DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Tutoring Philosophy:

Methodology by Bearings


            My tutoring methodology changes according to the writer’s location in the process of completing their assignment.  As such, this tutoring philosophy endeavors to take its reader on a journey through a recreation of that process with the hopes of charting that methodology along a linear progression. It documents a list of my priorities as they correspond to the development of an assignment from the formation of a general topic to the editing of a final draft. The greater implications of these manifold exercises will form my definition of a successful tutor by providing hypothetical examples of what I deem valuable to a tutor’s attention. I ignore inter-personal tutor/tutee relations for several reasons. A tutee must determine their own level of participation in the tutorial relationship by bringing to the table those factors that they prescribe importance to. Predicting the many personal factors at play during a tutorial, both those that excite and inhibit the writer, is both impossible and time consuming; moreover, these factors are a distraction to the writer that tutors should not seek to perpetuate.  Outside factors are ‘wild-cards’ in the tutorial arrangement. Like the social identifiers of experience, race, class, gender, or age, we can only guess at the ways they are operating on our interactions. Such speculation can be dangerous. It can lead either party to quick yet faulty judgments. It can cause either party to over-think their actions and thoughts, creating a self-conscious atmosphere that further inhibits productivity. Unlike these invisible, fluctuating factors, the actual writing is the only constant in a tutorial arrangement; thus, it should receive a tutor’s unrelenting attention.


           This simulation begins with a statement of topic and a research question.  Nikolaus Massey came to the writing center with a Focal Point assignment on Moon drawings. He had not started his research, and he had not committed to a thesis statement. Without the former, I knew that we could not proceed to the latter, as the assumptions of a premature thesis statement would unlawfully steer Nikolaus in his research. But I had no intention of cutting the session short. So, we spent most of our time discussing the importance of framing a research question. A good research question should not yield a simple yes or no answer; it should funnel outwards rather than inwards, beginning with such open-ended and non-leading phrases as, “what factors contributed to the evolution of moon drawings,” or “to what extent, if any, did the telescope, relative to other contemporary advancements, shape the evolution of moon drawings?” A good research question should encourage more research, from a wider range of sources, than is ultimately necessary. As said before, it should not project an answer to the topic which it seeks to explore, such as the question “how was the telescope responsible for revolutionizing moon drawings?” This question assumes the telescopes primary responsibility in shaping the research topic. Its phrasing will encourage the writer to overlook other contributing factors to the evolution of moon drawings, such as advances in math, art, astronomy, literature, etc…


           Edie Morris came to our session with a thesis statement for a peace-studies paper about the consequences of unilaterally associating a terrorist group with a specific region of the world, thus damaging the civilian life in the area and recycling resentment, violence, and various forms of backlash. We drew up a long introduction beginning with general claims about terrorism and counter-terrorism histories and gradually climbed down the ‘abstraction ladder’ and moved into our individual case-study. We ended this introduction with a thesis that summarized Edie’s negative attitude towards unilateral association; then, we returned to the beginning of the introduction and deleted all lead-ins that did not directly relate to this thesis. In the end result, the first sentence was a direct and argumentatively-poignant claim equivocally pre-empting Edie’s opinionated thesis. We deleted a paragraph’s worth of introductory erradition.


          Next, we wrote the thesis statement independently on a separate sheet of paper and began discussing it. I asked Edie to pretend that someone else was arguing this thesis to her, when she had never heard of the topic before. I asked her to brainhurricane, and write down, every point that the debater would have to prove in order to convince Edie of the thesis. I asked her to extract these points directly from the language of the thesis itself. Edie made a list of the terms that needed to be defined (unilateral association, terrorism, etc...), relationships that needed to be proven (such as unilateral association begets civilian casualties and civilian casualties in turn beget reciprocal violence), and the assumptions that the thesis was making (terrorists are not representatives for the countries they occupy). She augmented this list with some supporting evidence of specific case studies where these assumptions were proven, and these relationships were played out as described. The end result was an inclusive list of all the landmarks necessary for navigating the effective argument of this thesis.  We arranged these elements logically (defining terms first and then moving through the relational process beginning with a hypothetical initial terrorist act). This arrangement became Edie’s outline.


           Julie Fotchman came to our session with a rough draft of a paper on whether school’s should be allowed to extend their authority to the student’s home for the purpose of monitoring cyberbullying. Although the paper was complete, Julie’s evidence, such as citations of the U.S. constitution from three hundred years ago, was vague and non-topical. We discarded any allegiance to the draft at hand, and put our imaginations together to construct a world where the school’s jurisdiction over cyberbullying extended to all children’s’ homes, and faculty were tasked with the job of sifting through every individual student’s private media. We hypothesized all the dangers that could arise in this world—an inability to restrict a teachers influence to just children, an unprecedented standard for privacy invasion, teachers using private material garnered from social media as leverage over students and parents, exposure of teenage sexual relationships to teachers, and other problems, mostly related to a general blurring of moral and authoritative boundaries.


          Next, we began countering the counter-arguments that Julie was asked to include in her paper, one being the idea that cyberbullying precipitates student suicide. We discussed the complex nature of suicide, how it arises from multiple deep-seated social and, possibly, hereditary factors, of which cyberbullying is onlyone of the former. We discussed the role of parents in regulating social-media activity in their own house, thus fulfilling the role of the schools. Although parents occasionally fail in this role, there are no indicators to suggest the school would do a better job. School regulation continues to ignore the root causes of one student’s desire to bully another. Finally, if cyberbullying were monitored online, we surmised that new and more-secretive social networks would arise to allow student’s an outlet to interact privately once again. We discovered all of these directly-relevent arguments through abandoning allegiance to the previously-written material and using our own imaginations, deepened by the Socratic Method, to create the world of our argument. [1]


          Brianna brought the final draft of a summary of the book Silence to our tutorial. Her writing and organization was strong, having been reviewed several times; therefore, we spent the session focusing on final argumentative tweaks that threatened to alienate certain readers. I told Brianna to avoid assumptions about the way other readers will interpret her subject material, as these reactions are only something we can guess as. Statements such as “any reader will cringe when they read…” or “the details in the sex scene will make you…” are beyond our scope of knowledge as writers. All we have is our own experience, and that is enough evidence for our own paper. We can alienate readers who don’t share that experience when we suggest that is it universal.


         I told Brianna about my idea of the “unnecessary twins,” a very common page-filling technique for writers. The phrase refers to two words that appear in a couplet together, yet are similar enough in their own right to describe both of them. An example of these twins is “explain and describe” or “punish and suffer”. These couplets weaken the writer’s voice by making them appear less confident, and their argument less direct. In this way, they achieve some of the same negatives as passive writing. Additionally, the ‘twins’ offer nothing more to the core idea of the sentence. They erroneously imply that, although one word is not enough, two words are plenty to accurately encompass the entire thought. Lastly, these couplets tend to needlessly over-complicate sentences.  These are just a few examples of the ‘house-cleaning’ points that characterize my methodology in the final stages of the writing process. The key is twofold: avoid alienating your reader, and shoot for conciseness whenever possible.


[1] For another example of my methodology, as it relates to this stage of developing argument, see the third tutor log (with Christiana Raymond) in my tutorial documentation. This tutorial discusses the importance of not making assumptions about your audience, and thus, crafting arguments to cover multiple audiences, such as the liberal, social humanitarian and the money-minded capitalist.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.