Sarah Peterson Pittock
Middle Tennessee State University
Sandip, an undergraduate writing tutor, grabs a seat in our writing center lounge. Even though Sandip completed the required writing tutor pedagogy class two years ago and excels in his job as a peer tutor working drop-in hours, he looks forward to talking about and reflecting upon his tutoring practice alongside oral communication tutors. He sits next to Shira, a junior and oral communication tutor he has seen around the center and in the dining halls. A graduate student he doesn't know sits next to them and introduces himself as a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology. The chatter increases as more tutors, some of whom Sandip recognizes and some who are unfamiliar, filter in and greet each other. The associate director, Sarah, announces that the food has arrived. Soon, the workshop facilitator, a STEM graduate student who has tutored oral communication for four years, stands up and begins to talk about science communication. The facilitator introduces workshop participants to concepts from writing and communication center scholarship, which they then collectively apply to sample student work in progress, written and spoken. The interactive workshop invites talk within small groups as well as the larger group (see Figure 1). Connections across modes, tutoring pedagogy, and tutor cohorts are found; distinctions elaborated.
|Figure 1. Tutors practice rhetorical listening in a cross-tutor education workshop.|
In 2013, the once-separate speaking and writing centers at our university were combined and housed within a single center for writing and speaking. The Director of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking and the Director of the Oral Communication Program have continued to teach separate cohorts of tutors in separate tutor education courses, however, and students have continued to make appointments with either an oral communication tutor or a writing tutor. Current and former directors, including the two authors of this chapter, recognized the need to support cross-cohort learning, to build community, and to define a cohesive tutoring pedagogy that supports both writers and speakers. While diverse and talented, our tutor community was fragmented and in need of more opportunities to share their tutoring experiences and grow together. We were also looking for ways to articulate and explore the new, shared mission of the center through tutor education.
In order to meet these needs, Hume Center leadership created a workshop series that expands upon the required tutor education courses and invites cross-talk among writing tutors and speaking tutors, facilitating conversation about the shared experiences and values of writing and speaking tutors as well as their distinctive tasks. In the collaborative spirit of writing centers that Kenneth Bruffee, Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford describe, the workshops deliberately include diverse voices that consider multiple modes, encouraging tutors to consider tutor education as a form of open inquiry into the specific needs of listening and reading audiences. These workshops, which supplement the separate tutor training courses, represent the first step toward integrated tutor education at our center (see Table 1).
Yet we wondered whether these supplemental cross-tutor workshops served the professional development needs of both writing and oral communication tutors. This article thus addresses a question that writing center directors face when expanding to a multiliteracy center or joining forces with a learning or speaking center: how might directors craft compelling tutor education that develops the tutoring expertise of tutors across content areas?
We begin to answer this question by first discussing the conceptual foundations that informed our cross-tutor education workshops; we then describe the exigency behind the workshops and our institutional context followed by an explanation of the workshop design and learning goals. After detailing a cross section of workshops, we conclude with an assessment of the series and reflect upon tutor feedback. Our approach to integrating the writing and oral communication tutor communities has deepened our professional conversation on how tutors are educated in our center. We hope our examination of our practices will offer a model for cross-tutor education workshops at other institutions. Writing, speaking, multiliteracy, or learning center directors who are managing mergers or expansions may find our approach useful. Furthermore, student support centers that are considering new approaches to continuing tutor education and tutor professionalization may also find value in our process.
Our tutor education program, which includes the mandatory pedagogy courses, subsequent cohort specific meetings, and the cross-tutor workshops, has been centered on reflective practice, a concept well described in writing tutoring guidebooks. For example, in the St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 4th edition, Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood explain:
A tutor who draws on an experience informed by insight and who cultivates an evolving personal philosophy can bring to the tutoring session the technical skill and creativity needed to teach writing successfully. This approach suggests a reflective practice, one in which the tutor views rules as guidelines and guidelines as avenues to further refinement of aptitude, or know-how. The know-how of good tutors comes from a willingness to reflect on their efforts and to keep learning. (9)
In the recent Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors, Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta make a similar claim, arguing that reflection during and in between sessions is crucial to becoming a tutor-researcher (52). They introduce the term "tutor-researcher" to capture the spirit of inquiry that motivates successful tutors. They further emphasize the importance of "a learning culture" that supports the co-learning of writers, tutors, and administrators, a culture that our center has worked to support (Geller et al., qtd. in Fitzgerald and Ianetta 51).
