Dialogue, Trust, and Taking Our Time: The Values that Shape Our Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

On the Thursday before fall classes begin we always have our our annual orientation and staff meeting for the University Writing Center. Our staff is comprised primarily of graduate student teaching assistants, most of whom are new to our Writing Center and to UofL. There is a lot that our new consultants have to learn that day, from how to use our online scheduling system to the location of the coffee maker and microwave. The best part of the day, however, is when we get past the logistical details of writing center life

Staff copy 1
University Writing Center Staff, 2019-20

and can move on to talk about how we approach working with writers. We sit down after lunch and begin the crucial conversations about how to help students, faculty, and staff become stronger, more confident writers. The conversations that we start at orientation will continue throughout the fall in the Writing Center Theory and Practice Course they will take with me, as well as in the daily, informal conversations in our offices.

Learning how to teach writing effectively is an never-ending process, as 30 years in the classroom and writing centers have taught me. The new consultants in our University Writing Center will learn a great deal this year about writing pedagogy, from reading writing center scholarship and from reflecting on their own practices.  about how to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain a stronger sense of confidence and agency in their writing. They all come to the University Writing Center staff with a broad range of experiences as writers and professionally that will serve them well in their work. What is also clear from our first conversations at orientation is that, though their experiences and interests are diverse, they all understand and share our core goals and values in working with writers from across the university community.

Learning Through Dialogue

One goal of any writing center consultation is to help a writer to rethink, and revise, a draft through a constructive dialogue that enables the writer to make the decisions about possible revisions. In order to accomplish this, both the writer and the consultant must be willing to listen carefully to each other and consider other perspectives and suggestions. As we always explain, we our not an editing service, but a place were writers and consultants work collaboratively to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain confidence in their writing. improve. Our approach to teaching writing emphasizes this dialogic exchange of ideas in which consultants need to be able to listen to what writers say during an appointment and offer individualized responses and suggestions. Both the consultant and the writer need to respond to each other honestly and respectfully. We also approach teaching writing from the perspective that we are always open to learning from the writer and the draft, even as we have things to teach in return. In this way we model a stance of response and teaching that is more collaborative and less hierarchical.

Trust and Creativity

In such an environment of trust, writers can feel safe in testing ideas without worrying that the failure of an idea will mean a failing grade. Good writers need to be able to try new approaches, make mistakes, and try again. We pride ourselves as a space in which writers can get honest, constructive responses to their work without worrying about the inherent limitations and risks that grading brings. By focusing on learning, not grading, we offer spaces where writers can experiment and foster habits of creativity. We also remember that students may have previous experiences that make them reluctant to risk failure, and we reassure them that we can try different approaches until we find one that works.

Taking Our Time

What’s more, one of the central benefits and values of the University Writing Center is that we are not bound by the limits of a single semester. We have the opportunity to view our teaching through long timelines, in which writers can come in multiple times, not just during a semester, but over their academic careers. Being able to take the long view allows us to approach learning as an ongoing, always recursive, process. We can emphasize that learning to write is an ongoing process for all of us. Writing well is not an inherent talent, but an achievable ability. We do our best to convey to writers that achieving their goals may be a challenge and require hard work, but that we have confidence in the their abilities to meet the challenge.

It’s exciting for me to hear the enthusiasm and imagination the new consultants bring to their work. In the year ahead these consultants will provide more than 5,500 consultations for UofL writers, grounded in these core values, making an important and substantial contribution to the University community.

A Culture of Writing

In addition to our individual consultations, we will continue to offer other ways to support and sustain writing at UofL. We will offer workshops on writing issues for classes and campus organizations.  Once again we will facilitate writing groups for Graduate Students and Faculty, Creative Writers, and LGBTQ+ Writers. For graduate students we will offer workshops on writing issues and our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. We will sponsor events, from our annual Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, to our celebration of International Mother Language Day. What’s more, we will continue our community partnerships with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House.

It’s a privilege to be trusted with the ideas and writing of others, and it can be fun too. We’re eager to start the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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