A “Culture” of Observation

First your time to turn in paper one.  I’m excited to read what you wrote!  After I lead you through sharing the paper with me, I’ll talk a bit about grades in this course and what’s ahead.

First upload the paper to Google Docs and share it with cfosen@csuchico.edu.  Then please answer these three questions right at the top!  (No joke.)  They are:

  • What do you like about the paper?  What do you think you did well?
  • What’s not so great in your mind?  Where did you run off course?
  • What kind of feedback do you want from me on this draft?

Today’s reading is by Mark Hall, who was hired at Chico State in 2001, when I was, and worked here as a compositionist and writing center director for many years.  It returns us to thinking about communities of practice and situated learning, which we last saw in Lerner’s “Situated Learning in the Writing Center.”

So what connections do you see between the arguments that Lerner makes and what Mark Hall says here?  First, I believe Mark wants us to imagine the growth of a writing center as tied to the ways in which its tutors come together around a “domain of interest,” forms of membership and belonging, and a “shared repertoire of resources.”  In this way he’s arguing not only that WC’s can be communities of practice but should be.

He also seems to be arguing that tutor observations can play a role in increasing the community’s knowledge about and practical strategies for the practice of tutoring.  Handled in the right way, he says, observations and discussions about tutoring should create an ongoing and focused culture of inquiry:

Rather than focus on individual knowing or tutor development, then, a communities-of-practice perspective turns our attention to the joint activities–the shared practice–of the writing center, the transactional process of becoming enculturated into that community, and the resources, such as this list of tutoring practices, which mediate that process.  (p. 20)

We foster professional development of both new and experienced tutors when we structure the work of tutoring around discussions about particular tutoring “cases”.  But we foster the growth of the mentorship space, Writing Center, or ESL Resource Center as a community of practice when we reflect on our shared and joint activities of tutoring and mentoring.

Some interesting/useful points Hall raises:

    • A rigid set of common practices cannot work for all. Tutoring writing is, and must remain, a highly inefficient teaching and learning activity, whose specific contexts, even within a single writing center, are so varied that we should not hope to find the “one best way.” (19, emphasis added)
    • Formative feedback instead of summative evaluations!  Possible through a strategy of pairing new tutors with more capable peers and encouraging informal discussions of experience (25)
    • Without an explicit agenda, tutors focus too quickly and narrowly on correcting sentence-level errors in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics, rather than first tackling global concerns of content and organization. Without clear priorities for the session, consultants also neglect to assist writers to make plans for what to do in revision after consultations. (34)

So today we have some options.

One way would be to return to these ideas of “situated learning” and “communities of practice” in a more robust way, perhaps by starting with that video we never watched:

What would it mean to adopt a “communities of practice” approach in this class?  How would it change our:

  1. Work with writers?
  2. Learning to tutor?
  3. Sense of ourselves as full participants in an enterprise?

Another way would be to talk about the observations you did in paper one using that list of “valued practices.”  I will pass out a one-page sheet of them, organized as his chapter does; let’s take time to fill out the chart based on the narratives/descriptions you wrote about in paper one.

  1. First, please re-read your paper for today, which asked you to pull out your notes and describe some of the things you’re seeing in your internship, linking them to things we’ve read or talked about in class.
  2. Based on this blog and your memory of that day, code it using the chart of the 20 “valued practices.”  Which of the 20 valued practices were happening, and at what rate of success, on this day?
  3. Reflect for a second.  Why these?  Do you notice any pattern of behaviors/practices, or pattern of successes (or not)?

Then we’ll regroup by internship space so that we can compare notes.  Please sit by TYPE of internship: in groups of people interning in the ESL Resource Center, Student Learning Center WC, an ENGL 131 workshop, and the ten-person 130P workshop o 90-person “Jumbo” space.  (Note: I know that you all observed a session in the ESLRC or the SLC for this paper because the focus was on tutoring, not mediating a workshop group.  Nevertheless I think it could be useful for us to break into internship groups, perhaps to reflect on some of the differences–if any–between what we witnessed in our papers and in our normal internship hours.)

  1. Read the Mark Hall charts of other people.  Pass them around!  OR each person in the group could talk for a few minutes about what activities they observed.
  2. Tally up the practices you all saw.  Which practices were happening
    1. Most often?  Least often?
    2. Most successfully?  Least?
  3. Now hypothesize why.  What do you make about the relative amounts of each one of these?  Does the focus seem to be on one to the exclusion of others?  Is there a balance among them?  What might you conclude based on their presence or absence?

Please elect a spokesperson to tell us your “results” and also what meaning you make out of what you saw.  We’ll have some discussion for each, focusing on what the practices we’ve observed tell us about:

  • opportunities for learning to write
  • informal exchanges of ideas, commitments to “friendly talk”
  • participation in workshop or tutorial as authentic learning
  • moments of reflection about writing or on prior knowledge

And so on!


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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