Please welcome to the blog our new associate editor for the Middle East and North Africa, Anna Habib – editor.
Anna S. Habib is the Associate Director of Composition, at both the George Mason University home campus and at the branch campus in Songdo, South Korea & coordinator and instructor in the Graduate Writing Across the Disciplines courses for INTO Mason, Mason’s pathway program for graduate and undergraduate international students.
Anna S. Habib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, during the civil war to a Lebanese father and American mother. When she was four years old, her family fled to the neighboring island of Cyprus where she grew up in a community of refugees from surrounding countries. As a bi-cultural, bi-national child from a post-colonial context, she grew up with English, Arabic and French as native languages and Greek as a second language. These intercultural, translingual experiences inspired her to pursue a BA in English with a concentration in Cultural Studies, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at George Mason University. She graduated from the MFA program in 2006. Her thesis, which she hopes to continue working on someday, is titled “A Block from Bliss Street: Growing up as a child of the Lebanese civil war.” She is currently pursuing her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric also at Mason, where she served as the Associate Director of the Writing Center for five years until she transitioned to her current position as Associate Director of Composition for Multilingual Writers.
Her research and publications have focused on the experiences of multilingual writers adapting to the expectations of the U.S. academy, faculty perceptions of writing by multilingual students, and designing writing courses that are attuned to the diverse needs of this population. She is currently working on an auto-ethnography that aims to explore and theorize individual experiences of trauma and displacement.
Please welcome to the blog our new associate editor for Europe, Dr. Stephanie Dreyfürst – editor.
Dr. Stephanie Dreyfürst, Director, Academic Writing Center,
I became interested in genre during my studies of German literature of the early Enlightenment period and have been doing research about historical genres as part of my job as director of the Writing Center at Frankfurt’s Goethe university.
WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship is proud to announce our second webinar: “WCA as Hero: A Scholar’s Journey to Publication.”
This event, covering strategies for drafting an article for WLN, including how to find time to write, how to understand the lit review process, and how to find or start a writing group, will be held on Friday, October 26, 2018, 3:00pm to 4:00pm E.S.T. and is hosted by WLN Associate Editors Elizabeth Kleinfeld, Sohui Lee, and Julie Prebel. There will be opportunities for Q & A.
Please welcome to the blog our new associate editor for Asia, Lingshan Song – editor.
Lingshan Song, Assistant Director, Writing Center
Lingshan 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, and cultural studies. Currently she has been a strong advocate for advancing writing center movement in China and connecting writing center professionals from China and US. 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), and Oversea Representative for the Writing Center Association of China (WCAC).
As a native Chinese, Lingshan is trilingual (Mandarin, English, and Fuzhou Dialect). She enjoys reading, writing, teaching, travelling, making friends from different countries, and exploring diverse cultures. She feels honored to join the WLN editor team this year and very much looking forward to contributing to the community that seeks to connect writing centers across borders.
My participation in the 2018 Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference (CWCA) was like a putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I am an international Deaf student who has been to writing centers for more than a decade. As a Deaf writer, I was honored to share my story at the CWCA conference. I was also excited to meet writing center professionals and learn about the writing centers in Canada.
When I participated in the conference, the Keynote speaker was Dr. Sheelah McLean—a co-founder of the Idle No More movement. As I listened to Dr. McLean speak, I realized that there were commonalities between Indigenous students and Deaf students.
Historically, many Ingenious students grew up by attending White-centered schools, trying to assimilate into the White-centered culture, speaking standard English, and behaving like White people. The use of Indigenous language was banned by residential schools. In the same way, many Deaf students grew up attending mainstream schools without accommodation, trying to assimilate into hearing culture, speaking orally, and trying to behave like hearing people. The use of sign language was banned at mainstream schools.
