How can we as faculty make the best use of the Writing Center for our students? This guide offers some suggestions for how to introduce the Writing Center at the beginning of the semester, how to discuss tutoring with individual students before they make an appointment, and how to encourage students to respond critically to tutor (consultant) feedback.
BU has many writing centers, and different centers may be helpful for faculty teaching writing-intensive courses in the disciplines or first-year writing courses in other programs. But the CAS Writing Program benefits from having an in-house writing center whose primary function is supporting students through our WR courses (WR 111, WR 112, WR 120, WR 151, WR 152, WR 153, and WR 415). Our writing consultants are primarily undergraduates who have already completed WR 15x and take a training course in their first semester of consulting. They meet with students in the Writing Center (the open space near the Comm Ave side of 100 Bay State Road, third floor) and will discuss any stage of the writing process, from pre-writing through drafts, and any assignment for a WR course–including a basic summary for WR 111, an academic paper for WR 120, or a podcast for WR 152.
Links and Resources
- Introduction to the CAS Writing Center (with short orientation video)
- CAS Writing Center values
- CAS Writing Center policies, FAQs, and appointment sign-ups
- Current list of CAS Writing Center consultants
- Tutoring with an Individual Plan for Support (TIPS; an optional program that allows students to request regular meetings with the same writing consultant over multiple weeks in a semester, while working toward one or more specific writing goals)
- Flipped Learning Module (suitable for use in the classroom, or could be assigned for home viewing and/or linked on a syllabus) explaining the CAS Writing Center in greater depth
- While the pages and videos linked above are aimed at students, they may also be useful for faculty, if for no other reason than to understand the messaging about the Writing Center that students are encountering.
- Also be sure that you are using the current version of the appropriate WR syllabus template, as it will contain the most recent version of the Writing Center language and policies to insert in your syllabus.
- Faculty may also be interested in these additional resources on conferencing with students about their writing, and this guide on providing feedback to students, as many conversations about student writing span the writing center, the classroom, and office hours.
Talking to a Class About the Writing Center
The CAS Writing Center should be listed on your syllabus and also linked from Blackboard (if applicable), but we all know that simply putting something on the syllabus is not a guarantee that students will read it. It’s useful to talk about the Writing Center in class on multiple occasions, both in general and in specific. Here are a few ideas for discussion starters:
- How many of you have used writing tutors before, in previous classes or in high school? What were your experiences? What was useful about talking to someone other than a classmate or an instructor about your writing?
(Hint: Consider including questions on prior experience with writing consultants/tutors as part of the initial self-assessment or first piece of reflective writing in the course.)
- Who was able to watch the orientation video for the Writing Center, or the Flipped Learning Module? What seems helpful about the Writing Center? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
(Hint: Consider offering students additional labor points, if you use a contract grading approach, for viewing these, and ideally for reflecting on them and/or mentioning them in class.)
- Who’s made an appointment with a writing consultant for this upcoming essay? Who’s already seen one so far? How was it? Can you tell us something you talked about in your session?
(Hint: Remind students that appointments book up quickly at key crunch points in the semester. Consider offering additional labor points for submitting a reflection on a tutoring session and/or giving a 2-3 minute presentation in class on their experience.)
More generally, you may want to remind students that writing consultants/tutors are only one source of feedback on their writing, and that they, as the author of their text, are in control about what feedback to accept and what to reject. Build in ways to guide students through that decision-making process and help them feel comfortable articulating their reasoning.
Talking to Individual Students About Appointments
At some institutions, writing centers work primarily or exclusively on a referral basis, with faculty “sending” students to a tutor on the basis of their perceived language ability and/or general writing skills. The CAS Writing Center, however, relies heavily on students’ own motivations to make appointments and seek out a writing consultant. As writing instructors and writers ourselves, we of course know the value of feedback during the writing process, and we can introduce the writing center to students in positive terms and encourage them to make appointments. However, requiring some or all students to see a tutor for a certain assignment, or before receiving feedback from an instructor, is not Writing Program policy. Similarly, our TIPS program is designed to be a student-initiated series of appointments during which students can work consistently with the same tutor on a specific set of writing goals; instructors are welcome to highlight this opportunity and suggest that students take advantage of it, but we do not refer individual students to TIPS or to the Writing Center in general as a remedial measure.
All new writing consultants receive some specialized training to support English language learner (ELL) students in the WR 599 training course that they take during their first semester of work. That said, the majority of consultants are undergraduates who may not have a lot of metalinguistic knowledge and vocabulary to draw on when trying to help students with their writing. Telling a WR 120- or WR 15x-level multilingual student to see a tutor to work on their “grammar” may not be the most effective way of helping that student improve their language choices. If, as an instructor, you can identify some patterns in the student’s writing, and even discuss the issues you see briefly with the student, students will then be in a better position to attempt to revise their work themselves and/or seek out additional help.
- “You really need to see a tutor to work on your grammar”
- Comments like this don’t give students specific directions for revision, risk stigmatizing students, and can make students feel as though they don’t belong in your class.
- “I’m noticing some issues with verb tenses that can be distracting for readers. I marked a few examples, but there are a lot, especially in paragraphs 2-3. Can you see if you can see a pattern, fix these on your own, and come back to me in office hours?”
- “I see a number of places where I’m struggling to understand your meaning, maybe because of the choice of words. I marked a few of these–could you take a look and see if you remember anything about your thought process when making these choices? Anything you can tell me would be useful here so I can give you some tips to help revise.”
- Comments like these give students specific areas to focus on, act as an invitation to discussing language choices–vs. errors–and help students be more strategic and reflective when revising words and sentences.