“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…)
By Andrew Kay. Andrew Kay is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is at work on a dissertation about Romantic and Victorian poetry. He has worked at the Writing Center since Fall 2009.
Toward the end of his life, Robert Frost wrote a wonderfully mysterious poem called “Directive.” In it the speaker coaxes you to accompany him to a simple, primordial time and place removed from the clamor and chaos of modern urban life–a space of renewal and wisdom, a sanctuary. To arrive at this fantastical, trippy no-place, you have to get lost first; and, “if you’re lost enough to find yourself,” you’ll make your way, in time, to a special goblet lodged in the inside of a tree-trunk, a grail-like chalice that, when drunk from, will make you “whole again beyond confusion.” Never mind that the goblet comes from a make-believe dinner-set belonging to children long-since dead; just drink deeply from it, and don’t ask questions.
By John Bradley. John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before joining Vanderbilt’s faculty this fall, John was the 2011-2012 Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center, having also worked as a tutor there for many years as he finished his degree in Literary Studies in the UW-Madison English Department.
Today Nashville, Tennessee, is known the world over as Music City, USA. However, long before it was the cradle of country twang, Nashville had another moniker. The local cluster of colleges and universities led some to dub Nashville “The Athens of the South,” a reputation that sprang up far back enough to influence the city’s decision in 1897 to build a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon. For the moment I’m withholding judgment on its Athenian nature as I slowly learn more about this town better known for its honky tonk, but across the street from Centennial Park, where you can still visit the reproduction of the Parthenon complete with its 42-foot statue of Athena, you’ll find Vanderbilt University, which I am lucky enough to call my new academic home. It’s here as Assistant Director of Vanderbilt’s Writing Studio that I’m contributing to a vibrant campus community and applying so much of what I learned 595 miles away (but who’s counting?) in UW-Madison Writing Center on the 6th floor of Helen C. White Hall. (more…)
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.
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.
John Duffy, Director of the University Writing Program, University of Notre Dame
By John Duffy. John Duffy is the Francis O’Malley Director of the University Writing Program, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, and a proud former tutor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.
Most people who have taught in a writing center, or who have given the work any serious thought, are usually skilled in explaining what a writing center is not. That is, those of us charged with helping students, faculty, or the occasional inquiring dean understand writing center teaching often begin with negative definitions, listing the various things that a writing center isn’t and specifying those actions that writing center tutors don’t undertake. And so, we may say, that while a writing center is many things, it assuredly is not:
- a grammatical chop-shop, a place for quick fixes of broken, bruised, and badly battered sentences
- an editorial dry cleaners, a site for dropping off papers that will be prepped, pressed, starched, and readied for the busy writer
- a House of Miracles, the linguistic equivalent of Lourdes, a shrine at which writers will be miraculously cured of their perceived faults, futilities, and failures
Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound
I’ve considered myself a “writing center person” for over twenty years now, ever since I anxiously took my first college paper to my undergraduate writing center and left with a few concrete ideas for revision and the sense that I might actually be able to do the whole college thing. I eventually became a writing tutor in that same center, and then later went on to teach in the writing center at Madison. And, in January of this year, I became the director of our writing center at the University of Puget Sound. I’ve always loved the community in writing centers, the chance to break down hierarchies and have real conversations about writing. But those interim years as a full-time English professor—in charge of my own classrooms, teaching writing through assignments I’d designed and working with students whose work I’d be grading—had led me away from the core principles of writing centers. And I knew it. (more…)
A typical scene at Comm-B TA training
Every semester, our Writing Across the Curriculum program gets a head start. The week before classes have even begun, we have the privilege of spending two mornings training up to 75 new Teaching Assistants. These TAs will be teaching writing-intensive courses across the disciplines—courses that fulfill an intermediate communication requirement for undergraduates. In our UW-Madison parlance, we call these Communication-B (or Comm-B) courses. During Comm-B training, then, we get to provide TAs with skills, theories, and practices they need for teaching with writing. As the TA Assistant Director of our WAC program, I get to help plan and facilitate the training. I’m always energized by the buzz of conversation about teaching with writing and by the “aha” moments as TAs consider—some for the first time—the challenges and opportunities that come with teaching writing in the disciplines. (more…)
Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2004), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
By Brad Hughes, Director, The Writing Center, Director, Writing Across the Curriculum, UW-Madison.
In this blog post, I would like to honor the legendary founder of the Writing Center (originally called the Writing Laboratory) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the most influential pioneers in the modern writing center profession—Professor Joyce Stribling Steward. Professor Steward founded the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969 and directed it until her retirement in 1982. Among her many accomplishments, she—
- pioneered writing center methods that emphasized respect for individual student-writers and that tailored instruction to individual students, starting where students are and working collaboratively with them
- conceptualized and designed a writing laboratory for writers at all undergraduate and graduate levels, writing in all disciplines
- expanded writing center programs beyond individual tutoring to incorporate workshops in the center as well as outreach in courses across the curriculum, at the graduate and undergraduate level
- published, in 1977, an article about writing laboratories in an MLA journal for English Department chairs, The ADE Journal
- co-developed and led a week-long summer institute about developing writing laboratories, held at UW-Madison in 1981
- co-authored, in 1982, one of the first books about writing centers, The Writing Laboratory: Organization, Management, and Methods
- influenced the development of many other writing centers around the United States through her publications, by hosting visitors from many colleges and universities, and through her invited lectures and consulting around the US
- developed and taught the first course on women’s literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.
Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .