Writing Centers: An Introduction

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Writing Center
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Visualizing Writing Centers
I began with the visualization that writing centers of what writing centers are not. Writing centers are not a remediation center. They are not a grammar fix-it shop or a paper-writing service. Then my view shifted to what writing centers are. Writing centers are on display. They are bursting with lively discussions about writing. They are havens for communities of writers. They are also wild and Bohemian, springing up and taking shape wherever they are needed. Elizabeth Boquet describes this liberating space as being “noisy” because of the improvisation that occurs within the discourse and the writing produced. Writing centers’ freeing spirit is tempered by Vygotsky and Bruffee. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development provides order to the complex task of learning to write. Scaffolding is key to this form of instruction because it makes thinking and problem-solving visible. Writing becomes dialogic and outward, and according to Abascale-Hildebrand “each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Community of Practice vs. Affinity Space
By filling in where the student exhibits gaps, the tutor welcomes him into the social construct Bruffee describes as “a community of knowledgeable peers.” Within this community, praxis occurs and theory develops. Just as the tutee belongs to a community of writers, the tutor also belongs to an “community of practice,” a term discussed in Jean Lave’s and Etienne Wenger’s book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. James P. Gee prefers the term “affinity space” because it does not imply cohesion or hierarchy. While “affinity space” applies to writing centers as a whole, “community of practice” is better suited when referring to just tutors. Tutors are ranked by years of experience; they interact on a daily basis; they share a passion for their role in the writing process, and they reflect on their practices in pursuit of becoming experts.

Writing Tutors Practitioners
I advocate for the use of “writing practitioners” who contribute to writing center discourse. As defined in “Mapping Knowledge-making in Writing Center Research: A Taxonomy of Methodology”, practitioners constantly move between practice and theory, reflect and problem-solve, and gain self-knowledge from the experience. Joining in the conversation allows for the growth of the tutor as a researcher, practitioner, and member of the practicing community.”Problems of Practice: An Inquiry Stance toward Writing Center Work” acknowledges tutors as being potential pilots who could direct revisions in assessment or in tutor training. The inquiry stance approach relies on open-ended question posing, collaborative conversations, and purposeful resources. Guided by this approach, tutors are perfect candidates to play within the world of writing center theory as discussed in “Creating Theory: Moving Tutors to the Center”. They can complicate an existing theory, contribute to an existing theory, or create a new theory.

Writing Practitioners’ Roles

  1. Consultants to survey students’ interests
  2. Researchers, assessors, mentors
  3. Third-party readers
  4. Engage students’ meta-cognition about writing process
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