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CO DA William J. Macauley, Jr. and Ellen Schendel Our book focuses on the writing center assessment process as a journey that we’ve both taken, and which we’ve largely enjoyed and found important—even interesting and fun. But what we would like to muse upon for a few pages, here at the end of this book, is the very real experience you’re likely to have multiple times (at least, we did): that terrible feeling that you got it all wrong, that you made a mistake. Sometimes you will be correct in thinking that, and it’s a potentially paralyzing fear. But we want you to know that we’ve been there; every writing center director (WCD) has. Doubts and mistakes are par for the course in assessment—and in leadership. But they are also an important part of our development. The question is how we will handle mistakes as they arise. Alina Tugend, a columnist with The New York Times, recently published Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong (2011), and her work provides a great deal of information that we can use in writing center assessment. Tugend writes: defining mistakes and acknowledging that we all make them is only the beginning. It doesn’t do us much good unless we also try to change our approach—when we and others make mistakes—in ways that will benefit us and those around us. (40) In other words, we will make mistakes. We’ll learn about mistakes in our assessment processes when we don’t get the information we want or need; we’ll learn about mistakes in our centers’ programming when we discover through assessment what isn’t working so well. Both are scary prospects, in part because WCDs are often the only people on their campuses clearly dedicated to the center’s program. As a result, we can often personalize our work in the center. This is one of the places where our marginalization is most problematic. As Tugend contends , the best we can do is learn from those mistakes and allow others to learn from them, too. 172    BUILDING WRITING CENTER ASSESSMENTS THAT MATTER But Tugend does more than simply announce that mistakes are a normal part of success; she also writes about a number of studies focused on error that have resulted in useful concepts we can apply to our roles as directors who manage assessments for our centers. First, Tugend relies heavily on the work of Carol S. Dweck (2008), a professor of psychology at Stanford University, whose research uncovered two distinct mindsets related to how people process and even use mistakes: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Of the fixed mindset, Tugend writes: Those who see their abilities as fixed, as innate and inflexible . . . think they are simply not smart or talented enough to do the task required and they learn to be defensive and foist blame on anything or anyone but themselves. (46) By contrast, those who have a growth mindset see ability as a malleable quality and therefore believe that with enough effort they can overcome obstacles. They may not embrace mistakes, but they tend to see them more as part of the process of learning than as a reflection of their intelligence or abilities. (46–47) Nobody likes to make mistakes, especially where others can see them. Meanwhile, neither can any of us deny that we make them. The question really boils down to what we do with the mistakes we make: are they growth opportunities or recriminations? Are they signs of progress or limitations? How would we answer these questions if we were discussing a student’s writing rather than our own writing center’s programming, or our own assessment efforts? Tugend also makes good use of the research conducted by Chris Argyris (1992), professor emeritus at Harvard Business School. Of primary interest here is Argyris’s differentiation between single-loop learning and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning happens “when a mistake is detected and corrected without questioning the underlying values of the system” (76). Argyris provides an alternative, though: Double-loop learning, on the other hand, means to question the underlying factors themselves and subject them to critical scrutiny—in effect, it turns the question back on the questioner and asks not only about objective facts, but also about the reasons and motives behind those facts. (76) In other words, “single-loopers” solve immediate problems. For a WCD conducting assessment, this might mean...


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MARC Record
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