The Debate: Generalists versus Specialists — Who Does It Better?


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During our coach education program, which meets weekly on Tuesday evenings, the MTMC experienced coaches (experienced meaning they are not in their first semester of coaching) focused on an ongoing writing center debate: are generalist coaches more or less effective than those who are specialists? Coaches did not get to choose their side, rather they were pre-assigned and then instructed to be prepared to defend. In addition to their own experience, they reviewed two articles to inform the debate.

Greiner, Alex. “Tutoring in Unfamiliar Subjects.” A Tutors Guide. 2 ed. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook. 115-120. Print.

Dinitz, Sue and Susanmarie Harrington. “The Role of Disciplinary Expertise in Shaping Writing Tutorials.” Writing Center Journal 33.2 (2014): 73-98.

Deciding on a clear winner was difficult because both groups made points that were hard to refute. The generalists warned of specialist take-over and a possible neglect of forcing the student to articulate, while the specialists made sure to point out the effectiveness of specific guidance with a focus on the global issues that a specialist would be familiar with. Generalists came back with a connection to their future professional lives when they will be communicating ideas with many non-specialists and the importance of this skill. But not to be outdone, the specialists mentioned the background information one would come to a session with would allow them to push students towards a higher level of understanding.

This conversation will continue this week, because one point that arose from the articles was the value of good ‘ol coaching, so it’s back to the basics. Providing a specialist for every session is impossible, so we have to ensure we work effectively as both specialists and generalists. The readings and debate brought up important points to ensure that the specialists do not take over and the generalists rely on what they do know about good writing to push the student a bit. MTMC coaches were not able to put an end to this on-going debate, but they were able to think about the pros and cons of both so they are better prepared to work as generalists and specialists.

– written by Kirsti Arko

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