Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mission of the Writer's Studio: Your Help Requested

Guest blogger: William Donahue

My goal in this post is to involve the Lincoln University community in writing the mission statement for the Roscoe Lee Brown Writer’s Studio. Located in University Hall B-3 with hours this semester on Tuesdays from 3:30 until 5 p.m. and Wednesdays from 4 until 6 p.m., the RLB Writer’s Studio is based on a writing center model—a collaborative place to create better writers. We offer non-evaluative, one-on-one consultations on any writing matters, for any student at any level, as well as specialty workshops for groups. We also house the English Department’s component of the Humanities Tutoring Program in the core.

Let me start with an anecdote from a class in that core:

In yet another English Composition II class, this first day of midterm week, I explained my “revision” midterm assignment. Students need to take their short story analysis essay, write a revision, then write a meta-cognitive reflection of how they attempted to revise each graded entity on the rubric (thesis, support, etc), and finally address grammar and punctuation issues by writing the rule for their particular pattern of error as well as demonstrating application of that rule to their own writing.

No Scantron here. We are quickly climbing Bloom’s taxonomy and addressing numerous SLOGs.

The students are writing, revising, engaging in critical thinking, and learning about their writing process. But a finer point escaped the students—the difference I was trying to elicit between “editing” and “proofreading.” Even after my powerpoint and class discussion, a student response to the midterm assignment was to “fix the errors” as if there was nothing more to revision than fixing a mistake. That a thesis, although “somewhat effective” on the grading rubric, could not be revised further.

As I discussed with my students today and as I talk about the RLB Writer’s Studio as a “writing center” at Lincoln, I am often reminded of Stephen North’s 1984 essay in College English titled “The Idea of a Writing Center,” which was the basis for a “new” model of writing center that differed from the “basement, fix-it” shop approach to writing (VISIT US IN THE BASEMENT OF UNIVERSITY HALL!) Instead, North argued, “it 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” (438) as opposed to the “older” model where “instruction tends to take place after or apart from writing, and tends to focus on the correction of textual problems” (439).

Writing centers focus on creating better writers through collaborative, dialogue/question driven, non-directive measures. The goal is often a better writer, not necessarily a better written text. The analogy I often use is teaching people to fish so that they will never go hungry.

The more recent criticism of the process approach to writing, which developed in 60s through the 90s, comes from post process scholars such as Kent (2003) who assert that writing is social—a situated, public, and interpretative act. The product cannot be ignored.

So the Writing Center is stuck in the middle—which is right where we want to be.

WE DON'T FIX STUDENT WRITING (but we can help students fix their own writing).
WE DON'T DO REMEDIATION (but we can help remediate student writing).
WE WANT STUDENTS TO COME TO US (but any encouragement to help students find us will be accepted).
WE WORK WITH ANY WRITING ISSUE (believe it or not there is more to writing than grammar).
WE WANT TO PROMOTE WRITING (we want to promote writing).

After all as North stated, “if writing centers are going to finally be accepted, surely they must be accepted on their own terms, as places whose primary responsibility, whose only reason for being, is to talk to writers” (446).

So I now enter into a dialogue with you. Help us create our Mission Statement. What do you see as the mission of the Roscoe Lee Browne Writer’s Studio?


Kent, T. (2003). “Introduction.” Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing Process Paradigm. Ed. Thomas Kent. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.

North, S. M. (1984). “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English, 46(5), 433-446.


  1. Sounds like the mission is to encourage students at Lincoln to become writers by providing them with the tools to improve their skills in a non-threatening environment.

    Is there any way to have the center open daily, rather than just two days? I realize that the problem may be manpower, as English profs have other duties, but maybe there are writers in other disciplines who could spend time there. Perhaps you could screen volunteers and/or provide any necessary training, if you are worried about putting the job in the hands of people who don't write well themselves. I'd certainly volunteer in a heartbeat if my credentials were deemed acceptable.

  2. Your mission is whatever you want it to be; isn't it? I wonder whether one should tell others what their mission is or should be. As for perception, it can be deceptive; can't it? A mission is more of a prescription than a description; according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is "a pre-established and often self-imposed objective or purpose" and, from the Macmillan Dictionary, a mission statement is "a short official statement that an organization makes about the work that it does and why it does it."

  3. Ms. Pevar, We have no budget. We manage to pay our two student tutors with funding from the Humanities Department. With budgeting we could establish the processess neccessary to run a daily center.

    But we would love to have more people, such as yourself, in the center. We would love to talk with you about our methods and welcome you to start consulating with our writers.

  4. Dr. Kwame, you are exactly right. A mission is whatever you want it to be. It can be, and should be, “self-imposed” about the work that it does and why it does it. The question is of ownership. Who is the “you?” Who is the “self?” I propose that I am not the “you.” I am not the Roscoe Lee Browne Writer’s Studio. I am a part of the Roscoe Lee Brown Writer’s Studio. But so are the two student tutors. And so are you, Dr. Kwame. And so is Ms. Pevar. For it to be a true “center,” we can not marginalize anyone.

    To use a recent example from the non-compliance with Standard 14 of the Middle States Review, I agree with President Nelson that student learning needs to be owned by the faculty. In many ways, the faculty is a reason Lincoln did not comply with the standard. (To be clear, I do not think the faculty is the only reason.) However, I disagree with President Nelson’s tactics. After he says student learning should be owned by the faculty, he presents “recommendations” on what should be done. This undermines faculty ownership.

    A writing center should be owned by as many as possible. According to, a “center” is “the core or middle of anything.” I am not the center. We are the center.
    So I ask again. What is our mission?!

  5. I like the "encourage students" aspect of Ms. pevar's response. But, I question the "become writers." Are they not already writers? Perhaps not self-iednetified, but they are writing. We need the students to realize and own their position as writers.

  6. As someone struggling to get our online writing lab working up to its capacity (and I'm not even sure what that capacity is) I was struck by your point,"The goal is often a better writer, not necessarily a better written text." That's so true and so hard, because both the students and the teachers, with good reason, take the short view: time is passing, I must too, so make this paper better and we'll all worry about becoming better writers later.

    Working online, it is even harder to promote that dialogue you speak of, asking questions that help the writer make his or her own decision. There is great temptation just to use "insert comments" and "track changes" to make the change while giving a brief explanation of why the change is needed. So I guess part of the writer's studio mission should be helping to promote the virtues of patience and delayed gratification, on the part of both teachers and writers. Not quite sure how to do that, though.

  7. Linda, the delayed gratification can be masked by focusing on one issue per session. You might need to name a few issues the writer is experiencing, but when you focus on one, there can be gratification in the understanding gained about that one issue. During the next session, another issue can be addressed, and so on.

    You are right. Helping students to see this approach to their writing--the patience of writing--should be part of our mission.