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…)
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 Stephanie White
Stephanie White just completed her two-year term as Assistant Director of the program in Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Stephanie White, former Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum
Last semester, the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program here at UW–Madison was thrilled to continue building our partnership with the university’s Delta program. Delta’s mission is to encourage and support graduate students’ and faculty’s development as teachers in STEM and Social and Behavioral Science fields, and so, this past spring, the WAC program offered a new semester-long class on teaching with writing in a range of disciplines. As the Assistant Director of our WAC program at the time, I had the privilege of designing and teaching this non-credit course. And as I got to know the smart, critical, thoughtful graduate students who enrolled, I was thrilled to watch these future faculty members make deep connections between teaching and writing.
By Taryn Okuma, The Catholic University of America.
Taryn Okuma is Director of the Writing Center and Clinical Assistant Professor of English at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. She received her Ph.D. in Literary Studies from UW-Madison in 2008. While at Madison, she served as the Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program for two years and worked at the Writing Center for four years.
I feel fortunate to be posting after Kristiane, whose thoughtful discussion of transfer with Caroline Levine provides valuable insights to the connections between the work that we do in writing centers, writing across the curriculum, and literature classrooms. I, too, have been thinking a great deal about the intersection of instruction in writing centers and in classrooms. Although we have a moderate amount of traffic at our center, I’m also very aware that we are only seeing a small percentage of the students who could benefit from visiting us. One of the questions that I come back to again and again as a WC director is, “Why aren’t more students visiting the Writing Center at CUA?” And as an English professor, I ask, “Why aren’t more of my students visiting the WC?”
Writing center at the European University Viadrina during a peer tutor education session
By Katrin Girgensohn. This is kind of a birthday post. Six years ago, we opened the doors to our nice spacious room after I, as a PhD student, brought the idea of a writing center to my university and convinced the president that we really should have one. At this point we only had a handful of writing centers all over Germany, so it was not at all normal for a university to open a writing center. Although I had very good arguments, what might have been most convincing was that I was able to get a starting grant from the Hans Böckler Foundation.
In Germany we say that after six years life gets serious, because this is the age when children start school. However, our writing center’s life got quite serious after only three and a half years, when a huge part of our funding was suddenly not available any more. Until then, our writing center had been more or less dependent on funding that came from outside the university. The cancellation of our funding was nothing personal and had nothing to do with the writing center itself – it was a complete governmental program that was canceled. The notification was a shock for me and seemed to be quite unfair because the writing center was very successful and had grown incredibly in only three years of existence. We not only offered writing consulting and writing groups, but also worked with high schools, had already earned a national and international reputation and were even quite famous due to our first “long night against procrastination”.
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!
By Jenna Mertz, Undergraduate Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program. Jenna is a senior majoring in English, Spanish and Environmental Studies. She has been a Writing Fellow for six semesters.
Last Friday, undergraduate Writing Fellows and Writing Center instructors convened to mingle, share, and engage with each other at the annual joint staff meeting highlighting the original research of seven Writing Fellows. Attendees shuffled from room to room to listen to presentations featuring discussions about power dynamics, body language, and agenda setting during the writing conference; to explorations of identity, rhetoric, and multilingual tutors.
As my fellow Undergraduate Assistant Director, Logan, and I watched our peers present and grad students listen and scribble in what seemed to be shake-up of roles, we got a little existential. We got to thinking about ourselves. We got to thinking about undergraduates, and what it means to be us. (more…)
By Elisabeth Miller and Stephanie White
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.
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.
Whenever 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.
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 pair 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.