Online Tutoring Week

We began the week talking about the practices for online tutoring suggested in the Bedford Guide, Chapter 6. Bedford says that, “traditional students increasingly expect various components of their college experience to be digital” (74). I agree with this. As a “traditional student,” I expect colleges to have websites, and for those websites to be comprehensive and well-designed. I expect to be able to do things digitally that in the past would have required face-to-face contact. I think that the best thing about online tutoring is that it makes options for connecting students to resources almost limitless. Bedford suggests, “if you have access to other technologies, such as audio software, consider embedding audio comments in your advice as well” (78). I argue that EVERYONE has access to audio software. All you need is a basic webcam and a dropbox or similar account, and you can link tutees to videos or audio clips of yourself. However, I think that the use of stock comments that Bedford suggests can get into dangerous territory. Students should always be aware that they are connecting with another reader, not a robot. I very much like Bedford’s suggestion to put online videos on the Writing Center website. I would love for our WC to have a YouTube channel where we give quick tips about writing and engage an online community.

Next, we read “Do You Understand? A Practical Guide to Synchronous Online Tutoring.” I thought that their tip to embrace online silence was good. They warn against thinking that because a tutee is silent, they don’t understand. I think a better tip might be to embed questioning for understanding into the comments themselves. I did not like the article’s suggestion that online tutoring should recreate face to face tutoring. It’s great to talk about agendas and rapport like in face to face tutoring, but there are things you can do online you can’t do face to face, and they should be embraced.

Wednesday, we read a self-study of chat room conferences by Dan Melzer. I loved the way Melzer said that online tutoring differed from face-to-face in some good ways. Melzer said, “Although I agree with Barbara Monroe that online tutoring is a ‘genre unto itself,’ I also want to show how we can draw on f2f tutoring strategies when we tutor online” (10). I think this is a much better way to think about online tutoring. Melzer’s self study showed him that he was only able to use small talk to establish rapport when he had repeat visitors (10). I would think that online communication has small talk more built into it than face to face, so this is surprising to me. Melzer was able to use humor, but sometimes it backfired because the tutee could not tell tone in text. Melzer talks about conversation overlap, saying, “Although these misunderstandings were frustrating at first, soon I got used to this overlapping conversation style and I learned to be flexible about moving back and forth. I also learned to constantly signal to the student when we overlapped and I needed to move backwards, or when the overlap caused a misunderstanding” (11). Melzer’s attitude toward overlap seems healthier than artificially embracing online silence as suggested by “Do You Understand?”, but I think both are strategies that can prove useful. What I was really interested in was Melzer’s journey toward breaking up the “walls of text” he found himself sending. He began by breaking up comments to get them to students faster, and then progressed to asking more questions to strike a balance. It seems like because he could see exactly who was doing most of the talking, he was able to adjust his comments to strike a better balance between tutor and tutee talk, something that would not be as obvious in a face to face session (12). Melzer makes a great point when he says, “The problem was not so much with the technology, but with the way I was using the technology” (12). Technology is increasingly being used as a viable form of communication. Online tutors just need to tap into the forms this conversation is taking,

Friday, we read “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product” by Donald M. Murray. Murray uses beautiful language to make his point that it is important to focus more on teaching the process of writing than getting the final product. About the product-centered approach, Murray says, “Our students knew [their essay] wasn’t literature when they passed it in, and our attack usually does little more than confirm their lack of self-respect for their work and for themselves; we are as frustrated as our students, for conscientious, doggedly responsible, repetitive autopsying doesn’t give birth to live writing” (3). This is exactly the attitude I see from students who come into the writing center. Telling students their writing is bad just makes them feel even less ownership of it. Murray says the first step to turning toward process-centered writing is “shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it” (5). According to Murray, in order for students to come up with their own ideas, you have to let them. One of the implications of this approach is that “The student uses his own language. Too often, as writer and teacher Thomas Williams points out, we teach English to our students as if it were a foreign language. Actually, most of our students have learned a great deal of language before they come to us, and they are quite willing to exploit that language if they are allowed to embark on a serious search for their own truth” (4). I absolutely believe that it is important to validate students’ dialects. Standard English should never matter on a first draft. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter at all; however, since it does, I think it’s important for us as teachers to explicitly teach it while still validating students’ home language or dialect. Murray also says something which would make tutoring so much easier: “The student should have the opportunity to write all the drafts necessary for him to discover what he has to say on this particular subject. Each new draft, of course, is counted as equal to a new paper” (5-6). If students were allowed to draft until their paper said what they wanted it to, not only would the drafting process be more meaningful to them, but you wouldn’t get the problem where a student who has to completely redo a second draft is at a severe disadvantage.

