Creating a More Inclusive Writing Center


Writing Center
Who’s ready for a rhetorical analysis of writing center advertisements?


In “Tutoring Deaf College Students in the Writing Center,” Rebecca Babcock explores how common writing center procedures are unable to meet the needs of deaf and English language learning writers. Babcock’s study is innovative in that it involves every participant in the session. The one previous study had only considered the position of the writing assistant.

Throughout her study and recommendations, Babcock emphasizes the uniqueness of each student. Part of the problematic nature of focusing exclusively on non-directive techniques in writing assistant training is that, through presuming hearing culture, it can turn procedures into barriers to learning. Babcock offers a few vignettes from her study to illustrate how writing center procedures developed within hearing culture. For instance, in the case study the writing assistant automatically falls back on the procedure to invite the writer to read his or her paper aloud. For the deaf student in the case study, this is not a useful technique. Instead writing assistants should communicate with deaf writers to understand what they hope to get from the session and collaborative figure the best way to meet those needs. This does not mean that writing assistants should merely adopt directive techniques, but that they should move from non-directive to directive when necessary to better assist the writer.

Following the case study examples, Babcock offers some recommendations for writing sessions. She emphasizes that the writing assistant should first dialogue with the writer on what his or her needs are. Deaf writers may specifically need assistance with reading comprehension, and Babcock recommends encouraging the writer to read more to facilitate greater familiarity with printed text. Whereas writing assistants may commonly be trained to ask open-ended questions to promote writer ownership of the text and avoid putting words in the writer’s mouth, Babcock suggests asking questions that are more directed but require more than a single-word answer.

Babcock ends by calling for future research on assisting deaf college students in the writing center. She noted that an important avenue for future research would be on the role that ASL and English would each play in a session and the possibility of captioning technology.

Research Application

Recent research in writing center work for English language learners has found that we tend to apply the logic of the language we internalized as children to languages learned later in life. For instance, the writing center at Western Oregon University (WOU) found that what were thought of as common spelling errors among native Spanish speakers were actually the logical application of Spanish pronunciation. In “Poised to Support Bilingual Spanish-English Speakers,” Schmidt, Coley, and Butler propose specific strategies that can be used to assist writers who have internalized the logic of a language other than English. Rather than having an error-focused or remedial pedagogy loosely related to a medical model, the writing assistant can point out that the writers are actually being completely logical in their writing.

I wonder if similar bilingual and bicultural research can be done on the unique logic of ASL that would be internalized by native speakers. Like WOU’s research initiative, this research project could begin with discovering “error” patterns, but would move toward studying the needs of writers fluent in ASL. It would conclude with specific strategies to best assist deaf writers and directions for developing training programs in writing centers.

Discussion Questions

1. Imagine you’re the director of a writing center. You’re doing your rounds watering plants to get a feel for how sessions are going. You overhear a session just like the following from Babcock’s study:

Newby: Let’s look at this. I’m gonna read [aloud]. You tell me how it sounds. OK?
Linda: What do you mean?
Newby: I mean [I want her to be able to see the mistakes she’s made]. She should be able–
Linda: Do you want me to interpret?
Newby: Don’t Fix it. I want her–
Linda: Do you want her to just read along while you’re reading?
Newby: She could do that.

What is your assessment of this session as director? How and when do you intervene? What are your reasons?

2. Considering the sign above, how could the physical space of a writing center, from chair placement to advertisements throughout campus, be designed to be inclusive of both deaf and hearing culture? In short, what is the rhetorical situation of the writing center?

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