When Fernanda Queirós was pursuing a PhD in Maternal & Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill, she was an avid user of writing center resources, including individual tutoring, English language support programs, and dissertation boot camp. Throughout her time there, she worked closely with Gigi Taylor, the Writing Center’s Senior English Language Specialist. Upon returning to Brazil in a postdoctoral position, Fernanda realized that many of the students who expected to graduate in three months were behind on writing their theses. When she described her experience at UNC, her lead professor, Abrahão Baptista, asked if she would be willing to develop similar writing support for graduate students at Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA).
Fernanda had plenty of experience as a writing center user but had no training as a teacher of writing. Nonetheless, she accepted the challenge and committed to starting a group in two weeks because she was convinced that even limited support would be better than nothing. Abrahão enlisted Prof. Kátia Sá of the Escola Bahiana de Medicina e Saúde Pública (EBMSP) and the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSal). While Abrahão and Kátia shared a deep interest in writing, neither of them knew anything about writing centers and could offer no specific help.
Unable to find information online about writing centers in Brazil, Fernanda reached out to Gigi at the UNC Writing Center. They had a long skype conversation about things to consider, how to set student expectations, how get them accustomed to writing center pedagogy, and about the wealth of resources available through the IWCA. Continue reading “Creating a Writing Center in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil”→
Correction: Originally, I said that this session was part of theIWCA Collaborative at 4Cs; it isn’t. My apologies to the presenters. This session is part of the 4Cs conference proper, and I wanted to highlight it, due to the increasing importance of online writing centres, especially the ability of online centres to cross borders and breakdown walls. The session is also available virtually. (Editor)
Chair: Scott Warnock at Drexel University Presenters: Jeannie Croichy, Jes Philbrook, Maxwell Philbrook, and Nicole Townsend, Walden University. Shelah Simpson, Liberty University
We’re very excited to do this intellectual work with the panel’s attendees. The CCCC OWI Principles is an important document for our understanding of online writing instruction, and we’re excited to use it to better our understanding of the online work of writing centers. We plan to continue this work after 4C18, and we’ll need as many voices as possible to help guide the continued work.
In an effort to be inclusive to writing center practitioners unable to attend CCCC in person, we are inviting remote attendees to join our panel wherever they may be in the world. The opening portions of the session will be broadcasted via the internet for virtual attendees to watch and the breakout portion of the session will feature a group that is designed and facilitated for remote attendees’ participation. We hope this session will demonstrate what is possible with virtual tools for writing center work, but also to provide remote participants the opportunity to help create this new site of inquiry.
There are many statements in “What’s Wrong with Writing Centers,” an interview with Lori Salem in the Feb 5, 2018 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, that highlight bad practice for writing centers. The interview presents Dr. Salem as a maverick writing center director, unique in the writing center field for using statistical and quantitative research and whose ideas are radical and forward–thinking in a field of status-seeking writing centers using outdated strategies that don’t serve working class or minority students or those for whom English is not a first language. The interview, conducted by Rose Jacobs, suggests that writing centers cater to privileged students who don’t need them, lest centers be considered remedial, and that writing center policies that have consultants focusing on higher-order concerns or using non-directive strategies is time-wasting and ineffective for students who need more direction.
If writing centers adopted this “one size fits all” approach to working one-to-one with the privileged students they supposedly prefer, and if they shunned empirical research methods in favor of lore, we should be alarmed. But the fact is that most of the claims made in this interview are simply not true—not true of the majority of writing centers in the U.S. and certainly not true of the Writing Center at Elon University. Many writing centers, including Elon’s, train their undergraduate student consultants based on current writing education scholarship; at Elon, for instance, the students in ENG319, Writing Center Workshop, prepare to become writing center consultants not by following lore about how to work with students on their writing but by learning about contemporary research in educational scaffolding, transfer of learning in writing instruction, and working with diverse learners. While there are a range of research approaches used by writing centers, for the last ten to fifteen years, as a field we have not shunned statistical or quantitative research and instead use empirical evidence to test and support claims about the value and impact of writing center sessions on students’ writing knowledge and confidence. In more recent years, writing center scholars have begun several large-scale, multi-site, and longitudinal studies on writing centers and their impact on student writers.
