Dale Johnson has refined his tutoring approach over the past three years as a consultant in Grand Valley’s Fred Meijer Center for Writing & Michigan Authors. His approach is not only working, but was a strong factor in his winning the East Central Writing Centers Association Tutor of the Year award.
Johnson, a writing major from Hartford, said that as a beginning writing consultant, his initial response to students’ who expressed frustration about their writing skills would have been to rush to their aid and try to convince them to keep moving forward. But then he became dedicated to researching a topic in writing center theory that he feels is often overlooked – the role of confidence.
“I learned to put down my copy of their draft and more directly ask them what frustrates them about writing,” said Johnson. “Often it would be one specific aspect that was causing them to lose confidence in their overall ability, and by addressing that aspect, confidence to continue was restored.”
Johnson said his research is based on Albert Bandura’s work on self-efficacy—a person’s perception of his or her ability to perform a task in a specific context. He expanded his research to explore the dynamics in play when consultants meet one-on-one with students, and how those practices can be impacted by confidence theory.
“Dale’s an extremely effective consultant because he uses the student’s paper to help them understand something new or useful that will apply to future writing situations,” said Ellen Schendel, Grand Valley Writing Center director. “Dale has also, through sharing his research at staff meetings, helped our staff to become more skilled at this aspect of consulting, too.”
Johnson and seven other Grand Valley students gave research presentations and facilitated workshops at the 2012 ECWCA annual conference, where he received his Tutor of the Year award certificate and $200 prize. The award recognizes innovative approaches to tutoring/consulting, the quality of work with writers, and the articulation of a tutoring/consulting philosophy.
Johnson has also given presentations and workshops at the Michigan Writing Centers Association conference, the East Central Writing Centers Association conference, and the National Conference of Peer Tutors in Writing.
“The fact that I can help students navigate unfamiliar territories and emerge as stronger, confident writers inspires me, and reinforces the valuable function we have as writing consultants,” said Johnson.