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:

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 ( 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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)