Disrupting the “Grand Narrative”: Outreach Instruction and Writing Center Pedagogy

By Stephanie Larson

Stephanie Larson is beginning her third year as a Writing Center tutor at UW-Madison, where she has served as a member of the Writing Center Outreach team since fall 2015 and as the co-coordinator for Outreach during summer 2016. She is also the senior assistant director of the English 100 program and a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. 

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The author, Stephanie.

In Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, Jackie Grutsch McKinney makes the argument that writing centers operate under a “grand narrative” that narrowly equates writing center work solely to one-to-one tutoring. “[W]riting center work,” writes Grutsch McKinney, “we’re told, is about tutoring students—and a particular breed of tutoring that takes place in one-to-one sessions of a designated length and of a particular pedagogy that is more about conversations than answers” (58). In particular, outreach instruction demonstrates a useful case study of pedagogy operating outside of the center that doesn’t cleanly fit into the grand narrative Grutsch McKinney sketches. In this shift to outreach instruction, not only does the narrative of one-to-one tutoring dispel, answers and conversations play a different role than they do in tutoring sessions. That is, outreach instructors must cultivate flexibility in our conversations because instructors outside the center seeking our help are looking for answers—answers about teaching writing that will help their students demonstrate success in their own courses. In an interview with former UW-Madison Writing Center instructor Chris Earle, Grutsch McKinney hopefully suggests that it might be possible to hold this “grand narrative” at “an arm’s length,” and in this blog post, I outline how writing center pedagogy changes in the context screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-9-59-17-amof outreach instruction. Outreach instructors must adapt, adjust, and alter their approaches based on the rhetorical situation of the moment to meet the needs of instructors and their students.

First, a bit of background about outreach at UW-Madison: The outreach team at UW-Madison is currently coordinated by one lead TA and staffed by eight writing center tutors who, much like the work of a WAC coordinator, also provide writing instruction and consultation to faculty, TAs, and instructional staff primarily part of the UW-Madison community but also to those outside of the university. The UW-Madison Writing Center offers a range of outreach services from brief introductions to the writing center, to co-teaches on brief units of writing, to stand-alone instruction on writing, to even new student orientations, and more. My outreach experiences have introduced me to a wide variety of students writing in diverse genres—from high school students at the Middleton Public Library seeking strategies for writing strong personal statements for college application essays, to international and U.S. undergraduate students studying through the UW-Madison Integrated Biological Sciences-Summer Research Program pursuing design approaches to poster presentations, to even aspiring writing center tutors from Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee, WI wanting tools for effective pedagogy. Among many others, these experiences continue to stretch what I think writing center pedagogy looks like. (more…)

Two More Cultures: Or, Fostering a Writing Culture at a STEM University

By Shaundrea Hirengen and Christopher J. Syrnyk

Shaundrea Hirengen, an alumna of the George Fox University Writing Center, is starting her second year as the coordinator of Oregon Tech’s Peer Consulting Center. Christopher Syrnyk, a UW-Madison Writing Center alum, is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition and director of the University Honors Program at Oregon Tech.

Christopher sporting vintage Wisconsin fan hat (photo by the author).

Christopher sporting vintage Wisconsin fan hat (photo by the author).

Shaundrea and her dog Sampson (photo by author).

Shaundrea and her dog Sampson (photo by author).

Shaundrea and I sat down to talk before the start of Fall term (Oregon Tech is on a quarter system, and the academic year starts at the end of September) about how we can do more to foster writing culture, through good writing center practices at our Peer Consulting Center, and how, in doing so, we can connect our campus. By “writing culture” we had in mind all the ways to use writing to refocus student work, to help students process an idea, and even how to refine and revise an orientation to thinking about a product they are diligently working to figure out or produce. About our Peer Consulting Center, Shaundrea has this to say: “The Peer Consulting Center at Oregon Tech is unique for a number of reasons. We are a predominantly STEM university, so the majority of students who make use of our services come to work on math, physics, chemistry, and engineering courses, but also writing. However, our mission is to support, guide, and help students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to build a solid foundation in all of their courses. Our tutors are a well rounded and eclectic group of students—Mechanical Engineering majors who dabble in biology and Computer Science Engineering Technology majors who write fiction. (more…)

Writing Center Moonshots

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and the director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 33rd year at UW-Madison. This post is adapted from his keynote address at the Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference, held in Iowa in March 2016.

