ENGL 820 4/5 Writing Center Pedagogy

Writing centers have always been a mystery to me. I am uncertain if I have ever even stepped foot in one. I’ve always found this sort of interesting, considering my research and work focuses so much on writing. From reading writing center literature and talking to writing center specialists the main thing I have picked up on is the writing center is its own unique culture. Now I am not sure what this culture really is, but there certainly seems to be one. It seems as though this culture provides a nurturing environment for students to go, a liminal space between the class and home to get different types of support and feedback that you wouldn’t from the classroom. Since this culture tends to be positive and beneficial, what I see as the main concern writing center pedagogy should address at this point is gaining a more functional, responsive, and explicit approach to language. While “process,” as North discusses in “The Idea of a Writing Center,” was an important step away from formalism at the time, the relativist, social constructivist approach to writing that mainstream writing pedagogy offers does not provide the type of metalanguage and language awareness necessary to substantially “improve” writing. We could go on for several more decades problematizing the notion of “good writing,” but we should really do our students a favor and acknowledge that certain writing is valued over others, so we can start getting students to a higher level of success.

In terms of providing feedback, I believe we need to provide more visible scaffolding to help students move from a rough draft to a successful finished product. The teaching-learning cycle and explicit metalanguage is very helpful here. Teachers or specialists in the writing center need the appropriate metalanguage and genre awareness to be able to deconstruct the features of a genre to students. Next, the writing center can foster a negotiation stage, where specialists provide feedback on a draft. This process should usually be enough for students to create a revised and successful draft, but weaker writers can engage in multiple stages of negotiated revision. I know writing center pedagogy argues not to focus on local concerns; however, I believe writing center pedagogy needs to recognize that language is stratified: discourse (texts), consists of lexicogrammar (words and clauses), which consists of phonology (sounds) and graphology (letters). Each of these levels of language are important in that they build upon each other. This provides a more holistic as well as specific approach to language awareness.

Besides raising language awareness, I believe Huot provides a responsive and flexible approach to responding to writing. Drawing from Phelps, Huot argues that reading response should be a dialectical process, a conversation, between teacher and writer. Huot’s framework for Moving toward a Theory of Response is a useful model of response as a dialectical process of providing room for instruction, dialog, reflection and transformation, while understanding students’ social and institutional contexts.

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