Going along with the ideas about the writing process presented by Murray is the suggestions for the writing process in Chapter 4 of the Bedford Guide. I found the suggestion for working with text at a computer particularly helpful. The Guide suggested using the highlight, underline, or bold functions to “ask writers who overuse the forms of the verb to be to highlight all verbs in a portion of the text” and to “have writers highlight the main idea or topic sentence in each paragraph” (46, 47). It also suggests using Enter to break a part of the text into its component sentences, making them easier to see and to examine how the sentences interact. Lastly, it says you can cut and paste the main ideas from each paragraph to make a reverse outline so you can more easily talk about it. All of these things actively involve the tutee and can be done in online or face to face sessions.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that just like every session is different, different formats for sessions, from paper-based to computer face-to-face meetings, to online meetings need both tutees and tutors to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities the format provides.

ESL Week

We began the week talking about ways of reading language difference: assimilationist, accommodationist, and separatist. Assimilationist tutors try to make writers’ texts look like L1 writing. Separatist tutors treat the L2 text as an equally privileged discourse. Accomodationist tutors fall somewhere in between, finding a middle ground between L2 writing and L1 writing. The text also says that talk with ESL writers should focus on the assignment and the process and more time should be spent on prewriting.

The ESL Workshop, in addition to providing some great resources and strategies, states grammar goals for student and tutor. Student grammar goals include acknowledging self editing, recognizing frequent errors, and correcting them. Tutor goals should include teaching self editing, identifying frequent errors, knowing the six major error types and being able to refer students to resources. The chart of grammar errors tells tutors to focus on verb tense and form, word form, and awkward phrasing. One liberating thing about the Workshop it that it tells tutors that it is okay to explicitly tell students about minor errors.

I especially enjoyed the post  about directive and nondirective tutoring. It addressed issues with nondirective tutoring that I had been grappling with. Lisa DelPit is a personal favorite, and her ideas about explicit teaching of grammar types that are not a part of students’ home languages has informed much of my teaching. Corbett explained that it is more how you address this explicit-type tutoring that matters. Of course you shouldn’t talk in circles instead of giving students information that they need. However, nondirective techniques should lead up to that point. He also brought up something that had been drilled into me in the TESOL curriculum, that overwhelming students with comments is not helpful. I think this is applicable to all students, but especially students who are actively in the process of gaining language. Imagine if someone tried to teach you all the rules of Spanish at once!

Overall, the theme of the week to me has been to let students direct the conversation. I think that with ESL students it is often important to have a conversation about their goals not just for the assignment but for learning English. Do they want to be fluent? To keep a writing “accent”? Do they want to focus their learning of reading, writing, speaking, or listening? What are their major concerns? Their goals for their language? All of these things will affect the stance you take as a tutor.

ESL Writing Scenario

I think an interesting thing about these types of papers is that their purpose is more to get a handle on using language than it is to have engaging content. This writing reminds me of the types of writing I did in my Spanish classes. I am hesitant to push students to focus on content, because if someone had done that to me on a paper I wrote for Spanish, I would have been very annoyed. Instead, I think I would want to focus on form, perhaps 2-3 issues which the student could correct, the ones that affected meaning the most first. For advanced writers, I would simply respond as a reader and tell the student areas where the writing didn’t make sense. I would also want to relate the writing back to a purpose. For instance, in the essay “Rock and Ribs Steakhouse,” which I will focus on for this post, the purpose is to use vocabulary and discourse about restaurants. This is a somewhat task-oriented writing assignment; one more oriented to “real-life” tasks might be to post a review of a restaurant.

