The 21st Century Writing Center: Pedagogy & Philosophy
1.1 The Writing Center: Philosophy & Mission
Winona State University's Writing Center, located at the 3rd floor of Minné Hall, offers WSU students free, individualized instruction in all aspects of writing. The center is staffed primarily by graduate assistants in English training in composition.
Funded, staffed, and maintained primarily by WSU's English Department, the Writing Center wishes to promote literacy in every aspect of academic and cultural life. We hope to promote the use of academic writing-in all disciplines-as a tool for learning, communication, self-expression, and critical thinking. To this end, we wish to work closely with students, faculty, and administrators to help students become capable, successful writers.
The Writing Center typically opens the second week of classes each semester and stays open until the last class day of the term. While daily center hours may vary from semester to semester, tutors are usually available between 9am and 7pm. each class day except Friday. An appointment sign-up sheet is posted on the door each semester.
Students may visit us once, a few times, or on a regular basis. They may seek help on their own or appear on the recommendation of a teacher. Students may drop in for help with their specific assignments-a perfectly legitimate use of our services-yet they should realize that Writing Center tutors will not proofread and "correct" their final copy. The responsibility for the final product remains that of the student writer.
Rather than doing students' work for them, our tutors help students respond to rhetorical situations. Tutors discuss topics with writers, offer feedback on developing drafts of papers, suggest writing strategies, diagnose writing problems, ask questions, review missing or misunderstood information, listen to writers, and help them gain perspective on their writing.
Generally, student writers' individual needs are the focus of our tutorials. Students are encouraged to set the agenda by articulating their own individual writing tasks, dilemmas, and questions. Some may study particular writing "problems" or make use of our handbooks and exercises in mechanics and grammar, but most come to us with questions about a specific assignment. In addition to help with essays and term papers, our staff also provides help with résumés, job applications, letters, pamphlets, and any other writing task with which students are involved.
Other services we provide include assisting students in first-year and fundamental writing courses, working with non-native speakers, and helping students prepare for the Education Department's writing clearance examination.
1.2 The Writing Center Director
The Writing Center Director is a full-time English Department faculty member who receives release time for assuming such duties. The Director, a member of the Composition Committee who is voted to the position by the department, is responsible for the overseeing of Writing Center tutors (including orientation, training, meetings, etc.); for the managing of the Writing Center (including scheduling, promotion, maintenance, and supervision); for acting as a liaison between the Writing Center and the English Department (including assisting in the solicitation, selection, and supervision of GAs who tutor in the center); and for acting as a liaison between the Writing Center and the University.
1.3 Writing Center Procedures & Tutor Responsibilities
Since the Writing Center offers individualized instruction in all aspects of writing, its mission, essentially, is to promote the use of academic writing as a tool for learning, communication, self-expression, and critical thinking. While the Writing Center does offer some remediation services (to students of English 099 who fail an exit examination, and to Education students who need preparation for a clearance test), the Writing Center staff should be prepared to represent the center as an interdisciplinary service for student writers.
- Hours The center opens the second week of each semester and stays open until the last class day of the term. The center is closed during final exams. Daily center hours vary from semester to semester depending on the availability of qualified tutors, but tutors are usually on staff from about 9 to 7. Graduate assistant tutors will be expected to work 10-15 hours a week (those graduate assistants who are concurrently teaching will be expected to work 5-8 hours a week); undergraduate interns' hours vary according to the demands of their individual internships. The schedules of tutors will be determined during the first week of each term, after academic schedules have been established.
- Special Sessions Writing Center GAs sometimes sponsor special sessions and/or workshops. Past special sessions have been geared towards student writers and have addressed concerns of mechanics, grammar, and documentation; future sessions, while they may certainly address those issues, may at the same time attempt to establish a more interdisciplinary understanding of academic writing and may also involve or address WSU faculty.
- The Writing Labyrinth The Writing Labyrinth is a regular publication of the Writing Center which addresses concerns of composition theory and practice, tutoring, and writing-across-the-curriculum for the university community. The Labyrinth is usually published and edited by a GA for credit; other GAs are expected to make regular contributions.
- Classroom Visits Writing Center staff members often make brief visits to WSU classrooms to distribute brochures, describe services, promote awareness, and encourage use of the center. Typically, such visits are to introductory courses, taking place early in the semester, and they offer students the opportunity to see that Writing Center staffers are "real people" whose only motivation is helping students become more capable writers.
