Wednesday, November 30, 2005

tutor training textbooks

I'm here to discuss my review of the tutor-training textbooks The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, ESL Writers, and The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors in WCJ. I'll touch on a couple of issues raised in the review today and write about a couple others later this week and see if there's any response to this blog.
I was particularly struck in reviewing these books by the desire to introduce tutors to the field of writing center theory and research and to some of the critical debates of the field. I take this as a sign of how important disciplinarity has become in our field that tutor-training books, like introductory textbooks in psychology, economics, sociology, and many other fields, function partly as an introduction to the discipline. Tutors are represented not just as students working a part-time job but as novices in a larger community who should be interested in its conversations and invited to participate in the discussions and research of writing center scholars and directors. That's unusual for textbooks in English. Although some schools now have courses that introduce students to English studies or literary studies, first- and second-year composition and literature courses in English departments traditionally have never functioned like an intro to psychology course. Only linguistics and sometimes folklore in English have typically offered intro courses like this, although the situation is changing. This development is also intriguing given the tutor's ambiguous position as a professional and some ambivalence about disciplinarity in writing centers, expressed most memorably by Richard Riley. Tutors are instructed to resist responding to papers and talking to writers as a teacher would, to avoid teacher talk and not view themselves as "paraprofessionals," to use John Trimbur's term.
Because I raised the issue of how textbooks in general tend to regulate instruction, promoting some theories and pedagogies while ignoring others, I want to mention that Toni-Lee Capossela's Harcourt Brace Guide to Peer Tutoring has gone out of print. I don't know the reason for this, maybe Harcourt didn't find enough interest in the book or didn't promote the book enough (Longman and St. Martin's are much more active about developing and promoting books for writing instructors) or maybe Capossela decided she wasn't interested in doing a second edition. Hers is the only tutor-training book that combines a manual and an anthology of readings, and, more importantly, Capossela includes far more discussion about writing than any other book for tutors. The other books take little responsibility for teaching students much about writing processes. Although the Harcourt Brace Guide needs revising and updating, it's a real loss that it's no longer available, and this loss raises a question about why tutor-training books don't cover much about theories and research on composition in general.


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