Notes from My 60-Day Writing Challenge

By Rebecca Steffy Couch

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

Rebecca is in her third year teaching for the UW-Madison Writing Center, and she is writing a dissertation on recent American poetics through the lens of community discourse and spatial theory in the English Literary Studies program at UW-Madison. She currently co-coordinates the Felix Series of New Writing.

For many of us in the university setting, semesters, quarters, and intercessions arrange our time into predictable, if also swift, units of work.  And these beginnings and endings invite us to assess and reconfigure our goals and habits. During the 2013-2014 cycle, practicing the habit of writing—indeed, making writing a daily resolution—has been foremost among my priorities.

Cultivating the everyday habit of writing serves two important purposes for me: it helps me, as a Writing Center instructor and teacher of writing, to narrow the gap between pedagogy and practice, between the suggestions I frequently give to other writers and what I do at my own desk. And, as a graduate student working on a dissertation of my own, the everyday habit of writing promises me that I will make steady progress toward its successful completion.

So last fall I embarked on a self-imposed “60 Day Writing Challenge,” in which I scheduled daily writing time and planned, on a weekly basis, writing tasks to tackle each day. This semester, I am once again challenging myself to write every day – this time, without the arbitrary end date.

By sharing my experience with a self-imposed “Writing Challenge,” as well as some of the resources that inspired it, I hope to encourage other writers to set new goals for their writing habits, and to invite teachers of writing to think about how they can coax students towards the habit of writing. (more…)

The Quiet Game of Writing Center Diplomacy

By Melvin Hall

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

In 2006, I took a leave of absence from the PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Arabic language in Syria, 2007-2008. Upon my return, I had the privilege of managing the National Security Language Initiative for Youth at the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs, where I visited families in Egypt and Jordan hosting American high school students. And from July 2010 to July 2011, as a social scientist on a Human Terrain Team, I had the privilege of deploying with the 3rd and 4th U.S. Army Infantry Divisions in Northern Iraq to conduct ethnographic research. I recently returned to UW–Madison and finished my PhD dissertation this past summer. During my leave of absence, I met, lived, and worked with many different people from different cultures and bureaucratic institutions from almost every socio-economic strata of society: diplomats, military leaders, soldiers, local political leaders, sheikhs, imams, families; Christian, Druze, Muslim; Arab, Kurdish, Yazidi, and Palestinian.  Between 2006 and the present, I have spoken to and interviewed well over a thousand people in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco.  And my cross-cultural experience and ethnographic research brought me to the following idealistic, if not utopian, conclusion: writing center training and teaching should be required for diplomats, international workers, and researchers.  What makes me confident in this? (more…)

Chasing the Sun: What’s New in the UW-Madison Writing Center

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 30th year directing the Writing Center.

Alumni Park and Memorial Union Terrace construction, with Helen C. White Hall in the background. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

Alumni Park and Memorial Union Terrace construction, with Helen C. White Hall in the background. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

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 summer of 2013 and share some of our plans for the fall.

Summer in Madison always means construction on campus. The historic Memorial Union—one of two student unions on campus, right next door to our Writing Center’s home in Helen C. White Hall on the shore of Lake Mendota—is in the midst of an exciting (but seemingly endless) multi-year remodeling and reconstruction project. Because of that construction, Helen C. White Hall looks as if it’s under siege, encircled by road detours and fenced-off sidewalks. But student-writers have still been finding their way to us all summer long. And our staff have been busy collaborating and venturing out—as always—to offer instruction across our campus and around the city of Madison. Here are a few highlights of what we were up to during the summer and what we’re looking forward to this fall . . . (more…)

Understanding Student Perceptions of the Writing Center–A Conversation Between a Student, a Writing Center Instructor, and a Director/Professor

okuma_tarynBy Taryn Okuma, The Catholic University of America.

Taryn Okuma is Director of the Writing Center and Clinical Assistant Professor of English at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. She received her Ph.D. in Literary Studies from UW-Madison in 2008. While at Madison, she served as the Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program for two years and worked at the Writing Center for four years.

I feel fortunate to be posting after Kristiane, whose thoughtful discussion of transfer with Caroline Levine provides valuable insights to the connections between the work that we do in writing centers, writing across the curriculum, and literature classrooms. I, too, have been thinking a great deal about the intersection of instruction in writing centers and in classrooms. Although we have a moderate amount of traffic at our center, I’m also very aware that we are only seeing a small percentage of the students who could benefit from visiting us. One of the questions that I come back to again and again as a WC director is, “Why aren’t more students visiting the Writing Center at CUA?” And as an English professor, I ask, “Why aren’t more of my students visiting the WC?”
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In Praise of Quiet

By Mitch Nakaue, The University of Iowa.

As a deeply introverted person, I’ve always been interested in the power of writing center work to incite talk.  As a graduate student at UW–Madison, I learned to cultivate an expressive and even outgoing classroom teaching persona, but found myself much less drained by one-to-one discussions with students.  Writing center teaching, which I began in 2004, capitalized on my preferred mode of interaction: focused and detailed exchanges with one person.  And to my surprise, writing center teaching wasn’t draining; in fact, it produced a buzz.  I think many of us are familiar with the buzz — the euphoria we feel when the thirty or sixty minutes fly by in a whirlwind of student and tutor collaboration on the development or revision of a piece of writing.  Indeed, we might even gauge the success of a tutoring session by how much was said.  We talked the whole time!

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Making Charoset: Teaching by Hand in the Shadow of MOOCs

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

By Eli Goldlbatt, Temple University.

Eli Goldblatt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990 and taught at Villanova University from that year until he moved to Temple University in 1996.  He is currently professor of English and Director of First Year Writing at Temple.  He was faculty co-director of the Writing Center at Temple from 1999 until 2005. Through New City Writing, the outreach arm of the writing program, he has helped to support Tree House Books, Temple Writing Academy, and other projects in collaboration with community partners in North Philadelphia. Among other scholarly publications, he is the author of Because We Live Here: Sponsoring Literacy Beyond the College Curriculum (Hampton P 2007), and Writing Home: A Literacy Autobiography (S. Illinois UP, 2012).  His books of poetry include Journeyman’s Song (Coffee House, 1990), Sessions 1-62 (Chax Press, 1991), Speech Acts (Chax Press, 1999), and Without a Trace (Singing Horse Press, 2001). In addition, Goldblatt published two children’s books, Leo Loves Round and Lissa and the Moon’s Sheep, both from Harbinger House in 1990.

My wife, Wendy Osterweil, is a printmaker, often screen printing on fabric in multiple layers and then quilting back into the shapes and colors.  She also teaches art education in a fine arts college, where she prepares young artists for a variety of urban and suburban K-12 classrooms.  In our many, many talks about teaching and the arts over the years, she links the art she most admires with the teaching she seeks to foster: work that shows the human hand. Together, we have come to think about teaching as an art done “by hand,” and I’d like to share with you some thoughts about this conception for writing instruction. (more…)

Shame and the Writing Center

Lauren in Boston Commons.JPGBy Lauren Vedal. Lauren Vedal was a tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center from 2004-2009. She is now the Writing Specialist in the Humanities at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and support for faculty who want to better incorporate writing instruction into their courses.

Shame and Writing
I’ve been thinking about shame and writing. As writing tutors, we consider writers’ shame not infrequently. Writers sometimes explicitly express shame about their “bad writing,” and there is shame implicit in the vulnerability of sharing one’s writing-in-progress. But I’m interested in taking another angle on shame—shame as it relates to earnestness.
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Writing Centers Have Flex Appeal

"Flexibility."  Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).

“Flexibility.” Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).

By Brad Hughes, Director of the Writing Center and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At many universities, writing centers have now earned significant respect for the work they do with student-writers.  Within that respect, though, almost never do I hear writing centers valued for what I like to call their flex appeal: for the flexible ways in which they meet not just the needs of student-writers who have drafts in hand, but the needs of faculty and of curricula and of institutions and of student groups and of campus communities and of the communities around and beyond a university.  It’s important to note that these fascinating needs and opportunities often surface a week or a month into the semester, so they require a flexible organization–one with talented staff whose time is not already entirely consumed–to respond. (more…)

Physician, Heal Thyself!

Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

By Kevin Mullen. Kevin Mullen is a dissertator in Literary Studies, with a minor in Composition and Rhetoric, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  This is his third year working at the Writing Center.

There is a particular kind of shame that forms when you come face-to-face with the fact that you are not practicing what you preach.  It usually surfaces when you are alone, probably at night, thinking back on all you did and said during the day.  Suddenly, it’s there, looking back at you—the fact that the very thing you encourage in others is not something you yourself do.

The importance of collaboration in writing: it’s one of those core beliefs that I feel evangelical about, that I imagine at the heart of what I do, and of who I am, as a teacher.  When I was a fellow in Turkey and had 180 students a semester I still managed to meet with each one individually in order to work on their writing; I think I broke the record for conferences in the Intermediate Writing course here at UW-Madison (every other week, all semester long); I convinced a very skeptical board of directors, as well as a group of reluctant teachers, at a local college to require two conferences a semester for their composition course; and, this last August, I led a workshop for almost 70 TA’s teaching writing-intensive courses all over campus that explored how, and why, to include conferences.
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My Week in Dissertation Heaven

Behind Nmachika is the beautiful Lake Mendota

Behind Nmachika is the beautiful Lake Mendota

By Nmachika Nwakaego Nwokeabia.When I found out that the UW-Madison’s Writing Center was offering a dissertation writing camp (or, as I fondly call it, a dissertation boot camp) during this past summer, I knew I had to apply for it. I was obsessed with my dissertation, and this was yet another way for me to shower my dissertation with love.

To prove my dedication to my dissertation I wrote every single day (often waking up at 4:00 AM and racing straight to the computer to put down my crispest, freshest thoughts), joined every virtual and real-life writing group I came across, pestered colleagues with my groundbreaking ruminations, and religiously practiced the BIC method during periods of writer’s block; yet all I had to show for my hard work was a directionless, unwieldy, unmanageable, intimidating  100-page monstrosity of a chapter that only seemed to grow by the day. I was in deep trouble, and if anything could help me, it was the Writing Center.
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