Writing Centers and Learning Theories
The writing center is part of a community that involves more than just writing instruction. The needs of individual communities vary greatly, and the writing center can reflect those needs in contributing to the writing that is produced in and around it.
Community needs may include an emphasis on technical writing, support for ESL programs, or developing the abilities of students in local secondary schools.
John Tinker describes the relationship between the Stanford Writing Center and the NCWCA, which promotes collaboration between college and high school writing centers, as a chance to “expand our activities and offer resources to new communities” (89). By bridging the gaps between the university writing center and local high schools, the NCWCA hopes to “nurture students and student groups in cultivating definitions of themselves as writers, as writers in Standard English and academic prose… and in many other modes of writing not always taught in traditional language arts classes” (89). Tinker acknowledges the need for high schools to prepare students for standardized tests, but demonstrates how a writing center can expand that preparation to fit the criteria of university instruction as well. In this way, the writing center establishes a link between the goals of the university and the goals of the surrounding community.
Georgetown University, located in Washington D.C., supports a wide diversity of cultures and ethnicities. Students from more than 130 foreign nations attend the university and the need for ESL support in their writing center is fundamental to the success of the writing instruction on campus. Their writing center’s web site includes resources for ESL students http://english.georgetown.edu/writing/esl.htm which offer accessibility and convenience to the community of students and writers in the area and elsewhere. Efforts such as these further the scope of writing centers in promoting the ideologies of their university.
William Morris asserts that the techniques of writing center tutoring apply to all fields of study. His experience tutoring math students demonstrates the ability of writing centers to adapt to the needs of the writing community they represent. Morris explains that the “proprietary languages of math, science, art, English, foreign language, and history are useful to people who know the subjects but a mystery to those trying to learn the discipline” (70). By breaking down procedures and forcing explanation, the “how” is replaced with “why” and understanding of the material more readily achieved. In this way, the writing center becomes a useful tool outside the spectrum of writing instruction alone. As Morris emphasizes, “professionals in all disciplines need to know how to explain their ideas clearly in English (Crannell 1994)” (72).
Farrell, P.B. 1989. The high school writing center: Establishing and maintaining one. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Harris, M. 1986. Teaching one-to-one: The writing conference. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Morris, William. Math in the Writing Center. Clearing House 80, No. 2 N/D 2006. pp. 70–73.
Tinker, John. Generating Cultures of Writing Collaborations between the Stanford Writing Center and High School Writing Centers. Clearing House 80, No. 2 N/D 2006. pp. 89–91.
Carnegie Corporation: http://www.carnegie.org/sub/program/education.html.
Georgetown University Writing Center: http://writingcenter.georgetown.edu.
Teachers for a New Era: http://www.teachersforanewera.org.