Taking the Pot off the Stove: Teaching Students to Stop Writing Well

by Rob McAlear

Rob McAlear is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Tulsa, where he also directs the Writing Program. He is a former Assistant Director of the Writing Resource Center at Case Western Reserve University and UW-Madison Writing Center consultant.

“The aspects of things which are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something –because it is always before one’s eyes.)” -Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

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The Happy Dissertator: Sustaining Graduate Writing Groups

By Sarah Groeneveld

groeneveldpic

Sarah Groeneveld

Sarah Groeneveld is the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center, a role she took on after working as an instructor at the Writing Center for four years. This year, she has enjoyed supporting graduate tutors, organizing and running workshops, meeting with student writers, and developing new programs such as the Graduate Writing Groups. She completed her PhD in English at UW-Madison this past summer.

Last week I received an email from Katie Zaman, a dissertator in the Sociology department, in which she told a delightful story:

“Today I was in Helen C White, organizing for the TAA, and I met a happy dissertator in the hallway. She was heading to get coffee because she had already met her writing goal for the day and it had only been half an hour in the dissertation writing session. She was smiling and relaxed and I asked her about the group – she told me I could find out how to join it by emailing you. I want to be happy like her and have writing goals and meet them! Is there an application process?”

Katie was referring to the Graduate Writing Groups that have been meeting this year at the Writing Center. These groups are made up of about twenty students who gather together once a week for three hours. During that time, graduate writers set goals, write, and then check back in at the end to share successes and keep each other accountable. As the organizer of the groups this year, I felt that Katie’s email encapsulated why these groups are so important. Writing can be a very lonely activity for graduate students. To combat that feeling of isolation, these groups are a way to see writing as something shared and collaborative – something that is more fun, less overwhelming, and more manageable when it’s done with others in the room. Through goal setting, brief conversations about writing, and – first and foremost – dedicated time for writing, the groups help graduate students get more words on the page in a supportive setting. Needless to say, I was more than happy to have Katie join a group.

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Entering the Conversation: Voices from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio

By John Bradley, Jane Hirtle, and RJ Boutelle

John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Before moving to Nashville, John served one year as the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center after many years of experience as a tutor there.

Jane Hirtle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychology & Human Development and is serving her second year as the Writing Studio’s Peabody Writing Fellow (Peabody College of Education and Human Development).

RJ Boutelle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of English and is currently serving as the Writing Studio’s English Writing Fellow for Spring 2015.

John Bradley

John Bradley

From the seat here at my desk, I only have to glance up to see the beautiful space featured in the photos spread throughout this post. More importantly, though, if I leave my office door cracked at any point during the week I am treated to the constant buzz of conversations happening just outside my door, conversations the variety of which would likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time talking and listening in a writing center. Those conversations certainly bear a strong resemblance to those I was party to during my countless, well-spent hours in the UW-Madison Writing Center, but now they’re happening here in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University where I help direct the Vanderbilt Writing Studio.

That pleasant background noise is coming from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio’s mixed staff of 30-some undergraduate and graduate writing consultants (tutors, instructors) and their equally mixed clients, writers seeking out the opportunity to talk over everything from their first college essays to their dissertations. Invariably, at some point throughout my day, one of those conversations will pull me out of my office and into its orbit. While conversation is one of my favorite metaphors for the work of academia and scholarship, more broadly, I love that I work in (more…)

“A Life-Changing Experience”: Some Reflections on the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp

By Chris Earle, Kevin Mullen, Rebecca Couch Steffy, and Nancy Linh Karls

Chris Earle is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, where he also serves as the Assistant Director of the Writing Center. Kevin Mullen completed his doctorate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and currently teaches writing with the UW Odyssey Project. Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and has been a Writing Center instructor since 2011. Nancy Linh Karls is a member of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s permanent staff and its Science Writing Specialist; she also coordinates the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. Together, Chris, Kevin, Rebecca, and Nancy have co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps several times, including the most recent camp in January 2015.

During the first week of the new year, and one of the coldest weeks of this winter so far, 19 graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison huddled together on the upper floors of the Helen C. White building around a common purpose—to escape both the isolation and the constant distractions that come with writing a dissertation so that they could dedicate an entire week to making significant progress on their work. By moving the solitary act of writing into a space shared by other people going through the same process, these students began to bond and find inspiration through their shared goals and the collective sounds of fingertips striking keyboards.

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FIGs and the Art of Teaching Dangerously

By Greg Smith

Greg Smith, assistant dean emeritus, had been the director of the First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison  from 2002 until his recent retirement at the end of December 2014. Prior to coming to UW-Madison, his work at other institutions included being an assistant professor of English, a registrar, a TRIO program director, and a director of student services.

FIGs: UW-Madison’s Interdisciplinary Learning Communities

The idea of reforming education is a hot topic, and for the most part the public focus has largely been on K-12 classrooms. By now we are all familiar with phrases like “no child left behind,” “common core,” charter schools, teacher accountability, and achievement gap, just to name a few. However, many institutions of higher education have also been involved in creating exciting innovations that focus on improving teaching and learning environments. UW-Madison has long been a leader in reforming undergraduate education, with Alexander Meikeljohn’s Experimental College being a prime example. Its goal was to create a unique learning community that brought students and faculty together as they studies a core curriculum based on “the great books.” While Meikeljohn’s experiment was short-lived–it was established in 1927 and closed in 1932–some of the fundamental ideas behind it did not disappear but emerged many years later. (more…)

Inquiry Groups as Tutor Education: Writing from Below

RLL with JS

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard and her handsome cat, Jon Snow.