The most alarming claims in this interview are the ideas that writing center consulting strategies adopted as policy discriminate against minorities, multilingual learners, or working-class students and that transformative learning is not happening in writing centers. When Dr. Salem spoke with the Chronicle, she assumed she was speaking to a colleague who would respect a field’s need to continually self-assess and improve, not a writer intent on creating “click bait” sound bites to incite controversy. What the interview gets wrong, in fact, and what we know from empirical studies of writing center practice (for instance, Mackiewicz and Thompson, 2015), is what’s right about writing centers: that consultants, especially peers, do an excellent job identifying, through dialogue, each student’s unique needs at that moment and then tailoring feedback to suit that need. Ask any writing center consultant, at Elon or elsewhere, and they will tell you that it’s simply not possible to use the same technique with every student and that adjusting to each student’s learning style is one of the most important aspects of writing center work; consultants will also tell you that students will receive help with whatever they need, whether it’s organization, punctuation, or understanding an assignment’s purpose. What the interview gets right is the invitation to think carefully and continuously about how we can serve each and every student in our writing center; how our practices might intentionally or unintentionally exclude or discriminate; and about the evidence we collect and disseminate that shows the value of our service to students. While we have work to do, as does any academic program, individualized learning is at the heart of writing center practice.
Lingshan Song is the Assistant Director of the Writing Center at Mississippi College (MC). She also teaches freshmen composition courses and the tutor training course at MC. Her research interests include writing center theory and practice, ESL tutoring, cultural studies, and international collaboration. Her ongoing research projects involve advocating for writing centers in China and supporting writing center establishment there. Lingshan also serves as Outreach Coordinator on the Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) board, TESOL Representative for the Association of Christians in Writing Centers (ACWC), Secretary of Mississippi Writing Centers Association, and Member for the International Symposium of English Writing Center in Chinese Universities planning committee.
While writing centers have a long history in American academia and are well established in the U.S., in the past decade, writing centers have just started revealing their values to higher education institutions in China. In the past twelve years, from 2006-2017, a batch of Chinese higher institutions have started writing centers to provide tutoring for English writing. Another important step in writing center development was the inaugural conference of Writing Center Association of China, held from June 9-11, 2017 in the Sino-British university, Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, located in Suzhou, China.
With the exciting progress of building writing centers in China, there is yet to be a study about existing writing centers in China and their contributing elements commonly observed. In other words, how did these writing centers get started? What elements are essential to their establishment? I conducted preliminary research from September to November 2017, aiming to investigate existing writing centers in mainland China and discover commonalities among them and explore possible models for future writing center establishments in China, considering local adaptations.
Despite local adaptations, I found that as international partnerships prosper between U.S. universities and Chinese universities in the past decade, it has created a historical timing for writing center establishment in China. The “globalization” concept, bringing China’s education more in line with international practice, urges Chinese higher institutions to form international partnerships with oversea universities in two forms: 1) by developing exchange student programs with partner universities; 2) sending faculty to partner universities as visiting scholars. Continue reading “Joining the Momentum of Writing Center Establishment in China (Part 2 of 5, Writing Centers in China)”→
While I am grateful to The Chronicle for showcasing my article, I must object to how the interview was framed and edited. I am described as “something of a heretic” in the field for advocating that writing centers adopt new pedagogies, and that description is used to set up a me-against-the-field narrative.
This characterization is simply false. What makes my work new is its quantitative methodology, not my arguments about pedagogy. This is from the conclusion to my article: “I am not the first writing center researcher to observe problems with orthodox writing center pedagogies, nor the first to call for changes. My goal here is to add my voice to that growing chorus, as well as to provide some empirical backing for the argument.”
Moreover, my colleagues have embraced my research — they gave it an award, for heaven’s sake! — and they don’t deserve the implicit slam that came along with the article.
I hope that readers of this interview will be able to see past these mischaracterizations to a more balanced view of writing-center work. In my view, our field does powerful work, and we could still do better. We have come a long way, and we can still go further. The best way to understand my research is as a contribution to a field that is engaged in healthy debate.
To be clear, I don’t believe that there is anything fundamentally “wrong” with writing centers.
Assistant Vice Provost
Director, Student Success Center and Writing Center
シンポジウム開催「Innovations in Writing Education」
主催：東洋大学、The Writing Centers Association of Japan
参加登録には、 https://goo.gl/forms/gQAPw2d7nDzLf5cG3 にアクセスしてください。（無料）
応募書類を https://goo.gl/forms/qFLoZWh0QWwDwSLy2 で提出してください。
The Writing Centers Association of Japan, in conjunction with Toyo University and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), is pleased to announce the Tenth Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia to be held on March 9th, 2018. The theme this year is “Innovations in Writing Education.”
