RECONSIDERING READING MODELS IN WRITING CENTER CONSULTATIONS: WHEN IS THE READ-AHEAD METHOD APPROPRIATE?

Diana Awad Scrocco
Youngstown State University
dlawadscrocco@ysu.edu

Abstract

After a decade of working in writing centers as a tutor and administrator, I have experienced and witnessed many challenging consultations. A particularly vexing type of consultation occurs when tutors work with advanced students writing in unfamiliar disciplines and genres. In this article, I consider whether the reading method employed during such consultations supports or detracts from tutors’ efforts to offer helpful advice. Specifically, I ask: When and how should writing tutors read students’ drafts to best support and engage them? How do the specific needs of student writers factor into selecting the best reading method? To respond to these questions, I first describe the results of a review of 70 well-known universities’ writing center websites, which reveals that the majority of centers require tutors to read students’ writing for the first time during consultations. Next, I posit some limitations of during-consultation reading models and argue that the read-ahead model may better meet the needs of some student-writer populations. To provide a framework for the read-ahead model, I illustrate strategies that may be implemented to prepare tutors for consultations, drawing on research-based techniques that a more-senior director and I used at a private doctoral-granting university as we established the first writing center on the campus. I conclude by suggesting that directors consider the read-ahead method as yet another tool in their vast arsenal of pedagogical techniques, particularly when tutors must work with advanced writers from unfamiliar disciplines.

Imagine this common writing center scenario: An advanced writer arrives at a consultation with a research paper from a discipline outside of the tutor’s area of expertise. The tutor asks the writer to explain the context and criteria for the paper, which takes roughly ten minutes. The tutor warns the writer that they only have time to tackle a portion of the paper, so the writer poses some questions about the most-concerning section. With about thirty minutes remaining, the writer begins reading the selected passage aloud while the tutor takes notes on several areas of concern. After the writer has read about four pages aloud, the tutor begins offering feedback. Left with approximately twenty minutes, the tutor poses questions and offers advice related to the writer’s misplaced thesis statement, unclear transitions, and use of passive voice. The appointment draws to a close, and the tutor and writer develop a revision plan. As the writer leaves, the tutor feels uneasy about the consultation; after all, the writer’s text was an unfamiliar genre addressing an unfamiliar topic, and time simply ran out.

After a decade working at three different writing centers in three different roles, I have encountered this scenario countless times, often wondering whether the reading method tutors use supports or detracts from their efforts to offer constructive feedback. As an undergraduate peer tutor, I worked in a center where tutors read papers silently at the start of appointments before discussing the writing with students. As a graduate-student tutor and assistant director, I worked in a center where writers read their drafts aloud as tutors took notes to prepare for discussions. Most recently, as a faculty member and associate director, I collaborated with the director to launch a new writing center at a private doctoral granting university; there, students submit papers and supporting documents before consultations, and tutors use the read-ahead method to strategize for tutorials in advance. My experiences have encouraged me to reflect on an important, reoccurring issue for writing center scholars and administrators: When and how should writing tutors read students’ drafts to best support and engage them? How do the specific needs of student writers factor into selecting the best reading method?

To respond to these questions, I first describe the results of a review of 70 universities’ writing center websites to characterize trends in reading methods. Next, I discuss some limitations tutors face when they encounter drafts for the first time during consultations. I then use my experience in a center that exclusively uses the read-ahead approach to argue that this method may enable tutors to meet the needs of some student writers, specifically advanced writers from disciplines unfamiliar to tutors. I also illustrate some strategies that might prepare tutors to work with such writers. I conclude by suggesting that writing center administrators consider the read-ahead method as an alternative to traditional reading models.

