If you are a tutor or a student who has been to the Writing Center, you should know our mantra, "We are here to talk to writers," from Stephen North's landmark essay, "The Idea of a Writing Center." De- and re-centering the Writing Center through deploying silence as a pedagogical strategy may then seem to be a queer idea. However, silence is as central in our writing center praxis as is talk, and silence is not only prohibitive, but also productive. Silence is not simply the absence of speech, but is itself a speech act that facilitates and mobilizes meaning.
Both students' silences and tutors' silences are central to what we do in the Writing Center. For tutors, we have to know when to talk and when to be silent and to listen; we cannot listen to students' talk if we are talking over them. A tutor's silence, then, can indicate engagement with what a student is saying. Additionally, a tutor's silence can allow a student time to consider, question, and reflect during a session. A student's silence can also indicate such considering, questioning, and reflecting is occurring, although it may also indicate disengagement from a session. In any case, listening to students' silences can be productive for tutors in assessing how a session is working for and against students' desire to talk about their writing. Students' silences can be a way for students to talk back to tutors during our sessions.