“Establish Your Own Voice”: An Ethnographic Vignette of A Tutoring Session

As I reflect back to the days as a former writing tutor at UMBC, I have had countless sessions where the tutee and I reached a break-through in the session. Either, they found a way to convey their thoughts better or found a stronger argument for their paper, an “ah-ha” moment was fortunately experienced. Below is a scene from an actual tutoring session that I had between a student and myself.

Thirty minutes before my appointment on a Monday afternoon, I check my schedule and realize that I will be tutoring my first ELI student. As I am walking to the library to head into my station of work, I think to myself how I imagine the session to be like. I think to myself how a lot of my previous tutee were all native English speakers who just needed my help in their papers. However, in this session, I will finally be exposed to diversity and a new kind of experience.

I look at my phone and see that the time is 12:27 pm. the session is suppose to start at 1 pm and last until 1:30 pm. So, I start getting my utensils and materials ready on my table in preparation for my session.

It is now 1:30 pm and a young lady of Asian descent walks over to my table with a smile on her face. Once tutee came to my table, she pleasantly greets me and tell me her name was Kim. I then tell her to have a seat wherever she will like. Once seated, I then ask her what we will be working on today, to which she kindly asks for help in proofreading her ART 216 final paper.

After this introductory stage of asking her questions about the paper, I then proceed to ask her if she has ever been to the writing center before. She then repllies that she has one time previously. After this realization, I then tell her, “Since you’re a familiar with the writing center, can I ask you to please read our paper out loud? We will then go over your problems or concerns once you’re done.” She then kindly replies, “sure”, and we then begin the process of helping her somewhere around 1:35 pm.

As Kim was reading her three paged paper about the description and significance of Old European paintings, I make some personal notes on a notebook paper by me. Once Kim finishes reading her paper around 1:45 pm, I dive right in with some of the main points that need to be address. Using the sandwich method, I first compliment her because she did do a good job of developing her body paragraphs. However, I proceed to tell her that at some parts of her paper, it was hard understanding what she as trying to say. She then agreeably nods her head yes as I am explaining my evaluation of her work. By this, I infer that she as well felt that communicating or translating her ideas to Standard English was a little hard for her.

Despite this issue of concern, I want to put her at ease by assuring her that many people as well have this problem of getting their ideas from their minds and into the paper. I also assure her that her problem is fixable with practice and a just the way you would normally communicate ideas. At this point, Kim happily was nodding her head in validation that I could help her. I then proceed to tell her that a technique she could use when trying to convey her words in papers better is to first say them out loud as how she wanted them to be understood. She then agreed to do so.

Now, it was about 1:50 pm and I pointed out several sentences to her that seemed unclear to the reader. When I then ask her, “what were you trying to say?’”, I undeniably realize that she had a firm understanding of what she was trying to her. To me, she is able to verbally translate her ideas much better that what appeared on her paper.

After this breakthrough, I tell her not to try too hard to sound “smart” or “extra sophistated” in her paper. I believe that the problems we read in her paper can be fixed if she would take the time to just say what she wanted to say out loud. With this being said, we then go sentence by sentence in her paper, re-phrasing her words.

It is now well past 1:30 pm, I want to finally bring the session to a close by asking her if this technique is beneficial and if she can do it on her own for future papers. Kim replies to me, “Yes, you really helped me.”