What I’ve Learned from Working With Blind and Visually Impaired Writers

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Author Photo

Annika Konrad is in her third year as a Writing Center tutor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. She has taught undergraduate writing courses and is a TA assistant director of the first-year writing program.

I was always wary of stepping outside the classroom. As someone who moved straight from college to graduate school, I’ve felt most comfortable working with students. I had a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to bring my skills as a writing instructor to communities outside the university: Would people trust me? Would they view me as a know-it-all academic? Would my university experiences actually translate into helping community members with their writing? For a long time, questions like these prevented me from taking the leap. But when I joined a support group at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Madison, Wisconsin, I quickly realized I had walked into a relatively unheard community. (more…)

Two Heads Are Better: An Experiment in Paired Skype Tutoring

Picture of the author

Picture of the author in Madison, WI.

By Leah Misemer

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years.  She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.

Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student.  If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor.  In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.

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Summer on the North Coast: What’s New with UW-Madison Writing Center Programs

By Brad Hughes

Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 31st year as director of the Writing Center.

Welcome to a new academic year at UW-Madison’s Writing Center! With contributions from my wonderful colleagues, I’d like to celebrate some of our program’s accomplishments during the late spring and the summer of 2014 and share some of our plans for the fall. Throughout the summer, our staff have been busy collaborating and venturing out—as always—to offer instruction across our campus and around the city of Madison and beyond. Here are some highlights. . . . (more…)

Two summer experiments

What's happening behind this door? Watch this blog for the big reveal.

What’s happening behind this door? Come visit us this fall to find out!

Warm breezes waft down State Street, students linger on Memorial Terrace, and a thousand construction vehicles purr in the gravel-filled trenches that used to be our roads and sidewalks. It’s August in Madison, and the Writing Center is open.

Many of the Writing Center’s programs continue over the summer—instruction, Fellowing, outreach, and workshops, among others—with a smaller staff and on a smaller scale.

But great summers are about not doing the same things you do during the rest of the year. Summer in the Writing Center is, for us, the perfect time for experimenting with new approaches to supporting student writers. This summer we piloted two exciting instructional programs that really took off. (more…)

To Consolidate or Not to Consolidate? That Is the Question . . .

By Bryan Trabold, Suffolk University

Bryan Trabold is an associate professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, former director of Suffolk’s Writing Center, and currently serves as a faculty mentor to writing tutors at Suffolk’s newly created Center for Learning and Academic Success (CLAS). He is in the final stages of completing his book on South African anti-apartheid journalists entitled To Write it Down: The Story of the Weekly Mail and New Nation in Apartheid South Africa.

When Brad Hughes, the director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked if I would be willing to write an entry for this wonderful blog, I of course accepted. I have said this to countless people so I may as well share it in this post: Working as a tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center from 1995-2000 (except for the year I lived in South Africa) taught me more about writing – and how to teach writing – than any other experience I have had in my life. I think most people who have tutored at a writing center can probably say this. I know anyone who has had the privilege of working as a tutor with Brad Hughes at Wisconsin almost certainly will. (more…)

What Two Cultures? Helping Tutors Cross Disciplines

Mattie Burkert is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2011. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies.

Imagine you’re a writing tutor with no background in biology. A student comes to meet with you in the Writing Center about a draft describing the process of obtaining lysates for an experiment, like the example in the image above. What do you do when faced with this material? Do you admit that you don’t know the first thing about what lysates are and why they might be useful? How can you look beyond these unfamiliar terms to identify and respond to the larger intellectual and rhetorical work the writer is doing?

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How to talk with a student who isn’t there

Ineffective and effective practices for commenting on student writing

By Mike A. Shapiro, @mikeshapiro, TA and Co-Coordinator in the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The author, pontificating about something. Photo by Amy Patterson.

The author, pontificating about something. Photo by Amy Patterson.

Those of us lucky enough to teach in a classroom or tutor in a writing center recognize how much learning can happen in a 30-minute conversation. Spending those same 30 minutes writing comments on a student’s paper can feel like we’re teaching only a fraction of what we’re capable of, and yet writing these comments is an enormous part of our work! A professor in a writing-intensive discipline may spend 300 workdays of her career grading papers, and a writing center may spend a large percentage of its tutoring time on written feedback.

But what do students learn from all these hours dedicated to commenting? Troublingly, the answer is that we don’t know.

C. H. Knoblauch and Lil Brannon have, for thirty years, followed research on teacher feedback. They believe commenters fall for the logical fallacy that what teachers teach is the same thing as what students learn, and they think we count as student learning things that are really just error correction. They conclude from the studies they reviewed that comments on student writing have “limited meaningful impact on draft-to-draft revision and virtually no demonstrable effect on performance from assignment to assignment” (2006, p. 14).

As Anson (2012) puts it, “What would it mean to us, psychologically and pedagogically, if we were to find only a modest educational return on the colossal investment of time and energy we put into responding to student writing?” (p. 188).

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Spotlight on Madison Writing Assistance: Voices from a Community Writing Assistance Program

By Elisabeth Miller with Nancy Linh Karls

Elisabeth Miller is the TA Coordinator of the Madison Writing Assistance (MWA) program and has had the great pleasure of working as an instructor at nearly all of MWA’s locations over the past four years. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison and is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. Nancy Linh Karls is the Director of MWA. She also serves as the UW-Madison Writing Center’s resident Science Writing Specialist as well as Director of the Mellon/Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps. 

Whether it’s a resume, a job application, a grant proposal, a college application essay, a letter to a landlord, a medical memoir, or even a zombie apocalypse novel, Madison Writing Assistance (MWA) can help with it — and with much, much more! Offering free, one-to-one writing assistance to Madison residents of all ages, MWA seeks to meet people where they are: in their neighborhoods and on writing that matters to their lives and livelihoods. (more…)

DesignLab: Shaping the Experimental Digital Studies Landscape at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Laini Kavaloski

Laini Kavaloski is a Ph.D. student in English and a DesignLab consultant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At their best, experimental spaces within the university inspire new fields of inquiry, cultivate new pedagogies, and make cross-disciplinary connections. The innovative University of Wisconsin-Madison’s DesignLab was established in 2011 in order to improve the media literacy of students at the university and to serve as a space of inquiry and experimentation for media work. Indeed, the creative environment of DesignLab has fostered my own interest in the potential of media forms to intervene in political processes. As a graduate student in English and a TA consultant at DesignLab, much of my day is spent contemplating the affordances and constraints of media platforms with students and faculty across campus. In what follows, I give a brief introduction to DesignLab, and then I present a specific example of one of the creative media platforms that we are currently teaching. (more…)

Results of a Research Expedition: A Study of Writing Center Leadership

By Katrin Girgensohn, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt, Oder, Germany

Two weeks ago, a newspaper notice has caught my interest: The National Library in Berlin has received the original logbooks of Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition to South America. All his notes, drawings, thoughts – every word he had scribbled down every evening during his journeys, are now in Berlin. I was thrilled. I often seek a quiet place in this library to write. And now I will share the roof with the original papers of Alexander from Humboldt!

Thinking further, I have wondered why this notice has made me feel so excited. Why do notes about a research journey to America that happened more than 100 years ago please me so much? Probably because this notice made me think about my own research journey to (North) America that happened two years ago. My research journey has been an expedition I started as a writing center director from Germany, where writing centers are currently starting at many universities, but still are a new phenomenon. My goal was to find out more about the successful leadership of writing centers, so that the implementation of writing centers in Europe might be promoted better. (more…)