GUEST EDITOR INTRODUCTION: REVISITING AND REVISING COURSE-EMBEDDED TUTORING FACILITATED BY WRITING CENTERS

Russell Carpenter
Eastern Kentucky University
russell.carpenter@eku.edu

Scott Whiddon
Transylvania University
swhiddon@transy.edu

Kevin Dvorak
Nova Southeastern University
kdvorak@nova.edu

In the mid 2000s, Spigelman and Grobman’s On Location: Theory and Practice in Classroom-Based Writing Tutoring established groundwork for building bridges between writing programs and classrooms through course-embedded tutoring. A few years later, Hughes and Hall’s special issue of Across the Disciplines on “Rewriting Across the Curriculum: Writing Fellows as Agents of Change in WAC” developed course-embedded approaches even further. Many writing centers have used these texts as foundations for expanding their initiatives beyond traditional one-to-one generalist tutoring—where writing centers are often physically, if not pedagogically, disconnected from the classroom. Via course-embedded work, writing centers have become more actively involved with and connected to classroom and curricular outcomes. This critical shift in writing center philosophy—moving from independent to integrated programming, moving out of the center and into the classroom—can be viewed, in light of Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s recent work in Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, as a challenge to the dominant paradigm of writing center lore of the last three decades.

Highlighting the importance and complexities of going “on location,” this special issue of Praxis examines course-embedded writing support programs facilitated by writing centers. As writing centers continue to develop and grow successful course-embedded tutoring programs, many others still struggle with establishing the foundational work for such initiatives at their institutions. To advocate for the long-term viability of course-embedded programs, directors need to provide administrators and faculty with programmatic and pedagogic rationales that outline the benefits of connecting writing centers to classrooms. They need to draw from models that have worked well at other institutions and learn from others that have been less successful. This special issue of Praxis seeks to curate recent contributions to the conversation of course-embedded tutoring programs facilitated by writing centers—with an eye toward both theory and practice—in an effort to help directors develop strong, sustainable programs of their own.

Situating Course-Embedded Writing Support Programs Facilitated by WCs

On many campuses, classroom and writing center geographies are seen as distinct, situating teaching and tutoring within different pedagogical landscapes. Classrooms are often viewed as the spaces where writing instruction takes place, while writing centers are spaces where writers receive assistance, not instruction. Course-embedded tutoring programs, such as Writing Fellows programs, attempt to bridge these distinct locations, as Hughes and Hall demonstrate:

 

Although Writing Fellows programs vary in the specifics of their implementation at colleges and universities across the country, all of these programs share several key features: they link students to specific writing-intensive courses; they encourage partnerships between a Writing Fellow and a course professor; and they promote collaboration between peers. Whatever the name for such a program (Peer Mentors, Writing Associates, or Curriculum-Based Peer Tutors), it unites in powerful ways ideas of collaborative learning, peer education, WAC, and faculty development.

The key features of course-embedded writing support programs described by Hughes and Hall often blur the boundaries between teachers and tutors, teaching and tutoring. Whereas more traditional writing center and composition theories may have suggested that each pedagogy stay on its own path, course-embedded programs encourage teachers and tutors to work at the intersections of writing center and writing classroom spaces, creating unique opportunities and challenges for both parties.

These key features also map a trajectory for course-embedded writing tutoring. In course-embedded programs, tutors establish a voice both inside the writing center and the space of the classroom, including writing intensive courses where students often adjust to the amount of writing expected of them. Extending aspects of writing center work that resonate with their experiences in these spaces, Hall and Hughes note that similar to generalist “writing center tutors, Fellows learn how to ask smart questions of student writers, how to listen carefully, and how to structure a dialogue to help a student rethink and revise a paper” (31). Hall and Hughes also explain that Writing Fellows might be required to conduct conferences on papers they’ve commented on extensively and even address deeper writing issues (31), as these tutors are tasked with connecting classroom and writing center pedagogy. In addition to working one-to-one with students, course-embedded tutors often navigate the teacher’s territory. Course-embedded tutors often meet with faculty at the beginning of a semester to discuss course outcomes and syllabi and during the semester to review assignments and student progress, forming an ongoing partnership with faculty members. They often attend class and sometimes engage in teaching activities by conducting workshops, forming peer-response groups, and providing individual conferences during class time. In addition to navigating faculty territory, Carol Severino and Megan Knight contend that course-embedded tutors also serve as “ambassadors” for their writing centers or for the tutorials that take place in those spaces. They transport the intellectual work of the writing center to the classroom space, and as course-embedded tutors navigate classroom environments, they develop relationships—the forging of a “diplomatic partnership between the center and the instructors” as Teagan Decker explains (18).

