[ Back to Theory to Practice Main Page ] [ Back to Winter 2004 Essays ]



Why Are There So Few Male Writing Tutors in the Writing Center?
Kelyn Dillon

Why are there few male writing tutors in the Monroe County Community College Writing Center? This question immediately came to my mind as I surveyed the room at the first Writing Fellow Meeting of 2004. I instantly became curious as to the reasons behind the male to female ratio in the Writing Center, and the difference in methodologies of tutoring for females and males, which lead to my inquiry in this paper. Many MCCC Writing Fellows responded to a questionnaire I prepared. The questions included: 1.Why do you think there are more females than males in the MCCC Writing Center? 2. Do you like the current ratio of males to females, if so why? 3. If not, what do you not like about the current ratio and how would you change it? Female tutors may be more abundant than male tutors in the Writing Center because female tutoring styles may be more cohesive to writing center procedures, but most tutors have a natural tendency to adopt male tutoring techniques. Gender tension in the Writing Center will arise due to accepted societal gender roles. Many of the students who come to the Writing Center are female, so the genders of the tutors may be a complete representation of that population.

Female and male tutoring techniques are almost completely opposite. One tutor wrote, “There’s a difference in how the [two] genders learn. I think there are more [female tutors] because women don’t mind talking to get an answer, whereas men come up with solutions” (Dillon, questionnaire). Male methods of tutoring and educating are more directive. Also, male pedagogy involves little collaboration, focused on negativity, and is sometimes incongruent with the Writing Center mission (Welsch, lecture notes). A tutor with a male pedagogy, or method of tutoring, is more likely to point out mechanical errors and become known as a grammar cop. A tutor who responded to my questionnaire wrote, “I personally think males are more likely to want to ‘fix’ a student’s paper than females because they are taught to try to fix problems rather than just talk about them” (Dillon, questionnaire). Female pedagogy is based on conversation. Depending on the particular writing center, this collaborative style may be more congruent to the Writing Center’s mission. Female pedagogy uses dialogue, exploration, and a sense of community. This method also focuses on the student and is more likely to honor the student’s writing (Welsch, lecture notes).

Female pedagogy is cohesive to MCCC’s Writing Center procedures. The writing tutors at the MCCC Writing Center take pride in the collaborative style of tutoring. The basic pedagogy of the Writing Center is to guide the student toward an answer by using the Socratic method. The Socratic method involves the tutor asking open-ended questions to a student to help the student assess his or her writing obstacles. In this manner, students are able to own their writing assignment and therefore write better. If a student owns his or her paper, he or she is more likely to want to improve the paper.

Female tutoring is helpful in several ways. A tutor who responded to my questionnaire wrote, “ I believe that females are more interested in the minor details of everything in their lives and this includes writing. Women are also more expressive when it comes to their feelings and generally tend to write better” (Dillon, questionnaire). If women are more expressive with their emotions and write better than males because of emotional expression, women tutors would also convey those properties when assessing a student’s paper. Because of the emphasis on dialogue and collaboration, many students are better able to gather and absorb information. Also, female methods of tutoring are best for students who want holistic involvement from the tutor. A student is more likely to feel as if he or she is special after the session. Female tutoring techniques can, nevertheless, be problematic. The MCCC Writing Center imposes a time limit of thirty minutes for all non-research papers and sixty minutes for all research papers. Female pedagogy is more likely to fill the time requirements, but there is also a risk of running out of time. This happens due to the Socratic method. Female pedagogy relies on the Socratic method to teach students about writing. Also, there is a risk that the important topics will not be discussed with female methods of tutoring. The tutee or tutor may stray from the task at hand because of the flow of conversation. It is the tutor’s job to help keep the student focused throughout the tutoring session.

