Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition by James F. Slevin is expansive and is not intended for writing centers. However, the principles of writing curriculum play directly into the work writing centers. They serve as a guideline for a writing center’s objectives and reflect good pedagogy.
- The writing curriculum should be built from the intellectual interests of faculty and students.
- Faculty should be encourage and helped to take ownership of their own courses and the writing program.
- Writing programs enact, even epitomize–and do not simply prepare people for–the intellectual work of the university.
- Writing seminars entail assessment as part of their intellectual work; assessment should be integrated within and during, not outside and after, the intellectual work of the faculty and students.
- Writing programs should help faculty develop a sense of responsibility not only for the teaching of writing but for the continuing study and review of its quality.
How do these principles relate to writing centers?
Tutors can act as consultants to survey interests of students. They can sit in on courses and offer suggestions to make the material more appealing to students. Tutors are not faculty; however, they can take part in research and assessment and mentoring. Writing center tutors act as third party readers or can role play a specific reader, which creates real-life writing scenarios. Tutors can constantly assess tutees with open-ended questions during the session about a variety of topics. Writing tutors can engage in meta-cognition by reflecting on their practices and how they grow as writers.
Writing curriculum principles and writing centers have something in common: collaboration through social constructivist theory
Teamwork makes the Dream work
Both essays discussed are from Intersections: Theory-Practice in the Writing Center edited by Joan A. Mullin and Ray Wallace
In Gillam’s essay “Collaborative Learning Theory and Peer Tutoring Practice” the dynamic of tutoring seems to just…work. There’s the whole social constructionist thing going on. Students are actively engaged. Learning becomes outward instead of inward. Writing becomes dialogic and forms part of a larger discourse. The tutoring relationship breaks the barrier of communication because tutor and tutee share the same status: both are students. Both are constantly learning new approaches towards writing.
Abascale-Hildebrand’s “Tutor and Student Relations: Applying Gadamer’s Notions of Translation” describes a more complex process. Tutoring starts off as reflective where
“Each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”
Which leads to a translative approach where learning and writing work together so students and tutors can make new judgement about the writing process. The beginning of the session relies on a lot of information seeking. The language focuses around the assignment then to academic voice and then to writing (style, tone, organization, etc). Abascale-Hildebrand is very clear that tutoring sessions are not based on “models, methods, or templates” but on “relationships, interpretations, and translations.”
At the core of both of these essays is collaboration. The tutee gains writing skills. The tutor (from what I’ve seen in the research) gets one or all of the following.
I became a better writer.
I picked up better strategies for beginning and ending essays. I found techniques for identifying writing quirks, including my own. (example: I tend to use “that” a lot). I became better at finding a focused thesis in a garbled first draft. I figured out how to eloquently defend my thesis as well.
I became a better listener.
I could relate to indecipherable chicken scratch professors left all over the page. I knew the stressors of college and how hard it was to find ample time and a quiet space to write. I got writer’s block and had trouble identifying what exactly needed to be said and how to say it.
I became a better teacher.
I was exposed to confusing assignment instructions and vowed to never to create such horrible prompts. I heard all the tales of woe about unfair grading, boring lectures, assigned busy work, and ineffective research practices. I saw how to push students to be their best. I learned how to encourage them when they were insecure. I saw them come back again and again for advice. I taught them even thought they didn’t need as much help as they thought they did.