Faculty teaching in course-embedded programs are provided unique opportunities and challenges as well. Inviting a peer tutor into the classroom adds an additional perspective to that environment, an experienced voice that can oftentimes develop less-authoritative one-to-one connections to other students in an attempt to assist faculty in achieving course outcomes. Faculty can use these connections to their advantage, hoping that the peer tutor can help students understand assignments and that the peer tutor will inform them when students are struggling with course concepts and tasks. In other cases, faculty may be presented with complications, especially when peer tutors provide students with writing advice that does not help them earn better grades or goes against what the faculty member was looking for in an assignment.

The students learning and writing in course-embedded programs also help shape these academic spaces. Their willingness to participate (or not) in course-embedded initiatives—from classroom instruction to outside-of-class consultations—impacts relationships and the ongoing development of programs. Collaboration, and the willingness to engage tutors and instructors in the formation of productive relationship building and learning, contributes to the development of course-embedded initiatives. Cultivating the tutor-faculty-student relationship can be complex. Due to this complexity, these programs take a variety of shapes, sizes, and focuses within and outside of writing centers.

Variations on Course-Embedded Writing Support Programs

We acknowledge the variations of course-embedded programs and the challenges that come with institutional configurations. As guest editors, our interest in course-embedded initiatives is engaged but varied, as each of our respective programs are in different stages of development. Our programs span three distinct but interconnected and overlapping perspectives: a regional comprehensive with a large first-year writer population, a small liberal arts college, and an independent private research university. Rusty’s recently established program at Eastern Kentucky University responds to a demonstrated need for increased feedback for first-year writers. Kevin’s program at Nova Southeastern University is grounded in fellows-style programming that is directly connected to a first-year composition program and WAC initiative. On the other end of the spectrum, Scott has been working to slowly build, via small pilot studies, a course-embedded program that supports writers in the “murky middle” college years, with an interest in faculty development that acknowledges the richness of the small liberal arts college experience. We are pleased to have a range of academic institutions and programmatic contexts represented in this special issue of Praxis.

Course-embedded peer-to-peer tutoring programs that are based in writing centers reveal complex issues related to identity for tutors, teachers, writers, and the programs themselves. Further, historical writing center issues take new shape. Collaborative relationships between these same entities become more varied and complex when tutors enter the classroom space—essentially a space that is not their own and one that might be complicated by varying levels of disciplinary expertise and genre knowledge (a long-standing concern in the larger conversation about embedded work). The role of teacher and student, of authority and peer, become wrapped into larger pedagogical conversations about power and the best ways to achieve student writing success and whether that should be part of the equation at all. 

Like many writing center projects, this collaboration began as a conversation at the 2013 Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) conference when we brought our three perspectives into public conversation for the first time through an interactive workshop. We asked how each other’s programs were established and supported, and what we could learn by taking a broader look at the current status of programs both here in the US and beyond. We wanted to see what new theories have developed since Hughes and Hall and Spigelman and Grobman, but we wanted to emphasize the reflective praxis that comes with theoretically informed course-embedded work as well. The ideas and conversations resulting from that event helped us to bring questions back to our home campuses. We also realized how much we had left to do in the development of our own course-embedded programs, especially in light of institutional changes, student populations, and goals.

In the past decade, writing center scholars have considered such topics as program development, tutor training, genre and disciplinary knowledge, and assessment. The contributors in this special issue of Praxis not only draw upon these conversations but also move them forward in exciting ways that will help readers revisit and revise course-embedded tutoring theories, applications, and models.