This symposium provides opportunities for scholars, teachers, students, university administrators, and other professionals to come together to exchange ideas about the role of writing centers in Asian educational institutions as well as the teaching and learning of writing. The symposium attracts a large number of participants, demonstrating the growing importance
of writing centers and a high level of interest in the role and functions of writing centers and writing in Asian higher education. We welcome a diverse group of participants and presenters
from a variety of contexts to join us. Attendance and participation are free.
5-28-20, Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo 112-8606, Japan
Call for Proposals
The Program Committee invites proposals for both research and practice-based presentations in English and Japanese. Presenters will have 25 minutes to present and answer questions.
Presenters are encouraged to use presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint), though they will need to bring their own computers and adapters. We also welcome poster presentations. This
year, reports on newly established writing centers and writing programs are particularly welcome, as well as other topics related to writing education.
Language of proposals and presentations: Either English or Japanese
• Title: Up to 100 letters (including spaces) in English or 50 characters in Japanese
• Summary for the symposium program: About 100 words in English or 250 characters in Japanese
• Abstract: 200 to 300 words in English or 500 to 800 characters in Japanese
• Names, affiliations, and e-mail addresses of all presenters
Proposals are to be submitted online.
Deadline for submissions: February 14, 2018 (Japan Standard Time)
Notification: February 19, 2018
In Canada, a recent focus on reconciliation and Indigenization are revitalizing conversations around anti-oppression pedagogy (Kumashiro, 2000), a series of approaches which focus on how traditional educational systems and practices reinforce existing hierarchies and contribute to the disenfranchisement of marginalized students. Nationally and internationally, post-secondary institutions are seeing students affected by the rising tide of extremist right-wing politics and dubious news sources, calling for renewed attention to social justice and literacy-building.
An International Writing Centres Association (IWCA) position statement states that writing centres are particularly well positioned to “uphold students’ rights, as we work in the everyday-ness of literacy” (as cited in Godbee & Olson, 2014). As Nancy Grimm (2009) said in her IWCA keynote, “Although some might claim that the work of a writing center is ‘just’ to teach writing, the teaching of writing is never a neutral endeavor; it is never devoid of political motivations or outcomes.”
At the 2018 CWCA conference, we invite you to join us to exchange knowledge, share challenges, and ask questions about the ways our teaching and tutoring can and should engage in anti-oppressive educational practices.
Karen-Elizabeth Moroski is the Co-Curricular Programs Coordinator, Writing and Languages at Pennsylvania State University
There’s so much joy in our work: Why not share it?
#WCjoy is a brand-new, bi-weekly twitter chat (Thursdays, 8 PM, EST), wherein WPAs, tutors, composition instructors, writers, etc. are invited to share their anecdotes, quotes, memories and various ways of expressing the joy we find in Writing Center work.
There are two goals for the chat:
The #wcjoy chat seeks to create an informal but still organized space for WPAs to meet, make friends, and experience a positive sense of community together. Follow others from the chat! Make friends! We are, quite literally, here for that reason.
The #wcjoy chat seeks to encourage WPAs, etc. to carve time out of their busy workweeks for mindfulness and reflection on the very moments and people who make our work so wonderful. This type of attention fosters gratitude, and gratitude in turn fosters joy.
Chat Dates for Fall 2017:
Here’s how it works.
Each bi-weekly session, questions will be posted to Write Centered Monday of that week.
At 8:00PM on Thursday, @write_centered will tweet out a welcome.
Follow the Chat Norms below for the rest.
Follow the moderator (@write_centered)
Questions are tweeted out with “Q” and question number.
Responses should start with “A” and corresponding Q# at the start of your tweet
Always use the hashtag #wcjoy to keep us organized!
Kindness and respect, always.
Users who attack or harm others will be blocked by participants.
Use the #wcjoy tag OFTEN and WELL! No need to reserve use for just the chat.
If you can’t attend the chat on time but want to answer questions, that’s totally cool. Just follow the chat norms, so we can still trace where you’re coming from and where you’re headed in your replies.
WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarshipis launching a workshop program to help writers publish in WLN and contribute to the field of writing center studies. The online workshops will support writers in their early stages of thinking and writing.
Help us help you!Please take our short survey to help us identify topics that most interest you, consider factors that will make the online workshops easy for you to attend, and make the workshops inclusive and accessible.
Many questioned how this year’s 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing, differed from our 2012 symposium. The simple answer is that the second symposium was asking whether it was our job to prepare students for workplace writing, even though no strong arguments were made challenging the notion. It was largely assumed that we should prepare students for the writing that they would do in their professional fields. Our 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing, on the other hand, was asking if it was even possible to prepare students situated in an academic context for the writing they would do in a completely different context, the workplace.
My scepticism resulted from an interest in Rhetorical Genre Studies and, in particular, the implications of Activity Theory that commenced in earnest after attending Genre 2012 conference in Ottawa. If “genres are part of how individuals participate in complex relations with one another in order to get things done, and how newcomers learn to construct themselves and participate effectively within activity systems”, then “how [can we] teach genres in ways that honor their complexity and their status as more than just typified rhetorical features”? How could workplace activities that are mediated through language be replicated in academic contexts if the goal of the replication did not match the goal of the activity it was about to replicate? As Dias et al. so aptly put it, the contexts are worlds apart. The conditions that motivate the occasion, the features of the rhetorical situation, the nature of the process, the role of author, the rules and the conventions…are all likely to be starkly different. This symposium would contest the notion that writing well in an academic context necessarily prepares graduates for the writing they will do in workplace contexts, a topic skirted around in our last symposium.
Too often, in the literature,, and in my conversations with employers in many of the transferable skills seminars that I attended in the years since the last symposium, employers have maintained that graduates do not assess the new writing situation, but remain reliant on the values, purposes, conventions and forms, etc., of academic writing. Graduates’ sense of authorship, audience and purpose, industry representatives have told me, are often completely off the mark of what the corporate context requires. With this in mind, I wanted our symposium to initiate a conversation between representatives from industry and academics about how graduates perform in workplace writing situations, the baggage that they bring along from academic writing contexts, and the process they go through in learning to write for this new workplace context. Because of my own strong belief that the role of ‘situation’ in writing pedagogy is undervalued and, therefore, ineffectively covered or considered in conversations on writing, I wanted both academics and business communication managers to explore the limits of replicating workplace writing situations in academic contexts and to discuss ways in which third-level educational institutions could better prepare third-level graduates for future workplace writing situations.
The symposium was held on June 1st, as the Irish Network for the Enhancement of Writing (INEW) were bringing in Kathleen Blake Yancey, Kellogg Hunt Professor of English and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University (FSU), earlier in the week to talk about the role of reflection in peer review as a tool for learning and writing transfer, and the two co-Chairs, Íde O’Sullivan (UL) and Alison Farrell (NUI Maynooth) graciously asked Kathy if she would mind presenting at our symposium while she was in town. Kathy, generously, agreed to speak to our audience about things that they should consider when framing their conversations on writing and transfer and teaching writing transfer. I thought that some writing developers in Ireland might have some sense of how people in Rhetoric and Composition Studies talk about the writing, or rhetorical, situation and about metacognitive awareness about one’s own process and practices, but those concepts might be somewhat new to many here who teach writing either in the discipline or as ancillary support. Kathy described, for our audience, the components of the Teaching for Transfer (TFT) curriculum that she facilitates in FSU and how each of those components worked with each other in the teaching and learning dynamic. She also identified and defended what she believes to be the conditions necessary for transfer to occur.
By the time that I spoke to Kathy, Anthony Paré was already on board. Anthony agreed to talk a bit about the historical theoretical evolution in our approach to teaching writing at third level and to emphasise the role of context in transitioning from one writing situation to another. Anthony, in his talk, elaborated on the seemingly endless functions that text can perform and emphasised how a shift in context can impact on the form that ‘text’ takes in order to mean and function. Anthony advocated for an increase in the number and variety of rhetorical challenges faced by students, replication of situations and processes that are specific to actual
situations they may face later in their academic careers or in the workplace or in life in general, opportunities for addressing a variety of audiences, chain or series assignments and an increase in the modes by which knowledge is communicated, arguments made. Anthony also brought to the table discussions about the role of industry, their responsibility for easing the transition for incoming graduate employees.
