a question as a way of overcoming an obstacle. It is not unusual to encounter a sentence that has multiple meanings, or is so overwritten that the meaning has become obscured, or just doesn’t make any sense at all. In these instances, it is perfectly acceptable, even advisable, to say “You know, this could be read a couple of different ways” or “I’m really not sure what you mean here, what did you intend?” Not only does this open up the possibility for exchange, it removes me from the position of having to be in complete control of the paper. I don’t have to know everything. Each session is a process, and the client and I discover that process together.

I’ve come to realize that grammar can be correct or incorrect (or, in some instances, creative); that content is content, not necessarily right or wrong; and that style is either accomplished or unaccomplished. From that perspective, grammar is mostly absolute, and everything else is relative. Beyond grammar, I enter into the paper based on my own intuition and the bidding of the client author. Some have a very specific role for me to play with regard to their paper or their writing development/awareness. Others, more open in their expectations, may want me to point out something they might not have known or realized.

In written feedback situations, asking a question about something about which I am not completely sure is a way of pointing to something I think the writer needs to go back and examine. In face-to-face appointments, it is an opportunity to understand that writer better through the way he or she responds. I find it a good way for writer and tutor to get on the same wavelength.