The following was written in response to the author’s first observation of a writing center session. The author is one of four students in English 251: Writing Center Theory and Practice.
To write is to hurl oneself into the great unknown is terrifyingly beautiful. To share ones own work is even more so frightening in that the writer must let someone else in, let someone else watch them take their leap.
A writer, tutor, and two observers, including myself, all sit down at a small table. The other observer and I are across from the writer and the tutor. My notebook is open , propped up on my lap, and I am ready to record all that will help me succeed as a future writing consultant.
The writer comes in looking for another set of eyes for her personal statement for graduate school. I immediately start to panic about the idea of helping someone who’s at a higher writing level than me. The tutor looks genuinely interested in what the writer has to say and records information about the writing prompt and the focus of the paper. Throughout the session, the tutor asks the writer various questions that lead her to really thinking about what her paper is trying to say. Questions like, “What have you got so far?” “What are your biggest concerns?” and “Do you think this fulfills what you want to say?” help the writer get down to the true focus of the paper and build up from there. The panic of assisting a more skilled writer subsides.
Having anyone read your writing can be a terrifying situation, especially if it’s a high-stakes like the writer I observed. The tutor seemed to realize this and therefore directed the session in a friendly, comfortable way. The tutor smiled, asking the writer what made her interested in what she was writing about. The writer animatedly talked about her love for biology and her desire to work in labs. It seemed as if the two were simply friends talking over coffee! There was the perfect balance between the roles of “ally” and “the expert”. The tutor obviously knew what she was talking about, but never made the writer feel insignificant by talking to her as an “ally”. There was no hierarchy in the session, both the tutor and the writer stood on the same ground.
Along with asking questions, the tutor helps break down the writer’s personal statement by having her read it aloud. She looks at the writer’s paper while she is reading it and follows along. Having already discussed and decided on the main idea of the paper, they focus on one paragraph at a time. This approach is useful in that it doesn’t overwhelm the writer. The tutor compliments the writer by saying, “I like the way you…” and uses the phrase, “This might make your writing a little stronger…” when there is potential for a better way to express something in the work. Using phrases like this, ones that don’t insult the writer, help maintain the writer’s confidence needed to motivate a finished, well-written paper.
After the session ends, I close my notebook that is now filled with notes and comments. I go back to my dorm, intending to work on some anatomy homework but for the entirety of my ten-minute retreat to K-New I think about the writing session I just witnessed. And all I can think about is how much I want to help people write their story. I want to witness their leaps.