Do you know what moonshots are? They are really ambitious goals–or the process of trying to achieve those kinds of goals. The term refers to US President John Kennedy’s 1961 speech, at Rice University in Houston, about space exploration, when Kennedy boldly promised that the United States would land a person on the moon by the end of the decade. Moonshots are really audacious projects, ones that are, in fact, so difficult that they are unlikely to succeed. As Kennedy said in that now famous speech: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” In his State of the Union address in January 2016, President Obama invoked the term when he announced the start of an ambitious new “Cancer Moonshot,” an initiative designed to advance cancer care and prevention.

moonI am inspired by ambitious goals, and I hope that you are too. In fact, I think that establishing ambitious goals and working collaboratively to achieve them are important parts of leadership in an academic culture. I want to think together with you all about what could be moonshots–ambitious goals–for you as a tutor, for your writing center, for the writing center profession. I will try to challenge you to think in some new ways about your writing center work. Later in this post, I’m going to invite all of you to think and talk about setting an ambitious goal for improving your own tutoring or for improving your center or for strengthening the writing center profession. Maybe while you read this post (you can multitask, right?), you can begin freethinking about something substantial that needs improving in your tutoring, something important and challenging that you need to learn, some significant ways in which you or your center needs to stretch or grow or improve. Your moonshot should be challenging and ambitious but can be small in scope–it doesn’t have to involve a journey to Mars. (more…)

Hearing Feelings and Visualizing Readers: Integrating Screencasting into Asynchronous Instruction

By Dominique Bourg Hacker

Author photo by Christine Sohl.

Author photo by Christine Sohl.

Dominique Bourg Hacker is the 2015-16 TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since fall 2010. Dominique is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on contemporary South African and Caribbean fiction, gardens, and environmental imaginaries.

Before my work began as Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, I knew that I wanted to integrate screencasting into the email consultants’ workload. Screencasting is a video recording of your computer screen accompanied by voice narration. My predecessor, Mike Shapiro, had experimented with the technology in Summer 2014 and the student response was overwhelmingly positive; many students stated that they would rewatch their screencast 5 or more times. The recent studies I came across, likewise, heaped more praise on screencast technologies. Chris Anson et al. found that students:

“perceived that screencast technologies facilitated personal connections; made transparent the teacher’s evaluative process, revealed the teacher’s feelings, provided visual affirmation, […and]  seemed to account for students’ face-related needs (belonging, respect, and autonomy) and hence mitigated the predominant face-threatening potential of the evaluative space” (3).

Riki Thompson and Meredith Lee’s study revealed:

“that explanations within video feedback made the thought process of the reader visible, allowing [students] to identify problems. Thus, [f]eedback provided students with greater guidance about how to improve.”

I was so excited by the possibilities of helping students gain audience awareness as they heard their reader talk through how one moment was confusing or interesting while simultaneously enabling tutors to make personal connections without face-to-face interaction. (more…)

“Something Magical in Meeting with a Group of Like-Minded People”: Graduate Writing Groups in the Writing Center

By Chris Earle, Elisabeth Miller, and Bradley Hughes

Chris Earle is currently a co-Coordinator in the Writing Center at UW-Madison where he is completing a dissertation on the writing and activism of imprisoned individuals. In the fall, Chris will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Elisabeth Miller has been a Writing Center instructor at UW-Madison for the past five years and is currently co-coordinator of the Madison Writing Assistance community literacy program. She is currently completing her dissertation on literacy and disability, and in fall 2016 she will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison.

Every week this spring semester, roughly 90 graduate students keep coming back to Helen C. White Hall on the UW-Madison campus. They slog through ice and snow on winter mornings; they eschew sunny spring afternoons and evenings all to participate in the Writing Center’s Graduate Writing Groups. Modelled after UW-Madison Writing Center’s Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and Writing Retreats, these groups began in Summer 2014. As Sarah Groeneveld previously detailed, the Graduate Writing Groups are designed to provide space, time, and support for graduate student writers throughout the semester.

Each group, enrolling anywhere between 20 and 30 graduate students, meets for three hours every week. These students come from a wide range of disciplines: Electrical Engineering, Psychology, Neuroscience, French and Italian, Educational Policy Studies, Art History, Environmental Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, East Asian Studies, Geography, Sociology, Political Science, English, Forestry, History, Library and Information Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, German, and many, many more. An experienced member of the Writing Center’s staff serves as a facilitator (this semester, the authors of this post).

We open each week with a focused goal-setting activity and small- or large-group discussion about the writing process, about challenges they’re facing in their projects, or about whatever else writing related is on people’s minds. At the close of each session, the facilitator brings the group back together for the last few minutes to share progress and to set goals for the week. But the majority of the time–about two-and-a-half of the three hours–is dedicated to writing time during which writers can make substantial progress on their dissertations, article drafts, grant proposals, fellowship applications, and more. In this way, the groups follow what Sohui Lee and Chris Golde in their recent article in The Writing Lab Newsletter term the “Just Write” model. (more…)

A Wonderful Program to Work Across the Disciplines, Universities, Countries, and Institutions

By Franziska Liebetanz

Franziska Liebetanz is since 2011 the director of the Writing Center at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) Germany. She is a member of the Board of the European Writing Center Association and the “Gesellschaft für Schreibdidaktik und Schreibforschung.” She was one of the first peer tutors in writing in Germany and wrote together with Ella Grieshammer, Jana Zegenhagen and Nora Peters the first book of writing consultation at universities. “Zukunftsmodell Schreibberatung. Eine Anleitung zur Begleitung von Schreibenden im Studium.” She publishes together with Simone Tschirpke, Nora Peters, David Kreitz and Sascha Dieter a journal about writing and writing research, „JoSch“.

