October 2016
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BOOK REVIEWS
REVIEW OF TUTORING SECOND LANGUAGE WRITERS
Hee-Seung Kang, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Bruce, S., & Rafoth, B. (Eds.). (2016). Tutoring second language writers. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Over the last decade, scholarship on second language (L2) writing centers has mainly focused on exploring various aspects of practice, and most of the literature has provided advice and guidance on how tutors can work with linguistically and culturally diverse students. The editors of Tutoring Second Language Writers (2016), Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth, aim to “advance the conversations” tutors have about L2 writers and help readers engage with current issues regarding L2 writers in writing centers (p. 3). The book is divided thematically into four parts, with Chapter 1 launching the discussion by drawing on Dewey’s notion of reflection as a means to improve current tutoring practices. Each chapter includes a “Questions to Consider” section, which engages tutors in self-reflection, and references for further reading.

The first part of the book explores writing centers as multilingual and multicultural environments where diversity is fully embraced. In Chapter 2, Frankie Condon and Bobbi Olson at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln recount their writing center tutors’ collective efforts to write a book educating fellow tutors while challenging racist and xenophobic discourse on campus. They illustrate how writing centers can move beyond embracing linguistic diversity and take further responsibility for creating opportunities and support for multilingual writers on campus. In Chapter 3, Michelle Cox explores L2 writer identities and the connotations of labels used to identify L2 writers, suggesting that tutors who understand L2 writers’ linguistic history can improve their practice. In addition to addressing the role of tutors’ identities in tutoring sessions, she offers practical guidance for tutors and writing centers for understanding and acknowledging L2 writers’ multiple identities. The last chapter of Part 1 draws on case study research from the University of Puerto Rico, where English is not the dominant language. Drawing on interview data, Shanti Bruce reports on students’ mixed feelings about learning English and describes ways in which writing centers create a multicultural environment for all students.

The second part of the book focuses on research opportunities in writing centers and demonstrates how tutors can create new knowledge and advance the field through inquiry. In Chapter 5, Kevin Dvorak presents a research project on code-switching, code-mixing, and code-meshing in the writing center, which stemmed from observing the use of a first language (L1) exchange (Spanish) between a tutor and a tutee. In Chapter 6, Glenn Hutchinson and Paula Gillespie introduce their digital video project as not only a tool for tutor training, but also an opportunity for tutor research. Rebecca Day Babcock in Chapter 7 walks readers through specific methods tutors can use for writing center research, such as designing a study, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting the results.

Part three is collection of personal stories related to writing centers and L2 writers. In Chapter 8, Elizabeth (Adelay) Witherite presents a multiple-method qualitative study exploring the ways in which “peer tutors experience and conceptualize social justice issues within the context of tutoring sessions in the writing center” (p.165). In the next chapter, Jocelyn Amevuvor recounts her experience of feeling conflicted about what to do as a tutor when she read a professor’s harsh comments regarding a student’s use of Ghanaian English. Although she decided to help the student revise his paper to meet U.S. academic expectations, she questioned whether her decision reinforced discrimination against Ghanaian English. In Chapter 10, Pei-Hsun Emma Liu describes how a Taiwanese student brought her L1 identity into U.S. academic writing where she successfully negotiated a space without losing her L1 identity. Through the example, the author explores the possibility of empowering L2 writers through the strategy of what she calls “transformative accommodation” (p.181), which allows multilingual writers to negotiate a space that integrates native rhetorical norms with U.S. academic writing conventions. The final chapter, by Jose L. Reyes Medina, is a first-person narrative of his rigorous journey from a struggling English language learner to a writing center tutor.

The last part of the book covers some of the challenges that tutors encounter in their tutoring sessions when trying to help L2 writers meet academic expectations. In Chapter 12, Valerie M. Balester highlights the elusiveness of any definition of critical thinking and argues that teaching it can easily lead to “othering” L2 writers. The author proposes that writing centers move away from an assimilationist approach in favor of an intercultural approach to teaching critical thinking. In Chapter 13, Jennifer Craig explores the challenges that L2 writers face when they learn to write in their own discipline and provides strategies for tutors who are not disciplinary experts. In the final chapter, Pimpaya W. Praphan and Guiboke Seong draw on their experiences as L2 learners and teachers of English in ESL and EFL contexts. They engage with issues and debates about editing L2 students’ papers, and they provide various tutoring strategies for helping L2 writers become self-editors.

One shortcoming of this book, which is one that the editors themselves acknowledge, is its limited focus on the U.S. context. Therefore, writing center tutors in an EFL context might find it less useful than U.S. tutors. Nonetheless, Tutoring Second Language Writers is undoubtedly a timely and important contribution to writing center scholarship. Most important, the authors of the book move away from assuming that writing center tutors and tutees are monolingual English speakers and see writing centers as multilingual and multicultural spaces. By exploring complexities around tutoring L2 writers, Bruce and Rafoth’s book provides a valuable resource for examining our current tutoring practices and preparing readers to work with L2 writers in writing centers. This book will be useful for both new and experienced tutors and helps the reader gain a new perspective on how to work with L2 writers in writing centers.


Hee-Seung Kang is director of the ESL Writing Program at Case Western Reserve University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and graduate courses in ESL pedagogy. She is also a member-at-large in the Second Language Writing Interest Section. Her research interests include multilingual students’ academic writing socialization, writing program administration, and teacher education.

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