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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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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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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Angels in the Writing Center

Rachel Herzl-Betz is a PhD student in Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pursuing a minor in Rhetoric and Composition. Her research focuses on intersections between nineteenth-century British literature, rhetoric, and disability studies. This is her first year with the UW-Madison Writing Center.

Rachel Herzl-Betz

Rachel Herzl-Betz

I have a thing for personal statements. I realize that I’m unique in my appreciation for 500-1000 word essays required for graduate school, professional school, and most other “school” applications. The personal statement, otherwise known as the statement of purpose, has long been a sticking point for students who know what they want to do next, but not how to express their desire in two pages or less.

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Physician, Heal Thyself!

Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

By Kevin Mullen. Kevin Mullen is a dissertator in Literary Studies, with a minor in Composition and Rhetoric, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  This is his third year working at the Writing Center.

There is a particular kind of shame that forms when you come face-to-face with the fact that you are not practicing what you preach.  It usually surfaces when you are alone, probably at night, thinking back on all you did and said during the day.  Suddenly, it’s there, looking back at you—the fact that the very thing you encourage in others is not something you yourself do.

The importance of collaboration in writing: it’s one of those core beliefs that I feel evangelical about, that I imagine at the heart of what I do, and of who I am, as a teacher.  When I was a fellow in Turkey and had 180 students a semester I still managed to meet with each one individually in order to work on their writing; I think I broke the record for conferences in the Intermediate Writing course here at UW-Madison (every other week, all semester long); I convinced a very skeptical board of directors, as well as a group of reluctant teachers, at a local college to require two conferences a semester for their composition course; and, this last August, I led a workshop for almost 70 TA’s teaching writing-intensive courses all over campus that explored how, and why, to include conferences.
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Virtues of Conversation: Ethics in the Writing Center

John Duffy, Director of the University Writing Program, University of Notre Dame

John Duffy, Director of the University Writing Program, University of Notre Dame

By John Duffy. John Duffy is the Francis O’Malley Director of the University Writing Program, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, and a proud former tutor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center.

Most people who have taught in a writing center, or who have given the work any serious thought, are usually skilled in explaining what a writing center is not. That is, those of us charged with helping students, faculty, or the occasional inquiring dean understand writing center teaching often begin with negative definitions, listing the various things that a writing center isn’t and specifying those actions that writing center tutors don’t undertake. And so, we may say, that while a writing center is many things, it assuredly is not:

  • a grammatical chop-shop, a place for quick fixes of broken, bruised, and badly battered sentences
  • an editorial dry cleaners, a site for dropping off papers that will be prepped, pressed, starched, and readied for the busy writer
  • a House of Miracles, the linguistic equivalent of Lourdes, a shrine at which writers will be miraculously cured of their perceived faults, futilities, and failures

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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…)

The Rose Pathways Writing Project: Developing a Language for Writing

Molly

Molly

Amanda

Amanda

By Amanda Detry and Molly Rentscher.

Each new semester in the Writing Fellows Program presents a range of exciting opportunities and challenges. Having served as Writing Fellows for the past few semesters, we have collaborated with many faculty members and worked with students of all writing levels and abilities. Amid such diversity, however, every writing appointment is shaped by two core values. First, Writing Fellows help students see revision as an essential part of the writing process. Second, Writing Fellows believe in producing good writers—not necessarily good writing—by offering students tools and examples for improving their work. (more…)

“Very Heaven”

By Dennis Paoli, Coordinator of the Reading/Writing Center and Co-coordinator of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at Hunter College, City University of New York. He also writes plays and films and is Donor/Adviser of The Heidi Paoli Fund for cancer patients. He met Heidi in Madison.

The author today

The author today

The author in 1967, outside Union Theater

The author in 1967, outside Union Theater

Hi. Dennis Paoli, University of Wisconsin Class of ’69. You know, the golden age. “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!”  Wordsworth was writing about the French Revolution, but he must have gone to Madison in the 60’s. In my four years, the football team won one game (that was a party). The band could barely make a W (we didn’t jump around so much as hop from foot to foot to keep warm). And the defining moment of my college experience was walking out of class into a cloud of tear gas. Good times. (more…)

Why Do You Ask? Questioning the Question in the Writing Center

Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

By Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame

“So, what are you working on today?”
“When is your paper due?”
“Are you concerned about anything in particular in this draft?”

In the writing center that I direct at the University of Notre Dame, we spend a good deal of time asking questions.  We pose questions about practical parameters of assignments—length, due date, assignment requirements, etc.  We pose questions about writers’ goals, their concerns, and their hopes for their work.  Most importantly, we pose questions with writers to help them discover and articulate their own ideas. (more…)