Teaching & Tutoring Writing

Teaching & Tutoring Writing [previously offered at UMM as Understanding Writing] is an introduction to composition studies and writing center studies: fields that explore theories and practices of writing and writing instruction. The course is required for Writing Mentor work at Grinnell College.

Course Description

This course introduces students to academic fields of composition studies and writing center studies: the academic study of how writing works and the theory and practice of teaching and tutoring writing. By exploring and discussing both foundational and recent scholarship in these fields, students learn not only about best practices of teaching and tutoring but also about the theories and philosophies behind those practices. The point of this class is not to tell students “what to do” as a teacher, tutor, or writer, because no “what to do” can cover every possible situation someone might encounter. Instead, the goal is to understand options and possibilities in order to make informed decisions in a particular context.

We start from the assumptions that writing is an ongoing and recursive process and that all writers, no matter how accomplished or successful, can benefit from thoughtful feedback on their writing. Over the course of the semester, we read and discuss theoretical and practical articles about writing and revising drafts, collaborating with and responding to other writers, transitioning from high school to college writing, understanding and producing academic writing, and working with fellow writers. Discussions, writing assignments, and writing center work (either as writers or as consultants) provide opportunities to further examine the ideas and test the theories about writing and teaching that we encounter in our readings.

Class sessions will usually take the form of conversations in which we examine groups of readings, consider the issues and debates suggested by those readings, and reflect on their significance for writers, tutors, and teachers.

Writing Assignments

Studenents keep a required weekly journal in which to reflect on and analyze the week's readings. These journal entries can be informal in style, but should still be thoughtful and substantive; they provide the jumping-off points for most of our discussions.

There are two short papers (4-5 pages). The first is a literacy autobiography in which students explore their histories as writers and their relationships to writing. The second, written at the end of the semester, is a reflection paper that articulates philosophies of writing, learning, or teaching.

Students also complete a research project (10-20 pages) exploring an issue related to writing or teaching/tutoring writing. The project may be either theoretical or practical; it may be a traditional academic research paper, a comparative analysis of selected readings, a manifesto, a handbook for future Writing Mentors. Students may choose to work individually or to collaborate with other members of the class. The process for this project includes a proposal and an annotated bibliography, a draft to be discussed by a small group of peers, a class presentation based on the project, and a final revised version of the project submitted near the end of the semester.


Readings are accessed via JSTOR or e-reserve.