Learning about Responsive Practices from the University Writing Center

Nancy Bou Ayash, Assitant Director

I had initially imagined that my writing center work, particularly the weekly fifty-minute consultation sessions, wouldn’t be any different from the countless one-on-one conferences I’ve had with my college writing students and workshopping sessions in peer writing groups.  I admittingly expected my writing center pedagogy to be completely informed by (and never informing) my so-called student-centered teaching approaches.  Looking back at my teaching role and what I had then perceived as student-centered practices, I prided myself on creating spaces for empowering writers to experiment with unfamiliar genres and writing styles and to consider alternative rhetorical decisions and options.  At that time, little did I know that beneath the veneer of student-centered discourse, my own words about effective writing and rhetorical practices and productive revision plans remained unquestioned, nonnegotiable, and always in the very center of every composing and re-composing process.

NancyOver the course of this semester at the writing center, I had come to realize how much I had become engaged and concerned not only with written texts but even more with the resourceful writers and creative designers behind them.  I had come to discover a once forgotten interest in issues critical to my students’ sense of self and lived realities, issues that I had initially overlooked or had hoped would remain unarticulated in a traditional classroom setting under the excuse that there are always more important learning outcomes to tap into and academic writing skills to develop.  My consultation sessions had rekindled my ability to move beyond my impractical teacherly categories of students in terms of ability and performance and of their written texts into binaries of standard vs. nonstandard compositions.  As I worked closely with both graduate and undergraduate students from across the disciplines, I listened to them with care as they expressed their aspiration to join their dream professions in a capitalist global market and enhance their career prospects, efforts that they saw as largely contingent on their mastery of academic writing conventions and on the kind of guidance we can offer in the writing center as they moved towards those goals.  

As we teased out in every single session the specificities of the social, economic, cultural, and linguistic realities and relations that they wished to maintain, rewrite, or revise in their textual and discursive decisions and choices, I had started to re-envision my writing center clients as always thinking, living, and composing through global-local scenes.  My newly acquired writing center pedagogy had taken precedence over the pedagogical approaches I’d developed over the years in intervening in the dominant politics of language through foregrounding the intricate relationship between specific instances of languaging, writing, thinking, and living.  As our clients’ stories continue to rapidly and radically change in light of current economic and geopolitical pressures, new linguistic and cultural realities, and emerging multiliteracies, I cannot help but wonder to what extent are we adequately changing our own stories about language, learning, literacy, and identity? 

I look forward to yet another exciting day with another writer, a different text, and a new story that will continue to unsettle and complicate my preconceived perceptions and categories about writing, writers, and texts.  As my clients continue to read their writings aloud while, at times, laughing at their self-acknowledged errors, with a sigh of “I can’t believe I didn’t even notice that,” I will surely be having more of those ‘aha’ learning moments of my own.

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