In literature about preparing tutors, the education of writing tutors and oral communication tutors has largely been discussed separately. In their 2012 "Best Practices in Communication Center Training and Training Assessment," Rhonda Troillett and Kristin A. McIntyre note that "current literature is limited when it comes to understanding staff education in communication centers" (257). Their survey sent to the national listserv begins to fill this gap. Their small study (n=29) found that most communication center directors train their tutoring staff through experiential activities, informal shadowing, and self-directed education. While the article acknowledges a "tell" component to the education—directors instructing tutors in what they need to know about tutoring and oral communication either through handbooks, online modules, or assigned readings—the content of this instruction is not made explicit. Oral communication and writing tutoring education "best practices" align in their use of experiential learning strategies such as role play and shadowing (Troillet and McIntyre 233). Just as we have observed about writing tutor education, self-reflection also plays an important role in oral communication tutor education (231).
Indeed, writing tutoring pedagogy has often been used to train oral communication tutors. An example of this approach can be found in Communication Centers: A Theory-Based Guide to Training and Management. In it, Kathleen J. Turner and Theodore F. Sheckels begin their discussion of oral communication tutor education with a brief history of writing centers and writing center theory. Their description of oral communication tutor education includes some well-established writing center tutoring doxa: the work is collaborative and Socratic; tutors should avoid "commenting negatively on the professor or the assignment" or offering a potential grade on the assignment; both the center and tutors play a role in pushing back against the ever present "fix-it shop" identity imposed by the institution and faculty with "good intentions" (Turner and Sheckels 53; Grimm, Good Intentions). Ultimately, they rely on the five rhetorical canons as a framework for tutoring oral communication. At times, the authors come close to identifying the limitations and affordances offered in the different communication modes—writing and speaking—but avoid examining and complicating the intersections between tutoring and communicating in the different modes. However, one salient intersection often addressed in both writing center tutor education scholarship and communication center scholarship is the anxiety writers and speakers experience during the composing and delivery process. Misty L. Knight, Karen G. Johnson, and Frances Stewart, for example, investigated ways to reduce speech anxiety, training oral communication tutors in writing center pedagogy because "the foundation of a good oral presentation is a well-written speech" (31). In their study, speech tutors were expected to read The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, attend six hours of tutor education, attend bimonthly tutor education meetings, and participate in an additional 3-hour education seminar in oral communication (Knight et al. found that group tutoring in oral communication improved students' speeches and reduced their anxiety in delivering speeches). As their study indicates, writing and speaking tutors can benefit from cross-training.
We agree that a "well-written speech" is the basis for an effective presentation and that familiarity with writing tutoring pedagogy can enhance the tutoring of oral communication tutors. Our cross-tutor education workshop series begins to identify particular rhetorical elements of a "well-written speech" that are generalizable to other situations and genres as well as the composing processes that might serve both writers and speakers. In this way, our approach is similar to that advocated by Casey Malone Maugh in "The Combined Centers Approach: How Speaking and Writing Centers Can Work Together." Tutor education in their center took a "holistic approach to communication" that first addressed "global issues" such as thesis, argument development, organization, and voice (180). But we also depart from Maugh in a significant way; Maugh says the center "extracted tutoring from the context of speaking or writing by focusing globally" (180). Although our education likewise emphasizes what we might think of as universal communication tutoring strategies, we kept our eye and ear firmly on the specific demands of "the context of speaking or writing," i.e., the distinctive needs of a listening or a reading audience that became salient as writing and speaking tutors compared their experiences. For example, an oral argument composed for a listening audience may need a simplified organization, whereas a written text can afford to spend more time on complex theoretical frameworks that a reader can circle back to at will.
Our cross-tutor education workshops encourage conversation between writing and speaking tutors so they can expand their knowledge of tutoring. In their description of writing center methodologies that build new knowledge, Sarah Liggett, Kerri Jordan, and Steve Price identify "practitioner inquiry" as a way to for writing center practitioners to "examine an issue carefully through internal and external dialogues, not only seeking affirmation that ideas and interpretations are 'true' but also considering them carefully against those of others who might disagree" (57). By collecting tutor experiences and reflections, "practitioner inquiry" offers pragmatic ways to measure the workshops' value and effect on tutoring practices. Moreover, when we invite the perspective of a speaking program, we critically assess our tutoring practice in order to extend and enhance writing tutoring orthodoxy (Geller et al.; Shamoon and Burns; Harris). In other words, by inviting oral communication experts into the development and design of tutor workshops, we can see writing center tutoring practices through new eyes; the reverse is also true as writing tutoring professionals can help oral communication tutors view their practices through the lens of writing center pedagogy.
