Writing Centers Have Flex Appeal

"Flexibility."  Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).

“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…)

Now is The Writing Center Website of Our Discontent, Made Glorious Summer by This Sum of Our Work

By Christopher J. Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, and Faculty Liaison, Advance Credit Program for Communication Courses, Oregon Tech

Christopher Syrnyk, former UW-Madison Writing Center TA, current Assistant Professor at Oregon Tech

Christopher Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, Oregon Tech

At Oregon Tech, where I became an Assistant Professor this fall in the Communication Department, I volunteered during a recent Communication department meeting to take on the role of the department’s Web Content Manager. Volunteering for this role, of course, reminded me that I had promised Brad Hughes to write a blog post for Another Word about a project that four TAs and I undertook to revise part of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s website.

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Our Writing Center’s Founder: Professor Joyce Steward

Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2002), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

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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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New Podcast Presentations by Katrin Girgensohn

Katrin Girgensohn

Katrin Girgensohn, European University Viadrina

All of us at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are delighted to share two new podcasts from our theory and research series, featuring Katrin Girgensohn, a faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University Viadrina in Germany and one of the leading writing center scholars in Europe. During 2011-12, Dr. Girgensohn is a visiting scholar at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This presentation was taped during a meeting of the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium on November 16, 2011.

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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.

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Starting a slow-writing movement

slow_writing_movementgraphicAs we launched a new semester in our writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this past week, I loved listening to the lively buzz in our center emanating from conversations about writing projects.  And as I eavesdropped, I was reminded of how much I value slow, detailed, substantial conversations about writing in progress.

Our writing center burst back into conversation last week, despite the arctic conditions of January in Wisconsin—through the first four days of the semester, 170 students already came in for consultations or scheduled ones.  These student-writers were, as writing center students always are, wonderfully varied: sophomores writing personal statements to meet a February 1st deadline for applying to our school of nursing, seniors sprinting to finish applications to some graduate schools that have later deadlines, grad students and senior-thesis students resuming regular weekly sessions as they work through long writing projects, students with incompletes from last semester anxiously trying to finish a project they wish they had finished already.

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Welcome to a New Writing Center Year!

WAC workshop for writing-intensive TAs

WAC workshop for TAs teaching writing-intensive courses

From all of us in the UW-Madison Writing Center programs, welcome to a new academic year!  We’re off and running on an exciting new year.

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New Podcast Interviews with Neal Lerner

lerner_idea_writinglaboratory_coverWe’re delighted to share three new podcasts from our research and professional series, featuring Neal Lerner, who is the director of training in communication instruction for the program in writing and humanistic studies at MIT.  Neal is a long-time writing center director and tutor, a former co-editor of The Writing Center Journal, an award-winning scholar and researcher, and the author of The Idea of a Writing Laboratory (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009). These interviews were recorded during the March 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville, KY.

If you’re interested in writing center history, in the history of science education, in the history of educational reform, or in archival research, you’ll really enjoy hearing Neal Lerner talk about his research.

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