Much more difficult was it to find representatives from industry, and even more so finding third-level writing and/or subject specialists willing to present on their own attempts to facilitate writing transfer across contexts. Originally, I had approximately six or seven people that wrote to me to say that they would like to present on a curriculum designed to assist students in their transition to workplace writing. I envisaged a one-hour breakout of seven or eight twenty-minute presentations on pedagogical practices, but only two people responded to the call for abstracts; one of those two, sadly, had to bow out for personal reasons. Susan Norton, DIT School of Languages, Law & Social Sciences was our lone practitioner. Sue took the stage to deliver a thirty-minute talk about how Reader Response Theory helps developing writers to become more aware of the conventions of the texts that they and their audiences read so that they are more astute about how their audience makes meaning.
I had more success attracting representatives from industry, though the process was somewhat stressful. Maria-Jose Gonzalez, coordinator of Dublin Institute of Technology’s recently formed Academic Writing Centre, tipped me toward Tony Donohoe, Head of Education and Social Policy for the Irish Business and Employer Confederation (Ibec). She had heard Tony speak in the past and found him very supportive of initiatives like our symposium. It was Tony who found Barry McLoughlin, Senior Training Consultant for The Communication Clinic in Dublin. Though The Communication Clinic is usually thought of as one of Ireland’s most visible public relations firms, they also provide industries with consultants like Barry to either train staff to write texts that achieve corporate goals or else consultants write those texts themselves. Our third speaker from industry was much more difficult to come by. I was looking for a corporate-level communications manager, preferably one responsible for external communications. I wanted this person to describe the corporate culture, the kinds of texts that were produced, the process of production, and how the process differed from the writing they had done at university or at the IT.
I researched the top ten indigenous companies, either highest employment numbers or highest revenue turnover. I had originally written to a woman who produced quarterly financial reports for CRH plc, The International Building Materials Group, rated Ireland’s top industry with the highest turnover, but I received no response. I then began searching LinkedIn for Communication Managers. I had written to one person who was a University Limerick graduate working for Twitter, but again received no response. Finally, after making a few other contacts that did not pan out, I came across Edel Clancy, Director of Communication & Corporate Affairs, Musgrave Group, Ireland’s sixth largest employer.
Edel is native to Limerick and a graduate of UL, and one of our tutors was a good friend of hers. It couldn’t get better. I had written to her, but again did not receive a response. I was beginning to think I would have to give up on the idea of a having a representative from a large industry who could take our audience through the production of a text, step by step through its complicated, and potentially long, process. Then, Edel wrote back. I gave her the date, and she agreed to speak. She called me a few weeks before the symposium from a train travelling from Cork to Dublin. She was worried about the fifty-minute slot. She thought she would not have enough to talk about. Despite being disconnected several times as the train passed through areas without a signal, we spoke for over an hour about writing and how writing functioned at Musgrave Group. It became clear, even to her, that she’d have no trouble talking about writing for fifty minutes.
The symposium was brilliant. Our audience was not as large as I’d have hoped, but it is already a tricky time of year, only madeworse by the abundance of relevant events that had been scheduled for the preceding two days. By Thursday, June 1st, many people were already tuckered out and not up to the long drives to Limerick from far-flung quarters of Ireland. Nevertheless, people from as far away as the US, the UK and Germany were in attendance. Many people had written to ask if we could video-record the talks. We couldn’t afford a professional outfit to do the job, but we did manage to get hold of a video recorder and a stand. The recordings are available on our website. I hope those who contacted me find value in the recordings. The symposium finished with a panel conversation with the audience. Barry McLoughlin left us with a sense of the importance of writing knowledge to efficacy, asserting that people who feel confident about their writing skills feel more prepared to accept more demanding roles. Edel expressed the hope that the Regional Writing Centre step outside of the university to engage with a wider society, an idea with which the rest of the panel strongly concurred. Kathy and Anthony both advocated for more student engagement with industry through internship and apprenticeship programmes, Anthony speaking a bit more philosophically about the way the academic project views its place in society. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, UL’s Associate Vice President Academic, was asked to join the panel. Sarah brought the conversation back to the Graduate Attributes spoken of earlier in this piece. Sarah views the attributes as the link between a student’s academic experience and the future that awaits them. If one follows Kathy’s talk, they might consider this link made by Sarah and the link to the future that Kathy tells us is so important as a condition for transfer.