Male pedagogy, compared to the female tutoring technique, is more objective, and it has some advantages. Unlike female pedagogy, the male tutoring style is less time consuming. Instead of asking questions to guide the student to the answer, a male tutoring style immediately points out the flaws in the student’s writing. This method keeps the tutor and tutee focused on the topic. Also, the male method of tutoring provides reliable concrete help for the student (Welsch, lecture notes). Male tutoring strategies, however, may also have problems. It is not the best method for students seeking holistic involvement from the tutor. The only subject of the session is the student’s paper.

Tension in a writing center may be caused by pre-conceived gender roles. Some of the unique problems that arise when there are two genders in a writing center include a female or male student who flirts with a tutor, or a male student who consciously seeks out a male tutor because of sexism (Welsch, lecture notes). Asking for a tutor, to a male student, is like asking for directions. Male students are less likely to take advantage of the writing center because of the negative image that the writing center portrays. Also, female students are more likely to use the writing center tools as a first option, whereas males saw the writing center as a last resort after receiving poor grades (Wright, par 15).

Female pedagogy is more cohesive to the MCCC Writing Center and focuses on the student. Male pedagogy is more objective and tends to focus on the student’s paper. There are harmful effects for each method of tutoring, so a balanced female to male ratio in the Monroe County Community College’s Writing Center will improve the program. There are varied reasons males are overlooked for tutoring positions in the Writing Center. The gender population of the Writing Center may be an accurate representation of the gender population of the college. Also, female students may find the Writing Center methods of tutoring, in relation to their own learning style, more helpful. Whatever the reason for the gender population at MCCC’s Writing Center, the program still stands as a helpful tool in the learning process.

Works Cited

Dillon, Kelyn. Questionnaire. Apr. 2004.

Welsch, Kathleen A. et. al. “Center for Tension: Gender and the Writing Center.” The Many Faces of the Writing Center. ECWCA     Conf. Seton Hill University, Greensburg. 2 Apr. 2004.

Wright, Robin Redmon. “Real Men Don’t Ask for Directions: Male Student Attitudes toward Peer Tutoring.” InfoTrac OneFile.     Michigan E-Library. 4 Apr. 2004<>.

Comfort is the Key
Tennery Hicks

Do traditional or non-traditional students make better tutors? Traditional students are defined as students who attended college straight from high school, while non-traditional describes people who waited a significant amount of time after high school before attending college. Both traditional and non-traditional peer tutors bring unique skills and talents to a writing center environment. While both may be equally qualified to tutor, many MCCC Writing Fellows admit to having a preference for one or the other when they are in the role of the tutee, while others look only to the skill of tutoring rather than the age of the tutor. MCCC Fellows have reasons that they choose one over the other; however, many of their reasons are based on personal comfort.

In the fall of 2001, Writing Fellow Vicki Dembinski, author of “Traditional versus Non-traditional Students,” found that most tutees were comfortable with any age tutor (par. 8). This seems to hold true for MCCC Writing Fellows as well. While many stated a preference for a same-age tutor, most would be comfortable with any tutor who seemed knowledgeable about writing and exuded confidence (par. 5). While any tutor can be successful, there seem to be a few differences among traditional and non-traditional tutors in both method and knowledge area.

Traditional students offer many potential advantages to the traditional tutee including recent academic involvement, same-age comfort zone, and a lack of preconceived notions. Because traditional students came straight to college from high school, tutees believe that their knowledge of current MLA and APA formats will be more accurate. According to a survey1 conducted at Monroe County Community College among Writing Fellows, traditional tutors are only slightly more likely to be more knowledgeable about format problems than non-traditional tutors. Most used very little MLA format in high school, and when they did, it was not strictly adhered to. Another area of possible misconception is that traditional students will know more about what instructors want. This did not prove true. Any student, traditional or non-traditional can have knowledge about a certain instructor or college requirements. All Writing Fellows have been in college at least one semester before they can become tutors, so everyone begins on the same basic tutoring level. Some fellows may have been in school longer, but all have some recent education. In the end, this was irrelevant to tutor’s preference for traditional or non-traditional, which was based almost completely on comfort level.