The status quo in writing center methods

The first step in analyzing writing consultation reading methods is to understand typical models used in writing centers across the country. To gain insight into common writing-tutor reading practices, I conducted an informal review of 70 universities’ writing center websites for descriptions of what occurs during tutorials, and I categorized the centers’ stated reading models. I generated this list of writing centers by consulting the top 50 universities in the latest U.S. News and World Report “National Universities Ranking” and The Best Colleges’ “Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America.” Because 30 institutions on these two lists overlap, my final list included 70 different universities, all of which house writing centers on their campuses. Certainly the sample used in this informal review is not representative of all centers, and future research might extend my analysis to account for a wider range of institutions and might directly contact writing center directors to confirm the reading models their tutors use. Still, given the reputations of the universities included in this list, my review offers some insight into the status quo of writing center reading practices in some of the top universities in the United States.

My informal review reveals that 48 out of 70 writing center websites explicitly instruct students to bring hard-copy drafts to appointments, suggesting that their tutors read, analyze, and generate feedback on students’ writing during consultations (see table 1). Emphasizing dialogue, many of these websites echo Stephen North’s claim that students come to the center “to talk about [their] writing, preferably to someone who will really listen, who knows how to listen, and knows how to talk about writing too” (440). Six of these centers state that they support tutor-writer dialogue by reading students’ papers aloud during consultations (see table 2). Other sites simply assert that the first part of the appointment involves reading the paper and the rest of the time is spent on the writer-tutor conversation; although these centers do not specify whether papers are read aloud or silently, the requirement to bring printed drafts to appointments suggests that tutors encounter students’ writing for the first time during consultations.

Only eight of the seventy websites in my review directly address the question of whether tutors read drafts before consultations (see table 2). Six of these eight centers explicitly invite students to send their papers to tutors prior to scheduled appointments. However, four of these centers set parameters for the practice and only allow advanced writers with lengthy papers to submit papers before consultations. Furthermore, one of these centers clarifies that tutors can choose not to read papers in advance out of personal preference, while another’s website provides the disclaimer that tutors may lack time to read drafts ahead of time. The other two of these eight centers stipulate strict policies against submitting papers before consultations. Eighteen universities’ writing centers do not specify any reading method on their websites.

As this informal review indicates, the prevailing reading models in writing centers involve silent or oral reading during consultations. The prevalence of during-consultation reading should not surprise anyone familiar with writing center pedagogy. Well-established theories discourage writers from perceiving tutors as editors who read and correct their papers and, instead, encourage writers to see tutors as expert readers who provide critical feedback in real time (Harris 3). As such, many centers’ consultation models aim to deemphasize texts and emphasize writer-tutor discussions (Bruffee 91), enacting North’s well-known motto, “Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing” (438)—still the most widely cited principle of writing center work three decades later (Boquet and Lerner 176). To support this focus on the writer, most current tutor-training manuals tout the read-aloud approach as pedagogically superior to silent reading (e.g., Gillespie and Lerner 30; Ryan and Zimmerelli 49). Advocates of the read-aloud model argue that this strategy increases students’ engagement in tutorials (Barnett 45), improves writers’ authority (Gillespie and Lerner 30), and enhances their ability to self-correct (Capossela 11). Corroborating this recommendation with a survey of tutor and student preferences, Joyce Adams found that students most prefer reading their papers aloud while tutors comment and least prefer when tutors read papers silently before giving advice (4). Considering this research, one might predict that more than two-thirds of the centers in my review use some method of reading during consultations.

Drawbacks to during-consultation reading models

Despite the dominance of during-consultation reading, several scholars have questioned the value of these models, especially the read-aloud approach. Although many argue that reading aloud helps students detect their own errors, Patrick Hartwell points out that when students read their work aloud, they often misread what appears on the page (121) and instead read what they think appears on the page (Bartholomae 267). Even if reading aloud did help students to consistently correct local errors, most writing center practitioners and scholars advocate a focus on higher-order concerns (HOCs); yet, Rebecca Block’s study found that, in both writer and tutor read-aloud tutorials, more than half of writer-tutor conversations centered on lower-order concerns (LOCs) (91). Recurrent debates on the widely used WCenter listserv reveal other concerns about the read-aloud approach, including whether the method truly engages writers more actively in consultations (Block 5) or whether reading aloud actually supports most students’ learning styles (Block 7).

