Writing Center Assessment

Although I have been a writing consultant at the Center for Writers for three years, I hadn’t ever thought about writing center assessment until I attended a panel on the topic at the MnWE conference this March. The reading for this week reminded me about how much this topic fascinated me. I began thinking about how after a client leaves the center, I typically never again see the development of a students’ writing that I was invested in for a half an hour, unless he or she makes another appointment. This made me wonder how we even know if we are developing students’ writing skills in the long term, rather than acting as a quick-fix before the paper is due. Of course, we try to focus our sessions on providing students with more global, transferable feedback than minor corrections that only apply to the paper at hand. However, how much of our feedback do students generally internalize and successfully apply later on?

One strategy of assessing this outcome from the chapter was the idea of comparing grades between students who use and those who do not use the writing center. I think that this would be incredibly useful to know, but I wonder how telling the results would be, as there are many factors that can affect the results of this method, such as the differing amounts of time and purposes that students use the writing center, the specific tutors that they work with, and so on. Thus, I wonder what other methods may be more effective in measuring this. One of the presentations on the panel I attended discussed her implementation of student exit surveys within the writing center. This would be a valuable tool to gain student insight, but it would not help in determining students’ quantifiable success after using the writing center. Additionally, self-reported responses can often be biased or incorrect.

I think that it would be interesting if a composition instructor would be able to measure whether attending the writing center affects students’ success. However, a teacher cannot force half of the class to get an equal amount of feedback and mandate that the other half refrain from gaining any support, as that would be unethically influencing their grades. If it is for an assignment that is graded based on completion, the case would be difficult. This way, the results would not influence high stakes like grades. Are there still too many factors influencing the outcome? Do you think this method would be valuable? I look forward to hearing any comments!

1.) What do you think is the best method of assessing the writing center’s influence in developing students’ long-term writing skills?

2.) Do you think the classroom study described about would be valuable? Why or why not?

3.) How do you think discovering evidence regarding writing center effectiveness would impact writing centers and classrooms?

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