ANYWAY, the following is how I would begin the session:

Hi, I’m Whitney! What’s your name? Where are you from?

I would hopefully then be able to steer the conversation about learning English.

I would then ask the student what their goals were for learning English. Do they want to be fluent? Do they want to use academic language?

From there, I would talk about their goals for the writing assignment. What is the task they are trying to accomplish.

Together, we would set an agenda. If the student wanted to work on grammar, I would focus on the use of subordinate conjunctions in the third paragraph. Along with that, the use of “which” in the last paragraph and “for” in the first paragraph. These are words which need direct explanation. I would also talk about the vocabulary word “price range” and how it needs two numbers of pricing. If the student wanted to expand on the piece, I would suggest the first paragraph. The student does not tell anything about the Rock and Ribs Steakhouse, even though it is the title.

Overall, I think it is important to respond as a reader and tell the writer parts where the phrasing is awkward. In my own experience in learning a foreign language, once I know where the problems are, I can usually self-correct.

Response to “Seven Facts about Learning Disabilities and Written Expression”

Something that is important with learners with disabilities, but also for basic writers, L2ers, and many other populations, is explicit instruction. Explicit instruction does not mean doing the work for the writer. Instead, it means making clear steps of the writing process and strategies for meeting them. Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Writing involves helping a student memorize strategies and make them work for them. Some of these explicit strategies are detailed here. I want to look over these later, and would be interested in a sourcebook which broke down different explicit strategies to use with students with all sorts of differences.

Another big aspect writers with disabilities often need help with is confidence. Many writers, with and without diagnosed LDs, come into the writing center unconfident. This is where making sure you let the writer own the paper is important. I am still working on tools for building writer confidence and would appreciate strategies on this.

This article was written for public school parents of students with LDs, and so it mentions IEPs. Often throughout the discussion of disability and the writing center, I have wished that there were IEPs for college students. Though not perfect, when done well IEPs represent an agreement between an expert on learning disabilities, the student, the parent, and the teachers. I think that ideally, an IEP gives students the power to take control of their own learning and articulate the steps they need to succeed. Unfortunately, they often become one size fits all plans or bring conflict between students and teachers. I definitely wish more could be done to allow students to better understand their LD.

Response to Sarah Groeneveld “It Begins with a Mentality: Disability and the Writing Center

Groeneveld weaves a narrative about a student with a disability around information about research two undergraduates performed in her writing center. She talks about the importance of not making a big deal out of a writer’s learning differences publically, but says, “what Laura also taught me is that as important as it is to not construe difference as “special,” difference does matter – ignoring disability can cause just as much damage to a tutor/writer relationship as blowing a bullhorn that announces it.” But how do you know whether or not to acknowledge disability? And how can you address disability when you don’t know about it? Groeneveld says that these are questions wrongly asked. Something we talked about in speed dating on Wednesday is articulated beautifully by Groeneveld, “As writing instructors, we are in the business of difference.” All writers have differences, and as tutors we are constantly trying to adapt to them. Disability requires the same sort of individual adaptation.

I was very interested in the idea presented by Logan of using LGBTQ “Safe Space” discourse as a way to get writers with disabilities to open up to their tutors. I wish I knew more about the results of that effort. The presentation of Nora’s methods was more clear. She categorized sessions in four different ways:  direct engagement, overlooking, celebration, individualization. Importantly, Nora found that all four methods could be used successfully, and that all tutors used individualization at some point.

It’s clear that the writing center session is set up to allow individualization for all students, regardless of “ability.” Though there is no good way to make sure tutors know if a client has a disability, the session is set up so that the tutor can adapt to that whether or not it is named. After all, we want to focus on the person, not the disability.

