Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Some of These Things ARE like the Others: Lessons Learned from Tutor-Inspired Research about Transfer in the Writing Center

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Some of These Things ARE like the Others: Lessons Learned from Tutor-Inspired Research about Transfer in the Writing Center

Article excerpt

Transfer-related scholarship in composition studies--which has been prominent since about 2007--suggests that many factors influence the degree to which writers engage in transfer-related behavior, or the habit of applying what has been learned in one context to another. While many writing center scholars agree that "[writing] centers already teach for transfer every day" (Devet 120), and "that writing centers are fostering both anticipated transfer... and actual transfer" for a number of writing center users across institutions (Bromley et al.), we argue that tutors can do more to foreground transfer with student writers. Our practice-based research at two small liberal arts colleges (SLACs) leads us to offer four suggestions for educating writing center staff to "facilitate moments of connection-making for writers" (Hughes et al.), or, put another way, to tutor/or transfer.

Conclusion 1: We should assign readings about transfer as part of tutor-education curricula.

Prior to 2013, a review of our centers' exit surveys revealed that writers generally did not leave a session consciously thinking about transfer. Thereafter, we assigned readings about transfer to new undergraduate peer-tutors, anticipating that conversations about these articles would foster more dialogue about transfer, more priming for transfer, and more modeling of how to transfer writing knowledge from and to other contexts during sessions. (1)

Of the texts assigned, new tutors seemed most engaged with Elizabeth Wardle's "Understanding 'Transfer' from FYC," which explains transfer and reports that Wardle's small cohort of honors students did not perceive that they needed to transfer knowledge from first-year composition to other courses (76). (2) In class discussions, our tutors reported that her article helped them understand transfer's importance and led them to generate ideas about how they could facilitate transfer in tutorials. As directors, we were initially most interested in forward transfer, or using tutorials to generate awareness that writers could apply present learning to future contexts (Nelms and Dively 218). Our tutors, by contrast, perceived that writers rarely placed new assignments in context with older ones and encouraged us to emphasize backward transfer: the ability to draw on memories of previously learned material that are related to current tasks (Nelms and Dively 218). Our tutors' sense that writers neglected to build on prior knowledge made us consider what specific moments within a tutorial are most ripe for engaging writers in transfer-related discussions and behaviors and led us to our second conclusion.

Conclusion 2. Tutors should emphasize transfer particularly at the beginning (backward) and ending (forward) of tutorials.

To facilitate this emphasis, tutors at Institution A, one of the SLACs represented in this study, added this question to the center's intake form: "Does the assignment you want to work on today remind you of any other assignments you've ever written? Be as specific as you can be." The tutors argued that this question would prime writers to think about how current writing tasks draw on prior ones. In fact, tutors reported that writers' responses provided them with openings for transfer talk, such as "So this is your second sociology journal. What kind of feedback did you get on the first one?" or "It looks like you're not used to writing about non-fiction. How do you typically approach new writing tasks?" Transfer talk engages students in thinking about how to apply what they already know to new writing tasks, provides occasions for filling in gaps in prior knowledge that students may or may not know they have (Yancey et al. 126), and/or explores future applications in which such knowledge can be applied.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, 861 writers at Institution A completed the intake form on which the transfer question appeared. About 30% of the time (N=251), students left that question unanswered. …

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