Research on reading practices reinforces these concerns about reading aloud. For instance, a study by Franklin et al. reveals that “participants reported more mind-wandering while they were reading aloud” than during silent reading (205); these findings challenge the perception that students who read their work aloud to writing center tutors are more actively engaged in analyzing their writing. Stressing another problem with the student-read-aloud approach, Heather Robinson notes that students may experience a processing problem as they “engage with their text both visually and auditorily at the same time, resulting in a possible loss of information” (31). These studies suggest that reading aloud during consultations may actually undermine fundamental writing center goals of keeping writers focused on their work and enabling them to identify their own writing issues.

In addition to concerns about how reading aloud affects writers, research on reading comprehension raises questions about how reading aloud may affect tutors’ ability to understand and analyze student writing during consultations. While some research suggests that reading aloud enables people to comprehend and recall text meaning better than silent reading (Collins 82, Hale et. al 17), other work finds no difference in comprehension between oral and silent reading conditions (McCallum et. al 241). Perhaps more relevant to writing center tutoring, though, is Samuel Miller and Donald Smith’s study, which compares students’ comprehension during oral reading, silent reading, and listening as a text is read aloud. They conclude that stronger readers—which writing center tutors tend to be—comprehend more from texts that they read aloud or silently than they do from texts read aloud to them (Miller and Smith 73). This study suggests that writing center tutors who listen to writers read their texts aloud may comprehend less content than tutors who read student writing silently or aloud to themselves. Similarly, Diakidoy et al. found that, in older school-aged children, reading comprehension rates exceeded listening comprehension rates, perhaps because academic instruction focuses on “reading and learning from text” rather than learning from listening to texts being read aloud (68-69). This educational emphasis on reading only increases as students progress through high school and college, potentially creating comprehension challenges for writing center tutors who must listen to writers read their texts aloud. Although the conditions and student populations examined in these studies differ from writing center contexts, they raise questions about how reading models affect comprehension; in so doing, this body of research suggests that writing center reading practices should be employed thoughtfully.

On a more practical level, reading a student’s paper aloud during a consultation consumes a great deal of time. In a study comparing silent and oral reading, McCallum et al. found that “students reading aloud took approximately 30% longer than those reading silently, on average,” yet they showed no greater comprehension of the material they read (245). Likewise, in a writing center context, Block reports that “the average reading in standard tutor-read or client-read sessions ended just under the half-way mark” (2). Because most centers in my review allot 30 to 50 minutes for appointments, Block’s finding suggests that writers can expect fewer than 25 minutes of writer-tutor dialogue during such consultations, especially if papers are read through without interruption as Gillespie and Lerner recommend (30). Block’s solution to this time issue is a different during-consultation reading approach derived from Barbara Sitko’s point-predict method of reading aloud. In contrast, I question whether during-consultation reading practices should be used at all with particular groups of students, especially upper-level writers from different disciplines. Because when and how tutors read complex writing may affect their comprehension and pedagogical approaches, administrators ought to critically analyze the reading models they enable and promote in their centers. Often, however, writing center administrators adopt reading models from senior colleagues, tutor-training manuals, or long-standing traditions.

Employing during-consultation reading models may be particularly problematic when tutors must simultaneously read (or listen as texts are read aloud) and analyze advanced writing from unfamiliar disciplines. The challenges of understanding texts with unfamiliar content have been examined in research on students’ reading comprehension. An early study of elementary school children’s ability to understand and analyze unfamiliar texts reports that “general knowledge of the topics was the strongest predictor of ability to draw inferences and elaborate” on a text on which students lacked prior knowledge (Marr and Gormley 89). Similarly, in their research on middle-school students’ reading comprehension of unfamiliar content, Stahl et al. assert that students who read an unfamiliar text with challenging vocabulary words more often struggled with “the recall of details, [. . .] the relations between concepts, and [. . .] the order of events” (41). Comparable results have been found among high school students; Cromley and Azevedo conclude that high school students who were familiar with relevant vocabulary and contextual information on a topic showed greater reading comprehension than students without vocabulary and background knowledge (311). This line of research suggests that writing center tutors may struggle to comprehend, analyze, and develop feedback for advanced student writers whose texts contain unfamiliar content, especially when they must generate that feedback on the spot during a writing center consultation.

