Writing Center Workshops: Test-Drive an Academic Writing Genre Today!

By Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall is the 2015-16 TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where he has been a tutor since fall 2012. He is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on American literature, slavery, and media culture.

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Here at the UW-Madison Writing Center, we offer a broad range of short-term, no-credit writing workshops that teach student-writers about specific academic genres and writing tasks. The first Writing Center workshop I helped teach in the spring of 2014 taught 120 students how to write more successfully on the undergraduate application essay for the Wisconsin School of Business. My wonderful colleague Michelle Neiman (then the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center) invited me to join her at a session with a representative from School of Business Admissions to plan this particular workshop. As a second-year instructor at the Writing Center, I was flattered by the offer of more responsibility and decided to join her.

Although I went to the workshop planning meeting feeling interested, I also felt apprehensive. I had taught in the classroom as a teaching assistant and in the writing center as a tutor, but I felt like I was in the way since I had never planned a workshop before. In our meeting, our thoughtful colleague from the School of Business explained her goals for the workshop—helping students write in more detail about their experiences and personal goals. It was a great goal, but I didn’t have a specific plan for what to do to achieve it. (more…)

Making Six Hours of Tutor Training Feel Like Sixteen

By Molly Rentscher, Arizona State University

Molly Rentscher, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Fellows Program alum, is the coordinator of the Writing Center at Arizona State University’s West campus in Glendale, Arizona. In June of 2015, she received an MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul University.

Molly Rentscher

Molly Rentscher

On May 26, 2015, I was a graduate student at DePaul University, anxiously awaiting graduation and frantically applying for jobs. On this particular day, I was also preparing a professional development workshop for DePaul University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) staff when Natalie Smith’s Wcenter listserv post popped into my inbox:

In the past, I was fortunate to have the funds to offer both CRLA training as well as weekly writing specific tutor training—tutors, by the way, are paid to attend training. I know that luxury won’t be possible in the fall. I need some creative ideas for training writing tutors and providing on-going support when the weekly, hour-long meetings the tutors want and need simply aren’t possible.

I found Natalie’s post astonishing, and admittedly, perplexing. (more…)

Writing Fellows as Interdisciplinary Scholars

By Emily Hall

Emily Hall is the director of the Writing Fellows Program at UW-Madison.

In his influential essay “Only Connect,” Bill Cronon explores the goals of a liberal education, arguing that “being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. . . . A liberal education is about gaining the power and the wisdom, the generosity and the freedom to connect.”

Forging connections (between different fields of study, between teacher and student, between reader and writer) is one of the goals of UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program. And one of the primary strengths of the students who serve as Fellows is their impressive ability to travel across disciplinary boundaries and to make connections with students whose writing may differ significantly from their own. Fellows excel at visiting new fields of knowledge and engaging with them in critical and meaningful ways. Indeed, as Jean Lutes (who along with Brad Hughes and Bill Cronon founded the Writing Fellows program at UW-Madison in 1997) has written, “A primary goal of the Writing Fellows Program is to foster an interdisciplinary community of undergraduates who can explore writing as an object of intellectual inquiry while helping their peers achieve success as writers.” As disciplinary boundary crossers, Writing Fellows approach writing as a way to deepen knowledge both within and across different fields of study. (more…)

Mindsets and Partnerships: University and High School Writing Centers

By Glenn Hutchinson and Paula Gillespie

Glenn and Paula direct the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Florida. Glenn received his Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and is currently working on a book about writing centers and activism. Paula completed her degrees at the UW-Madison, tutoring in the then-Writing Lab as part of her teaching assistantship. Both Glenn and Paula have been influenced by the Madison Writing Assistance Program, a community engagement effort of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, recently described here: http://writing.wisc.edu/blog/?p=4643.

