Writing Center Orientation 2008

Reigstad, Thomas J. and Donald A. McAndrew. Tutoring Writing: A Practical
Guide for Conferences
. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2001. 1-30.

These four chapters work through general points related to writing center work.
Each chapter consists of bullet-list-like entries, and, as such, the summary
notes are best presented as follows:

Chapter One: Theories Underpinning Tutoring Writing

  • Social constructionism: grounded in Bruffee, Bakhtin, and Vygotsky.
  • Reader response: grounded in Bleich’s subjective criticism and
    Rosenblatt’s transactional criticism.
  • Talk and writing: emphasis on the power of oral language and
  • Collaborative learning: emphasis on participatory models of engagement
    in learning.
  • Feminism: very brief discussion of "women’s psychology" and "connected

Chapter Two: Research Supporting Writing Groups
The second chapter is a brief bibliographic essay (only empirical studies, they
note), on peer response groups, conferences, and tutoring (in general, emph.
literacy, and emph. writing).

Chapter Three: What Tutoring Writing Isn’t
A series of anti-examples:

  • The Editor-Journalist Model: editors tend to be authoritative;
    journalists often have no choice but to accept heavy-handed corrections
    (this is how it is depicted, anyway).
  • Cheerleading: Atwell: "Avoid generalized praise." It is better to
    be candid and honest. Agreed.
  • Correcting errors: Exercise caution not to over-emphasize lower-order
    concerns before considering higher-order concerns.
  • Therapy: "Do not fall into the trap of becoming the writer’s counselor
    or therapist."
  • Usurping ownership: Remain sensitive to the tutor’s recommendations
    dominating the student’s sense of the available options.
  • Being an expert: Don’t be a know-it-all.
  • Responding too late: Preferable to work well in advance of deadlines.

Chapter Four: The Writing and Tutoring Processes
This chapter works to complicate processual neatness, and replaces it, instead,
with the senses of chaos and fuzziness that govern writing and tutoring.
The strong emphasis here is on recursivity, the braid of "generating,
translating, and reviewing" that goes on continuously. This complicates
the temporality of writing, and should be taken into account in the writing
center. Tutoring approaches break down into student-centered,
collaborative, and teacher-centered. Along with a final emphasis on chaos
and fuzziness, the chapter ends with a discussion of gesture and posture (sit at
corner so tutor and writer can see each other and the draft).

Rafoth, Ben. "Helping Writers to Write Analytically." A Tutor’s Guide.
2nd ed. Ed. Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005. 76-84.

This short article echoes many of the points made by Reigstad and McAndrew.
Drawing on Bruffee, Rafoth begins by emphasizing conversation as a method for
expanding a writer’s sense of the possibilities for writing (this is a shift
away from individualistic cognition or what he calls a "thinking problem").
Tutoring sessions should be structured around a "shared purpose," he contends,
and he goes on to offer practices that will ground a productive session: the
examination of perspective, the addition of complexity (viz., missed
opportunities, counterpoints, or point of view), and the use of outside sources
as "back-up singers" (80). He ends with a point about adding complexity through
dialogue–complicating matters by probing more deeply with questions.
Conversation is, for Raforth, crucial to analysis, but analysis is an
underdeveloped method here–he never deals in much depth with what analysis is,
what it does, or what are alternatives to analyzing.

"In most academic writing in the humanities and social sciences that calls
for analysis of some issue or controversy, a key move is to define and explain
problems, not to solve them" (79).

Gunner, Jeanne. "A Return to the Rhetoric of the Sentence." 11 Jan. 2008.
MacGraw Hill Higher Education
. Jan. 2002

Gunner contends that students must be adept at sentence-level matters if they
are to be successful with rhetorics of other scales. She refers to
Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations and Lanham’s Analyzing Prose as a pair of
texts key to her premise in this piece: "the syntactic knowledge of basic
writing combined with the purposes of rhetorical study" (para. 2). Gunner
emphasizes variation, the placement of clauses that will enrich an otherwise
linear style and effect different commands of a reader’s attention. The essay
includes examples of the effects brought about by participial phrases, adding
appositives, and gaining proficiency with variations in punctuation. These
techniques make the writing–on a sentence-level–recursive rather than linear.

Brooks, Jeff. "Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work." The
St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors
. 2nd ed. Eds. Christina Murphy
and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 169-174.

Brooks elaborates North’s contention that Writing Centers are concerned foremost
with improving writers rather than refining the papers they carry in with them.
He does so strongly and with conviction, opening with a "worst case scenario" in
which the tutor points out mechanical errors and sends the student away with a
better paper, having done little to teach the student. The breakdown
parallels the advice expressed by Reigstad and McAndrew about the
journalist-editor relationship. Brooks also argues that tutors are successful if
they can persuade students to pay more careful attention to their writing (171).

The second half of the short piece introduces several maxims for "basic
minimalist tutoring":

  1. "Sit beside the student, not across a desk" (171). This is one of
    many Feng Shui rules for posture and position; odd about this is that it
    comes down as a truism rather than sensitizing the tutor to the importance
    of an adaptive disposition that could be necessary for any number of reasons
    (situation, cultural variation, etc.).
  2. "Try to get the student to be physically close to her paper than you
    are" (171). Why not have two copies? No, really, this one makes
  3. "If you are right-handed, sit on the student’s right" (172).
  4. "Have the student read the paper aloud to you" (172).

Brooks also includes numbered lists for "Advanced Minimalist Tutoring" and
"Defensive Minimalist Tutoring":

  1. "Concentrate on success in the paper, not failure" (172).
  2. "Get the student to talk" (172).
  3. "If you have time…give the student a discrete writing task" (173).