- Record-Keeping One of the most important aspects of the tutor's job is keeping accurate records of the Writing Center activities. While this work may seem to take time away from the job of tutoring itself, consistent record-keeping is imperative, since without such records the Writing Center will have difficulty justifying its existence or evaluating its performance. Tutors in the Writing center keep four kinds of records:
1. Individual Student Records. Ask students who are visiting the center for the first time to complete a "Student Information Sheet." When you are finished with the session, make a brief notation on the back of the form concerning the subject of the tutorial, the date, and your initials. These forms should be left in the work-study "in-box" at the end of the session; the work-study assistant will enter the records in a database and file the paper copies for future reference. Students who have already visited the center this academic year will have their records on file. For them, you need only complete the appropriate entry on the back of the form.
- Your description of the session is important. It lets the director know the content of the sessions, and it helps other tutors quickly assess what a returning student has focused on or accomplished. Your description need not be polished or elaborate, but it should be indicative of the session's content.
2. Reports to Instructor. If a student or instructor has requested (usually, on the front of the "Student Information Sheet") that the instructor be notified, complete a "Report to Instructor" form, and leave it in the work-study in-box.
- Occasionally, an uninformed instructor or student may request (or "require") that you "sign off" on a student's paper. In general, these folks are hoping for a guarantee that the paper is proofread and edited. Don't. Instead, simply fill out a "report to instructor" form and describe the work done in the session.
3. Weekly Appointment Sheets. A "Weekly Appointment Sign-up Form" should be put on the door on Monday of each week. Students can sign up when the center is busy or closed. Students who have appointments will be given priority over drop-in students. Please file these appointment sheets at the end of each week.
4. Student Evaluations of the Center. Please ask students if they wish to fill out a "Student Evaluation of the Center" form after the session. (If students are in a hurry, ask them to take a form along and drop it off later.) The forms should be collected and filed daily. They also, of course, should be read.
1.4 Writing Center Materials & Resources
The Writing Center keeps a wide variety of materials for use by and with student writers, from textbooks and handbooks to exercise sheets, a library of composition works, computer programs, and a World Wide Web site.
- Shelf Texts
The open shelves in the center hold a number of recent composition texts, skills workbooks, grammar handbooks, and programmed texts. Tutors should familiarize themselves with these materials so that they are able to look up answers to grammatical or usage questions or recommend exercises or reference materials to students. There are multiple copies of several of the texts. The center also houses a number of general reference works from the MLA Style Handbook to a large thesaurus. Students may use any of these books in the center; however, they may not be checked out.
We keep a copy of Diana Hacker's Bedford Handbook for Writers on the main table at all times. Tutors should be familiar with its contents, and they should be ready to model for their students ways of using the handbook. (Surprisingly, many students have little or no idea how to make use of such a resource.)
- Exercise Sheets and Handouts
The center has a number of exercise sheets and mechanics handouts that students can use and take with them when they leave the center. Please monitor the usage of these sheets, and when a useful handout is running low, ask the office assistant to make more copies. Center tutors should also consider constructing such short handouts and exercises. If you have a useful exercise or would like to rework one of those already in the center, please contribute. We are always in the process of revising and devising materials. Your contribution is welcome and needed.
- The Writing Center Library
In addition to the general reference works on the open shelves that are available to all students, the Writing Center maintains a specialized library on texts related to composition and language learning. These texts are for the use of center tutors, graduate students, and faculty only. They may be checked out; a sign-out notebook is kept inside the cabinet. Since the texts are often used by graduate classes, they should not be checked out for extended periods of time.
- Computer Programs
We keep a few computer programs that might be useful with some students and/or tasks. Among them are a résumé-writing program, invention and usage drill programs, and online handbooks. Our computer also features fully networked access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, as well as word-processing, presentation, and other software programs. While it is reserved for Writing Center use, it can certainly be used by graduate students for individual projects.
- The Writing Center Web
For students, the Writing Center Web provides links to Internet search engines, links to electronic journals and periodicals, handouts on writing, links to writing reference works, and e-mail tutoring. And for faculty, there are links to resources for writing across the curriculum, information on using our services, and an e-mail "hotline" for assistance designing or assessing writing projects.
Mon.-Thurs: 9am – 7pm
Friday: 9am – 2pm