Skip to content

A Quick Guide for Consultations

Purpose: When I first began as a Writing Fellow, I was scared out of my pants about my first few consultations. I had no idea what the best process was, what to cover, how to cover it, and reading the theories from class had me wishing the authors would just give me practical tips!

So here’s a work-in-progress collection of tips, in order of relevant use—picked up both from our readings and my fellow Fellows.

A Good Consultation has the following:

1) Thorough, organized, straightforward appointment

  • If you do digress into conversation, be sure it’s worthwhile in getting to know the student, the assignment, etc.
  • Otherwise, try to keep the session on task

2) Student and tutor feel comfortable working with each other/expressing their own opinions.

  • Student is willing to listen to tutor’s suggestions, but also to argue for their own ideas
  • Tutor wants to be listened to, but not as a be-all-end-all source of authority

3) Post-appointment: Student and tutor feel like they accomplished something, w/o reorganizing priorities

  • Student feels the session covered what student wanted to fix, and maybe more!
  • Tutor feels the session covered what tutor wanted to fix, and maybe more!

4) Post-appointment: Student and tutor feel like student leaves session able to help themselves in the future

1. Getting Started: Helping Writers Help Themselves

The first impression always matters the most! It sets the tone for the rest of the consultation, and you can pick up relevant information about the student right from the start, under the guise of polite breeze-shooting.

1) Connect with the student writer from the get-go 2) Straighten out power dynamics: “What would you like to work on today?” (Harris, Week 10)

  • Above all, the paper belongs to the student
  • You are not a teacher who’s there to direct a student
  • As a tutor you have an advantage over teachers since in the individual meeting you can (Harris, Week 10)
  • Focus on individual needs
  • Can pick up clues from body language
  • No authority difference as just another student – you don’t determine their grade, they aren’t afraid to ask “stupid questions”

1) Physical set-up of the appointment (Brooks, Week 10)

  • Sit next to the student (like equals) rather than across the table from them (like a job interview)
  • Let them take the notes; don’t take a pen in your hand unless you have to
  • Let them hold onto the paper

2) Content of the conversation you first have

  • Introduce yourself/get their name (duh!)
  • Inquire into any signs of distress
  • Find out in general terms:
    • Professor’s expectations for the assignment/student’s rewriting of a draft (Length requirement, due dates)
    • Student’s interpretation of the assignment, what they are going to write about
    • What they have already done, what they have time to do
    • Their impression of the class
      … Having this kind of conversation lets the student feel like the expert, or at least warms them up to talking, as you’ll want them to be doing throughout the rest of the appointment.
      Meanwhile, you can also get a sense of the student’s confidence level, knowledge of the course, and what they think of their own writing abilities.

2. Reading their Paper

1) Find out what student wants you to look for 2) Decide what you notice about assignment should be worked on

1) Read aloud if grammar errors apparent or there’s only one copy

  • Try to let student keep the authority though by having them hold it

2) Or, you read through it quickly and jot down notes

3. Working Together: “Better Writers, Not Better Writing”

1) Go over review of problems, make goals for what you’re going to work on for the rest of the appointment 2) Focus on time-management 3) Let student be the authority

1) To let student always be the authority (Brooks, Week 10)

  • Ask them why they did something, instead of just telling them they should change this or that
  • Ex. Instead of saying “You don’t have a thesis,” say “Can you show me your thesis?” Or, “what’s your reason for putting Q before N?” rather than ”N should have come before Q.”

2) Offer tips rather than orders; you can express this in your tone by not expecting follow-up

  • Possible approaches (Gilmartin, Week 12)
  • “Maybe you should…”
  • “You might consider…”
  • “Have you thought about trying…”
  • … When working w/ unfamiliar topics, be honest & just ask

3) Stay objective – be aware of socioeconomic/cultural/etc. differences (Bielski, Week 14)

  • Remember to give the student the benefit of the doubt; they could be making an offensive argument for a justifiable reason, or w/o realizing it (Freed, Week 11)
  • If their paper argues for something you disagree with or find offensive, tell them the consequences
  • Do not appear to give judgment or appear offended; they won’t want to come back!

4. Ending the Consultation: Re-Cap and Send-Off (from the Wiki)

* Recap/summarize what the student should work on when they leave

  • Either tell them or let them take notes (latter is preferable)
  • Encouragement towards the end is best!