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

Tag Archives: Duke University

I was hesitant to blog at the beginning of the semester. I consider myself a fairly private person, and so the thought of sharing my thoughts on a public forum with strangers across the nation freaked me out (to put it lightly). I actually felt a lot like this guy…

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So it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I didn’t just jump into the blog – I read a lot of posts before I published my first. The experience of reading people’s posts made me feel more comfortable with the idea of blogging. I realized that none of us are too different from one another. We come from diverse backgrounds, different schools and modes of learning, but, at the end of the day, we’re connected by our mutual interest in improving not only our own writing but also that of others. I mean, why else would we take this class?

As the semester wore on and the blogging continued, I fell into a sort of rhythm. I had new post alerts sent to my email, so I could read every one. I was fascinated with the things people wrote. Some I could identify with while others opened me up to a perspective or situation I had never previously imagined.

Because writing in the blogs was an academic assignment, I strove to maintain some semblance of academic form though I didn’t want to come across as too straight-laced or boring. By writing from a personal point-of-view and relating my posts to my thoughts or my experiences, I found that I could be both casual and academic.

I’m extremely glad to have had this blogging experience. It’s helped me think about tutoring in a more holistic way. Just like I’ve read and processed multiple blog posts, some from strangers and some from friends, so too will I need to read and process papers and thoughts of writers during my future tutoring sessions. So thank you, everyone, for helping me along my process to becoming a writing tutor. I wish everyone the best of luck in their future roles as writing tutors!

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I’ve decided to make my final project a deliverable about verbal and nonverbal “best practices” for UWTs when tutoring. In my research I came across quite a few studies that talked about “politeness theory” and its effectiveness in tutoring relationships. Politeness Theory, coined by social psychologists Brown and Levinson, suggests two types of politeness that can be employed to “save face” (the “face” being someone’s self-perception and self-confidence) and build strong, positive relationships quickly. These two types are positive politeness and negative politeness… **Negative politeness, you say? How can that be? Isn’t that contradictory? ** by positive and negative, Brown and Levinson denote the type of situation that is being mediated. For example, positive politeness techniques would be used when meeting the tutor for the first time, etc…. Something that wouldn’t potentially “threaten face” of the tutee. Negative politeness techniques are used to mediate potential threat in tutoring situations like revising a paper, suggesting a change, etc. (anything that could make the tutee feel self conscious about their writing or writing skills). 

So… what are examples of these positive and negative techniques, and how can they help me as a UWT??

POSITIVE techniques include light laughter/joking, smiling, eye contact, agreement, avoiding disagreement, and attending to the tutee. These are often considered “common sense” when meeting someone new. 

NEGATIVE techniques include minimizing imposition (I was hoping that… ), being indirect, using modals (would, could, should), forgiveness (Sorry but can I please..), and vagueness. These take effort “above and beyond” normal interactions between two strangers, but do a great deal of good when approaching sticky topics like poor paper content, lack of organization, lack of clarity, etc. 

The studies I researched suggested utilizing negative politeness strategies most when first working with a tutee, as it is important to establish a relationship where the tutor feels comfortable expressing weakness and vulnerability as a writer. By minimizing hurtful imposition on the tutee’s skills, they will be more willing to take risks and make changes as a writer (and therefore make the session successful). 

At your next session, try being extra aware and careful with the way you phrase recommendations, comments, and suggestions to your tutee. Your kindness could make all the difference in how the tutee things about tutoring, the writing center, and themselves as a writer in general! 


When I enrolled in this Writing Tutors class, I sincerely believed that I would be able to contribute to UWT by appealing to undergraduates interested in science and foreign students from Chinese speaking countries. Why? Well, I’m Chinese and I like science. However, I slowly realized that my future tutoring sessions may not go in the way that I expect if I maintain that mentality. Whenever, I attempt to speak Chinese to our foreign students, they would always talk back in English. That was weird because I thought that they would speak in a language that is more familiar to them. An incident that I experienced a weeks ago involved a foreign student commenting about my “lacking grammar”. That…was…interesting. However, I came away from that conversation with a new perspective of tutoring; one that is based more on mutual understanding than a typical tutor/ tutee relationship. These individuals are taking the initiative to come to me for assistance. That act exemplifies the hierarchy of the tutor/tutee relationship. There is no need for me to make premeditated assumptions. I have to be the professional and give the writer sound honest advice. I am not supposed to make assumptions and biased argument. This applies not merely to Chinese and Science oriented writers but to all writers. I am to look at the whole picture: student and essay. The student does not reject American culture but rather embrace it. We should encourage them to continue to do so.

American culture is less of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30HsgKTkQ68

And oddly….more of this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR8logunPzQ


Maintaining Control

Until last week, I had never formally been tutored in writing. The writing studio tutoring session began as I would imagine most do. I read my paper aloud while Zack, my tutor, followed along on his own copy, making slight notes here and there as we moved through the paper. When I finished reading, we addressed the issues I felt needed to be addressed. Zack didn’t bring up any concerns outside of ones I had already voiced. In fact, I don’t think I can actually pinpoint a specific instance in which he exhibited any sort of control over my text. Maybe it happened coincidentally that he and I both noticed the points of my paper that needed attention. Even so, I feel like Zack truly understood that “tutors need to be aware of the rhetorical complexity – both interpersonal and intertextual – that any given tutorial can entail” (153). He was very good about showing me how to fix my paper instead of fixing it for me. He asked me questions that made me think instead of just giving me the answer.

 For instance, in one paragraph of my paper, I tried to incorporate a metaphor. While I love reading and analyzing metaphors, I’m not great at writing them. Mine was weak and forced. It would’ve been so easy for Zack to tell me to scrap the metaphor, but he didn’t. Instead, he helped me see how the reader might be confused by the metaphor. We then worked together to brainstorm the different directions in which I could go: I could’ve omitted the metaphor entirely, or I could’ve shortened it. I could’ve reframed the metaphor, or I could’ve left it as was.

Never did Zack try to force me down one path or another. Throughout our session, I constantly felt like I was in charge of my paper and that any changes I made would be of my own accord. To answer the prompt more directly, I would say that authority and control were never an issue in my tutoring session. I was very lucky to have a tutor who so accurately understood how to give me the guidance I needed without imposing his opinions upon my text. 

I put together a short Prezi to help map the tutoring session I shared with Zack. In it, I’ve included a “before and after” look at the paragraph and metaphor referenced in my post.