I hope the readers of this report on our symposium and its context will link into our website to view and listen to the conversations that took place on June 1st, at our 10th Anniversary Symposium on Writing. At the RWC, we are preparing now for a new semester, but we are also looking ahead to engaging an increasingly diverse society in the ongoing conversation on writing.
Thank you for reading along.
 Russell, D. (1997) “Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity Theory Analysis.” Written Communication 14(4), pp. 504-54.
 Barwarshi, A. S. and Reiff, M. J. (2010) Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy, West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, p. 104.
 Dias, P. et al. (1999/2009) Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. New York and London: Routledge, p. 5.
 thejournal.ie (2016) ‘Lots of jobs out there for graduates – but employers say they don’t have the communication skills’, http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/graduates-opportunities-employers-ruairi-kavanagh-2861634-Jul2016/
 Forbes (2016) ‘These Are The Skills Bosses Say New College Grads Do Not Have’, https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2016/05/17/these-are-the-skills-bosses-say-new-college-grads-do-not-have/#234e34125491
A post from Guelph University (Ontario) and Bellarmine University (Kentucky): a survey on peer educators across Canada and the United States.
We are conducting research in the United States and Canada on peer educators – students who provide academic support services to other students – and their supervisors. We hope to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between supervisors and peer educators, and of the roles of peer educators within the academic support profession.
Lawrence Cleary is an Educational Developer and Co-Director, Regional Writing Centre at the University Limerick, Ireland
2017 marks the 10th anniversary of Ireland’s first academic writing centre, originally called the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre, University Limerick. The Shannon Consortium is an alliance between four third-level institutes in the Shannon region: The University of Limerick (UL), Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and the Institute of Technology, Tralee (IT, Tralee)—the only institute outside of not only the city of Limerick, but also outside of County Limerick. The formation of that alliance facilitated the consortium’s acquisition of a variety of Strategic Innovation Funds (SIF) that had been offered by the Irish government from 2006-2008. One of those awards funded the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre for the first two and a half years of its existence, long enough for my colleague, Íde O’Sullivan, and I to establish the centre’s value and appeal for institutional funding to preserve and maintain it. In 2009, the University of Limerick found the contribution of the centre significant enough to warrant allocating an annual budget to keep the resource open. That allocation is managed by the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, to whom we now report. However, though we are no longer funded by the Shannon Consortium, we maintained our regional aspirations in our new name, the Regional Writing Centre, UL, and this aspiration is in line with UL’s strategic plan, Broadening Horizons 2015-19.
Previous to the establishment of this first third-level academic writing centre in Ireland, only one other academic writing centre existed on the island: St. Mary’s University College Writing Centre, in Belfast, established in 2002 by two Americans, Jonathan Worley and Matthew Martin. Jonathan and Matthew spoke at our first symposium on writing, Research on Writing Practices: Consequences for the Teaching of Writing and Learner Outcomes, organised by my colleague Íde O’Sullivan in December of 2007, with Ken Hyland as keynote speaker.
In that first symposium, Íde and I presented on our rationale for our choice of response to the university’s writing needs, subsequently published as ‘Responding to the Writing Development Needs of Irish Higher Education Students: A Case Study’ (Cleary, Graham, Jeanneau and O’Sullivan, 2009). Though the bulk of the presentation and ensuing article focused on the results of Íde’s 2005 and 2006 surveys of staff and student attitudes toward writing and their preferences for writing provision, as well as on the informed, systematic approaches available to us for addressing the needs expressed in the surveys, even here we felt we had to first establish for our audience that writing mattered.
