Instruction Beyond the Assignment: Working with Learners of English

By Rubén Casas

Rubén Casas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department’s Program in Composition and Rhetoric. In addition to his Writing Center teaching, he teaches for the English 201 Program.

Two weeks into the spring 2014 semester I worked with a student in the Main Center who, upon asking her what she was working on, identified herself as a foreign student and asked, quite directly, “How do you write in the U.S.?” She explained that she knew what writing was “supposed to do” in Korea, “but not here, in America.” This must have been one of the clearest questions I’ve gotten as a Writing Center instructor, but it also caught me off-guard. Most students come to the Writing Center to get help with some specific element of their writing—often they talk about “flow,” or “development,” or “cites,” terms that somewhere along the way they’ve learned to use in relation to writing, and that I take for granted as evidence of their knowledge of the writing process and their own issues with writing—but it this actually the case? (more…)

Sharing the Space: Collaborating in Sessions with Laptops

By Leah Misemer @lsmisemer

Leah Misemer is a graduate student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center there.  While her dissertation is on serial commercial comics, she is also interested in media specificity and technology in writing centers.  This is her sixth semester working as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center.

Leah Misemer

Photo of the author taken by Nicole Relyea

When I first trained as a peer tutor at Washington University in St. Louis, I was trained to look at paper drafts.  During my first shift as a Writing Center instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a student brought in a draft on a laptop.  I was a bit flummoxed about what to do.  While it was great for the writer to be able to make changes to the draft during the session, it felt less collaborative than sessions with paper drafts.  I had to ask the student to scroll down and up because I didn’t want to touch her expensive electronic equipment, and this felt awkward, like I was shut out of the draft in some way.

This is my sixth semester on staff at UW-Madison and I continue to have a moment of irrational anxiety every time I see a student pull out a laptop during an appointment.  This is not to say I don’t have productive appointments with students toting laptops; when I can get students to cut and paste large sections of a draft, the computer facilitates actual draft work the student can take home.  But appointments with laptops aren’t all like that.  (more…)

Evolution of a Writing Center Tutor: Reflections and Lessons

By Anna T. Floch

Anna Floch is a third year PhD student in Composition & Rhetoric and an instructor of intermediate composition here at UW- Madison. Her research interests include the intersection of identity and literacy, collaboration, and examining affect and emotion in the writing process. She started as a writing center instructor at UW in the Fall of 2012. 

Anna Floch

Anna Floch

I recently overheard a friend and colleague as he began his first shift as a writing center tutor. Before the shift began I had spoken with him about his first appointment and he mentioned he was expectant, nervous, and excited – all very valid emotions to feel when one is stepping into a new role as a consultant in the writing center. Overhearing this moment and talking with him about it beforehand offered me a chance to reflect on my own journey as a writing center instructor (note: I will use the terms “writing center instructor” and “writing center tutor” interchangeably in this post). Up until the point when I began my role as an instructor in our writing center I had tutored in community writing programs, taught my own introduction and intermediate composition classes, and worked in a number of non-traditional educational settings, but I had never stepped foot in a writing center. I came to UW-Madison from a large private university and I (sheepishly) admit that I never utilized the writing center during my undergraduate or masters experience. Though writing centers’ core tenets of talk, collaboration, and relationship building fit deeply into my own personal pedagogy and identity as a classroom teacher, I was concerned with my own ability to navigate the challenges and demands of writing center instruction.

Needless to say, when I started in the writing center last fall, I felt as though I was peering into a big deep canyon (see above): it loomed large, felt thrilling, and was a little bit terrifying. The last year has been a lesson for me in what happens when we close the gap between instructor and student, when we discuss disciplines we do not immediately understand, when we interface with new students from around the campus on a daily basis, and when we take time to really listen to the needs of the writers we work with. In short, my experience in the writing center has made me a better writer, student, and teacher. In that spirit, and as many students and tutors across the country are returning to their work in the writing center, I want to take time to reflect on the key lessons that I have learned over the last year which I hope are useful to both new and returning writing center tutors. (more…)

The Power in Grammar

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison writing her dissertation on how serial comics form communities of authors and readers.  She has worked at the Writing Center since Fall of 2011 and in email instruction for two semesters.

Leah MisemerWhenever a writing center instructor and a writer sit down for a session, a negotiation of power takes place. Sometimes, the writer begins by seeing the instructor as a storehouse of information, and thus, believes the instructor is in charge of the session.  One of the important things to me as an instructor is to help the student gain confidence in his or her own writing skills, so that I become just a partner in the writing process, helping along the way.  For a long time, I struggled with how to create and maintain this partner relationship when a student asked for proofreading or grammar instruction.  This is the story of that exploration, which ends with my current approach to addressing grammatical concerns in email instruction.  I would love to hear in the comments about other instructors’ experiences with grammar instruction and the negotiation of power in tutorials where you have discussed grammar.

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Joint Staff Meeting 2012: Bringing It All Together

On Friday, February 17 the Writing Fellows Program hosted our annual Joint Staff Meeting with the Writing Center. Seven Writing Fellows gave presentations based on research they conducted for their English/Interdisciplinary Courses 316 class. Writing Center instructors served as moderators for each presentation and posed questions designed to help audience members delve more deeply into the issues. As usual, the presentations were highly engaging and the discussions were lively and enlightening. There was a genuine spirit of camaraderie as we discovered what we can learn from one another and how our experiences in the Center and in the Fellows program intersect and diverge. Our meeting was enhanced this year by the presence of several distinguished visitors: Michael Mack, professor of English and Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Taryn Okuma, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center—both from American Catholic University in Washington, DC; and visiting scholar Dr. Katrin Girgensohn, faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University-Viadrina in Germany.

The presentation titles suggest the broad range of topics discussed:

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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.

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From Visitors to Exiles to Tutors: The Changing Face of the Writing Center

By Paula Gillespie.

Paula and Buster.  Paula Gillespie got her start in writing centers at UW Madison, under the directorship of Joyce Steward, 1977-1980.

Paula and Buster. Paula Gillespie got her start in writing centers at UW Madison, under the directorship of Joyce Steward, 1977-1980.

South Florida is full of surprises. A troop of macaws, probably freed from a zoo or pet store during a hurricane, descends into the trees down the street and spends the morning there, squabbling about which one gets to sit where. Burmese pythons, once pets that are now too large to keep around, roam Miami’s streets and thrive in the Everglades, just west of our school. And orchids grow on trees.

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Sitting on Top of the World: A Multilingual Writing Center?

Writing Center TA Manuel Herrero-Puertas

Writing Center TA Manuel Herrero-Puertas

By Manuel Herrero-Puertas. In an increasingly globalized world, more students start their papers with the phrase “In an increasingly globalized world. . . .” Stale as this formula sounds, the truth is that globalization leaves no landscape unaltered. Consider academia. More than ever, universities provide international avenues where scholars from different countries meet and exchange knowledge and resources. Do we still think of U.S. universities as U.S. universities? Reconsider. The University of Wisconsin-Madison alone counts almost 4,000 international students from more than 110 countries, the 12th largest international population in a U.S. campus. This breadth and wealth of nationalities creates a fertile multilingual scene. UW-Madison offers instruction in roundly 80 different languages, some of which extend to graduate programs in which professional scholars write reviews, articles and dissertations in their target tongues. Students choose every year among 100 study-abroad programs, devoted mainly to hone second-language skills and, no doubt, to escape the infelicities of the Madison winter.

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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.

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