11. Threshold Concepts in the Writing Center: Scaffolding the Development of Tutor Expertise
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11 T h r e s h o l d C o nc e p t s i n t h e W r i t i n g C e n t e r DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c011 Scaffolding the Development of Tutor Expertise Rebecca S. Nowacek and Bradley Hughes In writing centers, the question of how to cultivate expertise in writing and writing instruction takes on an urgency that stems from one of the great strengths and defining features of writing centers: their extensive use of undergraduate and graduate students as writing consultants or tutors. The tutors in our writing centers at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as in many writing centers, are on staff for relatively short periods of time—some for three years or more, but many others for only a handful of semesters. Helping these tutors cultivate a sense of expertise that can prepare them to be simultaneously confident enough to work with writers from a wide range of disciplines and levels of experience and humble enough to remain open to constantly learning is a delightful challenge for writing center directors. The framework of threshold concepts, we believe, can help writing center professionals do that work more effectively. To be clear, we have designed tutor education for years (and in Brad’s case, for decades) without explicitly drawing on the threshold concepts framework to inform our work. Nevertheless, as we look at the approaches we’ve taken, we can see our understandings of threshold concepts have implicitly informed our tutor-education programs and approaches to mentoring. We believe that the conscious use of the framework provided by the threshold concepts of writing identified in this volume cannot only help writing center directors to articulate (and therefore clarify and sometimes revise) priorities for the structure of tutor-education programs, it can also help tutors themselves conceptualize their own work with writers and with faculty. Moreover, viewing the work of tutor education through the lens of threshold concepts in writing development challenges writing center 172   Part 2 : Using Threshold Concepts scholars to ask whether there are additional, writing center-specific threshold concepts. We begin that project, and conclude this chapter, by proposing one such writing center-specific threshold concept. What’s at Stak e: An Expansi ve Vi si o n of the Writi ng Ce nter To highlight why educating tutors is so challenging and how threshold concepts can guide that work, we begin by foregrounding the range of writing center work and by suggesting the many ways strong, cross-­ curricular writing centers rely on and illuminate all five of the threshold concepts about writing articulated in part 1 of this volume. Perhaps the most broadly shared understanding of writing centers is that of a space in which writers and tutors talk about the process of writing and about drafts in progress. What is perhaps less visible to individuals who have not spent extended periods of time within strong cross-curricular writing centers is the incredible variety of that talk. Within our two writing centers, for instance, writers—including undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and community members—meet with tutors to discuss research proposals , statements of purpose, experimental research reports, personal statements, new media projects, research posters, academic essays, literature reviews, critiques, manifestos, policy analyses, job letters, resumes, and CVs. These conversations take place in person across our campuses, within dedicated writing centers and writing studios, learning commons, campus libraries, and coffee shops; they take place online, through written feedback, Skype, and Google doc consultations; they take place beyond our campuses in public libraries and community centers. Furthermore, our writing centers offer much more than individual tutoring. We offer many workshops on common genres of academic writing. Our centers include both established and proto-WAC programs, offering consultations and workshops for faculty on teaching with writing and co-teaching custom units on writing within courses across the curriculum. We have writing fellows programs that blend WAC and writing centers. We mentor student-tutors in carefully designed initial and ongoing tutor education and mentor them as they conduct original research about academic writing and about talk around writing. And as Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2013) persuasively documents, our writing centers are hardly unique in this regard. Although the writing centers we direct cannot represent the full variety of writing center structures and missions, they do embody many of the most common ambitions of and challenges faced by cross-curricular writing centers. Threshold Concepts in...


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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