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PR AXIS

a writing center journal

15.2: SUPPORT IN THE WRITING CENTER


VOL 15, NO 2 (2018): SUPPORT IN THE WRITING CENTER TABLE OF CONTENTS ABOUT THE AUTHORS COLUMNS From the Editors: Support in the Writing Center Sarah Riddick and Tristin Hooker Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing: A Content Analysis of ESL/ELL Writing Center Services Provided by Public Flagship Institutions Zachary W. Taylor Preferred Pronouns in Writing Center Reports Justin Hopkins Welcoming and Managing Neurodiversity in the Writing Center Alice Batt

FOCUS ARTICLES “Not Alone in the Process”: Designing Equitable Support for First-Year Writers in the Writing Center Julie Wilson Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers: Positioning Mindfulness Meditation As A Writing Strategy To Optimize Cognitive Load And Potentialize Writing Center Tutors’ Supportive Roles Sarah Johnson Gestural Listening and the Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries Laura Feibush Peer Observation and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center Daniel Lawson


ABOUT THE AUTHORS Alice Batt, Ph.D. is assistant director of the University Writing Center and lecturer for the Department of Rhetoric & Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. She currently serves as president of the South Central Writing Centers Association. Alice’s research interests include neurodiversity in the writing center and partnerships between libraries and writing centers, particularly in learning commons. Laura Feibush, M.A. is s a Ph.D. student in Composition at the University of Pittsburgh. She investigates listening and embodiment in scenes of writing instruction. Her sites of interest are primarily classrooms and writing centers, but her work also extends outward towards acts of listening in public arenas, such as scenes of protest and worship. Her dissertation, “The Earful Body: Towards a Rhetoric of Listening in and Beyond Scenes of Writing Instruction,” lies at the intersection of sound studies, gesture studies, and pedagogy, which she brings together to argue for listening, especially embodied, or “gestural” listening, as a rhetorical force. Feibush received a BA in Comparative Literature from Bryn Mawr College in 2013. During the 2018-2019 academic year, she will be an Assistant Professor at Juniata College. Justin B. Hopkins, Ph.D. serves as the Assistant Director of the Writing Center at Franklin and Marshall College, where he graduated with a BA in English Literature and Theatre. He received his MA in International Performance Research from the Universities of Warwick, England, and Tampere, Finland, and he recently completed a PhD in Composition/TESOL at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has published his MA thesis “Abstract and Brief Chronicles: Creative and Critical Curation of Performance” in online journal Liminalities, and his article “Coming Home: An Autoethnographic Exploration of Third Culture Kid Transition” appears in Qualitative Inquiry. Justin has contributed dozens of performance reviews to Shakespeare Bulletin and other periodicals. Sarah Johnson, M.F.A. is a PhD student in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University where she also teaches Composition. She received her MFA in poetry from American University, and her poetry appears in Bird's Thumb, District Lit, SCOPE, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and others. Daniel Lawson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Writing Center at Central Michigan University. His research interests include writing center studies, visual rhetoric and new media, and writing across the curriculum. He has published in venues such as WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, the Journal of College Literacy and Learning, and Studies in Comics. Zachary W. Taylor is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the linguistics of higher education, and he has published work in Higher Education Quarterly, the Journal of College Student Development, and the Community College Journal of Research and Practice among others. Julie Wilson, Ph.D. is in her tenth year directing the Writing Studio at Warren Wilson College. Previously, she tutored in the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center. She is currently researching writing centers in college-inprison programs.


Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

FROM THE EDITORS   Sarah Riddick & Tristin Hooker  University of Texas at Austin  praxisuwc@gmail.com         

We here at ​Praxis​ are proud to present you with our spring 2018 issue, “Support in the  Writing Center.” For this issue, we have brought  together articles that examine a wide range of  student and tutor needs, with the goal of making  the work of the writing center and of education  more equitable, accessible, and sustainable. In  some ways, this theme may seem redundant;  writing centers are so often identified so closely  with “support” in education. Yet, those of us who  work in writing centers know that our work is  never static. As we continue to deepen our  understanding of what happens in our schools and  in our centers, and as we work to serve students  from diverse backgrounds with equally diverse  needs, the need to examine all of our potential for  working more effectively, both for students’ sake  and for tutors’ sakes. In our practice and in our  scholarship, we not only should but ​must​ strive to  explore each new avenue that grants greater  access. We must pursue and develop the skills that  keep all of us coming back to the center.   We open this issue with Zachary L.  Taylor’s column “Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作,  Pagsulat, and Writing: A Content Analysis of  ESL/ELL Writing Center Services, which surveys  the presence of ESL/ELL-related services on the  websites of all public flagship universities in the  United States. Although “ESL and ELL students  are the fastest growing segment of the public  school population” (3), Taylor’s study finds that  the websites of these institutions suggest a  troubling lack of attention to this community.  Justin B. Hopkins also addresses writing  center policies focused on inclusion in “Preferred  Pronouns in Writing Center Reports.” Hopkins’  study traces tutor and student responses to a new 

writing center policy of asking students for their preferred pronouns, to be used in reports sent to  instructors. While the response was primarily  positive, Hopkins shows the complexity and the  possibilities for negotiating voluntary and  involuntary disclosure, as well as productive and  unproductive forms of discomfort in tutoring.  In “Welcoming and Managing  Neurodiversity in the Writing Center,” Alice Batt  reflects on the often unreported struggles that  neurodiverse students and employees face in the  writing center. Batt points out that “writing  centers, by virtue of our attention to the needs of  the individual, are poised to be natural homes for  neurodivergent consultants and administrators,”  and she calls on writing center administrators to  work towards making their centers an inclusive  space for neurodiversity (14).  Continuing at the administrative level, Julie  Wilson’s focus article “‘Not Alone in the Process’:  Designing Equitable Support for First-Year  Writers in the Writing Center​” discusses the  benefits of collaboration between first-year writing  programs and writing centers. “In directed  self-placement,” says Wilson, “entering students  have a voice in deciding which writing classes and  writing support will serve them best in the first  year” (16). Based on a year-long study of her  institution’s Weekly Writing Sessions program,  Wilson demonstrates how writing programs and  writing centers can work together to encourage  directed self-placement and “increase access and  equity” among first-year writers (21).  In “Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers:  Positioning Mindfulness Meditation As A Writing  Strategy To Optimize Cognitive Load And  Potentialize Writing Center Tutors’ Supportive 


From the Editors ​• 2

Roles​” Sarah Johnson addresses support for students and writers directly, by advocating for the  potential benefits of incorporating mindfulness  meditation in tutoring sessions and tutor training.  Johnson applies the lens of Cognitive Load  Theory, and suggests that writing tutors and  consultants can effectively sustain their writing  and manage stress through implementing  mindfulness techniques.   Laura Feibush also examines embodiment  in “Gestural Listening: Virtual Boundaries in the  Writing Center.” Drawing on observations,  interviews, sound, and gesture studies, Feibush  explores the way that listening contributes to  writing center sessions, and the way that listening  can be expressed to overcome some of the virtual  distance that video conferencing technology can  create in tutoring sessions.   Similarly, Daniel Lawson’s “​Peer  Observation and Evaluation Practices in the  Writing Center”​ offers a way in which writing  center administrators can encourage their  consultants to self-reflect on their habits and  abilities. Lawson examines the self-reflections and  peer reflections of Graduate Assistants that work  in his institution’s writing center. Reading these  reflections across genre theory, Lawson identifies  several potentially adverse effects that the typical  genre of self-reflection might create, and he  suggests ways to limit these effects and thereby  improve consultants’ self-reflections.  Finally, I (Sarah) would like to make some  announcements. First, I would like to thank  Alejandro Omidsalar for his work at ​Praxis​.  Alejandro concluded his term at the journal this  past December, but he and I found a wonderful  person to fill his editorial shoes. This spring it has  been my pleasure to welcome Tristin Hooker as a  managing editor. Tristin is a doctoral student who  specializes in rhetoric and who founded and  directed a writing center at her previous  institution. Together we have hit the ground  running this year, engaging as much as we can  with our writing-center colleagues at our 

institution and across the country, in order to best ascertain developments in this field. Along these  lines, please look forward to a special issue  forthcoming in spring 2019 that will focus on  issues of race in the writing center. We will be  working collaboratively with two guest editors, Dr.  Mick Howard of Langston University and Dr.  Karen Keaton Jackson of North Carolina Central  University. Please see the call for papers at the end  of this issue if you wish to submit. In closing and  after some reflection on my first year at ​Praxis​, I  would like to say it has been a joy as managing  editors of ​Praxis ​to support those who believe so  deeply in the work that writing centers do, and we  look forward to continuing to serve this  community in the coming year.   

Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com


Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

ESCRITURA, SAU NTAWV, 写作, PAGSULAT, AND WRITING: A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF ESL/ELL WRITING CENTER SERVICES PROVIDED BY PUBLIC FLAGSHIP INSTITUTIONS Zachary Wayne Taylor The University of Texas at Austin zt@utexas.edu More so than any other disruptive technology of the past twenty years, the internet has forever changed the way universities communicate with their students. Like other institutional offices, departments, divisions, and programs, university writing centers (UWCs) use this technology: every public flagship university in the United States includes a unique UWC website on their institution’s “.edu” web domain. This web presence has a particularly unique set of consequences for English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learning (ELL) postsecondary students. First, ESL and ELL students are the fastest growing segment of the public school population, as the National Education Association (NEA) prognosticates that 25% of public school students will be ESL or ELL by 2025 (NEA). Although there exists no national-level research that details ESL or ELL postsecondary placement and attainment outside of Klein et al.’s 2004 report, institutions of higher education (IHEs) should see an influx of these students in the coming years (Kanno and Cromley 89). This undergirding research strongly implies an increased demand for ESL/ELL UWC services because of these shifting demographics. Thus, the UWC’s institutional website will undoubtedly serve as an increasingly important resource for current and prospective ESL/ELL students. Second, ESL/ELL postsecondary students— and the postsecondary student body at large—are as likely to use the internet to learn more about a postsecondary institution as any other traditional source of information such as email, telephone calls, informational brochures, or campus visits (Burdett 2). For UWCs, it is therefore especially important for ESL/ ELL services to be easily accessible and understood on the UWC’s institutional website to allow current and prospective postsecondary ESL/ELL students knowledge of the services they can receive if they attend a given institution. Subsequently, the UWC and the services it offers—complemented by its institutional website—may serve as an important recruiting or retention tool for university leadership hoping to diversify their student population.

However, the only national-level research examining ESL/ELL services offered by IHEs was a 1995 study by Powers and Nelson: the researchers surveyed seventy-five writing centers at graduate institutions, focusing on the use of writing conferences. Consequently, in over two decades, no national-level research has examined what ESL/ELL services UWCs are providing and if the center is making those services apparent and accessible online. Furthermore, another gap in the research exists: do UWCs adhere to best practices focused on supporting ESL/ELL writers on campus? Filling a crucial gap in the literature, this study aims to evaluate ESL/ELL-specific UWC services articulated by each public flagship’s UWC website to determine the type of services offered and the extent to which those services support ESL and ELL students, the fastest growing segment of public school students.

Literature Review Although no single ESL/ELL composition theory will satisfy all scholars, extant research has established several general best practices for university writing centers to consider when supporting postsecondary ESL/ELL students. Given that ESL/ELL writers come from diverse backgrounds, writing center tutors must focus on the individual student and their idiosyncratic writing abilities, evaluate their knowledge of English, and engage with the student at an appropriate, comfortable level of English. This attention to detail typically requires that writing center tutors have some degree of familiarity with an ESL/ELL student’s first language, as well as specialized training in how to best support these students (Thonus 19-20). Thus, university writing centers should provide ESL/ELL-trained tutors from diverse backgrounds (Thonus 22), even though very few university writing center tutors are specifically trained in ESL (Ronesi). Postsecondary ESL/ELL writers also benefit from peer interaction in a classroom setting, akin to a workshop, where ESL/ELL writers can review their writing and revise it effectively, while using their peers and their writing tutors as mutually supportive systems


Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing • (Williams 83). Furthermore, these workshops must be held in friendly, encouraging atmospheres where ESL/ELL writers can feel comfortable to share their writing, receive constructive criticism, and improve their English composition (Bruce and Rafoth 29). Fostering this sense of intellectual and academic comfort encourages ESL/ELL student participation in university writing centers, which in turn leads to improved academic writing (Cogie 65). Finally, university writing center tutors and staff must possess a heightened awareness of multiculturalism and the subsequent “cultural preferences that are reflected in writing,” (Harris and Silva 527). These cultural preferences often differ from those demonstrated in speech, and the writing center tutor must distinguish between language proficiency and writing ability; this evaluative discretion is crucial for properly addressing an ESL/ELL writer’s difficulties and to provide informed guidelines for improving their writing (Harris and Silva 529). Furthermore, being unaware of cultural preferences often promotes “deficit thinking” on the part of the tutor, which can cause an ESL/ELL student to feel unprepared or confused during a writing center conference or workshop. Instead, tutors need “to introduce preferences and conventions of American discourse for what they are—alternate conventions and preferences” (Harris and Silva 527). Ultimately, these best practices—providing ESL/ELL-specific services, tutors, and workshops— should be reflected on a UWC’s website, as current and prospective postsecondary ESL/ELL students must be made aware of the ESL/ELL specific services offered by a UWC to maximize their resources and ultimately earn their degrees.

Methodology Given the volume of IHEs in the United States, a method of standardization was required before data collection. An examination of public flagships (n = 50) seemed appropriate, as these schools are typically large, public, land-grant institutions considered the leading institution in their state in terms of research, graduate education, and professional programs (Berdahl). Furthermore, after an initial review, it was discovered that all public flagships featured a UWC website on their institutional web domain (.edu), rendering the public flagships a high-quality, appropriate subsection of IHEs to examine. Once this degree of standardization was achieved, I used each institution’s domain-embedded search tool to locate the UWC’s website. This search was performed in November 2016 and lasted two weeks in duration.

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Once each UWC website was located, I employed Neuendorf’s (2002) content analysis—using the Readability Studio software suite—to textually analyze each UWC’s website by extracting every URL associated with the site and inputting it into Readability Studio. Readability Studio isolated all text from a given URL and sorted that text data into alphabetized terms of frequency and page location. This methodology allowed me to input hundreds of URLs into the program and search for the keywords “ESL,” “ELL,” “English,” “language,” “learner,” and “second” to learn if a given webpage included these keywords. If a webpage included a keyword, I coded the webpage as “Mentioning ESL/ELL-specific services.” Then, I examined all pages that included any keywords to determine if a UWC provided ESL/ELL-specific tutors and/or workshops, mirroring the best practices included in the literature review of this paper. Employing a quantitative linguistic software program to scan webpages for ESL/ELL relevant keywords successfully eliminated research bias and subjectivity, providing another level of rigorous standardization to this study. After locating UWC webpages and their ESL/ELL service, tutor, and workshop data. I created a database using a binary code (0 = no, 1= yes); this database included the name of the institution, title of their UWC, root URL of the UWC’s website, and separate columns for “Mentions ESL/ELL services,” “Provides ESL/ELL-specific tutors,” and “Facilitates ESL/ELLspecific workshops.” Furthermore, I collected the variable data “Offers bilingual/multilingual website and/or web translation widget,” meaning an institution’s UWC webpage(s) allow(s) users to translate the English web content into another language of the user’s choice, or the webpage featured a widget that allows the user to toggle back and forth between English and another language of the user’s choice. This variable was included in response to related research that found that allowing ESL/ELL students to speak and read in their first language helps improve their English- or second- language writing (Woodall 7), as well as the fact that web translation services is becoming an increasingly common internet technology (University Language Services). It is my position that conveying university information in a student’s first language could lead to greater participation in university-sponsored programs, such as university writing centers. Therefore, I felt this characteristic—a bilingual and/or multilingual website—was worthy of inclusion in this study and could be used to inform future research.

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Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing •

Findings ESL/ELL services that university writing centers provide and that are included on writing center websites can be found in Table 1 (see Appendix). Of the fifty public flagship institutions examined in this study, 56% of their UWC websites indicate they serve ESL/ELL students. Furthermore, 44% explicitly mention providing ESL/ELL-specific tutors, 20% explicitly mention facilitating ESL/ELL-specific workshops, and 0% offers bilingual or multilingual web content and/or web translation widgets/services. Only 16% of public flagship institutions mention serving ESL/ELL students, provide ESL/ELL-specific writing center tutors, and facilitate ESL/ELL-specific writing center workshops.

Discussion To begin, the major surprise of the findings was that only 56% of UWCs mentioned ESL/ELL-specific writing center services on their websites. This percentage represents only twenty-eight of fifty public flagship institutions in the United States. Hearkening back to the words of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl in his convocation address to Texas A&M University, public flagship institutions are often considered leaders in the fields of research, graduate education, and professional programs (Berdahl). However, as the data show, public flagships are not leaders in ESL/ELL services provided by UWCs. Troublesome still is only 16% of public flagships make it readily apparent that their UWC provides specific ESL/ELL writing center services, tutors, and workshops, and there is no current, ongoing effort to collect national-level ESL/ELL-specific data from postsecondary institutions, especially data that targets academic services meant to support retention efforts and degree attainment. Perhaps more surprising is that no public flagship UWC offers any of their online content in a language other than English. Emerging language recognition and translation technologies, such as Google Translate, allow websites to translate their content into hundreds of different languages by adding a mere ten lines of computer code to an existing HTML file, yet no public flagships employ such a revolutionary internet technology to deliver their programmatic information (e.g., writing center services) to diverse, multilingual audiences. This is particularly troublesome for prospective postsecondary ESL/ELL students who visit institutional websites hoping to learn more about the academic resources and services available to them at a given institution, only to be met with a potentially unfamiliar language. Considering the 2016 Open

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Doors report that found a 5.8% and 4% increase in international undergraduate and graduate students from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015 academic year, it is clear that international students are continuing to attend America’s institutions of higher education in record numbers (Institute of International Education). Granted, not all incoming international students are ESL/ELL, but providing bilingual/multilingual web content would surely work to recruit and retain international students and better serve current international students whose first language is not English. Ultimately, ESL/ELL students are the ones who most need high-quality writing services, yet the data show that, overwhelmingly, public flagship UWCs do not appear to provide these services or make these services apparent on their websites.

Implications and Conclusion The implications and conclusions drawn from this study are numerous and profound. First, it is clear that public flagship institutions—if they are providing ESL/ELL-specific services in their writing centers—do not adequately articulate the provision of these services on their institutional websites: this must change. One particularly effective UWC website is the University of Maine’s, which features a clear, concise menu and lists “ESL Specialists” among the “General Info” included on the writing center’s website landing page (Writing Center). Another high quality page belongs to the University of Connecticut’s Writing Center, whose page clearly states: Several of our tutors have experience with ELLspecific issues, and we can support writers in planning a series of writing tutorials. Our goal in working with ELL writers remains the same as our goal for native speakers of English – that is, to support and guide an ongoing learning process. (“How Our Tutorials Work”) Here, not only does the University of Connecticut’s writing center provide tutors with ELL experience, but they also facilitate “series of writing tutorials,” which mirrors recommendations supplied by extant research. This level of support aligns with best practices meant to provide ESL/ELL students with the academic services they need to thrive in a linguistically unfamiliar environment. However, the vast majority of public flagship institutions do not prioritize or advertise ESL/ELL UWC services. On their outwardfacing websites, few public flagships understand best practices and lucidly articulate these best practices; 84% of public flagships do not provide these basic UWC services that greatly benefit the writing skills and

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Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing • academic growth of ESL/ELL students, an evergrowing subpopulation of America’s postsecondarystudent demographic. Second, a modest percentage (56%) of public flagship UWCs provide some degree of ESL/ELL student support, yet this percentage can be improved upon by writing center directors, coordinators, and tutors acknowledging the changing postsecondary student demographic that will undoubtedly include greater numbers of ESL/ELL students. This effort must begin with the staffing and training of writing center tutors from a wide variety of language backgrounds. Here, linguistic diversity of UWC faculty is essential. This human-resources philosophy starts with the director of the writing center understanding their university’s idiosyncratic student population and staffing—then training—the appropriate graduate students or full-time employees to serve ESL/ELL students with unique needs and circumstances. Subsequently, UWCs must make these ESl/ELLtrained tutors visible on UWC websites. It is entirely possible that a prospective postsecondary ESL/ELL student navigates to a UWC website, discovers a lack or apparent lack of ESL/ELL-specific writing center services, and decides to not attend that institution. This is inexcusable. Perhaps more salient, UWCs must enhance their web presence to reflect their actual services. UWCs must prioritize web communication and the outwardfacing image they project on their institutional website. This prioritization starts with a UWC evaluating its own practices and clearly, concisely articulating those practices on its website, including the provision of ESL/ELL-specific services. And in many cases, this web refresh would only require a few lines of computer code, which could easily be performed by a university’s communication staff if a writing center does not have the capacity to perform the update. In short, this small gesture could change the way international students and ESL/ELL students envision themselves at an institution of higher education. Finally, this demonstrated lack—or perceived lack—of transparency displayed by UWCs reveals a major gap in higher-education research that specifically focuses on the academic services provided to ESL/ELL students. US universities have always represented an incredible educational opportunity for students from around the world, and even though writing might mean escritura, sau ntawv, 写作, or pagsulat, public flagships and IHEs across the country have the responsibility to support their increasingly diverse student population and their writing. This responsibility can begin at the university writing center.

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Works Cited Berdahl, Robert. M. “The Future of Flagship Universities.” Texas A&M University, 5 Oct. 1998, Convocation, College Station, TX. Speech. Bruce, Shanti, and Ben Rafoth. ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. 2nd ed., Heinemann, 2009. Burdett, K. R. How Students Choose a College: Understanding the Role of Internet Based Resources in the College Choice Process. Dissertation, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 2013. Cogie, Jane. “ESL Student Participation in Writing Center Sessions.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, 2006, pp. 48-66. Harris, Muriel, and Tony Silva. “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 4, Dec. 1993, pp. 525-37. “How Our Tutorials Work.” University of Connecticut Writing Center, http://writingcenter.uconn.edu/how-our-tutorialswork/. Institute of International Education. “New International Student Enrollment, 2005/06 2015/16.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 2016. Web. Accessed Dec. 2016. http://www.iie.org/opendoors Kanno, Yasuko, and Jennifer G. Cromley. “English Language Learners’ Access to and Attainment in Postsecondary Education.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 47, no. 1, Mar. 2013, pp. 89-121. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Language Minorities and Their Educational and Labor Market Indicators— Recent Trends. NCES 2004-009, by Steven Klein, Rosio Bugarin, Renee Beltranea, and Edith McArthur. Washington, DC, June 2004. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED485433.pdf. National Education Association. English Language Learners Face Unique Challenges. PB05 2008, by NEA Education Policy and Practice Department, NEA Human and Civil Rights Department, and Center for Great Public Schools, Washington, DC, 2008. www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/ELL_Policy_Brief _Fall_08_(2).pdf. Accessed 2016. Neuendorf, Kimberly A. The Content Analysis Guidebook. Sage, 2002. Powers, Judith K., and Jane V. Nelson. “L2 Writers and the Writing Center: A National Survey

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Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing • of Writing Center Conferencing at Graduate Institutions.” Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 4, no. 2, May 1995, pp. 113-138. Ronesi, Lynne. “Meeting in the Writing Center: The Field of ESL.” TESL-EJ: The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, vol. 1, no. 3, Mar. 1995. Thonus, Terese. “Tutors as Teachers: Assisting ESL/EFL Students in the Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, Spring 1993, pp. 13-26. University Language Services. “Translating College Websites.” University Language Services, 2016,

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https://www.universitylanguage.com/schoolservices/website-translation/ . Williams, Jennifer. “Undergraduate Second Language Writers in the Writing Center.” Journal of Basic Writing, vol. 21, no. 2, Fall 2002, pp. 73-91. Woodall, Billy R. “Language-Switching: Using the First Language While Writing in a Second Language.” Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2002, pp. 7-28. Writing Center. University of Maine, https://umaine.edu/wcenter/.

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Escritura, Sau Ntawv, 写作, Pagsulat, and Writing •

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Appendix

Table 1. University Writing Centers that Provide ESL/ELL Services, Tutors, Workshops, and Multilingual Websites. Data Extracted from University Writing Center Websites (n=50).

Figure 1. ESL/ELL Writing Center Services Provided by Public Flagship Universities (n=50)

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

PREFERRED PRONOUNS IN WRITING CENTER REPORTS Justin B. Hopkins Franklin and Marshall College justin.hopkins@fandm.edu I took this photo on March 31, 2016:

By exposing and addressing the figures of speech that comprise the everyday language of oppression in writing centers, tutors can confront their own complicity in oppressive systems, challenge discourses that support oppression, and work toward more just and equitable relations within and beyond their centers. (18) But what was the actual impact of the policy? Did we make any progress toward equality and justice, and at what cost? Here, I share results from a pilot study of students’ reactions to being asked for their preferred pronouns. Hopefully, this work contributes to a discussion of issues surrounding gendered identity in writing centers, challenging the heteronormative narrative of what Harry C. Denny calls “mainstream, dominant expectations or roles,” helping to “disrupt the hegemonic” in search of “revolutionary change” (94, 112).

Student Responses

At that time, the Franklin and Marshall College Writing Center had only recently become aware of the frustration represented by this poster that urged the campus community to “Work to end cis-stemic oppression on campus.” Just two weeks before, the center had introduced a policy of asking students for their preferred pronouns at the beginning of each tutoring session, to use in the reports for our own records and—with the students’ permission—to send to their professors. We instituted this policy because of a tutor’s concern that we might be marginalizing members of our community by assuming gender and imposing the traditional male/female binary. That tutor, a member of Franklin and Marshall’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance, suggested that by asking for preferred pronouns, we could recognize and show support for individuals who identify differently from that binary. In so doing, we wished to follow the example of Mandy Suhr-Sytsma and Shan-Estelle Brown:

After the end of the 2016 spring semester, I distributed an IRB-approved survey to all students who had visited the center since the policy began. The survey questions, which produced both qualitative and quantitative data, follow: • Overall, how comfortable were you with being asked about your preferred pronouns? (Likert Scale 1-5) • Overall, how well did you understand why you were being asked about your preferred pronouns? (Likert Scale 1-5) • Overall, how positively or negatively do you perceive the Center’s policy to ask tutees about their preferred pronouns? (Likert Scale 1-5) • Would you describe your perception here? What, if any, positive effects resulted from the questions? What, if any, negative effects resulted from the questions? • Do you recall your initial reaction to being asked about your preferred pronouns? If so, would you share that here?


• Do you have any suggestions for how to better implement the policy of asking tutees about their preferred pronouns? At the end of the survey, I also invited students to be interviewed on the topic. The interview questions mostly provided opportunities to expand on survey responses. 59 of 336 students completed the survey. Five students volunteered for an interview.

Surveys Answers to the questions producing quantitative data indicated an overall favorable response to the policy. Most students said that they were comfortable being asked for their preferred pronouns (71%), that they understood the reasons for the question (87%), and that they perceived the policy positively (60%). Unfavorable answers for these three questions were less than 17%. Answers to the questions producing qualitative data were similarly supportive of the policy. A majority elaborated on the policy’s positive effects, emphasizing its social significance and its practical usefulness: “In 2016 it's very important to ask for pronouns” and “I think it's helpful so that you can be sure to have a fluid conversation with your tutee about what really matters, the writing.” A minority disagreed: “I don't really think this is necessary. If someone prefers specific pronouns, they can let the tutor know in advance” and “I believe that it encourages people to be silly, and that it leads people to respond inappropriately, which would only create/increase the self consciousness of anyone whom does identify in a more unorthodox way.” Some responses were ambivalent, ambiguous, or indifferent. Many made no suggestions on how better to implement the policy. Those who did mostly told us to move the question to the WCOnline registration form. Several exhorted us to explain the question in more detail. Several suggested we ask permission to ask the question in the first place. Some suggested we discontinue the policy.

Interviews Again, the interviews mainly offered students the opportunity to expand on their answers to the survey questions. Interviewees used predominantly positive language—“really cool” and “really important”—to describe their perceptions of the policy. One emphasized the value of the policy in “normalizing the idea that gender isn’t a binary and that it is often in flux, and that choosing a pronoun is very much a representation of choosing who you are as opposed to you being defined by your gender.” All interviewees

Preferred Pronouns in Writing Center Reports • 10   indicated that they understood the policy, though one suggested the center should provide more information about the policy on its website. No interviewees indicated discomfort with being asked for their preferred pronouns. However, two said they were concerned about the possibility of putting pressure on students who might not want to identify their preferred pronouns: “That's essentiality asking them to out themselves.” One urged us to make the question optional and stressed the importance of “creating a safe space with options for exits.”

Responding to the Responses In this final section, I will share our reflection and action in response to the feedback, especially the less favorable feedback, since constructive criticism is often the most useful for further growth. The most common negative effect of the policy mentioned was confusion. However, students mostly indicated that the confusion was cleared up without trouble. Even when it wasn’t, they simply proceeded with the session. Still, to address the concern, we have followed the suggestions to provide more information about the policy on our website, though we wonder how many students access this information before a session. We have also followed suggestions to incorporate the policy into our WCOnline registration form, which now asks students to indicate “Preferred Gender Pronouns.” We believe this change addresses another critical concern: that students might feel put on the spot when asked about preferred pronouns and gender identity. Because they have already been asked, we believe students will feel less pressure. However, we do not believe this adjustment is adequate because students may identify differently in different circumstances, preferring one set of pronouns in an online form and another with professors or fellow students. Furthermore, choices may change between filling out the form and the session. Confirming students’ preferred pronouns during the sessions is necessary to avoid misidentifying anyone. It also acknowledges the potential for fluidity in identity— what Denny calls occupying “positions on continua” (99). Similarly, we are not comfortable with the suggestion to make the question optional. Asking whether students want to share their pronouns might actually increase the pressure by making refusal seem uncooperative, further stigmatizing nonconformity. And if the answer is no, what would we put in our reports? We would either have to use proper names or “the student” throughout report—which would be awkward and more consistent with medical than

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educational writing practice; or, we would have to make an assumption about the student’s gender, which would defeat the purpose of the policy in the first place. In both cases, we would be doing what SuhrSytsma and Brown call “avoid[ing] discussing difference” and “eras[ing] difference” (22). We choose instead to “clarify meaning together,” even at the risk of occasionally causing discomfort (Suhr-Sytsma and Brown 22). Also, perhaps some level of discomfort is not necessarily inappropriate. Jay Sloan suggests so, challenging the idea of “comfort-zone” tutoring: “If the writing center is ever to help students negotiate ‘the more troubling areas of confrontation and difference,’ it is vital that we not let our devotion to our clients’ ‘comfort’ blind us to their real intellectual needs” (70). Hence our rejection of one student’s assertion that the policy may contribute to “the destruction of the English language [. . .] [which,] once pronoun usage becomes mutilated[,] will never again return to normalcy.” While we recognize that some may feel frustration and anxiety about changing conventions, languages do evolve; we believe that we must engage with the ongoing linguistic shift, and that our engagement may prompt learning, despite or maybe even because of the discomfort. Then again, there are some kinds of discomfort that seem important to avoid. We acknowledge and share the concern about the pressure possibly felt by students who hesitate to identify themselves so personally in so public a setting. Here, the issue is not avoiding the “comfort-based” tutoring Sloan opposes, but exercising caution in recognizing and respecting individuals’ rights to privacy. One possibility might be phrasing the question differently. Instead of asking, “What are your preferred pronouns?” we might ask, “What pronouns would you prefer us to use in our reports?” In the former case, we would be asking for a very personal, perhaps intrusive identification. In the latter case, we would be asking for a practical and public identification. Doing so, we might avoid appearing invasive, yet also affirm the value of what Denny calls “challeng[ing] what’s natural or not, conventional or not” (111). As we continue refining the policy, we should remember that most students indicated strong support for it. Though there are costs and risks, most students agree with us, as we agree with Denny, that it is best “to err on the side of consciousness-raising and problem-posing, to make a space for positioning what we believe and challenging what otherwise might seem commonsense” (88). Maybe the most moving responses came from individuals who do not themselves identify differently from the traditional

Preferred Pronouns in Writing Center Reports • 11   gender binary, but who nonetheless emphasized the value of confronting that binary. One wrote: I think it's positive to make everyone aware of the fact that there are people who don't identify with the assumed pronouns. As a cis female, that is not an issue that I have ever experienced, but I have a friend who has, and by being asked, I was forced to think about it a little bit from a different perspective. It gave me a tiny insight into what it's like to need to think about pronouns every day. This response perfectly captures our overall perception of the policy: the predominantly positive and the problematic. We would rather no one feel “forced” to do anything, and we will keep considering ways to temper such potentially negative impressions. Yet such insight into this important issue is exactly what we wished to achieve, for ourselves, and for all the members of the Franklin and Marshall community, however they may identify. Works Cited Denny, Harry C. Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring. Utah State UP, 2010. Sloan, Jay. “Centering Difference: Student Agency and the Limits of ‘Comfortable’ Collaboration.” Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists, vol. 8, no. 2, 2003, pp. 63-74. Suhr-Sytsma, Mandy, and Shan-Estelle Brown. “Theory In/To Practice: Addressing the Everyday Language of Oppression in the Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, 2011, pp. 13-49.

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

WELCOMING AND MANAGING NEURODIVERSITY IN THE WRITING CENTER Alice Batt University of Texas at Austin abatt@austin.utexas.edu A few years ago, my son was eating lunch in the middle-school cafeteria when a friend who has dyslexia and dysgraphia rushed over to share big news. With a flourish, the boy tossed onto the table the results of his tests for the Talented and Gifted program in language arts. “Check it out,” he crowed. “I’m gifted in the same area I’m disabled!” I love this moment. I love the boy’s gleeful appreciation of how language fails to capture the complexity of how he learns. Gifted and disabled? Aren’t those mutually exclusive categories? Nope. His test results torpedoed the most basic and pernicious ableist assumption: that people who have disabilities cannot be “able.” People who work in writing centers are in a better situation than most to know that this ableist assumption is hogwash. Every day we work with students who have disabilities. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we don’t, and often not knowing doesn’t matter because our approach would be the same either way: discern the writers’ main concerns and find out how we can best support them. If that means taking notes on the ideas they express, we do. If it means finding a quieter place to work, we try to find one. If it means giving them time to vent their anxiety, we listen. The very pedagogy of writing centers allows us to individualize each writer’s experience. Because we appreciate individual difference, writing centers tend to be interested in promoting access. At the writing center where I work, we began by consulting the university’s Services for Students with Disabilities office, which helped us craft a statement about the accommodations we provide, such as back-to-back consultations. When our writing center director and I were asked to help design the new Learning Commons at our university’s main library, we advocated for reduced distraction rooms in the writing center to support consultees with ADHD and PTSD and anyone else who needed quiet to do their best work. The architects and designers made sure all passages would easily accommodate wheelchairs and that at least one table could be adjusted to wheelchair height. We determined that the heavy glass doors on our space would never be closed.

As we designed these changes, we knew the students who use our services wouldn’t be the only beneficiaries. Over the years we’ve worked with incredibly talented consultants and administrators who self-identified as having an array of disabilities. We’ve supervised several who were deaf or hard of hearing and others who had mobility or speech impairments. Increasingly, we’ve had consultants who had differences that are invisible: dyslexia, dyscalculia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These consultants might be described as neurodivergent, from the term “neurodiversity,” which was coined by Judy Singer in the late-1990s (Silberman 450). Autistic scholar and speaker Nick Walker offers useful definitions of the terms neurodiversity and neurodivergent. Per Walker, neurodiversity is “the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species,” and neurodivergent “means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’” (Neurodiversity). The term “neurodiversity” neutralizes the stigma that has traditionally been accorded to autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions, and it presents an alternative view: all these conditions are normal variations within a wide spectrum of human neurodevelopment. Many scholars extend the definition to include mental health differences, such as those described above. Subscribing to the neurodiversity paradigm allows people to see disabilities as differences in identity rather than medical issues to be pathologized and treated. That’s the approach I prefer to take when thinking about my administrative colleagues in the writing center and the consultants we employ, train, and support. My own experience in writing centers suggests there is significant neurodivergence among writing center consultants and administrators, but very little has been written on the subject. In volume 13, issue 1 of Praxis, Rebecca Babcock asserted that there are no published studies on disabilities among tutors in the writing center. One important exception—Hillary Degner et al.’s “Opening Closed Doors: A Rationale for Creating a Safe Space for Tutors Struggling with Mental Health Concerns or Illnesses”—was published


in the same issue. The authors published results of a year-long, IRB-approved study of mental health concerns of writing center tutors. They distributed their survey to the Michigan Writing Center, European Writing Centers Association, and WCenter email mailing lists. Out of 127 respondents, 57 percent reported having symptoms of one of the following conditions during the previous six months: depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse, and PTSD. When asked if they had mentioned their mental health concerns to writing center administrators, colleagues, or visiting students, 72 percent indicated that they had not (Degner et al.). More recently, Sarah Banschbach Valles et al. have investigated various kinds of diversity among writing center administrators. “Writing Center Administrators and Diversity: A Survey” includes answers to survey questions about job function, job title, gender, education level, academic discipline, reasons for becoming a writing center director, type of institution (current place of employment, as well as type attended as undergraduate and graduate student), age, race/ethnicity, language, and (dis)ability. The authors report that 96.8 percent (n=302) of those who replied to the survey indicated that they were not disabled; only 3.2 percent (n=10) reported that they have a disability (Valles et al.). I find myself wondering if recent and future investigations into the neurodivergence among writing center workers may be impeded by the pressure to keep one’s differences hidden in the academy. In “Psychological Disability and the Director’s Chair: Interrogating the Relationship Between Positionality and Pedagogy,” M. Melissa Elston reminded us that many academics and administrators still assume that disability negatively affects job performance, and the academic who discloses can face lasting negative effects from colleagues. Ultimately, Elston tells us she decided to disclose her disability because “passing . . . reinforces the ableist fantasy that disability and expertise are mutually exclusive categories.” She sees disclosure as a “radical act of rebellion against numerous ableist narratives” and as a tool she can use, when appropriate, to support other writers who have disabilities (Elston). Some of our consultants may be at the point where they can disclose; others may not be. When I consider the low disclosure rate among tutors in the study by Degner et al., I’m tempted to read it as confirmation that what my experience tells me is true: the pressure to keep quiet about non-visible disabilities extends to our consultants, too. I think of the many times undergraduates have come to me, (sometimes too) late

Welcoming and Managing Neurodiversity in the Writing Center • 13   in the semester, to say they finally decided to go to the SSD office and get their accommodation letter. They always had accommodations in high school, but they wanted to see if they could “manage” without them. The Section 504 system our students experience in primary and secondary school, while well-intentioned, frequently makes them feel other and lesser. One of the most heartbreaking confessions I have heard from a student is that he felt his accommodations were a form of cheating, and if he couldn’t succeed without them, then maybe he wasn’t meant to succeed. Although some students with disabilities come to college with resolved feelings toward their accommodations, many are quite ambivalent. As a manager of a writing center, I would like to be part of creating an environment where writing center workers feel they can disclose, where they feel they don’t have to “pass” as neurotypical, because neurodiversity is expected. Degner et al. suggest that writing center administrators should continually create opportunities for consultants to disclose if they wish and that addressing mental health issues in training will help create an environment where students feel safe to disclose. The same can be said about addressing all types of neurodivergence. Directors who want to take this route may wish to assign readings from Writing Centers and Disability, recently published by Rebecca Babcock and Sharifa Daniels. The first section features articles written by writing center consultants and administrators who have both visible and invisible disabilities: cerebral palsy, brain injury, ADHD, depression, and anxiety. In addition to letting neurodivergent consultants know that they are not alone among their writing center colleagues, the articles in this collection provide salient advice about improving accessibility and developing diversityfriendly consulting practices. In the closing chapter of Writing Centers and Disability, Babcock renews her call for more research on writing center tutors, directors, and staff who have disabilities. I’d like to reiterate that call and amend it to say I think we particularly need research on neurodivergent consultants, for these reasons: 1. Writing about neurodivergent consultants challenges inaccurate perceptions of “helpers” and “those who are helped.” It can also promote the idea that difference in ability can be a strength. When my son’s friend exclaimed, “I’m gifted in the same area I’m disabled,” he meant that his tests showed him to be gifted in language arts along with being dyslexic and dysgraphic. But when I remember his statement, I’m inclined to hear it a bit

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differently. I hear it as a refusal to think of giftedness and disability as separable from each other in a single person. In fact, giftedness and (dis)ability are equally powerful contributors to the way the learner or writer experiences the world. As such, one’s disability might prove to be exactly what the student needs to know about in order to fulfill an assignment correctly. Consider, for example, a color-blind consultant who is asked to review a student’s website and who notes that the colors will be indistinguishable for a portion of the audience; or a consultant with autism who has a gift for pattern recognition, which allows him to notice that each paragraph in a paper is roughly the same length and structure, creating choppiness. Rather than being helpful despite their different abilities, consultants may be helpful because of them. 2. Writing about neurodivergent consultants helps writing center managers grapple with issues that arise at the intersection of accommodation and traditional management practice. For instance, which steps should writing center directors take when a consultant with PTSD is at times verbally aggressive with colleagues? What can they do if the consultant’s accommodation stipulates that employers should not address his or her condition directly? The language of accommodation is meant to support the worker but does not always provide clear direction for managers. Another area worth discussing is how to respond when consultants’ needs conflict, as when one consultant is allergic to another consultant’s service animal. Writing center directors and managers need to discuss challenges of this kind and to brainstorm creative responses, so we can build best practices to support all of our consultants. The truth is that writing centers, by virtue of our attention to the needs of the individual, are poised to be natural homes for neurodivergent consultants and administrators. We have a chance to be the kind of places where, by valuing people’s varied strengths, we can shape perceptions of ability in ways that help make ableist myths a relic from the past. But if we want that to happen, we have more work to do. We can start by encouraging more studies about and by the neurodivergent workers in our midst.

Welcoming and Managing Neurodiversity in the Writing Center • 14   Works Cited Babcock, Rebecca Day. “Disabilities in the Writing Center.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 2015, http://www.praxisuwc.com/babcock131. ---. “Research Review and Call to Research.” Writing Centers and Disability. Edited by Rebecca Babcock and Sharifa Daniels, series edited by Allison D. Smith and Trixie G. Smith, Fountainhead Press, 2017. Babcock, Rebecca Day, and Sharifa Daniels. Writing Centers and Disability. Fountainhead Press, 2017. Degner, Hillary, et al. “Opening Closed Doors: A Rationale for Creating a Safe Space for Tutors Struggling with Mental Health Concerns or Illnesses.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 2015, http://www.praxisuwc.com/degneret-al-131. Elston, M. Melissa. “Psychological Disability and the Director’s Chair: Interrogating the Relationship Between Positionality and Pedagogy.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 2015, http://www.praxisuwc.com/elston-131. Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. Penguin, 2015. Valles, Sarah Banschbach, et al. “Writing Center Administrators and Diversity: A Survey.” http://thepeerreview-iwca.org/issues/issue1/writing-center-administrators-and-diversity-asurvey/. Walker, Nick. “Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions.” Neurocosmopolitanism: Nick Walker's Notes on Neurodiversity, Autism, and Cognitive Liberty, 27 September 2014, http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity -some-basic-terms-definitions/.

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

“NOT ALONE IN THE PROCESS”: DESIGNING EQUITABLE SUPPORT FOR FIRSTYEAR WRITERS IN THE WRITING CENTER Julie Wilson Warren Wilson College jwilson@warren-wilson.edu

Abstract Collaboration across college and university programs is key to expanding educational access and equity. One such collaboration can occur between first-year writing programs and writing centers. Specifically, a pilot program in a small liberal arts college shows how writing centers can adapt directed self-placement, increasingly used in first-year writing program administration, to identify students who could most benefit from our distinctive pedagogy and enroll them in weekly writing center sessions during the first year. Interviews and written reflections reveal common points of learning across these weekly sessions, including increased understanding of college writing standards, a matured writing process, and greater control over one’s academic success. This study corroborates Nancy Grimm’s recent argument that writing centers ought to aim for interdependence rather than independence if we are truly to promote equity. By adapting directed selfplacement and expanding curricular offerings, writing centers can more deliberately support students to pass their writing-intensive classes and to progress toward graduation.

Introduction Over the next several decades, colleges and universities will educate a student body with increasing racial diversity and a growing gap between students from high-wealth and low-wealth backgrounds (AACU 2). Yet, comparative graduation rates suggest that institutions are not currently ensuring equitable access to success across race and class lines. Of students who began college in 2003, the five- or six-year graduation rate for students from the lowest income quartile was 26%, compared to 59% from the highest quartile (Pell 65). Of students who began college in 2008, the fiveyear graduation rate was 60% for white students, 36% for black students, and 47% for Hispanic/Latino students (Digest of Education Statistics sec. 13). Increasing access and equity in higher education requires participation across administration, admissions, student life, career development, civicengagement initiatives, and faculty; the work must include outreach to communities to influence who applies and how well they are prepared, as well as collaboration across programs to support students upon admittance (AAC&U 24-26). Among these programs are writing centers, which use an intimate and student-centered approach to shape how students come to know the role of writing in school and society, and how they come to know their own self-efficacy as

writers. Writing centers have a better chance of increasing access and equity if we collaborate with other campus programs to identify and orient the students who will most benefit from our distinctive pedagogy, such as writing program administrators and other first-year transition staff. We will be more equitable if we expand, explain, and offer our services to students who question their readiness for college writing, given that many of these students will have lacked prior access to strong writing instruction. Writing centers can provide explicit guidance in the expectations of college writing, expanded options of writing processes, and a support-seeking and collaborative mindset. These options are keys to success at writing, which is the most commonly agreed-upon learning outcome in higher education and is therefore essential to retention and graduation (Hart 4). Publicity of writing center services does not equal access, nor does remediation equal equity. We know that despite our best efforts, many do view writing centers as remedial (Salem 153). If we had a method of simply identifying students from under-resourced educational backgrounds to use the center—SAT scores, for example (Salem 159)—we could be as likely to reinforce self-doubt as to give a leg up at a moment when students need signs they belong. We need to infuse our identification practices with the intellectual rigor and sheer pleasure that many find in our spaces so that what we offer as support might be accepted as natural to college: an orientation to process, a collaborative mindset. Our colleagues in first-year writing program administration have long dealt with questions of access and equity in the first year, mainly through their conversations about directed selfplacement into writing classes, a process where students learn about college writing expectations while choosing best-fit classes. Directed self-placement can increase access without pigeon-holing students as needing remediation, and it can achieve equity through demystifying, not lowering, college writing standards. Writing centers can adapt this approach with incoming students and match them to a first-year writing center curriculum that increases the likelihood that they will


develop as writers and pass writing-intensive classes, thus accumulating credits toward their degrees. In this way, we can move beyond a problematic reliance on student “choice” as the primary means of using the center and into a more honest, lengthier, and messier dialogue with students about what it means to belong in college (Salem 152).

Self-Assessment and Directed SelfPlacement Writing program administrators have long wrestled with the problem of placing students into first-year writing classes, especially when an institution offers two or three leveled options. Students come to college having had varying access to high-quality writing instruction, access shaped in part by the relative wealth of their schools, school districts, and communities. However, the addition of writing classes to a student’s courseload may put them behind pursuing a major or pre-professional track and may increase the time and expense toward graduation. Moreover, writing classes need to immerse all students in the challenges and rewards of college-level writing; otherwise, expanding access comes at the expense of real equity in intellectual experience. The most efficient placement method into firstyear writing classes is institution-directed, with administrators placing students based on criteria such as standardized test scores or essay exams scored by trained readers. However, such methods may perpetuate students’ beliefs about whether they are or aren’t good writers at critical transition points without enlightening them on college writing expectations; in other words, such methods may perpetuate the belief that writing is an innate ability rather than a developmental practice. Furthermore, standardized tests have a long history of racial and class-based bias (Inoue and Poe 8; White et al. 40), and locally developed essay exams may reproduce the same result without intentional work to reduce bias (Inoue and Poe 139-140). Directed self-placement has emerged as a potentially more equitable first-year writing placement tool because it allows faculty to design their own locally relevant instrument that, ideally, both informs and evaluates students within the context of college writing standards (Inoue et al. 1-3; Royer and Gilles 2; Toth and Aull 3). In directed self-placement, entering students have a voice in deciding which writing classes and writing support will serve them best in the first year. Typically, they write an evidence-based essay in response to a prompt, answer a series of questions, and read about first-year writing options on the way to

‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 16   choosing the option that seems the best fit for their prior writing background. Typically, faculty check in with writers before the final decision is made, offering additional input to confirm or adjust the writer’s choice. This method of placement seeks to give students greater agency (Inoue), and it matches their placement more specifically to the demands of local writing classrooms than placement based on standardized testing might allow (Toth and Aull 4). While the main goal is placement, a secondary outcome can be instructional, in that students may learn what to expect from college writing. Such an approach can be especially helpful for first-generation college students or students without prior access to college preparatory instruction. A body of educational research on self-assessment practices suggests potential benefits and drawbacks of the directed self-placement model. Well-designed and facilitated self-assessment practices seem to have positive results on student learning across subject areas, educational settings, and ages (Andrade and Valtcheva 15; Falchikov and Boud 425; Ross 9). An undercurrent in the literature of self-assessment— similar to scholarship inspired by Vygotsky (Vadeboncoeur and Collie 220-221)—is that, here, students’ emotional lives matter and that attention to students’ emotional lives enhances learning. Students may feel a stronger sense of belonging when teachers invite them into high-stakes conversations (Inoue), and when they recognize their own success, they develop confidence for future challenges in that area (Bandura as cited in Ross 6). However, self-assessment can also be damaging, for example when students over-rate their own abilities and miss important learning, or when students under-rate their abilities and deepen a negative self-concept (Ross 7). Research shows such negative results are less likely if teachers involve students in discussions of assessment criteria, teach students to self-assess, allow practice, and give honest feedback on students’ self-assessments, including disagreement (Falchikov and Boud 426; Ross 8-9). To be effective, directed self-placement may require a larger culture of self-assessment (Inoue), as well as a concerted effort from many parties. This collective effort may entail matching the placement instrument to the outcomes of first-year writing courses, reading students’ submitted work and advising their course selection, and tracking students’ subsequent success (Gere et al. 161-162, 168-169). Such activities require time and in-depth conversations between teachers and incoming students—things that may be in short supply during the transition into a school year.

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‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 17  

Placement in Writing Centers

Design of Pilot Program

Writing centers have their own placement struggles, although not usually named as such. Center staff try different methods of connecting centers with students who would most benefit from coming in to the writing center, including classroom visits, videos, and social-media outreach. Publicity needs to counter assumptions, such as the assumption that services are designed for weak writers, that it’s best to come with a finished draft or that sessions merely serve classroom instruction and do not offer a well-developed pedagogy that stands apart from that instruction. At the same time, that pedagogy needs to come to life, with its orientation toward writing process, collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and long-term writing development. In recent years, scholarship has turned to the required writing center visit as a means of orienting students to the writing center. While common lore has it that students won’t engage if they are required to come, recent research actually shows that students are more likely to have a good experience and want to return than not (Rendleman 2). Three visits may be the magic number where students actually show improvement in their writing (Irvin 1-2). The required visit gives students experiential knowledge of what a writing center does that surpasses what they can gain from a classroom workshop or video, neither of which engages them in the messiness of a one-on-one session. The point of required visits in the writing center is to educate students about what happens in the center to the point that they can make the best choice if they want to sign up for sessions. In conversations about how to publicize the writing center and whether to require visits, the larger question is how to motivate students to use an optional service that may be quite different than they imagine it will be. This is where directed self-placement can help. Adapted for writing center usage, directed selfplacement could provide a more deliberate method than typically exists for students to participate in writing center sessions. In the first year, directed selfplacement could initiate regular visits alongside a student’s first writing course. These visits could offer student-directed and peer-facilitated learning; explicit instruction in the expectations of college writing; and transferable brainstorming, drafting, and revision strategies. Such a practice could enhance access to instruction and increase equity in outcomes (i.e., college success for students from under-resourced schools and communities).

Our small, liberal-arts college writing center features a one-credit, pass-fail course called Weekly Writing Sessions. In this course I, the center’s director, match student writers and peer tutors for weekly meetings to support writers in managing their work during writing-intensive semesters. Typically, the course fills with self-selected senior students who are working on their senior capstone projects, or sophomores and juniors who have been struggling with time management and/or are dissatisfied with their achievement in prior writing-based classes. In a pilot program, I expanded Weekly Writing to include a cohort of first-year students in order to increase access to writing center support during the transition to college. Specifically, I wanted to support students to succeed in College Composition, a writing course required of most students in their first or second semester at the college. I worked with other college officials to introduce the writing center to incoming students via a summer academic survey. I used a simplified version of directed self-placement to extend informed choice to all students: I gave basic information about the first-year writing curriculum and Weekly Writing, and I asked students to rate the opportunity as “very interesting,” “interesting,” or “not interesting,” and to explain any interest. Although 50% of the students said they were not interested, 26% said they were interested, and 24% said they were very interested. Those with interest tended to respond in a sentence or two. Many students stated in generic terms they wanted to become better writers. Another sizable group named a social reason, such as they liked bouncing ideas off of someone else, getting critiques on their writing, or working in groups. And the third most sizable group named time management concerns—they worked slowly, needed help getting started, or had trouble meeting deadlines, and they thought the writing center would help in this way. For the fall semester, I selected eleven students who were “very interested” and whose rationale best matched what we do, such as people who said they hadn’t had much instruction in writing, had had good experiences with peer feedback, or people who were really nervous about college-level writing. Prior to spring-semester registration, I emailed all writers from the two “interested” categories along with their advisors to remind them of the Weekly Writing option; eleven writers subsequently enrolled themselves. Altogether, then, twenty-two first-year students— about ten percent of the incoming first-year class—coenrolled in Weekly Writing Sessions and Composition.

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During the year of the pilot, with IRB approval, I collected first-year academic surveys and grades from all first-year students, I collected portfolio reflections of students in Weekly Writing Sessions, and I conducted interviews with seven peer tutors and four writers. The seven peer tutor interviews are a strong sample of my tutoring staff, and they together worked with thirteen of the first-year students who were coenrolled in Weekly Writing Sessions and College Composition during the year of the study. My analysis of these materials captures, essentially, a writing center curriculum for the first year, which can then inform future placement practices.

Benefits of Weekly Writing Sessions in the First Year The benefits of Weekly Writing for first-year students are consistent with the hoped-for outcomes of Lisa Delpit and Nancy Grimm. From perspectives outside and inside of the writing center, respectively, both Delpit and Grimm argue that educational equity depends in part on students who were not raised in the dominant culture of a university being given explicit instruction in the culture and standards of the university (Delpit 25; Grimm 77). Otherwise, Delpit writes, “students ultimately find themselves held accountable for knowing a set of rules about which no one has ever directly informed them” (31). Students whose backgrounds are closer to the dominant culture—such as many white, upper-class students without disabilities and whose parents went to college—have had greater access to the university’s rules and standards. Such explicit instruction needs to come, Delpit and Grimm argue, with a critical consciousness about the dominant culture and also intentional inclusion and appreciation of the home cultures and identities of students from other backgrounds (Delpit 40; Grimm, 91-92). In other words, standards of the dominant college culture should be taught within context: they are one of many sets of standards, each of which has value, and as the standards adopted by the college they need to be made available equitably. In order to be equitable, Grimm argues, a writing center needs to question some of the taken-for-granted principles across our history. For example, Grimm argues against the recommended practice of “HOCS over LOCS,” or higher-order concerns such as argument and structure over latter-order concerns such as grammar and syntax (83). This practice privileges students with a mastery of standard English grammar and can be disempowering for students whose ideas may not be taken seriously because of grammatical

‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 18   errors. Grimm also opposes the notion that a writing center’s goal for writers should be independence and that after a writer has met with a writing center tutor a few times, they should be able to apply learned strategies to editing on their own (85). It seems logical that a writing center would boldly embrace collaboration and peer support, yet Grimm is right that much writing center scholarship does paradoxically embrace the collaboration of the tutorial and the aimed-for independence of individual writers. Grimm’s solution for equity includes honoring regular writing center users as strong writers who appreciate the essential role of peer readers and “interdependence” in a healthy writing life (85). Indeed, writing center directors can look to their regular users as potential future tutors, privileging support-seeking behavior as a qualification to become a tutor. Grimm writes: Positive representations of [. . .] writers who are working their way into a dominant discourse would create a more welcoming context[.] [. . .] Depicting regular writing center users as hard workers rather than people who ‘need help’ would also create a more hospitable environment for students of color who may avoid writing centers because of what Claude Steele (1997) calls ‘stereotype threat,’ the concern that they will reinforce negative stereotypes of their race by making use of resources designed for people who ‘need help.’ (87) Grimm offers a paradigm shift for writing centers: from a posture of “helping” to one of “extending membership into a community,” from aiming for independence to appreciating interdependence (94). Interviews and portfolios revealed, first, that Weekly Writing Sessions helped students gain explicit information about college writing expectations. It is no surprise that students perceived improvements to their writing confidence and ability by coming regularly to the writing center. What is notable is the intervention of the directed self-placement process in the students’ transition to college. This intervention, aimed directly at students’ perceptions of their own writing abilities, showed them that it’s normal to have doubts and offered them a way to address these doubts head-on. Without such an intervention, students might have experienced themselves as unprepared for college writing standards and might have chosen or been directed to use the writing center after failure. With the intervention, students proactively chose the writing center and obtained access to preparation simultaneously with new academic demands. One writer shared in a portfolio reflection:

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When I came to [college], an initial concern of mine was having the ability to write. I didn’t go to the greatest high school, so I knew writing skills would be a struggle. I didn’t know what a bibliography was, I had no idea how to create a footnote, and I couldn’t even fathom the thought of a quote sandwich. But as I have been going to the writing center, learning new skills, and getting bad grades on papers, I grew. I’ve grown as a writer and as a student, and I’m extremely proud of that. I still hate writing papers, and I probably always will, but the transition has gotten much smoother. I can safely say I don’t and/or won’t freak out every time I get a writing assignment. The writer was not alone in speaking of the writing center as a kind of safety net during the transition to college. Similar to the language of not “freaking out,” another writer shared, “This weekly writing session really helped me calm down during stressful weeks.” And another writer, who took the class because of “unhappy associations with writing,” wrote, “In the past I have received only negative feedback on my writing which is really disheartening. It made me actually feel like I could actually write when [my tutor] or the other tutors complimented my writing.” For these students, Weekly Writing was a beneficial support during an uncertain or stressful transition to college writing. Some students connected the benefits to the environment being different from the classroom; one peer tutor called the course a “safer and less loaded academic space.” One writer spoke of appreciating getting a peer review outside of the pressured peer reviews of the classroom. These students were reassured by a more experienced peer’s regular presence, affirming that their ideas were interesting, that their writing had strengths, and that where they were lacking necessary information or background, instruction could fill in the gap. One tutor also spoke of teaching students how to navigate other kinds of campus support systems (e.g., professors’ office hours, support for learning differences) as part of what she could offer writers. These portfolio and interview excerpts support the use of directed selfplacement to identify students who doubt themselves or who recognize gaps in their education and who would benefit from explicit instruction in the culture of college academics. In other words, directed selfplacement is a tool, in Grimm’s words, to extend membership. Interviews and portfolios also reveal that Weekly Writing Sessions cultivated in students a sense of control over whether they were successful in their writing classes. Directed self-placement, an initial moment in which students exercised control, led into a

‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 19   semester in which students expanded their writing processes and their decision-making capabilities. Initially, some writers self-placed into the class because of concerns with “time management,” an umbrella term for what they labeled as poor work habits, blaming themselves for procrastination and a lack of motivation. End-of-year interviews and portfolio reflections reveal that students developed a more mature writing process through their sessions. Some wrote of organizing their drafts, others of learning to proofread—practices that were an improvement over writing their papers at the last minute. These writers may have originally thought their problem was one of motivation, but as they were exposed to new writing strategies, they became more productive. Perhaps what they had lacked was a repertoire of strategies for getting started and revising. One peer tutor’s description of a first-year writer’s development exemplifies this maturation in the writing process. The writer went from passivity to active decision-making over the course of the semester, leading him to pride in his work. In the beginning [. . .] a lot of time I would ask, ‘What do you want to work on? Do you want to work in a study room or in the writing center? Or do you want to read out loud or silently?’ and none of it mattered to him[.] [. . .] The way I handled that was choosing a direction for us, and then later on, I would start saying, ‘Well, some people start to do this for this reason. Reading out loud helps a lot of people.’ And I started to realize that when I did that, he was more likely to make his own decision, thinking about how he wasn’t alone in the process, and seeing what benefits different methods might have for other writers[.] [. . .] The last assignment we worked on, he spent a lot more time on it[.] [. . .] He said that he had been reading it over and over again… which was really different than the beginning, when he said he didn’t even read his academic work more than once. This peer tutor noted that the accountability of Weekly Writing being a credited course played a large part in the writer’s development. The writer was initially driven to attend regularly so he wouldn’t fail, and that attendance led to unanticipated growth. A different writer shared her perspective on a similar process of devoting more time and developing more control over her writing process. In the fall semester, she made Bs and Cs, and yet felt bored. In the spring semester she took Weekly Writing and also went to the Academic Support Center to work on study habits. She found that putting more time into her work increased her interest level. At the time of our interview, she had been working on a paper for three

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weeks and had turned in a draft every week to her professor. She had gotten stalled with the paper and had put it away. During the period when she put the paper away, she came across a connection that made her excited to restart her paper. She attributed her new excitement to having given herself plenty of time: “I guess a lot of people write [the paper] the night before and turn it in. I actually took it seriously[.] [. . .] If I didn’t have time to put it away, I wouldn’t have time to have that like your paper thing.” This writer recognized she could control whether an assignment was enjoyable to her—a powerful recognition for developing an identity as a student. This program for first-year writers included an aim of positively impacting the passing rate of students enrolled in Composition. At our college, passing means earning a C- or better to fulfill the first of the college’s writing requirements. Passing allows students to move forward in fulfilling their general-education requirements, including enabling them to register for their second writing requirement, a writing-intensive course in the major. Clearly, passing Composition furthers a student’s progress toward earning a degree in the most affordable number of semesters, and therefore is a piece of the larger retention and graduation picture. Our results in this area were promising. It was not feasible to compare the group in Weekly Writing, which was comprised of students who presented as insecure about their writing abilities and as open to peer support, with a control group of similarly-minded writers who did not enroll in the course. The best comparison, then, was between the twenty-two students who took Weekly Writing concurrently with Composition and the 162 who took Composition without Weekly Writing. Of the attempts where students enrolled in Composition with Weekly Writing, 91% finished Composition with a C- or better. Of the attempts where writers took Composition without Weekly Writing, 85% passed with a C- or better. The percentage of students passing Composition was higher for the group that took Weekly Writing. There was no statistical significance to the higher passing rate, however, in part due to the small sample size. The intervention could be adjusted and repeated, here and at other colleges, to ascertain whether directed self-placement into the writing center in the first year contributes to a student’s ability to successfully pass required writing courses, improving a key set of skills while accumulating credits and prerequisites toward a timely graduation.

‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 20  

Shortcomings of Weekly Writing Sessions in the First Year

Although I did not design the pilot study to measure impact on retention, early readers of this article prompted me to look at retention data. Indeed, retention is the kind of “major outcome” or “valueadded quantitative appeal” that Lerner and Lape, respectively, call upon writing centers to measure; it is more important and more valid, Lerner argues, than outcomes of grade improvement (Lerner “Choosing” 3-4; Lape 1-2). Unfortunately, enrollment in Weekly Writing did not result in high rates of retention into the sophomore year. In fact, 55% of the students who took Weekly Writing with Composition enrolled for a third semester at our institution, compared with 64% of the entire first-year cohort with which these students entered. Many factors beyond the scope of this study are at play. Perhaps some students transferred to other institutions and continued on a self-directed and successful path to college graduation; in other words, a lower rate of retention at our institution does not equate to a higher college-failure rate. It is also worth noting that the first-year cohort compared here includes students who earned Composition credit outside of the required class; they had taken a college-level course in high school or had submitted Advanced Placement scores and a writing portfolio. In other words, some first-year students had prior access to college-level curriculum. Directed selfplacement alone cannot make up for variations in access across our educational systems. Several writers expressed mixed feelings about the course and about the writing center generally. During the first year, these writers discovered the sessions weren’t as useful for them as they had anticipated. One writer decided feedback was more frustrating than helpful: I’m a little edgy when it comes to critiques. . . . So just getting steady feedback on, ‘You should do this and you should do that,’ I’m like, okay, I don’t think I need this anymore. Because it just made me mad instead of being helpful. Two writers enrolled in introductory science courses felt the services were not relevant to writing lab reports, which were “more like answering questions than full essays.” They did not see a connection between their composition courses and lab courses even though our college emphasizes writing across the curriculum, and center staff and science faculty ostensibly agree on common writing goals. These firstyear writers, regular visitors to the center, did not yet perceive how work in the center applied to their science courses. This limitation in our program reflects

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our priorities in the year of the pilot program: supporting students to develop identities as college writers generally over teaching for transfer across disciplinary contexts, and supporting first-year writers over more advanced writers.

Implications If writing centers are to use directed selfplacement, we must shape a method that has validity, in which placement criteria are well-correlated to subsequent instruction. We can work closely with others involved in first-year transition issues: first-year writing administrators; admissions offices; student-life organizations; offices of diversity, inclusion, and equity; other academic support staff. We can move beyond articulating a pedagogy (i.e., how we teach) to articulating a curriculum (i.e., what we teach). In our center, we now know that in the first year we define college writing with writers, and we teach them to assess their own writing against those standards. We teach that they can seek out additional instruction or practice in order to bridge any gap they find and that receiving academic support is something successful college writers do. We teach that motivation is not necessarily innate but can result from a diligent writing process. Motivation does not need to precede writing but rather can arise from interdependent discussions about writing. In our center, we now know that we do not teach transfer between Composition and other writing contexts. Perhaps knowledge of this limitation will lead us to adjust our curriculum or our placement practices—or to identify another transitional period, such as the junior year when writing in the major intensifies—and to design placement and programming to suit. Administrators across different types of writing programs (first-year writing, writing across the curriculum, writing centers) would benefit from collaborating (Schendel and Macauley 86; White et al. 26). Writing centers have traditionally held separate research and assessment traditions (Lerner “Unpromising Present” 68; Schendel and Macauley 4, 13), partly as a result of lesser status in the academy and partly as a result of our unique pedagogy, the oneon-one tutorial. It is possible we have reacted to the former by asserting the specialness of the latter—that is, our ability to do what other campus entities cannot do (Schendel and Macauley 86). It may be that writing centers can strengthen our unique pedagogical foundations while simultaneously breathing needed new life into our scholarship and practice by engaging with other writing program administrators (Geller et al 21; Lerner “Unpromising Present” 96). In other words,

‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 21   collaboration across programs could both enrich and further each field’s distinct scholarship, as difference could support each type of writing program to articulate its specialness. In adapting directed self-placement practices from first-year writing programs, writing centers stand to gain and to give. After all, the heart of traditional writing center pedagogy is self-direction, with each session typically book-ended by the questions, “What would you like to work on?” and “What is your plan from here?” A gap exists between writing program knowledge about self-assessment and writing center practice. Intentional collaboration across our programs can bridge that gap. For example, self-assessment works best when students understand assessment criteria and practice applying them repeatedly—just as they do in writing center sessions. Effective selfassessment is resource-intensive; enlisting peer tutors could enhance the process. Collaborations between writing centers and firstyear writing programs are one example of initiatives that colleges need if we are to increase access and equity. We are at a historical moment that calls us both to uphold high standards for college writing instruction and also to strike down barriers that many students face in meeting those standards. Writing centers already contribute to students’ academic achievement in important ways. If we are more deliberate, we can do more. We need to step outside the writing center spaces we have lovingly created and into other spaces that students inhabit. Here, I have described the space of a first-year academic questionnaire as a space into which writing centers can insert themselves. In that space, we can push a little harder to articulate our work—and listen a little more keenly to students in order to understand their previous academic lives and their hopes for college. Without that kind of dialogue, we won’t know how variations in access and equity have influenced students’ relationships with writing, nor how we might work interdependently to widen access to writing instruction and deepen equity in educational outcomes going forward.

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‘Not Alone in the Process’ • 22   Works Cited AAC&U (Association of American Colleges & Universities). Step Up and Lead for Equity: What Higher Education Can Do to Reverse Our Deepening Divides, AAC&U, 2015, https://www.aacu.org/publications/step-up-andlead. Andrade, Heidi, and Anna Valtcheva. “Promoting Learning and Achievement through SelfAssessment.” Theory into Practice, vol. 48, no. 1, 2009, pp. 12-19. Delpit, Lisa. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflicts in the Classroom. New Press, 1995. Digest of Education Statistics. Graduation Rate from First Institution Attended for First-time, Full-Time Bachelor's Degree-Seeking Students at 4-Year Postsecondary Institutions, by Race/Ethnicity, Time to Completion, Sex, Control of Institution, and Acceptance Rate: Selected Cohort Entry Years, 1996 through 2008 (Data file), NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics), 2015, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/ dt15_326.10.asp Falchikov, Nancy, and David Boud. “Student SelfAssessment in Higher Education: A MetaAnalysis.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 59, no. 4, 1989, pp. 395-430. Geller, Anne Ellen, et al. Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice. Utah State University Press, 2007. Gere, Anne Ruggles, et al. “Assessing the Validity of Directed Self-Placement at a Large University.” Assessing Writing, vol. 15, no. 3, 2010, pp. 154-176. Grimm, Nancy. “Retheorizing Writing Center Work to Transform a System of Advantage Based on Race.” Writing Centers and the New Racism: A Call for Sustainable Dialogue and Change, edited by Laura Greenfield and Karen Rowan, University Press of Colorado and Utah State University Press, 2011, pp. 75-100. Hart Research Associates, on behalf of Association of American Colleges & Universities. Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches, 2015. https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/L EAP/2015_Survey_Report2_GEtrends.pdf Inoue, Asao B. “Self-Assessment as Programmatic Center: The First Year Writing Program and its Assessment at California State University, Fresno.” Composition Forum, vol. 20, no. 3, 2009, http://compositionforum.com/issue/20/calstatefresno.php

Inoue, Asao B., et al. “Directed Self-Placement.” WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, vol. 16, 2011, http://comppile.org/wpa/bibliographies/Bib16/ DSP.pdf. Inoue, Asao B., and Mya Poe, editors. Race and Writing Assessment. Peter Lang Publishing, 2012. Irvin, L. Lennie. “What a Difference Three Tutoring Sessions Make: Early Reports of Efficacy from a Young Writing Center.” Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 39, no. 1-2, 2014, pp. 1–5. Lape, Noreen. “The Worth of the Writing Center: Numbers, Value, Culture, and the Rhetoric of Budget Proposals.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, 2012, http://www.praxisuwc.com/lape-101/ Lerner, Neal. “Choosing Beans Wisely.” The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 26, no. 1, 2001, pp. 1–5. Lerner, Neal. “The Unpromising Present of Writing Center Studies: Author and Citation Patterns in The Writing Center Journal, 1980 to 2009.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 34, no. 1, 2014, pp. 67102. Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2016 Historical Trend Report, http://www.pellinstitute.org/publicationsIndicators_of_Higher_Education_Equity_in_the_ United_States_2016_Historical_Trend_Report.sht ml Poe, Mya. “Re-Framing Race in Teaching Writing across the Curriculum.” Across the Disciplines, vol. 10, 2013, http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/race/poe.cfm Rendleman, Eliot F. “Writing Centers and Mandatory Visits.” WPA-CompPile Research Bibliographies, vol. 22, 2013, http://comppile.org/wpa/bibliographies/Bib22/ Rendleman.pdf Ross, John A. “The Reliability, Validity, and Utility of Self-Assessment.” Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, vol. 11, no. 10, 2006, pp. 1-13. Royer, Daniel, and Roger Gilles. Directed Self-Placement: Principles and Practices. Eds. Daniel Royer and Roger Gilles. Hampton Press, 2003. Research and Teaching in Rhetoric and Composition. Salem, Lori. “Decisions . . . Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center?” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 147-171. Schendel, Ellen, and William J. Macauley. Building Writing Center Assessments That Matter. Utah State University Press, 2012. Toth, Christie, and Laura Aull. “Directed Self-

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Placement Questionnaire Design: Practices, Problems, Possibilities.” Assessing Writing, vol. 20, 2014, pp. 1-18. Vadeboncoeur, Jennifer A., and Rebecca J. Collie. “Locating Social and Emotional Learning in Schooled Environments: A Vygotskian Perspective on Learning as Unified.” Mind, Culture, and Activity, vol. 20, no. 3, 2013, pp. 201-225. White, Edward M., Norbert Elliot, and Irvin Peckham. Very Like a Whale: The Assessment of Writing Programs. University Press of Colorado, 2015.

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

MINDFUL TUTORS, EMBODIED WRITERS: POSITIONING MINDFULNESS MEDITATION AS A WRITING STRATEGY TO OPTIMIZE COGNITIVE LOAD AND POTENTIALIZE WRITING CENTER TUTORS’ SUPPORTIVE ROLES Sarah Johnson George Mason University sclevel3@gmu.edu Abstract In this article, I examine the potential that mindfulness meditation has to re-frame and expand the affective, supportive roles of writing center tutors. I argue that those of us working in writing centers can fully potentialize a tutor’s affective, supportive role and optimize a student’s cognitive load by incorporating mindfulness meditation as a stress-reducing strategy into writing center practices. Using Cognitive Load Theory as a lens, I establish how we might expand our understanding of the available mental space that tutors and tutees have to work, write, and learn in writing center sessions. Because mindfulness meditation has numerous cognitive benefits, I position that practice as a writing and stressreducing strategy that both tutors and tutees can use during and after their writing center sessions.

Introduction As a graduate writing center tutor, you enter the writing center two weeks before the end of the semester and see that you have three sessions in the next three hours. Even though it’s only 1 p.m., you feel like it’s close to midnight because of all the work you’ve already done—you had two meetings this morning, started one of the two scholarly articles due in one week, and only had time to eat an energy bar for lunch. Your first student walks into the center, and she seems distraught—her eyebrows are furrowed and her smile is uneasy. As you start the session with her, you dive right into her paper because she wants to get through as much of the ten pages she’s written as possible. In addition, her paper is due tomorrow, and she explains that she is nervous about submitting a paper this large (she discloses that she’s a freshman and has never written anything longer than five pages). Halfway through the session, she says that she can see how she might revise this paper, but she’s feeling a lot of pressure with all of her other projects, and she’s not confident that this paper will even earn a C. As she adds this last detail, her eyes start to water. She quickly regains her composure, however, and while you manage to finish the session, you leave it even more stressed than before. Although I have edited some of the details above, I have experienced the majority of the interactions and pressure(s) in this scenario as a writing center tutor. Whether we, as tutors, scholars, or directors in writing centers, have experienced this scenario firsthand or heard about it from other tutors, we cannot deny the multifaceted nature of this encounter as we situate it within writing center scholarship. This interaction is

filled with multiple layers of stress and anxiety that both tutor and tutee brought with them into the session. In their article about student stress and mindfulness meditation, Annie Shearer et al. claim that academic pressure coupled with the perception of inadequate time for study, leisure activities, and rest are significant stressors that contribute substantially to subjective stress (tension, anxiety, autonomic arousal) and strain, such as psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression among college students. (233) These stressors create higher cognitive loads; put simply, cognitive load is the amount of mental effort one expends. As Paul A. Kirschner et al. explain in their article “Contemporary Cognitive Load Theory Research: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” cognitive load is affected by numerous factors: Cognitive load is caused by, or maybe we should say dependent upon, the number of novel elements in learning materials that need to be kept in working (i.e., short-term) memory and the degree of interaction between those novel elements. The problem or task has a certain amount of cognitive load that is intrinsic to the task itself and which is affected by the expertise of the learner. In addition to the load intrinsic to the task, the way the learning task is presented and thus the way one learns and/or carries out the task also brings along a certain amount of cognitive load with it. If that load is facilitative of an/or functional for learning, then the load is considered to be germane for learning; if that load does not promote or advance learning, then the load is considered to be extraneous for learning. (102-103) There are multiple novel elements in both the tutor and tutee’s working memories that are creating high cognitive loads. Part of the work I want to do here is expand our understanding of the mental space that tutors and students have to work, write, and learn in


writing center sessions by looking to cognitive psychology and cognitive load theory. Some writing center scholars have already advocated for an increased focus on this stressful dimension of tutoring and writing, although they have not yet connected that dimension to cognitive load. Richard Leahy claims that in his years of experience writing, teaching, and overseeing a writing center, [he has] become more and more convinced of the importance of paying attention to how writers feel about their writing—the affective dimension—as well as what they think about it. (152) In addition, Christina Murphy posits that a tutor’s role “is primarily supporting and affective, secondarily instructional, and always directed to each student as an individual in a unique, one-to-one interpersonal relationship” (13). In this unique relationship between tutor and tutee, a tutor negotiates his or her role(s) and focuses singularly on that student, although that negotiation is often affected by other implicit elements. There are, indeed, multiple factors that influence what takes precedence in tutoring sessions. Although I would suggest that the affective dimension of the above student’s work is being elided by the tutor’s drive to focus on her paper’s progress, I am not claiming that the tutor is purposefully ignoring the student’s affective concerns. Each tutor’s approach to a session is often framed by implicit rules. For example, Jennifer Nicklay found that some writing center consultants “felt guilt following consultations” because they “perceived that there were acceptable and unacceptable ways to approach certain situations, rather than a range of flexible choices” (15). Nicklay also found that that “guilt originates in how the writing center community is situated within the larger university and how an individual writing center community is structured” (15). So, even though tutors often take on multiple roles, their ability to be flexible is often informed (and then complicated) by other implicit rules. In addition to this inflexibility, tutors and their tutees—especially the ones in the above scenario— often bring varying amounts of stress that add to their already high cognitive loads. What is being lost in this article’s opening session without a focus on the high cognitive loads that both students are experiencing? The tutor certainly did focus on the student’s paper, but by missing the opportunity to take on a more supportive, affective role, the tutor has not focused enough on the writer. In her article “The Roles a Tutor Plays: Effective Tutoring Techniques” Muriel Harris claims that we should “think carefully about how to tutor well” and then offers this insight: “I might add

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 25   that part of the success—and the exhaustion—one feels from tutoring is the need to change hats in midsentence” (63). This context-based, negotiable role is one that we have examined in writing center scholarship, but we haven’t fully explored the possibilities that a tutor’s affective role holds. Although some might argue that we have not explored these possibilities because it is not our responsibility to act as therapists, I am advocating for an expansion of tutors’ toolboxes by expanding and re-envisioning our domain of practice. Specifically, I argue that by looking to cognitive psychology and mindfulness meditation, we can expand tutors’ affective roles by giving them the tools they need to use in a session to reduce students’ stress levels and then create the room that students need to write.

Expanding Our Domain In some ways, I am building on the work that Elizabeth Mack and Katie Hupp did in their recent Praxis article titled “Mindfulness in the Writing Center: A Total Encounter” in which they discuss their “writing center’s efforts to join the mindfulness-ineducation movement” (8). Mack and Hupp explain that in an eight-week project, consultants (whose participation was voluntary and anonymous) were given mindfulness exercises to complete at home and in the writing center; the authors found that “100 percent of the consultants who participated in the poll claimed that incorporating mindfulness practices into the writing center had a positive effect on student consultations” (13). Although Mack and Hupp focused on the benefits of mindfulness for consultants, I advocate that we should offer mindfulness techniques to both consultants and the students they see. These mindfulness practices would act as both writing and stress-reducing strategies that consultants and students could use both in and outside of the writing center. Looking to cognitive psychology for mindfulness techniques and cognitive load theory would also allow writing center scholarship to continue to branch out to other related fields. In his article “The Unpromising Present of Writing Center Studies: Author and Citation Patterns in The Writing Center Journal, 1980 to 2009,” Neal Lerner claims that “writing center scholarship can no longer afford primarily to be read by writing center scholars; we can no longer afford to embrace marginality” (70). This insularity that he examines in The Writing Center Journal is marked by a reliance on “citations that are not taken up by subsequent authors” or “a set of ‘insider readings that function largely to affirm established beliefs and run the risk of casting the field as largely talking to itself, not to be taken seriously

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by related and affiliated fields” (68). Lerner is arguing that we should consult other disciplines’ scholarship within our own field of writing center work, and I am adding to his argument by proposing that we expand and re-envision our domain of practice. We should look to related fields, like cognitive psychology, in order to expand our understanding of the writing center tutor’s affective role and then build on that understanding by incorporating mindfulness meditation into sessions between tutor and tutee. Branching out to cognitive psychology, however, does not mean that writing centers should confuse the work they do with the work that counselors do. Although tutoring sessions do share some similarities with counseling sessions, I want to be careful about any parallels I draw between the two. In his article “Bringing Tutorials to a Close: Counseling’s Termination Process and the Writing Tutor,” Michael Steven Marx similarly acknowledges that this metaphor “of writing tutorials as psychological counseling sessions frequently occurs in composition literature,” and in writing centers we regularly invoke the language and methods of counseling to discuss initiating tutor-writer relationships, a tutor’s ‘intervention’ in the writer’s work, and the length of a tutorial partnership: “walk-in,” “short term,” or “long term.” (51) However, he does caution that we must be careful about not drawing too many “‘direct parallels between the counseling session and the writing conference’” (44-45). Tutors are not counselors, and by advocating for the practice of mindfulness meditation in writing center sessions, I am not trying to position tutors as counselors or burden them with that extra role and responsibility. Rather, by positioning mindfulness meditation as a strategy, I am arguing that both tutors and tutees can benefit from it and continue using it long after a session ends. A writing center session would then act as an introduction to mindfulness meditation. This introduction to mindfulness, however, is one that should be given with some caution. In his article “Neoliberal Meditations: How Mindfulness Training Medicalizes Education and Responsibilizes Young People,” James Reveley criticizes mindfulness techniques. He prefaces his claim about mindfulness meditation by explaining that in order “for neoliberal ideology to be strongly embraced, it must be reinforced by practices in the everyday lifeworld” (498). He then argues that “mindfulness meditation fulfills this function; it is a practical technique that transmits the neoliberal self-responsibilizing impulse down to young people” (498). Ultimately, Reveley posits that

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 26   mindfulness “functions as a neoliberal self-technology” (499). The danger here is that when we incorporate this practice into our classrooms, we shift the responsibility for student health and wellbeing from ourselves to students (499). Although I agree that introducing mindfulness meditation to students could potentially affect their sense of responsibility for their mental health, I would position that practice as a tool that students could use. As an instructor, I frequently practice mindfulness meditation with my students in the classroom, making time both for them and me to de-stress and focus on the present. I make it clear that this practice isn’t something they have to do, and they will not be penalized for not trying it. In the same way, tutors in the writing center can offer these practices as de-stressing techniques to their tutees while making it clear that these techniques are optional tools that they can practice alone, with others, or not at all. I argue here that we can fully potentialize a tutor’s affective, supportive role and optimize a student’s cognitive load (i.e., mental effort) by incorporating mindfulness meditation as a writing and stress-reducing strategy into writing center practices. Mindfulness meditation can optimize a student’s cognitive load for learning and writing; put another way, this meditative practice has the capacity to create the metaphorical space a stressed student needs to write. We need to offer tutors the strategy of mindfulness meditation to add to their toolboxes because this meditative practice has the capacity to significantly improve sessions; furthermore, this practice can benefit not only students but also tutors both during and after those sessions. Using Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) as a lens, I aim to establish how we might expand our understanding of the available time that tutors and tutees have to work, write, and learn in writing center sessions. I am not suggesting that writing center staff learn about CLT; rather, I use CLT to explain how mindfulness meditation’s benefits can alleviate high cognitive loads for tutors and tutees. Because of its numerous cognitive benefits, I then position mindfulness as a writing and stress-reducing strategy that both tutors and tutees can use during and after their writing center sessions.

Branching Out to Cognitive Load In the opening scene I constructed, both tutor and tutee are experiencing excessive amounts of stress. That stress thereby increases their cognitive loads. Paul A. Kirschner et al. explain that cognitive load—the amount of mental effort [a] learner expends—is based upon human cognitive architecture which consists of a

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severely limited working memory with partly independent processing unites for visual/spatial and auditory/verbal information, which interacts with a comparatively unlimited long-term memory. (102) Generally speaking, then, our working memory is severely limited, even when our cognitive loads are not high. In my opening scenario, however, both tutor and tutee are expending certain amounts of mental effort to finish the session, but other outside factors are increasing their cognitive loads. As Kirschner et al. explain, one’s cognitive load is affected by numerous factors; as I explained earlier, those factors include the problem or task, the way “the learning task is presented,” and “the way one learns and/or carries out the task” (102-103). In addition, if that cognitive load “is facilitative of and/or functional for learning, then the load is considered to be germane for learning; if that load does not promote or advance learning, then the load is considered to be extraneous for learning” (103). The task here, for the student/tutee, is the ten-page paper due tomorrow, and that task contains its own cognitive load, such as the writing of the paper. The student also carries her own level of expertise, and that then affects her intrinsic load; for example, the student above is a freshman who has not written anything over five pages, so her level of expertise in relation to this writing task is low and might negatively affect her ability to write her paper. There may also be additional extraneous loads that are not visible to the tutor, such as poor assignment design or an uncomfortable instructor-student relationship; these extraneous loads would also influence that student’s ability to perform and complete her task. For those of us working in writing centers, an awareness of students’ extraneous cognitive loads can re-frame our understanding of the contexts in which students write and learn. Put another way, if we can become aware of the extraneous loads that students bring with them into writing centers, then we can become better attuned to their concerns, especially affective ones. In addition to being aware of students’ extraneous loads, we can use Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) to better understand how their learning has been compromised. Paul Ayres and Fred Paas claim in their article “Cognitive Load Theory: New Directions and Challenges” that “over the last 30 years, CLT has become a very successful instructional theory that has identified a number of strategies to facilitate learning” and that critical to the theory is the working memory load (i.e. cognitive load) placed on the learner when processing instructional information or problem solving. If too much cognitive load is

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 27   created through poor instructional design, or dealing with complex materials, then learning is compromised because insufficient working memory resources are available to be devoted to the processes required to learn. (827) I would theorize that the student in my opening anecdote is dealing with complex materials because she has produced a ten-page paper, and as a freshman, she admitted that she has never written anything longer than five pages. Her increased extraneous load is compromising her ability to learn and complete the task, which at this point consists of revising her paper and perhaps completely re-writing it. The high cognitive load and stress she is experiencing are cyclic in nature; that is, her high cognitive load creates excess stress, and that stress then hinders her from adequately dealing with her cognitive load. How often have we seen students—and tutors—come into writing centers in this context? As a tutor, I remember working with several students who were dealing with complex materials; using CLT as a lens, I would argue that those students had fewer working memory resources available to actually write and learn, and that lack of resources contributed to their already high stress levels. Considering the high cognitive load and compromised learning that students bring with them into writing centers, how can CLT help us understand how to approach their learning and writing in those sessions? Kirschner et al. assert that the “goal of research on cognitive load is not necessarily minimizing cognitive load during learning, but optimizing it for learning;” they explain that we optimize cognitive load by making sure that [1] instructional design keeps extraneous load to a minimum, [2] any load incurred by an instructional design is germane in nature, and [3] the correlation between total cognitive load and learning is optimized. (103) Sunawan and Junmei Xiong similarly contend and add that to “optimize learning performance, the instruction should reduce extraneous load, manage intrinsic load and promote germane load” (178). There is, of course, learning taking place in this article’s opening scenario, and while we cannot control the assignment design or the student’s instructor, we can influence the design of that session between student and tutor. Writing centers can help ensure that the correlation between total cognitive load and learning is, as Kirschner et al. explain, optimized. That is, by re-focusing our attention on the stress and emotions that students reveal and share with tutors in their sessions, we can begin to help those students deal with their cognitive loads.

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What kind of support can writing centers specifically offer, then? By using mindfulness meditation as strategy for writing and stress reduction, writing tutors can optimize students’ cognitive load and thereby create the mental space that those students need to write or complete their learning tasks. First, however, I want to define mindfulness meditation and its benefits in order to concretize its connections to student stress and learning. Mindfulness meditation’s cognitive and affective benefits have the capacity to expand a tutor’s affective, supportive role in fruitful ways.

Mindfulness Meditation There are many definitions of mindfulness meditation, so I want to focus on some that coalesce. Hayley A. Rahl et al explain that mindfulness meditation “can take a variety of forms, but core to each form is an experiential, comparatively nondiscursive observation of internal and/or external perceptual stimuli as they unfold in real time” (225). Two examples they illustrate are found in the forms of mindfulness: in the attention-monitoring form of mindfulness commonly taught in mindfulness training programs, attention is concentrated upon a stimulus object (e.g., bodily sensations associated with breathing) while metaawareness, an apprehension of the current state of mind, serves to monitor or regulate attention to sustain it. (225) The key here is the word “observation,” because mindfulness meditation involves a nonjudgmental acknowledgement of one’s internal or external surroundings. More simply, Angela C. Rowe et al explain, “ [. . .] mindfulness is the ability to focus attention in the present whilst acknowledging that thoughts and emotions that spring to mind are fleeting and changeable” (642). Mindfulness meditation has numerous cognitive and affective benefits. Hayley A. Rahl et al. explain that “mindfulness meditation training has been linked to a broad range of cognitive, affective, and health outcomes” and that some “of the most robust findings in the cognitive domain pertain to how mindfulness meditation training can foster on-task, sustained attention and reduce mind wandering” (224). Angela C. Rowe et al. also discuss these cognitive and affective benefits, claiming that “mindfulness-based interventions have also been found to result in fewer negative automatic thoughts, diminished anxiety, improved attention, and enhanced self-esteem” (643). There are numerous ways in which these benefits would transfer

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 28   to my introductory narrative: by fostering sustained attention and reducing mind wandering, mindfulness meditation would not only help the student stay on task but also the tutor, especially because the student’s paper is ten pages long; by diminishing anxiety, this practice of mindfulness would help reduce or alleviate both the tutor’s and the student’s stress; in enhancing self-esteem and producing fewer negative thoughts, mindfulness meditation would have the capacity to improve the student’s low level of confidence and perhaps reduce the negative thoughts she has about her paper receiving a low grade. As Mack and Hupp claim in their article, incorporating mindfulness into writing center practices has benefits that are “two-fold: the students receive focused attention and assistance, and consultants experience reduced stress and anxiety. Thus, the quality of the interaction necessarily improves” (14). The benefits of mindfulness meditation translate as a strategy for student learning and writing in writing center sessions. As I discuss next, some writing centers already practice the tenets of mindfulness.

Mindful Writing Centers Mack and Hupp acknowledge that “mindfulness as a deliberate practice has found its way into our philosophy and way of being in the writing center on a larger scale” (13). Hupp has introduced mindfulness to each new hire since she and Mack completed their study, and she promotes mindfulness as a way of dealing with difficult and disruptive students in a healthy way. In the moment, this means being present and listening rather than reacting and judging. Before and after these consultations, being mindful involves paying thoughtful attention to understanding and articulating the student’s needs. (13) Hupp and Mack further claim that so far, “this act of deliberately staying in the moment rather than recalling the last time we worked with the same student or assignment has been successful” (13). Mindfulness techniques give a name to some of the work that I already did as a consultant; as a tutor, I would sometimes give students time to write on their own if they needed that quiet time. Other writing center scholars are making more implicit connections to mindfulness in their centers. In her article “Understanding ‘Spirit’ in the Writing Center,” Lynn Briggs offers a story of healing in the writing center by narrating “a writing center story in which the writer’s text served as a vehicle for a transformation of the people involved” (87). The

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writing center, Briggs claims, is a space that facilitates transformative connections, and “the healing provided by such connections in the writing center is essential for learning, since learners can be thwarted by a wounded spirit” (88). This healing is vital to the work done in writing center sessions because college is quite stressful. Briggs claims that while I did not meditate before, during, or after my session with Diane, our session had meditative qualities for me, chief among them my ability to focus and block out my other concerns, concerns, perhaps along with preconceptions, the assumptions each of us bring to a session. (92) Although Briggs focuses on the healing properties that a writing center session can have, her claim that that session had meditative qualities reveals the connections already available between mindfulness meditation and writing center sessions. Steve Sherwood similarly explores a writing center session’s enlightened, collaborative environment in “Humor and the Serious Tutor.” Sherwood claims that even though he agrees “that we need to encourage an enlightened, collaborative environment in writing centers, [he] believe[s] we can achieve this goal [. . .] through the intelligent and humane use of humor” (3). For Sherwood, humor “can build a bridge between tutor and student, can distance students from their fears, soften any necessary criticisms, and [. . .] free students to do their best work” (4). Although I am not necessarily advocating for more humor in the writing center, I do agree that an enlightened, collaborative environment should be encouraged. I approach this collaborative environment with caution, though, because as Andrea Lunsford claims, “creating a collaborative environment and truly collaborative tasks is damnably difficult” (6). As Lunsford explains, “students, tutors, teachers must really need one another to carry out common goals” (6). At the outset of a tutoring session, then, I would advocate for transparency on the part of the tutor when offering to practice mindfulness techniques with the tutee. It is important for both tutee and tutor to consent to practicing any of these techniques, so the tutor should always ask the student if he/she would feel comfortable practicing a few minutes of mindfulness. Beth Godbee et al claim that as a writing center community, we have the mandate to explore how the embodied dimensions of our practice facilitate or frustrate learning; consolidate or share power; and open or close possibilities for learning, change, and revision. (63-64)

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 29   This call to explore our embodied practices in writing centers connects to what I am doing here; my introductory scenario revealed the affective and embodied concerns both tutor and tutee share, such as anxiety, exhaustion, low self-esteem, hunger, etc. The writing process is an embodied one; by paying closer attention to our bodies, we can begin to see how it is that we write with our bodies. However, the tutor has not offered the tutee other strategies that could open those possibilities for learning and change or optimize that student’s cognitive load. As an embodied practice, mindfulness meditation has the potential to create the space a student needs to write by re-directing his or her focus to the body and its affective concerns.

Mindful Writing Writing centers are a natural next step for the work that compositionists have already done in their mindful classrooms. Keith Kroll claims that “mindfulness and its role in the teaching of English, including the teaching of writing, is not a new one” (73). Composition scholars like Sondra Perl, Donald R. Gallehr, and Mary Rose O’Reilley (to name a few) have explored the practices of contemplative pedagogy and embodied writing. In her book The Garden at Night: Burnout & Breakdown in the Teaching Life, O’Reilley claims, “calm reflection is the radix of contemplative practice. In a literature classroom, silence makes us face the consequences of our texts” (xiv). Silence is indeed a part of mindfulness meditation, and in my own experience teaching freshman composition at my university, I have incorporated mindfulness in my classroom and witnessed, as O’Reilley encourages us to see, “how everything changes—everything is up for grabs, your whole life” (xiv). When I spoke with Don Gallehr recently, he stated that “meditation brings us to words that nothing else can bring us to.” In the collection The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential, Gallehr claims in his article that he included koans in his teaching but did not use the word koan because the “mind-clearing, concentration, and holistic or intuitive thinking exercises that form the core of my writing classes seem to be essential habits of mind in any field” (101). Gallehr and I agreed that the notion that we are all writers often pervades writing center sessions.

Mindful Tutoring Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in numerous ways, but it is important that tutor and tutee see this meditation as an option when they need the space to write. Gallehr mentioned that the goal of a meditation practice is to clear a space in the mind for

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writing. For some writers, that clearing might involve physical activity; for others, it might involve sitting in silence for ten minutes. In my own classroom, I have used an abbreviated version of Sondra Perl’s Guidelines for Composing. In her book Felt Sense: Writing with the Body, Perl offers a transcript of her guidelines in Chapter Two; those guidelines are meant to “help writers locate a felt sense and to guide them in selecting, exploring, and developing topics that interest them” (15). Felt sense, as Perl explains, “is the physical place where we locate what the body knows,” and we can use this felt sense in our writing process if we “can use our body as a touchstone, a guide, that can inform us if the work we are creating makes sense in the ways we want it to” (4). It is not necessary for tutees to be introduced to the concept felt sense for them to practice some of the guidelines with their tutor. (There often isn’t enough time in a session to do this.) Tutor and tutee can still practice these guidelines because, as Perl states, they “are a set of questions that build on each other and are designed to help writers move their thinking and their discourse forward” (16). To slow the tutee down in the introductory scenario, I would recommend that the tutor offer to lead the tutee through one revised portion of Perl’s guidelines as soon as the tutee began to lose her composure. That practice would entail the tutor saying the following to the tutee: Find a way to get comfortable. Stretch your body; put your feet on the floor, and begin to notice what is going on within you. If you are comfortable doing so, close your eyes. If you prefer to keep your eyes open, [then you might] look down or away from any distractions and attempt to create your own private space [right here]—knowing that [we] will just sit quietly for a minute or two. . . Now. . . focus on your breathing. As you inhale, see if you can feel yourself sitting in the chair. And as you exhale, let go of any tension or discomfort you might be feeling. Inhale again and bring your attention back to yourself. . . As you exhale, get a sense of what it is like for you to just sit here, breathing quietly and slowly. (26-27) What is important here is that both tutor and tutee practice this breathing and silence. In that scenario I described, the tutor and tutee were both experiencing high levels of stress, and so this breathing would have several benefits: it would slow down the session enough to give both students involved time to breath for a few minutes; it would give both students a few minutes to de-stress; and, finally, it would establish a

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 30   practice that they could use later outside of the writing center. Another mindfulness practice—the body scan— can be an integral part of practicing mindfulness, and neither tutor nor tutee needs to be an expert in this practice. According to Samuel J. Dreeben et al, the body scan is a somatically oriented, attentionfocusing practice first introduced into clinical practice as part of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the MBSR program brings together a range of techniques and practices unified by a common theme—that of cultivating mindfulness. (394) The authors go on to say that when practicing the body scan, “participants begin [. . .] by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. The instructor [. . .] slowly guides the participants’ attention through the various regions of the body” (394). The body scan, they note, “can be practiced at various speeds and levels of precision,” so I would adapt this practice and integrate it into writing center sessions with stressed students (394). Because the body scan can be practiced either sitting or lying down, tutors and tutees would already be in those seated positions to begin practicing it. The body scan is another strategy that tutors can introduce to students to help them become more attuned to their bodies and begin dealing with the many affective and embodied concerns that are getting in the way of their writing. By dealing with those embodied concerns, students might then optimize their cognitive loads. That is, instead of expending their energies on those concerns, students might be able to devote more mental effort to writing and learning. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley offers a recording and transcript of their “Body Scan Meditation,” so at the beginning of writing center sessions, tutors might ask their tutees if they would feel comfortable practicing this version of a body scan with them: Begin by bringing your attention into your body. You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you. You can notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, on the floor. Take a few deep breaths.

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And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply. You can notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat. You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness. Notice your back against the chair. Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath. Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight[?] See if you can allow them to soften. Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft. Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax. Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft. Then notice your whole body present. Take one more breath. Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes. The above script can be modified as needed; because tutors and tutees are likely new to mindfulness meditation, it might be helpful (if the noise level in that center allows it) to use the recording if that feels more comfortable. As tutors practice the body scan with their tutees, they will begin to offer students support for their writing in ways that they may not have experienced before. By practicing the body scan, tutors can expand their affective, supportive roles not just by talking to students about their paper but also by focusing on those students as embodied individuals who often have concerns getting in the way of their writing that are not visible on the physical papers they bring in.

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 31   Finally, sitting meditations are a simpler technique that tutor and tutee can practice with little effort. Jon Kabat-Zinn states that when established in a sitting posture, we give ourselves over to the present moment. The options are the same as for lying down meditations, and as with them, we can work with the eyes closed or open in any of these sitting practices as well. (1442) He goes on to explain that perhaps hearing is the most basic door into sitting meditation, since we have nothing to do other than to be aware of the sounds already arriving at our ears. Since everything is already happening, since we are already hearing, there is actually nothing to do other than to know it. (1442) He suggests that if our mind wanders, we recognize those thoughts without judgment and then, “we bring the mind back to hearing, over and over again, when it is carried off, distracted, or diverted away from hearing” (1442). The guidelines that Kabat-Zinn offers are a helpful extension of the body scan practice; tutors might offer his imagery-based example as a way to guide their tutees through a sitting meditation: certain images may be helpful in supporting your practice as long as you don’t cling to them or take them too literally. For instance, if we imagine our thoughts and emotions as a ceaseless river that is flowing endlessly, whether we are meditating or not, whether we are observing it or not, it can be helpful at times to think of the practice as an invitation to sit by the bank and listen to its endless bubbles, gurgles, and eddies, its voices, images, and stories, rather than be caught up in them and carried downstream by the river. We can sit on the bank of our own mindstream, and by listening, come to know that stream and what it consists of in ways we never could if we are perpetually caught up in it. This is a direct and effective way to investigate the nature of the mind using your own mind as both the tool and the object of the investigation. (1443) This image of the flowing river might be particularly helpful to stressed students in the writing center because of their position in a busy and sometimes overwhelming academic context. As a graduate tutor, I often felt as though my thoughts were flowing at a torrential speed, so to know that I could treat my thoughts as a kind of river would have helped me visualize what was already happening in my head.

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Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 32  

Conclusion Mindful tutors have the capacity to expand writing center practices in numerous ways. First, by positioning mindfulness as a stress-reducing and writing strategy, tutors can have one more tool in their toolboxes to offer highly stressed students. Second, whether practicing the body scan, sitting meditations, or Perl’s Guidelines, both tutor and tutee can experience the numerous benefits afforded by these practices. Third, by addressing students’ embodied concerns, tutors can expand their affective, supportive roles by focusing on those students as embodied individuals, not just students with papers to turn in. Fourth, because tutors and tutees are not expected to become experts in mindfulness meditation practices immediately, they can use these practices when they need to and continue to experience those benefits. Fifth, by optimizing their cognitive loads--that is, by making room for writing--tutees can devote more mental effort towards writing and learning. I have offered here only the start of the potential that mindfulness meditation practices have to expand and transform writing center practices and knowledge. By looking to cognitive psychology, writing centers can expand their understanding of the amount of mental effort students have available to complete the projects they bring with them into sessions; often, overly stressed students may be experiencing higher levels of extraneous cognitive load than intrinsic or germane cognitive load, and that extraneous load could be compromising their ability to learn and write. When mindfulness meditation is positioned as a kind of writing and de-stressing strategy in writing center sessions, tutors can then have another tool to add to their toolbox when working with highly stressed students or students with high cognitive loads. Furthermore, because mindfulness meditation has been shown to offer numerous benefits, such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved attention, and enhanced self-esteem, if tutors practice mindfulness with their tutees, then both students have the chance to experience those benefits. Because tutor and tutee are not expected, furthermore, to be experts in mindfulness meditation, this allows them to practice mindfulness outside of the writing center and experience those benefits continuously. Finally, the practice of mindfulness meditation has the ability to optimize student writers’ cognitive loads by creating the space they need to write—by focusing on their bodies and letting their thoughts flow by without judgment, students then create the mental space they lacked and generate the mental effort they need to finally write.

Works Cited Ayres, Paul and Fred Paas. “Cognitive Load Theory: New Directions and Challenges.” Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 26, 2012, pp. 827-832. PsychINFO, doi: 10.1002/acp.2882. “Body Scan Meditation.” Greater Good in Action, The Greater Good Science Center at the U of California, Berkeley, 2017. ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/body_scan_meditation #. Briggs, Lynn. “Understanding ‘Spirit’ in the Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 19, no. 1, 1998, pp. 87-98. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43442637. Dreeben, Samuel J. et al. “The MBSR Body Scan in Clinical Practice.” Mindfulness, vol. 4, 2013, pp. 394401. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0212-z. Gallehr, Donald R. Personal Interview. 12 Apr. 2017. ---. “What Is the Sound of No Hand Writing?: The Use of Secularized Zen Koans in the Teaching of Writing.” The Spiritual Side of Writing: Releasing the Learner’s Whole Potential, edited by Regina Paxton Foehr and Susan A. Schiller, Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997, pp. 95-104. Godbee, Beth et al. “Body+Power+Justice: Movement-Based Workshops for Critical Tutor Education.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 34, no. 2, 2015, pp. 61-112. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43442806. Harris, Muriel. “The Roles a Tutor Plays: Effective Tutoring Techniques.” The English Journal, vol. 69, no. 9, Dec. 1980, pp. 62-65. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/816385. Jones, Elizabeth C. Cognitive Load Theory and College Composition: Can Worked Examples Help Novice Writers Learn Argumentation? Dissertation, Capella University, May 2014. UMI 3623324. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “Sitting Mediations.” Mindfulness, vol. 7, 2016, pp. 1441-1444. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0625-6. Kirschner, Paul A. et al. “Contemporary Cognitive Load Theory Research: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 27, 2011, 99-105. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.06.025. Kroll, Keith. “On Paying Attention: Flagpoles, Mindfulness, and Teaching Writing.” Teaching English in the Two Year College, vol. 36, no. 1, Sept. 2008, pp. 69-78. Leahy, Richard. “When the Going is Good: Implications of ‘Flow’ and ‘Liking’ for Writers and Tutors.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 15, no. 2,

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1995, pp. 152-162. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43441976. Lerner, Neal. “The Unpromising Present of Writing Center Studies: Author and Citation Patterns in The Writing Center Journal, 1980 to 2009.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 34, no. 1, 2014, pp. 67102. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43444148. Lunsford, Andrea. “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, 1991, pp. 3-10. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43441887. Mack, Elizabeth and Katie Hupp. “Mindfulness in the Writing Center: A Total Encounter.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, 2017, pp. 7-14. http://www.praxisuwc.com/new-page-29/. Marx, Michael Steven. “Bringing Tutorials to a Close: Counseling’s Termination Process and the Writing Tutorial.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 1991, pp. 51-60. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43440548. Merrienboer, Jeroen J. G. van et al. “Taking the Load Off a Learner’s Mind: Instructional Design for Complex Learning.” Educational Psychologist, vol. 38, no. 1, 2003, pp. 5-13. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1207/S15326985EP3801_2. Murphy, Christina. “Freud in the Writing Center: The Psychoanalytics of Tutoring Well.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, 1989, pp. 13-18. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43444112. Nicklay, Jennifer. “Got Guilt? Consultant Guilt in the Writing Center Community.” The Writing Center Journal, vol. 32, no. 1, 2012, pp. 14-27. writingcenters.org/wpcontent/uploads/2013/06/NicklayArticle.pdf. O’Reilley, Mary Rose. Prologue: Contemplative Pedagogy. The Garden at Night: Burnout & Breakdown in the Teaching Life. Heinemann, 2005, pp. viii-xiv. Perl, Sondra. Felt Sense: Writing with the Body. Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2004. Rahl, Hayley A. et al. “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance.” Emotion, vol. 17, no. 2, 2017, pp. 224-230. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1037/emo0000250. Reveley, James. “Neoliberal Meditations: How Mindfulness Training Medicalizes Education and Responsibilizes Young People.” Policy Futures in Education, vol. 14, no. 4, 2016, pp. 497-511. Sage Journals Online, doi: 10.1177/1478210316637972. Rowe, Angela C. et al. “Attachment Security and SelfCompassion Priming Increase the Likelihood that First-Time Engagers in Mindfulness Meditation

Mindful Tutors, Embodied Writers • 33   Will Continue with Mindfulness Training.” Mindfulness, vol. 7, 2016, pp. 642-650. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0499-7. Shearer, Annie, et al. “Effects of a Brief Mindfulness Meditation Intervention on Student Stress and Heart Rate Variability.” International Journal of Stress Management, vol. 23, no. 2, 2016, pp. 232-254. PsycINFO, doi: 10.1037/a0039814. Sherwood, Steve. “Humor and the Serious Tutor.” Writing Center Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, 1993, pp. 3-12. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43441926. Sunawan and Junmei Xiong. “The Impact of Control Belief and Learning Disorientation on Cognitive Load: The Mediating Effect of Academic Emotions in Two Types of Hypermedia Learning Environments.” The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 16, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 177-189. PsycINFO, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1124913.pdf. Thompson, Isabelle. “Scaffolding in the Writing Center: A Microanalysis of an Experienced Tutor’s Verbal and Nonverbal Tutoring Strategies.” Written Communication, vol. 26, no. 4, Oct. 2009, pp. 417453. doi: 10.1177/0741088309342364.

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

GESTURAL LISTENING AND THE WRITING CENTER’S VIRTUAL BOUNDARIES Laura Feibush University of Pittsburgh laf79@pitt.edu

Abstract This essay examines embodied listening behaviors—gestural listening—in the context of online video tutoring in university writing centers. Drawing on interviews and observations with writing center practitioners, as well as theoretical frameworks in sound and gesture studies, this essay examines the central role of listening in writing tutoring, and furthermore, how listening behaviors adapt to the virtual boundaries of video conferencing. The author argues that video tutoring highlights the expressivity of listening in the way that aspects of common video tutoring apparatuses (including the hardware of personal computers and software such as Skype or WCOnline) fragment and compromise the sensorium. In the face of this fragmentation, listening’s expressive qualities serve to overcome and cohere the disjunctures brought about by video tutoring technologies. Furthermore, cultivating the expressive aspects of gestural listening helps video tutoring succeed. The essay touches on eye contact, posture, and nonverbal backchanneling, among other embodied listening behaviors.

Introduction As more and more writing centers offer writing conferences conducted online via video conferencing software, the time is ripe for an investigation of how writing center pedagogies adapt to the screen— moreover, how writing center pedagogies are shaped by the rhetorics inherent to software and user interfaces. This essay focuses on aspects of listening in writing tutorials, particularly the physically enacted manifestations that I call “gestural listening.” I define gestural listening as the expressive, embodied ways that tutors and tutees manifest the otherwise silent, interior act of audition. I examine, for example, the way the participants in writing tutorials use their posture, eyes, hands, and even choices about where to sit as communicative tools, and as ways to both exert and subvert power. While many tutoring handbooks touch briefly on the importance of listening via backchanneling and nonverbal cues, or techniques that involve reading aloud, listening has yet to be more substantially theorized in both its palpable and metaphorical dimensions. A combination of sound studies and gesture studies allows me to articulate the central role of listening in writing tutoring, and examine how listening behaviors adapt to the virtual boundaries of video conferencing software. Without relying on clichés about listening, like those laid out by Jonathan Sterne in his “audio-visual litany,” this article positions listening—especially

gestural listening—as a force that coheres disjuncture. I argue that listening tends to “fill in” for the sensory gaps that come about in screen-mediated learning environments. It may seem counterintuitive to claim listening as a cohering force in the context of teaching via video-conferencing software. However, listening’s expressivity emerges as especially important because of the way video-chatting technologies deeply compromise gestural listening behaviors, e.g. eye contact. To illustrate and argue for this counterintuitive claim, I draw from interviews conducted with the directors and tutors of writing centers offering a remote, video-tutoring option and from observations of video tutorials at the University of Pittsburgh that I organized for the purposes of this essay. I present ethnographic vignettes that both convey instances of gestural listening and occasion methodological reflection. In the first section of this essay, I provide a brief theoretical framework for my study of gestural listening. In part two, I move to an analysis of lived moments, based on observations I conducted primarily in the University of Pittsburgh Writing Center. Here, I focus on the construction of a frame in typical video tutoring set-ups before exploring how the face achieves primacy as a result of that apparatus. Moving then to a close reading of the screen as a materiality, I conclude with an exploration of eye contact as an important gestural listening behavior uniquely vulnerable to the disjunctures of online video tutoring apparatuses. In the last section, I give a brief list of practical takeaways with which practitioners may experiment in their own move towards online video tutoring.

Towards a Rhetoric of Listening: Gestural Listening in Context Traditionally, rhetorical theory focuses primarily on speakers and writers, paying comparatively less attention to readers and listeners. Echoing Gemma Corradi Fiumara in her book, The Other Side of Language, I intervene on the proposition that speaking without listening is only half of a communicative act, what Fiumara calls a “reduced-by-half concept of language” (2). My research in this essay springs from an interest


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 35   in acts of listening and their potential as a rhetorical long, the tutee catches and changes words that sound force. repetitive, and together, they improve the precision and What I mean by listening as a rhetorical force is flow of the student’s writing. Indeed, in many ways simply that although we commonly think about writing center work is well-supported by video listeners being affected by speakers, and not the other conferencing software, and many centers throughout way around, there are, in fact, things listeners do that the United States have begun to offer video tutorials. influence what gets said. Listeners, in other words, can In offering this option, however, writing center actually impact communicative situations. This practitioners need to evaluate the interfaces that enable “rhetoric of listening” turns the tables on a more it, using the same care with which they interrogate traditional rhetorical paradigm, and understands aspects of conventional, in-person tutorials. After all, listening not just as a mode of reception but as a personal computers and their software are not neutral formative, even expressive, component of conduits for writing center pedagogies. Consider the communicative situations. following moment of capture from another one of my In order to begin identifying what a rhetoric of observations of a video tutorial: listening might look like, then, it becomes necessary to While speaking, the tutor gestures gently with one focus on the embodied actions of listeners. I proceed on the hand, which hovers just above the laptop’s trackpad. observation that people often put the act of listening Glancing at the computer screen, I note that her hand into their bodies in ways that people may come to notice, remains too far beneath the frame of the camera to be and even use purposefully. The ways in which acts of caught by it. I can see the tutor’s gesturing, but her listening manifest as sets of physically embodied tutee can’t. Later, beneath the desk, the tutor bounces behaviors I call “gestural listening.” Gestural listening one leg as though full of barely contained energy, posits listening as a productive and varied art, rather another embodied signal the tutee will not be able to than a passive or monolithic one, troubling the line see. between reception and expression. As I note in this observation, the most commonly Writing center practitioners are likely to share a used video-conferencing software in writing tutoring, strong felt sense that forms of listening lie at the heart including Skype, BlueJeans, and GoToMeeting, all rely of writing center work. The gap in writing center on the construction of a frame. In a co-present literature with regards to listening probably exists for classroom, it might be possible to argue that a lectern, all the reasons that listening gets sidelined in general, the chalkboard, or the proxemic arrangement of the first among them being that it is tricky to measure. students and instructor in the room might create Gestural listening provides one way to make listening something like a frame as well, but the logistical and “visible.” I hope to show that aspects of gestural felt experience of that co-present classroom suggest a listening inform pedagogical and technological kinesic flexibility not allowed by the small, rectangular questions that arise with the growing practice of video frame of a computer’s camera. In Ambient Commons, tutoring, beginning with one of the most constitutive Malcolm McCullough writes, “One core belief in media aspects of video tutoring: the frame. studies is that when a frame fixes a perspective, it also fixes a cultural position,” and that “to question the frame is to expose those conventions” (McCullough Questioning the Frame 155). Following McCullough, writing center “Just yell out if you want me to stop!” the tutee says. practitioners need to ask what cultural position the The student commences reading her piece of writing frame that enables video tutorials fixes, and how it aloud, interspersing her reading with verbal selfshapes pedagogical practices. corrections and questions for the tutor as she goes along. To begin analyzing the conventions of video At one point, the tutor breaks in to say: “You read tutoring, I turn to Reading Writing Interfaces, in which ‘which look’ there; you have ‘who look’ in here [on the Lori Emerson examines and historicizes the idea of an page].” The tutee makes the correction, and continues interface.1 Emerson traces the progression within the reading. personal computer industry from the command-line At first glance, the vignette above depicts a interfaces of the early 1980s to the window-based triumph of video tutoring. The classic writing center interfaces introduced by Apple in the mid-1980s, and practice of having a tutee read their work aloud in doing so, she identifies a certain strain of rhetoric proceeds remarkably unhindered by the technological that has powerfully guided the development of both interferences, like echoes or delays, that sometimes hardware and software. Two of the central ideas in this plague video conferencing software. During the rhetoric are invisibility and user-friendliness, both of which session, the tutor remarks on sentences that feel too have implications for video tutoring. Deeply associated Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 36   with Apple products, although not limited to them, convention for how these programs are used. While it Emerson’s “invisibility” refers to the way that devices is possible to angle a camera differently, the “default” like personal computers have come to seem camera position is a direct, centered shot at the user’s “hermetically sealed,” that is, almost completely unable face. Further, as of the writing of this article, many to be opened or tinkered with by typical consumers tutors and tutees are using laptops, which typically (Emerson 31). Emerson argues that contemporary embed a camera into the top, center of the screen. computing devices are defined by their “no-longer With this setup, the angle and height of the camera are noticed closed architecture,” their sealed quality hardly givens due to their position in the hardware of the ever questioned by most users, and, in fact, actually computer. In this case, the conventions of the software admired as a part of the products’ sleek, elegant and hardware actually subordinate a long-standing aesthetic. The idea of invisibility also carries over from pedagogical technique valued in many writing centers. smooth hardware into seamless software. According to Even this minor example illustrates an idea key to Emerson, software interfaces, too, have followed the Emerson’s argument, which is that an interface, trend towards invisibility, which, she writes, “now also whether embedded in hardware or software “does not implies inaccessibility” (6). The document-formatting simply lead from one space to another,” but rather conventions of Microsoft Word, for example, have inflects how meaning is made, and even what kind of become so deeply normalized that breaking out of its communication is possible (132). given options is a challenge at times, even discouraged. The way the face-to-face layout of video “We need not know how it works,” she writes, “or conferencing software overrides the writing center how it works on us rather than us on it” (Emerson 6). preference for sitting side by side emphasizes how Emerson’s stance is clear, here: that the appeal of users are asked, essentially, to submit to the set of invisibility is also dangerous in its masking of personal communicative choices that current hardware and computers’ inner workings, leaving most users software interfaces allow. It would be easy, at this profoundly unaware of how these technologies, so point, to take on Emerson’s skepticism and remark on central to the working lives of so many people, actually how much is lost when instruction occurs online via function. The idea of user-friendliness works alongside video. As I point out in the vignettes above, certain invisibility, and refers to the way that designers of communicative actions and important elements of personal computing devices strive to make both gestural listening, end up “lost” outside the parameters hardware and software as easy to use as possible, their of the frame, which is one of the most fundamentally operation coming to feel deeply natural, almost constitutive elements of online video instruction. But inevitable. According to Emerson, however, qualities perhaps better than submission is simply the idea of of invisibility and user-friendliness actually hide constraint. Shifting away from an attitude of loss, we ideology about what the public’s role as users of might simply say that the limitations of the interfaces hardware and software should be: referring to the shaping video tutoring ask participants to adjust their smooth, intuitive operation of personal computing behaviors accordingly, and may even give rise to new interfaces, she notes that “we no longer have access to gestural practices. In addition to whatever losses may [the] digital tools for making” (3). “Instead,” she be associated with the construction of a frame, the writes, what we have are “predetermined choices” frame brings about a concentration or heightening of (Emerson 3, emphasis added). other sensorial elements. Either way, the construction Video-conferencing software offers what Emerson of a frame in the graphical user interface of videowould describe as a predetermined set of choices. Even conferencing software results in certain, concrete when options for customization exist, those physical adjustments on the part of users. For example, customizations often appear in the form of a one experienced online tutor noted, “I tend to talk predetermined list of settings or preferences. with my hands a lot, so I sit back from the screen.” Sometimes, this lack of choice even impinges upon Here, the tutor adjusts in order for the better part of closely-held writing center practices. For instance, one his gestural communication to remain intact. Another common writing center practice is for tutor and tutee tutor responded differently, and said that she gestured to sit next to one another, as opposed to across from less during her online tutorial, because she could see each other, a proxemic arrangement which reflects the that her gestures were not inside the frame and that as non-agonistic, non-hierarchical power dynamic that such, the tutee could not see them. writing centers strive to construct. But the graphical The use of another technology often goes hand in user interface of most video conferencing programs hand with video tutoring software: headphones. effectively asks tutors and tutees to sit face to face; that Headphones are often necessary to minimize echoes or is, the face-to-face quality is a powerful existing other auditory interference during online video Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 37   appointments. Headphones, though, exemplify a This aspect of selection, as “normal” as it may feel to technology that strongly circumscribes the movement those habituated to video conferencing software, and positioning of the body during their use. Due to nevertheless has implications for writing center their cords, they require the user to sit within a certain practices and scholarship. distance of the computer. Although wireless As in the vignette above, introductory aspects of headphones are of course on the rise, many writing face-to-face appointments tend to get shortened. The center tutors and tutees are literally leashed to the director of one writing center, whom I interviewed for workstation by the use of older, corded headphones. this project, noted that video tutoring, as opposed to What comes from this questioning of the frame, so asynchronous online tutoring, helps in “making the far, is the realization that personal computers used for reader very real,” but he then went on to remark upon video tutoring cause the bodies of users to be still and the differences in the first few minutes of a tutorial separate: still in the sense of held still, or contained, between in-person and virtual set-ups. Online, he said, within the confines of the video camera, and separate “we don’t have the back-and-forth of a greeting that in the sense of being placed and spaced apart from the feels natural.” Another interviewee (also a writing bodies of others. To take this generalization a step center director) agreed, noting that online sessions further, personal computing devices, designed for use seem to just “hit the track running” and skip some of by humans, in turn shape the physical behaviors of the early conversation that helps set up a writing their users. That is, a certain physical regime arises center-style relationship between the tutor and tutee.2 from the use of computers as objects. In her study of This aspect of the interface, then, most obviously screen-reliant installation art, Screens, Kate Mondloch affects aspects of rapport-building. notes how, when interacting with video installations The quality of simply appearing in the frame of the involving cameras that cause viewers to see themselves, camera, however, may have more far-reaching effects “viewers [often] implement self-policing boundaries to as well, due to information that can be attained by a keep themselves visible on the screen” (34). Although a person’s physical, in-person presence. Consider the range of interactive behaviors might be possible, choreography of a co-present setting: a student enters Mondloch notices that viewers tend to adjust to keep the writing center and often checks in at a front desk. themselves centered in the frame. They may sit, possibly in a waiting area, until their Listening, like all other communicative elements, appointment time, when their tutor comes over, greets adapts to the construction of a frame. To compensate them, and leads them to a table to begin their tutorial. for the limitations of the frame, participants in video They arrange themselves at the table. These steps, as tutoring rely more heavily on the aspects of gestural mundane as they may seem, get elided or eliminated by listening that do survive the digital in-between of the the interface of video conferencing, where tutor and screen, and they also rely more heavily on verbal cues tutee just “appear” with their faces in the frame. that reflect attention and responsiveness. One As obvious as these aspects of co-presence may be important way that this plays out stems, once again, here, from the perspective of gesture studies, their from the construction of a frame, and gives rise to a informative power should not be underestimated. prioritizing of the face. Harry Denny explores aspects of this kind of “informative in-personness” when he takes up the idea of face in Facing the Writing Center: Towards an Identity The Primacy of the Face Politics of One-to-One Mentoring. Denny deals with the The cameras flicker on, and tutor and tutee center their idea of face by walking a line between its physical and head and shoulders in the frame. After brief greetings, metaphorical meanings. At times, a student’s physical the tutor says, “So tell me about the assignment you’re appearance, their physical face, brings about a threat to working on today.” their metaphorical face, or a sense of respect or “One second!” the tutee responds. “I was trying it belonging in the eyes of others in a given community. without the headphones, but it’s not as good [. . . .] Denny recounts a time when a white international Okay, so this project is [. . .] I did an internship, and student from Russia sat down to have an appointment I have to sort of write a reflective paper [. . .]” Without with Allia, a Black woman and graduate student tutor further ado, the appointment is underway. at St. John’s University. The tutee, Denny writes, “has The frame that video-conferencing software inflected a current events paper with what the tutor produces leads to a focus on the faces of the perceives as racist rhetoric. When she pushes the participants. The face, after all, tends to be centered in student to think about her argumentation, the student the frame, and the frame itself captures only a small says she thought her tutor was going to be one of the rectangle containing the face and what surrounds it. white tutors and questions her tutor’s qualifications” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


(32). Allia responds by explaining her qualifications to the tutee and continuing with the appointment. Allia’s literal face, in this instance, becomes part of a conflict in the tutorial, one that brings about a challenge to the tutor’s credibility and forces her to defend it. Other times, Denny’s “face” is more strongly the metaphorical kind, although not without a dimension of the physical. Denny writes the following passage about a student named David who comes to the writing center for an appointment. David comes from a working-class Latino community in New York City, and Denny describes him as highly self-conscious about his own ability to fit, especially in his use of language, into St. John’s middle-class environment. David at one point has a tutorial with a “thoroughly middle-class white woman who had transferred to [Denny’s] school from an elite liberal arts college” (Denny 76). Observing them, Denny writes the following: She performed the very all-American college affect that David sought to mirror. Watching them from my office was a curious ethnographic experience: From afar Eliza and David looked like an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch, Eliza more casual and effortless than David, whose performance of the college boy persona felt forced, too self-conscious at times. It was in this sense that he represented a failure to negotiate the complex rules of class: that to assimilate or cover requires a profound internalization and performance; and that success is almost always fleeting. (76) Denny’s observations bring forward an idea within gesture studies: that bodies and faces can, at times, be a kind of liability—they can “give us away,” as David is given away here in his appointment with Eliza. Despite looking from afar “like an Abercrombie and Fitch ad,” an image that encapsulates a certain idealized vision of the American “college-kid” identity, upon closer examination, David’s performance is too “forced” and “self-conscious.” Being together in the room is what allows the appointment to even approximate the appearance of the idealized advertisement, and it also allows that unrealistic illusion to come up short. The reader sees this through Denny’s eyes, with Denny performing a kind of spectatorship in which he views the appointment between Eliza and David from a distance. His ability to draw the conclusions that he does about the two of them, and their respective sense of “belonging” in the academy, comes directly from being able to see them, their whole bodies, their postures, comportment, and self-arrangement in the space. In this passage, he gives a reading of a tableau, a tableau that would be fractured and stretched by the

Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 38   apparatus of video tutoring, which, as I argue above, stills and separates the bodies of participants in a way that disallows this kind of reading. It is easy to see why the face, as one of the most concentrated sites of emotion and communication in the body, would be prioritized by designers of videoconferencing software. But simply being able to see the face of another person does not necessarily guarantee clarity of meaning or expression. One of the most significant scholarly efforts to study the complexities of facial expression comes from psychologist Paul Ekman. In his book with Wallace C. Friesen, Unmasking the Face, Ekman and Friesen outline the minute physical manifestations of six different common emotions, including surprise. Here, he describes when the overt features of surprised facial expressions become a kind “performance” that actually comes to signify something else: “Although the surprise brow is usually joined by wide-open eyes and dropped jaw,” Ekman and Friesen write, “it sometimes appears in an otherwise neutral face. When this happens, the facial expression no longer signifies an emotion; it has different meanings, some of which are related to surprise” (39). They go on to describe this facial phenomenon, not real surprise but “related” to it, as a common one leveraged by listeners: When the brow is held in place for a few seconds or more, this is an emblem which means doubt or questioning. Frequently it is shown by a person who is listening to what someone is saying; it registers without words a question or doubt about what is being said. The questioning or doubting may be serious or not; often this emblem will express mock doubt, the listener’s incredulity or amazement about what she has just heard. If joined by a head movement, sideways or backwards, it is an exclamation. If the surprise brow is joined by a disgust mouth, then the meaning of the emblem changes slightly to skeptical disbelief, or if the head rotates back and forth, incredulous exclamation. (39) Two major points come out of this passage. First, this kind of performative facial expression represents one way that listeners commonly continue to exert communicative power in conversational situations even when not speaking. Notably, what Ekman and Friesen refer to here are not spontaneous, involuntary facial expressions, but rather strategic performances of them. According to Ekman, people often control their facial expressions because of “cultural display rules” (139). Cultural display rules are a useful way of thinking about how students and teachers use facial expressions in classroom environments, and especially the

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Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 39   phenomenon of misleading facial expressions. Students not, for example, develop a type of software or camera and instructors can be said to operate within cultural orientation that privileges the hands? The hands, in rules of display in their classroom comportment. many respects, are one of the primary bodily locations Secondly, this excerpt reminds readers that simply for writing. Giving primacy to the face makes the idea being able to see the face of another person does not of dialogue and audience the main facet of writing guarantee any kind of simple clarity or authenticity in a tutoring. Giving primacy to the hands, in contrast, communicative encounter. While I devote significant would centralize slightly different aspects of writing: space to analyzing aspects of screenic interference and perhaps aspects of craft and construction, like how affordance in this article, it is important to remember much space on the page is given to a paper’s different that the human face itself is said by some gesture ideas, or the importance of ordering and arrangement theorists to be itself a kind of screen. At first, this on the page. Better yet, why not be able to move realization may seem to undercut the value of being between the face and the hands, or be able to see both able to see the face without the veil of a screen in at once? Greater flexibility and creativity in the design between participants. But Ekman’s research on of video tutoring software will be necessary, but new detecting lies demonstrates the multi-layered interface choices should come from writing center complexity of the face, and why it may still be pedagogies and priorities. important to be able to see it. “Usually when a person In Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s Peripheral Visions for is said to lie with his face or words, he lies to meet Writing Centers, Grutsch writes, “Writing center some need of the moment,” he writes (Ekman 139). practitioners were able to resolve themselves to online But the controlling of facial expressions “can involve tutoring only when it looked more familiar” (17). Part false messages or the omission of messages” as well of what this means is that online tutoring became (Ekman 139). “The word lying,” he continues, “may be acceptable as it became possible to look through rather itself misleading about what occurs. It suggests that the than at its technological apparatus. I want to resist the only important message is the true feeling that momentum to only look through, in line with Emerson’s underlies the false message. But the false message is skeptical attitude toward invisibility and userimportant as well, if you know it is false. Rather than friendliness, and to dwell further on the ambivalent calling the process lying, we might better call it materiality of the screen. message control” (139). What Ekman calls “message control” is one reason why centralizing the face in The Materiality of the Screen: From Frame video conferencing software removes important and Window to Barrier and Mirror communicative information. As can be seen in the The willingness of writing center practitioners to excerpt from Denny, above, the bodies of participants look through rather than at the screen that enables allow for different communicative choices and the online tutoring requires a kind of close material reading gathering of more embodied information. of the screen itself. Anne Friedberg does this in her What emerges, further, is the sense that the visual book, The Virtual Window, in which she traces an regime of personal computing and, by extension, of exhaustive history, both material and intellectual, of video-conferencing platforms, is complex, but that the windows, as architectural features and as objects with gestural and audio regimes do not match that rich metaphorical function. As an art historian, her complexity. Moreover, this has implications for writing starting point is a famous quotation from the pedagogy. Often, for example, tutor and tutee will Renaissance painter Alberti that likens the frame of the move through a piece of writing with the help of painting to a window that frames the subject being deictic gestures, pointing, grasping, framing, etc. But, painted. Alberti writes: “Let me tell you what I do as I have shown, the visual conventions of video when I am painting. First of all, on the surface on tutoring give primacy to the face: the hands can make which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of an appearance in the frame, but not in relation to the whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window text. To some extent, the lack of the gestural can be through which the subject to be painted is seen” (Friedberg made up for on programs like WCOnline, which allows 249). tutor and tutee to interact with the written text on the According to Friedberg, this quotation set the screen, but the communicative flexibility of the hands stage for the development of genres of painting, which is nevertheless reduced to the functions allowed by the would in turn go on to shape future media as well, screen—highlighting and typing, for example. The especially screen media. Personal computers fell in line privileging of the face in most video conferencing with the same set of metaphors as their prevalent software used for writing instruction reveals a lack of interfaces developed in the 1980s. Friedberg writes, creativity in the way those softwares are designed. Why Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 40   “The computer screen is both a ‘page’ and a ‘window,’ tutee is typing. In response, he told me that he too at once opaque and transparent” (19). Furthermore, makes sure to let the tutee know if he is typing during and of particular interest to this study, “it commands a an appointment, and why. The director of this tutor’s new posture for the practice of writing and reading— writing center, whom I also spoke to, picked up on the one that requires looking into the page as if it were the theme of the opacity of the computer screen. He frame of a window” (19). She continues, remarked that there is a need to pay attention to The computer screen adds a new depth to the managing expectations about who’s writing perpendicular surface. Its overlay of during the session in that shared GoogleDoc; ‘windows’—open to different applications for whether the expectation [. . .] is even higher word-processing, Web browsing, emailing, electronically than it is in person that a tutor is downloading—transforms the screen surface going to write things on the document [. . .] so into a page with a deep virtual reach to being explicit about those roles. archives and databases, indexed and accessible In a case like this, listening may manifest in doing with barely the stroke of a finger. (19) something to the shared document. It becomes For Friedberg, the coexistence of depth and flatness important to be particularly explicit about who will be characterizes screen media: doing what, and when. The desktop metaphor of a stack of papers, in After all, silence is a complex signifier, and can be overlapping array, implies a view from above. unsettling in the context of a video tutoring session. The window metaphor implies looking into or The director I mention in the last paragraph went on out of an aperture, a “perspective” position to say that, facing an upright perpendicular surface. Then there are times when the writer seems to Stacking windows on top of each other, piling go missing or be quiet—we don’t know if documents in layers, meant that the user could connection—you know what it’s like with maximize the limited “real estate” of the Skype sometimes [. . .] it just cuts out or you relatively small screen. The space mapped can’t hear something for a while or you’re not onto the computer screen was both deep and sure—did the writer step out of the room? flat. It implied a new haptics in the position of Did they go get something to eat, are they its user: in front of and above. (227) watching a movie? Who knows how people Each user in a video writing tutorial, then, may are multitasking—I hear this from TAs on our look upon the other as though slightly from on high. staff [. . .] there are some things they have to These haptics are clearly quite different from the get used to. haptics of being in a space together, more clearly These observations show most clearly how the screen dramatized by the excerpt from Harry Denny in Facing acts literally like a screen, that is, like a barrier. the Writing Center, above. The “real estate” of the screen In addition to the construction of a frame, by brings about questions of what can be seen at the same using many video-conferencing software, participants time—the student as well as the document they are are made to see themselves in unusual ways. Over Skype, working on—but also questions relating to visibility both parties can see a small image of themselves, and opacity through and on the screen itself. For moving and talking, in the corner of the screen. Video instance, the stacking windows that allow for the piling conferencing platforms routinely include a function of documents means that one user can quickly switch where participants can see themselves—in fact, it has to a different window on the desktop and completely become an expectation for this type of software. At cover the face of the other participant. times, the self-facing camera actually acts as the By definition, then, screens raise a barrier, even as confirmation that the other caller can see you. That is, they convey the illusion of depth, or opening onto if you cannot see yourself, your contact cannot see you, another space. This plays out in particular ways in the either. context of video tutoring. At centers where Skype and In a follow-up conversation with the tutor in the GoogleDocs are used simultaneously during online vignettes above, she noted how distracting it was to see tutorials, or even if a shared document is simply on the herself on camera during the tutorial. “It does make screen alongside the Skype window, it is possible for you more self-conscious,” she said, noting that during the tutor or tutee to be looking at something else the tutorial she had seen and fixed an out-of-place lock entirely on their own screen rather than at the other of hair in the self-facing camera. She also observed that person in the Skype frame. An experienced online the setup creates the problem of not knowing where to video tutor noted to me in an interview that although look: at the tutee, at the text, at herself? The tutor went this may not be intended, he can always hear when a on to say that the screen contained a lot of information Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 41   for someone easily distracted like herself, and she of issues. Among the interviews that I conducted with wondered whether it might not be better to go back to experienced online video tutors, one says, “I always just using telephones for distance conferencing. struggle with where to look.” Whether looking at the Last fall, I interviewed an experienced video tutee’s face on the screen or at the computer’s camera, writing tutor who said: “Sometimes when I switch back he told me, “something’s a little off.” Skype and its ilk, over to Skype [after not being in that window for a as they stand now, actually hinder the form of body while] I’ll realize that I’ve been [. . .] kind of hunched language that might be the most commonly used to down to the point that I’m almost out of the frame [. . reflect attentive listening: eye contact. A person can .] of vision.” She often responds by sitting up choose to look at the eyes of the other person on the straighter. After pauses during which she is not looking screen, or at the computer’s camera. Looking at the at herself, one of the tutors I interviewed said, “I semicamera brings about the visual illusion, for one regularly kind of forget how my face is coming across.” participant, that eyes are meeting, but in fact one The tutor put this forward as a problem—similar to person is looking not at the image of the other person sitting up straighter upon seeing herself slouched in the but at the camera at the top of the computer frame. In camera frame—as though she should be aware at all other words, there is no way to make real eye contact. times of whether or how her face is communicating. Eye contact is a gestural listening behavior that is The self-facing Skype camera seemed to chasten her as important as it is misunderstood. Harboring both with the constant reminder of what her face was doing cultural and physiological components, eye contact is when she was paying the least attention. closely tied to cognition, intimacy, and power. Studies The self-facing camera could be said to heighten have shown that infants prefer faces that engage them participants’ awareness of how they might be in direct gaze, and that early experiences of eye contact communicating with their faces in any given moment. may form the basis for future social skills (Senju et al.). Essentially, these situations unique to the video But a fundamental misnomer lies at the heart of the conferencing apparatus ask tutors, teachers, tutees, and term “eye contact”: what we tend to think of as eye students to become more aware than they might contact is actually not really contact at all. The phrase usually be of how their bodies are or are not “eye contact” lends itself to the sense that the eyes of manifesting the act of listening. The anecdotes that I two people meet and lock in a kind of beam stretching sketch in the last paragraphs start to suggest how. For between them. This is a misleading image: in reality, a example, when the first tutor is hunched down almost sustained gaze is actually comprised of multiple, out of the frame, she would be likely to say, if asked, fleeting eye movements that encompass not just the that that posture probably would not make the tutee eyes but also the nose, cheeks, and mouth, other areas feel that she was engaged in attentive listening. of the face that inform about identity and emotion The way participants in video tutoring sessions (Ekstein and Peterson). Photographs that track study compensate for the barrier of the screen goes to show participants’ gaze when looking at a face show that there exist listening behaviors that have developed concentrated clusters not on the eyes, but rather on into expected conventions in communicative and around the nose (Ekstein and Peterson). These situations. Furthermore, participants tend to rapid movements are what allow the visual system to compensate for the diminishment of those behaviors put together information about the identity of a viewed in two ways: first, by relying on verbal cues that reflect person and what they may be thinking or feeling. listening. Second, they adjust listening’s gestural Further, eye contact is socially preferred in many elements, keeping themselves within the frame of the cultures, but as it turns out, this may be more socially camera and being sure to sit up straight, for example. preferred than cognitively optimal. Japanese studies This is a reminder that listening is an entrained have found that maintaining eye contact impedes behavior, so much so that certain elements of gestural participants’ ability to do perform a cognitive task, listening prevail in spite of their detriment to mental such as naming the color of a word (Kajimura and processes. A major example of this is a physical Nomura). Eye contact, it seems, takes up large behavior deeply tied to performances of listening: eye amounts of mental bandwidth, and may not actually contact. foster the best cognitive environment for certain types of tasks. In spite of this knowledge, however, the concept Screenic Listening and Eye Contact of eye contact in popular imagination is so strong that Within the face, the eyes merit more attention as it remains important pedagogically, and it emerges as a particularly concentrated communicative tools, for key aspect in the success and failure of video tutoring. which video-conferencing software creates a special set As a result of the way that eye contact is compromised, Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 42   other gestural listening conduits need to be leveraged Andy [. . .] “hears” the teacher’s demand for more heavily, as well as more verbalizing to help concentration. He becomes so nervous and alleviate the disjunctures of the video apparatus. One vigilant. His body is no more under the veil of tutor noted, pre-reflectivity; his nervousness gathers extra one way that I demonstrate that I’m listening attention to hasten his hand to take note word is that I’m highlighting things or making for word. (72) marginal comments [. . .] [and] I’ll forwarn Here, the author prioritizes the student’s response to them that I’ll do that [. . .] so that they know eye contact with the instructor, which is to become I’m with them and engaged, that something is nervous and vigilant after making eye contact. The happening. author writes that “his body is no longer under the veil She is echoed by another one of my interviewees: pre-reflectivity.” Rather, it is pushed out from that veil, the removal of visual cues asks the consultant and stands exposed. Eye contact can be such a to be intentional about signaling their place in powerful a choice that Yin Yin writes, the conversation, and maybe kind of guiding the value of knowing student’s experience of things in a more explicit kind of way to make having eye contact with us lies in getting to it clear that they’re still listening, that they’re know both the power and limit in the eye following along, that they’re understanding, contact. We should not only know when to but since there’s not the normal nodding of make eye contact with a student. We have to the head or smiling [. . .] those sorts of know when to not give it. (78) moments can be more intentional, if the According to Yin Yin and my interviewees, eye contact consultants are thinking about doing that. I functions as a kind of two-way street: it can serve as a think initially sometimes they forget. means of reception, but also as means to provoke Tutors and directors may want to consider what this speech and build expectation. A distinctive aspect of writing center director calls “intentionality” here, being eye contact is its exclusiveness—it can only be formed sure to respond to the need to replace the usual visual between exactly two people at a time, after all, and this and auditory cues with verbal or textual ones. When sudden forming a dyad within a group may account for the dialogic aspects of listening don’t get the sense it creates of closeness, or pressure. communicated, negative consequences can result, ranging from confusion to alienation to resentment. Implications and Recommendations There may also be a need to tolerate silences For writing center tutors to identify their own whose significations are unclear because, as this same embodied habits, choices, or kinesic ways of being tutor admits, the affective dimension is harder to read emerges as a worthwhile exercise. While filming online. “Even with the video,” he said, “it’s a little tutorials might seem like a natural choice, I suggest a harder sometimes to read facial expressions and visual different approach. An activity that I have conducted cues.” One of the tutors I spoke to talked briefly about in writing center workshops involves having two tutors how this plays out, how she pays attention to “how I’m enact ten minutes or so of a mock tutorial. While they listening to [the tutee] and how I’m letting them kind do so, two other tutors silently observe, taking notes of guide the conversation [. . .] making sure to take on certain aspects of gestural listening that they are note of moments when they look like they want to say given secretly in advance on an index card (eye contact, something or they start to say something right as I do posture and body positioning, how participants use when I cut them off and make sure to go to back that.” their hands, for example). After the mock tutorial, the She went on: “so their face is also really important to observers reveal what they have been looking for and me in the session [. . .] if they look confused, or share their findings with the group. Then, tutors switch disconnected, or like they want to say something.” roles and the new observers take notes on a different In “Contact with My Teacher’s Eyes,” Yin Yin set of listening behaviors, followed once again by investigates some of the affective dimensions of eye discussion. contact in pedagogical situations, attending to both Building from this, it will be important to become students’ and teachers’ experiences. Using a similar aware of cultural preferences around eye contact and vignette method as I used in this study, Yin Yin other kinesic choices, as well as the ways these habits identifies pressure, belonging, and intellectual and choices may respond to aspects of identity like race excitement all as possible results of making eye contact and gender. Power dynamics often manifest in acts of with one’s instructor during class. In one vignette, the listening, so tutors in ongoing training sessions might author brings forth the sense of pressure that can arise be encouraged to consider the following: in any given from eye contact between student and teacher: Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Gestural Listening And The Writing Center’s Virtual Boundaries • 43   situation, who gets to be listened to and who gets to Mondloch, Kate. Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art. listen? Are certain individuals or groups more often U of Minnesota P, 2010. forced into listening roles? On the other hand, when Senju, Atsushi. “Early Social Experience Affects the do the more powerful players in a communicative Development of Eye Gaze Processing.” Current situation leverage that power to become a kind of Biology, vol. 25, no. 23, 2015. pp. 3086-3091. Science listening “judge”? Direct, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.10.019. Lastly, writing center directors might want to Sterne, Jonathan. The Sound Studies Reader. New York, consider how they can help those facilitating online Routledge, 2012. video tutorials to become sensitized to aspects of Yin, Yin. “Contact with My Teacher’s Eyes.” interface, and to the ways that layered, culturally- and Phenomenology and Practice, vol. 7, no. 1, 2013, pp. 69historically-situated tutoring interfaces come to bear on 81. writing center pedagogies. Directors may imagine different ways of going about this, asking tutors to   reflect on elements of interface and embodiment.   Notes 1. Interface refers to human-to- hardware interfaces (keyboards, screens, etc.), and human-to-software interfaces (namely, graphical user interfaces). 2. I have preserved the anonymity of my interview subjects. All interview quotations come from telephone interviews I conducted from October 18-25, 2016. Works Cited Ekman, Paul and Wallace Friesen. Unmasking the Face: A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Expressions. Los Altos, Malor Books, 1975. Ekstein, Miguel P, and Matthew Peterson. “Looking Just Below the Eyes Is Optimal Across Face Recognition Tasks.” Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences of North America, Edited by William S. Gievslervol, vol. 109, no. 48, 2012. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214269109. Emerson, Lori. Writing Reading Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. U of Minnesota P, 2014. Denny, Harry. Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring. Utah State UP, 2010. Fiumara, Gemma Coradi. The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening. New York, Routledge, 1996. Friedberg, Anne. The Virtual Window: from Alberti to Microsoft. MIT P, 2009. Kajimura, Shogo, and Michio Nomura. “When We Cannot Speak: Eye Contact Disrupts Resources Available to Cognitive Control Processes During Verb Generation.” Cognition, vol. 157, 2016, pp. 352-357. Science Direct, doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2016.10.002. McCullough, Malcolm. Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information. MIT P, 2013. McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers. Utah State UP, 2013. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018)

PEER OBSERVATION, REFLECTION, AND EVALUATION PRACTICES IN THE WRITING CENTER: A GENRE PEDAGOGY APPROACH Daniel Lawson Central Michigan University lawso3d@cmich.edu Abstract In this essay, the author shares the results of a local assessment conducted on his center’s peer observation, reflection, and evaluation practices for graduate assistants (GAs), focusing especially on the form used to facilitate these practices. The author interviewed the participants and analyzed completed “Writing Center Graduate Assistant Observation” forms. The interviews focused on three major areas: 1) what they perceived the purpose of the observation and reflection exercise to be, 2) how they felt and what they learned about observing their peers and being observed, and 3) how they felt the form affected the observation and reflection. In brief, the author argues that melding evaluation and consultant self-reflection is fraught because the rhetorical situation of each requires markedly different social action. Two critical lenses guide this examination: reflective practice and genre pedagogy. Ultimately, the author cautions those who use observation and reflection in their assessments to consider carefully the documents and genres surrounding those assessments because these genres may (intentionally or not) draw on antecedent genres that are inappropriate for the social action they intend to facilitate. Perhaps more troubling, some of these genres may implicitly draw on and/or perpetuate ideologies that are fundamentally at odds with reflective practice.

In a description of peer observation and evaluation practices at Fordham University’s writing center, Jane Van Slembrouk has “seen that genuinely productive assessment can occur between equals and that observing a peer is inevitably a reciprocal process, prompting meditation on one’s own values and practices” (Van Slembrouk). In fact, many college writing centers have also adopted this egalitarian approach to assessment and evaluation practices, embedding peer-observation practices both in tutor training courses and in continuing professionaldevelopment efforts. That is, tutors are encouraged to observe one another’s sessions, take notes, and share their observations with their peers and/or directors. In so doing, they are also potentially evaluating one another in the process, as well as helping the director triangulate a sense of what is happening in sessions. Interestingly, while there is a great deal of conceptual inquiry and training lore on the relationship between observation and reflection, there is surprisingly little empirical work on the topic. More, outside of Van Slembrouk’s valuable work, little has been done to directly examine the relationship between observation, reflection, and evaluation.

Compositionists have discussed the problematic nature of observation in the context of supervisory teacher-training classroom visits, and many of those issues apply to the practice of observation in the writing center. In particular, these scholars note the Foucauldian nature of these sorts of observation. That is to say, these observations can often merely serve to reify categorical difference—between supervisor and supervisee, teacher and student, teaching subject and learning object, etcetera—which makes, observation more a matter of disciplining subjects and enacting power than nurturing independent practitioners. Despite these problems, Denise Comer argues “that reflective, reciprocal supervisory class visits are a unique, powerful, and positive mechanism for fostering and generating pedagogic and programmatic growth” (519). To address the problematic nature of supervisory visits, she encourages practitioners to make those visits “reciprocal rather than unidirectional—that is, formative for both parties—and to try to make more visible the many ways that WPAs are learning through these visits” (526, emphasis hers). And in theory, peer observation and reflective practices in the writing center do just this. In addition to being discussed and modeled in tutor-training texts like The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors and The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, the practice of combining reflection and observation has been remarked on (and also productively problematized) in articles by authors such as Michael Mattison and R. Mark Hall. The basis for most peerobservation practices is reflection, and as Hall notes, “reflective writing has long been a cornerstone of writing center tutor education” (82). If, however, as Hall and Mattison each assert, that observation and reflection can often still play a role (intentionally or not) in fostering a form of panopticism wherein tutors subject themselves to regulatory scrutiny, how might actually imbricating reflection and observation in assessment practices further complicate these efforts? Can peer observation meet the needs of both reflective practice and evaluation? What role can peer observation play in facilitating reflective practice? To address these questions, I share the results of a local assessment I conducted on my center’s peer


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 45   observation, reflection, and evaluation practices for center. Yancey in turn draws on Donald Schön, a graduate assistants (GAs). I especially focus on the philosopher and professor of urban planning, who form used to facilitate these practices. developed the concept of reflective practice to explain As a relatively new writing center director a few how professionals improvise during practice but then years ago, I inherited a system of evaluation that improve upon that practice through reflection. Yancey incorporated observation and reflection. I wanted to thus borrows from Schön when she defines reflective see how the GAs felt about these practices and if the practice as: observation and evaluation components of the Recording practice, exercise fostered or hindered reflective practice—both Reviewing it, in observing and learning from others and from being Understanding it, and observed. In brief, I argue that melding evaluation and Then learning from and applying it elsewhere. consultant self-reflection can be fraught beyond the (“Seeing Practice” 190, formatting hers) reasons Comer shares in that the rhetorical situation of Yancey contrasts reflection-in-action with constructive each requires (and prompts) markedly different social reflection. As Yancey describes it, reflection-in-action action. Two critical lenses guide my examination: occurs during the actual session and involves reflective practice and genre pedagogy. Ultimately, I “implementing a plan based on [an] emerging caution those who wish to take this approach to hypothesis” (“Seeing Practice” 191). Whereas consider carefully the documents and genres reflection-in-action takes place during the session, surrounding it because these genres may (intentionally constructive reflection is “the process by which a or not) draw on antecedent genres that are single tutoring event and/or several tutoring events inappropriate for the social action they intend to are reviewed and understood as a part of practice facilitate. Perhaps more troubling, some of these theorized” (“Seeing Practice” 191, emphasis hers). Put genres may implicitly draw on and/or perpetuate another way, constructive reflection occurs when a ideologies that are fundamentally at odds with practitioner examines an instance of practice, draws reflective practice. generalizations about it, transfers that knowledge to I feel it necessary here to address distinctions other contexts, and once again reflects on its between assessment—or, as Muriel Harris has application in those contexts. characterized it, local research—and research in a more Yancey’s formulation of reflective practice is general sense (Harris). As Rebecca Day Babcock and useful for those interested in the role that peer Terese Thonus observe, both “should be based on observation plays in fostering reflection for two empirical data [. . .] [and] involve inquiry” but whereas reasons. First, Yancey’s definition of reflection assessment implies judgment and may “seek indicates the points at which observation can immediate application to a local context,” research intervene: in recording it, the observer offers a different does not (4, emphasis theirs). Where the two perspective; in reviewing it, the observer can supplement endeavors converge, however, is when assessment observations and confirm or problematize the projects extend “to a more global inquiry, inviting practitioner’s perceptions; in understanding it, the others to participate in a comprehensive research observer can triangulate the practitioner’s nascent project across local sites” (Babcock and Thonus 5). I theorizing with community norms and expectations; in address this distinction here because this study was learning and applying it, the observer can work with the based in local conditions and the practice it examines practitioner to develop a plan for implementing the was intended to assess those conditions. However, the developing theory(ies). Conversely, the observer can questions I raise based on this study extend—and, I draw on the session to reconsider their own practice. hope, problematize—considerations of a rather Second (and as a necessary consequence of the first common writing center practice. In short, I share the point), it indicates that of the two conceptions of example of this case study to begin theory-building reflection Yancey offers, observation is most suitable and to help frame future empirical examinations of for constructive reflection because it helps a writing center practices that combine observation, practitioner make sense of a session post hoc. reflection, and evaluation. Accordingly, reflective observation should follow the parameters of constructive reflection: helping the practitioner theorize practice based on the events of Reflection and Peer Observation the session. Thus, if an observation (and the discursive As my research questions regard reflective forms around it) meets these criteria and facilitates this practice, I define it here by relying on Kathleen Blake sort of social action, it can be assumed that it has Yancey’s formulation, which is specific to the writing enabled reflective practice. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 46   222). In particular, as I explain in the Discussions section, the genres surrounding the acts of observation, reflection, and evaluation can overGenre Pedagogy determine the social action by drawing on antecedent Implicit in the notion of a discursive form genres that aren’t appropriate for the situation. In enabling social action is genre pedagogy—that is, the particular, I found that our GA observation form idea that genres facilitate social action and thus have to directed the social action in unanticipated ways. be taught as such. Consequently, in addition to reflective practice, genre pedagogy informs my analysis in this study. I draw here on definitions and approaches to genre from genre theorists such as Charles Bazerman, John Swales, and Carolyn Miller, who all emphasize the social function of genre. As Miller explains, “a rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or form of the discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish” (151). Genres are purposeful and goaldirected and, as Bazerman observes, genres are shaped by context but also inflect contexts as well (316-317). Genre pedagogy itself is an approach to teaching writing that emphasizes the role genre plays in structuring discourse and facilitating social action. As composition and genre pedagogy scholar Amy Devitt explains, With genres understood as actions rather than forms, and as rhetorically meaningful rather than just conventional, writing teachers can use genre-based pedagogies to do much more than teach students the conventions of a few genres. If genres are rhetorical actions, then genre pedagogies can help students to learn to act rhetorically; and if genres are based in situations, then genre pedagogies can use genres to help students perceive, understand, and even change situations. (“Genre Pedagogies” 146) In addition to working with students on classroom and academic genres, writing center consultants also use and draw upon several genres for writing center work. If, as Hall asserts (and I quoted earlier), “reflective writing has long been a cornerstone of writing center tutor education,” and if, as I argue below, reflective writing and writing center sessions are genres that make rhetoric visible through typified rhetorical actions, then perhaps writing center practitioners need to be more cognizant of the genres operating around that work (82). Consequently, consultants should be trained according to best practices in genre pedagogy. This is particularly important because, as Devitt as demonstrated in her studies on genre, “writers use the genres they know when faced with a genre they do not know. These genres are not in fact transferable; they do not meet the needs of the situation fully” (“Transferability”

Context and Site Description The case study itself took place in a writing center at a large Midwestern state university. The writing center at this university is large, spanning three sites on campus and maintaining a high-traffic asynchronous online program. Depending on the semester, the staff consists of approximately forty to fifty undergraduate and graduate hourly consultants and a cohort ranging from eight to ten graduate assistants (GAs). All members of the staff are required to take a writing center practicum that introduces them to writing center pedagogy and prepares them for observing, being observed, and reflective writing. As opposed to hourly consultants, GAs receive a fixed stipend and tuition waiver. In addition to facilitating writing center sessions, they are responsible for additional administrative and leadership duties. More relevantly, in the early part of the 2010s, the university’s GAs unionized. The new GA union contract mandated formal annual evaluations. Program directors and chairs had a fair amount of leeway in designing these evaluations. The writing center director at the time wanted the evaluation process to reflect the values and philosophy of the center. Consequently, she collaborated with the GAs to develop a formal observation form and process, which they conceived as less a way of summatively evaluating the consultants than as a way to provide opportunities for reflection and integration into the center’s community of practice. That said, at that time, both the director and the GAs wanted a numerical piece to the reflection as a way to track individual progress. What’s more, the director incorporated these observations and the associated form with the required annual evaluation. The observation process involved several steps. In brief, near the end of each semester, the director made the peer observation form available to the writing center GAs (Appendix A). Every semester, each GA was required to have a session they conducted and that was observed by a fellow GA. GAs chose who observed them. The observer would watch the session and complete the form. The front of the two-page form consisted of fourteen rows divided into three columns. Each row was organized around of an observable cue or dimension of a writing center

Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 47   session such as “projected enthusiasm,” and “helped For the assessment of our observation and writer actively engage in the learning process.” The evaluation practices, I secured approval from our first column enumerated these cues and provided a Institutional Review Board for Research Involving “Yes/No” checklist of several parts under each. For Human Subjects. I interviewed the participants via example, under “learning process,” were checks for email and analyzed each of the completed “Writing “asked relevant and probing questions,” “helped Center Graduate Assistant Observation” forms. All of writer understand terminology,” and “helped writer the GAs working in the spring semester of 2014 were understand fundamental principles, concepts, and invited to participate in the research. Seven theories.” For each dimension there was a box in the participants accepted. In the interviews, I asked row for the observer to provide examples and notes, participants questions in three major areas: 1) what and in the far right (and final) column, there was a box they perceived the purpose of the observation and for the GA conducting the session to self-rate their reflection exercise to be, 2) how they felt and what performance in each dimension (see Figure 1 in they learned about observing their peers and being Appendix B). observed, and 3) how they felt the form affected the After observing the session, the observer would observation and reflection. I grouped the answers to complete the form, including a blank section on the each of these question clusters to examine the themes back labeled “Observer: Overall Comments.” These that emerged. I also examined the reflections comments could be descriptive or evaluative produced in the observation forms to see if they depending on the session and observer (see “Results”). mapped onto the rhetorical moves Yancey used to The observer would give the form to the GA, who define reflection; in short, I performed a rhetorical would then self-assess along each axis, rating analysis to map out the generic moves made in the themselves on each between 1 through 4 (4 being the responses, the genre being reflective writing. Below I best). The GA would then complete a blank section summarize the results of the interviews by question on the back labeled “Consultant Comments and cluster, and I summarize my analysis of the Reflection,” responding to the session and to the observation form. I have assigned the participants observer’s overall comments. The GA would then give pseudonyms. the form to the director, who would briefly comment on the session based on both the observer’s and the Results GA’s notes and then connect it to her comments What they felt was the purpose of observation about the GA’s performance throughout the semester. In the interviews, all but one of the GAs identified For example, the director might mention that “this the purpose of the observations as reflective insofar as session mirrors much of what I have seen in Deanna’s it enabled them to learn from watching other GAs and practice, particularly in her probing questions and to receive feedback from their peers. Most emphasized excellent use of interpretive paraphrase,” before the ability to improve with phrases such as “When we moving on to discuss the GA’s performance in other are observed, we become aware of our practices and areas, both in sessions and in regards to other the places we can change or improve,” and “It is a way responsibilities. to realize what we have been doing well and what we GAs who facilitated online sessions could elect to can change or improve to make our sessions more have an “online” observation in place of a face-to-face effective.” That said, they also acknowledged the session. In fact, most of the participants in this evaluation function, as well. Most mentioned eliciting study—all but two—were observed online. These “feedback from the director” as one of the purposes, sessions are asynchronous and occur through and others alluded to the administrative functions it comments offered by the GA in the MS Word served. For example, one remarked, documents the writers submit to the service. In these “So, I believed that observing writing center instances, the observer merely downloaded a copy of sessions can help both the observer and the the document the GA worked with the comments observed grow professionally. In addition to this, visible. In short, the observer reviewed the MS Word it is my general assumption that supervisors need comments and their relationship to the text, filled out to know how their staff members are doing at the observation form as if observing the session, and work. Peer observation can be a democratic and accounted for the different delivery medium. participatory means of evaluating the service in the writing center.” The Study The GA who omitted any reference to reflection or professional growth said that she “saw it as a Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 48   procedural element that simply has to be conducted for the review. I was somewhat careful about the one I every year to be placed in the GA files.” In short, chose, as some of them are harder to work with than though GAs identified the purpose as reflective, they others.” In short, the medium seems to have alleviated were also aware of the evaluative function of the potential anxiety about being observed for a few exercise. The participants made this clearer in their reasons in particular. First, because the online sessions descriptions about their feelings about the process. are asynchronous, GAs chose which session would be “observed” after the fact. This, in turn, enabled those How GAs felt about the process and what they learned GAs to be tactical about the session they chose, Because many of the GAs chose to be observed in privileging sessions that mapped more closely onto the asynchronous online sessions, the dynamic of the criteria laid out in the form. Finally, receiving feedback observation was somewhat different for them. Given from their peers on their online sessions was part of the small sample size, it is impossible to attribute this the training for gaining online approval, thus those difference to the medium, but the GAs reported GAs were quite accustomed to an “observer” in that differently: the two who had a face-to-face session milieu. observed by a peer reported feeling anxious or Regarding what they felt they learned in either nervous about being observed whereas those who had observation or by being observed, the participants asynchronous online sessions did not. However, the either focused on surface-level and discrete aspects of two GAs who were observed face-to-face reported their performance or spoke in general terms about that they did not feel the observation affected their learning their value. For example, GAs remarked that, session negatively, though each did feel “pressured” or “One thing I learned overall was not to use “intimidated.” Of the two who were observed during ‘we’ in my comments when I was really face-to-face sessions. For example, one remarked, indicating that the student could take action “Honestly, being observed in any situation is a in a specific way in his or her writing.” nerve-wracking process. As an anxious person “[S]he gave some excellent feedback on how in general, having someone oversee and check to better phrase a few of my comments, as off every move I made and every word I said well as noting that I hadn’t really given much felt a little too evaluative at times. I don’t positive feedback in the online that she think it affected the session negatively, but it reviewed. This was something that was definitely added some unwanted pressure on extremely helpful for me.” my behalf.” “[T]he session observation did allow me to The other mentioned that being observed “made me see how I conduct a session from an feel a bit nervous. However, I reminded myself that I outsider’s perspective, noting details that I did not need to feel intimidated.” may have to work on, (like asking if the The GAs who conducted online sessions did not student had been there before or how his or report feeling anxious, though again, the medium her last session went).” perhaps played a role. For instance, one GA stated, “I learned that my voice was too low for the “I don’t remember feeling nervous or any observers to hear.” specific emotion. Because I was observed “I learned what phrases I use often.” online, the consultant was sitting at another Other GAs reported that what they learned was that computer away from me observing an online they had been following the parameters of the session I had already completed while I observation form and thus felt reaffirmed in their continued working on other responsibilities. I practice: would have been distracted at the time.” “I was surprised at how the eleven categories The other GAs who had their online sessions in the form can cover almost everything we observed echoed this sentiment. For example, another practice in our sessions, both face to face as GA reported that “Peer observation did not affect my well as online. It felt good to know that I performance because I was not actively observed while covered almost all of them.” I completed an online submission” and still another “I learned that I had improved in my online mentioned that “I felt comfortable about being interactions since the same consultant had observed, as I had already received feedback from reviewed me during my ENG 510 online multiple people on my online sessions when I was assignment. In my online I had learned to being trained.” Interestingly, the medium potentially appear friendly and compliment students affected the observations in other ways; one GA during sessions. I also learned that I was reported that he was “able to use one of my onlines Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 49   following the same expectations I had for a future session more productive. Also, the consultants who were training.” “consultant’s comments and reflections” In short, the participants reported that they found section of the form allowed for personal concrete instances of their practice they could improve consideration of the process and session, upon, and they reaffirmed that their practice overall which leads me to believe that this is a highly matched the expectations of the community as relayed self-reflective practice.” via the observation form. Despite their experience and training with reflective In terms of what they learned from observing journals, the GAs reported having little sense of how others, three reported having learned something they to conduct the observation beyond what was specified felt to be useful, whether it was adjusting their volume, in the form. The GAs also responded that the form “dealing with needy students effectively,” or as one strongly influenced the sorts of feedback they offered reported, their peers: “The form affected my observation by “I did, however, observe a session where I telling me what to look for in my fellow consultant’s felt the consultant did a really effective job at session and, thus, guiding how that consultant would helping the student with a paper: connecting be observed and evaluated.” Most used the form as a examples to personal life situations, asking checklist to make sure they had “covered everything,” open-ended questions, and being genuinely although some had pointed out that the Form did not friendly. The student even said ‘Wow, this necessarily fit every situation in which some of the was really helpful. I will definitely be coming categories did not apply. back.’ I tried to model my sessions after this Each of the GAs found the numerical selfconsultant after observing her.” assessment portion to be either unhelpful and or Perhaps more interesting than the three who remarked limiting. They either reported not understanding the on specific things they learned from their observations purpose of the scoring or stated that it felt evaluative was the fact that the other four did not articulate any or arbitrary. For example: specific practices they observed that they might “I tend to be pretty self-critical in my own emulate or avoid. reflections and evaluations, so I may have rated myself lower than another person How they felt the observation form affected the observation would have in the ‘Self-Assess Rating’ and reflection section. I’m not sure if the numeral rating All but two of the GAs indicated that they felt the system helped me in the process, though. It form was useful in that it gave them some indication felt evaluative.” of what to look for and privilege in their observations “The form negatively impacted my (incidentally, one of those GAs had a face-to-face observation because the work conducted at session). However, as I will explain, all of them were the writing center cannot be limited to ambivalent about the value of rating themselves in the numerical values. I felt pressured to give numerical portion. All of them pointed to the myself all ‘4’s’ because this document will be constitutive function the form played in structuring reviewed by my instructor.” their experience—that is, each indicated that the form “The numerical piece did not help my played a significant role in how they perceived and understanding: I felt confident in giving responded to one another’s performance in the myself high scores in each area, but I also felt sessions. Even in answers to questions that were not this could be perceived as overconfidence or specifically about the form, participants alluded to its cockiness. While I understood the purpose of constitutive function in their observations and writing a reflection paragraph on what the reflection. For example, one GA went immediately to other consultant noticed in my session, I the form in responding to a question about what they didn't really understand the purpose of felt was the purpose of the observation: assigning myself a score in each area.” “The questions asked on the form are pretty In short, the form seemed to act as a facilitating extensive and specific: did the consultant agent—a rhetorical actant that played a role in listen, provide helpful feedback, and engage structuring the discourse—in the observation in two the writer in the writing process? All the ways. First, it seemed to dictate what GAs felt they components listed are important to the were supposed to do in the session. Second, it writing process, and as a consultant, if one of inflected the observation by implying an evaluative those things did not get covered in the function for the observer. Technically, each GA was session, it would be helpful to know to make only assessing themselves, and then only in the sense Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 50   that it would enable them to reflect on that session as All of the reflections functioned as a response to part of a larger practice theorized. All but one GA, the observer. Most contain an element of the defense however, indicated the evaluative “feel” of the genre in that they either speak exclusively to what they numbers, referencing either the observer or the felt they did well in the session or in general, or they inevitable review by the Director. explained some of the context that negated some of the feedback from their peer observer. For example, Summary of form results “I didn’t ask about the previous visit, nor did I do an On the form itself, most of the writing done by overview or explain reading strategies. I think this the observers was to provide examples of the GA was/is because I have worked with this student over making the sorts of moves indicated on the checklist. the course of the semester and knew what she In the “Observer: Overall Comments” section, understood about the session’s terminology.” Another observers offered feedback that tended to be brief, responds to a peer observer after praising the ranging from two to four sentences. Each began with observer’s feedback, saying, “Fortunately, because I general praise statements such as “Betty was very have worked closely with Joanna in my position, I am friendly and informative in her comments and met all already aware of these strategies I need to uphold in of the criteria above” or “Sara offers clear, specific, my online sessions […]” Still, each of these two GAs constructive strategies for revision to writers.” The then noted how they would apply this feedback to comments then invariably turned toward a specific future sessions, mapping generically to Yancey’s area the GA did well. Only a few ventured formulation of constructive reflection as suggestions, and of these, they tended toward what “[u]nderstanding [practice], and [t]hen learning from might be considered lower-order concerns in tutoring and applying it elsewhere” (“Seeing Practice” 190). such as “The only suggestion I have is to use less ‘we’ Of the consultant reflections, two did not meet to avoid implying that the student and GAs are Yancey’s criteria for constructive reflection. Given the writing the paper together” and “I would suggest the small sample size, this is troubling because facilitating consultant speak louder and be more confidently.” In reflective practice is precisely the point of that section this regard, the observer comments often resembled of the form. One spoke only in positive terms about the genre Summer Smith describes as the “teacher her practice in general and did not reference any end comment”—that genre teachers draw on typically practices specific to the session. She ended her appearing at the end of a student’s paper to provide reflection by saying that because of her observer’s that student feedback. I will more fully examine the comments and her experience she had “rated [her]self implications of this resemblance below. as very effective in all the applicable areas.” The other These observer comments thus informed the GA also failed to address the specific session, thus “Consultant Comment and Reflection” section. These not addressing Yancey’s “review” and “understand reflections were longer than the observer comments, practice” criteria. Moreover, this GA’s reflection ranging from four to seven sentences, and these contained similar moves to the previous in that it sentences tended to be longer than those in the resembled a defense of overall practice and ability. observer comments were. Though some patterns emerged among the responses here, they were less Discussion formulaic than the observer comments. Half began Genre’s constitutive function with an evaluation and affirmation of the observer If the guiding question for the project was, “did comments (which in turn affirmed their own peer observation facilitate meaningful evaluation and practice): “Sara astutely pointed out some areas for self-reflection?” the answer would seem to be me which I hadn’t considered during the session “perhaps not as intended, and the observation form […],” “Joanna’s comments were beneficial in that (as well as the implicit ideologies informing it) may they acknowledge my effectiveness as an online have played an overly large part in that regard.” In consultant […]” “By reading Mary’s comments, I short, the mingling of purposes in the form—to have been reassured that my online language to evaluate and to prompt reflection—seemed to muddy students has been appropriate and friendly.” The the potential for GAs to genuinely reflect on their other half began with an evaluation of themselves; practice. Overall, the GAs found the process two spoke to their strength as GAs in general (and did instructive, but often found the form prohibitive, and not comment directly on the session in that first the form clearly played an active role in structuring sentence) whereas one began with an evaluation of the sorts of discourse around reflection. Of the what she could have improved. themes that emerged from the data, to me the most Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 51   striking was the role that genre played in facilitating drew on this genre, it over-determined the sort of and directing GAs’ attempts to both assess and reflect discourse produced at the expense of enabling them on their practice. to learn anything meaningful from the exercise. When In brief, several genres/social actions intersect in the checklist format of the observation format the act of these peer observations. First, the GA’s precedes it, it implicitly conveys a judgmental function performance in the session itself is a secondary genre for the overall comments. Given that this judging intended to facilitate an intervention in and possible function follows a format that looks very much like a revision of the writer’s work. In turn, it draws on criterion-based analytical rubric, those comments several primary speech genres such as those described must address each of the features that appear in the by Summer Smith in her work on the genre of teacher checklist. Accordingly, this conveys a pedagogical end comments. These speech genres include judging approach to the session that implicitly argues that a genres, reader-response genres, and coaching genres session may be evaluated by its correspondence to its (252-261). Second, written constructive reflection is a textual form—its generic/formal features—rather genre meant to facilitate a self-assessment (as than by the contexts, shared perceptions, and settings described by Smith and Yancey) and a possible that inform it. Further, because the reflection reconsideration of practice (as described by Yancey followed the evaluative-sounding observer comments and Schön). Third, the observation form is a written and the rubric-like checklist, these often drew on what genre intended to mediate a discussion between GA would appear to be a defense genre: a rationale for the and observer that in turn refines the reflection begun decisions made in response to the observer and in in the form. Fourth and finally, the director’s anticipation of the director evaluating that session. evaluation is meant to convey the director’s expectations for and assessment of the GA’s overall Genre, reflection, and observation performance in the center. Of course, many of these The observation checklist and “comments and genres blur into one another, such as the GA’s selfreflection” portion of the form the GAs completed assessment and the director’s evaluation. In other mapped generically onto the criteria Yancey words, these genres often resemble one another or enumerates for reflection—that is, GAs basically hearken to purposes that confuse the rhetors recorded, reviewed, articulated a nascent understanding, operating within them. and ostensibly learned something from the process As such, because each of these genres often that they would apply to future sessions. However, themselves draw on and/or resemble other genres, although they had produced discourse in these they further serve to complicate the participants’ reflections that conforms to the generic features of response(s) to their rhetorical situation(s). For the reflective genre, these reflections did not instance, the observation form draws on several necessarily foster the sorts of social action that secondary written genres—the checklist and notes reflective genres are intended to facilitate. In draw on and resemble both ethnographic field notes particular, the form did not seem to facilitate as well as criteria-based rubrics, and the “Observer constructive reflection if that term is defined as Overall Comments” section clearly resembles the understanding single sessions (or instances of genre of the end comment. In this case, the GAs practice) as part of a larger practice theorized. Nor did the operated within genres they did not feel they knew. form invite the sorts of critical rhetorical moves Given Devitt’s observation about genre repertoires necessary for substantive revision of that and writers drawing on inappropriate genres in practitioner’s guiding assumptions. In short, melding unfamiliar rhetorical situations, it seems that the GAs evaluation and reflective observation was fraught may have drawn on antecedent genres that resembled because they were at cross-purposes: to critically the form and the situation they found themselves in, reassess the basis of one’s practice can be namely that of the criterion-based rubrics and the substantively at odds with justifying one’s competence teacher end comment. to one’s supervisor or community of practice. The Consequently, the observation comments written observation form and process invited observers to by the observers mostly resembled the very rigid form look at the consulting session as a genre in a of the end comment that Smith describes and are thus prescriptive rather than descriptive sense, evaluating susceptible to Smith’s critique of that genre: “The whether or not it met certain generic criteria. And stability of the genre—the very feature that makes end though the form is ostensibly descriptive in some comments recognizable and, perhaps easier to write— sense in that it asks if a particular generic parameter may also reduce the educational effectiveness of the occurred in a session, it is very much prescriptive in comment” (266). Put another way, because the GAs its implicit genre pedagogy, listing features typical to Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 52   the genre of peer consulting and prompting center sessions—and observation reports—as genres. identification and classification according to those That is, I encourage them to look beyond typified features. Moreover, by asking GAs to rate themselves rhetorical features of these genres to look more according to these features, it reifies these features as closely at the social action these genres engender. As essential elements of a session. In this regard, the Devitt explains, “Genre awareness pedagogy treats form resembles less a means of promoting reflection genres as meaningful social actions, with formal and more a criteria-based analytical rubric. features as the visible traces of shared perceptions. Perhaps more troubling, in rating themselves Analyzing the contexts and features of a new genre according to the parameters, GAs subject themselves provides an inroad to understanding all genres” to a different form of panopticism then they might (“Genre Pedagogies” 152). In other words, rather otherwise through observation. Although Mattison than prescribing the sorts of generic features that has described the panoptic dimensions of peer often appear in a given session, I encourage our GAs observation and reflection, the form itself invites a to observe and understand the contexts and particular form of self-regulation that is at once perceptions that lead to those features; observers can confessional and normalizing. That is, it does not watch a session, identify the contexts and situations, merely make the GAs the monitors of their own note patterns in the features, and analyze what those behavior: the numerical component also asks them to patterns indicate about the situations (Devitt, Reiff, & normalize themselves against an imagined numerical Bawarshi 93-94). Such an approach, as Devitt asserts, standard. What’s more, as expressed by the GAs, “teaches metacognitive reflection and explicitly there is no knowledge on their parts regarding what discourages formulaic writing” (“Genre Pedagogies” actually constitutes a “normal” score. If they rate 153). These are exactly the sorts of skills necessary for themselves too highly, they may be seen as constructive reflection. overconfident or unwilling to reflect; too low and they Second, I have revised the journal assignment in are incriminating their performance. the practicum course to train consultants more Consequently, many of the GAs reported explicitly for the kind of reflective writing that meets “playing it safe.” Rather than incriminating themselves Yancey’s criteria for constructive reflection and for or each other, they chose sessions that conformed to the form they complete as part of the process. the dimensions on the form. They offered the token Whereas it used to be a more general reflective kinds of advice and reflection asked for in the generic journal, it is now a slightly more structured “Session conventions without actually engaging in a genuine Summary and Analysis Memo.” In it, each move is reconsideration of their prevailing theories about made explicit by subsections: “Record Practice,” practice. In fact, a few of them reported pursuing “Review Practice,” and “Understand and Learn from reflective practice outside the bounds of the peerPractice.” Each subsection defines the rhetorical task observation process, remarking that they had given through questions that prompt the sorts of thinking each other feedback “off the record.” That is, they necessary for constructive reflection. My hope is that wanted to help each other navigate what they felt to in addition to helping the GAs become more focused be the community’s expectations, but they also reflective practitioners in general, it will provide them wanted to make sure they avoided getting their peers a frame and an antecedent genre to draw on when “in trouble.” Still, most reported that they felt they completing the revised observation form. learned something from the process, though it was Third, I have also changed the forms that perhaps more surface-level than the process was facilitate the observation process (see Figure 2 in B). intended to mediate. In short, their ability to act as Because of the heuristic nature of genre analysis, reflective practitioners outpaced their ability to questions—rather than categories—now form the navigate the evaluative constraints informing the peer basis of our peer observation prompts. Like Van observation form. Slembrouk, I feel that questions will facilitate “more open-ended ‘observation’” than the checklist that had previously been used (Van Slembrouk). This revised Conclusion: Adapting Genre Pedagogy to form has been incorporated into the curriculum and Reflection and Observation structure of the required practicum to help prepare Because of this study, I have changed several GAs and consultants alike to be observed (see Figure things about the peer observation and evaluation 2 in Appendix B). practices at our center, and I would encourage other Fourth, I— along with some of the GAs who directors to consider them when crafting their own. help prepare other consultants for online sessions— First, I now work with our GAs to approach writing have begun to use a coding system from another Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 53   project for consultant training. This system asks something by watching other GAs and by receiving consultants to identify the sorts of comments they feedback from their peers: that they also become offer in online sessions (by type, mode, and focus). more aware of the work that genre does in shaping We have begun to extend this coding to other their practice, in shaping the way they see others’ endeavors in hopes that it will help them to regard practice, and in shaping their reflections on that their work more objectively and through different practice. I would encourage writing center directors to frames. This, in turn, might help consultants to better keep the findings of this study in mind when “review” practice, picking out patterns in the sorts of considering the incorporation of peer observation response. It may also have the benefit of enabling into evaluation practices, as well as to clearly define them to consider how the types, foci, and modes of the parameters and expectations of each. Further, a response they use facilitate the session in different more active genre-pedagogy approach can alert ways independently of reifying the features of the consultants to the rhetorical work not only of the genre of peer consulting. genres they review with writers, but the genres that Fifth and finally, we now separate peer circulate around them in writing center practice itself. observation from direct evaluation practices. Finally, I would advise other directors to consider Although not in the purview of this study, the which questions the practice of combining peer director’s evaluation was clearly the source of much of observation with reflection might answer and if those the anxiety the consultants have about the process. questions are appropriate for the sorts of evaluation While evaluation is still mandated by the Graduate or assessments they are conducting. I came to realize Student Union, we have tried to separate the two that far more than instructing me on the quality of the somewhat: observation is no longer the basis of the actual sessions, the peer-observation process instead evaluation but it is required for the evaluation to take alerted me to how my GAs were reflecting on those place. That is, although the GAs are still required to sessions and struggling to navigate a number of have a peer observe them and reflect on the session, genres surrounding their work. Accordingly, other that session is no longer what is evaluated. Rather, the directors might use methods similar to what I have director speaks to his experience seeing other sessions described here to examine how their practitioners the GA has facilitated as well as that GA’s articulate their growing knowledge of best practices performance in other writing center tasks over the and how they navigate the “meta-genres” around their course of a semester. Still, the observation and work in order to foster a more critical level of reflective process play a role in evaluation in that they reflection. can provide the director a concrete example of situations the director has perceived, thus giving Works Cited director and GA a shared ground for discussing the GA’s praxis. The director can also use the form to Babcock, Rebecca Day, and Terese Thonus. Researching speak to the GA’s fluency in reflection, helping them the Writing Center: Towards an Evidence-Based Practice. to become more critical practitioners. To return to Peter Lang, 2012. Comer’s discussion about the value of supervisory Bazerman, Charles. Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre visits in the context of WPA work, I would make a and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science. parallel claim regarding writing center work: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. “What I am suggesting is that supervisory class Comer, Denise K. “Bending the Gaze: Transparency, visits are a uniquely powerful mechanism for Reciprocity, and Supervisory Classroom Visits.” faculty and programmatic growth and that Pedagogy, vol. 11, no. 3, 2011, pp. 517-537. supervisors and faculty will be able to tap into Devitt, Amy. “Transferability and Genres.” Locations of the fuller potential of these visits if we reshape Composition. Eds. Christopher J. Keller and them as more broadly evaluative and formative, Christian R. Weisser. State University of New as reciprocal, explicit learning moments for York Press, 2007. 215-27. faculty members, supervisors, and the --- . “Genre Pedagogies.” A Guide to Composition program.” (Comer 533) Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate et al University Press, I would say that peer observation in the writing 2014. 146-162. center—informed by genre pedagogy—does just this. Devitt, Amy, Mary Jo Reiff, and Anis Bawarshi. Scenes In sum, I agree with Van Slembrouk’s claim that of Writing: Strategies for Composing with Genres. observation can play an integral role in reflection and Longman, 2004. in evaluation. My hope is that these observations can be more than an opportunity for GAs to learn Praxis: A Writing Center Journal • Vol 15, No 2 (2018) www.praxisuwc.com  


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 54   Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring. Longman, 2008. Hall, R. Mark. “Theory In/To Practice: Using Dialogic Reflection to Develop a Writing Center Community of Practice.” Writing Center Journal, vol. 31, no. 1, 2011, pp. 82-105. Harris, Muriel. “Diverse Research Methodologies at Work for Diverse Audiences: Shaping the Writing Center to the Institution.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Ed Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Heinemann, 1999. 1-17. Mattison, Michael. “Someone to Watch over Me: Reflection and Authority in the Writing Center.” Writing Center Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, 2007, pp. 2951. Miller, Carolyn. “Genre as Social Action” Quarterly Journal of Speech vol. 70, 1984, pp. 151-167. Ryan, Leigh, and Lisa Zimmerelli. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Bedford/St. Martins, 2016. Smith, Jane Bowman, and Kathleen Blake Yancey, eds. Self-Assessment and Development in Writing: A Collaborative Inquiry. Hampton Press, 2000. Smith, Summer. “The Genre of the End Comment: Conventions in Teacher Responses to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 48, no. 2, 1997, pp. 249-268. Thonus, Terese. “What are the Differences? Tutor Interactions with First- and Second-Language Writers.” Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 13, no. 3, 2004, pp. 227-242. Van Slembrouk, Jane. “Watch and Learn: Peer Evaluation and Tutoring Pedagogy.” Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2010. Yancey, Kathleen. Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Utah State University Press, 1998. ---. “Seeing Practice Through Their Eyes: Reflection as Teacher.” Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation. Eds. Paula Gillespie, Alice Gillam, Lady Falls Brown, and Byron Stay. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. 189-201.

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Appendix A

CMU Writing Center Graduate Assistant Observation Form This form is meant to serve as a simple observation tool (and for Graduate Assistants as the basis for evaluation required each semester). After completing the form, the observer gives it to the consultant being observed with a brief discussion of any activities or questions. *The consultant being observed reviews the observers’ notes, completes the self-assessment score, writes a short reflection on the back, and give s a copy of the completed form to the Director. The Director will add comments, and the Director and consultant will meet briefly to review , discuss any follow-up., and sign the form. A copy of the form will be kept in the consultant’s Writing Center file; for graduate assistants a signed copy will be given to the English Department as well.

Consultant Observed: ______________________________________

Date & Time:_________________ WC Site: __________________

Consultant Doing Observation: Context for the observation (e.g., appointment or walk-in, class, setting/seating, etc.) 1. At the start of the session, the consultant: a) Greeted student: Yes ___ No___ b) Asked about previous visit Yes___ No___ c) Provided overview of session/process: Yes___ No___ d) Explained reading strategy Yes___ No ___ e) Consultant read: Yes___ No ___ f) Writer read: Yes ___ No___ 2. Helped writer actively engage in the learning process: a) Asked relevant and probing questions to gauge writer’s understanding: Yes___ No___ b) Helped writer understand terminology and other factual knowledge Yes___ No ___ c) Helped writer understand fundamental principles, concepts, and theories Yes ___ No___ 3. Provided writer with opportunities to apply learning Yes ___ No ___ a) Used the available technology and resources effectively: Yes ___ No __ b) Consultant wrote during session: Yes ___ No___ c) Writer wrote during session Yes ___ No ___ 4. Provided constructive feedback and clarified misunderstandings: Yes ___ No ___

Examples/notes

Example/notes

Example/notes

Example/notes

5. Used flexible strategies and examples to answer questions and help writer understand: Yes ___ No ___

Example/notes

6. Demonstrated how to perform specific tasks or skills: Yes ___ No ___ 7. Provided appropriate type and amount of information: Yes ___ No ___

Example/notes

8. Listened carefully to writer:

Example/notes:

Yes ___ No ___

Example/notes

9. Projected enthusiasm for the writer and topic: Example/notes: Yes ___ No ___ 10. Used effective praise

Yes___ No___

11. Used humor appropriately:

Yes ___ No ___ Example/notes:

12.. Spoke clearly and audibly:

Yes ___ No ___ Example/notes:

13. Used movements, body language, and eye contact effectively : Yes ___ No ___

Example/notes:

Example/notes:

14. At Close: a) Summarized main points: Yes ___ No ___ Example/notes: b) Discussed plan for re-writing Yes___ No____ c) Included ending greeting Yes___ No____

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*Self-Assess Rating: 1 - 4 (=high)


Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 56  

Observer: Overall Comments:

Consultant comments and reflection, regarding session, notes, and the self-assessment rating (with 4 = very effective ; 1 = not very effective; NA = not applicable)

Director: Follow-up comments and/or action based on discussion with director

Signature, Director:

_______________

________________________

Signature, Consultant: ___________________________________ By signing, the consultant acknowledges that he/she has read the comments.

Date:

Date:

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CMU Writing Center Consultant Observation Form This form is meant to serve as an observation and reflection tool for the professional development of Writing Center Staff. Before beginning an observation, ask the student writer for his or her permission, explaining that student names are not included in the observation and that the goal of the observation is to help consultants think about best practices by being observed and observing other consultants. Consultant Observed:

Date & Time:______________ WC Site: __________________

Consultant Doing Observation:________________________________________

When observing a session, describe the session with as much detail as possible. Some areas to consider are: resources (paper, writing, typing, computers, texts) setting, body language (placement, posture, reactions) silence/talking content (what was the session about?) Context for the observation (e.g., appointment or walk-in, class, setting/seating, etc.) At the start of the session, The Consultant

The Writer

In the middle of the session, The Consultant

The Writer

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At the End of the session, The Consultant

The Writer

Session Observer: What patterns emerged in the session above that you found interesting? What did the consultant do that struck you as particularly effective or interesting? What did you learn and/or emulate in your sessions? What would you suggest to the consultant?

At the end of the session, consultants can take a few minutes to share, discuss, and ask questions. Be sure to do this away from on-going sessions. Session Consultant: Reviewing what you did this session, did anything surprise you? What informed some of your decisions? How do you feel those decisions connect to best practice as described, for example, in the BGWT, MiWCA, staff meetings, the Policy book, etc.? Reviewing the Observer’s notes, what might you do differently or capitalize on in future sessions? Why?

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Peer Observation, Reflection, and Evaluation Practices in the Writing Center • 59  

Appendix B Figure 1.

Figure 2.

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Praxis: A Writing Center Journal

CALL FOR PAPERS: RACE & THE WRITING CENTER For a special Spring 2019 issue, Praxis: A Writing Center Journal welcomes submissions related to the theme of “Race & the Writing Center.” The complexities of serving traditionally under-served students and providing equal access to education have been staples of writing center scholarship and mission statements for decades. Yet the challenge to implement those mission statements remains, and, Lori Salem’s 2016 quantitative study “Decisions. . . Decisions. . . Who chooses to use the Writing Center?” urges all practitioners, revisiting and rethinking the pedagogy and practices we offer to minority and underserved students is essential. The time to focus our attention on the way matters of race and racial justice affect our work in the center has never been more ripe. For this issue, the editors of Praxis seek submissions that consider the presence and role of race in writing centers. We are interested in the ways writing centers serve as both support centers and as primary contact points for questions of race, language, equality, and justice in education. We are interested in best practices, pedagogy, and new research. Yet, we are also interested in challenges that dedicated practitioners have faced in attempting to serve or advocate for students and colleagues when working with matters of race or racial justice. Submissions might explore, but are not limited to, the following topics: · In which ways do issues of race currently affect writing center work? · What is the role of writing centers in advocating for racial justice? · Which practices can writing centers adopt to better address issues of race? · How might writing centers administrators develop training for consultants and staff that prepare them to acknowledge issues of race and support efforts towards racial justice? · Which challenges do writing center administrators, staff, and consultants face as advocates for racial justice? · How can writing centers make their services and spaces more welcoming and accessible to minority and traditionally under-served students? · How can writing center practitioners navigate questions of dialect, vernacular, language acquisition, code-switching and code-meshing, while respecting students’ voices and “Right to Their Own Language”? This issue also seeks submissions for a special section on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving institutions entitled “Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here.” Guest editors Dr. Mick Howard of Langston University and Dr. Karen Keaton Jackson of North Carolina Central University elaborate: Much of the past and current discourse of race in the writing center is framed in terms of writing center professionals and tutors creating strategies that will work best with the Other. Those Others – students of color – are viewed as outside of the norm, thus requiring alternative approaches from those expressed in mainstream literature about the traditional or “regular” student. What we find most ironic about all of these prior discussions is the absence of historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and other minority serving institutions (MSIs) including Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) from the conversation. While HBCUs make up only 2-3% of all U.S. colleges and universities, ‘26% of the black recipients of doctoral degrees [in science and engineering] between the years 2002 and 2011 were alums of HBCUs, ie 2435 out of 9202’ (Tech-Levers/HBCU-levers.blogspot.com). Similarly, in the April 2010 MLA Report entitled ‘Data on Humanities Doctorate Recipients and Faculty Members by


Race and Ethnicity,’ statistics showed that from 1997-2006, 3 of the top 5 institutions granting bachelor’s degrees to those African Americans who went on to earn PhDs in the Humanities are in fact HBCUs, topping Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Georgetown, and Harvard. In this special issue of Praxis, we intend to focus on HBCUs and other MSIs not as the addon or ‘Plus One’ in writing center discourse, but ‘The One’ with the expertise and knowledge. For if we really think about it, why would those institutions that educate thousands of diverse students each year not be involved in or at the forefront of conversations about race and writing centers? What can scholars at PWIs with less racially diverse student populations learn from those of us at MSIs who work with large numbers of diverse students (in terms of race, college preparation, and learning styles)? How might the approach or conversation change in cases when both the writing center professional and the student are the Other? The statistics above show that MSIs indeed are doing something right, which means our larger field is at a loss if scholars at all institution types are not aware of our expertise in working with students of color. We invite writing center colleagues from HBCUs, TCUs, and other MSIs to submit articles that connect to the research questions listed above or that give voice to any issue relevant to writing center theory or pedagogy and students color. We have waited long enough to give voice to our unique experiences, and finally, the wait is over.” For this issue, recommended article length is 3000 to 4000 words for focus articles; the editors will also consider shorter pieces as columns, as well as book reviews. Articles should conform to MLA style. Please submit articles to praxisuwc@gmail.com. For further information about submitting an article, the journal’s blind peer-review process, or to contact the managing editors, please direct emails to the same address. The deadline for consideration in this special issue is August 15, 2018.

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