Why Do You Ask? Questioning the Question in the Writing Center

Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

By Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

“So, what are you working on today?”
“When is your paper due?”
“Are you concerned about anything in particular in this draft?”

In the writing center that I direct at the University of Notre Dame, we spend a good deal of time asking questions.  We pose questions about practical parameters of assignments—length, due date, assignment requirements, etc.  We pose questions about writers’ goals, their concerns, and their hopes for their work.  Most importantly, we pose questions with writers to help them discover and articulate their own ideas. (more…)

The Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium

madison_wc_colloquium_photos_smaller1I’ve long argued that writing centers at research universities should prepare interested doctoral students to lead strong, innovative writing centers and WAC programs when they move into their faculty careers.  And that we should do this in systematic and sustained ways.  Being a dedicated, successful, experienced writing tutor is of course a necessary part of that preparation, but that alone is not sufficient.  Professional development for future writing center directors is something our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes seriously—my colleagues and I are proud that this past year, in 2011 alone, seven more of our PhD alums, at various stages of their careers, were offered positions as writing center directors or assistant directors around the country, joining many other distinguished UW-Madison alums who direct writing centers.

This question—of how research universities can prepare graduate students to become writing center directors as part of their faculty careers—has been an important topic of discussion when the writing center directors from the universities in the Big 10 conference meet once a year (I’m always hoping that some athletic competition will break out during meetings of Big 10 writing center directors, but, alas, none yet).  We’ve talked several times about what we can do—intentionally and systematically–to prepare our grad students to lead strong writing center and WAC programs.  As an outgrowth of these discussions, at the 2010 IWCA conference in Baltimore, several members of the Big 10 group spoke about the opportunities we have and the challenges we face as we prepare graduate students to be future writing center directors.

(more…)

It Begins with a Mentality: Disability and the Writing Center

Sarah Groeneveld is an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center

Sarah Groeneveld is an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center

By Sarah Groeneveld. The day I met Laura (a pseudonym) was a memorable one. It was a slow day at the Writing Center last January, and I had a free hour in the middle of my shift. Laura was scheduled to meet with me later, but had mistaken the time of our appointment and had shown up early. Therefore, we were able to spend a wonderful two hours talking about three things that we both share a passion for: teaching, animals and questions about difference. But what is memorable to me about meeting Laura is that about five seconds after sitting down next to her, I suddenly noticed a gigantic head and deep brown eyes staring at me from underneath the desk. Laura introduced me to Monty (another pseudonym), a German Shepard who helps Laura navigate the world – not only physically, but in ways that Laura explained to me in the following weeks and months.

(more…)

Breaking Bad: The Process of Becoming “Just”

warthen_danielle_cropped1

Danielle Warthen, TA Coordinator of Writing Center Multicultural Initiatives

By Danielle Warthen.  As a writing instructor who’s also been a writing tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center for the past five years, I’d say that, hands down, the most common comment I hear from students new to the Writing Center when we begin our sessions is: “I’m a bad writer.” It’s often said in an apologetic tone, as if the student has already decided that this session will be yet another disappointing illustration of being “bad at writing,” and I should prepare myself for some sort of intellectual letdown. These words are often meant as a benevolent warning to me, I suppose as a way to help me manage my expectations. The student is telling me not to expect a “good writer” who’s going to be a breeze to collaborate with–this is going to be hard work for both of us, with questionable returns, because . . . well, they’re bad at it.

(more…)

Panic Attacks and Mirror Neurons

Kevin Boettcher, Instructor, UW-Madison Writing Center

Kevin Boettcher, Instructor, UW-Madison Writing Center

If you’ve ever staffed a writing center or tutoring center in an evening, you’ve probably seen your fill of pure, visceral panic. I’m in my third semester as a Writing Center instructor now, and I’ve been in the trenches. Most times, you can see the warning signs a long way off: the wide, intense eyes; the shallow breathing; the kung-fu grip on a partial draft or outline of an assignment; even the hunched, tense shoulders typically found in fugitives and air traffic controllers. The assignment is due tomorrow, and so much hinges on it: a passing grade in the course, a place in a competitive program, the respect of a professor. It’s just too much. And, dear god, it’s already 6:00 PM. If I was a bartender, I’d pour the student a stiff drink; if I was a doctor, I’d prescribe a mild sedative; but since I’m a Writing Center instructor, I go with a different tool. “Oh, yeah,” I say, nodding knowingly. “I’ve been there before. So let’s see what we can do.” (more…)

Move Over Charlie Brown . . . It’s Writing Center Halloween

Mary Lou Odom is the Director of the Writing Center at Kennesaw State University and a 2004 UW-Madison graduate (Ph.D., English - Rhetoric and Composition.) She was the first Lead TA in the UW-Madison Writing Center.

