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Bringing Hume to PWR 1: Peer Tutors and PWR 1 Classes

computer monitor with zoom
[image credit: Integrity stock / © 2020]

By Christine Alfano

During fall quarter, I was one of a handful of instructors who piloted a new collaborative relationship between peer tutors and specific PWR 1 classes.  The idea came out of brainstorming sessions between PWR Director Marvin Diogenes and Hume Director Zandra L. Jordan over the summer, during which they asked themselves, “What opportunities does remote tutoring offer for different types of support for undergraduates?  How might we adapt the successful Oral Communication Tutor model for peer writing tutors?”  They drew on the OCT model for inspiration, making peer writing tutors available to work directly with PWR 1 courses and customize tutor participation for specific classroom settings.

A limited version of this model had seen great success over recent years in the integration of a peer tutor into the PWR 1 companion courses (PWR 1WS: the PWR 1 Multilingual Writer Studio & PWR 1WW: the PWR 1 Workshop).  Norah Fahim, one of the initial designers of the Studio, has long valued the integration of a peer tutor into that course:

For the Multilingual Writing Studio, working weekly [in-class] with a peer multilingual tutor has been such a helpful academic (and moral) boost for students. To work directly with a peer tutor, who has taken PWR1 (or a version of the writing requirement) provides the Studio students with a helpful perspective and encouragement, as tutors tend to share their own experiences of being unfamiliar at first with academic genre conventions and the expectations of various assignments. 

Given the proven success of the integration of peer tutors into the Studio and Workshop, the prospect of expanding this opportunity to a broader range of writing classes was an exciting one.

In Fall 2020, Zandra offered an open invitation to the community for “exploring the possibility of pairing peer writing tutors with PWR 1 courses to assist with particular assignments or activities at specific points during the quarter.”  In addition to inviting lecturers to share their own ideas, she provided several options for what the collaboration might look like, including individual or multiple peer tutor support for in-class writing workshops and peer review and tutor-led small group tutorials during or outside of class.  Janet Kim worked closely with the pilot collaborations to make each of these ideas a reality. Below is a description of the three different models that instructors adopted during the pilot.



The PWR 1 Peer Tutor integration for my class (PWR 1CA: The Rhetoric of Gaming) was perhaps the most traditional: I arranged in-class one-to-one meetings for each of my students with a peer writing tutor.  I opted to collaborate with the peer tutors early in the quarter, hoping that a meeting with them during Week 3 would prompt my students to recognize exactly how valuable feedback from a peer tutor could be to their drafting and revision process. 

The first step was working with Janet to find four tutors who were available during my class time on Week 3 Day 1.  Students had completed their first draft of their Rhetorical Analysis, and the week was devoted to what I call “the Feedback Cycle,” involving peer feedback sessions with their classmates, written and in-conference feedback from me, and, now, a meeting with a peer tutor as well.  These required in-class tutoring sessions were 20 minutes long (meaning that each peer tutor met with up to four students in a row), and in preparation, I asked students to identify a specific point of focus for their session, which ranged from balancing analysis and description, developing a strong thesis claim, writing a strong conclusion, and using evidence effectively.  When students weren’t in their tutoring session, they joined our usual Zoom Room to work with their rhetorical analysis peer feedback group and also to touch base with me about their draft progress.

Students seemed to appreciate the time to work with a peer tutor, noting in anonymous mid-quarter feedback how the tutors “helped clarify how to make the essay better,” “gave honest feedback and helped me polish my writing,” and “provided an important outside view of whether the analysis worked.”  Several students felt that the sessions could have been longer, and at least a couple noted their plans to make regular Hume appointments in the future quarters. 



When Selby Schwartz decided to experiment with PWR 1 Peer Tutor integration for her PWR 1 class (PWR 1SC: Radical Acts of Art in Public: Rhetoric and Artivism), she identified several clear goals:

  • To distribute the authority and labor so that she did not present herself as the only person with all the “right” answers
  • To introduce first-quarter students to Hume
  • To provide students with “outside readers” with new perspectives

Although she arranged three different sessions, Selby cites as most successful the tutor interactions during Weeks 5 and 9, which were both in-class sessions, as opposed to the first, which took place outside of class time.  During Week 5, she and the tutors moved between breakout rooms during class to help students draft slides related to their Texts in Conversation topic; by incorporating the tutors in this way, she was able to provide her students more support and feedback on their drafts than she would have been able to alone.  The Week 9 integration was structured differently, providing more focused support for peer feedback groups:

4 tutors joined each class, 1 per draft feedback group (each group had its own breakout room). The tutors first facilitated an initial conversation in which each writer in the group said where they were in the draft process and what kind of feedback they were looking for. Then tutors gave feedback in the Google Doc comment threads, responding to the writers' directed questions. Finally, tutors facilitated a closing conversation about what the writers were planning to prioritize in terms of revision.

