This blog post is written by Leigh Ryan, Director of the Writing Center at the University of Maryland, and Lisa Zimmerelli, Director of the Writing Center at Loyola University Maryland. Leigh wrote the original The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors as a manual for the University of Maryland Writing Center; she was then approached by Bedford/St. Martin’s to make the manual available to all writing centers. When tasked with including an online tutoring chapter in the third edition in 2006, she asked her previous graduate assistant director, Lisa Zimmerelli, to join her, as Lisa was directing an online writing center at the time. Three additional editions later, Leigh and Lisa reflect on the changes and trends in tutor education.
The sixth edition of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors is now available, and we are excited both to discuss significant changes to this edition, as well as share reflections on our collaboration and the many conversations that went into revising the book.
The changes to each edition always reflect what we see going on in the writing center world. We’re both really active in anything writing centers, which places us in a good position to keep up with what’s current. We present at conferences and publish. We have been or are officers in writing center organizations, from local through international; members of executive committees; reviewers for journals; and we’re the first to volunteer to review proposals for conferences or serve formally (or informally) as mentors. We consult nationally and internationally, and every semester, we entertain international visitors to talk about writing center issues. We buy into the notion of the writing center as a Burkean Parlor, and so the focus and activities in our own writing centers are on conversation about writing and the tutoring of writing. And The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors reflects that—in both the text within the book and in our collaboration in revising the book.
Dr. Leigh Ryan
Unlike thirty years ago when the The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors was first published, today directors and tutors have a broad range of tutor education books to choose from, and an even more robust and extensive selection of writing center scholarship. Perhaps the biggest change in tutor education is that a book like ours can be either central or peripheral to the texts that tutors will encounter as they study and consider their entry into the writing center community.
As we revise The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors each time, we are reminded by our editors that we have to keep the book short. Brevity is part of its appeal. The intention has always been to make it a general book about tutoring writing that encourages readers to supplement with additional resources specifically geared toward their clients’ needs. Some schools, for example, have a large number of basic writers; others have very few. The former would want to find more resources, while the latter might be satisfied with what’s already in the book. Nonetheless, with the 6th edition, we recognized that we could offer more helpful information on assisting writers in specific areas, like those who have disabilities or are working on a group assignment, and so we did. Other areas, however, we thought needed much more attention and even some reorganization.
The Fifth Edition
For starters, it was clear to us that we needed a chapter devoted to “Research in the Writing Center” (Chapter 8). Writing centers have always served as rich sites for research, but interest in them as such is increasing. We see our own tutors doing projects for our tutor training classes, for other composition and rhetoric classes, for a senior thesis or capstone project, or even in concert with faculty or others conducting research projects. And so we added a separate chapter dealing with research in the writing center. Here, for example, we talk about framing research questions, explain the need for Internal Review Board (IRB) approval, and provide a checklist of questions that help tutor researchers carefully think through any research project. Since research, of course, entails a discussion of sharing findings, we’ve also provided more comprehensive information about publishing and presenting at conferences. As writing center directors, we encourage our tutors to do both, but presenting at a conference especially requires lots of mentorship. What should an effective proposal include? What do the different kinds of presentations entail? How should one manage the time for a presentation?
Research and making findings public is part of being professional, but in our own writing centers, we also increasingly consider another take on the notion of professionalism—employability skills—and this edition reflects that focus as well. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors has always begun with a discussion of professional and ethical behavior, but we have taken that conversation further in this edition. In the United States, we now see groups like York College of Pennsylvania’s “Center for Professional Excellence” focusing on the need to cultivate behaviors for professional success after graduation. Applying that to writing center work, we comment more on the importance of “employability skills,” like a good work ethic, timeliness, and attendance.
Our conversations with administrators, even in other countries, suggest that tutors everywhere occasionally need guidance with things like timeliness or appropriate dress.
