By John Bradley, Jane Hirtle, and RJ Boutelle
John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Before moving to Nashville, John served one year as the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center after many years of experience as a tutor there.
Jane Hirtle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychology & Human Development and is serving her second year as the Writing Studio’s Peabody Writing Fellow (Peabody College of Education and Human Development).
RJ Boutelle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of English and is currently serving as the Writing Studio’s English Writing Fellow for Spring 2015.
From the seat here at my desk, I only have to glance up to see the beautiful space featured in the photos spread throughout this post. More importantly, though, if I leave my office door cracked at any point during the week I am treated to the constant buzz of conversations happening just outside my door, conversations the variety of which would likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time talking and listening in a writing center. Those conversations certainly bear a strong resemblance to those I was party to during my countless, well-spent hours in the UW-Madison Writing Center, but now they’re happening here in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University where I help direct the Vanderbilt Writing Studio.
That pleasant background noise is coming from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio’s mixed staff of 30-some undergraduate and graduate writing consultants (tutors, instructors) and their equally mixed clients, writers seeking out the opportunity to talk over everything from their first college essays to their dissertations. Invariably, at some point throughout my day, one of those conversations will pull me out of my office and into its orbit. While conversation is one of my favorite metaphors for the work of academia and scholarship, more broadly, I love that I work in (more…)
Author photo. Image taken by Jennifer Brindley.
By Rachel Herzl-Betz
Rachel Herzl-Betz is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature, Disability Studies, and Rhetoric.
This August, when I began my work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Writing Center, I found myself fascinated with an unexpected challenge. Every year, tutors from our Writing Center have the pleasure of giving presentations and creating collaborative writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. As the new coordinator for these efforts, I assumed that I would be caught up with new genres of writing and discovering new campus buildings. Instead, I found myself wondering at the wobbly line between creation and adaptation.
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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…)
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!
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…)