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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Tell Me How It Reads: Tutoring Deaf and Hearing Students in the Writing Center
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In a way, Rae was the ideal tutee as she took charge of the session and was able to articulate her goals.

In the past, Rae had been tutored by an expert in ASL, and she appreciated that. She had also been tutored by an instructor at the college who asked inappropriate questions and wasted her time. Rae felt comfortable giving feedback to the assistant director of the writing center about what kind of tutor she did or did not want. One of her other preferences was directness: “I guess in Deaf culture people are rather direct as opposed to someone going on and on without getting to the point of what they’re trying to say.”

Rae knew what she wanted to work on, and she told the tutor about it. She was not the type of passive tutee that many tutors complain about. This part of her personality made her a model tutee. Also, John said she was interested, and he liked that. The Davis College Tutoring in Writing Skills Responsibilities Form states that the writer’s role is to “bring in writing and/or have some idea about which aspect of writing you want to work on in each session.” Rae clearly did this. She also met the other requirements of her role, which were to “ask questions, draw on the consultant’s experience and knowledge, make suggestions, act on suggestions, and take a sincere interest in your writing and in improving your writing.” She clearly wanted to work with her tutors, and she gave the following advice for tutors who would be working with deaf people: “Help them out. Show them what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. And if the deaf student asks why, then be patient with your answer. Answer the question and be clear. Most important is really to be patient with the deaf student because English is not often their first language.”


At the time of the study, Blue was a nineteen-year-old acting major and a tutee in the writing center at Davis College. She is a young black woman who is interested in dancing; I confirmed this with her after reading a paper she wrote about a dance she created with her family for her grandmother’s birthday party. I also noted the presentation she did about Janet Jackson, who interested her as a dancer. Blue is very motivated to learn and enjoys the time she spends with her tutor. In an interview she said this:

Well, honestly, I feel pretty motivated to learn how to write. I feel like I’m ready to do it. You know, I feel more like I want to learn about verbs and adjectives. I feel pretty inspired to get that information and to learn about it.
In addition, she said she would like to improve her reading and English vocabulary. During the course of the study she was singled out as the most improved tutee, an honor that carried a cash award. She was nominated by her tutor, Newby, who also won a cash award for submitting her name.

Like Rae, Blue attended the SSD. She graduated from City Vocational Career Academy (CVCA).[6] At SSD she was exposed to ASL, but she reported that deaf students at CVCA signed differently. She reported that at SSD “there was more expressiveness, more joking capability, more social humor. But it seems there wasn’t really much of that going on in the language [at CVCA].” She prefers that other people use ASL, but she is not really sure whether she prefers English or ASL in an academic context. Her interpreter, Jay, says that she tends to transliterate (interpret word for word from spoken to signed English) with Blue in the tutoring session.

The first semester I met Blue she was taking Intro to College Writing, and the second semester she was taking English Composition I. In the tutorial she also discussed work for her science class. She felt that her writing had improved greatly as a result of coming to the tutorials. The main issue she wanted to work on in the tutoring sessions was grammar, and through the tutoring sessions she was able to learn how to correct her own errors. She said the idea that grammar was important came from her teachers. She also wanted to work on understanding her homework assignments. Although she appreciated having an interpreter present during the tutoring sessions, she did not mind conducting the conferences in writing without an interpreter.

When I asked Blue why she chose Davis instead of Gallaudet (the only liberal arts college exclusively for deaf students), she replied that she preferred to live at home rather than in a dorm. Also, at SSD she had not liked the food, and I think she generalized her opinion to include all residence halls. She currently lives with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and her siblings. One of her brothers is also deaf, and her mother works for a shipping company. Blue said she would like to move into her own apartment. She was looking for a job the summer I met her but had not found one by the following fall, when our observations were complete.

6. Name of the city withheld for confidentiality reasons.
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