Senior-Thesis Writing Groups: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

By Elisabeth Miller and Stephanie White

Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)

Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)

On a Sunday morning in February, five students brave the icy winds howling off Lake Mendota, knock the snow and slush off their boots, and straggle into the student union toward a table near the windows looking over a snowy Memorial Union Terrace. That night, another five students wrap up their weekends by braving the same wind and snow to gather in a Starbucks near campus. And throughout the week, two other groups meet on campus, taking time from the busy schedules to gather with groups of their peers to work together on their writing. The students talk about their weeks and laugh about Facebook status updates before getting down to business, and throughout their meetings, the students’ warmth towards each other is as palpable as the snow outside. Indeed, these are no one-off study groups cramming for an impending midterm. These are groups of undergraduate honors senior-thesis writers meeting to encourage, support, productively challenge, and reinforce each other’s work as they work on projects that include discussing the idea of modernity in sculpture, analyzing data from a sleep lab dealing with parasomnia, studying rock formations in New Zealand, examining the archives of Asian-American publications on our campus, and much more.

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Collaboration Times Three

Nancy Reddy is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include composition pedagogy, literacy studies, and extracurricular writing groups. This is her first year with the UW-Madison Writing Center.

In one of my first shifts as a new writing instructor tutor this past fall, I found myself sitting across from a pnancy-reddyair of graduate students from UW’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. As Suzanne and Caitlin described their research – a two-year, multi-site, multi-state study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control, concerning public health initiatives ranging from tobacco cessation to obesity prevention – I had two conflicting reactions: awe at the incredible amount of expertise they brought to bear on their topic, and a creeping anxiety about what I could contribute to their work.

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Writing Across the Curriculum’s Head Start

A typical scene at Comm-B training

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…)

New(s) from the UW-Madison Writing Center!

The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison.  Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

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. . . .

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Writing Across the Curriculum in Madison’s Summer Sun

Compass plants, UW-Madison Arboretum, July 2012 (photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications)

Compass plants, UW-Madison Arboretum, July 2012 (photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications)

During the searing heat and drought that the summer of 2012 has brought to the upper midwest, our Writing-Across-the-Curriculum (WAC) program has been busy (inside comfortably air-conditioned buildings) partnering with faculty and other instructors across our campus in exciting new collaborations.  At the same time, our summer writing center has been hopping with lots of individual consultations and workshops and three different dissertation camps, and undergraduate writing fellows have been helping incoming first-year students with their first college writing assignments.  (More about the dissertation camps will be coming in a future blog post.)

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A Room with a View / Writing with Others

The Lake Mendota shoreline and UW-Madison campus looking toward the downtown Madison skyline. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The Lake Mendota shoreline and UW-Madison campus looking toward the downtown Madison skyline. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Unfortunately, the photograph with which I would have preferred to begin this post doesn’t exist. Instead I’ll have to help you reach the right place to recreate the picture for yourself mentally. I’m John Bradley, interim associate director of the Writing Center; thanks for following my lead. I’ll get to the point along the way, I promise. (more…)

Bridges That Outlast Their Builders: Creating Ongoing Partnerships through Outreach

The Sociology building's Carillon Tower

The Sewell Social Sciences' Carillon Tower

During the snow storms last week, I trekked through the layers of fresh Wisconsin slush to the Social Sciences building. I made my journey upon an invitation to meet with a Sociology faculty member, prepared to discuss co-teaching a session on poster presentations. While watching flaky descents of snow through his window, we chatted for almost an hour about how we might help his students emulate the department’s prize winning posters. Of course, we didn’t actually need nearly that much time to discuss the session. We were both so eager to explore the challenge and craft of visual design and to understand one another’s approaches to teaching this genre that our conversation stretched beyond our original plan. By the end of our meeting, we both left with an enhanced understanding of how our respective fields (Sociology and Composition and Rhetoric) approach visual design in posters, and we had collaboratively developed a strong lesson plan for teaching research posters for his department’s graduate student professional development group.

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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…)

Spotlight on graduate student writers

Did you know that approximately a third of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s visitors are graduate students? These writers come to the Center for assistance with course assignments, Master’s projects and theses, prelims, proposals, presentations, dissertations, publications, job application materials, and more! This week we’re turning the spotlight on two graduate students and asking them to tell us about their Writing Center experiences.


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