New UofL Writing Center
Can Benefit WR Instructors and Students
By Anthony Edgington
Writers need knowledgeable, skilled collaborators. Some [WR] instructors, however, go it alone; they are both the collaborators and the evaluators, handling course content and all phases of assistance with student writing forthe course. Making available tutorial assistance with writing is a farbetter option, which is why tutoring offered through a writing center is thusnot only a widely practiced feature of [WR] programs but also pedagogicallyand theoretically a sound approach. (Harris 154-155).
With the addition of a new writing center on the University of Louisville campus, University of Purdue Writing Center Director Muriel Harris' analysis becomes all the more germane. Through the Writing Center, WR students can gain access to peer revision, writing communities, and writing resources within a non-evaluative, friendly environment. Teachers will discover another outlet for understanding in the field of writing and an increased improvement in studentís papers. As Harris points out, the writing center can assist instructors in the teaching of writing, rather than having instructors attempt to "go it alone."
What is a writing center? A writing center is an area where students across a wide variety of disciplines can go to gain insight and suggestions on the different writings they construct for class. Writing centers are normally staffed by fellow students who have received training in composition tutoring and/or who are above average, successful writers. These tutors advise writers on various aspects of their papers, including audience, organization, voice, clarity, and style. One of the more widespread fallacies about writing centers is that it is a "fix-it" shop, a location where students can receive only grammar, spelling, and punctuation assistance. While these concerns are frequently covered in Writing Center conferences, most centers focus on the studentís overall draft and the ways that students can strengthen their arguments, ideas, and opinions. It does writing centers, writing programs, and the university community little justice when writing centers are looked upon only as clean up services.
How can a writing center assist students in WR programs? First, writing centers offer, as Harris notes, a form of review that WR instructors often have trouble incorporating into an already content packed course:
the ability to individualize and to truly attend to each writer's needs,
questions, and problems also means that tutors accomplish more when they meet
with a student through various stages of writing than is possible when a
writer brings in a last draft that is less open to change. (156-157)
Through collaborative review, students can obtain valuable feedback on texts as tutors collaborate with them in such areas as organization, voice, audience, and critical analysis. For WR faculty, this collaborative relationship can (and usually will) improve the quality of the student drafts that come across the professor's desk, providing assistance to the instructor by allowing more time to focus on further developing student's arguments and beliefs in the papers.
Another area where the writing center can be beneficial to WR students is through the relaxed, sociable environment offered. In the writing center, students are not faced with summative judgements; rather, they can participate in informal, non-judgmental conversations with graduate students in English, addressing the concerns they have within the text. Additionally, these student writers never give up the authorship of their papers; they are free to accept, discard, or save for later any comments peer tutors offer, allowing them to maintain a sense of ownership and identification with the document. Finally, the environment of the writing center heightens, for student writers, the idea of writing as a community practice; as Harris points out "here is a place where writers write, where they talk, where there is institutional commitment to writing, where it is apparent that writing is a very real activity for students all over campus" (157-158). In essence, students begin to understand that writing is a social process through the writing center. WR faculty will benefit by finding students more attentive to and interested in the construction of texts and more willing to discuss issues in their papers that may normally not be addressed.
Finally, writing centers can offer valuable, tangible resources for WR students. Located inside the confines of a writing center, students can find style and documentation guides, handbooks, and other writing tools. Tutors can assist writers in locating and interpreting this materials. Also, instructors can find supplementary information to the many writing resources stockpiled in the WR web page (www.louisville.edu/provost/wroffice/newsletter.htm) and WR office (Bingham Humanities Building, Room 333).
WR instructors who wonder how to give more individual attention to students who seek and/or need it can utilize the writing center. The assistance that writing centers provide to WR faculty and students will be a great benefit to all involved.
Harris, Muriel. "The Writing Center and Tutoring in WAC Programs." Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. S.H. McLeod and M. Soven. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, 1992: 154-174.
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