Getting a Fix on What Big 10 Writing Centers Are Up To

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

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…)

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 Importance of Being Interested

By Michelle Niemann

Michelle Niemann is the assistant director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2013-2014. Her first tutoring experience was in the writing center at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, in 2003 and 2004. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her PhD in English literature from UW-Madison in May. 

The author on a bird-watching walk at Horicon March.

Michelle bird-watching at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo by Liz Vine.

Tutoring in the writing center at University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2009 has given me a great gift: it has shown me the power of being interested. In anything, or anyone. In the next student signed up to meet with me and whatever project they’re working on. At the same time, as a graduate student in English literature at UW-Madison, I’ve also learned a lot about the corresponding power of being interesting.

Being interesting is, quite rightly, the coin of the realm in advanced scholarship. And I’ve absolutely, nerdily loved the opportunity to pursue my interests in poetic form and sustainable farming by writing a dissertation about organic metaphors in both fields. But I’m also grateful that I’ve been working in the Writing Center, because tutoring constantly reminds me, and indeed requires me, to look up and notice at least some of the other interesting things going on around me. (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…)

Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center

photo of the author holding a grey angora rabbit

Neil Simpkins and a delightful bunny

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is a first-year writing center instructor at UW-Madison and a graduate student in Composition and Rhetoric. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He loves cats, rabbits, and tutoring personal statements.

In a rare moment of downtime during my writing center shift, I started to read Jay Sloan and Andrew Rihn’s article “Rainbows in the Past were Gay: LGBTQIA in the WC.” Early in the article, they unearth a letter to the editor of Writing Lab Newsletter congratulating the newsletter’s return to ivory paper after several issues had been released on pink and purple paper, stating, “The rainbows in the past were gay, but as the survey results pointed out, not always compatible with the old Xerox machine.” Stark and Sloan unpack the fact that this stray mention of the word “gay” actually represents the paucity of writing center work that sufficiently addresses the needs of LGBTQ tutors and clients (I’ll use this acronym designating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer as my adjective of choice for talking about this particular community, for which acronyms and descriptions abound); this humorously, unintentionally queer sentence is one of the few times that the word “gay” is even used in the corpus of the Writing Lab Newsletter.

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Why Do You Need to Know That About Me?

By Kirsten Jamsen, Katie Levin, and Kristen Nichols-Besel, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities

KirstenKatieKristenKirsten and Katie are directors and Kristen is a graduate writing consultant at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing. Given that Kirsten is an alumna of the UW–Madison Writing Center, where she worked as a graduate student and professional staff member from 1993 to 2001, and that all of us are active members of the Midwest Writing Centers Association, we are thrilled to join the conversation on Another Word.

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A Tale of Two Centers: Writing Centers and Learning Commons

last oneBy Adam Koehler, Manhattan College

When I started my position at Manhattan College, I was hired to play three roles: Assistant Professor of English, Director of Composition, and Director of the Writing Center. I was fresh out of my PhD at UW – Madison and when I got to Manhattan I was excited. Of course I knew that I was walking into a heavy administrative role (and as a junior faculty member), but – how do I say this? – I like building things. I don’t know how else to put it. And I loved that this position asked me to bring some programmatic vision. So I got to work straight away. One of the first things I did, with the help of the English department, was to externalize our Writing Center from the Academic Support Services office, where tutoring in writing was offered alongside tutoring in math, history, etc.: a one stop shop for students looking for extra help. Over the course of two years I established an independent budget, hired twice as many tutors, gained a new space on campus (far more visible and accessible to foot traffic), set up workshops, and pretty much copied everything I learned from Brad at UW – Madison. When we opened our new full-time and independent Writing Center we helped over 300 students in one semester. That was almost a three hundred percent increase.

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Lost in Translation? One Dissertator’s Experience Writing across Languages

By Chris Earle

Me

Chris Earle

Chris is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His research interests are in intercultural rhetoric and the political and ethical dimensions of rhetoric and writing.  He was a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Veronica, a dissertator from the Spanish Department, and I worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center weekly during the Spring 2013 semester on her dissertation proposal and related writing.  One of the things that was so interesting about our work together was that she wrote her drafts in English but she’d ultimately translate them into Spanish for her advisor. I often found myself wondering how much of the work we did carried over to the Spanish product, or if much of it was lost in translation.  Recently, I met up with Veronica to find out more about her writing process and we had a conversation about writing between and across languages and about how every writer needs a reader. (more…)

Writing Offstage

Jessie Gurd

Jessie Gurd

By Jessie Gurd

Jessie Gurd is a fourth-year PhD student in Literary Studies and has been an instructor at the Writing Center since the Fall of 2012. Jessie studies early modern English drama; her work focuses on ecocriticism, geography, and spatial theory.

A run, whether on a lakeside path or a treadmill, is not an obvious time for writing. There’s the sweat, the awkwardness of carrying a computer or notebook, and the small problem of all the jostling that running entails. Even so, when I tie on my running shoes and fill my water bottle, I am often anticipating a writing session. Occasionally I go home with some actual words set down—sometimes I send myself a typo-riddled email from my phone—but more often all my writing is invisible. This invisible writing is critical to my future drafting and work on the current project. (more…)

A Tale of Two Hats: Teachers Become Writers

By Jessie Reeder.

Jessie was an instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center from 2010-2013. Last year (2012-2013) she served as TA Assistant Director. She can’t wait to return to work in the Writing Center soon, but this semester she’s fortunate to be on a research fellowship as she finishes her dissertation (!!!).

This is not what our staff meetings typically look like.

Andrew Kay, Dominique Bourg Hacker, and lots of other Writing Center TAs at our staff meeting in April 2103.

Andrew Kay, Dominique Bourg Hacker, and other Writing Center TAs huddle over their writing projects at our April 2013 staff meeting.

In this photo our Writing Center tutors (all Ph.D. students, mostly in English) are huddled over their own writing projects, faces taut with expressions of deep concentration. It’s a Friday afternoon in April. Light pours in from (more…)