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“Religious Mission in/and the Writing Center”
2014 Joint Conference of the International Writing Center Association and National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, October 30-November 1.
This session will explore how writing centers at religious high schools, colleges, and universities contribute to the religious mission of their institutions. After discussing some case studies, we will draw upon the experiences of workshop participants to explore the relationship between the mission of a writing center and the mission of the religious educational institution of which it is a part and how religious identity informs our pedagogical practice.
·         Audra Nakas
·         Tyler Lomnitzer
·         Erik Gravel
·         Taryn Okuma
·         Matthew Capdevielle (Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame)
This session will explore how writing centers at religious high schools, colleges, and universities contribute to the religious mission of their institutions. We will provide three different entry points for discussion about what a religious mission might be/mean for tutors at different institutions with the goal of provoking further discussion and reflection among participants in small and large groups about the goals of writing centers at religious institutions and how they might be enacted in terms of pedagogical practice and programming.
First, we will consider the example of writing centers at Catholic institutions and examine how two key figures in the Catholic intellectual tradition—St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Ignatius of Loyola—contribute to Catholic educational philosophy and inform the mission of Catholic institutions. We contend that Catholic values reinforce holistic writing center strategies that focus on improving the writer rather than just the writing, and so, for Catholic writing centers, it is worth exploring how Catholic ideals can further make the writing center a place of holistic growth.
Second, we invoke Blessed John Henry Newman’s concept of “motives” from his discourse on “The Salvation of the Hearer and the Motive of the Preacher” to consider what is at stake for writing centers at religious institutions. How might/should we interpret the notion of “evangelization” in the context of a religious writing center? Though we take the Catholic writing center as our immediate example, we are broadly interested in the extent to which the goals of any writing center coincide with the larger goals of the religious educational institution of which it is a part, as well as with the individual goals of particular tutors employed by such centers, whether they identify as religious or not.
Thirdly, we turn to the practical concerns of religious identity in the writing center by focusing on a discussion of best practices regarding faith in the professional workspace and learning environment. How do tutors handle students whose work is engaged in ethical questions that may disagree with the ethical position held by the institution and/or the tutor? Herein there are two concerns: on the student’s behalf, how do we respect the multiplicity of ethical and religious backgrounds in a student body, while still challenging the students to approach ethical situations and first principles with greater critical skills? On the tutor’s behalf, how do we ensure that the tutor is not placed in the uncomfortable position of assisting a student to argue for a moral position that the tutor has strong disagreements with? Our final concern is one of balance: how does the training and administration of a writing center assure that both of these needs are adequately met?
Ultimately, we want to engage the question of what it means to be a writing center with a religious mission, both broadly and in terms of the specific institutions represented by participants: in what ways is it distinctive and in what ways is it not? What are our unique challenges and opportunities as tutors in these centers?
“Thinking, Writing, and Tutoring Creatively: Applying ‘Theory of Mind’ to Revision in the Writing Center”
2014 Joint Conference of the International Writing Center Association and National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, October 30-November 1.
This workshop will examine one possibility for a point of contact between creative writing and writing center tutoring: the vocabulary of theory of mind – the activity of attributing mental states to others through observation. This session will model how theory of mind operates when reading fiction and then move to practical considerations of how it might be deployed in a revision-oriented writing center session and as a way of informing larger programs and workshops.
·         Alex Sniatkowski
·         Brian Chappell
·         Kevin Rulo
Revision often provides an emotional stumbling block for writers. In argumentative writing students may often be reluctant to relinquish any text they have written or compromise what they feel is their ‘personal’ stake in the argument; in fiction writing revision may mean the killing off of a beloved character, or the elimination of the last vestige of the exciting idea that began the project. This portion of the session will explore how writing center tutors can tap into this emotional dynamic and smooth the revision process.
Since writers often remain willfully blind to necessary changes to their work due to emotional attachments, we aim to equip tutors with vocabulary that can quickly and dramatically aid the revision process. This can be done through new interdisciplinary research in cognitive science and literary studies. Specifically, the work of Lisa Zunshine and others to employ the vocabulary of theory of mind to the reading of fiction can equip writing center tutors with the vocabulary to guide the emotional expectations of various types of revision. Theory of mind refers to the human ability to attribute mental states to others based on appearance, gesture, speech, and other factors. The reading of fiction is uniquely suited for that human activity by way of what Zunshine calls “sociocognitive complexity,” a triply embedded theory of mind: “I thought that she knew that I remembered…” Theory of mind equips writers with verbs that reflect cognitive activity: remember, understand, assume, judge, assess, etc. Equipped with this vocabulary, fiction writers can swiftly and dramatically complicate the mental and emotional states of their characters. If the distinction of fiction resides in its ability to depict mental states, then improving that depiction is of the utmost importance to a fiction writer.
