Winter 2011     ISSN 1096-1453     Volume 15, Issue 4

Editorial: Writing Center Theory and Practice.

During the 1970s, writing centers began to emerge with the aim of shifting remediation out of the composition class; for decades, students and center directors have struggled with the resulting stigma (Williams & Takaku 4). Those invested in writing centers know that, while they are an integral part of students’ learning experience, “assum[ing] a mix of… ideas and energies” (Palmer 129) and indeed embodying the flexibility required to meet the needs and challenges of each of their learning communities, outsiders tend to view writing centers as less pedagogically and financially essential, capable of operating with limited funding and staff. All of which serves to weaken their ability to do critical, writer-centered work.

In their 2001 article “Are Writing Centers Ethical?” Irene Clark and David Healy observe: “the fact is that writing centers are well positioned to question the status quo” (253). This issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly features essays that explore this assertion, both from a positional standpoint – how, for example, “integrative collaboration” promotes sustainability – and a pedagogical one, focusing on the practices of the center itself.

Russell G. Carpenter and Leslie Valley begin the conversation on how writing centers fit spatially within an institution by emphasizing that the utilization of an integrative approach to writing center design centralizes its services while advancing and embedding “collaborative pedagogies” among students and faculty.

In “Differentiating Maximum Values in Writing Centers,” Janet Boyd and Mutiara Mohamad examine the center’s position from an assessment angle, arguing that meaningful data concerning the impact centers have on students’ writing may be gained through a partnership between the centers and other academic departments or programs. Specifically, they concentrate on the documentation of international students’ use of the writing center at their university, and the establishment of maximum value thresholds of support for these students at three separate proficiency levels.

A multi-year collaborative research project is the focus of Jeremiah Dyehouse, Bryna Siegel Finer, and Jamie White-Farnham’s contribution; along with the University of Rhode Island’s Writing Center Research Group, the authors encourage sustainability of the writing center and its value as “an important site for research and learning” through staff development, shifts in the hierarchal structure of the staff, and “considerations of research ethics.” While such a lengthy project may encounter certain challenges, as is noted, it nonetheless provides opportunities for building the center as a dual site for tutoring and research.

Effective learning requires students to adopt an active role rather than a passive or dependent one (Schunk & Zimmerman 1998). The relationship between writing center tutors and students thus also takes precedence in the discussion of how centers are positioned to “question the status quo.” In “Swing Out, Studios, and Safety: Writing as Dance,” B. Cole Bennett finds useful links between the teaching and tutoring of writing and dance instruction, in that both are optimized by “managing vulnerability and ensuring conditions of safety.”

The intricate exchanges between writer and advisor in the first few moments of a session are at the core of Michael Mattison’s text, which considers how the phrasing and timing of “certain questions or statements” in those early moments may affect the entire session. Data was collected through the recording of sessions over a two-year period.

Charity S. Peak and John Weathers incorporate the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model and the Writing Center Coaching Model into the discussion, investigating how each educational theory supports existing and future tutor training and practice.

Finally, Tiffany Bourelle’s “Gender and the Writing Center” studies, in observed sessions, tutors’ lack of awareness of common writing issues; she then takes her analysis a step further by advocating that tutors be trained to recognize students’ writing patterns that fall into “posited gendered categories.” Writing center administrators are consequently encouraged to revamp their tutor-training methods to include training according to gendered writing patterns.

With this issue, we address the questions: Where does the writing center “fit” within an institution? What obstacles does it face, spatially and pedagogically? As Leslie Dennen acknowledges, evidence of the effectiveness of writing center work is difficult to obtain (“Writing Center for Credit: A Correlation Study”). Yet her study, along with the others presented here, illustrates that writing centers do, and will continue to, hold legitimate places in academia as agents that “question the status quo.”

In building on the queries of where the writing center “fits” and what trials it faces, I am pleased to announce that Academic Exchange Quarterly will again feature the topic titled Writing Center Theory and Practice in its Winter 2012 issue. In addition to articles exploring theory, practice, and experience in writing center work, submissions may also consider how writing center professionals cope with change and the eventuality of needing to expand their efforts in response to new economic and demographic challenges. Furthermore, as we move towards increasingly viral and technologically dependent learning communities, how can these efforts help meet the evolving demands of our students? I encourage you to submit a piece, and to share this call for papers with colleagues. Please identify your submission with the keyword CENTER-2. Writing center directors and other administrators, professional staff, faculty tutors, and graduate students are welcome to submit. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

       Clark, Irene L. and Dave Healy. “Are Writing Centers Ethical?” The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice. Ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blummer. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001. 242-259. Print.
       Palmer, Parker. “‘Loaves and Fishes’: Acts of Scarcity or Abundance.” The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring. Boston: HarperCollins, 1990. 121 38. Print.
       Schunk, D. H., and B.J. Zimmerman. (1998). Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self- reflective practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press. Print.
       Williams, J. D., and Seiji Takaku. “Help seeking, self-efficacy, and writing performance among college students.” Journal of Writing Research 3.1 (2011): 1-18. Print.

Kellie Charron, M.A., Feature Editor