Between the Lines: Writing Center Classes in Pedagogical Perspective
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The CFP for this spring 2007 issue of Praxis invites us to consider the writing center and the classroom as separate entities with complementary, but ultimately distinct, practices, methods, and goals. This perspective is by no means new. When the first writing labs emerged in the 1940s, they imagined themselves as a counterpoint to the traditional classroom; indeed, many initial explorations of what writing centers could become began with an assertion of what they were not. From those earliest years until now, however, a third entity has existed alongside these seemingly dichotomous forms. The writing center class (or “workshop,” as it’s sometimes called) does represent an alternative to the traditional classroom. It typically meets a handful of times at most; students earn neither credits nor grades for attending, and they sign up voluntarily. At the same time, the material and pedagogical conditions of the writing center class–a group of students, an “expert” instructor, handouts, desks, a chalkboard–can appear quite conventional. In short, by combining elements of the traditional classroom and the writing center, the writing center class is a hybrid form. Those who want to offer this kind of instruction–and there are many reasons to do so–must carefully negotiate that hybridity if they want to succeed.