An important part of updating this edition meant paying attention to how technology functions in writing centers now. What does online tutoring look like? And what kinds of multimodal assignments do students bring? With synchronous online tutoring more commonplace, it made sense to refer to synchronous tutoring examples throughout the book, rather than in a separate chapter as we once did. Working in references to technology is tricky, however, for trends come and go quickly. Because the book will be used for several years, we also have to be careful to strike a balance between general and specific references. Some of you may remember Second Life, a popular and promising place where one could create a virtual writing center. An earlier edition of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors referred to it and even included a diagram; today, no one recalls its name and certainly no one uses it. And both of us had experienced tutors chuckling over that particular diagram in our own tutor training classes!
As writing centers expand in two areas—internationally and in high schools and even middle schools—we needed to be even more sure that we acknowledged their presence. That meant careful attention to examples and language, so that all our choices would be acceptable within different cultures and understandable to different age groups. We’ve learned that accomplishing this is more difficult that it might seem. Our examples from students’ writings often required reconsideration, for some included historical, political, or cultural references that might confuse some readers. Even references to teachers required some thinking, for high school students don’t typically have “professors.” In addition, in higher education that word has different meanings in the United States than in other parts of the world.
Dr. Lisa Zimmerelli
Revising The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors every few years is truly a collaborative effort, but collaboration can take different forms. Sometimes it means that co-authors write different sections, comment on one another’s pieces, and the original writers revise. We have a different pattern—one that works for us and means that the text truly is a joint effort. Typically we begin by discussing the purpose and content of a section. One of us does the first draft—who does this depends on which of us has the most free time at the moment and/or who has the most interest in or knowledge about the section at hand. The text then goes back and forth, but before and as we write, we negotiate what should be included, placed where, phrased in particular ways. Each chapter translates into hours of conversation.
Our collaboration—whether we are on the phone or are at one of our kitchen tables together—often resembles a tutoring session as we pose questions for one another about our audience, purpose, content, organization, phrasing, and word choices.
Our approach works because, as we mentioned earlier, we are both actively involved in writing center theory and practice at the campus, regional, and global levels. Our activities and reading in the field mean that we keep abreast of what’s new and what’s trending—whether it’s service learning, writing in the disciplines, high school writing centers, or tutors conducting research.
What’s key to our collaboration, however, is the respect and trust that we have for one another. We’ve been colleagues for over fifteen years, and both consider that professional relationship to be one of the most enriching and satisfying aspects of our careers. We direct very different writing centers—one in a large state university and one in a small private university—and the resulting variety of situations and challenges allows us to bring a variety of perspectives to The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors.
Finally, while the two of work together to make what we see as important changes, we take the advice we always give to writers to heart and look to our audience for advice. We want to meet their needs and maintain the accessibility and pithiness of the book. For every edition, we ask tutors and directors to review the book, both before we write and once our draft is completed. Truth be known, we also consult our own tutors as we work with our “Does this work?” or “Is this clear?” or “Did we miss anything here?” kinds of questions! All of the examples in the book come from real tutoring scenarios that our tutors have shared with us (or that we’ve experienced), and are based upon real writing assignments that writers have brought to our writing centers. Their suggestions and approval of the cartoons, role-play activities, and the range of examples and activities we use always prove helpful.
One big advantage that we learned long ago is Bedford/St. Martin’s reputation for finding good projects and cultivating them, working with authors over time to make what’s good even better! It’s why you see Diana Hacker’s work go on and on, even now with Nancy Sommers as the author of those books. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors is an ancillary to Diana’s composition textbooks. Bedford’s practice puts us in the luxurious position of knowing that there will be a next edition. Thus as soon as we finish one edition, we begin creating a folder with ideas for the next edition. Regardless of the edition, Bedford/St. Martin’s and we agree on a common goal: to provide a resource that is pithy, current, and flexible enough to apply across a variety of contexts.
To that end, we invite anyone who uses The Bedford Handbook for Writing Tutors to share any observations about the book with us. What works? What might be more effective? We welcome and appreciate your suggestions!