When I first started working in the writing lab as a writing lab consultant, my expectations for the position were very different from the experiences I have been through. I envisioned myself sitting at a desk next to an apprehensive freshman, guiding them through the ins and outs of topic sentences and thesis statements. Don’t get me wrong, I have gone through this scenario dozens of times, but I now realize the opportunity for learning is so much greater than I had originally thought. In the past two semesters, I have found that my original assessment of writing lab practice was a bit skewed. I have since come to the conclusion that tutoring is truly a two-way street of learning, rather than the one-way flow of information I had previously envisioned. I have had so many sessions where both the student and I have come away with valuable knowledge gained through discussion in the writing booth. This should come as no surprise, as there are countless ways in which students and teachers can learn from one another in any academic setting.
Most students who seek assistance from the writing lab assume a one-way stream of instruction from the consultant to the student, which often is what occurs. The student might need help with a topic sentence or connecting their thesis to the rest of their essay. These are everyday occurrences in the writing lab. Even more common, though, is the request for a “second set of eyes” to go over a writing assignment and make sure it “sounds okay”. Over the past two semesters, these requests have become second nature to me as a consultant. Another thing students come looking for is ideas. Brainstorming can be one of the most difficult things in writing, so it often helps students to talk to another person who has likely gone through a similar process to try and get the ideas flowing. In a sense, this signifies you as the consultant breaking down a barrier to help the student let the ideas flow back at you. Thus, you have obtained a two-way flow of information and ideas.
You might be asking, how do I truly reach the point where the student and I are benefiting through combined learning? The answer is in your mindset. If you go into each session with the attitude that you are the expert on every subject related to writing, then there is a good chance you won’t get much out of the session in terms of gaining new knowledge. On the flip side, if you go into a session with the mindset that there is always something new to discover, you will be much more receptive to learning from your student. For instance, I had the privilege to work with an ESL, non-traditional student over the past semester. This student was highly experienced in writing fiction and poetry in multiple languages, so initially I was feeling under qualified to discuss anything with them. But as the sessions wore on and we became better acquainted, I realized this was a golden opportunity for both of us. We were confronted with the chance to learn from each other and gain the knowledge that each of us had to offer. This experience also dispelled the notion that the writing lab consultant is the unquestioned expert when it comes to writing. Thus, the predisposed barriers were broken, leaving nothing but endless possibilities. It was in this moment that I realized two-way learning is actually achievable.
The best part about two-way collaboration between consultant and student is that it is obtainable in any session. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or the fortieth session, both you and the student will always have something to offer. With the right mindset, any session in the writing lab can go from ordinary to extraordinary in the blink of an eye.