The Impact of Writing Center Outreach: Empirical and Anecdotal Evidence

A Photo of the Author, Leah Pope

Leah Pope

Leah Pope is the TA Coordinator of Outreach for the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she has been an instructor since 2014. She is also a PhD Candidate in English Literary Studies, working on a dissertation that examines theologies of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Every semester, the Outreach team of the UW-Madison Writing Center devotes dozens of hours to visiting classrooms, workshops, resource fairs, and student organizations to deliver brief introductions to the Writing Center’s services and teach or co-teach workshops on various genres and aspects of writing [1]. As the TA Coordinator of Outreach this year, I have the unique pleasure of a bird’s-eye-view of Outreach teaching; each week I field requests from across campus and each week I receive reports from instructors about completed events. It is from this perspective that I want to mull over the purpose of Outreach, why we leave the comforts and resources of our Writing Center and its cozy satellites to traverse the UW-Madison campus (and it is not, I would point out, a small campus).

Just last week, I was asked to give a group of undergraduates (of whom, it turned out, not a single one had ever had a Writing Center appointment) an introduction to the Writing Center’s services. I described our core beliefs; some reasons one might want to visit the Writing Center; our availability in person, by Skype, or by email; how to make an appointment; and some workshops we offer that this particular group might find helpful. In encouraging these students to make use of the Writing Center, my immediate goals were to give the Writing Center a face (my own) and demystify the process of making an appointment and attending a writing conference. (more…)

Using Peer Writing Groups For the Senior Thesis and Beyond

By Rebecca Steffy

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, where she also serves as a TA Coordinator for The Writing Center and Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program. Her research focuses on the relationships between community formations and aesthetics in contemporary poetry and performance. 

This year, I have the privilege of coordinating the UW-Madison Writing Center’s Senior Thesis Writing Groups, small peer-led writing groups that meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the daunting semester- or year-long process of writing a senior thesis. I help spread the word that senior thesis writing groups are forming at the beginning of each term, lead orientation meetings to better inform interested students about how the groups work, and facilitate the first meeting of each group to guide them in establishing a set of shared expectations for working together. Then I keep in touch throughout the semester by email or a shared check-in document, and by dropping by another meeting later in the semester. Our model aims at maximizing the rich benefits of writing groups for senior thesis writers with a minimum of direct instructional hours from our staff. (more…)

Teaming Up: A Collaboration between the Writing Center and the Library

By Nancy Linh Karls and Barbara Sisolak

Nancy Linh Karls is a senior instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she serves as its science-writing specialist. She also leads and teaches the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and coordinates the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. Barbara Sisolak is a senior academic librarian with Steenbock Library, where she provides reference and instruction to library patrons. As Instruction Coordinator, she manages Steenbock Library’s information literacy instruction program in alignment with the UW Libraries Teaching and Learning Programs office.

Barbara Sisolak

Barbara Sisolak

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Collaboration in Action

Author photo. Taken by Jennifer Brindley.

Rachel Herzl-Betz. Photo 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.

The perfect teaching collaboration is an elusive ideal, more like a dream than a lesson plan. Of course, as we all know, teaching in a Writing Center or a classroom doesn’t usually look like the ideal. It can be messy, unpredictable, and strange, particularly when we throw new variables (and new people) into the mix.

Professor Brittany Travers

Professor Brittany Travers

As the coordinator for the Outreach Program at the UW-Madison Writing Center, I have more opportunities than most to build collaborative relationships.  Every year, tutors from our Outreach program give presentations and create writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. My work as coordinator involves training a team of tutors and providing presentations myself, when time and schedules allow. I have had the pleasure of working with instructors from a wide range of disciplines and contexts. However, a recent collaboration with Professor Brittany Travers illustrates the value that enthusiastic collaboration can bring to the classroom, even when conditions conspire against us.

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Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.

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Filling in the Gaps: Storytelling and Close Looking

By Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to teach a class as an undergraduate?  In this post, Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik will explore what it has been like to fall down the writerly rabbit hole and into the strange and wonderful world of peer mentoring and peer teaching.  With one foot in the realm of the student, and the other in the realm of the teacher, we have had to think deeply about our positionality as peer writers, tutors, and instructors.  How do these different identities shape the ways that we connect with our students?  How have our academic backgrounds shaped our styles of teaching?  This post will explore a myriad of questions, partially for your entertainment, dear reader, but also in order to make sense of what these experiences mean in our own lives.  Buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

What we do: 

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Results of a Research Expedition: A Study of Writing Center Leadership

By Katrin Girgensohn, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt, Oder, Germany

Two weeks ago, a newspaper notice has caught my interest: The National Library in Berlin has received the original logbooks of Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition to South America. All his notes, drawings, thoughts – every word he had scribbled down every evening during his journeys, are now in Berlin. I was thrilled. I often seek a quiet place in this library to write. And now I will share the roof with the original papers of Alexander from Humboldt!

Thinking further, I have wondered why this notice has made me feel so excited. Why do notes about a research journey to America that happened more than 100 years ago please me so much? Probably because this notice made me think about my own research journey to (North) America that happened two years ago. My research journey has been an expedition I started as a writing center director from Germany, where writing centers are currently starting at many universities, but still are a new phenomenon. My goal was to find out more about the successful leadership of writing centers, so that the implementation of writing centers in Europe might be promoted better. (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…)

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…)