By Stephanie Larson
Stephanie Larson is beginning her third year as a Writing Center tutor at UW-Madison, where she has served as a member of the Writing Center Outreach team since fall 2015 and as the co-coordinator for Outreach during summer 2016. She is also the senior assistant director of the English 100 program and a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric.
In Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, Jackie Grutsch McKinney makes the argument that writing centers operate under a “grand narrative” that narrowly equates writing center work solely to one-to-one tutoring. “[W]riting center work,” writes Grutsch McKinney, “we’re told, is about tutoring students—and a particular breed of tutoring that takes place in one-to-one sessions of a designated length and of a particular pedagogy that is more about conversations than answers” (58). In particular, outreach instruction demonstrates a useful case study of pedagogy operating outside of the center that doesn’t cleanly fit into the grand narrative Grutsch McKinney sketches. In this shift to outreach instruction, not only does the narrative of one-to-one tutoring dispel, answers and conversations play a different role than they do in tutoring sessions. That is, outreach instructors must cultivate flexibility in our conversations because instructors outside the center seeking our help are looking for answers—answers about teaching writing that will help their students demonstrate success in their own courses. In an interview with former UW-Madison Writing Center instructor Chris Earle, Grutsch McKinney hopefully suggests that it might be possible to hold this “grand narrative” at “an arm’s length,” and in this blog post, I outline how writing center pedagogy changes in the context of outreach instruction. Outreach instructors must adapt, adjust, and alter their approaches based on the rhetorical situation of the moment to meet the needs of instructors and their students.
First, a bit of background about outreach at UW-Madison: The outreach team at UW-Madison is currently coordinated by one lead TA and staffed by eight writing center tutors who, much like the work of a WAC coordinator, also provide writing instruction and consultation to faculty, TAs, and instructional staff primarily part of the UW-Madison community but also to those outside of the university. The UW-Madison Writing Center offers a range of outreach services from brief introductions to the writing center, to co-teaches on brief units of writing, to stand-alone instruction on writing, to even new student orientations, and more. My outreach experiences have introduced me to a wide variety of students writing in diverse genres—from high school students at the Middleton Public Library seeking strategies for writing strong personal statements for college application essays, to international and U.S. undergraduate students studying through the UW-Madison Integrated Biological Sciences-Summer Research Program pursuing design approaches to poster presentations, to even aspiring writing center tutors from Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee, WI wanting tools for effective pedagogy. Among many others, these experiences continue to stretch what I think writing center pedagogy looks like. (more…)