The Writing Center has taken upon itself the ambitious task of creating a culture of writing and continuous inquiry in the university and the communities it serves. Taking advantage of the opportunities that exist when individuals with different but related goals teach and learn from one another for their mutual benefit, The Writing Center has developed a practice we call consultative teaching. A combination of collaborative learning, peer tutoring, service-learning, student research, and jointly-conducted student-faculty research, the practice of consultative teaching recognizes students as knowledgeable individuals with valuable ideas and experiences to contribute to the learning situation, teachers as model students committed to learning for and with their students, and both students and teachers as learners responsible for sharing their developing understandings and talents with one another and with the broader community.
Those of us who have worked to establish consultative teaching believe it to be a practice particularly well-suited to research-intensive universities like Michigan State that are rethinking and renewing their commitment to the scholarship of teaching and service. In The Writing Center, we are using this theoretically-sound, unusually cost-effective practice not only to improve the teaching of literacy in Michigan State, the State of Michigan, and beyond but also to produce new knowledge about the teaching, learning, and uses of literacy.
Although research into literacy and learning emerging from fields as various as anthropology, cultural studies, critical theory, history, linguistics, psychology, rhetoric and composition, and sociology has demonstrated that language—including written language—is best learned informally in one-on-one and small group settings, heretofore only the most well-endowed of educational institutions have been positioned to provide such instruction for their students. The Writing Center is working to make such learning opportunities available to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in Michigan State and to families, neighbors, and colleagues in the State of Michigan. In The Writing Center, less-experienced, less-practiced writers benefit from the greater experience and expertise of their peers; at the same time, consultants expand and enrich their general education as they read and discuss articles their peers are composing in a wide variety of fields and disciplines that they themselves may not have had the opportunity to study.
Among the peer consultancies the Center has established to improve the quality of literacy in Michigan State and the State of Michigan are the following:
Undergraduate Writing Consultancy
The centerpiece of our work in which MSU students, prepared in course work and field experiences, not only assist their peers in the Center and online with brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing writing for courses across the disciplines but also conduct workshops (e.g., “Digital Video Workshop”) in classrooms and residence halls and provide sustained assistance in courses across the curriculum in which faculty are using writing extensively to engage their students in active learning;
Graduate Writing Consultancy
Graduate students provide writing workshop support in one-on-one or small-group sessions to undergraduates and faculty members as well as to graduate students who are composing papers, theses, dissertations, and articles for publication;
Internet Writing Consultancy
MSU undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty writing consultants (1) provide assistance to peers in the Center and off campus who are conducting research and publishing on the World Wide Web, (2) conduct workshops (e.g., “Conducting Research on the World Wide Web,” “Publishing on the World Wide Web”) for classes in the Center and in computer classrooms across the university, (3) conduct workshops and institutes for faculty who are integrating World Wide Web research and publication into their courses across the curriculum, and (4) make a wide range of resources available to writers on the Center’s home page;
Faculty Writing Consultancy and the Teacher Writing Consultancy
Faculty (in the MSU Faculty Writing Project) and K-12 teachers (in the Red Cedar Writing Project, MSU’s chapter of the National Writing Project) teach one another their own best practices for integrating writing instruction into their courses and respond to one another’s writing for publication;
Student Writing Consultancy
Elementary, middle (Spartan Writing Camp), and secondary school students (Greenrock Writers Retreat) in Michigan, prepared by teachers and faculty in The Writing Center, spend one or two weeks on the MSU campus in the summer to learn to provide writing workshop support to their peers and assist their teachers in the effective teaching of writing in Michigan’s schools;
Community Writing Consultancy
MSU undergraduate and graduate students, in connection with MSU course work, assist mid-Michigan service agencies in the composition of documents that advance these agencies’ work.