Tutors as Readers: Reprising the Role of Reading in the Writing Center

Carolyne M. King
University of Delaware

If the two of you are sitting there together, your reading silently squanders the interaction time on something that is very one-sided. If you respond to the text as a reader, as you proceed, the writer can get a better sense of what happens for a reader as the text unfolds. When you read aloud, the student can hear how the writing will sound to someone else (1-2).

--William J. Macauley,“Paying Attention to Learning Styles in Writing Center Epistemology, Tutor Training, and Writing Tutorials.”

[W]hile tutors had been trained to consider and discuss the intersections among audience, genre, and discipline with their students, their working understanding of the role of audience in this relationship seemed to operate on a global level with only fleeting or intuitive (and therefore inaccessible) considerations at the local level. Thus, while tutors had a conceptual understanding of readerly dynamics. . . they had less practice articulating the impact that discrete elements of a text have on a reader (14).

--Amanda M. Greenwell, “Rhetorical Reading Guides, Readerly Experiences, and WID in the Writing Center.”

William J. Macauley opens with a scenario familiar to many of us as a tutor reads a paper in preparation for collaborating with a writer. The mundane nature of this scene, however, illustrates a prevailing attitude towards reading within the writing center community: reading serves writing. Further, the anecdote characterizes the nature of this neglect, for here reading is branded as the means for learning “how the writing will sound to someone else” (1-2). While Macauley’s story illustrates an inattention to reading unless it contributes to solving writing problems in some way, it also reveals a deep, albeit implicit, belief in our tutors’ performances as “readers.” However, Amanda Greenwell’s more recent recounting of working with tutors to create rhetorical reading guides puts pressure on Macauley’s confidence in tutors’ abilities to “respond to the text as a reader” (1). Greenwell points out that while tutors may understand that they are to act as audience members, they lack “practice” in “articulating” the “readerly” experience. Taken together, then, Macauley and Greenwell illustrate the importance of explicitly addressing reading with our tutors. If tutors are to successfully perform as readers, they need the same meta-awareness of themselves as successful readers that we have fostered when encouraging their understanding of themselves as writers. 

Perhaps part of the confusion over what it means for our tutors to act as successful readers stems from the multiplicity of definitions that surround reading. Ellen C. Carillo recently attended to this issue, charting a history of reading and attempting to open up a place for research on reading in writing center scholarship. In particular, Carillo describes a difference in the way that various fields define reading. While disciplines like psychology and educational psychology define reading “as a complex cognitive process that involves decoding symbols (i.e., letters) to create meaning” (“Reading and Writing Centers” 119), writing studies largely ignores the process of alphabetic decoding, instead exploring reading as a meaning-making activity. Sharing an emphasis on how students compose, writing center work represents the same understanding of reading as does composition—as a transactional process of meaning making and interpretation. Our current scholarly attention to tutors’ practices showcases the manner in which writing center scholarship builds from a view of reading as a form of interpretation and meaning-making. For example, the common writing center practice of focusing upon students’ ideas rather than sentence-level errors illustrates this perspective: it positions tutors as creating meaning from the students’ text rather than as incapable of thinking past grammatical miscues. Basically, then, in writing center studies, tutors are positioned as meaning-makers whose agency extends across all acts of composing, including both reading and writing.

Despite the confidence in tutors’ reading abilities that Macauley describes, recent scholarship points to a gap in our knowledge about tutors’ awareness of reading practices. Over thirty years ago, James Sollisch argued that writing centers should embrace reading as part of writing, recommending that tutors position writers as readers of their own texts. Examining tutorials, Sollisch concluded that consultations “too heavily” relied upon the “role [of] writer,” and as a consequence, both tutors and students failed to “act as readers” when jointly responding to a text (10). Yet little attention has been given to tutors’ roles as readers in the intervening years. In fact, W. Gary Griswold’s 2006 study of eleven tutors and their reading knowledge and beliefs remains the only empirical investigation into tutors’ preparation to act as reading coaches. Despite the gap in our scholarship regarding tutor pedagogy, recent scholarly attention offers important insights into reading activities’ impact upon tutorials. For example, Rebecca Block’s 2016 study of tutors examines reading aloud using point-predict response during consultations. Similarly, Diana Scrocco’s 2017 examination of the read-ahead model offers insight into another method of reading that tutors can utilize. While such studies offer new direction for writing center scholarship about reading, greater attention is needed, particularly in regard to the interplay between writing center reading pedagogy and writer growth. As G. Travis Adams writes, “[w]e do not yet have a full picture of how much tutors know about reading theory and pedagogy” (76).

