A Summer in Europe: Writing Center Work in Poland and Beyond
Lance Gibson, UofL Sophomore
Lance Gibson is a UofL sophomore majoring in English and Mathematics with a minor in Linguistics. Lance has visited the University Writing Center as a writer and, was interested enough in Writing Center theory and practice to talk with a number of us here about how he might pursue his interests. We were impressed with his passion for Writing Center work and helped connect him with the director of the English Writing Improvement Center at the University of Lodz in Poland. Lance was awarded an Etscorn International Summer Research Award that allowed him to work in Lodz and Germany for six weeks this past summer. We asked Lance to write about his experiences for our blog.
While en route to my first professional academic conference in Łόdź (/Woo-dj/), Poland, a city I couldn’t even pronounce, to learn about and present on writing center work that I frankly thought was above my pay grade, I couldn’t help but feel a little trepidation. After nearly 24 hours of traveling and narrowly escaping expulsion from a train during my first twenty minutes in Łόdź, I can’t say the initial tone was set very high.
Some months previous I had explored the option of going to Poland to teach in the
University of Lodz’s English Writing Improvement Center (ERIC) as a summer educational experience. It was by complete luck that the European Writing Center Association (EWCA) conference just so happened to be taking place while I was there; I was even invited to submit a proposal. That was serendipity at its finest. But when I was faced with the daunting prospect of trying to meaningfully add to the conversation of writing professionals, it was intimidating. Yet I discovered that both the conference and Poland exceeded my initial expectations.
Poland has a unique and eclectic sense of culture. Having only been in the European Union since 2004, Poland has modernized in an extremely short period of time. This is shown in its architecture. While the Lodz city center shows Poland’s modern facets, the outskirts are traditional reflection of Poland’s former years under Soviet control. This juxtaposition of old and new became a major theme of my learning experience in both cultural and literary contexts.
When the EWCA conference rolled around, I found that it was an extremely accessible and easy way to get plugged into the important academic discussions on the practice of peer tutoring and writing pedagogy. All of this was put into context by interacting with a group of passionate and diverse individuals from Germany to China to Serbia. The very same juxtaposition of old and new practices in peer tutoring and writing pedagogy were seen at the conference, providing a perfect context for discussion on our overarching, shared goal of how to most effectively develop successful writers in schools, businesses, and the community.
At the core of this discussion were the myriad strategies writing centers from around the world use to address this goal. While some writing centers seek to develop foreign language proficiency in writing, others seek to negotiate mandatory writing courses to be offered in their universities, and others still, seek to empower tutors to make a difference among their peers.
One of the key differences in the practice of writing pedagogy is making the distinction between writing centers as either a place to learn writing vs. a space to practice writing. While many centers in the U.S. are used as a place to learn to write where students schedule appointments in advance to meet with a tutor, locations like the ERIC and the Vidadrina Schreibzentrum (German for writing center) in Frankfurt Oder, Germany are using an older drop-in style of tutoring. This drop-in style focuses more on making the writing center a comfortable space to write where tutors are available as needed to answer a question or give feedback.
When we compare these European favored to styles to the practice of writing pedagogy in the U.S., we can see a few distinctions. Overall, writing centers in the U.S. are extremely popular and may sometimes serve undergraduate and graduate populations of thousands of students, whereas writing centers in Europe have less traffic, and therefore, focus on taking a more personal approach. For instance, while less than forty students per year use the ERIC, those same forty students are likely to work very closely with the ERIC on projects like theses and term papers. Is one method more effective than the other?
That’s a method of some intense debate. I believe that each writing center develops a system that accommodates the goals and needs of its users in order to best develop writing both inside the university and out in the community as well.
My overall experience from the EWCA conference is that there are a multitude of ways to approach writing pedagogy and peer tutoring. We, as writers and scholars, can best improve upon both our own personal writing and developing the writing of others by having an honest and open dialogue about these diverse methods, tweaking things in our own writing centers and styles of tutoring based on these practices, constantly find ways that both do and don’t work for us. This intellectual exchange is at the heart of scholarship and the pursuit of the art of successful writing. Ultimately, I hope to continue this discussion both at home and abroad, studying how we change individuals and communities through the powerful force of writing.