When making our case in this first presentation, much of our argument for the importance of writing was focused on the importance of writing for the achievement of the national strategies to which Irish universities responded in their own strategic plans. Ireland at that time was determined to become a knowledge economy. “Knowledge, innovation, creativity and workforce skills are now the key success factors for Ireland’s economic and social prosperity” (Hanafin 2005). Citing the Teachta Dála’s words in her 2008 formal evaluation of our writing centre, Terry Zawacki emphasised this idea that “[t]he importance of writing in the overall higher education mission cannot be overestimated considering the knowledge-economy context in which Ireland now evolves.”Continue reading “Why good academic writers perform poorly in the workplace: Teaching for transfer across contexts of writing (Part 1 of 2)”→
I have often joked that I have three fantasy careers: an astronaut, a neuroscientist, and a brew-master. While my career trajectory has not led me in those directions, I do have a keen interest in brain-based learning and in how to help students. When thinking about my role as Writing Centre Project Coordinator one evening, possibly over a pint, my inner neuroscientist and prior learning got me thinking, and I started to do some research into Executive Function (EF) skills. EF skills, which include “cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgement” (Bradley-Ruder, 2008), reside in the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex of the brain. Interestingly, “the prefrontal cortex is one of the last regions of the brain to reach maturation…[and] is not complete until near the age of 25” (Arain et al., 2013, p. 435). Whilst delving more into EF skills, I began to see a significant connection between EF skills development and the development and deployment of writing skills. I would like to explore more of these connections in this blog, as well as make room for discussion on the topic. I hope you will all join in on the conversation.
First, let’s explore Executive Function a bit more. As mentioned, EF includes the ability to develop and reach goals, process and evaluate information, understand cause and effect, and make reasonable inferences (Bradley-Ruder 2008). Residing in the frontal lobe, we also know that this part of the brain is responsible for logic, strategy, working memory, planning, problem-solving, and reasoning skills (Schwaighofer, Buhner, & Fischer, 2017). When a learner faces difficulty in these areas and with these skills, they will likely encounter challenges parsing, sequencing, remembering, evaluating, organizing, manipulating, planning, self-regulating, and with general task follow-through (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011). This can affect both the learner’s interaction within their learning environment(s), as well as with specific program expectations and activities/tasks.
Understanding that the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex takes a significant amount of time to fully develop, and knowing that EF skills are not innate, post-secondary education is faced with some unique challenges. Much of what we require of our students depends on their ability to organize, critique, remember, reflect, evaluate, plan, and reason (Graham, Karris, & Olinghouse, 2007). If students are coming to us beginning at the age of 18, for example, not only are they still approximately 7 years from having a fully, physiologically-developed frontal lobe, they may also not have had enough exposure and EF training to be fully successful on their own. “Poor executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback, and mental inflexibility” (Johnson, Blum, Geidd, 2009, p. 219), which are all critical skills for post-secondary success and employability. With this in mind, it seems increasingly incumbent on adult educators to direct focus, time, and specific practice to help our students engage in and strengthen their EF skills. When discussing EF skills as they relate to adolescents and young adults, Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child states that “…executive function skills are not yet at adult levels, but the demands placed on these skills often are” (Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child, 2017). Further, Weinberger, Elvevåg, and Geidd (2005) remind us that while adolescents and young adults are “full of promise, often energetic and caring, capable of making many contributions to their communities, and able to make remarkable spurts in intellectual development and learning…neurologically, they are not [yet] adults. They are…a work in progress” (2005, p. 19) and require support to continue learning and developing the skills required for post-secondary success. Continue reading “Executive Function and Writing: What Does It Mean for Writing Centres? – An Open Discussion”→
Linnet Humble is the Writing Centre Coordinator at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
In April, a Maclean’s article shared by a colleague on Facebook caught my eye. This colleague noticed our university ranked first in a particular category on Maclean’s second annual Student Survey. When asked if their university was helping them write clearly and concisely, 55% of St. Thomas University students strongly agreed and 31% somewhat agreed, placing our university at the top of the list for that performance indicator—ahead of other similar schools in the region, like Acadia and Mount Allison, as well as much larger schools from Ontario, such as Queen’s.
When I saw our university ranked first in an infographic related to writing, I let out a whoop and immediately reposted the article. Just as I was wearily approaching my year-end reports, here was some external validation—from a prominent national publication, no less! It was a shot in the arm for me as the Writing Centre Coordinator. Friends and colleagues offered their congratulations; I walked around for half a day feeling quite chuffed.
But I soon began to second-guess this good news. Did these results actually mean anything? Is Maclean’s a reliable source of information? Can surveys like this accurately measure our students’ writing abilities in their own right, or in comparison to those at other Canadian universities? And how much credit could the Writing Centre reasonably take for such scores?
To learn more, I contacted Garry Hansen, Director of Institutional Research at St. Thomas University. Hansen is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and ensuring effective use of university data both internally (by informing strategic decision-making at the university), and externally, by providing data to agencies like Statistics Canada and Maclean’s.