In sum, extant scholarship points to the way in which recent reading theory and pedagogy has been overlooked in writing center scholarship. Accordingly, we have failed to prepare and support our tutors as they act as “expert readers” when working with writers. Responding to this oversight, I argue that we must more thoroughly incorporate reading into the work we do in the writing center, particularly through attending to the training our tutors receive. To this end, I offer both a description of a tutor training intervention in reading strategy awareness and the results of a pilot study of change in tutors’ confidence and awareness when this intervention was offered. The preliminary data yielded by this study suggests that discussing reading practices with our tutors can enrich the writing work undertaken in our centers every day. Ultimately, then, I argue that we must reprise the role of reading in the writing center, and we must work to make explicit both tutors’ and writers’ rhetorical knowledge of reading as well as writing.

Overlooking Reading: Tutor Preparation and Reading

As one might suspect, the neglect of reading in writing center scholarship carries over into tutor preparation, much to the detriment of all involved. Because “we do not see reading” (Scholes 166), we often look past the reading practices that inform students’ writing. Yet, as many scholars continue to point out, students’ reading difficulties impact their ability to write about the complex texts they are assigned in college (cf. Horning, “Trouble” and “Reading”; Carillo, “Reading”; Adams; Morgan). In a recent article, Alice Horning offers persuasive statistics illustrating the potential lack of reading skills that many students coming into the center may have, postulating that students may need help with comprehending texts (“Reading”). Current attention to reading often focuses on students’ use of sources, and on helping students understand and avoid plagiarism. While both topics are important, each primarily focuses on student writing—rather than reading—practices. Furthermore, because current writing center practice fails to engage student writers in thinking through their reading strategies and processes, students may fail to understand how reading and writing are connected and how their reading processes may impact the ideas they seek to communicate in their writing.

We particularly can see this trend in the way that reading is addressed within current peer tutor training materials. Leigh Ryan’s and Lisa Zimmerelli’s The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors only briefly describes “Reacting as a Reader” (25), and their emphasis on reading practices focuses upon how to talk about the writer’s text. In a series of short sections, they describe how tutors can “Reques[t] Clarification” about the ideas in an essay or help students “Develo[p] Critical Awareness” about the intended audience or purpose of a source text. Yet, this brief attention to the way that readers work with texts is quickly superseded by strategies for helping to “Refocu[s]” writers on their compositions or to “Promp[t]” writers to further develop a “line of thinking.” Other texts, like Paula Gillespie and Neal Lerner’s popular The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, address reading in a single, discrete chapter. Gillespie and Lerner primarily advise tutors to make use of their current abilities as good readers—once again reinforcing the belief that because our tutors are good writers, they will necessarily be good readers. Throughout the chapter, Gillespie and Lerner recommend tutors model their own strategies with students or encourage students to reread, annotate texts, and otherwise engage in slow, active reading. Gillespie and Lerner offer a useful beginning to think about the reading knowledge that tutors need when working with students. Yet, as Adams points out, they focus primarily upon literary interpretation, even though students most commonly read and work with nonliterary texts (76-8). Thus, tutor training materials may not adequately prepare our tutors for the range of disciplinary reading expectations they face during consultations. Just as students learn to write in discipline-specific manners, so too are they expected to read (Geisler; Greenwell). If tutor training materials are to better represent the kinds of reading that students are bringing to the center, they need to address reading in a more comprehensive fashion that accounts for the variety of genres that students utilize. Doing so will prepare tutors to work with students on a variety of texts.

