Two Heads Are Better: An Experiment in Paired Skype Tutoring

Picture of the author

Picture of the author in Madison, WI.

By Leah Misemer

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years.  She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.

Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student.  If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor.  In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.

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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…)

The Importance of Being Interested

By Michelle Niemann

Michelle Niemann is the assistant director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2013-2014. Her first tutoring experience was in the writing center at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, in 2003 and 2004. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her PhD in English literature from UW-Madison in May. 

The author on a bird-watching walk at Horicon March.

Michelle bird-watching at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo by Liz Vine.

Tutoring in the writing center at University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2009 has given me a great gift: it has shown me the power of being interested. In anything, or anyone. In the next student signed up to meet with me and whatever project they’re working on. At the same time, as a graduate student in English literature at UW-Madison, I’ve also learned a lot about the corresponding power of being interesting.

Being interesting is, quite rightly, the coin of the realm in advanced scholarship. And I’ve absolutely, nerdily loved the opportunity to pursue my interests in poetic form and sustainable farming by writing a dissertation about organic metaphors in both fields. But I’m also grateful that I’ve been working in the Writing Center, because tutoring constantly reminds me, and indeed requires me, to look up and notice at least some of the other interesting things going on around me. (more…)

Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center

photo of the author holding a grey angora rabbit

Neil Simpkins and a delightful bunny

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is a first-year writing center instructor at UW-Madison and a graduate student in Composition and Rhetoric. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He loves cats, rabbits, and tutoring personal statements.

In a rare moment of downtime during my writing center shift, I started to read Jay Sloan and Andrew Rihn’s article “Rainbows in the Past were Gay: LGBTQIA in the WC.” Early in the article, they unearth a letter to the editor of Writing Lab Newsletter congratulating the newsletter’s return to ivory paper after several issues had been released on pink and purple paper, stating, “The rainbows in the past were gay, but as the survey results pointed out, not always compatible with the old Xerox machine.” Stark and Sloan unpack the fact that this stray mention of the word “gay” actually represents the paucity of writing center work that sufficiently addresses the needs of LGBTQ tutors and clients (I’ll use this acronym designating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer as my adjective of choice for talking about this particular community, for which acronyms and descriptions abound); this humorously, unintentionally queer sentence is one of the few times that the word “gay” is even used in the corpus of the Writing Lab Newsletter.

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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…)

In Praise of Quiet

By Mitch Nakaue, The University of Iowa.

As a deeply introverted person, I’ve always been interested in the power of writing center work to incite talk.  As a graduate student at UW–Madison, I learned to cultivate an expressive and even outgoing classroom teaching persona, but found myself much less drained by one-to-one discussions with students.  Writing center teaching, which I began in 2004, capitalized on my preferred mode of interaction: focused and detailed exchanges with one person.  And to my surprise, writing center teaching wasn’t draining; in fact, it produced a buzz.  I think many of us are familiar with the buzz — the euphoria we feel when the thirty or sixty minutes fly by in a whirlwind of student and tutor collaboration on the development or revision of a piece of writing.  Indeed, we might even gauge the success of a tutoring session by how much was said.  We talked the whole time!

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Making Charoset: Teaching by Hand in the Shadow of MOOCs

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

By Eli Goldlbatt, Temple University.

Eli Goldblatt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990 and taught at Villanova University from that year until he moved to Temple University in 1996.  He is currently professor of English and Director of First Year Writing at Temple.  He was faculty co-director of the Writing Center at Temple from 1999 until 2005. Through New City Writing, the outreach arm of the writing program, he has helped to support Tree House Books, Temple Writing Academy, and other projects in collaboration with community partners in North Philadelphia. Among other scholarly publications, he is the author of Because We Live Here: Sponsoring Literacy Beyond the College Curriculum (Hampton P 2007), and Writing Home: A Literacy Autobiography (S. Illinois UP, 2012).  His books of poetry include Journeyman’s Song (Coffee House, 1990), Sessions 1-62 (Chax Press, 1991), Speech Acts (Chax Press, 1999), and Without a Trace (Singing Horse Press, 2001). In addition, Goldblatt published two children’s books, Leo Loves Round and Lissa and the Moon’s Sheep, both from Harbinger House in 1990.

My wife, Wendy Osterweil, is a printmaker, often screen printing on fabric in multiple layers and then quilting back into the shapes and colors.  She also teaches art education in a fine arts college, where she prepares young artists for a variety of urban and suburban K-12 classrooms.  In our many, many talks about teaching and the arts over the years, she links the art she most admires with the teaching she seeks to foster: work that shows the human hand. Together, we have come to think about teaching as an art done “by hand,” and I’d like to share with you some thoughts about this conception for writing instruction. (more…)

Shame and the Writing Center

Lauren in Boston Commons.JPGBy Lauren Vedal. Lauren Vedal was a tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center from 2004-2009. She is now the Writing Specialist in the Humanities at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and support for faculty who want to better incorporate writing instruction into their courses.

Shame and Writing
I’ve been thinking about shame and writing. As writing tutors, we consider writers’ shame not infrequently. Writers sometimes explicitly express shame about their “bad writing,” and there is shame implicit in the vulnerability of sharing one’s writing-in-progress. But I’m interested in taking another angle on shame—shame as it relates to earnestness.
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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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