Peer tutors not only provided support during the drafting process but also modeled effective peer review practices that students could transfer forward to other projects, even beyond PWR.



Harriett Jernigan integrated peer tutors into her PWR 1 class (PWR 1HT: ‘What Are You, Anyway?’: The Rhetorics of Ethnic and Racial Identity) by inviting Hume staff to design outside-of-class workshops that would support students incrementally across the middle of the quarter.  Tutors held workshops on three consecutive Tuesdays on Weeks 4 through 6, focusing first on general writing tips, then on work related to the TiC, and finally on strategies for writing a successful RBA.  Harriet decided to rely on tutor expertise to craft the sessions based on their understanding of their assignments and their goals. As she notes, she chose this structure because the tutors themselves “have more relevant experience as students [than I do] about what is important to their peers.” 

In most cases, the peer tutors provided a brief initial overview and then guided the rest of the workshop based on the questions provided by students.  For Harriett, this engagement worked quite well.  “I mostly wanted students to develop an awareness that Hume offered peer tutors who had ample experience in order to encourage [my students] to take advantage of the peer tutors,” she wrote about the sessions. “I also wanted them to be thinking ahead about the RBA and get help with the T.i.C. I asked for the initial writing tips session to overlap with the feedback I'd given them on the RA, which receives the most feedback attention, since I want to establish expectations for structure, coherence, cohesion and style. I feel …  they had a positive experience with the tutors and felt they'd learned some useful things.” 

Mutallip Anwar had similar learning objectives for the peer tutor collaboration for his PWR 1 class (PWR 1MA: The Power of Words: Rhetoric of Social and Technological Changes): “I wanted students to get into the habit of seeking feedback on their writing outside of class. I also wanted to familiarize them with the Hume resources, something they have access to throughout their time at Stanford.” Like Harriett, Mutallip opted to schedule a series of sessions with the peer tutors for outside of the normal 80-minute class time, in his case aligning the peer tutor workshops with the drafts of the first two major essays.  Over 20 students took part in the peer-led group tutorials, participating “enthusiastically,” finding them to be “very helpful.”

Mutallip describes the process of setting up these sessions: “I shared with the tutors the assignment descriptions and told them about what students had been doing leading up to the tutorials. That helped tutors calibrate the sessions to the particular needs of my students during that week. During their first tutorial in week 2 [related to the Rhetorical Analysis assignment], tutors helped students identify rhetorical strategies in their artifacts and showed them how to construct strong analysis paragraphs. In the second meeting, they focused on revising and editing based on peer and instructor feedback. In the third round, they focused on the TiC.”

Mutallip’s peer tutors generally ran the sessions using a workshop model, first answering student questions and then pairing them up with each other in breakout rooms, dropping in for "targeted support."

Since Mutallip and Harriett set up sessions outside of scheduled class time, they couldn’t require attendance of their students. However, they both went to great lengths to offer the workshops at a variety of times, including some particularly designed to work with international student schedules.  While the decision to hold the session outside of class might have added some complexities to the scheduling process, it aligned with one of Mutallip’s secondary goals for the collaboration, which was to help foster "a learning community ... a challenging yet essential component of academic success in remote learning.”



Zandra and the rest of the Hume team are excited to expand this pilot to even more PWR 1 (or ITALIC) classes in winter and spring quarter.  The fall pilot instructors have the following advice for instructors who might be interested in this possibility.

Inside of class or outside of class? For my part, it was important that all students work with a peer tutor, so I scheduled it during class time (since I felt I couldn't require attendance otherwise). I thought students might also appreciate the change-up in class structure, since the design of moving from a 1-to-1 peer tutor session, to a Rhetorical Analysis group conversation, to a Q&A with me was definitely a departure from our usual Zoom format.

Harriett, on the other hand, recommends that instructors consider setting up the peer tutor sessions outside of class so that “students have their own space free of instructor interference… I'm a big believer in promoting learner autonomy, which means I can't be there.” Her preference is also influenced by the constraints that we all currently experience in teaching in this remote learning environment: “Considering the limited amount of time we have for F2F instruction, I found it great that we didn't cut into the precious little time we have during class. Under normal circumstances, I'd definitely have the peer tutor come in and run the session and hide out in the back of the room.”