As illustrated by Lerner and Gillespie, current attention to reading in tutor preparation materials fails to introduce tutors to the rich scholarship of reading. Often omitted from consideration in writing center research, recent writing studies scholarship has reiterated the importance of the reading-writing connection and addressed several methods for helping students to concretize this knowledge. Michael Bunn’s theory of “reading like a writer” asks us to help students unpack readings by encouraging them to understand the way in which the writer created the text; his framework asks students to imagine the text’s creation and, in this imaginative modeling, to recognize the many decisions made by the author with the aim of replicating useful decisions in their own writing. Bunn lays out a practice of reading that encourages students to be aware of the rhetorical moves they encounter in all texts. Further, he helps students to see the reading-writing connection as all texts become possible models for their own writing, and thus, all writing necessarily emerges out of reading. This emphasis on making students more aware of the actions behind the texts that they encounter complements the “mindful” framework offered by Ellen Carillo, who calls students to be “attent[ive] to the present moment, its context, and [their] perspective” (“Mindful” 11) as they read. In a recent Writing Lab Newsletter article, Carillo moves forward the values behind this reading model when she describes “reading with purpose” as a particular tutoring practice for working with reading in the writing center (“Reading With Purpose”). “Reading with purpose” asks tutors and students to recognize the context and their own agenda when reading, and as such, it is particularly attentive to the importance of context for the reading experience. Carillo lists three generative stances that tutors can take in tutorials: “ask[ing] students what the reading has to do with the written component of the assignment” in order to understand “why” and “what” they are reading (19); “draw[ing] students’ attention to genre” and its influence on reading and writing purposes (20); and “think[ing] beyond the immediate session” so that reading instruction is not just about a text, but also about reading (22).  Attending to reading in these ways suggests that the work we do with our students on reading is more about making them aware of who they are as readers, rather than simply gifting them with a better understanding of a single reading.

Drawing from this recent reading scholarship, we come to realize that the neglect of reading can only be reversed if we make visible the manner in which the writing center’s collaborative framework already inclines towards many tenets of reading scholarship. As Carillo points out, tutors are “positioned well” to work with students on their reading difficulties: as peers, they may be able to address many of the reasons for reading difficulties that students face, including a lack of motivation, the sophistication of the text, or an objection to the subject or to the author’s perspective (Carillo, “Reading” 18). Yet, as the following pilot study shows, tutors may be less confident in their abilities to address reading difficulties than we would expect, and they are certainly less confident than we think they should be. We can only evidence how reading enriches writing by reclaiming reading in our scholarship and by specifically training our tutors on how to address reading practices in their tutorials. Doing so will instate a more visibly entwined literacy process where writing and reading work together.

A Study of Tutor Perceptions of Reading

The following study explores the impact of one intervention in tutor training on tutors’ perspectives of the role of reading in the writing center. For, in any session, we have at least two sets of reading practices: those of the writer and those of the tutor. The present study works to improve the former by focusing upon the latter. By drawing attention to the relative sophistication of their own reading practices via a trio of surveys and a workshop, this project builds on tutors’ writing expertise by foregrounding their reading expertise in a similarly reflective manner. More specifically, during the Spring 2016 semester, undergraduate peer tutors from a variety of home disciplines who were working in a writing center at a large, public, mid-Atlantic university were surveyed concerning their perception of the role of reading in the writing center and how they saw their roles as tutors impacted by students’ reading practices. Thirty-two responses were recorded. Following this survey, the researcher led a forty-minute workshop about the role of reading (see Appendix. A); twenty-two students attended the training and responded to a post-training survey. Approximately three weeks after the training, a final survey asking tutors about applying the training in their work was distributed and eleven tutors replied to this survey. By examining the tutors’ responses over this time period, the researcher observed the way a single training on reading dramatically improved tutors’ awareness of reading and perception of the reading-writing connection. Further, the results of this study suggest the large gains that can be made through even the smallest attention to reading practice: explicit instruction on reading practices increased tutors’ confidence in bringing their own reading practices into tutorials.

Broadly speaking, this study’s findings show that reading can be profitably and explicitly addressed through tutor training. Increasing tutors’ awareness of the reading-writing connection and instructing tutors about a range of reading habits and practices, such as those suggested by Bunn and Carillo, will enrich the writing practices of tutors and students alike. More specifically, the results from this study can be organized around three findings that are indicative of potential impact and suggestive of future research. As described below, the study first found that tutors need explicit knowledge of the reading-writing connection and how to apply it in their work. Second, because this knowledge is so often overlooked in current instruction, even brief but direct attention to reading makes a large impact on tutors. Third, the common writing center practice of encouraging tutors to share “what they do” with students is only effective when tutors are prepared and confident in their own strategies and practices; thus, if tutors are going to describe or even model their own reading practices, they need to be confident in those practices and they need to understand what it means to model being a reader. Ultimately, this study found that our tutors need the same kinds of knowledge and instruction about reading as our students—their tutees—do. Because so much of reading instruction in the college curriculum remains implicit, tutors continue to ascribe to a myth of a good reader, and they often fail to see themselves as good readers with useful reading practices that can be applicable to their work as writing tutors. In my discussion of each of the findings below, I first contextualize the data to the extant conversation and then offer analysis of how this data might be used to improve writing center preparation and practice.