Designing Cross-Tutor Education
In 2016-2017, the writing and speaking directors agreed to pilot shared professional development opportunities for all our tutors. Our tutoring staff is large--we have 130 tutors on the payroll--and is composed of undergraduate and graduate students as well as lecturers who also teach full-time in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric; few tutors tutor more than four hours per week, partly because of the compressed nature of the tri-quarter system (the academic year consists of three 10-week quarters). After they are hired, all undergraduate and graduate tutors take a required, quarter-long course the spring before they start tutoring in the fall, but as of publication, the writing tutor pedagogy course and the speaking tutor pedagogy course remain separate. The writing tutor course focuses on writing center theory, writing tutor practice, a genre-approach to specialist writing, and discourse community analyses. The speaking tutor course focuses on issues common to the speaking tutorial: oral and visual argument, volume, accent, pacing, gesture, and effective ways to share feedback.
Both courses emphasize reflection (see Lisa Cahill et al.'s, and Julia Bleakney's chapters in this volume affirming reflection as an important component in tutor education). For example, writing-tutors-in-training reflect on the readings and tutoring observations in their individual blogs. Likewise, the oral communication-tutors-in-training write a number of reflective pieces answering open-ended questions such as the following:
Finally, both the writing- and oral communication-tutors-in-training write a statement of tutoring philosophy at the end of their respective courses to synthesize their learning with their personal tutoring goals.
After the initial mandatory writing tutor pedagogy course and the initial speaking tutor pedagogy course, the writing tutor and oral communication cohorts continue to meet separately throughout the academic year to discuss issues specific to their cohorts (e.g., the undergraduate writing tutors are the only tutors who work on a drop-in basis, so discussions of managing unpredictable demand for tutoring are confined to their meetings, whereas the graduate writing tutors work on an appointment basis and have different concerns). But until the cross-tutor education workshop series was piloted, these cohorts never met together during the academic year, which to us meant missed opportunities to build community and facilitate a shared language. Moreover, the lecturers who work in our center do not take the tutoring pedagogy courses and rarely interact with the other cohorts.
We decided pedagogy workshops open to all the tutoring cohorts on topics of common concern were a promising place to begin formulating a more cohesive tutor education program. We brainstormed a variety of cross-tutor education workshop topics that considered the separate tutor pedagogy courses, the expertise of lecturers and advanced graduates, and the consistent education needs of Hume tutors given our local institutional culture. For instance, we knew that all tutors could benefit from thinking more deeply about what it means to listen and to practice their listening; we thought it might be valuable for a professional psychologist to teach writing and speaking tutors about the psychological dynamic of communication anxiety; and we knew that both sets of tutors might appreciate learning strategies to support writers' and speakers' invention and arrangement of ideas.
Once we had brainstormed a list of potential workshop topics, we then drafted outcomes for the workshop series. In the 2016-17 academic year, we drafted the following learning goals for the tutors. We intentionally wrote broad goals as we were piloting our cross-tutor workshop series (See Figure 2).
In brief, we hoped that our cross-tutor workshop series would expose novice and professional tutors alike to new conceptions of learning, tutoring, and rhetoric.
Then, the associate director, Sarah, plotted the selection and sequencing of the workshops. Because our school is on the quarter system as opposed to semesters, it seemed valuable to think about each quarter in terms of themes that the individual cross-tutor education workshops might reflect and develop. Fall quarter was devoted to "Tutoring Talk" in order to reinforce and investigate best practices; winter to "Tutoring across Difference: Discipline, Genre, and Mode" to support more specialist tutoring; and spring to "Reflection" more broadly, looking back in order to look ahead. We strongly recommended students attend at least one of three or four workshops per quarter and invited them to attend all. These are paid professional development opportunities, and at times can include food, especially when scheduled for two hours near a mealtime. Since this is part of the ongoing tutor education program, we pay tutors to attend, which signals to them that we value these workshops and their time. We also ask tutors to RSVP to the workshops. Cohort-specific meetings and cross-tutor education workshops were scheduled across the quarter to give tutors as many opportunities as possible to reflect on their tutoring in timely and productive ways.