Compounding these comprehension concerns, tutors encountering papers for the first time during consultations must brainstorm appropriate feedback in real time—often, without assistance from other tutors or supervisors. Some research suggests that this pressure may put tutors at risk of prioritizing lower-order concerns (LOCs). For example, Jo Mackiewicz’s study of writing tutors’ consultations with engineering students reveals that, when tutors encountered unfamiliar genres and disciplinary content, they defaulted to a concentration on LOCs: “Lacking the ability to analyze how well students’ writing adhered to conventions of engineering writing, the three non-expert tutors disregarded what is considered good tutoring practice by focusing on surface features of writing” (“The Effects” 319). Perhaps more unsettling, the tutors in Mackiewicz’s study provided genre-inappropriate advice about these surface issues (“The Effects” 319-320). Although Mackiewicz does not attribute the tutors’ incorrect advice to their reading methods, I posit that, when writing tutors encounter challenging, upper-level papers from unfamiliar fields, during-consultation reading models may undermine their intentions to focus on HOCs. Moreover, Dana Ferris suggests that inexperienced teachers—much like writing tutors—often struggle to identify and prioritize problems in students’ writing after just one reading: “They are so inexperienced at looking at student writing at all that they do not know what to look for or what constitutes a problem or issue or feedback point that their commentary should address” (170). In the writing center, during-consultation reading practices may exacerbate this common problem by requiring tutors to analyze students’ writing while concurrently developing an instructional plan. This task may become even more overwhelming when tutors must work with advanced students from unfamiliar fields, leading them to focus on local concerns that seem more concrete and manageable.

Certainly, during-consultation reading models may serve students’ needs well in particular situations. Similar to reading research showing that students recall less from unfamiliar texts (Cromley and Azevedo; Marr and Gormley; Stahl et al.), my experiences suggest that tutors who are familiar with the writer’s genre and field can use during-consultation reading quite effectively. For example, when students bring writing from composition courses, tutors—who often have humanities backgrounds—likely know what to expect from these genres and can generate well-prioritized advice while reading or listening as a paper is read aloud. Thus, in centers where most writers bring familiar genres, during-consultation reading approaches may work quite well. Furthermore, some centers employ tutors from a range of departments and consistently pair tutors with writers from related disciplines; these tutors may be well equipped to provide writers with appropriate feedback in real time.

However, what happens when student writers cannot schedule appointments with tutors who have knowledge of their genres or disciplines? And how well does during-consultation reading accommodate writers who bring lengthy texts and do not know which section requires attention? More fundamentally, do during-consultation reading approaches provide enough benefits to justify consuming half or more of the appointment time? While I do not contend that during-consultation reading should be abandoned entirely, the read-ahead model may enable tutors to support certain writers more effectively. Notably, this method can be implemented prudently to maintain focus on the writer. Below, I describe how one writing center employs the read-ahead method to serve a specific population—advanced writers from non-humanities disciplines. Others may be able to adapt this model to serve their own student-writer populations.

the read-ahead method: possibilities and considerations

The context of the writing center under consideration.

Before describing the read-ahead model used in the writing center under consideration, I must explain the context associated with this center because, as Pamela Childers suggests, developing a strategic center requires considering institutional contexts, goals, student populations, and resources (55). This writing center differs from some in that more than half of the center’s patrons are graduate-student writers (38% master’s degree students, 16% doctoral students, and 2% post-doctoral students, faculty, or staff); the overwhelming majority of these writers are non-native English speakers from non-humanities departments. To support this population, this center employs mostly graduate-student tutors, and all tutors undergo a rigorous semester-long practicum course in which they work with scholarship related to tutoring, teaching, and genre-specific writing. Certainly, this writing center’s client base and training resources differ from some institutions, but many centers—including several in my review—serve advanced writers from diverse disciplines; accordingly, the model I describe here may contain elements that other directors find useful.