The Presurvey: Sounding Out Tutors’ Explicit Reading Knowledge

Tutors believe in the value of reading. When examining the thirty-two responses from the pre-training survey, two things became clear immediately: first, tutors recognize the importance of reading to the work of the writing center and second, they are ambivalent about their own role in the reading aspects of the writing process. When asked if they believe that “reading is a teachable skill,” 72% of tutors affirmed that reading is teachable. This response is consistent with what Griswold found in his own survey of tutors on reading in 2006. Griswold reported that writing center staff generally believed that reading theory was “important to their writing center work,” yet they often “lacked specific knowledge of how reading can be learned” (61). Similarly, the surveyed tutors in this study, while confident that reading is valuable, were much less certain about their relationship to teaching reading. When asked if they “believe[d] that their work as a Writing Tutor includes helping students with their reading,” 34% responded “yes,” 31% thought that they were “somewhat” responsible for teaching reading, and 28% had “never thought about it” as part of their work as tutors. While the survey results indicate that tutors generally hold a positive view towards reading, the uncertainty over how reading impacts their sessions reveals that tutors need explicit knowledge of the reading-writing connection and how to apply this knowledge in their role as consultants.

Tutors’ literacy backgrounds shed further light on their tendency to overlook reading in writing tutorials. While we may believe that our tutors are good writers and good readers, tutors’ own educations have not provided them with explicit models of reading instruction upon which they could rely when working with students. When asked, “Have you, as a student, received explicit explanation in any of your courses, including in the tutor training or preparation, about how to read?” 40% of respondents reported “no” and 43% stated that only “sometimes” did they receive instruction. There are many reasons that students may not realize that they are being instructed in reading. As Cheryl Geisler points out, students—especially K-12 students—most frequently read textbooks.  Problematically, though, textbooks emphasize reading in relationship to mastering content knowledge (32-6). In turn, this preparation may cause students to approach texts as “autonomous” and as explicit sources of knowledge rather than as objects to be critiqued or interpreted. Yet research on how experts read reveals that “expert readers” view texts as rhetorical and interact with texts based upon understanding the genre-features and their purpose in guiding the reading experience (cf. Geisler; Haas and Flower). However, especially in college classes, when tutors—as students themselves—are being instructed in reading, their focus upon content mastery may impede their recognition of the rhetorical ways in which their professors structure such knowledge. Although any reading students are required to do for a course or an assignment ostensibly can help them understand what it means to read in a discipline, students rarely understand that they are being taught to read or that process-based work—required annotations, summaries, or source bibliographies—is assigned to help students to read in the proscribed discipline-specific manner. Perhaps because of such elision of purpose, a recent turn in reading scholarship encourages teachers to engage students’ reading practices through reflective and context-specific frameworks that help students to recognize the inherent choices they are always already engaged in making as they approach a text (cf. Helmers; Carillo, “Mindful” and “Reading”; Bunn, “Motivation”). Because this attention emphasizes making students’ recognition of reading instruction explicit, this scholarship also responds to an inherent problem in current pedagogical practice. In order to help our tutors recognize the ways that their teachers have in fact instructed them in disciplinary-specific methods of reading, we can help tutors to reflect upon how they have learned the current range of practices that they utilize when reading. Moreover, this attention may help tutors to better recognize, and so employ, the instructional guidance in reading that they have received in their own work with students.

The lack of explicit attention to reading instruction in the tutors’ development speaks to the importance of arguments like those of Bunn and Carillo, just as much for the writing center as in the composition classroom. As we move towards better incorporating reading into writing center scholarship, we must be explicit with the range of strategies available to students and tutors alike and work with our tutors to make reading knowledge unambiguous. However, students do fail to recognize instruction, especially when it may involve activities learned by doing rather than by explicit direction. As Ira James Allen recounts, students often learn what to do during reading and how to read in the disciplinary-sanctioned practices of a discourse community through trial and error (97-8); but such spurious attention can cause students to fail to understand that trying out a reading practice is indeed learning to read. As Allen argues, reading is a slippery subject, and academics, like the faculty he surveyed, often fail to have an established language to describe the expected ways for students to work with texts in their classroom. In turn, if descriptions vary not only among classrooms but also within them, students may struggle to recognize a systematic attention to a text and thus fail to realize that they are being taught a type of reading in their classes. While the vast majority of tutors may currently fail to appreciate the ways in which they’ve been instructed in reading, writing center preparation can respond to this deficiency by explicitly addressing reading knowledge in ways that help tutors to recognize reading as disciplinary, as complex, and as an “interlocking set of practices” (Allen 98). In doing so, writing center preparation can help tutors to revise their understanding of their own reading instruction and to more readily draw upon their literacy backgrounds in their work with students.  

The Workshop: Raising Our Tutors’ Awareness of Reading

Survey results demonstrate that the brief workshop on the role of reading in the writing center offered as part of this study dramatically impacted tutors’ views. The workshop took place during the recurrent weekly tutor meeting that occurs on Wednesdays at 8 a.m. in the writing center. We began with a discussion of tutors’ current perceptions of reading and its impact on their work. Tutors described common issues in tutorials like working on quotation and paraphrase or needing to clarify the relationship between a source text and the writer’s own ideas, i.e. plagiarism. This discussion was used as a springboard for pointing out the way that reading was often addressed as a problem rather than as a learning opportunity or point of collaboration between consultant and student. Notably, in describing their work, tutors did not mention engaging a text with a student or collaboratively reading and discussing a source as part of a joint effort to better understand it and its influence on students’ writing. Rather, tutors reported acting as instructors on what to do (or not to do) when it comes to source use. Tutors’ responses thus reflected what tutor Amanda Fontaine-Iskra also writes about in her recent tutor column in Writing Lab Newsletter. Describing being trained in using rhetorical reading response during consultations, Fontaine-Iskra reflects, “[T]he task of becoming a reader is difficult even for tutors. While creating my first [Rhetorical Reading Guide], I tended to slip into ‘instructional’ comments rather than ‘readerly’ ones. Now I'm able to see the distinction between a ‘how-to’ comment and a ‘this is what your writing did for me’ comment” (27). In that the tutors in this study shared a starting perspective similar to Fontaine-Iskra’s, it becomes apparent how an emphasis on writing instruction has overshadowed the importance of reading for writing center work.

Moving forward from this discussion, the workshop focused upon developing tutors’ explicit knowledge of reading. While there is much relevant scholarship that tutors would benefit from discussing, Joseph Harris’ description of the moves involved with “coming to terms” with a text (13) and Michael Bunn’s “reading like a writer” framework were chosen for this training session. Tutors were not asked to read this scholarship prior to the workshop. Rather, the principles Harris and Bunn explain were outlined during the training, and tutors were encouraged to discuss and to make connections between the practices described and their own reading habits and knowledge. Following this discussion, tutors completed a quick-write where they reflected upon the question, “How/when might you incorporate reading more obviously into your tutorials?” Throughout the training, tutors engaged enthusiastically in the discussion about reading and about the ways that students’ reading practices impacted their writing. Once tutors focused upon seeing the reading-writing connection, they revised many of their stories about tutorials to explain the manner in which some of the issues they faced may have related to reading, rather than seeing these stories as being about common writing concerns. Tutors were easily engaged in thinking about ways to draw out discussion of students’ reading and understanding of the texts with which they wrote. Indeed, tutors recognized that merely focusing upon what the student had written about a text—for example, in quotations or by use of paraphrase—was only half the landscape, and tutors were enthusiastic about the idea of incorporating a deeper engagement with students about both reading and writing in their tutoring practices.

Despite its seeming simplicity, this training offered large gains to tutors in terms of their recognition and confidence about addressing reading during tutorials. When surveyed immediately after this training, 91% of tutors reported that the training had changed their view of reading in the writing center. Furthermore, 85% of tutors reported that because of the training, they now had better strategies in mind for working with students on reading-related issues. The final survey that took place more than three weeks after the training suggested longer-term impact: 69% of respondents agreed that in tutorials following the training, they “noticed the reading-writing connection more,” and 61% reported that they had applied “skills or strategies discussed at the training” in subsequent sessions. These results suggest that explicit instruction dramatically affects tutors’ awareness of the reading-writing connection and allows them to express this awareness in their work with student writers.

