Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Tutoring as Transformative Work: A Phenomenological Case Study of Tutors' Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

Tutoring as Transformative Work: A Phenomenological Case Study of Tutors' Experiences

Article excerpt

Scholars have noted that both students and tutors can mutually benefit from their interactions (Boquet, 1999). Writing centers are arenas for dynamic and collaborative exchange that is-or should be-an academically enriching experience for both students and tutors alike. However, writing centers will actualize that potential only if dedication to tutor development is strengthened. Though the literature documents some positive outcomes for tutors including camaraderie, growth in writing and social skills, knowledge-building, teaching-skill development, and the opportunity to help others (Beasley, 1997; Cohen, 1986; Langor, 2000; Roscoe & Chi, 2007; Roscoe & Chi, 2008; Wingate, 2001), there is little information about how this happens, how it is facilitated by program administrators, or how these development opportunities are perceived by tutors themselves. A review of the literature reveals some beautiful tutor testimonials and success stories (see Alsup, Conrad-Salvo, & Peters, 2008; Welsch, 2008), and as writing center administrators, we, too, have witnessed the development of personal and professional competencies. However, we found little empirical research on how tutors themselves perceive the role of the writing center in that development.

At times, it seems that the temporary nature of tutor work has turned our center into a revolving door for employees. Thus, administering a consistent and quality tutor training program constitutes a large component of our workload. Tator training materials and curricula, however, tend to frame tutoring in service-oriented terms, solely focusing on benefit to the tutee. We would like to reframe this approach and suggest we shift our focus to tutor development. By advancing tutor development as a personal and professional learning opportunity, rather than mere job training, tutoring may be reframed as a reciprocal process.

Gardner and Ramsey (2005) claim that writing centers need "a theoretical perspective that more productively centers them in the university even as they offer space for difference" (p. 26), but these authors also concede that "key validations of our professional work are hard to find" (p. 36). This article is a response to this ambiguity and an effort to advance new sites of possibility (Weiss & Fine, 2005). If, through empiricism and scholarship, writing centers can illustrate that both students and tutors are experiencing growth and development, growth that occurs uniquely in a tutoring experience, they may be able to expand their academic foci and regard tutors not as mere service providers, but as cobeneficiaries of intellectual exchange.

History and Scope of the Writing Center

Writing centers, though each unique in structure, scope, and mission, are structural staples on college campuses. Carino (1995) offers the most comprehensive overview of writing center history, tracing their 100-year evolution from lab classrooms to independent centers. They originated from and generally maintain the philosophy that conferencing about writing is important for all students; however, new pedagogical approaches in the English curriculum in the 1950s (Boquet, 1999) coupled with changing student demographics in the 1960s (Arendale, 2004) relegated their institutional role to one primarily focused on struggling or remedial students (Carino, 1995). It was changing institutional needs and culture, rather than composition theory or writing center philosophy, that largely reframed what a writing center was and whom it served.

These shifts also brought changes to writing center staffing. Carino (1995) notes that early writing centers were staffed by faculty members, and the tutor was characterized as "someone different from the classroom teacher, as someone with a particular perspective on working with students individually" (p. 111). Though the attributes of this skill set or the requisite education are not specified, it is clear that they entailed "a distinct set of professional competencies that accord[ed] the lab an institutional identity apart from the classroom" (p. …

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