I’ve worked as a writing tutor at Suffolk for a number of years, at Second Language Services and now at CLAS. In my experience, students often don’t really know what they want from their tutorial, or how they can prepare for and participate in it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: there’s no one “right” way to approach a tutorial, and going in without an agenda can lead to pleasant surprises. But there are also steps you can take to ensure that your tutorial is as productive and helpful as possible. Let’s talk about them:
Before your tutorial
In a way, your tutorial starts long before you set foot in CLAS. With that in mind, plan ahead! Don’t wait to make an appointment until the last minute. Once you’ve made an appointment, carefully consider where you most need help. With a critical eye, review your professor’s comments, relevant assignments, and the work you’ve done so far. Highlight particular places in your assignment where you have issues or questions. Write any important questions down, just in case you forget them during the tutorial. Also, if there’s a specific issue you know you need help with—MLA citation, for example, or comma usage—try to research and work on it prior to your tutorial. That way, you’ll be able to work with your tutor to address any difficulties or misunderstandings.
What to bring to your tutorial
Always, always bring the handout for the assignment you are working on, so that your tutor can gain a clear understanding of what you need to do. He or she might be able to clarify questions you have about the assignment, or whether you are on the right track. Knowing what your professor is asking for, your tutor will be able to offer you better advice.
If you can, bring a paper copy of your writing. While we can work with laptops as well, it’s much easier to underline, circle, make notes and write questions on hardcopy. Typing corrections on screen tends to be time-consuming, meaning that more time is spent making changes than thinking about your paper.
Aside from that, bring anything you think might be useful for reference, especially readings and notes. Class notes and outlines can be great for brainstorming, for instance, and often it’s helpful to have your primary texts there for easy reference too.
When your tutor asks, “What do you want to work on today?”
Occasionally, you truly need help only with grammar. But most of the time, there are (as they say) “bigger fish to fry.” How confident are you in your argument? In the clarity and cohesion of your main ideas? Are there places where you aren’t sure about your organization? Does your introduction or your conclusion need work? Even if grammar is the main thing you want to work on, think actively about the assignment and the writing challenges you face. Don’t be afraid to tell your tutor your thoughts.
In your tutorial
Remember: tutors are not proofreaders. Our job is to help you become a better writer. This means that you need to take an active role in the tutorial, rather than just waiting for your tutor to mark errors. Be the one holding the pen and writing down notes and changes. Look for ways to improve and corrections to make. Ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand. Most of all, be prepared to think hard—about your assignment, and about how to improve as a writer.
After you leave
Right away: write up notes from the session, such as changes you plan to make, or reminders to yourself. If you can, start revising right away, while everything is fresh in your mind! That’s the surest way to ensure that the things you’ve learned in your tutorial will stay with you. After you’ve had time to work on revisions, you might want to schedule a follow-up appointment. We look forward to seeing you at CLAS!
Iain Bernhoft, Tutor