ADA University is Azerbaijan’s first English-medium public university, which grew from Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, a training school for diplomats. Today, ADA University has more than two thousand students, about 90 percent of whom are undergraduates. Cheryl Pavlik, a lifelong educator and writer from Boston, founded The Write Space, ADA University writing center, in 2012. Ms. Pavlik came to Azerbaijan to establish the writing center and lead the English writing program in 2012-2014. The mission of The Write Space is to foster a strong university-wide English writing community by providing individual support and organizing workshops and other writing-related events. The center offers the university community seminars with experienced writers as a means to broaden their exposure to writing styles in English.
The Write Space
The Write Space works with a host of multi-lingual writers with the goal of helping students become more confident and independent users of the English language. The overall objective of The Write Space is to give students strong, applicable English writing skills both for academic use and their life beyond university. Most ADA University alumni join graduate programs abroad and work for international companies and English-medium schools in Azerbaijan. The writing skills they acquire during their time at ADA University play a key role in their careers.
Our writing consultations are conducted in English and thus consultants must have a strong command of the language. The Write Space consultants are full-time students, who have successfully passed the first year core writing courses and completed the writing consultant induction program. Initially based on U.S. writing center practices, The Write Space has adapted its approach to the local context. Our student writers are often not used to getting feedback from someone other than their professors. In The Write Space, we try to show them that their peers can also provide valuable feedback. Many students in the Post Soviet space are new to student-centered learning and may prefer a more directive tutoring technique.
While we understand that our student writers worry about grades, we try to negotiate a writing consultation objective. We ask them questions about their assignment, audience and argument. The Write Space practice shows that many students need help understanding prompts and identifying their arguments and rhetorical strategies. Our consultants take time to explain to student clients how the center can help them develop their writing skills beyond “fixing the grammar”. Together with the university English writing program, The Write Space strives to help students move beyond five-paragraph essays and make writing in English a more familiar process, with less focus on the word count or examination vocabulary. We also remind our student writers that academic honesty is critical, and help them access useful resources on citation and reference guides and avoiding plagiarism.
Peer writing consultant Dunya Suleymanova reflects,
“Working as a writing consultant is meaningful for me in two important ways. First of all, I realized that academic writing and creative writing have more in common than one would think. While they are different writing styles, many writing strategies and approaches to the writing process are applicable to both. Secondly, being a consultant has made me more empathetic and mindful. By trying to understand the feelings of others during writing consultations, I began to better understand my own feelings, because ‘to understand others, you have to understand yourself first’.
I think students benefit a lot from writing consultations. While I cannot underestimate how much students care about their grades, as they attend more consultations they become more independent writers. As a writing consultant, I play the role of a student’s “inner voice” that asks questions prompting more reflection and feedback. After a few consultations, students themselves can ask the right questions and thus become more comfortable and competent with their writing process. I believe that the skills students acquire from attending the consultations are more long-lasting than the desire to get a good grade.”