Prior to attending UW-Madison, I tutored at the Agnes Scott College Center for Writing and Speaking. At Agnes, tutors generally read and annotated drafts of the paper quietly while the student read to herself, got a cup of tea, or relaxed in the center. When I moved to UW-Madison, one of the biggest changes in practice that I adapted to was asking students to read drafts out loud. It felt like such a big question to ask, especially for students new to the Writing Center! As a practice I had never used, having the student read aloud also felt strange to me. But reading aloud also externalized the piece, gave the writer a fresh perspective, and fit well with the constraints of our business-like space of separated cubicles. Ever since that shift I have had a lot of questions about this practice. How does reading out loud—or not reading out loud—shape the space of the writing center, student experiences of tutorials, and the learning that happens in our sessions?
Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison writing her dissertation on how serial comics form communities of authors and readers. She has worked at the Writing Center since Fall of 2011 and in email instruction for two semesters.
Whenever a writing center instructor and a writer sit down for a session, a negotiation of power takes place. Sometimes, the writer begins by seeing the instructor as a storehouse of information, and thus, believes the instructor is in charge of the session. One of the important things to me as an instructor is to help the student gain confidence in his or her own writing skills, so that I become just a partner in the writing process, helping along the way. For a long time, I struggled with how to create and maintain this partner relationship when a student asked for proofreading or grammar instruction. This is the story of that exploration, which ends with my current approach to addressing grammatical concerns in email instruction. I would love to hear in the comments about other instructors’ experiences with grammar instruction and the negotiation of power in tutorials where you have discussed grammar.