Tutors already have experience—through their own writing and reading habits if nothing else—of a variety of reading strategies and practices. Even prior to the training provided as part of this study, tutors recognized a great number of reading practices. When, in the initial survey, students were given a list of twenty-two different activities and asked to select all that “reflect topics which you have discussed or worked with students in the writing center upon” the average response was 10.45 selections, or roughly 45% of listed activities. The most commonly selected activities were summarizing and defining words or terms (each were selected by 59% of respondents), close reading (53%), finding or looking for information (50%), searching for sources (47%) and re-writing quotations (47%).  Clearly, tutors recognize variety in the ways that readers can respond to texts and the way that this response is important to written work as well. Writing center training can capitalize on this familiarity and help tutors to better understand the practices that they already recognize. Under the collaborative, peer-to-peer model we prize in writing center work, tutors should feel empowered to share their own backgrounds and model how they do these practices, collaborating with the student and adjusting their version of the activity to meet the student’s learning style. Yet, tutors needed the explicit instruction in reading to help them understand the reading-writing connection and to make them more confident to act as the “expert readers” that we—and the students we tutor—expect them to be.

Tutors Modeling Reading

While tutors are sensitive and flexible readers, they nevertheless resist seeing themselves as models of reading practices. During the workshop, this resistance was made visible when the tutors overlooked reading the prompt as a form of reading that tutors and students share and collaborate upon. This oversight occurred early in the training, which started with a common activity—a quick-write—that tutors participated in by using a shared Google doc (see Appendix A for lesson plan). Brainstorming ways that reading occurred in tutorials, tutors quickly listed things like reading aloud, understanding sources, or using the library databases to search for sources. However, tutors did not include reading the assignment prompt—a normal activity during the beginning portion of a tutorial and one that tutors in this center are explicitly trained to perform as part of setting an agenda with the writer. In particular, in not describing reading the prompt with the student, tutors also failed to account for a moment where explicit model reading occurs—for, in reading the prompt for the first time, tutors can demonstrate to students how they make sense of the instructions and values revealed in the prompt. Although the tutors are exemplary students in their own right—and so should trust their own skills when it comes to understanding general academic genres and discourse—they were notably suspicious of their own skills in interpreting a prompt, even though it is something that they do everyday as both students and tutors. What this finding suggests is that our tutors neither see themselves as expert-student readers nor their reading practices as potential models that can be leveraged in the writing center peer-peer interaction. When thinking about this in terms of Bunn’s “reading like a writer” model of reading practices, then, we can see the manner in which this lack of attention to reading in the writing center has also left a gap in terms of considering models for the act of reading. If tutors don’t feel comfortable thinking of their own practices as examples to be shared, they may feel uncomfortable reading a source with a student and helping the student note the ways that sources integrate quotations or successfully anticipates readers’ need for forecasting. In short, if tutors do not “read like writers” themselves, they can’t model this for students in a consultation, and furthermore, they can’t help the student understand the ways that their reading practices impact their writing process.

In tutor preparation and in the resources we offer tutors for use during consultations, we can work on helping tutors to feel more comfortable acting as models. Greenwell offers one such activity as she describes using prepared, rhetorical reading guides as tutors work with students in her center. These rhetorical reading guides “can function as stand-alone resources, tutor training activities, and tutorial and workshop materials” (9). By engaging tutors in creating these models, tutors gain experience with narrating the reader role. They learn to act as readers by explaining how a piece of writing addresses the implicit audience. Doing so acts out Bunn’s “reading like a writer” pedagogy, but, as Greenwell points out, it also reflects long-standing values of reading instruction and rhetorical analysis. Citing Ellen Carillo’s and Catherine Savini’s work on the importance of rhetorical reading, Greenwell describes how these reading guides highlight[t] the way a text orchestrates a reader’s experience of its content involves making a conscious effort to couch description of a text in the language of readerly moves” (10). The reading guides highlight the complex, inter-related aspects of reading because a text incorporates expectations of the reader that are based upon “genre, form, types of evidence, scope of analysis, and even syntactical constructions” (11). In doing so, these guides achieve multiple outcomes for emphasizing reading as important to writing center work. Tutors gain familiarity with giving reader-based comments while preparing the guides; such practice is necessary if tutors are to feel comfortable with modeling reading and responding to texts. Further, these guides also concretize reading response and offer instruction during tutorials that can usefully help tutors and students to notice reading in new ways. 

If our tutors don’t see themselves as model readers—as “good readers” who should be imitated in their practices—they will struggle to bring attention to reading practices during tutorials. Moreover, when tutors reject the role of models, such long-standing practices like reading student texts aloud may lack efficacy by extension. If tutors lack confidence about narrating and drawing attention to what meaning they are constructing when reading a text, their performance may not help the writer to imagine revisions that better accommodate their audience. In other words, the neglect of reading creates problems with tutoring writing as well as tutoring reading. Only by explicitly instructing tutors in reading practices can we help tutors claim their roles as models and learn how to use their own habits as excellent resources that can help students recognize and improve upon the way that they read and write.

