UNCG’s University Writing Center Philosophy
The mission of our Writing Center is to connect writers with readers. This helps to make good writers better writers. It also encourages writers to develop an awareness about themselves that will help them after they leave the Writing Center. To support this philosophy, our center practices a collaborative approach to sessions, where students and consultants engage in one-on-one conversations about writing—conversations that center on shared knowledge and expertise, as opposed to hierarchical instruction that treats writing center sessions as remediation. Understanding our center as a place where collaboration and shared knowledge guide our practices supports a view of writing center work that grants both students and consultants authority, rather than consultants alone, which is critical. If we are truly to help students become better writers over time, they must be in control of that process and participate actively in their writing center sessions.
Here are some practices that support our Center’s philosophy:
- Writers and consultants sit next to each other rather than across the desk.
- Writers are the only ones writing on their papers, not us. This allows students to retain ownership of their writing.
- Consultants ask writers engaging, introductory questions such as “What are you working on today?” This dialogue helps writers recognize and actively share where they are at in their writing process.
- Consultants will give writers their undivided attention, using eye contact, body language, tone of voice, and conversation that reflect genuine interest in them and their writing.
- Consultants will find out logistics from writers first: when is the paper due, have they received a grade / instructor feedback, and what the specific assignment is.
- Consultants will ask writers to explain as much as they can about the assignment and their attitudes toward it, their writing process, and their own thinking about the writing before we even read the paper. This will allow writers to set their own terms for how the sessions will go, and it will allow consultants and writers to set an agenda together.
- We will always read writers’ work out loud. First, this approach helps people “hear” their writing so that, by the time the paper is read, writers might already have a sense of what they want to work on. Second, this requires all parties to participate collectively.
- After the paper is read, consultants will ask writers how they feel about the writing they heard, and the answers and and reactions will determine the starting point of the conversation. Consultants will respond to papers in relation to what students describe as their intentions or concerns. The purpose is not to evaluate but to describe reactions as an attentive reader. We function to provide direct, honest feedback, not evaluation (e.g., “This part of the paper is really clear to me, and I like your phrasing. This part, though, confuses because I expected…” or “Okay, as a reader, I understand that you want to persuade people to vote, but this part talks about the inconsequentiality of voting. How are these related?”).
- The consultant and the writer will focus on a set of issues (constructed by writers and consultants together through dialogue), rather than every issue that is present in the paper. First, the latter is not possible. Second, it isn’t the mission of the writing center for students to leave with a PERFECT paper. As Stephen North says, our main goal is to help the writers, not just the writing.
- Consultants will provide instruction as needed, talk with writers about strategies they might try, or suggest options they may want to consider. However, consultants will leave the decision-making and the actual writing up to writers.
- We will end sessions by having writers articulate what they are going to do with their paper once they leave the Center. That way, they have a sense of what to do next.
Of course, these are not the only practices that support a collaborative approach to writing center sessions. Just remember: we connect writers with readers and provide a forum for productive conversation that helps people better understand themselves as writers.