Six years ago, in hopes of forming a Miami-area writing center consortium, we called all local high schools, hoping to locate some writing center directors who could join university directors from Florida International University, Nova, The University of Miami, and Miami Dade Community College. No public high school writing centers existed, and receptionists at the high school were confused by our requests. Our Title V Federal grant for Hispanic-serving institutions featured advisory board meetings with local principals. The discussion would frequently turn to the Common Core standards and the way writing to learn would play a part from early grades to high school. The principals were very interested in ways we could help them to foster good writing.

For the past two years, then, our writing center at Florida International University has been working with local high schools in Miami to help start writing centers. The topic of “mindset” has played a pivotal role in our thinking and training, particularly Carol Dweck’s research on growth and fixed mindsets and how one’s mindset can affect academic performance. In this blog, then, we’d like to share what we learned from our partnerships with schools and what we learned about mindset in the process. (more…)

The Evolution of UW-Madison’s Writing Center Online: A Wayback Look

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 32nd year as director of the Writing Center.

As we start a new academic year, this seems like a good time to celebrate an important anniversary for our Writing Center. This year the online portion of our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (writing.wisc.edu/) is celebrating its 20th anniversary–or its 21st, or 22nd, depending on how you count; I will explain in a minute. (Our Writing Center as a whole is heading toward its 50th anniversary in a few years.) Since our base-ten number system makes 20 seem like a significant number and since this story hasn’t been told, I thought it would be fun to trace the history of our center’s online presence. And I thought it would be fun to reveal some out-of-date web fashions–that’s our original website in the featured photo above:-).

Over the decades, our Online Writing Center has become an integral component of our Writing Center programs at UW-Madison. In fact, I’m a big believer in convergence—that is, I believe that those of us in the writing center profession should stop thinking of online and in-person programs as distinct, but instead as productively, even magically, intertwined. One more key reason drives my passion for what we do online: increasing student access to all that a writing center does. Just as our evening and weekend hours in residence halls, multicultural-student centers, campus libraries, and public libraries across our city make our center more accessible and more inclusive, so do all of our online offerings. (more…)

A Case for Disciplinary Tutoring in the Writing Center

By Laura Plummer

Laura Plummer directs Indiana University’s Campus Writing Program, a WAC program that administers the writing center. She is a part of the Big Ten Writing Center/Program Directors’ group that includes UW-Madison, and which meets annually to hobnob about running writing centers at big research institutions.

The Vagaries of General Advice

Laura Plummer

Laura Plummer

“OK, Let me stop you for just a minute. The advice you just gave the writer will result in her receiving an F on that paper.”

I received that comment while interviewing for a writing center tutoring position when I was a graduate student in English literary studies.

As part of the interview, I was given an assignment and an essay draft from an undergraduate business law course, alongside the probably familiar direction to read both documents in preparation for a role-playing discussion of the paper. The essay was an analysis of a case concerning the death of an employee who died on the job. (more…)

Collaboration in Action

Author photo. Taken by Jennifer Brindley.

Rachel Herzl-Betz. Photo taken by Jennifer Brindley.

By Rachel Herzl-Betz

Rachel Herzl-Betz is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature, Disability Studies, and Rhetoric.

The perfect teaching collaboration is an elusive ideal, more like a dream than a lesson plan. Of course, as we all know, teaching in a Writing Center or a classroom doesn’t usually look like the ideal. It can be messy, unpredictable, and strange, particularly when we throw new variables (and new people) into the mix.

Professor Brittany Travers

Professor Brittany Travers

As the coordinator for the Outreach Program at the UW-Madison Writing Center, I have more opportunities than most to build collaborative relationships.  Every year, tutors from our Outreach program give presentations and create writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. My work as coordinator involves training a team of tutors and providing presentations myself, when time and schedules allow. I have had the pleasure of working with instructors from a wide range of disciplines and contexts. However, a recent collaboration with Professor Brittany Travers illustrates the value that enthusiastic collaboration can bring to the classroom, even when conditions conspire against us.


Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.



