Do Theory and Practice Overlap?
If there are other newbies out there struggling with this same issue, I’d like to share something that I’ve observed in BSU’s writing center that has helped me overcome my anxiety over this apparent disparity between writing-center theory and practice. Now, I’ve made it a point to observe the methods of as many veterans in our center as I possibly can, and most of those I’ve observed do a pretty good job in steering students away from the repair-shop mentality. But one veteran consultant in particular has a very cool way of adapting theory to practice, especially when a student clearly wants nothing more than to get the grammar and punctuation “fixed.” When this veteran agrees to do some “red-pen” error correction, he talks to the student as the corrections are made, and he explains why a given faux pas creates a problem for the reader and why the correction he makes clears up that problem. So while he is, in effect, doing a bit of fix-it work on the student’s paper, he is also engaging in a Northian-type dialogue with the student about that student’s writing. In other words, this consultant is not abandoning theory, but he is instead molding it to fit a situation he regularly faces in practice. Some of his fix-it sessions have been the most productive consultations that I’ve observed, as I could almost see the light bulb blink on in the students’ heads when the consultant explained what he was doing and why, and there was no doubt that the students walked away from the session knowing a little more about grammar and punctuation than they had when they’d walked in. Isn’t this in keeping with North’s statement that the goal of a writing center is “to make better writers, not necessarily—or immediately—better texts”? I think it is. So when I’m finally conducting consultations on my own, this is the example I plan to follow when a student pushes for the quick fix. I’ll correct some of the student’s errors, true, but he or she will talk to me about what’s being done and why, and that student will definitely learn something about writing before the session is over.