Before the second week of each quarter, we worked to solicit workshop leaders, schedule the workshops, reserve rooms, and write catchy workshop descriptions for our center newsletters that go out to all tutors each quarter. Hume Center administrators and oral communication lecturers were not the only ones to lead workshops; experts inside and in proximity to the center contributed to the workshop series, sharing the labor involved in planning and facilitating. We were fortunate to convince a few of the Hume Center's graduate tutors (one of whom previously worked in book editing and two others who were STEM graduate students), an academic technology specialist, and a psychologist to craft and facilitate workshops specific to their area of expertise.
Four Elements of Cross-Tutor Education Workshops
We worked to standardize the approach to the cross-tutor education workshops to ensure some consistency of quality and experience across the series. Each cross-tutor education workshop typically includes four elements. (See Figure 3.)
1) Theoretical or scholarly framing.
All workshops are informed by interpersonal communication theory, writing center theory and philosophy, or communication center theory. To invite inquiry, workshops begin with an introduction to a scholarly debate or a theoretical term/concept, typically summarized by the workshop facilitator(s). A critical lens or opening can defamiliarize tutoring and composing moves and practices in fresh ways that invite conversation and a closer look. We want to be neither prescriptive nor boring. Our goal is to enhance pedagogy, and beginning with the theoretical or a scholarly foundation allows us to hold deeper conversations about practice.
2) Self and center assessment.
Most workshops include a moment that asks tutors to assess their tutor education and tutoring on the particular topic. Implicitly or explicitly, we ask tutors to answer: What are we/am I already doing well? What can we/can I do better? Answering these questions reinforces effective practices and identifies immediate growth opportunities that make the workshops more purposeful. Further, workshops and subsequent discussions are contextualized to the Hume Center and our students. Just as all communicative practices are situated locally, so should our tutoring practices be. Finally, we use a holistic approach to examining our tutoring practices, including spatial considerations, institutional identity, and student demographics. In other words, we consider the ways in which the center and the practices within inform and are informed by the institution in which we function, the space in which we tutor, and the students we serve.
3) Multimodal activities.
Activities encourage tutors to investigate the theory pertaining to a particular skill and create time to practice that skill. Our goal is active learning that sticks. To that end, generally after the theoretical framing, we may engage in brainstorming or small group discussions, or we might practice our tutoring. We encourage the use of note-taking, mind mapping, and other forms of collaborative writing. We end with a large group discussion where we share out from the small groups. The workshop will typically feature a slide presentation or other multimodal text, and participants leave with a handout.
Finally, every workshop invites tutors to compare and contrast oral communication and writing tutoring practices. This comparison often emerges organically as writing and oral communication tutors are mixed in small discussion groups, but it is also often invited explicitly as we ask tutors to discuss the affordances and limitations of writing and speaking. Considering how one would tutor in another mode contributes to tutors' understanding of these affordances and limitations, a process which then enriches their tutoring because it requires empathy and de-centers their own practice.
Cross-tutor Education Workshop Descriptions
During the 2016-17 academic year we offered the following cross-tutor education workshops (see Figure 4):
Fall: Tutoring Talk
Winter: Tutoring Across Difference
Scheduling conflicts or preferences meant that we could not always keep to our quarter-specific goals, outlined above, though the Fall and Winter workshops did largely address Tutoring Talk and Tutoring across Difference, respectively. In the next section, we describe six cross-tutor education workshops we ran in academic year 2016-2017. We elected to discuss these six more fully (two within this text and four in a linked document) because they are representative in some way: they highlight a value the oral communication and writing tutors share (inclusivity), a skill that both writers and speakers need to compose effective, credible academic arguments (argument, arrangement, rhetorical reading, and voice), and a common challenge for generalist tutors (science communication).
