Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Rose's Writing: The Generative Power of Affect in a High School Writing Center

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Rose's Writing: The Generative Power of Affect in a High School Writing Center

Article excerpt

Twelfth-grader Rose frequently visited the Lakes High School Writing Center we co-directed during the 2014-2015 school year. (1) She regularly sought assistance with writing assignments that, like most Lakes High assignments we saw, offered little choice or creativity and addressed a narrow set of state standards that determined mastery in traditional literacy practices. When Rose came to work on these assignments in the center, she also, like all of our students, brought myriad dimensions of her writing and identity into the space. Here we describe and analyze two moments from writing consultations with Rose to offer insights into the conditions that cultivate and honor affective encounters between consultants and writers and the generative power of affect in writing center consultations.

As Literacy Education doctoral students and writing consultants at a public research university, we partnered with Lakes High, a racially and socioeconomically diverse public school in a large Midwestern urban school district, to develop and direct a writing center. While staffing the center, we also collected ethnographic data, including field/observation notes, records of students' visits, and documents (meeting agendas, school policies, etc.), and conducted informal interviews with students and teachers. We discovered that Lakes Writing Center would be a complex institutional space, and our positions there would be complicated. We were insiders and outsiders: writing center coordinators/consultants but not school district employees. In these roles, we were expected to make the center an open and welcoming space, while also monitoring and tracking who came in, from where, and for what purpose. While we saw value in knowing who used the center, the school and district pressured us to collect data that could be used to monitor and assess students and to control how students accessed and moved through the school building. In addition, we had to enforce classroom discipline policies, like prohibiting cell phone use, even though cell phones are appropriate tools for writers in an after-school environment. As we negotiated the complexity of roles, space, rules, and expectations, we observed the complicated presence of affect in the center and began asking about the role of emotions in writing processes and our consulting work.

Stephanie Jones and Cynthia Lewis each describe sociocultural literacy theories that explore the role of embodiment and emotion, recognizing how an individual's body--its sensations, movements, and feelings--are vital elements in all literacy practices, including writing. Connecting with these theorists, Noreen Lape and Daniel Lawson both explore how writing center research acknowledges the presence of emotion; they offer advice for dealing with it during consultations, while also recognizing that the relationship between writing centers and emotions is often characterized by ambivalence. In discussing affect and center work, Lawson calls for "more nuanced examinations of affect and emotion," particularly by theorizing beyond simple metaphors or conceptualizations of emotion as primarily negative or disruptive (26).

Our interactions with students at Lakes Writing Center highlighted the opportunities that emotion offers to writing consultants, drawing attention to ways that students' identities as writers are entangled with their emotional and embodied experiences. Specifically, our interactions with Rose complicated our understanding of the affective dimension of writing because she asked us to engage directly with her emotions in ways that connected deeply to her writing practices.

Working with Rose led us to ask about affective opportunities that arise when consultants acknowledge and interact with rather than ignore or avoid a writer's emotions. Given our teaching histories, we recognized the benefits of engaging with a writer's affect, and we began to think about ways to cultivate a Lakes High Writing Center environment that would accept and honor emotional and embodied experiences. …

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