The role of the writing center in the writing practices of L2 students

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Virginia Tech

Writing centers are gradually becoming more and more visible on college campuses. This greater visibility is often seen, administratively, as a solution to the language problems posed by a growing population of students for whom English is a second or other language (L2). L2 students are increasing in numbers on college campuses, bringing with them a host of language challenges, not always met in traditional classroom settings. For many L2 students, the writing center provides the individualized instruction that facilitates their success with college writing.

In the past three to five years, writing centers all over the United States have experienced an increase in L2 student visits. This increased L2 use of the writing center has made writing center tutors and staff, who are usually not trained or prepared to deal with writing difficulties unique to L2 students, confused and frustrated. This frustration is furthered by the lack of research and information that looks at the theory and practices of second language writing and writing centers, to help inform writing center practices and procedures. There are no studies which investigate writing centers in light of their role in the writing practices of L2 students.

This study began the process of creating a body of knowledge that looks at the role of the writing center in the writing practices of L2 students. This study is comprised of five case studies which were conducted with four L2 students and the tutors with whom they worked during the semester when the study was conducted. The case study participants were all from a small private women’s college located in Southwestern Virginia. In addition to the case studies, a pre-study Survey was conducted to ascertain the writing center perceptions and practices of a larger population of L2 students. The survey was administered at one college and two universities, all located in Southwestern Virginia.

Both the case studies and the pre-study survey data yielded descriptions that suggested that L2 students see writing centers as centers of remediation—-centers to "fix" their language problems. However, the type of fixing that is needed is very dependent on the writing experience and personality of the L2 student, the tutor’s approach and style, and the type of writing assignment brought to the writing center for assistance. This study describes and analyzes five case studies. It also problematizes and suggests possible solutions for further areas of research.

language challenges