REVIEW OF THE EVERYDAY WRITING CENTER: A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE, BY ANNE ELLEN GELLER, MICHELE EODICE, FRANKIE CONDON, MEG CARROLL, AND ELIZABETH H. BOQUET
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi
The co-authors of The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice, Anne Geller, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet, believe that the moments of deepest learning in writing centers occur during writing centers’ everyday happenings. Geller et al. walk us through their experiences as writing-center directors and administrators, while discussing seemingly mundane, writing-center issues ranging from over-reliance on training manuals, time matters, unforeseen occurrences in tutoring sessions, and diversity concerns. They ground these discussions in Etienne Wenger’s theoretical concept of Communities of Practice and John Tagg’s ideas about learning paradigms and learning cultures. Communities of Practice (CofPs) are groups of people who share interests or professions and who work together to learn from one another and gain and create knowledge (Wenger). While a CofP does not serve as a guidepost or a map to practices that universally ‘work,’ it invites tension and disagreement as ways of constantly negotiating identity and meaning. As the theoretical ground of writing-center practice, CofPs allow tutors and directors to “talk about practice, to negotiate shared meanings, and to develop a repertoire” (56).
In Chapter 2, “Trickster at Your Table,” Geller et al. poignantly illustrate a problem that many directors and tutors face: we often rely too heavily on “familiar memes,” such as “ask non-directive questions” or “don’t write on the paper” (21). Geller et al. describe Tricksters as a figures that break rules, change shape, and transgress “physical and social boundaries” (15). The authors challenge tutors and directors to embrace Trickster chaos and uncertainty and recognize that the Trickster mentality can lead to deep learning among a writing-center community of practice. Geller et al. believe that bringing the Trickster mindset to the writing center helps avoid stagnant, static writing-center practices and allows directors and tutors to be “risky, fluid and hybrid” (30). When tutors are bold enough to embody the Trickster frame of mind and use unconventional approaches, they open a space within which CofPs can negotiate questions of identity.
The Trickster mindset also grounds Geller et al.’s critique of paradigmatic practices in educational institutions. Universities and colleges often follow top-down, rigid, and hierarchical models, or what John Tagg labels the instruction paradigm. Writing centers are inextricable from the institutions they serve, yet they do not embody the classroom’s inherent hierarchical structuring. Much writing-center scholarship explains how writing centers attempt to break down hierarchical, top-down models by way of peer tutoring, collaboration, and non-directive practices. Geller et al. are even-keeled and objective in their comparison of the instruction paradigm and the learning paradigm; they explain how each paradigm advocates different types of learning. The authors believe that “planting ourselves firmly in the learning paradigm offers greater opportunities to engage in deep learning” (112). A focus on student learning, rather than filling courses, parallels writing centers’ everyday practices; writing centers cannot be successful if the writing center staff and directors focus too heavily on the number of students served instead of promoting deep learning within writing consultations and among the writing center’s CofP.
Geller et al. are against overusing sources that often serve as tutor training material and that sometimes substitute for real-life tutoring experience. Regardless, I strongly recommend their book as a valuable source to both writing-center tutors and directors. Rather than provide easy answers to recurring writing-center problems, Geller et al. present a negotiable theoretical framework and a model for a robust and sustainable CofP; the result is a valid contribution to writing-center scholarship.
Geller, Anne Ellen, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2007. Print.