Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Toward a Professional Consultant's Handbook: Researching Support and Training Methods

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Toward a Professional Consultant's Handbook: Researching Support and Training Methods

Article excerpt


Many writing centers employ professional consultants in addition to peer undergraduate or graduate students. We use the umbrella term "professional" to refer to both those consultants who are faculty members working in the writing center and to staff who are not enrolled as undergraduate or graduate students. In other words, we use the term to describe a specific group of non-peer consultants. Professional consultants, if they are faculty members, may work in the writing center as part of their teaching assignments or voluntarily, while other higher education professionals with degrees beyond the bachelor's might be hired specifically to staff writing centers on a full- or part-time basis. While professional consultants are a distinct presence in writing centers, most major training manuals are geared toward undergraduate peer tutoring rather than to the consulting dynamics encountered by this population of professional writing instructors.

There are several reasons for this gap in the training literature, including the reality that when many faculty and professionals work in the writing center, they do so because they are experienced writing instructors; therefore, it is often assumed that professional consultants need less training in working one-to-one with students. Further, most writing center training manuals, despite being rhetorically cast toward peer tutors, offer instruction and advice about consultation strategies easily translatable to the non-peer-to-peer dynamic. Yet, despite the usefulness of these manuals to professional consultants, most of them do not address the particular dynamics of non-peer-to-peer consulting. The emphasis on peer-tutoring in training manuals, including the challenges they face and the reciprocal benefits they receive, has served to elide the presence of a distinctly different instructional dynamic encountered by faculty and professional consultants.

Faculty or professional consultants make up more than half of our writing center's staff at Case Western Reserve University, which usually numbers around forty each year. We therefore encounter daily non-peer consulting relationships and have identified a clear need for additional resources on the topic. Non-peer dynamics arise in our work with undergraduates and in our work with graduate students and faculty. We have not only identified that such dynamics exist, but also have begun to recognize the challenges and benefits of non-peer consulting--and to locate within the non-peer session important opportunities for effective instruction. Our staff training has been re-customized to address the specific non-peer consulting scenarios that we see professional consultants encountering in the majority of their sessions. We have discovered that contrary to popular assumption--and aside from their many hours working one-to-one with students from their classes--some of our experienced faculty consultants do not have prior experience with writing centers or with one-to-one consulting. Therefore, we have located a salient need for a training manual for this unique population.

We have entered the beginning stages of compiling such a manual for our own writing center, with an eye toward its use as a resource in other writing centers. We determined the issues to be covered in our handbook by conducting a professional consultant focus group and survey. As more writing instructors find themselves staffing writing centers, some while in pursuit of full-time employment opportunities, our handbook both calls attention to--and helps writing center professionals be cognizant of--the role of the writing center as a distinct instructional entity in higher education. This article documents the process of selecting the major issues to be covered in our handbook, which will be ready for both internal consultant training at our university and wider publication for use in other centers within the next year.

It is also important to note our handbook's potential for a more global contribution to evolving the perception of writing centers. …

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