Our "Inclusive Tutoring" workshop was inspired by Elizabeth Kleinfeld's 2016 IWCA presentation entitled "The Inclusivity Audit: Identifying and Grappling with Borders, Boundaries, and Frontiers." Kleinfeld detailed the inclusivity audit she undertook, with the help of the center's advisory board, at the writing center at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Our goal for this workshop was to define tutoring values both writing and oral communication tutors share and to learn from each other what it means to be inclusive. Therefore, we asked tutors to consider similar questions to those Kleinfeld and her team considered:
We began the workshop with framing from Rasha Diab, Tom Ferrel, Beth Godbee, and Neil Simpkins' "Making Commitments to Racial Justice Actionable," which emphasizes the value in the process of "collective interpretation of narratives—that is, testifying and processing together..."; the process identifies ways we can be more inclusive and also creates a moment to commit to collaborative action towards shared goals (24). As Kristina Aikens details in this collection, some writing center accepted practices are rooted in a particularly white conception of literacy and thus reinforce racial biases (Diab et al.; Grimm, "New Conceptions"; Inoue). We then introduced design thinking as a methodology to identify ways to mitigate potential obstacles students may face that would prevent or dissuade them from visiting or returning to the center, including racial biases. Briefly, as defined by the founder of the global design firm IDEO, David Kelley, design thinking is a problem-solving process that moves through the following steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test (Kelley & Littman; Kelley & Kelley) (see Figure 5). In our workshop, we moved through the first three. Design thinking is a fairly quick process that focuses on solutions and action; therefore, the different steps of the process only take 5-10 minutes. We placed erasable white boards around the lounge, provided tutors with markers and sticky notes, and created small groups of 5 or 6 tutors.
|Figure 5. Visual of the design thinking process.|
We began the first step, empathize, with the following questions:
We left this last question open to include encounters that were interpersonal, spatial, or digital. In the next step, define, participants prioritized their list of possible obstacles, organizing them according to what they felt were the largest or most pressing obstacles. After five minutes, we moved on to ideate, problem-solving ways to allay obstacles students may face.
Tutors identified or defined obstacles from lack of signage to the center's stairs to students feeling vulnerable. They considered how it would feel to have limited mobility and encounter stairs immediately after opening the front door. They contemplated the process in which some students must engage to overcome their vulnerability to make that first appointment. Finally, they also thought about that first moment when a student sits down next to a tutor whose presentation of identity may be totally different from the student's. The productive small group read-out, focused on problem-solving, was also a moment for tutors to not only reflect on their own practices, but to do so by considering how others tutor in different modes. Further, because of its focus on identity, action, and inclusivity, the final large group discussion also weaved in an examination of multimodality within tutoring sessions, e.g., if students are more comfortable speaking because their writing has been harshly judged by a professor, offer them the option to talk through their ideas in a writing session; if they are particularly introverted or feel self-conscious hearing themselves speak, offer the option to work in print as needed in a speaking session. Tutors offered solutions such as holding tutoring where students congregate, such as in dining halls and community houses. Much of the discussion focused on how tutors welcome students into a session and thus emphasized best practices in starting both oral communication and writing tutoring sessions. One sticky note declared that tutors can and should help students "know you are not alone!" (see Figure 6).
|Figure 6. Sticky notes created by a small group at "Inclusive Tutoring" workshop.|
Our final step was to emphasize that inclusivity is an ongoing process to which we have committed as a community and invited all to contribute to the ongoing conversation and action. We finished on some final questions: "What actions will we take to be more inclusive, as a space and as a practice, so that all students feel welcome and expected? What actions will we take collaboratively, as a center, and individually, as tutors to help all students feel welcome and expected?"
Most writing and speaking tutors are surprised to learn that we may also be in the business of tutoring reading. The "Rhetorical Reading" workshop was designed to help them see how we're already supporting student reading practices and to inspire them to do more. It promised to help tutors diagnose an oral or written argument, such as inadequate evidence or undeveloped stance, as a reading issue. It was also designed to show tutors how to help writers and speakers think about their source texts and images strategically, building their rhetorical reading skills. (The Spring 2017 issue of WLN devoted to reading in the writing center richly addresses these same tutoring challenges and opportunities.)
First, tutors answered the question, "when are writing and speaking issues related to reading?" Tutors quickly came up with drafts that are "data dumps," summary statements that neglect the main idea of an argument, and written or spoken arguments that fail to convey an independent assessment of a source. Tutors also noted that students often struggled to read their assignment prompts and drafts carefully and critically. Primed with these tutoring challenges, shared by writing and speaking tutors alike, tutors were ready to turn their attention to a handout on reading pedagogy. Prepared by Sarah, the handout offered a taxonomy of approaches to teaching reading and composition simultaneously and asked tutors to consider whether they are asking writers and speakers to "read like a writer/speaker," "read critically," "read mindfully," or "read rhetorically." Even as tutors productively resisted some of the categories, this series of terms from pedagogy scholarship helped them assess their tutoring practices through new lenses.