Hansen cautioned me against placing too much stock in these survey results. In addition to lending his critical perspective on this particular publication, he was able to suggest other tools and organizations that can provide a more accurate perspective on our students’ writing skills and how they fare in comparison to others’.
The start of the academic year is one of the most important times for institutions, including writing centers. Training, routines, and center management become focal points; effective practices in these areas helps foster growth and efficient operations for the center. It’s an important, and sometimes stressful, time for centers, making it a vital topic for discussion for writing center professionals. For this week’s chat, we’ll focus on the role that training takes in starting our academic years, discussing specifically what we do, why we do those things, and what we struggle with in training. Through discussion, we will be able to share ideas for what works for our own centers, as well as offer ideas for others.
Over the next few months, we will be posting on writing centre work in China. Contributing are 杨雪 Xue (Rachel ) Yang, Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai School of Design; 宋凌珊 Lingshan Song, Writing Center Assistant Director, Mississippi College; Jessie Cannady, Module Convenor Writing Centre, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University; Brian Hotson, Director, Academic Learning Services, Saint Mary’s University; and Julia Combs, Writing Center Director, Southern Utah University.
We first came up with the idea of establishing our own Writing Center in Spring 2015. We were facing an ever-increasing number of students enrolled who had to grapple with higher expectations in English competency. The program we build at the School of Design focuses tremendously on a globalized education which internalizes its doctrine in preparing students to be more active and engaged global participants through its ever more internationalized guiding themes, curriculum framework, teaching staff, study environment, and exchange program. A heavily IELTS-driven English language curriculum has therefore been introduced. 2+2 program students are required to pass the official IELTS test before the end of their sophomore year so that they can transition smoothly to a collaborative overseas program. 4+0 program students are asked to prove their English proficiency through IELTS as well since starting from the third year, all their design-related major courses will be instructed by lecturers/professors sent from Germany, where English is the main and only teaching language in class. At this point they will have no help from teaching assistants anymore. 4+0 program students will also need the IETLS score report for them to receive the bachelor’s degree from the German university side.
From this description, you can get a sense of how English language proficiency is a matter of life or death for students in our program.
Nearly every instructor in our English language team has some education background in a foreign country, and thus we are considerably excited and revitalized by the Writing Center idea. I did my master’s degree at Boston College which has a writing center that I took huge advantage of. The BC writing center is a sub session within an overarching learning center, which centers on tutoring that covers over 60 subjects, ADHD & Learning Disability Support Services, and writing support. “Writing support” is similar to what we have here at the School of Design Writing Center.
The Writing Center officially launched in September 2016, and we called it the “beta” trial version. We were the first on-campus writing center at our university, basically with no prior experience to build on. Thus, the format of the tutorial, size of student populations we intended to serve, and what kind of tutors we wanted to hire were all tricky problems we encountered. There is no perfection in your first try. What matters is that you do try. Bearing in mind this belief, we decided that the tutorial should follow the format of an ESL writing assistance session. These writing appointments focus on not only helping students formulate their writing ideas, structure and flow of papers, but also checking for their grammatical mistakes. Students are asked to come prepared with drafted writing pieces and attempted problems. Student population size is another thing that is hard to predict. The writing center aims at serving sophomores of international cooperation programs, accounting for over 450 students in total. However, this writing appointment service is on a completely voluntary basis, making the visits tricky to predict. We later agreed on providing 10 available sessions to the students and seeing how things go as time went on. As for recruiting tutors, we soon abandoned the idea of hiring student tutors. Back in early 2015, we did hire some senior student tutors from the School of Foreign Language to help our students with IELTS reading and listening, but it did not end up well. One of the challenges was it was extremely difficult to recruit sufficiently qualified tutors with a proper sense of responsibility and another was that the student tutors’ schedules varied to a great degree which caused unnecessary trouble for scheduling writing appointments.
Throughout the past 10 months, we have accrued concrete records of the Writing Center visits and plan to use these data for further adjustment of scheduling, which parallels the “big data” trend in the Internet environment where information is being densely analyzed for manifold purposes. Through browsing our visit tracking book we can easily see the pattern of student visits: which weeks are the peak visiting periods, which time during the day is mostly preferred, which student groups like to take advantage of this service the most, and which tutors are most frequently booked by the students. Continue reading “Writing Centers in China | The Writing Center @BNUZ School of Design | Part 1 of 5”→