Undoubtedly, writing center tutors face specific challenges when working with graduate-level and other advanced writers. Judith Powers’ early work in this area outlines the obstacles tutors face when tutoring advanced writers: 1) writers’ lengthy texts cannot be addressed within normal timeframes; 2) instructors’ and advisors’ feedback often lacks detail and context; and 3) writers sometimes pressure tutors to focus on editing instead of global issues (13). John Farrell also points out that tutoring advanced students requires basic knowledge of highly specialized genres, formats, and jargon, all of which tutors typically lack (4). Moreover, such students sometimes resist tutors’ advice about their writing because they lack subject-area expertise (Waring 162). To tutor upper-level writers from unfamiliar fields, these scholars suggest involving students’ advisors in the tutoring process (Powers 15), encouraging a “consultant model” of tutoring rather than a novice-expert paradigm (Farrell 4), and educating tutors about different disciplinary conventions and content (Garbus 173; Walker 373; Waring 163). While these authors offer remedies for tutoring advanced writers, they do not address the question of whether during-consultation reading practices place unnecessary pressure on tutors or whether different reading strategies might improve consultations with such writers.

A description of the read-ahead model.

The writing center under consideration has employed the read-ahead approach since its launch in Fall 2012. The read-ahead procedure requires writers to submit their papers and supporting documents before their scheduled appointments. Supporting texts include assignment prompts, grading rubrics, model essays, and other materials (see fig. 1). To provide the pedagogical and rhetorical contexts for these materials, the online scheduling system prompts writers to describe the assignment, the stage of the draft, and their writing concerns.

figure 1: The read-ahead model

figure 1: The read-ahead model

Because tutors receive relevant documents in advance, they plan their instructional strategies prior to consultations. Before meeting with writers, tutors use dedicated preparation time—typically 10 to 15 minutes per appointment—to read the writers’ documents, review them with supervisors or fellow tutors, consult outside resources, and outline their plans for consultations. During appointments, tutors ask writers to explicate their writing concerns, and they negotiate an agenda that both deem beneficial. Tutors then implement research-based approaches, including prioritizing HOCs, providing genre-specific advice, reading pertinent passages aloud, and helping writers find resources to use independently. Consultations end with tutors and writers collaborating to compose revision plans; during this stage, they focus on summarizing and implementing a few key lessons. Below, I detail the rationale for our read-ahead model to elucidate how other writing center administrators might appropriate this approach to meet their student writers’ needs.

A rationale for requesting drafts and supporting documents.

The impetus for requesting drafts and related materials in advance stems from the well-established theory that tutors—like all readers—provide better feedback when they understand the context and evaluation criteria of a text (North 443). While writing prompts offer tutors insight into the context of an assignment, many writing center directors often report that the specificity and clarity of prompts vary widely across instructors; therefore, receiving prompts before appointments enables tutors to work with supervisors and other tutors to glean the course and disciplinary perspectives surrounding the written work. Additionally, tutors review instructors’ rubrics to gain insight into how the writing will be evaluated so that they can explicitly reference assessment standards during consultations. This explicit attempt to use evaluation criteria may lead to higher levels of student engagement and satisfaction; as Carolyn Walker and David Elias report, students prefer writing conferences that begin by identifying specific criteria for the writing and then evaluate the student’s text against those measures (266). Giving tutors opportunities to analyze evaluation guidelines with supervisors and other tutors may increase the likelihood that they can explicate instructors’ expectations to writers.

Once tutors review the assignment’s contexts and criteria, consulting model essays allows them to see how these elements manifest in strong examples of the genre. Compelling research from Davida Charney and Richard Carlson suggests that writers who work with model essays produce texts with better organization, more topical information, and stronger proposition statements (88). Thus, giving tutors access to model essays may facilitate their ability to read student drafts in a more targeted manner and prepare them to provide better feedback. For instance, when planning for consultations, tutors may assess how certain rhetorical moves in a model essay meet the instructor’s criteria; then, they may search for similar moves in the student’s draft and develop focused questions and advice for student writers based on the model essay’s rhetorical structure.