De-Myth-ifying Reading: Tutors and Students as Readers

Ultimately, this study suggests some valuable practices that can help to overcome the culture of neglect currently marking the role of reading in writing center scholarship and practices. We need, most urgently, to more carefully attend to the training our staffs receive about the place of reading in the writing center. We must not only foreground the reading-writing connection (perhaps borrowing from the scholarship of writing studies as we do so), but we must also specifically train our tutors in a variety of strategies and reading practices to ensure that they are comfortable engaging this connection. To this end, we can introduce our tutors to scholarship on reading like Bunn’s “reading like a writer” framework and help them understand the use of this work for their tutoring practices. Second, we need to help our tutors reflect upon their own reading practices and to gain confidence in acting as reading models. Training activities—like creating rhetorical reading guides or practice tutorials where tutors can experience narrating as a reader, rather than as a writer—are crucial to increasing tutors’ confidence with engaging readings. Through such training, we can recover the “read-aloud” portion of a tutorial as an instance of modeling behavior where tutors can and should express to students how they read the student’s paper and connect these reading practices to the strategies they enact when they read for academic purposes. Whereas Macauley’s opening words touched upon the way that this may help a student in their writing, this is also an opportunity to return focus to students’ reading practices, and we can use such attention to build up the reading-writing connection from the very first moments of the tutor-student collaboration.

What becomes most clear through this study, however, is that we need sustained attention to tutors’ knowledge of reading and their perceptions of its impact upon their writing center work. We should be concerned by the results reported in this study, especially in the tutors’ inability to count themselves as models of good reading practices and in their general disregard as to the ways that reading impacts their writing center work. Tutors’ responses also reflect the impact of the pervasive myth of what “good reading” is and who “does it.” As Allen points out in his survey of faculty reading practices, there is a belief, “naturally, that there is such a thing as good reading” (109) and that “good” reading practices grace the reader with speed and with a quality performance (111). Yet, Allen also found that faculty members simultaneously acknowledge great flexibility in the practices of “good reading” and that there is no “single way to read well” (qtd. in Allen 111). These findings reveal a contradiction in the way that reading is viewed: “good reading” cannot be simultaneously well-defined and yet also disparate. However, if faculty express such contradicting stances upon reading, it is hardly surprising that our tutors view being “good readers” as something unattainable. For, in order to reflect what it means to be a “good reader,” a student or tutor would have to demonstrate qualities—in their normative and ephemeral applications—that cannot possibly be reconciled with the quotidian characteristics of their own reading practices. What the writing center can do to intercept this myth, and to reground our sense of reading in the everyday practices and conversations of our tutors and students, is to encourage our tutors to both see what they do as “reading practices” (and good ones!) and to share their practices with their students. For, as Allen goes on to point out, it’s the “real reading” that is happening and present with every conversation about a text and what we can do with that text that is most important to our mission of learning with our students (116-7).

We need to know more about how our tutors think of themselves and their tutees as readers, and how they define being a “good reader” in relationship to their work. As Brian Fallon writes, “By seeing our field through the eyes of peer tutors, we stand a better chance of understanding the future contributions of peer tutoring to teaching and learning” (236). Indeed, we will only truly understand the way that the reading-writing connection manifests in tutorials when our tutors are confident and comfortable in both aspects of literacy and see their role as necessarily responding to both reading and writing. Doing so, peer tutoring may offer new avenues of exploration to deepen our understanding of the ways that students write—and also read.

Works Cited

Adams, G. Travis. “The Line That Should Not Be Drawn: Writing Centers as Reading Centered.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016, pp. 73-90.

Allen, Ira James. “Reprivileging Reading: The Negotiation of Uncertainty.” Pedagogy, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 97-120.

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Block, Rebecca. “Disruptive Design: An Empirical Study of Reading Aloud in the Writing Center.” Writing Center Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 33-59.