Response to Julie Neff’s “Learning Disabilities and the Writing Center”

Neff emphasizes the importance of Writing Centers to people with learning disabilities. She also notes that sometimes these clients will need a session that looks different from the regular best practices. I found the case study she used interesting because it seemed to be such a rare type of disability, but one which would be embraced by tutors who love words. Neff lists ways to work with people who have difficulty with prewriting, organization, proof-reading, and social interaction. Overall, common threads seem to be explicit instruction and finding ways to meet writers’ needs. I am wondering how to become aware of what those needs are. All of the examples in Neff’s article include tutors who already know about the disability the writer has and how to accommodate them. How can a tutor know if a client has a  learning disability other than asking?

Researching the Writing Center Chapter 4: Tutoring “Different” Populations

RtWC defines “different” populations as: “basic writers, writers with disabilities, second-language writers, and graduate studen writers” (86).

Basic writers

Many writing centers have started “rejecting the remedial brand” in an attempt to market themselves to other writers (87). However, if this is taken too far, it could mean losing these basic students who need the writing center more than most. There is some research that mandatory consultations are beneficial to this population (87). One study showed higher retention rates for classes that required writing center tutoring (88). Interestingly, another study found that tutees who brought in drafts which had been marked up by their teacher had much less interactive, more linear sessions (89). As a teacher of Basic, I wonder when the best time would be to require mandatory writing center sessions. From the research, it would definitely have to be before Draft 2 is turned in, because it is better to work on drafts without teacher comments. Logically, I would think I would want to require visits early in the semester so that students get familiar with the Writing Center (Also they will have an easier time getting in). This section has shown that mandatory sessions are productive for Basic students, so I plan to require my students to go to the writing center.

Second-Language Writers

This chapter presents a large Lit Review on L2 Writers, which I have noted below for later convenience:

Thonus (2008)- the linguistic status of tutees is a sort of elephant in the room (96).

“Many conventional practices do not work well with multilingual writers” (96).

“The literature on L2 writing research and pedagogy is voluminous (e.g. Leki, Cumming, & Silva, 2008; Silva & Matsuda, 2010; Williams, 2005), but the literature, particularly the empirical research literature, on tutoring L2 wirters in teh writing center is miniscule by comparison” (97).

Hyland (2005)- differences between L2 and L1 writers

Watkins-Goffman (1986)- one-on-one interaction means better input. (97)

Chiu (2011)- consultations improve confidence

Newton (1990)- written feedback might be better for L2 writers

Jones, Garralda, Li, and Lock (2006)- Online, L2 writers talked more

Weigle and Nelson (2004)- written comments helped faclilitate understanding (98)

Thonus (in press) in response to Williams (2008)- it is more important to be able to negotiate understanding than to try to understand all the rules of English (99)

Thonus (1998, 2001), Valejo (2004), Carter-Tod (1995)- “L2 writers may treat their writing center tutors as ‘a type of teacher,’ ascribing to them institutionally superior rather than peer status” (100).

Kim (2009)- L2 are more likely to ask questions

Ritter (2002), Thonus (1999a, b), Williams (2004)- L2 writers think tutor as authority moreso than L1

Blalock (1997), Kiedaisch and Dinitz (1991)- impact satisfaction ratings

Moser (1993)- “ESL students visited the writing center once or twice and then did not return” (100)

Blau, Hall, Davis, and Gravitz (2001), Weigle & Nelson (2004)- L1 tutors as cultural informants/language informants

Hinds (1987)- reader-responsible vs. writer-responsible cultures

Severino (1993b) L2 writers write about their training

Fox (1989)- case study- negotiating talk

Bell and Elledge (2008), Wolcott (1989), Carter-Tod (1995), Ritter (2002)- focus on grammar, idioms

Blau, Hall, and Sparks (2002), Cogie (2006), Cogie, Strain, & Lorinskas (1999), Taylor (2007)- grammar-focus is useful

