Dr. Bonnie Devet contributed this piece. In her previous blog post, she provided an overview of the newly released Digital Edited Collection, Transfer of Learning in the Writing Center, which she co-edited with Dr. Dana L. Driscoll and with Design Editor, Jialei Jiang. Here, Dr. Devet introduces us to the authors of the collection and their inspirations for researching/studying transfer in the writing center.
The authors of WLN’s second Digital Edited Collection, Transfer of Learning in the Writing Center, can attest that different sources inspire their scholarship: from faculty comments, being a tutor in a center, conference presentations, and research. In this Digital Edited Collection, they examine the history of transfer in shaping centers, provide detailed scenarios about transfer occurring in tutorials and conclude by moving beyond the center showing that tutors’ skills transfer into careers.
Why do the D.E.C. authors think transfer of learning is vital to centers and how did they become interested in transfer?
Marcus Meade discovered his interest in transfer from assisting student-athletes: “I had conversations with them about what they learned in athletics that might help them as writers and students. That started a long project related to transfer and writing instruction that, in part, focused on how wc work differs from the writing classroom in the conditions that might foster transfer.”
Meade stresses that transfer even elevates the work of centers over that of classrooms: “What distinguishes the center’s efforts to foster useful transfer is its distinct conditions, principles, theories, and practices. The center often operates under conditions, principles, theories, and practices better suited to encourage useful transfer than the writing classroom.”
For Kathy Rose, it was a panel at the College Composition and Communication Conference that prompted her to research transfer. “Regrettably, the [panel] ran out of time before the last speaker could do justice to her topic. I believe it was Rebecca Nowacek, and she barely had enough time to imply that writing centers are an obvious space where transfer can and should happen. A lightbulb went off in my head—of course! A writing center is a place where tutors engage in transfer.”
Rose sees the tutors’ use of transfer as critical to the operation of centers. Tutors themselves must engage in transfer in order to help student writers. She explains that “tutors take what they know, adapt it, and apply it to writers’ unique situations. Those are the very inner workings of transfer. Tutors engage in transfer.” Tutors must also guide student writers to do transfer.
During her own tutoring, Jill Grauman saw that she needed to do more than just help with the student’s one piece of writing: “If I really wanted to help writers, learning transfer needed to be a key piece of the puzzle. Without that key piece, we risk focusing too much on improving a single piece of writing, rather than helping the author develop their writing skills.” Grauman focuses on training tutors to develop students’ habits of mind (dispositions) so the writers are receptive to transfer: “Preparing tutors to help writers develop the dispositions needed to transfer their learning is essential to wc work.”
Heather Hill’s research led her to examine how to train tutors to do transfer: “A study I conducted in the wc demonstrated our tutors did not have the right kinds of training to be able to facilitate transfer in the ways I hoped they would, and therefore they needed more education in transfer theory.
Hill agrees with Johnson’s view of transfer. “If we help students to transfer their knowledge more often and more effectively,” she says, “we help them become better writers, beyond just the one paper they are currently working on. We help them learn strategies for success in future writing situations.”
Because tutors are a key to enacting transfer in centers, Lauren Marshall Bowen and Matthew Davis stress training tutors to do transfer. Relating transfer to the field of Composition Studies, they argue that training tutors through a modified Teaching for Transfer (TFT) course (Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak, 2014) helps tutors “recognize and respond to the socially situated nature of their work” so that directors promote not ‘tutor training,’ but ‘tutor learning’.”
Mike Mattison, influenced by the famous research of the Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project conducted by Bradley Hughes, Harvey Kail, and Paula Gillespie, decided to examine what tutors transfer from their wc work to their careers after college: “Given that a small minority of tutors go on to do such work later in life, it is important that we can articulate the benefit to them of this experience as an undergraduate. How can they extract the most from their time?”
Transfer is at the core of what centers do for students and tutors. Mattison believes transfer has always been present in centers “even if we didn’t talk about it with that term, and we have also considered transfer in a least two ways: what the student writers can take with them into other writing situations, and what the tutors take with them into their lives after (and outside) a writing center.”
Candace Hastings became interested in transfer because she was “exasperated by faculty proclamations such as, ‘What are those faculty teaching in first-year composition, because my students (in chemistry, political science, etc.) can’t write!!!’ This notion that academic writing looks the same no matter the discipline or the genre creates an impediment as we try to move forward in helping emerging scholars (undergraduates and graduate students) learn to transfer writing skills.” She states “If we want to move the field forward, we need to understand know how to apply two concepts to the wc context: 1) novice-to-expert progression of learning a skill; and 2) learning transfer. Transfer is hard, and it’s messy, and it fails more often than it succeeds, but I think we can learn a lot from observing informal or apprentice-based learning.”
Hastings uses her own experience with transfer to show the importance of transfer in education: “I learned more about transfer from my reining horse trainer than I ever learned in any classroom or book. He understood that everything he was teaching me was disorienting because I was an experienced horse rider, but I was changing riding disciplines. He used analogies to connect what I knew with what I didn’t, and he realized that I would take a few steps back just when I thought I had mastered a new concept. Yeah, and he yelled a lot. He was the best teacher I ever had.”
Working in a center helped Cynthia Johnson recognize the value of transfer: “I began thinking about how all my interactions could facilitate or hinder transfer, and that’s what motivated my chapter. I wanted to write something that paid attention to the micro-interactions that shape transfer–the moments that are easy to overlook.” Johnson offers a slightly different view on the value of transfer. She sees it as enacting and extending Stephen North’s overly famous wc goal “better writers, not better writing” (76). Johnson states, “Our goal is to help writers become better writers—not in one particular class or project, but as they cross contexts. The moment we, as a field, recognized that our purpose isn’t to ‘correct’ papers, we were thinking about transfer in some form. It’s part of both our history and identity.”
Berrett, D. (April 2014). Students Can Transfer Knowledge If Taught. Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 . https://www.chornicle.com/article/Students-Can-Transfer/145777.
Devet, B. (2015). The Writing Center and the Transfer of Learning: A Primer for Directors. Writing Center Journal, 35 (1), 119-51.
Driscoll, D (2011). Connected, Disconnected, or Uncertain: Student Attitudes about Future Writing Contexts and Perceptions of Transfer from First Year Writing to the Disciplines. Across the Disciplines, 8 (2),1-29. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/atd/articles/driscoll241.pdf
Ellis, H. (1965). The Transfer of Learning. MacMillan.
Hughes, B., Gillespie, P. & Kail, H. (2010). What They Take with Them: Findings from the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project. The Writing Center Journal, 30 (2), 12-46.
Mackiewicz, J. & Thompson, I. (2013) Motivational Scaffolding, Politeness, and Writing Center Tutoring. The Writing Center Journal, 33 (1), 38–73.
North, S. (1995) The Idea of a Writing Center. In C. Murphy & J. Law (Eds). Landmark Essays on Writing Centers (pp. 71-85). Hermagoras Press. (Originally published in 1984)
Perkins, D., & Salomon, G. (1989). Are Cognitive Skills Context Bound? Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 16-35.
Yancey, K., Robertson, L. & Taczak, K. (2014). Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing. Utah State University Press.