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Appendix A

Lesson Plan for Tutor Workshop on Reading

Outcomes for Workshop:

  • Tutors will develop ideas about how reading is taught and learned

  • Tutors will develop knowledge of some specific strategies that can help to increase student’s reading abilities

    • Particularly, to develop Harris’ “Coming to Terms with the Text” and Bunn’s “Reading like a Writer” framework as useful reading instructional guides

Workshop Training Outline:

1.) Explanation of Workshop and Rationale

  • (For this study: an explanation and plea for survey completion was also made)

2.) Quick Write (typed to shared Google doc) & Discussion of Quick Write

  • “Describe how you think about reading in relationship to the writing center. Use the three prompts below to shape your answer:

    • How does reading impact your tutorials?

    • Describe situations where you might discuss reading during consultations.

    • What types of things have come up in your tutorials and what kinds of help/collaboration have you offered your tutees?”

3.) Explicit Purpose of Training (Rationale): why we are talking about reading and its impact on your work as tutors.

  • Situate reading-writing as connected activities and the benefits of growing tutor’s explicit reading knowledge

4.) Set Agenda/Outcomes for Workshop

5.) Discussion—The Reading-Writing Connection: Reading and Writing as Parallel Processes:

  • Discussion of prior literacy experiences, learning to read in their majors and in different classes 

6.) Reading in WC Tutorials: When working with students, we may need to discuss how they read and understood a task and a text, in order to help them develop their ideas for their writing project. Some common issues are:

  • Comprehension

    • lack of understanding of a source; students don’t understand what the source is about, its project and aims

  • Context-specific gap

    • The assignment, or disciplinary expectations of what is desired of reading and responding to the assigned text, is not understood by student

  • Anger/Emotion by student

    • May be about content of a text, class, or assignment

  • Frustration/Confusion by student

    • Usually in response to ‘what is expected’ of the assignment

  • Plagiarism/patch-writing (see Rebecca Moore-Howard)

    • If students can’t comprehend the text, they can’t paraphrase or put it in their own words.

    • May also be intimidated by jargon, and so replicate it

7.) Explicit Strategies for Teaching Reading:

  • From Harris, Rewriting:

    • “Coming to Terms” with a text

    •  Having students define their relationship to the text material (extending, forwarding, countering, Authorizing, borrowing…)

  • “Reading like a Writer” (Bunn)

    •  Forecasting:

    •  Model how you read their paper, forecasting your expectations/assumptions

    • Questioning

      • Model questioning when reading their paper,

      • Ask about how they questioned source—for clarity, for bias, for context-specificity of argument

8.) Tutors Teaching Reading: Implementing Strategies

  • Build tutors’ confidence: Tutors are ALREADY readers with valuable information and strategies to share

  • Discuss the reading/writing connection and emphasize reading as integral to writing

  • Describe reader-based composing: reading skills are necessary for self-assessment of writing (reading your own work as a reader would)

  • Encourage tutors to vocalize the strategies of comprehension and instruction they use when reading students’ work; emphasize the cues they use as a reader (like forecasting and structural language, genre-features, etc) that facilitate their movement through the text

9.) Why the Writing Center is a great place to work on Reading with students:

  • We are always one-one

  • Our “imagined” audience is really a system of narrowing in on the needs of our writer (as reader)

  • Questioning= testing out the purposes with which they are reading (for their writing)

10.) Four Specific Strategies for Tutors to Start using Now

  • Open Up Space in the tutorial for them to talk about their reading: 

    • “Is there anything else I should know before we get started?” à Is there anything I should know about how you read or selected texts for this essay?

  • Discuss the context and how it impacts the expectations of interacting with a text:

    • “Tell me about…” → We are used to asking more about the class and the professor and what the student needs. Now, ask more about the texts students are reading, about how the professor runs discussion of assigned texts, and how the student understands disciplinary/teacher expectations of reading.

    • Return to description about how something is read, how they read, how they learned to read, and their reading-writing connection

  • Share your Background! Build a Community of learners

    •  Just as tutors’ backgrounds (prior literacy experiences) shape their preferences, so to do students. 

      • Encourage tutors to share their backgrounds/how they learned to do things, and ask about students’ experiences as well.

      • Connect this discussion to reading as an umbrella-description/term for interacting with a text. “reading” can look very different in different circumstances and contexts!

  • Learn about the Students’ Practices and Preferences

    • What kinds of reading-oriented approaches are already parts of our repertoires?

11.) Reflection/Google-Doc Writing

  • “What do you already do that might be fall under the reading/writing connection for reading? How/when might you incorporate Reading more obviously into your tutorials?”

12.) Wrapping it up

  • Exit Survey

  • Post Survey in a few weeks!