R. Stephen Hill

International Writing Centers Association 2012

Abstract

The non-directive approach to tutoring forms part of the bedrock of writing center theory and practice. As tutors and tutor trainers, we endeavor to preserve students’ agency, their ownership of their texts, and our own autonomy as writing center staff by “making the student do all the work,” as Jeff Brooks put it in his landmark essay on minimalist tutoring. Not only, however, is non-directive tutoring sometimes more directive than it claims to be, it may owe a great deal to a very culturally bound phenomenon: child language socialization practices. Sociological researchers have investigated how infants are socialized into successful language use and, not surprisingly, have found that different cultures use wildly varying approaches. This concerns writing center theory and practice because the way a culture does language socialization exerts a powerful influence on how it views ideal educational practice. In fact, several hallmarks of American child language socialization bear marked resemblance to non-directive tutoring, such as the use of evaluative comments to reframe a joint action as done only by the child or student, or the minimization of the gap between the parent’s (teacher’s) ability and the child’s (student’s). With this in mind, it becomes evident that the foundational practice of non-directive tutoring in fact rests on shifting sand. This is an important realization when working with all writers, but especially for second-language writers, who are a significant part of the students whom writing centers serve. Having established the culturally-bound and contingent nature of the non-directive approach, I sketch some ways to address this cultural heterogeneity in practice.