According to my survey, approximately 36 percent of the traditional tutors polled prefer a tutoring session with a same-age tutor because they feel more comfortable. This “comfort zone,” as it is referred to by many of the tutors, seems to be a prevalent concern. As Veronica Terry, a current senior Writing Fellow and traditional student, wrote in the survey, “[I would rather have a] traditional [tutor] because I’d rather be in a physically equal conference where it is comfortable for both parties” (Hicks). The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring does not offer divergent strategies for either group; however, there is information on the importance of putting a tutee at ease and making him or her feel comfortable (Gillespie and Lerner 28). Much like tutees’ preferences, comfort level and ability to relate are important factors in tutor preferences. Surprisingly, the same number (36 percent) of traditional tutors prefer a non-traditional tutor because the traditional student feels more “taken care of.” According to Andrea Poteet, a senior Writing Fellow and traditional student, “I feel more comfortable and taken care of with a non-traditional tutor because I feel like they know what they are doing.” This could be due to most tutees regarding the Writing Fellows as a form of teacher instead of a peer. In reality, peer tutors are just that: peers. No matter what age they happen to be. While non-traditional student may have the same type of preference as traditional tutors about same-age tutors, it is for different reasons.

Non-traditional students offer advantages like real-life experience, well-developed people skills, and more current topic information. Because they have been in the non-academic world before attending college, their knowledge about current events and their ability to deal with others effectively has had time to develop. The majority of non-traditional Writing Fellows stated a preference for a non-traditional tutor.

When the non-traditional Fellows were polled, 62 percent expressed a desire to be tutored by a non-traditional tutor, while 38 percent expressed no preference. None of the non-traditional students chose specifically to be tutored by a traditional tutor. The issue of comfort level arose in the non-traditional surveys as well, but topical knowledge and people skills were other reasons for having a preference. One continuing theme throughout the survey was that non-traditional students had the advantage of more real-life experience which would give them an edge when dealing with people. Jackie Monroe, a non-traditional senior tutor at MCCC, summed up the majority of remarks when she wrote in the survey, “experience and patience” as skills at which non-traditional students excelled (Hicks). Marie Strang, another non-traditional Writing Fellow made the observation that, “The traditional student tended to fit the student to the teaching method instead of finding the best method for me as a student” (Hicks) This diversity is one of the strong points of the MCCC Writing Center program—a tutor for any preference—because both traditional and non-traditional tutors can be found in most writing centers across the United States.

Although either type of student can be peer tutors in a writing center, traditional seems to outnumber non-traditional at most institutes of higher learning, according to a poll of ten colleges and universities across the United States. For example, Shelly Powers, assistant director at the Undergraduate Writing Center for the University of Texas at Austin, reports that only seven of their 94 tutors are non-traditional students. The numbers are smaller at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah, but they are much closer. Out of the nine peer tutors at the college, five are non-traditional and four are traditional. A further decrease was found at Dakota State University who only employs six tutors, five of whom are traditional students. The Writing Center at Monroe County Community College consists of 11 non-traditional tutors, 11 traditional tutors, and 12 who chose not to answer. Obviously writing talent can be found in any age group. Traditional and non-traditional tutors are both valuable to the peer-tutoring program for different reasons and both bring skills and experience that are helpful to tutees. But all tutors must be careful not to allow their personal preference to influence a tutoring session. Ideally, both traditional and non-traditional tutors should be careful to put aside their personal preferences so as not to influence student tutees that come into a writing center for help. If a tutee senses discomfort for any reason from the tutor, he or she may also be uncomfortable.

Clearly, feeling comfortable with the physical presence and level of knowledge of a tutor is important. The other skills and talents that different tutors bring to a writing center pale in comparison to the importance of feeling that one can “relate” well to the tutor. Age, education, depth of experience, or quality of a tutor’s people skills are of little consequence if he or she has a good working knowledge of writing. Basing one’s preference for a tutor on the age of the student is limiting; moreover, a tutee might miss an important opportunity to meet someone who would understand his or her writing style best. When deciding on the qualifications of a tutor, tutees must try to eliminate the age requirement and then decide on the best tutor for the writer based on other criteria such as knowledge of the topic and availability of the tutor. Using this method will help eliminate the prejudices that still abound in writing centers about what group is the better tutor.

