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Researching the Writing Center

Towards an Evidence-Based Practice

Rebecca Day Babcock and Terese Thonus

Researching the Writing Center is the first book-length treatment of the research base for academic writing tutoring. The book reviews the current state of writing center scholarship, arguing that although they continue to value anecdotal and experiential evidence, practitioner-researchers must also appreciate empirical evidence as mediating theory and practice. Readers of this book will discover an evidence-based orientation to research and be able to evaluate the current scholarship on recommended writing center practice. Chapters examine the research base for current theory and practice involving the contexts of tutoring, tutoring activities, and the tutoring of «different» populations. Readers will investigate the sample research question, «What is a ‘successful’ writing consultation?» The book concludes with an agenda for future questions about writing center practice that can be researched empirically. Researching the Writing Center is intended for writing center professionals, researchers, graduate students in English, composition studies, and education, and peer tutors in training.


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5. Tutoring Activities


c h a p t e r f i v e Tutoring Activities Talk is everything. If the writing center is ever to prove its worth in other than quantitative terms—number of students seen, for example, or hours of tutorials provided—it will have to do so by describing its talk: What characterizes it, what effects it has, how it can be enhanced. . . . The vari- ations on the kind of talk are endless. We can question, praise, cajole, crit- icize, acknowledge, badger, plead—even cry. We can read: silently, aloud, together, separately. We can play with options. We can both write. . . . We can ask writers to compose aloud while we listen, or we can compose aloud, and the writer can watch and listen. (North, 1984a, pp. 75–76) In this chapter, we categorize tutoring activities according to the four language skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Finally, we review studies on re- vision talk, meta-discourse, and reflection, since these activities figure prominently in the tutoring sessions that researchers have investigated. Speaking Two main types of talk appear in tutoring sessions: the actual discourse of tutoring itself (instructional talk) and other talk (small talk), which serves a more interper- sonal or phatic purpose. B&T Final_B&T fin 6/19/12 3:21 PM Page 111 112 | RESEARCHING THE WRITING CENTER Instructional Talk Citing Thonus (1998), Ritter (2002) divided the tutoring session into the diag- nosis phase (discussed in the next chapter under agenda-setting), the directive phase, in which...

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