the idea of a writing center

In his essay “The Idea of a Writing Center,” Stephen M. North sets forth to change others’ conceptions of what a writing center is and should be. He claims that teachers’ views of the writing center as a place to fix errors shows that teaching pedagogy has actually “fundamentally changed very little” (72). The prevailing attitude of faculty is that the writing center is for those “others” who are not talented or average writers; however, the “primary goals in teaching writing should be the development of general patterns of thinking and writing” and the writing center is for writers at all levels (73). North lays out a writing center pedagogy: “[The new writing center] represents the marriage of what are arguably the two most powerful contemporary perspectives on teaching writing: first, that writing is most usefully viewed as a process; and second, that writing curricula need to be student-centered” (76). The job of writing assistants and tutors “is to produce better writers, not better writing” (76). This will be done when, to quote James Moffett, the teacher or writing assistant “shifts his [sic] gaze from the subject to the learner, for the subject is the learner” (qtd. 78). A writing assistant using a student-centered approach “begin[s] where the student is, and move[s] where the student moves” (78). North also suggests having writing center tutors go to classrooms and work with a student on his/her/hir writing in front of the whole class, in a fishbowl-esque example of what goes on in the writing center (80).

I’m curious about the feasability of actually attending classes and doing this. I actually wouldn’t mind doing this in my Writing 121 classroom (I’d rather have a writing assistant come in than do it myself, though). I think modeling this can show students the advantages of going, especially if the writing assistant is a strong one who praises well (as we discussed in our writing center meeting yesterday).

North, Stephen M. “The Idea of the Writing Center.” Landmark Essays on Writing Centers. Eds. Christina Murphy and Joe Law. Davis, CA: Hermagoras, 1995. 71-85.

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4 Responses to the idea of a writing center

  1. Lisa Ede says:

    Before I forget, Michael, since writing this essay North has written a second essay that recants on some of the most important ideas in the article. It’s an interesting read.

    I think it could be worthwhile to give his suggestion a try, though I personally would find it extremely difficult to do–ie to model a conference. It would feel awkward and unnatural to me. I guess I’d rather encourage/require students to come to the Center.


  2. Michael says:

    Yes, I know about North’s second essay, though it’s not available in the library at all. It’s in a book and a journal, neither of which the library owns.

  3. Helper says:

    The second North essay is available here:

  4. Ariane says:

    Thanks for clarifying North’s article for me.

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