Planning instructional strategies.

Because tutors using the read-ahead method receive papers and related documents in advance, they can brainstorm, find resources, seek guidance, and experiment about strategies before consultations (see fig. 2). For example, if students do not attach instructor-provided model essays when they schedule their appointments, tutors may use preparation time to find strong models in library databases, online, or in-house archives. Or, if tutors are struggling to identify the most important issues to prioritize during a consultation, they can brainstorm techniques with supervisors or fellow tutors. Strategizing with others before appointments may encourage tutors to focus on HOCs; by improving their familiarity with the writing context, tutors may be less likely to default to a focus on LOCs like the tutors in Mackiewicz’s study (“The Effects”). Also, preparing a list of priorities and questions in advance may allow supervisors to monitor whether tutors focus on a few critical concepts during each consultation (Harris 47). More broadly, regularly collaborating with fellow tutors and supervisors distributes the responsibility of conducting effective consultations from one tutor to the entire center, more closely adhering to the collaborative essence of writing center work.

figure 2: preparing for read-ahead consultations

figure 2: preparing for read-ahead consultations

When developing strategies for consultations with upper-level writers, tutors may benefit from learning about discipline-specific genre and rhetorical expectations (Garbus; Walker; Waring). Although writing tutors cannot be conversant in all academic genres across all fields, some well-known research explicates cross-disciplinary findings about academic writing that tutors may utilize during preparation time. For example, John Swales’s research on the rhetorical moves employed in scholarly literature reviews—establishing the territory, identifying a gap in the research, and presenting one’s work as filler for the gap—can be used when tutors are preparing to work with advanced students on research-based writing. During their preparation time, for instance, tutors may label Swales’s rhetorical moves in a discipline-specific model text and then develop questions and strategies for guiding the writer to implement the same moves in their own writing. Teresa Thonney’s work also reveals trends in academic writing that tutors may use when planning for consultations. For example, she argues that academic writers assume a voice of authority by implementing field-specific vocabulary and “lexical bundles” in their writing (Thonney 353; 355). One preparation technique could involve tutors highlighting authoritative lexical bundles in a model text to generate a framework for teaching writers to assert authority in their own drafts. As these examples suggest, tutors can use their preparation time to select and prepare pedagogical strategies based on established, research-based writing principles.

Conducting read-ahead consultations.

Because they plan for consultations, tutors who use the read-ahead method should feel more equipped to pose guided questions and evidence-based advice while tutoring writers from unfamiliar fields. Preparing concrete consultation strategies may also help tutors to avoid a common pitfall Mackiewicz identifies in her analysis of tutor discourse: offering indirect suggestions rather than explicit advice or instruction (“Hinting” 365). Ideally, strategizing with fellow tutors and supervisors empowers tutors to offer writers explicit advice and instruction, which Jessica Williams suggests may increase the likelihood that writers revise according to tutors’ feedback (185). In addition, developing concrete plans that focus on HOCs may encourage writers to address meaningful global issues during revision (Williams 184). Finally, collaboratively generating a revision plan may improve the chances that writers will recall and use tutors’ advice during their revision process; developing a revision plan may also create more continuity in the learning process if writers return to the center for subsequent appointments.

Notably, the read-ahead model does not eliminate reading aloud during consultations. In fact, tutors can use the read-ahead method to employ the read-aloud approach more selectively during appointments. For example, when tutors recognize problems in a draft’s organization or tone, they may select representative passages to read aloud during consultations to illustrate where students’ communication breaks down. Reading aloud can also show writers how to adapt common lexical bundles from model texts for their own purposes. Moreover, when tutors identify areas in students’ writing with stylistic issues, reading aloud can draw attention to awkward syntax or clause-boundary problems. In practice, the read-ahead strategy may actually enable tutors to target the areas of students’ texts that may be most beneficial to read aloud during consultations.

