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
“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…)
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
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
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…)
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…)
By Mackenzie McDermit and Kevin Mullen
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
By Deborah Brandt
Deborah Brandt is professor emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was a longtime writing teacher and writing program administrator. She is author of the award-winning Literacy in American Lives and a 2011 Guggenheim fellow. She just finished a new book about changing relationships between reading and writing, as seen through the experiences of workaday writers, and is at work on a co-authored book about writing development across the lifespan.
The first two times Writing Center director Brad Hughes invited me to contribute something to Another Word, I didn’t respond. This resistance puzzled me in some ways. My career has been dedicated to teaching and studying writing. I am a champion of all things writing – with the UW-Madison Writing Center high on the list. Some of my happiest moments in life are spent writing. Besides, aren’t blogs among the most appealing forms of expression? Breezy, easy, low stakes, anything goes—an embodiment of the best democratic potential of the Internet? So when Brad asked for the third time, I thought, okay, what’s the harm? (more…)
By Rachel Azima
Rachel Azima is the director of the Writing & Media Center at Iowa State University. While completing her Ph.D. in English, she worked for 13 semesters in the UW-Madison Writing Center. Before starting at Iowa State in Fall 2012, she served as Assistant Professor of English at a small private university in the Detroit area, where she helped start a writing center.
The past few years have brought sea changes for me and for the center I direct at Iowa State. During that time, what was the Writing and Media Help Center moved from the English Department to the Dean of Students Office, becoming a joint venture between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs in the process, and I leaped off the tenure track to take a full-time administrative position to direct this center. Since my arrival, we have adopted a new, shorter name—the Writing & Media Center (WMC)—with the “help” removed to avoid those pesky remedial connotations. Our undergraduate staff is transitioning from “peer tutors” to “communication consultants” (terminology we’re still getting used to), and our per semester usage has more than doubled, from 407 tutoring hours in Fall 2011 to 1046 hours in Fall 2013. My graduate assistants and I have thrown ourselves headfirst into outreach efforts: staff members gave 11 presentations total during the year before I arrived, while my graduate assistants and I gave 105 presentations in Fall 2013 alone, allowing us to reach over 3,500 students with information about the WMC. (more…)
By Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University. She is joined here by Jo Ann Vogt (Writing Tutorial Services Director, Indiana University); Carol Severino (Writing Center Director, the University of Iowa); and Naomi Silver (Writing Center Associate Director, the University of Michigan).
Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University
Q: Why did I start an informal working group for “Big Ten” writing center and writing program directors?
A: Because sometimes you just want to spend time with people who get your jokes.
The “tutored” dog
You’ve seen the 1985 Gary Larson Far Side cartoon before, no doubt: a dog riding shotgun in a car is talking out the window to a dog-friend: “Ha, Ha, Biff. Guess what? After we go to the drugstore and post office, I’m going to the vet’s to get tutored!”
It’s funny: our canine speaker misunderstands the play date his owners have planned for him. Tutoring or neutering—oh, what a difference a consonant makes.
For most audiences, the tutor/neuter confusion is funny enough. I would argue that writing center folks find this joke even funnier. We laugh at the distance and tension between what “tutor” means to us, and its potentially clinical meaning to those outside our small writing-profession group. (more…)