By Rebecca Lorimer Leonard

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard is an assistant professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a former UW-Madison Writing Center tutor and Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program. You can read about her work at http://blogs.umass.edu/rlorimer/.

In late November, CNN aired Ivory Tower, a feature-length documentary that asks if college is “worth it” given the rising costs of higher education in the U.S. The film, which premiered at Sundance, is an accounting of dated and disruptive trends in college financing, teaching, and managing. As do many books and documentaries that investigate crises in U.S. education, Ivory Tower uses several campus cases—Harvard, Spelman, Bunker Hill Community College, San Jose State, Deep Springs College, and Cooper Union—to fill out something like a higher ed. balance sheet, weighing “spiraling” costs against “entrenched” practices. (more…)

A Conversation with Two Former Writing Across the Curriculum TA Fellows

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Elisabeth Miller

By Elisabeth Miller

Elisabeth Miller is currently serving as Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. In this role, she’s had the wonderful opportunity to work with several TA Fellows to facilitate Comm-B training. She is also a PhD Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric.

Each semester during Welcome Week, the Writing Across the Curriculum program at UW-Madison runs a two-day training for new teaching assistants in Communication-B (Comm-B) courses. Comm-B courses are writing-intensive, exposing students to conventions of writing in disciplines from anthropology to biology to journalism to psychology. The training, with 70 TAs every fall and 40 every spring, is energetic and packed with advice preparing TAs to conference with student writers, run effective student peer review sessions, support students in developing strong thesis statements, and much more.

What makes our Comm-B training most effective, though, is not just the efforts of WAC director Brad Hughes and the TA Assistant Director of WAC (a role that transitions to new TAs every two years). Our interdisciplinary training greatly benefits from thoroughly cross-disciplinary expertise: specifically, the participation of TA Fellows, experienced Comm-B teaching assistants who design and facilitate breakout sessions and act as positive peer role models.
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Odyssey Voices

By Mackenzie McDermit and Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

Mackenzie McDermit

Mackenzie McDermit

Mackenzie McDermit is a recent alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she participated in the university’s Writing Fellows program. She spent a humbling and inspiring semester researching writing pedagogy in the Odyssey Project and has been hooked ever since. This is her first year as a tutor for the program.

Kevin Mullen recently completed his doctorate in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his time as a graduate student, Kevin was fortunate to work for several years with the Writing Center and the Writing Fellows program. He is currently applying all of the skills and insights he absorbed there to his current position as a Literacy Faculty Associate for the UW Odyssey Project.

Now in its twelfth year, the UW Odyssey Project is an intensive, two-semester humanities course that seeks to remove economic barriers to education for 30 adult learners a year by providing tuition, books, childcare, and dinner before class. While earning six credits from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Odyssey students explore a wide range of foundational thinkers in literature, history, music, art, and philosophy. As they discuss the ideas of Socrates and Frederick Douglass, analyze the poetry of Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson, engage with original historical documents like the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist essays, and read aloud scenes from Macbeth and A Raisin in the Sun, students gain skills in critical thinking, persuasive writing, and communication. Many students in this program are struggling with issues such as homelessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy and have been made to feel in the past that they are “not college material.” Under the direction of Prof. Emily Auerbach, who recently won a national award for her work, and a team of dedicated UW faculty members, over 300 students have graduated from the Odyssey Project and two-thirds have continued their education by taking more college courses. (more…)

You Can Take the Tutor out of the Writing Center…

The author, in a frivolous moment.

The author, in a frivolous moment.

By Mike A. Shapiro

Mike worked as a tutor at the Writing Center at UW–Madison for five years, and as a coordinator for two. This fall, he is teaching first-year composition in the College of Engineering.

As Julia Dauer wrote earlier this fall, writing tutors often balance diverse instructional lives. But what happens when that balance is disrupted?

From January 2009–August 2014, I worked almost exclusively as a tutor. In those five years, I tutored thousands of students working on multiple thousands of drafts. The time I wasn’t working directly with students was spent supporting other tutors.

This fall, for the first time since 2004, I am not working as a tutor. Instead, I’m back in the classroom, teaching four sections of first-year composition. This shift leads me to a basic question: what skills, if any, transfer from tutoring to teaching? (more…)

An Interview with Jackie Grutsch McKinney, Author of Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers

By Chris Earle

Jackie Grutsch McKinney is an associate professor of English at Ball State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetoric and composition. Over the last eighteen years, she has worked at three different writing centers as a tutor, assistant director, and then as a director. Her book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, has been awarded the 2014 International Writing Centers Association’s Outstanding Book Award.

Chris Earle is the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is currently working on his dissertation in UW’s Composition and Rhetoric program. He would like to thank Professor McKinney for generously sharing her time to talk about her work.

Last October, Professor Jackie Grutsch McKinney joined the Madison Area Writing Area Colloquium to lead a lively discussion centering on her recently published book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers (2013 Utah State Press), which has since been awarded the 2014 IWCA Outstanding Book Award. The project, the talk, and Professor McKinney’s argument has stuck with me. On more than one occasion, I have been given pause as I find myself retelling, maybe too uncritically, what McKinney aptly names the Writing Center grand narrative. Demonstrating the persuasiveness of Mckinney’s account, in these moments I find myself asking—and not always answering—what work gets accomplished in this (re)telling and, more importantly, what aspects of our work it leaves out?
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