1This survey was created by Tennery Hicks. It first determined the status of each Writing Fellow as a traditional or nontraditional student. It then questioned each fellow about his or her preference for a traditional or non-traditional tutor and why. It also asked if he or she had ever been tutored by one or the other, if it was a successful session, and why. Each fellow was given a survey by placing the survey in his or her writing center folder during the month of March.

Works Cited

Dembinski, Vicki. “Traditional versus Non-traditional Students.” Monroe County Community College Writing Center Website. Fall      2001. 4 Apr. 2004. <>.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, 2000.

Hicks, Tennery. Questionnaire. Mar. 2004.



Theory to Practice Paper: Reading Makes Better Writing
Don Manderville

One of the most important ingredients for good writing is good reading. It is a fact that the best writers are avid readers. As one reads one begins to see how writing is done. One begins to pick up the tricks of the trade. A person’s vocabulary greatly increases as he reads as does his grasp of the minor nuances of the English language. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary are intimately entwined with reading. Reading is how we learn about writing. Reading also helps a writer acquire the knowledge necessary to write a paper. When one researches the topic for an assignment good reading skills are a must. If the writer has poor reading skills and comprehension, it will show in the paper.

As a Writing Fellow at Monroe County Community College I have had numerous students who come into the Writing Center who have been tearing their hair out in anguish because they have a paper due and they just cannot reach the required word count. These students often have undeveloped paragraphs that cover potentially important topics with insufficient detail. These paragraphs can easily be “fleshed out” or expanded upon. All the writer has to do is grab a book on the subject and take a few more notes. This is when good reading skills come into play. If a writer is a good and active reader, he will be able to locate important points in a text and properly expound on them. When I am faced with a tutee experiencing this problem, I often ask him to go to the text book for the class. I then help the student look up the topic in his brief paragraph, and have the student read it while taking notes. This is called active reading. Active reading allows the student to keep track of his thoughts as he reads through a piece instead of trying to write it all down later when he is done.

Active reading is often a sign of avid readers. It makes good writing because it teaches the writer how best to gather information during the research process. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring has a similar strategy to active reading dubbed strategic reading. Strategic readers have a large list of methods to analyze and understand a text. Many poor readers just reread a text they don’t understand. This may work occasionally, but chances are if one did not get the meaning of the text the first or second time, he is not going to get it any better the third time through. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring describes several other techniques that go beyond simply rereading a text. First on the author’s list is looking up definitions. A good reader will usually look up words he does not understand. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the meaning of a word by using context alone. If this is the case, it is usually wise to look up the definition for the word that is giving the reader trouble. Another strategy they mention is writing summaries. A text can be more understandable and memorable if it is rewritten in the reader’s own words. They also mention taking breaks or changing the environment in which one is reading the text. A reader may be having trouble reading because he has been reading for a long period of time and is tired. A quick break, 10 to 15 minutes, is an easy remedy for that. There are many other strategies, and a reader develops them over time. The only way to learn them and learn how to use them is to read more (Lerner 106).

Until now we have only talked about reading skills as a way to better gain information. There is more to writing than just research. A good writer must also have a sound grasp of every element of the English language. Vocabulary, grammar, and spelling are all equally important. Without these conventions mastered, no number of facts will make a good paper out of a bad one.

Vocabulary can set the tone for an entire piece. It has the power to address a certain audience and to exclude another. Popular novelist Stephen King attributes a good working vocabulary to extensive reading (King 110). As a writer reads more, he sees new words or new uses for old words. The writer is able to look up words that he does not understand, and these words can now be assimilated into the writer’s vocabulary.
Grammar and spelling are also two of the most fundamental skills for writing. If the grammar and spelling are incorrect in a paper, there is an effect on the reader. The errors immediately discredit the writer. A reader thinks that if the writer does not know how to write, he probably does not know what he is talking about either. As with vocabulary these are both best learned by reading.

