On March 23, 2019, writing center tutors Anna Baughman, Shayna Boisvert, and Molly Fischer and their director, Dr. Brennan Thomas, presented a scholarly panel on tutoring strategies, titled “Macro Trends and ‘Micro’ Decisions: How Internal and External Dimensions Influence Tutors’ Choices,” at the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association Conference hosted by Lafayette College.
The theme of this year's conference, "Reacting, Responding, Reimagining," was inspired by keynote speaker Lori Salem's research study “Decisions . . . Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center?” The study not only identifies various reasons why students choose to visit their institutions’ writing centers but also raises questions about how centers might improve their services and define their institutional ethos.
Such questions encouraged SFU tutors to consider what they do during tutoring sessions and why. Thus, the three presenters examined how various factors, ranging from their personal and academic experiences to situational constraints and students' engagement levels, affected their decisions in different tutoring scenarios.
The first speaker, Anna Baughman, a senior English major and four-year tutoring veteran, discussed how her training and observations of other tutors informed her communication strategies with students required to visit the writing center. "It’s important as a peer to make sure that students don’t feel like you’re there to give them a hard time," Ms. Baughman explained. "You’re just there to provide as much help as you can."
The second speaker, senior English/Philosophy double-major and long-time tutor Shayna Boisvert, examined how her study abroad experiences (including a trip to Italy during her junior year of high school) shaped her empathetic approach toward multilingual writers. "I have come to appreciate that writing is not a one-size-fits-all process,” she concluded, “and that not all ESL students even write the same or want the same outcomes from a session."
The panel's final speaker, senior English/Women's Studies double-major Molly Fischer, also a four-year tutoring veteran, described how she actively involves disengaged students in tutoring sessions to help them recognize their autonomy over their writing. "I know that if I have a disinterested student," she stated, "I can often ask questions about their assignment to engage them more." Ms. Fischer developed this technique from her own tutoring experiences, as she frequently works with students who are uncertain of their roles as writers in tutoring sessions.
The group's panel was well received by the writing center directors, administrators, and tutors in attendance. "These three representatives from SFU did a marvelous job sharing what they do,” Dr. Thomas said. “Moreover, they encouraged audience members to consider why they make certain choices in different tutoring situations, which is a perfect extension of Lori Salem’s research.”
Dr. Thomas will post a copy of the group’s PowerPoint and other presentation materials on the writing center’s resource page later this year. Any faculty, administrator, or staff member who wishes to view these materials before then is welcome to request them from Dr. Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Photo: L-R Shayna Boisvert, Molly Fischer, and Anna Baughman)