mitigating the limitations of the read-ahead model

Although the read-ahead method may offer benefits, receiving student papers before consultations presents some challenges that must be addressed. One key issue with the read-ahead technique is logistical: this model requires that writers submit their drafts, supporting documents, and writing concerns prior to appointments. Common online scheduling systems make such an interface possible, but directors must work with their campus communities to establish a new culture of writing center work in the same way North argued for educating campus communities about his idea of a new writing center three decades ago (441). For the read-ahead approach to succeed, students must become accustomed to working on their writing in advance, seeking supporting resources and input from their instructors, and sending documents before their appointments. Writing center directors should also collaborate with faculty whose students frequent the center to acquire a database of strong model essays from common courses and genres. In short, writing center administrators must help their campus communities to understand that providing tutors with more resources will enable them to support students’ writing progress more comprehensively.

Another potential limitation of the read-ahead model relates to time. While reading ahead makes more consultation time available for writer-tutor dialogue, this model requires at least ten minutes of tutor preparation time per appointment. This preparation time must be built into tutors’ schedules, and last-minute appointments must be adapted to accommodate tutors’ planning time. Directors can manage this constraint using a few strategies: 1) only use the read-ahead method for students with long or advanced papers; 2) base tutors’ preparation time on the length or complexity of drafts; and 3) warn students that appointments scheduled late will be shortened to provide tutors with time to prepare for consultations. Of course, during-consultation silent reading and reading aloud also consume consultation time, so tutor-preparation time is not truly “additional” time. And even if setting aside preparation time leads to fewer appointments, these consultations may be more meaningful and effective because tutors have had an opportunity to strategize in advance with support from others.

Pedagogically, the read-ahead model presents challenges related to agenda negotiation, which must be addressed to avoid focusing disproportionately on the writing (North 438). Because tutors develop their plans before students arrive for their appointments, writers’ agendas may be more quickly sidelined with the read-ahead method than with during-consultation reading models. To mitigate this drawback, writers should be prompted to describe their concerns when they schedule appointments, and tutors should consult writers’ concerns as they develop their pedagogical plans. Directors must encourage tutors to be attentive to writer agendas that conflict with theirs and must remind them to begin all consultations by asking writers to elaborate on their concerns. After the traditional agenda-negotiation period, tutors should be prepared to modify or abandon their original instructional plans if writers’ concerns drastically differ from theirs because, as Walker and Elias’s study demonstrates, students prefer and learn most from conferences that align with their agendas (277).

Conclusion: the read-ahead method is another pedagogical tool

Despite potential limitations, the read-ahead method offers several possible benefits. Primarily, advanced student writers may receive better feedback because tutors have had an opportunity to plan their pedagogical strategies in advance after consulting with supervisors and fellow tutors. This model may also give tutors a richer experience with teaching; instead of offering their first reactions to students’ writing, tutors who use the read-ahead method must critically analyze texts and select pedagogical strategies based on writers’ specific needs, a process that closely mirrors the act of teaching. Finally, the read-ahead approach may allow writing center administrators to assess and guide the focus of consultations more consistently.

These potential advantages must be confirmed with future research. For instance, scholars might examine whether tutors’ foci and quality of feedback differ with the read-ahead method than with during-consultation reading. Researchers might also empirically test the effectiveness of the read-ahead approach by comparing students’ revisions after read-ahead consultations and after consultations in which tutors use other reading models. Additionally, others might conduct observations and interviews to determine how closely tutors tend to adhere to the instructional plans they develop prior to consultations. Finally, scholars might test my anecdotal evidence that students and tutors prefer the read-ahead method by conducting surveys or interviews in centers that implement both reading strategies; directors might also be included in future survey or interview research to determine the prevalence of the read-ahead method, survey how different centers implement the method, and assess administrators’ perceptions of this model. Although the read-ahead model must be studied further, writing center directors should consider this method as yet another tool in their vast arsenal of pedagogical techniques. 

acknowledgements

Thank you to Dr. Sara Newman for reviewing multiple drafts of this article and for serving as my mentor. I would also like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Praxis editorial team and my reviewers, whose constructive feedback helped me to shape the final version of this manuscript.

tables

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