Can the tutor write commentary?

There are many different opinions on this question. In his essay "Minimalist Tutoring" Jeff Brooks maintains that "if you are right-handed, sit on the student's right; this will make it more difficult to write on the paper. Better yet, don't let yourself have a pencil in your hand," (85). Based on Brooks, a tutor writing commentary is strongly discouraged, if not forbidden. On the other hand, in her essay "Collaboration and Ethics" Irene Lurkis Clark mentions that "tutors might find it useful to `show' a student how to develop examples, correct an awkward sentence, maybe rephrase something, even help a student with a few spelling corrections," (93) and actually seems to advocate this method. Each writing center has its own rules and regulations about tutors and writing commentary, but if you decide to use commentary as a tutor, below are some useful types.

Types of commentary tutors can use
Because the tutor does not have the time to read and re-read the paper as a Writing Fellow would, the types of commentary a tutor can use are different from the types of commentary written by Writing Fellows. Also, tutors, more than Fellows, often see writing at various stages from idea generating to a second or third draft. Since tutors see writing at various stages, the commentary techniques used by tutors must be able to work with idea generating and/or organizing what is already present. The three types of "explanatory note" commentary presented below can be helpful for a tutor to use in conference.

1. issue trees

The issue tree is a concept explained by Linda Flowers in her book, Problem Solving Strategies for Writing. "An issue tree is a sketch like an upside-down tree that puts your ideas in a hierarchical order," (95). Because an issue tree is less rigid than an outline, it is a wonderful tool for both generating ideas and organizing a paper.

2. clustering

Clustering is making "a diagram with the central topic in the middle. Thentalk to the writer about aspects of the topic, ask how these aspects relate to the central topic and draw branches to show the relationships," (Ryan 29). Clustering can help the student see what areas he/she may want to cover in his/her paper. Clustering may lead to an issue tree as a paper takes shape.

3. brainstorming
As Leigh Ryan explains in The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors that "Brainstorming involves focusing on a topic and tossing out, thinking through, and refining ideas to find ways to approach the topic," (28). Brainstorming usually involves listing ideas, although brainstorming can also include freewriting, "ask[ing] writers to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and simply let ideas on the topic flow" for a certain amount of time, usually five to ten minutes (Ryan 29). Brainstorming can help a frustrated writer find direction. It may also help a student refine an old topic or find a new topic for his/her paper.

If you make the decision to use commentary as a tutor, remember the dos and don'ts of commentary. If fact, you may find it useful to use a separate sheet of paper when using these commentary techniques.

How do you handle commentary already on the paper?

What is Commentary?