Most tutors felt that when they discussed models in the tutorial, they were asking tutees to "read like a writer/speaker" and that when they were exploring ways tutees can frame an argument, they were encouraging them to "read critically." Drawing on the work of John Bean, Virginia A. Chappell, and Alice M. Gillam, Sarah defined rhetorical reading as rhetorical genre analysis in light of a writer's or speaker's purpose. The discussion then moved to how tutors might support writers' and speakers' rhetorical reading. Tutors quickly came up with a host of wonderful strategies. The tutor might
The workshop was only 60 minutes, but if given more time, tutors could have practiced some of these techniques in role play. They might also have considered how to facilitate a conversation with tutees about schemas such as Mark Gaipa's or Joseph Bizup's that help writers and speakers think rhetorically about their sources. Tutors agreed that both writers and speakers must use their sources rhetorically, though speaking tutors felt that they less frequently addressed source use in their tutoring sessions than writing tutors do.
To access descriptions of four more workshops, click here.
Assessment of Tutor Learning
In order to assess the workshops' learning objectives, we surveyed workshop participants. At the end of the year, we recruited participants through a formal call on our tutor listservs, asking students who attended one or more of the workshops to offer feedback. We gathered surveys (N=15) from 8 writing tutors and 7 oral communication tutors. Based on sign-in sheets which captured most participants, approximately 75 unique users attended the workshops over the year, which results in a 20% response rate. We also wanted responses to represent the range of the eleven workshops facilitated during the academic year 2016-2017, and we received at least two responses per workshop, with five workshops receiving five or more responses. Our survey was a mix of 5-point Likert scale questions and open-ended questions. The Likert scale questions addressed the format of the workshop and the usefulness of their content. (In an unfortunate error, our Likert scale labels were not symmetrical.) The open-ended questions prompted respondents to consider the concepts and tutoring practices covered in the workshops, identify those they put into practice or used to inform their practice, and describe how they did so. Finally, the survey prompted respondents to consider if the workshops facilitated a new sense of what it means to write and speak or to tutor writing and speaking.
Cross-tutor education workshops were consistently attended, averaging 14 participants per workshop, suggesting that our workshop topics and descriptions effectively anticipated tutor need and interest. Survey results further indicate that tutors generally appreciated the content of the cross-tutor education workshops because they developed tutors' rhetorical and tutoring repertoires. Although some tutors were somewhat less certain that they folded workshop strategies into their tutoring practice, the majority reported having used strategies discussed in workshops with writers and speakers who come to our center. Finally, survey respondents agree that the cross-tutor education workshop series helped build a stronger tutor community in our center. See Tables 2 and 3 for a summary of responses.
In addition to tutoring pedagogy, our workshops presented rhetorical concepts that support the invention and revision strategies of both writers and speakers. The definition of rhetorical strategies was useful to respondents, with 11 (73%) agreeing or strongly agreeing that they used the rhetorical concepts from our cross-tutor education workshops in their tutoring. For example, one writing tutor reported using Toulmin's parts of argument after we presented it in our "Approaches to Argument" workshop. Another found the discussion of generic rhetorical moves--Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion--in the "Tutoring Science Communication" workshop applicable to her tutoring. And an oral communication tutor appreciated the way a workshop leader distinguished between editing, copy-editing, and proofreading and brought these concepts and practices into his tutoring practice. Finally, another oral communication tutor reported that the way we opened up the idea of voice in our "Cultivating Voice" workshop was something she kept in mind as she tutored.
Out of 15 respondents, 14 (93.3%) agreed or strongly agreed that the presentation of tutoring strategies was useful; 12 (80%) reported actually using the tutoring techniques in their tutoring. For example, one oral communication tutor became aware of the importance of "having a more open conversation before launching into tutoring." A writing tutor directly referenced the exercises in our "Rhetorical Listening" workshop, reporting, "I find myself listening even more attentively during tutoring sessions and actively avoiding filling in blanks or pauses. Instead, I allow the tutee to get there on their own and then I know for sure what they are attempting to say." Others reported bringing in composing activities practiced in the workshops to their tutoring practice; for example, working with sticky notes to distill and arrange ideas. And yet another writing tutor says, after participating in the "Rhetorical Reading" workshop, "I knew how to ask questions to get students to reflect on their reading practice/habits/comprehension." We see these responses as evidence that tutors are developing the complex practice of reflection that will then inform practice and tutor identity. "The workshop on inclusive tutoring helped to drive home the important function tutors can serve by letting students know they belong to a broader supportive community that extends beyond their instructors and classmates," said a writing tutor.