While any type of reading is beneficial to good writing, a little bit of bad writing can be more valuable to read than any good reading ever could. When one reads bad writing, the reader sees what not to do. Beyond this, the reader sees why not to commit a particular error (King 140). It is much easier for a reader to pick out what is bad about a text than what is good about it. This makes it easier to determine what specifically makes up good writing.

When a person reads good writing he often picks up that writer’s style (King 141). If someone is reading a lot of suspense books, his writing will most likely consist of short clipped sentences. A Hemingway addict will write with a long string of simple sentences and a limited vocabulary. In contrast a devotee of Faulkner will write long (but hopefully still grammatically correct) sentences and large block paragraphs. No writing style is necessarily better than any other, just different.
It is important that a writer read just as many good books as bad. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King says, “Good writing…teachers the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling (141). While the bad ones will teach a writer what not to do, the good ones teach the writer how good writing should look. If a writer reads only the bad books and learns what not to do, but not what to do, he is left with nothing to write. Hemingway once said, “Write what you know.” With this in mind it is important that an aspiring writer knows good writing.

Reading and writing are intimately related. Reading is a way to practice and learn about writing. When one reads he is learning, both from the masters and the hacks. There is no book written that a good reader who aspires to be a good writer cannot learn something from. The best authors are all avid readers and it shows. Those writers who do not read generally produce mindless drivel. It is important that as Writing Fellows we stress the importance of reading, both as a way to better research a topic and as a way to write better overall. Writing is dependent on reading.



Nonverbal Communication in Writing Centers
Melissa Maxwell


Nonverbal communication may be the most important part of communicating in a writing center. People communicate using posture, facial expression, and behavior without saying a word. Many people base expectations on these nonverbal cues that affect the outcome of a tutoring session. When a tutor takes control of the messages he or she sends out, it increases the success of a session. Tutees also send messages through nonverbal communication, and tutors should use nonverbal communication as a tool to cater to a tutee’s needs. Body language can also affect a tutee when it comes from a tutor. In a way, Writing Fellows are selling their writing center. If they do not take extra effort to send out positive messages to students, these students are more likely to have a negative experience and may never return. Body language is everywhere in writing centers, and tutors should change their own behaviors to create a positive learning atmosphere.

There are a variety of ways to communicate non-verbally. Posture, facial expression, and overall behavior contribute to messages students send each other. Dennis Coon, a psychologist, says “facial and body gestures…speak a language all their own and add to what a person says” (459). Bad posture, such as slouching, is usually a sign of disinterest. If someone taps his or her foot on the floor, it often shows restlessness or boredom. However, not all signs of nonverbal communication are negative. Smiling conveys happiness and lightens the mood. Likewise, nodding while someone is talking suggests that a listener is truly listening. Sitting upright and facing the person spoken to sends a more positive message than slouching and facing away from the person. Even when someone’s words say one thing, his or her actions may say another. For example, if I watch a friend open a gift and he makes a face, even if he says that the gift is wonderful, the face he makes has a stronger impression. This also applies in a writing center. Either person can see when the other has a negative attitude. It is important that tutors remember they are sending messages, and they should try to send positive messages rather than negative ones.