Last year we have had a great opportunity to improve and to develop our Writing Fellow Program at the European University Viadrina. In 2007, Katrin Girgensohn founded our Writing Center. At this time only a couple of universities in Germany had Writing Centers and one was now located next to the Polish border in Frankfurt (Oder). In 2011 she went to the USA to visit American Writing Centers; mainly she spent her time at the Writing Center of the University Wisconsin-Madison. From Madison she brought the idea of a Writing Fellow Program back to our Writing Center. Due to our Mission statement, we thought this writing program in the disciplines would be a good contribution to our work.
Our mission statement says

The Writing Center is the umbrella institution for all activities that deal with the key competences of ‘writing’ at the European University Viadrina. It supports students and graduate students alike to communicate with confidence and persuasion, using writing as a medium for critical thinking. All writers, experienced as well as unexperienced, benefit from conversations about writing processes and texts. (https://www.europa-uni.de/en/struktur/zsfl/institutionen/schreibzentrum/Writing-center-mission-statement.html)

Schreibzentrum_Logo (2)

 

 

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Acknowledgments & Alignments: Writing from a Center Place

By Mary E. Fiorenza

Mary E. FiorenzaMary E. Fiorenza would like to acknowledge Wendy Bishop’s “You Can Take the Girl Out of the Writing Center, But You Can’t Take the Writing Center Out of the Girl” for providing her with a way to see her writing center origins and consider how they influence her thought and practice as a teacher and administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As associate director of English 100, a writing program for first-year students, her current writing center relationship is primarily through its proximity to her office. That said, a brief disclaimer: This blog post uses the word center as an image, but writing centers are not directly addressed.

 The night before I turned in my dissertation was a kind of waking dream, and not a good one. Perhaps you have experienced a similar dream or night. Looking back, I see now that I might have rescheduled the appointment. I still had two days of a grace period left. But I remember feeling now or never. The dissertation had been defended; it needed to be gone. I worked through the night with periodic naps. I had corrections to finalize, paragraphs to rework, sources to check, citations to format, proofreading. And I still needed to write my acknowledgments.

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The Rhetoric of Composition: How We Talk When We Talk About Dissertations

WC_BlogrickNBy Rick Ness

Rick Ness is a PhD Candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and a writing center tutor. Rick has led graduate writer’s groups and has co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp. His research focuses on the simultaneous emergence of British Romantic literature and biopolitical, medicalized societies.

Last January, I co-taught The Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp with Nancy Lynn Karls and Neil Simpkins. During the camp I was perusing the collection of dissertation guide books in the Writing Center, and I noticed some common visual and verbal metaphors: mountains, journeys, and light bulbs (and while technically not a metaphor, a towering stack of books is a popular image). (more…)

Using Peer Writing Groups For the Senior Thesis and Beyond

By Rebecca Steffy

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, where she also serves as a TA Coordinator for The Writing Center and Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program. Her research focuses on the relationships between community formations and aesthetics in contemporary poetry and performance. 

This year, I have the privilege of coordinating the UW-Madison Writing Center’s Senior Thesis Writing Groups, small peer-led writing groups that meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the daunting semester- or year-long process of writing a senior thesis. I help spread the word that senior thesis writing groups are forming at the beginning of each term, lead orientation meetings to better inform interested students about how the groups work, and facilitate the first meeting of each group to guide them in establishing a set of shared expectations for working together. Then I keep in touch throughout the semester by email or a shared check-in document, and by dropping by another meeting later in the semester. Our model aims at maximizing the rich benefits of writing groups for senior thesis writers with a minimum of direct instructional hours from our staff. (more…)

Water Damage, Writing Technologies, and Alternative Modes of Feedback

By Kathleen Daly

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly

Two weeks ago, I spilled water on my laptop. Despite my frantic attempts to dry it off, a few drops of water seeped in through the keyboard and into the internal components, rendering my computer entirely useless. While I wait for my computer to be repaired, I have been taking advantage of the Equipment Checkout System (ECS) available through UW InfoLabs. Through ECS, I am able to rent a laptop that is the exact same make and model as my personal computer. However, these laptops have a loan period of only three days with no options for renewal. This means that every three days, I have to check out a different machine.

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