Some were able to articulate connections among the workshops. For instance, one writing tutor could see the ways an inclusive tutoring practice supports distinctive iterations of voice, issues discussed in separate workshops: "I learned that it is important to make students feel more confident in their unique voice, and that you don't want to over-correct quirks that are unusual but not incorrect because they actually add character. In my tutoring, I have noticed myself correcting odd metaphors, and then backtracking to acknowledge that while it is unusual, it is expressive and I like how it adds personality to their writing."
They also reported they learned something new about writing and speaking. For example, in a workshop on "Supporting Anxious Communicators," a writing tutor came away with the following:
[T]he workshop leader spoke about how writing was like climbing Mount Everest—its difficulty is part of what makes it so rewarding. This helped me to reframe my understanding of good writers and comprehend how as I gain skills and awareness of what constitutes good writing, it seems to become harder and slower for me to write. I am attempting to climb a higher mountain than I had set my eye on before, and I should consider the positive aspects of being more ambitious rather than lamenting my loss of the ability to write a paper freely and loosely without worrying about its structure, clarity and conciseness.
Furthermore, the cross-tutor education workshop helped build the tutor community in our large center. Out of 15 respondents, 14 (93.3%) agreed or strongly agreed that learning from tutors in other cohorts was enjoyable. One oral communication tutor reported, "The cross-tutor education workshops are very informative, but more importantly, they create an atmosphere of camaraderie and help to re-inspire us as tutors." Our assessment does not include the perceptions of those who did not respond to the survey nor those who did not attend the workshops; their views may differ from those presented here. But according to those tutors who were able to attend the workshops and who responded to our survey, conversations across difference spark renewed interest in tutoring and in writing and speaking.
Future Plans for Cross-tutor Education Workshops
We hoped the workshop series would enhance our staff's tutoring repertoires and develop their rhetorical knowledge, specifically their understanding of multimodal composition processes and their awareness of the affordances and limitations of writing and speaking. Based on survey responses, we feel all the workshops created the space for tutors to reflect on and extend their practice. We will continue to experiment with the frequency, timing, and themes of the workshops in order to reach as many tutors as possible. For example, we hope to make the rhetorical canon of delivery a more consistent theme throughout the series as its relative emphasis is what most markedly distinguishes oral communication from writing tutoring. The oral communication tutors are most often called upon to give feedback on a presentation in its final stages, on a rehearsal. In this scenario, students are generally worried about pacing, gesture, and memory, rhetorical challenges that were generally not addressed in our cross-tutor workshop series. Still, delivery was often at issue in our workshops. Clips from speeches were analyzed and the needs of a listening audience foregrounded. Thinking about clarity in speaking helped us define clarity in writing. Moreover, the oral communication tutors seemed to appreciate learning more about tutoring technique and oral argument, issues that get less attention than delivery in the mandatory oral communication pedagogy course they take upon hiring.
Because of the continued desire to integrate the writing and speaking programs within our center and because the cross-tutor education workshop series has been the most significant site of integration of the two programs at our center, we will continue it into the foreseeable future. We expect to repeat the most foundational workshops, such as "Rhetorical Listening," as well as the most popular, such as "Supporting Anxious Communicators." We also look forward to piloting new cross-tutor education workshops. For example, we would like to develop a workshop that helps tutors experience the ways their non-verbal communication may be contributing to or detracting from their tutees' learning and another that builds tutors' understanding of rhetorical grammar. We will seek further partnerships with units outside of the writing and speaking center that can bring their expertise into our conversation about tutoring. Whether center directors are reaching out to collaborators across campus or developing a relationship with a recently joined learning center, they can identify partnerships that can result in broader cross-tutor education. The Office of Diversity, for instance, can help us more finely describe inclusive tutoring practices. And we will continue to survey tutors to learn what areas of interest and concern writing and speaking tutors share and to invite them into the process of planning and facilitating workshops. Finally, as we revisit and revise our workshops, we expect to draw more explicitly from the theories that inform communication across the curriculum, and consider ways our experience speaks to and can learn from a Communicating Across the Curriculum framework.