Positive body language can increase the success of a session. Since students who come to the MCCC Writing Center are usually nervous, Writing Fellows should make an effort to sustain positive body language. “Eye contact, accompanied by a smile gives…the impression the speaker is happy to be there” (Chaney, l. 17). It is important that tutees know tutors are happy to help. In the session I mentioned earlier, the tutee was very nervous. By making her feel welcome and making sure I listened actively, I eased her nervousness. Once I had welcomed her, she calmed down and we were able to focus on the session. The confidence she gained as I listened to her and nodded in agreement helped her have faith in both her ability and her paper. When a tutee sees that the tutor is interested, he or she is more likely to hold interest as well. For example, when a professor is droning on or shuffling through papers, it is easy to lose interest, but when that same professor is interested in his or her own lecture, it’s much easier to stay involved. If a tutor sees a tutee that is not interested, he or she should try to make the session more exciting. In the beginning, a tutor can try to get the student to focus on his or her paper. During the session, the tutor might ask the tutee questions to keep him or her involved. If the tutor senses a tutee losing interest, the tutor could ask tutee where she thinks she needs the most help in writing her paper. By focusing on what she thinks is important, the tutor gives control back to the tutee and engages her.

When someone interprets body language, he or she creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When someone expects a certain outcome, his or her behavior changes to create that outcome. The author of “Great Expectations, Great Results” maintains that, “beliefs play a significant role in boosting performance” (Connellan 155). If a tutor assumes a session is going to be unfocused because the tutee seems fidgety, it is likely that it will be unsuccessful. In the same way both parties use nonverbal communication, both tutors and tutees are capable of self-fulfilling prophecies. Because of this, it is important that tutors maintain positive nonverbal behavior, such as good posture, smiling, and active listening. The tutee will see this positive behavior and expect a successful session. If a student comes into a writing center and sees a tutor frowning or sighing, he or she will assume that the tutor has no desire to be involved in the session and will not be helpful. While tutors cannot expect tutees to purposely exhibit these positive nonverbal cues, they can check their own behavior to be sure that they send positive messages.

Noticing a tutee’s non-verbal communication can help a tutor create a better atmosphere. Anyone working in a writing center has encountered a student who was uninvolved, bored, or anxious to leave. It is important to notice these clues so tutors can try to gain the students interest. If a tutee begins a session checking his or her watch every two minutes while slouching, the tutor should make the session more interesting. By using nonverbal communication skills, tutors can create a more positive atmosphere in the writing center. However, sometimes students are interested, but they are simply nervous. A shaky tone of voice and fidgeting are both signs of nervousness. When seeing these in the writing center, tutors should try to calm the tutee by being friendly. Tutors can try to have a friendly conversation, ask about the direction the tutee took in writing the paper, or anything that will help ease into the session. Another technique to help put these students at ease are I statements. For example, “Sometimes your topic sentences don’t match the rest of the paragraph. I have trouble with that, too. Here’s what I do when I’m finished to check to make sure everything matches.” Telling tutees that tutors have the same problems will help tutees feel less insecure about their own writing. They feel that if a Writing Fellow has the same problems, it must be okay to make mistakes, as long as they are corrected.

Nonverbal communication can come from the tutor and affect the tutee. When students first come into the writing center, they are not sure what to expect. If a tutor always greets students with a smile and pays genuine attention to them, they are likely to be at ease throughout the session. One particular student I tutored seemed very nervous. She was very friendly and arrived early, sitting in the waiting area and shuffling papers around in her backpack when I approached her. She seemed interested, but very nervous. When I introduced myself, I smiled and invited her to the table. She started telling me about the assignment and I stopped writing on the report form to look at her. She had to write an argumentative speech arguing against her beliefs and was worried that her arguments were weak. I began to think that was the reason she was so nervous about the assignment. The rest of the session went well; after I had genuinely listened to her, she seemed a lot less worried about the assignment. When she saw that I agreed with her about the difficulty supporting an opposing viewpoint, she felt more confident about the assignment. I identified the problem as something I personally had trouble with, and she felt less insecure about her writing. Nonverbal communication can affect a session in other ways. If I had been staring at the clock, tapping my pencil, or sighing, she would have thought I was bored and did not care about helping her. She would not have left the Writing Center as a better writer, but as a frustrated tutee with a bad impression of the Writing Center.

