Ten Truths Tutors Keep from Students


Chrissine Rios, KUWC Tutor

Chrissine Rios, KUWC Tutor

Students tell tutors what they would never tell their instructors: that their children do their Internet research, that they don’t speak English so are using an online translator, that they made up the “person they know” in their essay because they don’t know anyone interesting enough to write about. Tutors appreciate this kind of honesty because these are the reasons the students sought tutoring—to learn how to research, to improve their writing skills in English, and to brainstorm topics.

However, students also tell tutors what their instructors said:

“My instructor said to send my paper to the Writing Center, and you’ll tell me what’s wrong”;

“My instructor said my sentences have grammar mistakes, and you’ll fix them”;

“My instructor won’t grade my paper until you help me rewrite it.”

“My instructor said my paper has plagiarism, and you can help me find it.”

Whether or not an instructor said exactly what the student understood and relayed to the tutor is irrelevant. The student is expecting the tutor to do what the instructor said, and the truth is, tutors won’t, which is the basis of these ten truths that tutors keep from students, and whether they are “truths” is irrelevant too. Tutors simply do not tell students the following:

1. Your instructor is wrong. Tutors defer to the instructor when students want to know if an instructor is wrong about a writing concept or APA formatting rule. Tutors also remain impartial when faced with claims that we do something we don’t like help a student rewrite a paper for a higher grade. Tutors are masters at refocusing a conversation onto the student’s writing. Unfortunately, students can be less receptive to learning strategies for editing when they are expecting editing

2. This is an A paper. Tutors encourage and motivate students by affirming their skills and efforts; however, we don’t speak hypothetically or otherwise about grades, even when the student’s goal is not to learn more effective writing strategies but to raise a grade

3. Sure! I’ll look at your paper during our Live Tutoring session. [Shaking head, no.] Tutors read and review papers, but not in Live Tutoring. Reviewing a paper takes time and focus, and when a student just wants someone to “quickly look at it because it’s due tonight,” they are not asking for tutoring. They want proofreading, which tutors don’t do even in Paper Review.

4. I have read your paper and checked your grammar. Students can ask us to check their grammar all day long, but tutors provide holistic reviews of papers. We read with an eye toward focus and development, which includes the thesis, organization, paragraph unity and cohesion, the citation and integration of research, and if the student appears to be in the editing phase, one, two, or three sentence-level concepts to master for greater accuracy, clarity, or concision. Tutors may also highlight a misspelled or missing word in order to remind the student to proofread, but tutors do not check grammar, make changes, edit, or proofread. In addition to our feedback, we provide links to handy-dandy and relevant resources on revising and editing with practical steps and strategies that students can apply as they write their next drafts.

5. I will teach you grammar. During Live Tutoring, tutors will look at a sentence or paragraph when addressing a student’s concerns about grammar, but tutors will not comb through it line-by-line looking for every grammar mistake. Effective tutoring sessions are focused. Additionally, learning grammar like learning to write a paper takes time, more than one tutoring session. Together, the tutor and student will determine what to work on first and focus on that, and the tutor will provide the student resources that the student can refer to as he or she works independently to apply the new concepts. 

6. I will happily revise and edit your paper. Not going to happen. Students must remain the sole authors of their papers. Tutors providing paper reviews do not even use “track changes.” Better, we provide feedback using comment bubbles in the margin of the paper. We also provide video reviews to talk though our observations, suggestions, and resource recommendations.

7. You need a comma here, here, and here, and don’t need one there. Tutors identify a punctuation pattern or two needing attention, highlighting an example or two and modeling a possible edit or two, but we don’t point out every wayward comma. We raise awareness about mechanics and punctuation, introduce rules, concepts, or strategies as places to begin when learning about these matters, and we recommend resources such as The Comma Placement Tutorial to help students gain more command over their punctuation skills.