While our cross-tutor education workshop series has met many of our programmatic goals and has found a popular following among the tutors, it has also revealed that we need more robust assessment of the program. For example, we might survey tutors immediately after the conclusion of each workshop; these results might then be compared with a survey that asks tutors to reflect on the series at the end of the academic year. In this way, the impact of the workshop might be measured in the short term and longitudinally, in terms of tutors' immediate takeaways and the application of the learning to their tutoring practice. Perhaps more importantly for us, oral communication and writing tutor learning might be compared and contrasted. We can compare what oral communication and writing tutors value most and ask them why they hold these values. Assessing programmatic goals might help us understand more fully how oral communication tutoring contributes to writing tutoring and vice versa. As Bleakney notes, ongoing assessment should be a key component to tutor education, and we agree that assessment should be prioritized.
Our cross-tutor education workshop series explores what approaches to writing tutoring pedagogy support oral communication tutoring; it also investigates the ways oral communication tutor education might enhance writing tutor education. Even as the workshops reinforce writing center tutor education doxa such as the importance of reflective practice, active learning, and ongoing tutor professional development, in their spirit of openness, workshops facilitate collaboration between once-separate programs. Understanding the practices of another set of tutors and why they engage in such practices offers the opportunity to look at our own practice with new perspective. Writing center directors who are contemplating expansions or mergers with other tutoring centers, whether they are digital media, reading, or multiliteracy centers, might begin with a collaborative workshop approach to tutor education.
As one oral communication tutor stated: "I really enjoyed sharing tutoring strategies with other tutors across centers (writing vs [oral communication]). I found that[,] even though we were working with different styles[,] we often encountered similar problems and the strategies for solving them work in both scenarios." This tutor explicitly identifies the pragmatic, solution-oriented, cross-cohort dialectic as a valuable takeaway from the workshops, which reinforces a shared language and shared practices. Although our tutors continue to tutor writing or speaking exclusively—due to contractual constraints—they do so with greater awareness of the tutoring work in other cohorts, understanding that writing and speaking are separate but interrelated arts.
In this workshop series, the shared mission of the center is made visible in a way that it often is not. After meeting in the lounge to reflect upon their practice, tutors find community, solidarity, and new understanding about their work, the support of rhetorically aware writing and speaking. We wish to end with a tutor's voice because it highlights both the practical and conceptual value of the cross-tutor workshop series. This tutor's response demonstrates the meta-multiliteracy we had hoped to cultivate at the beginning of this project; that is, the awareness of the distinctive demands of reading and listening audiences as well as the rhetor's possibilities. The tutor values her understanding of the other cohort's work and then identifies ways this knowledge will find its way into the tutoring session:
I love [the cross-tutor education workshops]! I really appreciate that writing and speaking are both framed as expression with more overlap than difference. I believe that is true and I also believe it is helpful to remind tutors of this so that we can remind our tutees that a paper is a story as much as a presentation is, and a presentation has a structured argument like a paper.
Her response shows us that in designing, giving, and revising the workshop series, we are working toward a more cohesive tutor education program, one that might further integrate our center and the tutoring we offer the students who come through our doors.
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We'd like to thank Doree Allen, Director of the Oral Communication Program, for collaborating with us on the cross-tutor education workshops and for sharing her workshop materials. Jenae Cohn, Meredith Course, and Alex Dainis also generously shared their workshop materials. We thank our tutors for their dedication to their professional development and for their feedback. Finally, we thank all our readers, Cassie Wright, Julia Bleakney, the anonymous reviewers of WLN, and this volume's dedicated editors, Ted Roggenbuck and Karen Johnson.
Erica Cirillo-McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org) directs the University Writing Center and is a faculty member in the Department of English at Middle State Tennessee University. Previously, she taught writing and rhetoric courses for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University, where she also served as the Assistant Director of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. Her research and teaching interests include writing center pedagogy and praxis, feminist rhetorical theory and praxis, and archival research methods. Her scholarship has been published in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, the Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies, and other edited collections.
Sarah Peterson Pittock (email@example.com) is an Advanced Lecturer in Stanford University's Program in Writing and Rhetoric. From 2013-2018 she served as the Associate Director of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. Currently, she coordinates Writing in the Major and directs Bing Honors College.