Background of My Proposal

I derived my theory on conferencing after reading Tilly Warnock and John Warnock's article, "Liberatory Writing Centers: Restoring Authority to Writers," as well as articles on theories of collaboration. Conferencing should be collaborative, but not perfectly balanced. If the balance in conferencing is a scale with tutor control on one side and writer control on the other, the scale should weigh heavier on the writer's side. In Warnock and Warnock's article, the reader may, at first glance, think that the authors are promoting conferences that are strictly focused on the student writer and not promoting collaboration of any kind. They state the purpose of their idea of liberatory writing centers is to "restore to students the sense of their own authority and responsibility" (59) over their learning, and, more specifically over their writing. This makes it seem that Warnock and Warnock are completely supportive of the idea that the tutor is simply encouraging a student writer in an "I-search," and that all the knowledge brought to the conference comes from the student. However, in the same article, they subtly show their belief in the efficacy of collaborative techniques. They attest that teachers sometimes try to "develop students' abilities to reshape their human experience" (57). But these "abilities turn out to be not skills in the usual sense, but attitudes that invite revision--revision of the self . . ." (57). In other words, teachers or tutors are showing students how to effectively tell others about their experiences, in writing. In a writing conference, tutors help students acquire the ability to clearly and adequately express their ideas in writing, using conference strategies they learned in tutor training. In this way, the writing center is collaborative. As Warnock and Warnock emphasize, students must come to the conference with their own ideas about the paper and with reasons for seeking assistance.

Tutors are responsible for asking students what they want to get out of the conference, as shown in the case of one student who responded to my e-survey. Mary was unhappy with her writing center conference because the tutor did not give her the help she needed on her paper, probably since the tutor did not ask her what she wanted to get out of the session. This proves the need for more student writer-based conferencing in which the tutor knows exactly with what the student wants to come away from the conference. Another example which demonstrates the need for more student writer-based conferencing in the writing center, as well as in any learning environment, is my French class, which I mentioned earlier. In my class conferences, the commentators have control over the writer, which is a dangerous example of what Lunsford calls a "Storehouse Center." This is a writing center or a tutor that is seen as having all the knowledge and whose job it is to hand out information to students. The commentators' job in my French class should not be to hand out information on grammar to the writer, but rather to help the writer with what she sees as a possible problem with her paper.

In Bruffee's article, "Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind," he quotes Clifford Geertz, who believes, "Human thought is consummately social: social in its origins, social in its functions, social in its form, social in its applications," (87) which is why he finds collaborative learning to be the most logical type of learning and conferencing, since collaboration is social and interactive. But I believe that writers have a certain amount of their own creative thought or their own motive force from which their ideas originate. In other words, not all knowledge is social "in its origins." In every discipline, writers and thinkers follow the tradition of or imitate the writers and thinkers that preceded them, but the writers and thinkers had to use their own imaginations to discover or invent something new and creative. This is why the writing center should be student writer-centered, because it is from this student writer that the idea for the paper comes. For example, when Kelley and I talked in circles about Rousseau's philosophies with a student about his paper, we should have just stopped earlier and said to the writer, "Ok, what angle do you want to take on this paper?" This would have avoided a lot of time wasted debating about Rousseau. In addition, in one of the responses to my e-survey, Thomas wrote that the tutor attempted to change the ideas in his paper. This is contrary to the purpose of the Writing Center, because the ideas for the paper should originate from the writer.

For Conferencing Strategies and my Conclusion, click here.
For an example of guidelines for a writing center, click here.
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