Theory of mind allows the writing center tutor, whether she writes fiction or not, to seek opportunities for improvement in this area. She can investigate portions of a text which attempt to depict the internal lives of characters, using cognitive vocabulary to inject nuance. The ramifications of this type of revision are far-reaching. By tapping into the emotional lives of characters, tutors and writers can tap into their own theory of mind, with an eye toward understanding one’s own emotional relationship to revision in any type of writing: “What did you assume when you thought that this person understood...?” Increasing one’s theory of mind increases one’s empathy and sense of self. With this tool in hand, the writing center tutor can directly aid the emotional growth of her clients.
In this workshop, we will first model how theory of mind operates when reading fiction, then guide participants through some short writing exercises and small group discussions in order to explore how it might inform our practice both as writers and as tutors. Following this, we will discuss an example of its practical application, the case of a series of creative writing workshops (and subsequent follow-up sessions) run by the writing center at The Catholic University of America. We will examine how theory of mind informed the organization and content of the workshops and then move to a consideration of the advantages and the pitfalls of this approach. Our hope is to consider a vocabulary that can encompass our work as both creative writers and tutors, and to foster a more expansive discussion about how we might think, write, and tutor creatively.
“Writing, Talking, Stating: Discourse as/in Action in Writing Centers”
2014 Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association Conference, Salisbury University, April 4-5.
Our panel explores what discourse “does” in Writing Centers. We look at tutor facilitation in learning academic discourse as a means of dynamic integration, oral discourse’s role in the development of written expression, and the mission statement as a force for instilling and representing pedagogical values and identity.
·         Eva-Maria Ghelardi, “The Function of Oral Discourse in Writing Center Tutoring”
·         Alex Sniatkowski, “The Writing Center tutor and Academic Discourse”
·         Sullivan Maciag, “Mission Statement Discourse and the Writing Center”
Mediated Discourse Analysis (MDA), along with its closely related theoretical cousin, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), is a burgeoning research field that has prompted us to think in new and exciting ways about the functions that discourse serves in the socio-cultural, and even in the personal, spheres (Norris and Jones, 2005). Interest in MDA and CDA is growing also in writing studies (Huckin, 2012). Our panel seeks to consider ways that MDA might be applied to Writing Centers chiefly by considering the role of discourse as action in the diverse work of WCs. Specifically, our three case studies consider academic discourse as a means of integration into the university and learning community, oral discourse’s role in the development of written expression, and the specific discourse of the mission statement as a dialectical force both for representing pedagogical values beyond the Center and for instilling those values in the Center.
Building on the work of Muriel Harris (1980) and Ryan and Zimmerelli (2009) on tutoring models, Alex Sniatkowski uses the metaphor of “door person” to explain the tutor’s role as facilitator in the student’s integration into the academic community through academic discourse. Alex highlights the ways in which this process of assimilation must be one of dynamic interaction, one in which the student both adopts and adapts the discourse of the university community. Eva-Maria Ghelardi discusses the relationship between oral and written discourse in Writing Center consultations, including the way in which oral discourse acts as a means for clarifying and sharpening writing skills. Eva-Maria’s findings also suggest ways in which oral discourse can serve to improve writing through its erasure: by concentrating on the “not-oral,” on the “moves” and characteristics particular to written discourse. Sullivan Maciag analyzes a variety of mission statements from diverse American institutions of higher education and reflects upon how this specific genre is able to further the goals of WCs (among staff, students, and faculty). Sullivan differentiates several types or sub-genres of mission statements and the discrete purposes that each fulfills.
These three presentations show forth the many uses of discourse and how the Writing Center can be conceived as a complex site for discourse in/as action. We hope that the presentations will serve as a starting point for further reflection on these issues and that the panel will thus itself demonstrate action through discourse by empowering others think about how discourse can/does function in WCs and to take action accordingly.
Harris, M. (Dec. 1980). “The Roles a Tutor Plays: Effective Tutoring Techniques.” The English Journal
Huckin, T. (Sept. 2012).  “Critical Discourse Analysis and Rhetoric and Composition.” CCC 64.1.
Norris, S. and R. H. Jones. (2005). Discourse in Action: Introducing Mediated Discourse Analysis.
Ryan, L. and L. Zimmerelli. (2009). The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors (Beford/ St. Martin’s, 5th Ed.).