Prompting Versus Prescribing (Part I)

Excellent tutors are often academically conscientious and personally invested in the success of their clients. At the beginning of their tutoring careers, these tutors may gravitate toward the role of editing, proofreading, and sometimes even writing content (yikes!) during their sessions because they want to see the piece improved and truly hope their student will score well in the course.

It is to these dedicated and well-meaning souls that I send the reminder:

The greatest and most valuable gift you can offer to your student is not an A on tomorrow’s paper, but rather the skillset to write A papers independently and consistently. Your focus belongs on your student’s long-term success.

How can you offer this gift?

By prompting often and prescribing only in specific instances.

Prompting is when we ask guiding questions, allow moments of silence for our students to concentrate and think deeply, and offer hints and clues only when needed. Prompting is an indirect strategy.

Prescribing is when we tell our students explicitly how to implement a particular change. We might do this by physically taking a pen and marking up an essay, or we might provide detailed verbal instructions. Prescribing is a direct strategy.

Prompting should be your go-to approach as a writing tutor because it allows your student to engage with ideas, develop solutions from within, and practice thinking about writing principles with your support.

With that said, I believe that prescribing has its proper place – just not as big of one as novice tutors tend to give it in their sessions. I’ll cover prescribing in my next blog post, but today, I’d like to share with you strategies you can employ to prompt most effectively in your sessions.

Here are the best ways to prompt to get results:

  1. Ask your question several ways
    Try using simpler vocabulary or asking your question in smaller phrases rather than one long sentence. Perhaps use hand gestures to articulate your point or direct your student’s attention to a particular area of their writing to emphasize what you mean.

    Sometimes the issue is not the content of the prompt, but rather the presentation of it. If your student cannot address the weakness you’ve identified, perhaps it is because you have not made the weakness clear to her. Rephrasing is an opportunity for your growth as a tutor, as you can experiment with methods of communication to evaluate which are most effective.

  2. Reference a concept your student has already mastered
    Imagine you are focusing on your student’s conclusion. As a tutor, you know that a conclusion should not be repetitive, and that it should offer a new insight or takeaway that builds off the ideas in the paper. But maybe your student isn’t grasping how to implement that principle and instead writes a repetitive, unoriginal, flat conclusion.

    If she had written an excellent introduction, I would draw from that. I’d ask how she was able to craft such an original beginning and how she presented ideas so clearly there. Listen to her answer, and then use what she says to prompt brainstorming about what unique ideas she could leave her reader pondering at the end of her piece that connect to the ones she presented or raised in the beginning.

  3. Offer a partial solution
    Give your student enough to get the edge off the roll of tape, and then let them build on what you’ve offered to determine the answer themselves.

    When discussing crafting a clearer thesis statement, try this:
    “I bet you could write your thesis in a way that captures what you said earlier about xxx. That was a really great point you made. What do you think?”

    When fixing a grammar error, try this:
    “This grammar error is hard for you to find because it’s minor, but it’s the same principle as the earlier mistake we reviewed in your second paragraph.”

  4. Pause
    Sometimes, your student needs to contemplate the ideas you’ve raised.

    Just say, “I’m going to pause for a moment and let you think about that.”

    Then, pause for 2-3 minutes, or until your student looks at you to signal either that they understand or that they have a specific question.

    During this moment of silence, you should sit quietly. Don’t check your phone or fidget or rummage through your bag. Observe your student’s face to see if they are concentrating, if they appear confused or lost in thought, and notice how they approach the issue you’re working on. Do they begin writing or doodling? Do they repeat your instructions aloud? You’ll learn about their learning style through simply watching at this time.

    You’d be surprised how much value a moment of silence can offer. Concentration needs uninterrupted time when a student can think deeply and process what you’ve shared without their minds being distracted by new information. There are truly times when staying quiet is the most effective thing you can do.

In my next post, I’ll be writing about when to prescribe in a session. Subscribe to my blog below to get that post right in your inbox!

Leave a Reply

Call Now Button
%d bloggers like this: