This term I became acquainted with the Reading Writing Center at Florida State University. First visiting the RWC in a “scavenger hunt” assignment, I became more and more familiar with the center as the semester progressed. I first made an appointment at the RWC because it was required and to work with a tutor on the first writing assignment for the summer, the “Literacy Narrative.” My tutor was professional and attentive. My narrative was in an early form, one in which I didn’t have much investment. This was reflected in the nature of the tenor of the session—academic, dry, deliberate and restrained involvement. Some of the comments from my tutor, especially what she found important and not important, gave me some insight into the direction I wanted to take with the piece.
Then I observed two sessions with a different tutor. This was helpful because I could actually see what takes place in the RWC. My tutor worked with an ELL student on some very specific word/sentence focused feedback. While this session could have degraded to a mere proofreading session on the part of the tutor, she was skilled in involving the tutee so that there was a collaborative and skill building effort obvious to all parties involved. The tutor had excellent timing and signaled the end of the session was near so that it could end on time—an element I had not previously considered. The second session I observed began with the tutor asking the tutee questions about the assignment and their goals for the session. Most of the session was used in the development of an outline for a new draft of the paper, one built somewhat collaboratively made more effective through the skill in which the tutor brainstormed and outlined. I thought it was rather directive, compared to the discussions we had in class earlier, but the student was grateful for the help and the tutor certainly never took over. It seemed the student goals were met.
In the next week, I “co-tutored” a session. In this session the tutor largely observed and let me take the lead on the session. I worked with a student who needed help with sentence structure and syntax. We read the paper out loud and tried various strategies and arrangements of words and sentences. In retrospect, the fact that I was able to take the lead was important because in my final visit to the RWC in which I was supposed to tutor on my own, no one was scheduled with me or walked in, so I was not able to tutor. I wasn’t able to observe much either. It was a slow day in the RWC.
Beside engagement with the RWC, I also read several required texts. The earliest of these described the history and politics of the creation of writing centers throughout the nation and at FSU. I found this helpful as it gave me context and a landscape to understand the philosophy and purpose of the RWC. In a way, these centers are a democratization of a system that has not been historically democratic. At the same time, it works within a hierarchical system that still functions in largely the same way, a function of exclusivity, ranking, and competition.
Different models for writing centers were also elucidated in the second week of readings. While no model is perfect, I found the idea that the RWC exists to create a stand-in audience for students the most useful way to think about it—one that focuses on developing students as writers, readers, and thinkers, not merely a “fix-it shop.” This was affirmed in the next week readings where we discussed the idea of directive v. non-directive approaches to the writing center.
A study in genre was helpful, as well. Genre is a lens that students can use to be able to adapt to multiple modes, forms, and requirements for writing. Equipping tutees with the ability to analyze genre allows them to transfer what they have learned in one genre to another, or to realize that some transfer is not appropriate or possible. As a writer, I work in several genres, so I may not be as deliberate in my approaches to new writing tasks. This focus on genre reminded me that I may need to reinforce the concept of genre as they may or may not be aware that they are working or are required to work in several genres.
We also read texts on possible problem areas within the RWC. Each student gave a short presentation on possible issues or pitfalls and created handouts for the presentations. These handouts could be very useful to a tutor working in the RWC or a TA approaching required student writing conferences. Perhaps as part of these problem areas, or perhaps only adjacently, we addressed three student groups—athletes, graduate students, and ELL students. Perhaps the most energy was exerted on working with athletes in which the class to a “field trip” to the stadium and headquarters of the student athletes. No such visit was paid to the department for any other student group. A guest-speaker delivered a presentation on working with ELL students, though much of what was presented seemed to either have already been addressed or to be somewhat opposed to the non-directive philosophy that was discussed earlier.
The readings in the last week pointed toward the future of composition. I found these readings interesting and engaging. The increase in access to all types of media is changing the way many, once stable, systems are functioning. It is important to remember that the world I was educated in is not the world my students will face. Equipping them with skills and strategies over models and knowledge will serve them in this new era.
Throughout the course I sensed a tension between what is needed for students as writers and the system in which this assistance is offered. Academia seems to create an emphasis on performance and evaluation, while contemporary writing seems to emphasize process and reflection. The RWC does not seem to stand firmly in either of these. Aware that students have their own goals but holding to the goals of a writer, tutors are given the task of navigating this rock and a hard place.
Because of this tension, and my chosen career as a poet, I have a philosophy that takes into account student goals and the “necessity” of certain established “standards” for writing, but at heart, largely ignores it, or subverts it. My own experience as a writer values a focus on discovery for the writer, non-directive feedback that leaves the writer as the executer of their own work, and an organic approach to genre and form—one in which the writer is empowered to choose these instead of being assigned them. While I won’t be working in the RWC in the fall, I plan to use the knowledge I’ve gained and the philosophy I have revised in the classroom and in my writing conferences. It is important to me that I do not become implicit in a system that pushes students to emulate the tradition of academia, but instead to empower them to deconstruct the tradition, and their own assumptions, through a writing that seeks to understand, expand, and democratize. These empowered students will, hopefully, empower others instead of using their writing as a means of demeaning other perspectives, devaluing non-traditional voices, or ghettoizing the “other.”