Approaches by Mackenzie Leavitt

posted Feb 17, 2017, 2:52 PM by Writing Center   [ updated Mar 14, 2017, 11:37 AM ]
Hello everyone! My name is Mackenzie Leavitt and I am an undergraduate here at UNLV. This is my third semester in the Writing Center, and I am once again grateful for the opportunity to share any insights I may have about what we do here. I hope the semester finds you well.            

When I first began working for the Writing Center, I read a series of articles and essays about utilizing non-directive approaches in tutoring writing. This is heavily emphasized in our training because the philosophy behind our Writing Center focuses on developing the writer’s skills instead of merely trying to help a writer pass a course. As I read the articles, it seemed obvious that it was better to help the writer learn how to write as opposed to telling them what to write. However, when I began consultations, I was dismayed to find that this approach was much easier said than done. I met with writers who spoke very little English and would look very confused when I tried to illustrate brainstorming strategies or teach revision techniques. I realized that it was incredibly easy to fall into the trap of simply telling many of these writer where their errors were and how to fix them. 

However, after two semesters, I think I may be starting to make some progress in understanding the reasons for directive and non-directive approaches in tutoring. Initially, I found it incredibly difficult to avoid using a directive approach with multi-lingual writers who had very little grasp of the foundational elements of English. Students would visit with assignments dealing with complex arguments, while they were still learning the basic elements of grammar and sentence structure. I struggled to help these students without giving them the answers. Over time, I began to realize that the only way any real learning happens is if a teacher is willing to meet a student where they are. 

To put it simply, an approach to tutoring should focus less on fulfilling a theoretical framework of directive or non-directive and more on the needs of the student in that moment in time. This does not mean that a tutor should tell a student what to fix or revise, but it does mean that a tutor should be willing to guide the student both directly and indirectly. Sometimes this means being willing to correct a paragraph or a section of the paper so as to illustrate techniques for improving writing. Sometimes this means pointing out an error and explaining it clearly before asking the student to find similar errors in their writing. Tutoring in this way requires a flexible approach that emphasizes creativity and intuition. 

This may sound vague or abstruse but it is actually quite simple. This is simply thinking in terms of what will most effectively develop the student as a writer. Sometimes that means not getting caught up in whether the approach is directive or nondirective. Each approach has its purpose and place. A student who has little understanding of sentence structure may need a more directive approach and more practice understanding what effective sentences contain. A student with decent grammar but weak ideas may need a less directive approach and tips on how to think more deeply about an issue. It is important to be mindful of what approach you take as you work with students, but it is not more important than the immediate needs of the student, which are usually much deeper than the assignment in front of them. 

This is the real difficulty in tutoring writing at a University: prioritizing the needs of the student over the needs of the assignment. We must remember that we are developing better writers and not better grades. Whether this requires you to be direct or indirect is of lesser importance.

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn these lessons and to share them with others. May you all have a wonderful semester.

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