Nonverbal communication affects both tutors and tutees in the writing center. Facial expression, body language and behavior all contribute to the positive or negative messages students send each other. These nonverbal cues change both tutee and tutor expectations of a session. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, which can have either a positive or a negative impact on the success of a session. If either party is showing disinterest, the other is likely to have low expectations that will come true. Likewise, if the tutor or the tutee has positive behavior, it is likely the session will be a better learning experience. By taking control and sending positive messages to tutees, tutors can increase the quality of their sessions. Furthermore, tutees send cues that tutors can also use to improve sessions. They can watch tutee behavior and understand what it means. For example, if a student seems disinterested, the tutor must pique the tutee’s interest. Tutors also send out cues that tutees can interpret, so it is important that tutors are careful not to send negative messages. In any writing center, it is important that tutors make tutees feel welcome. One negative experience and a student may never return.

Works Cited

Chaney, Lillian H. and Catherine G. Green. “Presenter Behaviors: Actions Speak Louder than Words.” Supervision. 63.5
     (May 2002):17-19.

Connellan, Thomas K. “Great Expectations, Great Results” HR Magazine. June 2003:155-160.

Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior.10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2004.



The Procrastination Factor: Tutoring with a Time-Crunch
Misty Braden

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
Douglas Adams

Procrastination is one of the most common factors affecting the work of college students. In fact, it estimated that up to “95% of college students procrastinate on their assignments on a regular basis” (Rafoth, par. 7). Procrastination is simply a part of life, and it is not going away. “Procrastination is the bane of all students...[it] is one of those quintessential irrational acts that inevitably leads to greater pain and aggravation than prompt completion, yet we do it anyway” (Rafoth pars. 3-4). But though nearly everyone procrastinates, dealing with the procrastination of others can be frustrating. This, however, should not interfere with the help a tutor provides. There are three things tutors should do when tutoring a paper that has been put off and is soon due: they should be realistic in the goals for the session, avoid treating the paper as a lost cause, and always help the student to the best of the their abilities.

The goals set in tutoring a paper that is due soon must be reasonable to the task; a student cannot be expected to rework an entire paper in a very short period of time. In the Writing Center of the Monroe County Community College, tutors are taught to break sessions into manageable parts, and to help students learn to do the same. Addressing too many areas for improvement in a paper—as in anything else in life—can overwhelm any student, but this is especially true of a student who is short on time. Breaking things down into manageable tasks helps a student realize what needs to be done, and which tasks are more important. Students who feels like they do not have enough time to make any important changes in a paper may decide that it would just be better to do nothing, or to focus solely on surface errors, rather than tackling underlying problems. The student simply needs help refocusing; deciding what can be done to the best effect. If a tutor tries to focus on too many things at once, mentioning how much more could have been done if the appointment had taken place sooner, the student may feel attacked. The responsibility in this situation lies very much with the tutor; after all, the student is asking for help, not a laundry list of errors. Tutors must set aside their frustrations and do what they are supposed to, and that is help.

It is important, then, to remember never to treat a paper—or student—as a lost cause. Just because a student admits that he or she does not have sufficient time to effectively revise the paper, the tutor should never send the message that the session is then a waste of time. In The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, the authors suggest that as long as a student has a full day to work on a paper, the meeting should proceed as usual (Gillespie 176). I believe that even if a student has less time, the meeting should proceed as normally as possible. All students deserve the same quality level of tutoring, even if they made the mistake of procrastination—especially because they may be able to learn from it. Unfortunately, tutors become just as frustrated with a lack of time as students, and they may unintentionally send signals to the student that the paper is a waste of time. As soon as students picks up on these signals, they will feel alienated and will not have any desire to come back to the writing center again. This is the least desired outcome. Jo-Anne D. Andre says in her response to McKay and Bell’s case study “It’s Due Tomorrow: Tutoring Under a Deadline” that “...perhaps the most important responsibility that tutors have is to provide a positive and reassuring environment in which students can develop confidence in themselves as writers” (Andre par. 18). Alienating students by showing frustration will certainly not be a confidence-builder. And in their alienation, students will not gain anything from the session. The student feels that if the tutor believes that the session is a waste of time, and that the paper is a lost cause, then it must be true. The tutor will lose the student’s attention, and the session really will be a waste of time.

