A blog for tutors to share their ideas, experiences, and insights.

Author Archives: erussell123

Initially, I was anxious about posting to this blog. It probably took me just as long to write my short, three-sentence long introduction of myself as it did to write my last, much longer post about my research project. I just wasn’t used to this medium. I’ve written my own blogs before (when I was in 7th grade), and even did a project on one for Writing 20. However, those blogs were for audiences I knew, unlike this one. I tried to keep my voice friendly, but professional, which was no easy task. I made sure to reread my posts several times before posting. I sometimes waited a few hours, and then reread the post, before finally putting it online to gain fresh perspective. Over the course of the semester I’ve become more confident about my posts, due to the thoughtful and insightful comments my co-bloggers have made on my post. Even though I haven’t met the majority of you, I feel that a real sense of community exists here in Tutor Musings 2.

If I had been writing for a group of friends, I would have included more inside jokes or personal facts about myself. I would probably post about The Killers and the Cardinals a lot, because that was pretty much the extent of my 7th grade Xanga. The Killers continue to be my favorite band, but I’m glad that this semester introduced me to a new, more productive genre of blogging.

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I’ve decided to research active listening and pinpoint some cognitive and behavioral aspects of listening that can help tutors affectively collaborate with tutees. This project made me reevaluate my own listening practices, and it became sort of “meta” during my tutoring sessions. The tutors who listened to me reading my paper aloud subtlety changed their body language to reflect what I wrote in my paper.

First, I focused on the behavioral aspects of listening, including mental focus. I explained the weakness of the phrase “listen harder.” Through my research I discovered how complex the mental listening process is.

Second, I delved into effective listening body language, which includes: facing the speaker, nodding, rephrasing, and questioning. However, over emphasizing these practices can also seem condescending to a speaker. A tutor must be sensitive to the context of the session and notice how a speaker responds to listening body language.

I’m still not quite sure what to create for my final deliverable though. Originally, I intended crafting a handout that could be used by tutors and tutees. Professor Russell mentioned that I could use “Case Builder” software to create potential situations where tutors write how they would react. This software is much more dynamic and interesting than a handout. I would create a fictional tutoring scenario; focused on listening, and then a tutor chooses from options how they would respond to the situation. Then they could see the “suggested behavior” described in the scenario. This “quiz” I make could then be a tutor-training tool. Would this be a good way to train tutors? Or would another type of deliverable be more effective?


Of course, sometimes using passive voice is necessary to emphasis facts or in scientific writing, but it often detracts from the power of a sentence, and ultimately the paper.  

I recognize this problem, because I am guilty of using passive voice way too much.

If you recognize in a tutoring session that a student frequently uses “to be” forms of verbs instead of active, diverse, and interesting verbs, they are victims of passive voice.  Often these wordy papers lack punch in passages containing passive voice.

As a tutor, you could show the tutee one example of passive voice in their paper and explain the specifics.  Then, you can ask the tutee to underline or highlight all of the “to be” verbs either in a passage or on their whole paper.  This shouldn’t take that long.  You could then work with your tutee to fix a few example of passive voice.  After you make some of these sentences active, the tutee can fix the other examples on their own, and they have already marked the issues, so they will know where to fix the paper by themselves.

Tutor: I’ve noticed that you use quite a bit of passive voice in this paper. Do you know what that is?

Tutee: Nope.

Tutor: Well, some of your sentences don’t have active verbs.  Sometimes passive voice can be used to emphasize certain parts of a paper, but often weighs down a paper with unnecessary wordiness.  

A example of an active sentence:”I threw the ball to Fido”  or “William Faulkner wrote Sanctuary.” 

An example of a passive sentence: “The ball was thrown by me to Fido” or “Sanctuary was written by William Faulkner.”

Do you see why the first sentence has more punch?

Tutee: Yeah that makes sense I guess.

Tutor: To find the passive voice in your paper we can highlight the “to be” verbs. These areas indicate where you have passive voice. Of course, often you use “to be” as active verbs, but generally “to be” verbs are boring and drag down the paper.  So even in the areas where you don’t use passive voice with “to be” verbs you might want to change the verbs if possible.

Tutee: Okay cool. *starts highlighting “to be” verbs and their constructions*


I love French and I’ve been taking it since I was 13.  However, I didn’t learn very much until my senior year in high school.  Our school hired a new teacher, Madame Harig.  She was half Tunisian and half French and grew up in France so she was the real deal.  Often, she would get frustrated with how little French we had learned in the preceding years.   Madame decided about halfway through the year that she couldn’t possibly teach us everything, so it became her mission to brand the structure of a French argumentative paper in our brains.

At first I felt like Madame’s strict structure was stifling my creativity and it frustrated me.  My limited vocabulary already restricted my self-expression in French.  I was upset I couldn’t format the paper in a unique way to showcase my ability.  I’ve later realized that the strict formatting of papers is a common characteristic of French writing instruction, not just for beginning students of the language, but for native speakers in France as well.  Just like I had to translate words and phrases from English into French, I had to “translate” my approach to formatting the assignment into French, or “The French Way”.

When writing in French I had trouble accepting the stricter style for formatting.  English is my first language, but I understand that approaches to writing and style differ in various languages, something I will keep in mind when working with non-native speakers in the Writing Studio.


My mother is an English teacher.  When I was young, she often read my writing.  She used to mark up my drafts and help me revise.  It was never a painless process, mostly because I felt very protective about my writing.  As I’ve grown, I’ve become less sensitive and gained a thicker skin because there is room for improvement in every piece of writing.

However, I specifically remember one time in 6th grade when I was very defensive about my writing.  Our assignment was a personal narrative and I chose to write about a school mixer the week before.  My mom critiqued the organization of my paper.  She suggested that I rearrange some of the sentences to make it chronological.  I got pretty upset.  Tears and everything.  She wasn’t harsh about my paper, but I felt like the essay was an extension of myself, so when she criticized the paper, she was criticizing me.  I actually felt physical pain in my stomach with each new suggestion she made.  Each mark represented another reason why I wasn’t good enough.  I now realize that when she touched on ways to improve my paper, she wasn’t critiquing me as a person.  

Of course I’ve matured and I’m sure most people we tutor will understand that when we evaluate certain aspects of a draft we are not judging them as people.  The tutee can sometimes feel vulnerable in a tutoring setting, because their work being scrutinized.  Writing can be so personal, and we must be cognizant of this fact when reading through people’s drafts. 

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See how well we get along now? My brother was upset he didn’t get a crown though.


Hi everyone! My name is Erin and I’m a sophomore at Duke University.  My love of reading when I was younger naturally led to my interest in writing.  I’ve loved peer review activities in classes throughout high school and college and I’m excited to hone my skills and become a tutor.  I look forward to becoming more familiar with everyone throughout the semester!