In most cases, consulting work begins by establishing a solid relationship with the chair of the hosting department. The faculty needs to see consultants as professionals, not simply graduate students. After establishing this relationship, consultants should consider interviewing faculty or distributing surveys to ascertain what writing assignments are currently being used and what special interests in writing the faculty have.
Consultants have expertise in writing instruction; therefore, one important aim when working within a hosting department is to communicate with faculty members which writing assignments would be most helpful for students and why. This aspect of consulting can be challenging because not all faculty members have the time to get involved with the movement to improve student writing; some faculty members need to be persuaded that current writing assignments could be improved. For this reason the consultant should be careful not to adopt a commanding or authoritarian attitude and begin telling faculty members how to write; rather, an attitude of courtesy and professionalism should be maintained.
There are generally two ways to offer advice on writing assignments within the hosting departments: to consult with those assigning and grading assignments or with faculty members who are developing new courses. In cases in which a course is already established, the consultant may find opportunities to offer advice on how assignments should be evaluated.
Sometimes, faculty members in departments outside of the English department are too busy to investigate composition techniques such as assigning writing portfolios or using holistic grading scales and criteria checklists. Consultants need to convey such tailored information to the professors and teaching assistants, and in some cases, even participate in grading sessions, to create increased awareness of the value of writing assignments.
In other cases, consultants might be assigned to work with one or two professors to help develop a new course. In this situation the goal is to design and implement writing assignments that are specifically tailored to the course. For instance, in a new marketing course there might be the need to create writing-intensive assignments that develop proposal writing. Or, in a chemistry course the goal could be to improve writing in the discussion section of laboratory reports. The consultant's role in these situations will always be twofold: to help establish the goals of the new course in terms of composition theory and to collaborate with members of the hosting department to develop writing assignments that target those goals.
Maintaining a professional and courteous attitude is particularly important in this area of consulting. Even though the hosting department has committed to the Writing Consultants Program, some members in the department may feel as if they are being watched, or their space is being invaded. Consultants who are the first to work in a particular hosting department must be especially aware of the development of such an attitude and remember that the process of establishing the new position will take time.
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