Mary Lou Odom is the Director of the Writing Center at Kennesaw State University and a 2004 UW-Madison graduate (Ph.D., English - Rhetoric and Composition.) She was the first Lead TA in the UW-Madison Writing Center.

Madison residents and UW students know that Halloween can be a big deal. In fact, as a Wisconsin alum, some of my fondest memories of my time in Madison are of Halloween-related activities. So perhaps it is only natural that my love of this funny, freakish holiday followed me to my new home in suburban Atlanta and Kennesaw State University. And while today my writing center at KSU hosts its biggest and most successful student event on Halloween, I can’t take much credit for it. Why, you ask? That, like the lesson of the Great Pumpkin, is the story about what Halloween taught me about the value of trust and a little blind faith – writing center style.

(more…)

Who Needs a Muse? The Real Reasons Why UW-Madison Students Are Attracted to Ongoing Appointments

By Rachel Carrales.

Writing Center TA Rachel Carrales

Writing Center TA Rachel Carrales

The summer before last, I spent a month traveling through France, Italy, and Spain. It was a whirlwind trip, and I was only able to spend a day or two in each city I visited. It was so fast, in fact, that I find myself remembering only snippets of things: the fat, cuddly pigeons in Florence, the combination of 14th century architecture and graffiti in Toledo, and the palm trees in Rome. One of the things that stands out in particular, though, is my trip to the Louvre. I was finally able to see all of those paintings that I’d studied on slides in dark, crowded lecture halls as an undergrad, and while there was something thrilling about that, seeing brush strokes and colors up close, feeling intimately connected to a painting, my favorite moment was seeing a statue of the Goddess of writing.

(more…)

None of Us Are Herrings

Wriiting Center TA David Aitchison

Wriiting Center TA David Aitchison

By David Aitchison. Hear David read this blog post with his wonderful accent. A few weeks ago, I had an appointment in our Main Writing Center with a sophomore, Amanda, who was working on her application essays for the Business School. With just a thirty-minute slot to look at three 250-word essays we had little time to waste. I remember three things in particular. First, it was fun – one of those sessions that gallop by because it’s late in the day and the two of you have the sillies, though that doesn’t stop you from thinking sensibly and strategically. Second, it was easy – Amanda was the kind of student who, even if she didn’t know it herself at first, was bursting with all the right ideas that, as I saw it, were exactly what her essays needed. Third, as we were wrapping up, she confessed that, much to her relief, coming to the Writing Center was nothing like she’d expected. “You know,” she said, with a bit of a blush, “how everyone’s ALWAYS nervous about coming to the Writing Center for the first time. It’s daunting.”

(more…)

Writing Across the Foreignness

John Anderson

Writing Center TA John Anderson

By John Stafford Anderson. Saturday, at a party we had celebrating her upcoming dissertation defense, a friend of mine tearfully took me aside.  She wanted to know if I would be available next week to help her with some writing points on her dissertation.  Of course, I agreed to help, but I wanted to know why she was so tearful at this amazing South African-themed braai being held in her honor.  My friend is not prone to drama or gossip; she is quite practical.  Since she arrived in Madison, she has maintained course in some particularly ugly storms without needing tissues.  The tears were definitely out of place.  She pulled me aside, away from the music, out of earshot from others, and dropped the bomb:  “my advisor,” she said, “said my writing is awful:  he said I write like a foreigner.”  Well, my friend is a foreigner who is fluent in three languages besides English.  How else should she write, I wondered?  “He said I should write like an American,” she explained.

(more…)

A Graduate Education

This week my shift at the writing center will be bitter sweet. I’m finishing
my work on two dissertations and a master’s thesis. In my work at the
writing center, I’m a bit of a graduate student junkie. In fact I probably
spend way too much writing center time with graduate students and not nearly
enough slogging away in the trenches of business school applications and
literary analysis papers. However, when I started working at the writing
center the last thing that I wanted was to work with a graduate student. I
didn’t want to constantly deal with my intellectual insecurities and risk
highlighting all of the things that I didn’t know that I thought I should.
How was I supposed to help someone finish a dissertation when I was so far
from the thinker and writer I wanted to be? Lost and Confused Signpost

In my mind working with graduate
students, particularly ones finishing their dissertations, could only result
in them not getting the help they wanted and me getting a bruised or
battered ego in the process. I was pretty certain that I made it as far as
I did in graduate school on my fast-talking, wily distraction tactics, and
lots of nodding, so I was ill equipped to help others. By avoiding
dissertators and hiding myself in conferences with the comfortable security
of several kinds of power disparities on my side I could protect myself, and
those I was helping, from facing all the things I didn’t know. That is until
Melissa found out. (more…)