When I wrote an essay about Deaf people, I was often asked to affix a lower case ‘d’ to the term “deaf people,” which signified a person’s inability to hear. However, I was asked not to affix a capital letter ‘D’ to the term “Deaf people” although it signified persons who identified with Deaf culture. This was an example of cultural repression because my editors were not familiar with Deaf culture, and the differences between people who are culturally Deaf people and those people who are non-culturally deaf people. This experience is similar to that experienced by Ingenious students who were often asked to fix their Indigenous language to conform to standard English, because of lack of cultural linguistic awareness and hundreds of year of cultural repression and genocide.
In my round-table discussion, I discussed the concept of translingualism. The term translingual originated from Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach (Horner et al, 2011)—which states, in part, “this approach sees difference in language not as a barrier to overcome or as a problem to manage, but as a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening” (p. 303). Although many scholars have addressed translingualism for multilingual speakers, little attention has been paid to multilingual signers. Since the translingual approach could be beneficial for indigenous student writers, I argued for the inclusion of “signing” in this definition as well, since because a translingual approach could also apply to Deaf writers. Continue reading “Placing a Piece of the Puzzle: Translingualism and International Deaf Writers”→
My mantra as co-director of the Herndon Writing Center (HWC) has long been “we’re always in beta.” Each year presents a unique challenge either within our center or our larger school community that we seek to address through the work of our center. Some years, we’ve sought to make our space more inviting for our school’s growing population of English Language Learners, while other years, we’ve worked to develop a community of writers and a culture of writing in our school.
This year’s challenge? How do we offer quality, ongoing tutor training and foster a sense of ownership in our center when we have an abundance of enthusiastic, dedicated tutors and a scarcity of time to formally come together to discuss tutoring best practices and make plans?
The Herndon Writing Center is a student-run, teacher-directed space where all students at our very large, very diverse suburban high school in Fairfax County, Virginia can work with a peer tutor on their writing. While there are many models of implementation for SSWCs, which include opening all day thanks to tutors who give up a study hall period or opening only before or after school, the HWC operates through a course called Advanced Composition, an advanced writing elective that was originally revised and repurposed by Amber Jensen of Edison High School to house writing centers in Fairfax County Public Schools. Students may apply to become tutors and enroll in Advanced Composition beginning in their Sophomore year, and once accepted, they may enroll in the course every year until they graduate.
Tomoyo Okuda graduated with a Ph.D. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her research interests include second language writing, writing center studies, internationalization of higher education, and language policy.
Christiane Donahue (2009) once praised the writing center community as having the “strongest development in terms of exchange of teaching practice and pedagogical framing, always explored in context” (p. 222). This is evident from the fact that we can find writing centers in 63 countries, according to the St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Directory.
I was always interested in why writing centers became so popular around the world and started collecting literature written about writing centers in different countries (as a side note, I focused on writing center development in Japan for my dissertation research, “The Writing Center as a Global Pedagogy: A Case Study of a Japanese University Seeking Internationalization”). A common topic found in international writing center literature was how the idea of the writing center needed adjustments to suit the cultural, religion, existing literacy practices of each country or institution. But I was more interested in the bigger picture—the socio-political/economic imperatives of writing center initiation, namely, the political landscape of higher education discourses and reforms fed into the decision to initiate or sustain a writing center (Salem, 2014). In this blog post, I would like to discuss three imperatives identified from my reading of international writing center literature (book chapters, articles, reports, websites).
