Me, Directive??? we both wish

North aka the God of the Writing Center (title pending)

According to Stephen North, directive and non-directive approaches to tutoring are both
key to successfully guiding students through writing. They are fairly self-explanatory: the directive approach requires the tutor to “take charge” in the session and give straightforward feedback; the non-directive approach requires the tutor to ask guiding questions about the student’s work to coax critical responses from the student that act as a sort of brainstorming or reflection. Both need to be used, but it depends on the student how much of either will be present in a session. The tutor needs to have a sense of the student’s needs and evaluate accordingly.

I think I just suck at that whole “reading the situation” bit.

My problem with tutoring so far has been that I am too hesitant to be directive. I’m scared of giving them the answers (especially because I am not entirely sure that my answers are right). I’m scared of feeding them an essay that they’ll just copy down. I’m scared of being intimidating.

Instead, I ask too many questions that sometimes have me going in circles. Sometimes, “And what do you mean by that in relation to your thesis?” and “What about the words gave you this impression?” garner surprisingly frustrating, repetitive answers.

For example, for the Aeneid essay, a lot of my students have focussed on the “cost and achievement” aspect of Aeneas’s journey, usually in relation to Dido or Creusa. They usually focus on Aeneas’ emotions and his duty of responsibility. I’m 99% sure most of them got this from Professor Zissos’ lectures about the Virginian hero and Roman military structure, which is not a bad thing! It’s good for them to use lecture material as the inspiration for their analysis. Otherwise, why go to lecture right? (I’m a role model, I swear.)

However, too many of them simply state these things. I get a lot of students coming in with Dido’s accusation passage, and they will tell me that it shows how Aeneas is honor-bound or duty-bound and he is leaving for the good of Rome. I cringe internally and ask where they see that– as neither of these ideas were present in the passage– and usually get blank looks or a response that sounds like a vague summary of lecture material or a later passage. At this point, I should probably tell them that there is nothing in the passage that supports their point.


However, I usually freeze up at this point. I don’t want to tell a student that their analysis is not a critical reading. I don’t want to tell a student that they need to re-analyze the passage. I don’t want to tell them that their thesis is completely unsupported. (I especially don’t want to tell a student that they actually need to at least read the book from The Aeneid that their passage came from, if not the whole thing!) So instead I sit there and ask things like, “Well, what other costs are in this passage?” or “How is Aeneas actually presented in this passage?” or “Where do you see the empire?” and watch the student look blankly back at me. It’s an endless cycle of circles until the last five minutes of the session, when I cave and say “LOOK IT DOESN’T WORK LET’S RE-ANALYZE OKAY?”

North would shake his head in frustration at me.

The solution to my problem is simple: cave earlier. Realize that you need to point this stuff out from the start so you and the student both don’t end up floundering for answers and questions that lead nowhere. Be directive, in North’s language.

So yes, I am a non-directive person and that’s my issue. I am acknowledging it; here is a statement of that. They say acknowledgment is the first step to recovery.

Let’s hope that works. 😦


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