The Design of this Special Issue

This special issue examines the models, relationships, and structures of course-embedded writing support initiatives within writing centers. The articles contained in this special issue consider the theories, practices, and configurations of course-embedded programs. The authors in these articles also explore and theorize their own experiences with such programs by analyzing course-embedded tutoring from different perspectives, including:

  • How do institutional contexts situate, enhance, or complicate the implementation of different course-embedded writing support program models?
  • How do writing centers assess course-embedded programs, and how might assessments reflect best practices and writing center values?
  • How might writing centers make the labor of establishing and maintaining such programs more visible to stakeholders and administrators?
  • How should writing centers develop scholarly practices for course-embedded tutors, and in what ways do embedded tutors benefit from their experiences?
  • What are the next steps in developing course-embedded writing support programs?
  • How have course-embedded programs extended or expanded beyond WAC-WID conversations or FYW?
  • Recalling Spigelman and Grobman, what does it mean to go “on location” in 2014?

This special issue features three main threads: Course-Embedded Tutoring and First-Year Writing: An Immersion in Academic Discourse, WAC/WID Course-Embedded Tutoring: Mapping the Terrain and Revisiting Content Knowledge, and Forward Motion: Professional Development and Institutional Context of Course-Embedded Tutoring. Each one highlights discussions that extend the conversations about course-embedded tutoring in writing centers.

Focusing on course-embedded tutoring and first-year writing, Scott DeLoach, Elyse Angel, Ebony Breaux, Kevin Keebler, and Kathleen Klompien in “Locating the Center: Exploring the Roles of In-Class Tutors in First Year Composition Classrooms” offer a model of student-faculty collaboration with their first-year composition program at California State University Channel Islands. In “Dialoging a Successful Pedagogy for Embedded Tutors,” Megan L. Titus, Jenny L. Scudder, Josephine R. Boyle, and Alison Sudol offer insight into designing an embedded tutor training program that spans both writing center director and classroom instructor. Helen Raica-Klotz, Christina Montgomery, Christopher Giroux, Crystal Brinson, Zach Gibson, Taeler Singleton, Kramer Stoneman, and Ka Vang, in “‘Developing Writers’: The Multiple Identities of an Embedded Tutor in the Developmental Writing Classroom,” discuss the tutor identities in a course-embedded program that supports first-year writers. Addressing reading within the context of course-embedded programs, Melissa Bugdal and Ricky Holtz, in “When Writing Fellows Become Reading Fellows: Creative Strategies for Critical Reading and Writing in a Course-Based Tutoring Program,” discuss the creative methods employed in their program at the University of Connecticut. In “When Center Catches in the Classroom (and Classroom in the Center): The First-Year Writing Tutorial and the Writing Program,” Francesca Gentile introduces “contagiousness” as a conceptual lens for assessing the centrifugal potential of writing-center work. Susan Pagnac, Shelley Bradfield, Cyndi Boertje, Elizabeth McMahon, and Gregory Teets, in “An Embedded Model: First-Year Student Success in Writing and Research,” then illustrate the importance of embedding tutors and partnering with librarians and course-integrated information literacy initiatives.

Turning our attention to WAC/WID course-embedded tutoring, William J. Macauley, Jr., in “Insiders, Outsiders, and Straddlers: A New Writing Fellows Program in Theory, Context, and Practice,” argues that writing fellows can put both writing and disciplinary knowledge to use in examining the factors involved in successful writing fellows efforts. Highlighting their Sidecar Project, Kelly Webster and Jake Hansen in “Vast Potential, Uneven Results: Unraveling the Factors that Influence Course-Embedded Tutoring Success” examine four factors that have had a consistent and predictable influence on their program’s success. Rebecca Hallman, in “Re-envisioning Course-Embedded Programs at the Graduate-level: A Tutor’s Observations in a Translingual, Graduate-level Marketing Course,” discusses her experiences embedding graduate-level tutors in a business course. In “Traction and Troublesome Learning: A Praxis of Stuck Places for Course-Embedded Tutoring,” Tara K. Parmiter and William M. Morgan explore a rationale for and an analysis of a praxis for tutor development and student learning in their embedded tutoring program. Offering their experience developing a course-embedded program out of the writing center, Steffen Guenzel, Dan Murphree, and Emily Brennan in “Re-Envisioning the Brown University Model: Embedding a Disciplinary Writing Consultant in an Introductory U.S. History Course” offer perspective on the challenges and opportunities of this work.