Internationalization has become a powerful agenda for many universities around the world, and for non-English speaking countries, this means internationalizing higher education through the medium of English. Thus, we can see English-medium instruction programs (courses and programs taught in English) in what Harbord (2010) calls US-style universities: universities with “US accreditation, US charter, US-style curriculum, US grading system, a liberal arts approach, and some faculty from the US” (para. 9). Examples of US-style universities would be liberal arts colleges in Hungary, India, and Japan, and American branch universities such as in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Bulgaria, where the writing center is usually managed in conjunction with first year composition courses. Another internationalization initiative for universities is scholarly publications in English and for this purpose, some writing centers in East Asia offer services to help scholars write research manuscripts in English. For instance, according to Kim (2017), the government-supported globalization initiative called ‘Brain Korea 21’, which aims to foster international scholars, led to a wave of new writing centers in South Korean universities. Continue reading “Internationalization, Massification, and the Knowledge Economy: A Comparison of International Writing Center Trends”→
Dr. Karen-Elizabeth Moroski is the Co-Curricular Programs Coordinator for Writing and Languages at Penn State University, University Park Campus. Her research interests span affective neuroscience, trauma studies, queer theory, and writing studies—really, she loves the intersections of critical theory and embodiment. Karen’s particularly interested in how Writing Centers can work to engage/combat/heal the lives writers live before, during, and after their writing process: can we heal trauma through writing? She’s an Associate Editor for WAC Clearinghouse, serves on Executive Board for the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Association, and was recently appointed to co-lead the first-ever International Writing Center Association Digital Content Team. Residing in Pine Grove Mills, PA, with her wife and their badly-behaved cats (Tag and Samoa), Karen loves riding her bike and singing out of tune.
Before I Begin…
I’d like to own that much of this post is a narration of a person journey wherein my experience is what’s being centered—though the issues challenging me throughout the post are areas of scholarship (and, yes, life) that can and should be centered in their own right whenever possible. I am conscious that this blog post may feel like “Here’s a white person explaining their whiteness, and how they’re challenging themselves to change”—and maybe it is that, in a way—but my pedagogical and intentional reason for crafting my post this way is to show an evolution of thought, self-reflection, and to model the type of calling out that more white academics and administrators need to do with ourselves and with one another.
I’m writing with full acknowledgement that my whiteness, my privilege, and my context have shaped how I interpret, express, and address the information I’m sharing—and that it’s scholars of color, not white allies or accomplices, who have done the most powerful and productive work on pushing the fields of rhetoric, composition, and writing center studies towards anti-racism and equity. (And I’ve included endnote references throughout to share moments of connection with my musings here today and the scholarship that informs them, as a blog post isn’t perhaps the best genre to go full-on, MLA8 in-text on ya’ll.)
I’m grateful to scholars like Vershawn Ashante Young,[i] Suresh Canagarajah,[ii] Asao Inoue,[iii] Aja Martinez,[iv] bell hooks,[v] and others who have given again and again the opportunity for white academics to learn from their work and to then act upon that learning. I write that sentence while wishing that the academy did not require scholars of color to write about and defend the dignity of their identities so that we could use their scholarship as teaching tools. That said, again, I want to express gratitude that it is work many scholars of color have done and continue doing as that work has challenged and engaged an entire field of study.
I am a work in progress; the writing center where I hang my hat is a work in progress; we hope to keep learning more and doing better, and we wish we were faster at that process.
Let’s Get To It, Then. I’ve been thinking a lot about translingualism and writing centers. I’ve been wondering what I mean (or should mean) when I say translingual, and I’ve been wondering how the answers to this question shape how I write about it, how I ask my tutors to engage with it, and how our writing center can explain its investment in translingual pedagogy to the university community. I’m wondering, too, how my context as a white academic person shapes these questions and their answers. At Penn State, we’ve been working on a grant proposal to create a Scholar in Residence for Translingual Learning and Tutoring, seeking to unite our language and writing tutoring programs to more effectively serve translingual writers—and over time, our writing center administration’s definition of translingualism has shifted from solely focusing on global languages and global Englishes to a wider, more equitable lens that embraces domestic Englishes, too. Continue reading “Toward an Anti-Racist, Translingual Writing Center”→
Anna S. Habib has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction (2006) and is near completing her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric from George Mason University. She served in several positions in the Mason Writing Center, from graduate tutor to Acting Director. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Composition, managing the undergraduate composition courses for multilingual students at both the George Mason University home campus and at the branch campus in Songdo, South Korea. She also coordinates and teaches the Graduate Writing across the Disciplines courses for INTO Mason, Mason’s pathway program for graduate and undergraduate international students.
