Supporting the Writer Over the Writing
April 27, 2022
“I really need to do well on this.”
“I could fail if I don’t get a good grade.”
“I always thought I was a good writer, but my last paper was terrible.”
“I’m just stuck.”
“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do.”
Every tutor has probably heard a student say some variation of these phrases, accompanied by anxious looks, a desperate tone of voice, or even tears in their eyes. However, with the transition back to in-person classes after a year and a half of online school, it seemed like there was a dramatic increase in student anxiety this past year. Some days as a writing tutor I felt like I was providing more emotional support than academic support and I found it to be more draining than I expected. While I wanted to support students emotionally, encourage them, and give them confidence, it was difficult to know exactly what my role was as a writing tutor.
I believe part of this uncertainty is related to our expectations as writing tutors. We hope that students will come out of a session with progress on their writing assignment and as a better writer. There is both internal pressure and pressure from the student to be successful and to see improvement. I think this can lead to tutors trying to find strategies that will allow them to help students push through their emotions and stress to just get on with the writing. Driscoll and Wells (2020) write that traditional writing tutor pedagogy encourages tutors to push “writers’ emotions out of the way as soon as possible to get to the real work of the session—the writing.” They add that emotions are usually portrayed as negative and as a barrier to effective writing. However, this approach will likely be ineffective and more importantly, it seems to value the writing over the writer, the product over the person.
This is why including a training meeting on student anxiety in writing was so valuable this semester. Hannah’s training on this topic not only provided strategies to help students recognize and process their emotions but supported me as a tutor to know that I was not alone in noticing these trends and feeling somewhat lost in how to respond. As the year progressed and as I strived to be more aware of the students’ emotional well-being, I found that I was also able to support them more in their writing. Taking time to see how students were feeling about their assignment and what was causing them stress and anxiety often allowed us to make a plan to better address the underlying challenges. And sometimes, just acknowledging the struggle they were going through may not have made a significant difference on the quality of the writing, but it did support the writer as a whole person.
Driscoll, D. L. & Wells, J. (2020). Tutoring the whole person: Supporting emotional development in writers and tutors. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal 17(3). http://www.praxisuwc.com/173-driscoll-wells.