8. Your third reference isn’t alphabetized and needs parentheses around the issue number. Tutors will name some APA formatting matters to address when editing, but tutors will not point out every element of a citation that needs attention. Instead, tutors will provide links to resources on How to Format a Reference Page or APA Common Citations, so students can compare their formatting with expert examples and apply the conventions accordingly.

9. This paragraph is plagiarized. Tutors review citation guidelines and strategies for integrating sources, and we recommend resources such as the Plagiarism Self Assessment video, podcasts such as What is Plagiarism? and workshops such as APA the Easy Way. But tutors are not plagiarism detectors. We don’t use Turnitin® or have access to instructors’ plagiarism reports. If a tutor intuitively or otherwise knows a paper contains plagiarized content, we share our observations and concerns with the student and make it a learning moment, recommending revision and pointing the student to the resources on our Plagiarism Information Page and Citation Guides.

10. I will let your instructor know you were here. Tutors do not report back to instructors. Tutoring is a voluntary service provided free to all students at Kaplan University. Students should not be required to attend tutoring either since tutors cannot be held responsible for students’ grades or coursework. If an instructor formally refers a student to tutoring through the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program or Writing Fundamentals, the referring instructors will receive a copy of the initial outreach and confirmation upon request that the student did or didn’t respond to that outreach, but in general, what happens in tutoring, stays in tutoring.

Tutors want to help students succeed. We share a common goal with instructors in this mission. But when tutors work one-on-one with students, we become their advocates, and our focus turns to their writing and writing processes and how they can hone and develop their skills not just so they write better papers for one class, but so they become more effective writers whatever the writing situation. This is why tutors not only keep some truths from students but some from instructors too.

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4 Responses

  1. David Healey says:

    In seminars I will often discuss the fact that the writing center tutors will review a paper. I always encourage students to take advantage of this free service as a way to receive feedback beyond their classmates and instructor. Students who have used the paper review service are always very satisfied and I believe it really adds to what they can learn about the writing process. This post was very helpful to me because by understanding more fully what the tutors do and the approaches they take, it helps me in recommending that students take advantage of the paper review!

    • Hi David! Thank you for taking the time to comment. At the KUWC, we count on faculty referrals and recommendations like yours, so you are what we call “awesome.” If you can get them through our virtual door, we will do our best to keep them coming back! In fact, I am personally still working weekly with an English Language Learner you referred to us back in March. She is so passionate about learning and has taken advantage of the services and resources available to her at the Writing Center. I am one proud tutor when it comes to the strides she has made to reach her language and writing goals and am very grateful to you, David, for sending her and so many other students our way! Thanks, again!

  2. starknotes says:

    Thank you for this “moment of clarity” blog post, Chrissine! The truth is that these truths (which should be self-evident?) reflect that writing (and learning writing) is a process that takes place over the span of a person’s lifetime, not just one course or one assignment or, heaven forbid, one tutoring session/paper review. I would say more, but my first comment was not posted due to a technical error here, so we will see if this comment posts properly before continuing the conversation.

    • Thanks for the comment, Starknotes! You make a great point about the writing and learning process happening over time. I am fortunate to be in a position to help students take next steps in that wonderfully recursive process. I’m witness to many “aha” moments. A student came into Live Tutoring just last night with a typical question about APA, essentially wanting to know how to cite a source, but it turned out that he really wanted to know if his one website source was credible and enough research for his paper. Our discussion about determining the credibility of sources and the reasons for having more than one turned into a brainstorming session about his topic in order to clarify his purpose, narrow his focus, determine what he already knew, why he cared and why his readers would care, and where he could look for more information.

      So he came in with a question and I was able to help him think critically about his topic and his whole approach to researching it. He left so motivated to write and continue his research that he thanked me, saying how glad he was that he came, confessing that his professor told him to come, but he had been skeptical that tutoring could help with more than APA Q&A. It felt good to reassure him that given the opportunity, we can help at any stage of the process and that when he finishes his draft, he can send it to us for a review.

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