Tuesday, April 07, 2009

NEWCA 2009

Last weekend was the 25th NEWCA, held at the University of Hartford in the wilds of Connecticut. This was the first conference I attended as a steering committee member, and it really made a difference; I always had a good time attending NEWCA, but I had such a great time this year! Harvey Kail from the University of Maine in Orono gave a great keynote, and Neal Lerner from MIT gave a good talk after lunch about the history of NEWCA.

I managed to sit in on some really interesting sessions. I chaired a session called "Record, Reflect, Renew: Using iPods to Understand Writing Center Work," in which students/tutors were using iPods to record tutor sessions for analysis and tutor training purposes. The second session I attended, "Decentering the Center: Taking the Writing Center Pedagogy into the Community," was co-presented by two Teaching Fellow from St. John's Univ. in Queens; they discussed taking writing center pedagogy into the community - Meridith into a church-based group; Kerri into her former high school - both of which I found extremely interesting. (And hearing them talk about the community outreach being done and supported by the St. John's folks finally got me to see what (I think) a few folks had been trying to tell me about applying to doctoral programs.) The third session,"Mandatory Tutoring Sessions: How Writing Center Tutors Can Squash the Combative Nature of Mandated FYW Tutoring Sessions," focused on turning negative sessions around and trying to put positive spins on those session.

I also led my first SIG - Tutoring in the Disciplines. I attempted to put something together so I could have a handout, a bibliography or "suggested reading" or something of the sort, but couldn't really find anything that would have been too helpful, and in a sense I'm glad it worked out that way because "tutoring in the disciplines" had meant something else to me than it did those who attended my SIG. I was thinking that tutoring in the disciplines was more along the lines of tutoring across the disciplines, while others were more concerned with tutoring writing in various fields, which is the other part of tutoring in the disciplines that I had been thinking of. I realized just how concerned tutors are in terms of tutoring writing in disciplines about which they know very little - any field that isn't directly in their major or about a topic they know something about - but there was equal concern and interest in that line between tutoring and outright teaching, being directive vs. being non-directive; in essence, determining when you have to teach or re-teach concepts directly vs. leading the student through her basic understanding of the material in order for her to understand the higher level material. We-the-tutors can still address the writing itself in terms of clarity or format (a lab report vs. a legal brief vs. a research paper, etc.), but there was a distinct line about what we do allow ourselves to do as tutors, and what we feel we should not do. Most of that concern boils down to not wanting to take over the session or doing the students' work for them, and keeping those "best practices" in mind also, but learning to distinguish when it might be acceptable, and even needed, to do within the confines of a tutoring session, and when we're crossing boundaries. These were most of the issues that came up in the SIGs, and I'm really glad I got the chance to lead that particular one. And if I get the chance to lead that SIG again, I'll have an idea of the types of resources I might be able to bring.

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