Observation #1


I met Tyler* for a tutoring session in the writing center last week.  As I handed him my writing he mumbled, “Now, where’s my red pen?”

Nightmares of grammar Nazi teachers’ past came rushing back to me and I prepared for the worst.

I gave Tyler a paper copy of a blog post I wrote on minimalist tutoring and collaborative learning.  I wondered, who would be the pro here?  The experienced tutor? Or the well-read tutoring scholar?

Tyler read through my paper out loud, which was different from other tutoring techniques I’ve studied.  In Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences, Donald McAndrew and Thomas Reigstad suggest the tutor read a student’s paper only when the student is not comfortable reading aloud.  Tyler chose to read it himself right off the bat.  To hear voice and tone is the objective of reading out loud, say McAndrew and Reigstad.

“Is the voice you hear in the piece the one you expect to hear?” they advise tutors to ask students.  I was  able to answer that question myself, without Tyler ever asking it.  It was easy to track the flow of my writing by hearing his voice.  Any stumbles or pauses he made signaled areas where my punctuation or word choice needed work.

Lisa Ede describes writing as a social process.  Reading aloud simulates that social act of exchanging verbal messages.  It is the closest thing to having a “conversation” with an imagined audience.  Language is, after all, “an oral phenomenon,” according to Walter Ong.

Tyler read my paper without much struggle.  In one or two places he’d lose his breath reading a run-on sentence, or mix up the words of wordy phrase.  I learned a simple rule to follow for future writing: words written have to be easy to read out loud.

In the typically solitary act that is writing, the voice I hear reading my work is in my head.  It reads effortlessly, as easily as I typed the words on the screen.  Hearing someone else read my writing put the audience’s internal “voice” in perspective.

When he was done, he gave me the tutoring advice and criticism he had saved for the end.  He commented on my use of the word “to.”  Many of my “to”s were unnecessary, because of something about “prepositions.”  I had never noticed how “have to” could be replaced with “must,” or how “has to own” could be simply replaced with “owns.”  It was a note-worthy piece of advise.

Something else about “infinitives” and “definitives” caught my ear, but I mainly remembered the final approval he gave me for writing a good paper.

“Yeah! It’s good.”



*Name has been changed.



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