Why Do You Ask? Questioning the Question in the Writing Center (A Featured UW Madison Blog)

Jun 27th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Reading

By Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

“So, what are you working on today?”
“When is your paper due?”
“Are you concerned about anything in particular in this draft?”

In the writing center that I direct at the University of Notre Dame, we spend a good deal of time asking questions.  We pose questions about practical parameters of assignments—length, due date, assignment requirements, etc.  We pose questions about writers’ goals, their concerns, and their hopes for their work.  Most importantly, we pose questions with writers to help them discover and articulate their own ideas.

This approach is common in writing center pedagogy.  As a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center while in graduate school, I learned so much about the value of asking good questions from my colleagues and mentors—but most of all from the writers I worked with at the tables on the 6th floor of Helen C. White Hall.

It’s sort of a commonplace in the writing center community to describe this method of teaching as a Socratic method, and in fact, more than once in the literature, Socrates himself has been invoked as a kind of proto writing center tutor, having conversations with people about their ideas and helping them to develop a clearer understanding of things by asking good questions.  Most notably, Stephen North in the “Idea of a Writing Center” back in 1984, described Socrates as a tutor who “set up the same kind of shop” in the agora offering, as he puts it, “a continuous dialectic that is, finally, its own end.”

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To read the full blog post, visit the UW Madison Writing Center’s blog at http://writing.wisc.edu/blog/?p=2112 .

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