Tutor's Corner

Caring About Preparing

Angela Hotaling

University of Montana Writing Center

Angela became a tutor at the UM Writing Center shortly after completing her MA in Environmental Philosophy at UM. She recently left the UM Writing Center to apply her research and writing skills in a non-profit setting. An eager learner, Angela buoyed the Writing Center tutors’ commitment to becoming better tutors. By example, she pushed all of the tutors to challenge themselves and to ask tough questions about writing tutors’ ethical responsibilities.

As writing tutors we acknowledge that we have responsibilities to students. These responsibilities vary depending on the particular student, but generally, tutors have the responsibility to help students foster good writing habits. Often, the tutor’s ability to assist a student in developing these habits during a session depends on many factors other than the student’s writing skills, or lack thereof. One important factor is preparedness. Preparedness is a value that is practiced with various attitudes and actions that indicate that the student is ready and motivated to work towards improvement. When a student does not bring preparedness to a writing center session, a tutor’s responsibility to the student may need to change to best respond to and help the student cultivate this value of preparedness.

To fulfill the responsibility to help students develop good writing habits, tutors need to be able to effectively communicate with students. If a student brings the value and practice of preparedness to a session, the student will be ready to have a conversation in an academic context. Effective communication is sometimes hindered because a student does not yet understand how to have a conversation in such a context. For instance, there are some students who fiddle with a cell phone for most of the session, provide one-word answers to questions, or simply neglect to introduce themselves when entering a tutoring session. If a student is going to benefit from the tutor’s expertise, the student not only needs to be prepared with the appropriate materials and attitude, but also with an understanding of how to participate in an academic conversation.

In general, a student who has prepared for a tutoring session will bring a certain attitude and will express that attitude with various actions. A prepared student is eager to set goals and accomplish the task at hand. In addition, a prepared student will be polite, available to the tutor’s suggestions, willing to express hopes and needs for the session, and—perhaps most importantly— receptive to being challenged. For example, sometimes students are keen to devise a plan of action for completing the assignment, while others display eagerness with a sincere discussion about worries and difficulties; some simply maintain eye contact and sustain focus. There is no definitive description for this an attitude of preparedness; however, when a student appears uninterested in the session, the writing, or the results, it is often quite obvious that this attitude is lacking.

Preparedness includes both an attitude and actions that express that attitude; it is a practice that develops over time. Thus, there are a variety of behaviors that signify an eager and motivated attitude. For example, a prepared student will arrive promptly, bring a copy of the assignment and a draft of the writing, or will actively demonstrate a willingness to establish and accomplish written goals for the session. The student will be involved in the conversation, consider the options, and be accepting of challenges. Admittedly, most students have not had a chance to discuss ideas and writing assignments before. Understandably, a first year student may not yet feel comfortable in an academic context like the writing center and thus, appear unprepared. In these cases, the writing center session should become a space where a student can rehearse the behaviors that signify preparedness.

When encountering such a student, how should a tutor respond? In other words, is it part of a tutor’s role to help students develop this practice and value of preparedness? I mentioned above that a tutor’s main responsibility is to help students foster good writing habits. The attitudes and actions that comprise preparedness help create an environment that is conducive to the cultivation of good writing habits. When a tutor recognizes an unprepared student, bringing the value of preparedness to the student’s attention may help the student develop habits that are conducive to writing well and growing as a writer. Tutors can invite students to develop preparedness in a variety of ways such as modeling good conversation habits, asking students what they did to prepare for the session, encouraging students to define what they would like to accomplish during a session, pushing students to find reasons to care about their paper topics, or finally, explicitly pointing out actions that students can practice for future writing center conversations.

            Preparedness is one example of a value and practice that is conducive to the development of good writing habits. If a student lacks preparedness or fails to bring it to a session, the tutor’s ability to fulfill this obligation is hindered. Thus, tutors have a responsibility not only to help students develop good writing habits, but to also encourage the practice and value of preparedness. When students are prepared, they are more likely to improve and to grow as writers and as members of our academic communities.