Logistics for in-class sessions.  The logistics of arranging in-class sessions can be complicated.  As Selby notes: “It takes concentrated logistical planning in terms of communicating clearly & promptly with Janet, and in terms of class logistics.” During my collaboration, I found that my request to have 4 tutors, all running parallel sessions, early in the quarter, put the largest strain on the system; my session was early in the quarter, when tutors were still finalizing their own work and  class schedules, so it made it more difficult for Janet to locate enough tutors initially. 

Sign-ups and attendance for outside-class sessions.  Mutallip noted that if you’re holding the sessions outside of class time, finding a time that can work with everyone’s schedule is the most challenging part. Both he and Harriett polled students about their availability – in Mutallip’s case, he created up to five sessions to accommodate their schedules.  “It was a lot of logistical work for both Janet and me,” he noted in an email, especially since he went through the process several times during the quarter.  His pro-tip is that if you plan to hold several sessions across the quarter, poll the students once, in Weeks 1 or 2, and then set up sessions in advance to eliminate back-and-forth about scheduling during more stressful parts of the quarter.

Even once the tutorials are scheduled, you might want to think strategically about how you message to students about attendance.  Harriett strongly suggests instructors reserve class time for students to sign up for the sessions if they plan on scheduling them for outside of class. She writes of her own experience, “The first peer tutoring session had little or no attendance … because I did not have students sign up in class on the Google doc Zandra provided. After that, I made that a point of business during my ‘housekeeping’ segment at the beginning of class and stated that their participation would be positively noted and probably have a positive influence on their final drafts.” 

Duration of the sessions.  Feedback from both students and peer tutors point to the need to expand the duration of the workshops and consultations. Almost half the students who participated in my class’s one-to-one peer tutoring sessions during class noted that 20 minutes wasn’t really enough time to have the sorts of conversations they wanted to have about their essays.  Hume tutor Axelle Marcantetti, who worked with several different PWR 1 classes during fall quarter,  spoke to this: “A few times, I was working with four or so students in a single hour – introductions, questions at the beginning and end of the session, left little time for individual attention.”  Hannah Kunzman, another tutor who participated in this pilot, points to the importance of goal-setting: “It’s nice if students arrive[] with … advanced preparation, . . . choose one aspect beforehand that they wanted to prioritize, so they didn't have to decide that during the session.”

Forward transfer. Adding a reflective component can help students understand the work with the peer tutors being more than just a local “fix” but as influencing their developing process as writers.   As Harriett noted in an email, inviting reflection in this way can also have the added benefit of helping identify which models of integration work best for students and so can inform future peer tutor collaborations.


Across the board, all four instructors involved in the fall pilot endorse the collaboration with great enthusiasm – and gratitude.  “I highly recommend it,” Mutallip wrote in an email. “Students loved it and were always very appreciative of the genuine care and support we extended. It requires some time commitment to handle the logistics in the beginning, but it's worth it because the students will be more engaged with their work and produce stronger essays because of this additional time they spend together workshopping their essays.”  He expressed gratitude for this “very generous offer from Hume,” a sentiment echoed by Selby, who underscored her deep appreciation for Hume: “Janet and Zandra are so generous & wonderful in offering these opportunities!”

I’ll close with final words from Harriett, which underscore how this sort of innovative pilot not only extends the Hume mission into the PWR classroom, but also shows students how PWR courses and Hume constitute a continuous, student- and peer-centered engagement with writing at Stanford for which they can return. Here's Harriett:

I was really grateful to have the opportunity to draw on the experience of the peer tutors and remove myself from the equation as the only ‘authority; on the requirements and expectations for the assignments. Peer tutoring sessions like those implicitly demonstrate that writing is often a collaborative effort that involves not only instructors, but peers [and] tutors [as well].

While Zandra and the Hume team can provide peer tutor writing support for sessions that take place either during class time or outside of class time, they are especially interested in expanding in-class peer tutor writing support.  If you’re interest in setting up a peer tutor collaboration for your winter PWR 1 sections, please complete the PWR 1 Peer Writing Tutor Support Request form; please send any questions to Zandra and Janet. Note that Hume will be closed for Winter Break between 5:00 PM December 11 and 8:00 AM on January 4, so responses to email requests made after the 11th may be delayed for several weeks.  At this time, the peer tutor pilot extends only to PWR 1 classes.