WLN blog: Can you share some of your story? Habib:I was born in Beirut during the civil war to an American mother and a Lebanese father. At the age of four, when the war began to escalate, my parents, sister, and I fled the country on a small boat with other refugees who had found an illegal way out of the country. We made our way to the island of Cyprus where I grew up in a community of immigrant/refugees from Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union. My father’s family opened a branch of their Lebanese school in Cyprus for this community of displaced students. The school followed the French Lycée curriculum, meaning all subjects were taught in French (a consequence of Lebanon’s post-colonial history), but the curriculum also included Arabic literature and language and English and Greek as required courses. When I turned 15, my family emigrated to the US to live with my mother’s parents. The shift from a tiny Mediterranean island surrounded by my native languages and my community of friends to a North Jersey high school in a wealthy community was extremely jarring.
I managed to find my way through high school, and then moved to Virginia to attend George Mason University as an undergraduate student. The campus felt a lot more comfortable than my high school environment—I was surrounded by other students from the Middle East and North African region and began to form friendships again with peers who also spoke Arabic as their first language or who had had similar international experiences.
WLN blog: What was the role of writing centers in your academic experience in the US? Habib: I didn’t encounter the concept of a writing center until my undergraduate studies at Mason. In the Lebanese school/French lycée system, writing was not taught as a process. Students were often required to write decontextualized essays in class or at home that demonstrated their mastery of literary/philosophical concepts without any feedback or conversations on drafts. During my undergraduate studies at Mason, I visited the writing center once, but couldn’t appreciate the possibilities of the peer-feedback approach yet. It wasn’t until I was hired as a graduate research assistant for Terry Myers Zawacki and Chris Thaiss’ book, Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines (2006), that I learned about the work of writing centers. I sat in the back hallway of the writing center and transcribed dozens of Terry’s and Chris’ interviews with faculty across the curriculum describing their own experiences as writers, and how those experiences informed their writing pedagogy. As I typed and typed for hours, I watched students and tutors interact in thoughtful conversations about writing projects. Through listening to faculty perspectives and observing tutors and students in action, I began to understand pretty clearly that the role of writing in the US academy was significantly different than its role in non-US academic contexts like the one I grew up in. Continue reading “Transnational Collaborations and Writing Center Development at an English-Medium University in Lebanon”→
Genie Giaimo, Ph.D., is the current Director of The Ohio State University Writing Center. Before her arrival to OSU, she was Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Centers at Bristol Community College. Her research applies RAD-based methodologies to large-scale and often systemic issues within writing center administration, such as perceptions of the writing center in open access institutions, or the impact of ordinary and extraordinary stress on writing center workers. She has published articles in peer reviewed journals such as Language and Literature, Literature and Medicine, European Journal of Life Writing and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal. She is also the special editor of the WLN issue on Wellness and Self-Care. In the time that she doesn’t manage a staff of 52+ graduate and undergraduate consultants, she practices yoga and volunteers at Colony Cats—a volunteer-run organization dedicated to trap and release, as well as the treatment and adoption of stray and surrendered cats, in Columbus, OH.
WLN blog: Why is this an important issue? Giaimo: Writing Centers are not just spaces where writing occurs, or where education occurs; they are also spaces where emotionally charged exchanges happen and where burnout can occur among workers.