If things are not going well, use Brooks’ defensive strategies:

  1. "Borrow student body language" (173). This seems to me to assume
    too much about the situation; better to adapt according to a full sense of
    the dynamics involved (including why).
  2. "Be completely honest with the student who is giving you a hard time"

Severino, Carol. "Avoiding Appropriation." ESL Writers: A Guide For Writing
Center Tutors
. Eds. Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH:
Boynton/Cook, 2004. 48-59.

Severino’s article addresses the problems involved with conversational
"reformulation," the variety of appropriation in which a tutor can commandeer
the language choices of an L2 writer. She opens by recounting an experience with
a language teacher in Italy who effectively re-wrote her prose: "Almost every
sentence was changed and elevated to a higher register" (49). For fairly
obvious reasons, Severino thinks this can be damaging; appropriation obscures
the language choices of the author, and this must be avoided. Taken to its
extreme limits, the idea of avoiding appropriation is difficult to reconcile
with teacherlessness or with an extreme hands-off approach to the interaction
with the writer. The giving of subtle permission and encouragement can
"interfere with students’ control of their texts" (51). Of course, this
isn’t inherently bad; it’s just that it has limits. Appropriation (or its
less insidious partner, assimilation) is a regular, ongoing function of language
use, isn’t it? Severino ends her article with a list of 10 ideals to follow in
an effort to avoid appropriation and, thereby, to respect "authentic" (i.e.,
unadulterated) voice:

  1. Accord the ESL writer authority.
  2. Work on higher-order concerns (HOCs) before lower-order concerns (LOCs).
  3. Address expressed needs.
  4. Select particular passages to work on.
  5. Ask writers to participate in reformulation decisions (sometimes using
  6. Use speaking-into-writing strategies.
  7. Explain the recommended changes.
  8. Try to assess language learning.
  9. Avoid misrepresenting the student’s language level on the page.
  10. Consider the type of writing.

These can become complicated and are contingent on a large number of factors
that bear on any consultancy situation.

Staben, Jennifer and Kathryn Dempsey Nordhaus. "Looking at the Whole Text."
ESL Writers: A Guide For Writing Center Tutors
. Eds. Shanti Bruce and Ben
Rafoth. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2004. 71-83.

Staben and Dempsey emphasize the relevance shared between lower-order concerns
and higher-order concerns. In making a case for looking at the whole text,
they urge dialogue that stirs up insights into knowledge and reasonable actions
related to the writing. Their approach is derived from North’s work in
"The Idea of a Writing Center," which ranks the improvement of writers above the
improvement of text (through Socratic dialogue, patterned questioning, a
listening disposition, etc.). They also comment on the value of models
(i.e., examples) and honest, candid responses to the text. Staben and
Nordhaus contend that many L2 writers view the writing consultant as a "cultural
informant" whose knowledge can rescue their texts as they "help them understand
the assumptions and expectations of a U.S. academic audience, assumptions that
are not usually directly addressed on the assignment sheet" (73). There is some
disagreement about the role the tutor must occupy as a cultural informant;
certainly, there is a degree to which the tutor helps demystify the process and
make it seem more manageable in light of any (misguided) preconceptions about
what is expected. The article offers a list of practical advice, from beginning
to conversation to being "direct, not directive."

"These are students who often literally cannot see the forest for the trees.:
They are so focused on language–on trying to wrestle their complicated thoughts
onto paper using language abilities that are not yet sufficient to the
task–that they may not realize that the change in language and in culture
necessitates a different approach to communicating those thoughts to others"

North, Stephen M. "The Idea of a Writing Center." College English 45.5 (1984):

North writes out of frustration about widespread misconceptions about writing
centers–their role and function in the scene of writing. His impatience
is not so much with those who wouldn’t have any reason to think twice about a
writing center but instead with his colleagues in Composition Studies: "The
source of my frustration? Ignorance: the members of my profession, my
colleagues, people I might see at MLA or CCCC or read in the pages of College
English, do not understand what I do" (433). North is motivated by this
problem; he writes his way into it, blasting through specific references made by
Maxine Hairston, who he says gets the history wrong in her "Winds of Change"
address and even goes so far as to spell out North’s "professional obituary" as
a director of a writing center (436). North asserts agency; he argues that
the writing centers and the principles they follow belong to "us"–an us he
proudly claims. From disassembling claims leveled against writing centers,
North shifts–in the second half of the piece–into a mode of positive
redescription: "What should they be?" The new writing center focuses on "produc[ing]
better writers, not better writing" (438), and this maxim rings through much of
the writing center scholarship that follows this 1984 essay.

North characterizes the tutor as a researcher, in a move I think is due for
more opening up: "I think probably the best way to describe a writing center
tutor is a holist devoted to participant-observer methodology" (439).
North explains holism, drawing on Diesing’s Patterns of Discovery in the
Social Sciences
; he introduces a notion of process that is highly flexible
and adaptive; and then he recoils a bit from the researcher comparison,
commenting, "I do not want to push the participant-observer analogy too far"
(439). He works–boldly in some places and tentatively in others–to
correct misconceptions while not going too far to idealize the work done in
writing centers.

He explains certain advantages held by the writing consultant: "we are here
to talk to writers" (440); "we are not the teacher" [as the student seeks us
out] (442), and "we can play with options" (443). He emphasizes that
students come to the WC to write; they want to be there in almost every case.
The WC can function to intensify classroom experiences (440). He also
addresses matters of funding and scholarship, resolving that "[o]ne
could…mount a pretty strong argument that things have never been better"
(445). But the crux of North’s "idea" is that we–in writing centers–are
first and foremost professional, and that we take ownership of the space and the
work done in it, resolving simply to guide and support writers as they write.

"As a profession I think we are holding on tightly to attitudes and beliefs
about the teaching and learning of writing that we thought we had left behind"