From the Editors: Efficacy in the Writing Center

Sarah Riddick and Tristin Hooker
University of Texas at Austin

We here at Praxis are pleased to bring you our Fall 2018 issue, “Efficacy in the Writing Center.” This issue brings together perspectives on how we measure and think about satisfaction and efficacy in our centers, as well as how we position ourselves within our institutions and their missions. Whether we are processing feedback from consultants, developing the self-efficacy of our tutors, or designing missions and curricula that connect us to our colleagues, the writing center continues to be a nexus between institutional aims, student needs, and professional growth. The pieces collected in this issue ask us to consider the ways that the writing center can serve as a place where productive relationships and confidence in writing and learning are cultivated.

In our opening column, “Elastic English: A Mission for Writing Centers,” Sidney Thompson considers the connection between the practices of successful consulting, the practices of mindfulness, and readings in American Renaissance literature. Ultimately, “Elastic English” urges that what consultants “must become mindful of is our need to be ‘elastic’ in each step of the tutoring process so we find, through trial and error, an approach that is ever more effective than our last effort and invites relaxed openness and positivity” (3).  

Yanar Hashlamon surveys existing scholarship that accounts for the perspectives of those who visit the writing center in “Aligning with the Center: How We Elicit Tutee Perspectives in Writing Center Scholarship.” From a meta-analysis of studies across The Writing Center Journal (WCJ), WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship (WLN), and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal., Hashlamon identifies “a tripartite taxonomy” that generally characterizes these studies’ approaches to soliciting and examining tutee perspectives: tutee-satisfaction research, tutee-peripheral research, and tutee-central research (6). Hashlamon shows the strengths of each and offers suggestions for future research so that writing center scholars can continue “incorporating perspectives of those we claim to centralize or empower in our pedagogy” (6).

In A Cross-Institutional Study Demonstrating L2 Student Satisfaction in the Writing Center,” Pam Bromley, Kara Northway, and Eliana Schonberg argue that a “lack of scholarly work on L2 perceptions has enabled lore-based thinking to persist among student-tutors” (21). In response, the authors offer a cross-institutional study of “L1 and L2 student experiences, particularly about satisfaction and intellectual engagement” (21). Analyzing quantitative exit surveys from both groups across three institutions, the authors find “that L1 and L2 students, in their writing center visits, were equally satisfied, likely to return, and intellectually engaged,” and they reflect on other factors that may suggest otherwise to directors and tutors (23).

In “Too Confident or Not Confident Enough?: Designing Tutor Professional Development with Tutors’ Writing and Tutoring Self Efficacies,” Roger Powell and Kelsey Hixson-Bowles shift our focus from the perspectives of consultees to the perspectives of consultants. Although writing center scholarship and administration reflects an understanding of the relationship between self-efficacy and writing success in consultees, Powell and Hixson-Bowles point out a lack of scholarship that addresses this relationship in terms of consultants. They introduce the “Tutoring Writing and Academic Writing Self-Efficacy Scale (TWAWSES)” as a framework for research in this area, as demonstrated by analyzing responses to a survey they distributed across several writing center listservs and Facebook groups.

Carolyne King continues to focus on self-efficacy in tutor training and development in “Tutors as Readers: Reprising the Role of Reading in the Writing Center.” In her research, she finds that proficiency and confidence in reading are often taken for granted in writing center consultants, when reading is addressed at all. Through her study of tutor perceptions at a large, public university, she makes a case for incorporating more attention to reading skills in tutor training, arguing that, “If tutors are to successfully perform as readers, they need the same meta-awareness of themselves as successful readers that we have fostered when encouraging their understanding of themselves as writers” (64).

In “Mapping Boundedness and Articulating Interdependence between Writing Centers and Writing Programs,” Michelle Miley utilizes institutional ethnography to “creat[e] a more intricate map of the how writing center work coordinates within our institutions, and, more specifically, how we can develop interdependence with our institutions and with the other writing programs at our institutions” (74). Miley begins with “looking up,” as she has in her previous studies, mapping the work of her own institution and then extending her process to other institutions, as well. Ultimately, Miley argues that through institutional ethnography and creating these maps, “we can better articulate what writing center work is and what it is not, advocating for an institutional culture of interdependence” (84).

Jerry Plotnick also addresses concerns of interdisciplinarity and the relationship of the writing center to institutional goals in “Workshops on Real World Writing Genres: Writing, Career, and the Trouble with Contemporary Genre Theory.” Reflecting on a series of writing workshops delivered in his own writing center, Plotnick considers a problem of practice for the work of the writing center as a whole: “The notion of writing as radically situated has always posed a problem for writing centers, since we do not typically find ourselves situated in the same communities of practice as our students” (88). Drawing on studies of transfer and a critique of the way contemporary genre theory is often applied, Plotnick makes a case for incorporating genre awareness based on future communities of practice in writing within writing center practice.

 We close this issue with two book reviews. First, Stephen K. Dadugblor reviews Randall W. Monty’s The Writing Center as Cultural and Interdisciplinary Contact Zone (2016), in which Monty draws methodologically from critical discourse analysis and theoretically from cell theory to argue for writing centers’ role as a “contact zone” amongst an interdisciplinary, multicultural network. Second, Havva Zorluel Ozer reviews “They’re All Writers”: Teaching Peer Tutoring in the Elementary Writing Center by Jennifer Sanders and Rebecca L. Damron (2016), which reflects on the operation of an elementary writing center, as well as provides administrators and educators with a range of resources for creating and operating their own writing centers for this or similar age groups.

Here at Praxis, we are proud to present this issue, and to continue the ongoing conversations that the writing center community has been having for decades about how to best serve our students, our colleagues, our institutions, and our fields. To that end, we are also looking forward to our Spring 2019 special issue, “Race & The Writing Center,” where we will focus our attention on the way matters of race and racial justice affect and interact with our work. We are especially excited to be joined in this venture by Dr. Karen Keaton Jackson of North Carolina University and Dr. Mick Howard of Langston University, who will be guest-editing a special section on writing centers in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. We are so looking forward to this collaboration, and, to echo Sarah’s announcement of our CFP for the special issue from Praxis’ Spring 2018 issue, “it has been a joy as managing editors of Praxis to support those who believe so deeply in the work that writing centers do, and we look forward to continuing to serve this community in the coming year.”