WLN blog:Do you see an increased need self-care and wellness in students? Giaimo: It’s hard to say, I think, anecdotally, that the recent Presidential election and the attendant uncertainty surrounding DACA, and other policies set in-place to protect vulnerable populations among us (such as persons of color, LGBTQ+, graduate students, among many many others) certainly has had an effect on the experiences and emotions of a number of students on campus. However, statistically speaking, Degner et al.’s piece noted the increase of mental health concerns, self-diagnosed or professionally diagnosed, among student populations entering college. So, yes, I think self-care and wellness is something that a number of universities are interested in fostering for their students and that student populations (as well as those outside universities) could benefit from being supported in this work. Continue reading “Working Towards the Trifecta: A WLN Special Issue on Wellness and Self-Care”→
In coordination with the 2018 ECWCA conference theme on occupational hazards: writing center labor, self-care and reflection, we welcome submissions that explore the multi-faceted ways in which writing center labor demands, deserves and enacts wellness and self-care practices. To date, research on tutor well-being—a perennial concern for writing center administrators—is relatively under-explored in writing center scholarship. While mindfulness in the writing center has been the topic of a number of presentations at regional and national writing center conferences (and a popular discussion thread on a recent Wcenter listserv email), there is relatively little published material on this topic (Mack and Hupp; Dueck). Similarly, Degner et al.’s 2015 article “Opening Closed Doors: A Rationale For Creating a Safe Space for Tutors Struggling with Mental Health Concerns or Illness” calls for more explicit training on self-care and tutor mental health after uncovering that 65% of survey respondents identified the lack of discussion on these subjects in their writing centers’ trainings.
Wellness and self-care, then, while popular topics both in writing center academic conversations, as well as in popular culture, are poised to become a mainstay of tutor preparation and training. Similarly, this topic is becoming monetized through for-pay productivity workshops and trainings. What, then, does the academic writing center community have to say on these subjects? How do we currently integrate wellness and self-care into our practices? How might we want to incorporate these practices into our centers? And what does our desire to do so say about the labor that we preform? We encourage contributors to consider, as starting points, current and local iterations of wellness and self-care trainings in writing centers, as well as potential best practices for developing these kinds of programming for our tutors, our administrators, and our clients. Continue reading “CfP || WLN Special Issue: Wellness and Self-Care in Writing Center Work, with Dr. Genie N. Giaimo”→
In spring 2017, St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration certificate program offered its first two courses, “Writing Center Theory and Practice” and “Issues in Writing Center Administration.” Students became bonded early on. Friendships and collaborations for research projects and conference presentations grew during that semester and continued into summer term with the final two classes, “Staffing and Training” and “Case Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Because the program is delivered entirely online, I was surprised at the strength of the community, which was much more than I’d hoped for during the 2 ½ years it took me to slog through the morass of bureaucratic speed bumps on the way to program approval. As I said in the earlier article/interview, I’d had to secure approvals from 14 different individuals and committees along the way. This was an intense, real-world lesson in discovering audience expectations, a topic we discuss throughout the WCA program in all of the courses.
The most significant challenge in designing the WCA program has been providing sources, instruction, and assignments that allow students to personalize a learning experience most beneficial to each one of them. Last year’s students represented a range of experience from zero to nine years in WC administration. Some were new MA students; some were PhD students; some were professionals in the field. They represented public and private institutions at the high school, 2-year, and 4-year college levels. One student had developed an independent writing center and had tax-exempt status and a board of directors in place. One, a high school teacher, had never worked in a writing center before and knew just a little about them, but hoped to help build one at her school. This year, there are more graduate students and fewer professionals; however, we have, for the first time, an administrator from a private high school boys’ preparatory school and also an assistant director from a writing center in China. Caswell, McKinney, and Jackson note the development and variety of non-standard writing centers in their book, The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors, a longitudinal study of nine new writing center directors.
That our participants include writing center directors in a charter school and in a European boarding school is emblematic of the times. Writing centers have been sprouting up in secondary schools and in non-US settings at a growing rate. As this happens, we think we’ll see that more alternatives to the US university model will emerge as different though effective, ways to do writing center work. (199)
To reflect this diversity in the WCA certificate program, course materials cover a variety of common contexts and issues pertaining to writing center administration, like navigating institutional relationships, researching the writing center, creating assessment activities and reports, grant writing, hiring, training, and other shorter units. Assignments are flexible enough so students can create individualized documents that might be included in an application portfolio or provide a model for their home institution or for the type of writing center setting they are most interested in.