Won’t You Be (More Than) My Neighbor? Writing Center/Library Partnerships

By Heather James and Rebecca S. Nowacek

Rebecca (left) and Heather (right) inside the Ott Memorial Writing Center

Rebecca (left) and Heather (right) inside the Ott Memorial Writing Center

Heather is a Research & Instruction Librarian at Marquette University’s Raynor Memorial Libraries. She works to develop and promote information literacy instruction for courses and is the liaison for the departments of Biology, Biomedical Science, Chemistry, and English. She also holds an MFA in Poetry from San Diego State University.

Rebecca is the Director of Marquette University’s Ott Memorial Writing Center and an associate professor in the Department of English.   She’s also a former grad tutor and Assistant Director of the L&S Program in Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison.

When a writing center is located inside of a library, it can be easy to feel like a renter: an interloper in someone else’s space rather than a partner in building and inhabiting that space.  And it can be a challenge to develop professional relationships that shift this feeling.  Here at Marquette, we feel lucky.  That “we” is both of us—Rebecca (the writing center director) and Heather (a research and instruction librarian).  Our jobs are busy ones—intellectually demanding and constantly in motion—but over the years we have developed a relationship that allows us to rely on each other, share the load, make each other laugh, and be our best professional selves.  People often speak colloquially of their “work spouses” and we’re happy to report that our “marriage” is three years strong.

The focus of our post is the ongoing and deeply rewarding collaboration that has emerged between the writing center and the library at Marquette University: it began as a somewhat impromptu bit of cooperation based on an idiosyncratic personal connection, but has grown into a collaboration that informs in very deep and often ambitious ways our ideas about how both of our programs can continue to grow within our university community.  We recognize, of course, that there’s a fair amount of scholarship on the relationships between writing centers and libraries—both published (O’Kelly, Garrison, Meyer, & Torreano; Elmborg and Hook) and unpublished (we’ve attended panels at the International Writing Centers Association, Conference on College Composition and Communication, Association of Research Libraries, and LOEX); the common motive in these publications and presentations is to share the structures of and conditions for successful collaborations.  We’re hardly the first to experience such a positive collaboration and while we won’t make the claim that what we’ve experienced is unique, we aim to share in this post the circumstances that have fostered our collaboration, the forms this collaboration has taken, and the ways in which this collaboration influences how we think about the future of both our programs. (more…)

Writing with the Vikings: The Importance of Process and Vulnerability

By Jenna Mertz

Jenna Mertz served as a peer writing tutor in UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program for eight semesters before she, regrettably, had to graduate in May of 2014. She is currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ås, Norway.


The author, blissful and pre-black eye

The author, blissful and pre-black eye

According to Jack Kerouac and pithy coffee mugs everywhere, writing and traveling are romantic endeavors. “The road is life,” have no regrets, get out of your comfort zone, write till you bleed and then keep going. These trite sayings, meant to move the lethargic and uninspired to cliff dive, pen novels, and finish dissertations, make the process of travel and writing look so productive, so self-contained, and so clean. Even if said cliff diver or dissertator breaks an arm whilst diving or dissertating, coffee mug quotations have a way of smoothing the accident into a coherent experience with a worthwhile outcome.

But what about the process? The unromantic mess of acclimating to a new culture or writing a compare and contrast essay? Sorry, Pinterest pins—you don’t cut it here.

In the author’s estimation, inspirational Post-It notes are on par with inspirational coffee mugs

In the author’s estimation, inspirational Post-It notes are on par with inspirational coffee mugs

As a former peer writing tutor who has spent the past eight months teaching writing in Norway, I’ve been thinking a lot about process in regards to both writing and traveling. In my transition from UW-Madison Writing Fellow to Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I’ve been privy to writers’ struggles in a way that I hadn’t before, and in traveling out of the States for the first time, I’ve made myself vulnerable in ways I hadn’t before. In this blog post, I hope to highlight a few of the activities I’ve been involved with during my Fulbright grant, but I also want to champion the unglamorous and gritty underbellies of drafting and traveling. I want to advocate for showcasing vulnerability, as coffee mugs can hardly be entrusted with the task. (more…)