Tag Archives: IWCA

When Non-directive Tutoring Fails

You’re likely familiar with the concept of non-directivity, even if you don’t know the word for it. A lot of writing center scholars call for tutors to be non-directive with their clients. This mainly means, avoiding telling the client what to say or specifically what to add or delete to a paper. Some ways to be non-directive might be avoiding ever holding the pen, making sure the student is the only one to write on the their paper, or when a client asks you how to do something, you might respond with “Well, what do you think?” These strategies sometimes work very well for clients and tutors. However, instead of thinking of non-directivity as one strategy of many, a great deal of writing centers in universities around the US teach and talk about non-directivity as the only way to be student-centered, another writing center buzzword that means being focused entirely on the needs and well-being of the client.

The trouble here is that almost every tutor has had a session where non-directive methods don’t work. Perhaps the student really needs to be told and shown a particular kind of writing move than she just doesn’t know. Or perhaps a student has come in asking only for help with grammar. Regardless of the reason, when a session isn’t working, and the only thing a tutor has been taught is that non-directive tutoring is the only way to tutor the “right way,” we run into trouble because they tutor is immobilized and the client doesn’t know what to do. That’s what my presentation was about. I presented, at least partially, on a study I performed at Ohio University, where I surveyed writing center consultants about when they felt guilt as tutors in the center. An overwhelming number said they felt guilt when they thought they were being too directive. This, to me, is a serious bummer, because non-directivity is but one strategy of many, and we as tutors should feel confident in our ability to shift our methods as needed in a session without worrying if we’re breaking the rules or ruining a client for life.

At this year’s IWCA conference, the keynote speaker, Ben Rafoth, the writing center director at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, discussed the importance of deviating away from Northian tradition in order to meet the needs of all students coming to the Writing Center. Rafoth’s suggestion is all at once revolutionary, and also part of a conversation that has been going on for years among writing center circles, a conversation that I added to in my presentation: “The (R)evolutionary Space Between: Considering the Conflation of Non-directivity and Student-Centeredness.” Thinking about these ideas at IWCA prompted me to share a little with other writing center consultants.

A little on Northian tradition. In 1984, Stephen North’s essay “The Idea of the Writing Center” was published in The English Journal, and in this essay, North coined the oft-cited (and likely at least a little familiar to most tutors) statement “Our job is to make better writers, not better writing.” This statement, along with the rest of his essay, has been highly revered and elevated to near holy-status by many writing center scholars as the main ethos of the writing center world. That ethos is, essentially, that the writing center is not a fix-it-shop but rather a place where tutors help clients with their papers through conversation, and guide clients to make their own writing choices, rather than telling the clients what to do. This facilitative, conversational philosophy, then, has also paved the way for non-directive tutoring to become the main strategy taught to tutors.

I was pleased to see that at IWCA, many others besides me and Dr. Rafoth discussed the importance of diversifying tutoring methods and reorienting ourselves to our relationship to key scholarship that informs those methods. Many of these sessions focused specifically on identity as well—for if we only have one tutoring method for all different kinds of people from all different subject positions, we are likely not serving quite a few student populations as well as we could. Seeing these presentations was refreshing because I was able to see a shift in thought about what the “rules” for tutoring are or should be—I hope next year’s IWCA conference can continue the conversation.

IWCA: A Place for Emerging Scholars

IWCA_logoWhen I was at IWCA a few weeks ago to present on “What Makes a Space Raced: Exploring Whiteness in the Writing Center,” I noticed how conferences—despite the tales of elitist performances and pretentious discourse—provide young and emerging scholars a space to present their research and receive productive feedback. In my rush to get published, I find that conferences allow me to think about my research, to explore ways to expand and exhaust the research, and to nuance the arguments I posit. In other words, conferences allow me to continue being student, which I believe is integral to both teaching, research, and scholarship. Publishing never feels like a learning practice. It feels like a finality: an imagined end goal. Publishing functions as a way of (1) Espousing knowledge, (2) Critiquing knowledge, or (3) Drawing attention to new knowledges. It is a space for experts, not necessarily learners.

What conferences provide young and emerging scholars that is much like the publishing process— if a manuscript reaches external review—is an instant type of peer review. Young, emerging, and established scholars all attend conferences and tend to attend panels in which they are interested. Therefore, what happens when young scholars present is a type of low-risk (ideally) review that can further push and urge a scholar to explore, nuance, and better articulate their research and ideas. For more established scholars, hearing from young and emerging researchers can also serve as a way to better refine, rethink, and nuance their current research. As someone interested in Writing Center research, as well as research in Comp/Rhet, the IWCA conference is an ideal space to present research concerning race, language, and identity in writing center spaces. I never leave a presentation unsatisfied as the questions, suggestions, and resources audience members provide are invaluable in this early stage of my research.

The Wonderful World of Writing Centers: An International Peer Tutoring Conference at Disney World

Just a month ago, I went to my fourthor is it my fifth now?Writing Center conference. But this one was a little different than ones past. This conference wasn’t just for writing centers in the state of Michigan or the Midwest region. This time, it was international. And instead of running from building to building trying to minimize my time in the cold, brisk, cloudy Midwest weather, I was in the sunny and breezy Orlando, Florida climate at none other than Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. And it was refreshing for body, mind, and soul.

The International Writing Center Association conference provided fascinating perspectives and unique presenting opportunities for Writing Center faculty and peer tutors from around the world. My coworkers and I held a panel about tutoring practices with English Language Learners and the research we’ve done here at MSU’s Writing Center to better understand ELL students’ educational experiences. While that was totally interesting and all, what was really special was presenting alongside a woman from Saudi Arabia, who started one of the first (and few) writing centers in her country just a couple years back with outstanding results. How humbling to be grouped together with someone from across the world, joined together by our shared goal and passion: making better writers.

It reminds me that the work we do here at The Writing Center at MSU is bigger than the 50-minute sessions and 3 cups of coffee a shift.

To connect with others through words is a global mission, a multicultural practice, and one that can unite tutors from around the world by their desire to help others. Maybe the act of writing comes in different languages, but that’s what makes it so powerful. It can transcend borders of nations and the borders between one mind and another.

Maybe the pixie dust just hasn’t worn off, but I’d say the work we doconsultants and clients in tandemreally is something magical.