Recordings and Transcriptions in Tutor Training
Every week, so long as they are working here, tutors attend an hour and fifty minutes training class. As one part of this ongoing training, we utilize recordings of our small writing groups. This happens in three different ways: listening to a recording of a small writing group session and writing, sharing, and talking about it; doing a close vertical transcription of a section of that session; and, in their second semester, doing a close vertical transcription of one of their own small writing group sessions.
One week, tutors listen to a recording of a past writing group session. Often an older session, from a few years back, is chosen and we listen to the whole fifty minutes together in small groups. These help illustrate our current practices and why we developed them. While listening as a group during class, each tutor privately writes what we call a Play-by-Play. Once the session recording is over, each tutor privately reads over what they’ve written and writes a Center of Gravity (see our Lens Booklet). This last response is shared with the group and is the basis for the rest of that night’s discussions. This provides a chance to have a fruitful conversation about what was going on in the session we heard, through writing.
Another week, tutors are trained in close vertical transcription, a method developed by Dr. M. Gilewicz and Dr. T. Thonus.¹ This transcription method is essential to our training as well as research. A basic handout used in training is here.
This is done by selecting a few minutes from that session and then transcribing it. By examining a short selection, around five minutes, of a past session, a new tutor can get insights about what makes small group tutoring work and what gets in the way of its success. More often than not, it’s the struggle tutors and students have with how to respond to texts. This is not meant to critique past tutors. Rather, it allows for rich learning about the process of tutoring.
In their second semester tutors record one of their own sessions, listen to it, select and transcribe a few minutes using the close vertical transcription method, and write a reflection. As with their transcription of a past session, tutors often learn things about tutoring and group dynamics that they have missed while in the thick of facilitating their own groups.²
What makes these close vertical transcriptions so vital? Doing one on a past tutoring session can reveal group dynamics that are not likely to be apparent to a first semester tutor. This insight can then shape the ways the tutor grows in the next semester. When tutors do a close vertical transcription of their own sessions, they are shown aspects that may not be working as well as they thought and are in need of revision. We’re all about revision.
These transcriptions also make the reasoning behind our practices clearer. Tutors often want to run sessions in a directive or guiding way. Similarly, students usually come in wanting or thinking they’re going to be guided toward a better paper or directed in the changes they need to make. What the recordings and transcriptions show is that this directive approach is not helpful in tutoring writing.
A Digital Archive
We’ve been having tutors create, listen to, and transcribe session recordings for well over a decade. These recordings and transcriptions are also a record of how much we have revised our practices here at the Writing Center at CSU Fresno. Unfortunately the life of the Writing Center is an incredibly busy and pragmatic one: the primary purpose of the recordings and transcriptions was to train tutors, not to be gathered for research or to record a history of our practices. But we've found those reasons important and organizing these digital resources to make them work better for these reasons was important to us.
To this end, Director Magdalena Gilewicz and tutor/supervisor Joseph Marcure applied for an Undergraduate Research Grant for 2013-2014. After having their proposal accepted, Joseph created a digital archive of the recordings and transcriptions that tutors have created over the past decade. This can show tutors, faculty, and other writing centers what we do and why we do it. This also allows for the often nuanced and complex responses to student and tutor needs that are developed incrementally over many semesters to be made more tangible.
1. Thonus, T. and Gilewicz, M. “Close Vertical Transcription in Writing Center Training and Research.” The Writing Center Journal, 24, 40-55. 2003.
2. Below is a selection from a transcription that covers one minute. Note that "Lori" is present but doesn't speak during this segment.