Thonus (1998), Nakamaru (2010), Severino and Deifell (2011)- vocabulary

Thonus (1998, 2004, 2009), Blau, Hall, & Sparks (2002), WIlliams (2004), Williams (2005), Fox (1989)- explicit vs implicit instruction

Bell & Elledge (2008), Fox (1989), Thonus (1998, 2004), Ritter (2002), Williams (2005), Kim (2007)- tutor authority and dominance

Taylor (2007), Coelho (2011)- vollubility incorrectly associated with dominance

Bell and Youmans (2006), Thonus (1999b), Yound (1992), Wolff-Murphy (2001)- politeness

Graduate Students

Grad students were often coming into the writing center to find their way in new academic conventions. Tutors were able to help writers find their professional identity (106). The writing center became a safe space and allowed validation when tutors were able to understand their ideas (107).

Grad students are often also L2 students, making them extra “different” (107). – Ritter (2002), Powers and Nelson (1995)


RtWC emphasizes the need for the writing center to be open to all, regardless of their “differences” (110). While our writing center is very open to L2 writers, basic writers, and graduate students, the research on writers with disabilities is much more limited and more difficult to find a best practice. RtWC suggests making websites accessible to the visually impaired. Perhaps working with disabilitiy services would be a best practice for this.

Response to Sustein and Chiseri-Strater’s “Observing”




I wrote a sort of field note for reading as I went through this chapter. 


Overall, I was interested in the approach of taking field notes and fully agree with the need to look and look again to see the things you have been conditioned not to see. However, this sort of observational research is very new to me. I am used to seeing research as much more scientific: experiment- and data-driven. It will take a bit of adjustment to understand this as a different sort of science with reliable methods.

Response #4: “The Details? They Matter” (RtWC C6) and “The Writers You Tutor” (Bedford C5)

Chapter 5 of the Bedford Guide offers tips for tutoring special populations of writers, including writers with various learning styles, writers with writing anxiety, writers with basic writing skills, second language writers, writers with learning disabilities, and adult learners. Researching the Writing Center Chapter 6 focuses on details of tutor-writer conversation, including session format, interpersonal interactions, negotiation, politeness, and other paralinguistic features. I am going to look at the suggestions from Bedford for working with second language tutees and compare them to the studies on L2 learners of English in chapter 6 of Researching the Writing Center. 

Bedford mentions multiple times being sensitive of cultural differences which might differently determine ways of presenting, citing, and organizing information. Because of this, they say, tutors might often have to explain rhetorical patterns in English (65). However, several studies in Researching the Writing Center indicate a dominant finding that L2 writers often ask for help with grammar. This also means that L2 sessions are often tutor-centered, because according to Valejo (2004), tutor-centered sessions often result when discussing grammar (RtWC 123). Bedford stresses that grammatical issues dealt with by L2 writers are not uniform; they differ based on the original language (66). However, they also stress working on HOCs before LOCs, even if grammar is the main concern (66). As far as agenda-setting is concerned, the research disagrees when it comes to L2 writers. Thompson (2009) found that agenda-setting was mostly writer-centered, while Thonus (2004) found that agenda-setting was often skipped or shortened (RtWC 129). The Guide suggests asking the writer to summarize what they are trying to say in each paragraph (66). It goes on to caution against giving writers too much information at once (67). One thing I’ve noticed not much research goes into is the effect of the type of content on sessions. For instance, a tutee working with a resume or job application may be more insistent on getting grammar and word choice perfect than one working on an assignment for class which has less focus on grammar.

Bedford lists many best practices for working with L2 writers. Negotiating whether or not the writer is interested in an informal conversation about their paper and taking advantage if they agree is one such practice (68). The Guide mentions that in some cultures asking questions is considered rude, so it is important to encourage question-asking (68). Bedford then suggests giving directions in plain language and checking for understanding, rephrasing your suggestion if necessary (68). This act of negotiation was found to be very complicated in studies by Nakamaru (2010) and Cogie (2006) (RtWC 127). In these studies, misunderstandings often occurred but were sometimes resolved. For some reason, negotiation sequences were shorter with L2 writers according to Thonus (2004) (RtWC 128). A consequence of this, according to Williams (2004), was ultimately less revision (RtWC 128). However, L2 writers were found to backchannel more than L1 writers, with tutees backchanneling more than tutors overall, in Thonus (2002). However, this research was contrasted by Williams (2005), and Thonus suggested that this backchanneling might suggest impatience rather than understanding (RtWC 138). When it comes to politeness of suggestions, Williams (2005) found that tutors used more mitigation with L1 writers and more direct suggestions with L2 writers (RtWC 133). Likewise, Thonus (1999a) found that “L1 tutees and male tutees ‘received more suggestions from their tutors than did L2 tutees and female tutees’ (p. 235), and L2 writers were less likely to receive polite (mitigated) suggestions than L1 writers” (RtWC 134).

Bedford mentions that acting as a scribe can be especially beneficial with L2 writers, because they can get overwhelmed negotiating all the intricacies of speaking, listening, writing, and reading in a session. By writing down the writer’s own words, you can show them that they do have the words to complete the project (68-69).  Interestingly, the Guide also advocates occasionally providing appropriate words and phrases for L2 writers, especially idioms. nakamaru (2010) found that L2 writers often needed help with such lexical issues, but tutors, due to their training, often steered the conversation back to grammar because they were trained not to provide a word for tutees. Ritter (2002) found similar results (RtWC 129). Furthermore, Bedford emphasizes that imitation is a useful tool for working with L2 writers, as it provides them with a model for future works. However, in Valejo (2004), this belief that imitation is enough and tutors do not need to have in-depth grammar knowledge is challenged. Many of the writers in the study wanted directive grammar correction, but the tutors did not have enough knowledge to provide that, resulting in a text-centered session (123). 

Response #3: SWCA Conference

I like very much that the SWCA’s call for papers focuses on diversity in the South and how regionalism, or the lack thereof, affects writing and writing tutoring. I also like how they mention new literacies and how they affect tutors. From the suggested umbrella topics, I would be interested in writing about ELL Writers/International Students and Assessment Practices. I also am interested in the Common Core, but I think creating a research project about it in the university setting would prove difficult. I would very much like to research best practices for ELL writers and conduct a sustained research project on those ELL writers who come into our writing center. I also know from TESOL that very little work has been done comparing L2 English learners to L3 or L4, etc. English learners. I believe that the population of ELLs in our writing center would lend itself to such a study.

The Owl at Purdue stresses the importance of reading the call for papers repeatedly to orient your presentation around the themes listed, as well as to absolutely always meet the deadline listed (October 10, 2014 for SWCA). The proposal should remain under 300 words. The Owl sets up very nicely the structure of such proposals: The first third (approximately 100 words) is an introduction including background on your topic. The second third includes a thesis statement, an explanation of your procedures, and a situation of your thesis within the existing research and an explanation of its significance and originality (this last part by itself should be 3-5 lines). The final third shows the conclusions you will present and some evidence about it. (In the case that you are submitting your proposal before you have completed your research, I think preliminary data and predictions can go here, though the proposal is not as strong.)

The Owl continues, saying you should always consider your audience when deciding how much background information to include. It also mentions that quotes should be limited to two, and citations are not required, though you should mention the author’s name. The Owl also goes over different type of presentations. The type used at SWCA is not clear from the call for papers, and I would be interested to know more! Common pitfalls listed by the Owl include lack of enthusiasm, a broad topic, repeating information, and unclear language.

In “Submitting the Proposal,” the Owl further stresses the importance of e-mail etiquette: you should include a good subject line, a professional body including a short paragraph with your scholarly background, skills, qualifications, and desire to submit. The proposal itself should be attached as a .docx, .pdf, or .rtf format. It should be either double-spaced or 1.5 spaced if needed to stay on one page.