We then look toward the future of course-embedded programs as “forward motion.” Cecilia D. Shelton and Emily E. Howson in “Disrupting Authority: Writing Mentors and Code-Meshing Pedagogy” discuss their course-embedded writing mentors program that responds to the particular manifestations of language discrimination at their small, private HBCU. In “From Silos to Synergies: Institutional Contexts for Writing Fellows,” Jennifer Holly-Wells, Sandra Jamieson, and Maya Sanyal explore how they found that the presence of co-trained writing fellows facilitated the creation of a coherent program and of the transfer of skills across courses and programs while still being able to maintain independent identities for the fellows working in the FYW and WAC programs. David Stock, in “Curricular Collaboration, Programmatic Collision: Challenges to Integrating Tutor Training for Writing Centers and Writing Fellows Programs,” reflects on a year-long development of an integrated training course for students in separate writing tutoring programs, a writing center and a writing fellows program, at Brigham Young University. In “Shifting the Center: Piloting Embedded Tutoring Models to Support Multimodal Communication Across the Disciplines,” Dustin Hannum, Joy Bracewell, and Karen Head explain the aims of an initiative developed at Georgia Tech and discuss the course-embedded pilot in their first two programs. Finally, Ben Ristow and Hannah Dickinson in “(Re)Shaping a Curriculum-Based Tutor Preparation Seminar: A Course Design Proposal” outline the structure of their curriculum-based peer tutoring preparation course at Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

As editors and educators alike, we hope that this collection of scholarship offers a rich possibility of paths ahead while connecting back to the foundational texts concerning course-embedded peer-to-peer writing support. We hope that this anthology—considering the Greek root of the word, “flower gathering”—will allow future conversations to bloom and grow at individual institutions, regional writing center gatherings, and national conferences. It has been exciting to work with each of the writers represented here, and we look forward to the future of further connections between writing centers and individual classes.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge Katie Beck, an undergraduate consultant in the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity, for her assistance during the editorial process. We would also like to express our gratitude to our institutions—Eastern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, and Nova Southeastern University—for supporting a project of this size and scope. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, thank you to the writing center directors and staff members who contributed to this special issue; their work is nothing short of inspiring. We were taken by the response to our initial call for this special issue, which speaks to the timeliness of this topic.

Works Cited

Decker, Teagan. “Diplomatic Relations: Peer Tutors in the Writing Classroom.” On Location: Theory and Practice in Classroom-Based Writing Tutoring. Eds. Candace Spigelman and Laurie Grobman. Logan: USU Press, 2005. 17-30. Print.

Hall, Emily, and Bradley Hughes. “Preparing Faculty, Professionalizing Fellows: Keys to Success with Undergraduate Writing Fellows in WAC.” The WAC Journal 22 (2011): 21-40. Print.

Hughes, Bradley, and Emily B. Hall. “Rewriting Across the Curriculum: Writing Fellows as Agents of Change in WAC.” Spec. issue of Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing 5 (2008). Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers. Logan: Utah State UP, 2013. Print.

Severino, Carol, and Megan Knight. “Exporting Writing Center Pedagogy: Writing Fellows Programs as Ambassadors for the Writing Center.” Marginal Words, Marginal Work? Tutoring the Academy in the Work of Writing Centers. Eds. William Macauley and Nicholas Mauriello. Cresskill: Hampton, 2007. 19-34. Print.

Spigelman, Candace, and Laurie Grobman, eds. On Location: Theory and Practice in Classroom-Based Writing Tutoring. Logan: USU Press, 2005. Print.