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About the Bloody Paper: Tutors encounter a variety of writers and papers. Most writers will be motivated and prepared to engage in the session. There are some, however, that fail to fit this mold, either from being required by their professor to come or from frustration at a professor's commentary. If these emotions are not handled carefully, the tutorial can quickly turn ugly.
The “bloody paper” presents a situation that can go from constructive to disastrous in an instant. Owen enters the tutorial with powerful emotions caused by the professor’s dissection of his paper. Chad’s handling and channeling of these emotions determines the success or failure of the session. Chad wants to assuage the writer’s feelings but must be sure not to succumb by either joining in bashing the professor or, on the opposite end, aligning entirely with the professor (Ryan 1-3). He must find a middle ground where the writer is able to vent but then is receptive and ready to participate.
Take a look at Chad's Writing Center Report (opens in new frame) to see how he might talk to the professor after a successful outcome for this tutorial.
There are a few things a tutor can do to create such an environment. The tutor should display a willingness to assist the writer, making sure to create a relaxed environment conducive to peer learning (Ryan 3). The writer needs to feel comfortable yet still tuned into the task at hand, addressing his concerns of the paper with the tutor. Such a mentoring relationship seeks to create an atmosphere with “a demanding academic environment that makes collaboration- social engagement in intellectual pursuits- a genuine part of the students’ educational development” (Bruffee 96). Chad actively creates this engagement by asking Owen leading questions about the paper. By drawing Owen into an intellectual dialogue, a forum he might not be used to occurring outside the classroom, he is helping Owen to examine his writing in a direction he might not have perceived before.
Chad’s use also of writing exercises further encourages Owen’s full participation. This technique of minimalist tutoring (Brooks) provides Owen with a system to reorganize his thoughts. For the bloody paper situation these pre-writing exercises are especially useful. Since Owen has entire pages drenched in red, creating a new writing sample will not only help Chad see Owen’s ideas clearly but will reveal them to Owen as well. If Owen is able to reconfigure his intentions he can escape the red terror with his emotions pacified. He can see, in this fresh sample of writing, not only his ideas but also now he can use them to revise the essay.
In constructing this new sample, free of red, the tutor need watch and listen to the writer intently. The tutor must remain responsive to the ideas and comments generated in the dialogue. Brooks’s technique of aggressive listening becomes vital in transforming these statements into leading questions the tutor may ask the writer. As Owen performs his tasks or responds to one of Chad’s questions, Chad is intent on the wording of Owen’s phrases so he might then turn around, taking words or ideas leading to deeper analysis, then questioning Owen. When the process works well, as we see from the scenarios, Chad engages Owen while guiding him through a series of questions that Owen will hopefully use later.
Providing Owen with a process, Chad allows Owen’s ideas and conclusions to shape the paper. Owen still “owns” his paper (Brooks); Chad has just provided a listener willing to help Owen. The writing center is such a place that looks to “produce better writers, not better writing” (North 37). While with the bloody paper, Owen would have loved for Chad to sit down and “fix” all the dastardly errors in red, the benefit of the more holistic approach will aid Owen in the long run. As seen in one of the scenarios, it is extremely difficult for the tutor not to overtly sympathize with the frustrated writer, thereby lending too heavy of a hand. Not only does this remain an honor code violation, it is also not a function of the writing center. While it would be easier for the tutor to make the essay his by rewriting the composition, it is in no way helping the writer thus not complying with the main goal of the center. Owen may get an A on this assignment but it is most assured he will return with his next paper seeking the same “help” he received on the first one. Now Chad is in a terrible situation and the integrity of the writing center in question.
Actors: Owen Bell, Joe Essid (the younger version, still with some hair), Chad Palme
Story Board & Paper: Deb Booth, Lora Dunn, Erika Jermusyk, Sabrina Lockhard
Brooks, Jeff. “Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student do all of the Work.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Ed. Christina Murphy and Steve
Sherwood. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003: 169-74.
Bruffee, Kenneth A. “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind.’ ”Composition in Four Keys: Inquiring into the Field. Alt.ed. Mark Wiley, Barbara
Gleason and Louise Wetherbee Phelps. California: Mayfield, 1996: 84-97.
North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 2nd ed. Ed. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003: 31-45.
Ryan, Leigh. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2002.