“It’s Essentially Writers Talking about Writing”: The Roles of Reflection in a Co-Curricular Writing Studio Course

What is Writing Studio?

As writing programs shutter basic writing courses in favor of more ethical models of instruction and seek alt-pedagogies that foster agency and access, writing studio is gaining interest. “Studio” varies but is usually a co-curricular, supplemental experience wherein students discuss their writing projects and writing classes (Grego and Thompson Teaching/Writing; “Writing Studio”). Studio might allow students taking first-year composition to receive additional support on tough assignments by creating space for workshopping drafts. Some institutions have positioned studio as an alternative to basic writing business-as-usual, placing students into “regular” comp and a one-credit, concurrent studio (Lalicker), and evidence is beginning to suggest that studio fosters student success as signified by retention and persistence (Chemishanova and Snead). As such, writing program professionals at open-admissions institutions may be particularly interested in the roles studio can play in demystifying academic writing and supporting student success.

Studio has no content beyond student writing and takes as its subject matter whatever artifacts and concerns participants bring into studio. Class size is typically 8-10 and the teacher acts as discussion leader, sometimes clarifying institutional practices to make writing instruction, expectations, and conventions more transparent. Students receive feedback on drafts, as they do during a writing center consultation, but studio also emphasizes discussion about writing and the writing process. Studio’s small enrollment size and supplemental-curricular ethos make it an ideal learning site to discuss explicitly the transfer of knowledge among various rhetorical-cum-instructional situations. Studio cohorts, comprised of students from diverse academic backgrounds with varying degrees of proficiency, provide a site for students to access the kinds of implicit knowledge that can get them over barriers. Students being given access to transfer of knowledge and the kinds of coded language of writing assessment and instruction fosters a reflective experience, which we find to be a crucial component of studio.

Grego and Thompson define studio as “a different way of being with student writers…a spatialized and spatializing methodology for institutional change” (Teaching/Writing 20). They lay out a reflective, student-centered pedagogy geared toward helping students reflect on the places they occupy within the academy while also giving students access to directing studio discussions. Indeed “studio” suggests a locus of activity (think of an artist’s studio/atelier) where students work on writing they deem important and provide a space that is suggestive of intimacy and comfort. Grego and Thompson also build on critical geography (Soja) and the notion that the real place and imagined space are always converging and creating new possibilities. Studio paradigms typically spin Soja’s “third space” as a metaphor for the pedagogy’s balance of attending to the extant, material concerns of students and fostering imagination with respect to literate activity—Soja’s notion of new possibilities. Ideally, studio occupies an unfamiliar, creative new space within the familiar confines of the campus; spatially, studio serves as a space participants have unique access to. Studio also builds on the work of compositionists Jonathan Mauk, who argues that writing teachers increasingly need to account for the “spatial and material conditions that constitute the everyday lives of students” (370), and Nedra Reynolds, who reminds us that pedagogy ought to account creatively for the ways writing happens in real places so that a critical spatial understanding is a key to rhetorical success for our students. Given the emphasis on understanding spatial spaces, building opportunities for students to reflect on the contexts of their writing is key.

Studio is small and student-centered but the scope encompasses broader, institutional or programmatic matters. Tassoni and Lewiecki-Wilson describe how their conception of studio widened:

This model has shifted our attention from merely working to change composition pedagogies to asking more productive questions about relationships: How do students understand the rhetorical situatedness of writing and academic culture more generally, and how do teachers communicate (or not) their objectives to students and other teachers? (69)

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About the authors

Jerrice Donelson is a Doctoral Candidate in Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Her research interests include critical literacy and pedagogy, WAC/WID, Writing studio, writing centers, community literacies and cultural rhetorics. Her pilot research focuses on former dual enrollment students experiences with writing in college disciplines without having had first-year writing. Jerrice is also a teacher consultant for the Red Cedar Writing Project and non-profit founder of Scribe Tribe Writing Tutors.

Tony DeGenaro is a second year Ph.D. student at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He is also a lecturer at University of Michigan Dearborn. He teaches first-year and creative writing courses, and has been an instructor and youth mentor for ACCESS and TRIO Upward Bound. Tony has recently presented work at CCCCs, College English, and Southwest Popular & American Culture conferences; his creative work can be found at tonydegenaropoetry.com.

William DeGenaro is professor of composition and rhetoric at the University of Michigan Dearborn, a writer, and a Fulbright Scholar. He has taught in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates and frequently collaborates with Detroit area non-profits on service learning initiatives. His academic work focuses on community-based teaching, working-class studies, and basic writing pedagogies and has appeared in Journal of Basic Writing, Rhetoric Review, WPA: Writing Program Administration, and elsewhere.