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3 holistic approaches to reviewing students’ essays

Curious to find out how Paper tutors draw on insights from their professional experiences to support students? Take a look at this guest post from Gabrielle.


I’m a licensed massage therapist with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. I’m also proud to be a Review Center tutor here at Paper. 

Although I’ve always been passionate about writing, my skill set undoubtedly leans towards the health sciences. This gave my first-day jitters an extra degree of apprehension when I started reviewing students’ writing submissions on the platform. 

To my surprise, I found a number of parallels between the guiding principles of massage therapy and Paper’s approach to evaluating writing. From the time I first read through a piece of writing to the moment I submit my review, I find myself drawing on my entire skill set.

Taking a holistic approach

The most apparent similarity between massage therapy and Review Center tutoring is the emphasis on providing a holistic experience. As a massage therapist, I’m trained to evaluate clients using the biopsychosocial model. This means that I consider not only the interplay between various bodily regions and systems, but also the effect of psychological and social factors on my clients’ health. 

As a Review Center tutor, I utilize similar practices when evaluating writing submissions and providing feedback to students. 

One of the foundations of the Review Center is the significance of global revision (that is, focusing on elements such as content, organization, and the development of ideas), as strengthening such building blocks can help students improve their writing in the future. I comment on overarching concepts and components in writing submissions to more deeply engage students with their work.     

When I construct my feedback, I want to make sure students not only understand my comments, but also find them insightful and encouraging. This means that I need to develop a foundation of trust and respect. 

I mindfully consider the student who will be reading my words. What’s their age group? Do they identify as an English-language learner? Are the thoughts they’re sharing strictly academic or deeply personal? I make an effort to meet students where they are.

Guiding—not intervening

Another parallel between the two professions is the principle of providing guidance rather than direct intervention. My goal as a massage therapist is not to “treat” a condition as a doctor would with medication or surgery. Instead, I aim to bring my client’s body into a state of homeostasis (in other words, balance) so it can function optimally.

Similarly, my goal as a Review Center tutor is not to instruct or edit. I want to give students the tools and resources to develop their unique writer’s voice. This voice is a balance of many different elements that utilizes the students’ strengths while maintaining certain basic essentials. 

To help students find this balance, I try to guide them toward a deeper understanding of certain elements within their writing. At Paper, we use an inquiry-based approach to tutoring called the Paper Method, so I often pose questions that encourage the students to think critically and utilize their prior knowledge. If I feel they might benefit from a more in-depth exploration of a particular concept, I encourage them to talk to their teacher or check out an academic website like the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Adapting to different needs

The final quality that both roles share is the practice of adapting every experience to the individual’s present needs. One of the most enduring lessons I took from my massage therapy training is the idea that no two sessions are ever the same. Not only is every person different, but an individual’s needs often change from one day to the next. To make sure I’m prepared for a wide range of client needs, I study a variety of different modalities and techniques in my continuing education courses.

I’ve found it very helpful to use a similar perspective when I’m reviewing students’ writing. As I mentioned previously, I want to meet students where they are; this means I adapt my feedback to address the unique features of each and every submission. I also collaborate with other Review Center tutors and participate in professional development courses to learn about different review approaches.   

Ultimately, all of these similarities are rooted in a single impetus that led me to the fields of health care and education in the first place: the desire to help others fulfill their potential. At Paper, I’m able to use my unique skill set to help students in ways I would have never imagined on that first day.

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Gabrielle, Paper Tutor

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