The tutor's focus should always be helping the student to the best of the tutor’s abilities by teaching the student the tools needed for successful writing. This should be done regardless of how much time the writer has to work on the current paper. Students need to know the basic steps needed to write a good paper. The tutor should attempt to teach these steps, even if they will not be applied in the paper being tutored. Teaching students the steps for writing may help them in future writing assignments. Chances are that students will procrastinate again (we procrastinators are repeat offenders), but at least they will be better prepared in the next time-crunch session. “Our ultimate responsibility—and goal—should always be to help students become better at researching, writing, and revising their papers; we are here to produce better writers...not just better writing” (Andre par. 13).

Actually, teaching a student who has procrastinated can actually provide a good opportunity for the tutor to teach the student what not to do, which is just as important as teaching them what to do. Andre says that “tutoring under a deadline can present a great “teachable moment” for questions of process...tutors can suggest strategies for exploring a topic and formulating a...thesis...tutors can provide helpful strategies to write through [writer’s] block, and...tutors can share their own experience” (Andre par. 5). If the tutor takes this more positive approach to tutoring procrastinators, chances are the student will feel more comfortable and confident at the end of the session. This will be more likely to induce the student to return to the writing center, and perhaps in a more timely fashion. They may have only procrastinated on making an appointment because they were nervous about being tutored. I tutored one student who was very nervous and fidgety, and who made it clear that it had not been her choice to come to the Writing Center, and she did not plan to change her paper. She had put the paper off as long as she possibly could, and in her opinion it was done; she would not attempt to fix anything; it was not worth it. This was, in fact, the reason she had procrastinated to begin with—writing the paper was distasteful, and cut into her leisure time. I decided that just because she felt writing wasn’t worth the effort, that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to “win her over.” We talked about writing and things she could possibly do in the future to take some of the pressure of off writing. I knew that even if I couldn’t help her improve her current paper, I could maybe help her future papers by giving her the tools to fix them as she writes.

This, in the end, is what tutoring is all about. Giving students the information they need to help them help themselves. In a perfect writing world, tutors would be obsolete and everyone would know how to fix his or her own mistakes and express him or herself well. And of course, there would not be any procrastination. Alas, the world is not perfect, people do procrastinate, and tutors are needed. And as long as people put things off and need help writing, tutors must strive to remember those three things that in the end make just as much difference in tutoring as the actual transference of knowledge. First, they must remember to set realistic goals that can be accomplished within the available time. Second, they must never treat the paper or student as a lost cause, which could crush the student’s self esteem. And last, as with all tutoring sessions of any kind, the tutor should always strive to help the student as best they can, teaching the student the tools needed to lessen the need for tutoring (though peer-tutoring is good, and will always be needed). When a student leaves a session confident, if not more enthusiastic, and at least better prepared as a writer, the session is a success. This is universal, just like procrastination. After all, as Mark Twain said: "Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow."

Works Cited

Andre, Jo-Anne D. “Case Study Response: Oh What a Difference a Deadline Makes-- or Does It?” Journal of College Reading      and Learning Spring 2002. One File. OCLC Infotrac. MCCC. 5 Apr. 2004 <>.

Bell, James H. and Corene McKay. “Case Study: ‘It’s Due Tomorrow’: Tutoring Under a Deadline.” Journal of College Reading
      and Learning Spring 2002. One File. OCLC Infotrac. MCCC. 5 Apr. 2004 <>.

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2004.

Rafoth, Ben. “A Question of Procrastination or Ineptitude: An Analysis of the Case Study ‘It’s Due Tomorrow: Tutoring Under a      Deadline’ ” .Journal of College Reading and Learning Spring 2002. One File. OCLC Infotrac. MCCC. 5 Apr. 2004     <>.