Vanessa Flora-Nakoski is the Writing Center Director & a Lecturer in English at McDaniel College.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t know what to tell them. Do I say that I’m a professor? A tutor? An administrator? A writer? A scholar? Yes, but everyone in our profession knows that each of these labels is insufficient. These days, I typically answer that I’m the Director of the Writing Center.
Secretly, I remind myself, “I am an entrepreneur.”
Of the possible labels, it is the only one broad enough to connect all the aspects of my professional life, although not one that anyone in any of my graduate programs understood. I learned quickly enough that to reveal to the various fund managers in my Strategic Management classes that I was a tutor—or even at one time, a soapmaker—was to inspire incredulous looks. I learned equally quickly how dangerous it might be to seem too business-minded among my faculty colleagues.
This made me wonder why so few people outside our field readily accept the label of entrepreneur as a descriptor for writing center work. It occurs to me that it may be because so many of us, through institutional mandate or personal preference, who draw a firm line between the work we do as writing center professionals within institutions and the work we may do privately as professional tutors.
Certainly, many colleges and universities have strict policies regarding work performed in the field but outside the institution. Even when these policies are absent, it can still be awkward to discuss private tutoring among professional colleagues. When I was first approached about the possibility of writing about this issue, I had a moment of panic where I thought, “Am I writing this as a member of the college or am I writing this as sole proprietor of my company?”
National University of Ireland, Galway || 17 April 2017 || Registration
Innovation is seen as a key ingredient for success in academia, but we often taken good academic writing for granted as a crucial skill in this process. We know from the work of Peter Elbow that writing is a creative and imaginative process, irrespective of the subject. Janet Giltrow has argued that ‘style is meaningful’ and impacts the development of ideas. More recently, Helen Sword has drawn attention to ‘stylish academic writing’, arguing that ‘intellectual creativity thrives best in an atmosphere of experimentation rather than conformity’. Yet the precise relationship between academic writing and innovation remains to be explored; to do so means to highlight the crucial importance of writing centres, writing instructors, and pedagogical initiatives to academia at large.
This seminar will examine the connection between academic writing and innovation from a variety of perspectives, including the use of the Project Based Learning (PBL) and other innovative methodologies, the switch from assessing to improving student writing, the role of writing centres in academia, the ideology of writing spaces, and new ways to support librarians on the path towards publication.
Tom Deans, University of Connecticut
Steven Engel, University of Michigan
Hellen Fallon, Maynooth University
Adrian Frazier, NUI Galway
Megan Jewel, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
Ann Nowak, Touro Law Center
Laura McLoughlin, NUI Galway
Mike Jacoby is the Tutor and Mentor Coordinator for the Athletics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, Mike worked at the Northern Michigan University Writing Center for many years.
When I graduated with my master’s in writing in 2015, I was fortunate to find a position coordinating a tutoring program for student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin. I had just completed my second year of managing a writing center as its associate director, and writing center administration was work I found both fulfilling
and challenging. My writing center experiences anchored me, but the move into student-athlete support as a tutor coordinator brought me into unfamiliar waters: I hadn’t worked with student-athletes before, and I didn’t (and still don’t) personally care about sports. In addition to being out of my element in that way, I also waded into another unknown dimension: the realm of multi-subject tutoring.
The Athletics Tutoring Program is funded and housed completely through the UW Athletic Department (we have an Office of Academic Services within the athletic department). We exist apart from campus and from any other department, which has more pros than cons. We’re funded through the (well-off) Athletic Department and thus aren’t pressed for resources in ways we might otherwise be. Our program employs over eighty tutors to support over five hundred student-athletes per semester in plethora of courses (we have usually over eight hundred student-athletes enrolled but not all student-athletes make use of our program). Continue reading “Boiling Down the Essentials: Transferring Tutoring Skills Beyond the Writing Center”→
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”→
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.