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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Now is The Writing Center Website of Our Discontent, Made Glorious Summer by This Sum of Our Work

By Christopher J. Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, and Faculty Liaison, Advance Credit Program for Communication Courses, Oregon Tech

Christopher Syrnyk, former UW-Madison Writing Center TA, current Assistant Professor at Oregon Tech

Christopher Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, Oregon Tech

At Oregon Tech, where I became an Assistant Professor this fall in the Communication Department, I volunteered during a recent Communication department meeting to take on the role of the department’s Web Content Manager. Volunteering for this role, of course, reminded me that I had promised Brad Hughes to write a blog post for Another Word about a project that four TAs and I undertook to revise part of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s website.

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Conversations Near and Far

Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound

Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound

I’ve considered myself a “writing center person” for over twenty years now, ever since I anxiously took my first college paper to my undergraduate writing center and left with a few concrete ideas for revision and the sense that I might actually be able to do the whole college thing. I eventually became a writing tutor in that same center, and then later went on to teach in the writing center at Madison. And, in January of this year, I became the director of our writing center at the University of Puget Sound. I’ve always loved the community in writing centers, the chance to break down hierarchies and have real conversations about writing. But those interim years as a full-time English professor—in charge of my own classrooms, teaching writing through assignments I’d designed and working with students whose work I’d be grading—had led me away from the core principles of writing centers. And I knew it. (more…)

Writing Across the Curriculum’s Head Start

A typical scene at Comm-B training

A typical scene at Comm-B TA training

Every semester, our Writing Across the Curriculum program gets a head start. The week before classes have even begun, we have the privilege of spending two mornings training up to 75 new Teaching Assistants. These TAs will be teaching writing-intensive courses across the disciplines—courses that fulfill an intermediate communication requirement for undergraduates. In our UW-Madison parlance, we call these Communication-B (or Comm-B) courses. During Comm-B training, then, we get to provide TAs with skills, theories, and practices they need for teaching with writing. As the TA Assistant Director of our WAC program, I get to help plan and facilitate the training. I’m always energized by the buzz of conversation about teaching with writing and by the “aha” moments as TAs consider—some for the first time—the challenges and opportunities that come with teaching writing in the disciplines. (more…)

Our Writing Center’s Founder: Professor Joyce Steward

Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2002), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2004), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Brad Hughes, Director, The Writing Center, Director, Writing Across the Curriculum, UW-Madison.

In this blog post, I would like to honor the legendary founder of the Writing Center (originally called the Writing Laboratory) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the most influential pioneers in the modern writing center profession—Professor Joyce Stribling Steward. Professor Steward founded the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969 and directed it until her retirement in 1982. Among her many accomplishments, she—

  • pioneered writing center methods that emphasized respect for individual student-writers and that tailored instruction to individual students, starting where students are and working collaboratively with them
  • conceptualized and designed a writing laboratory for writers at all undergraduate and graduate levels, writing in all disciplines
  • expanded writing center programs beyond individual tutoring to incorporate workshops in the center as well as outreach in courses across the curriculum, at the graduate and undergraduate level
  • published, in 1977, an article about writing laboratories in an MLA journal for English Department chairs, The ADE Journal
  • co-developed and led a week-long summer institute about developing writing laboratories, held at UW-Madison in 1981
  • co-authored, in 1982, one of the first books about writing centers, The Writing Laboratory: Organization, Management, and Methods
  • influenced the development of many other writing centers around the United States through her publications, by hosting visitors from many colleges and universities, and through her invited lectures and consulting around the US
  • developed and taught the first course on women’s literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Writing Across the Curriculum in Madison’s Summer Sun

Compass plants, UW-Madison Arboretum, July 2012 (photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications)

Compass plants, UW-Madison Arboretum, July 2012 (photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications)

During the searing heat and drought that the summer of 2012 has brought to the upper midwest, our Writing-Across-the-Curriculum (WAC) program has been busy (inside comfortably air-conditioned buildings) partnering with faculty and other instructors across our campus in exciting new collaborations.  At the same time, our summer writing center has been hopping with lots of individual consultations and workshops and three different dissertation camps, and undergraduate writing fellows have been helping incoming first-year students with their first college writing assignments.  (More about the dissertation camps will be coming in a future blog post.)

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New Podcast Presentations by Katrin Girgensohn

Katrin Girgensohn

Katrin Girgensohn, European University Viadrina

All of us at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are delighted to share two new podcasts from our theory and research series, featuring Katrin Girgensohn, a faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University Viadrina in Germany and one of the leading writing center scholars in Europe. During 2011-12, Dr. Girgensohn is a visiting scholar at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This presentation was taped during a meeting of the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium on November 16, 2011.

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“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…)

Starting a slow-writing movement

slow_writing_movementgraphicAs we launched a new semester in our writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this past week, I loved listening to the lively buzz in our center emanating from conversations about writing projects.  And as I eavesdropped, I was reminded of how much I value slow, detailed, substantial conversations about writing in progress.

Our writing center burst back into conversation last week, despite the arctic conditions of January in Wisconsin—through the first four days of the semester, 170 students already came in for consultations or scheduled ones.  These student-writers were, as writing center students always are, wonderfully varied: sophomores writing personal statements to meet a February 1st deadline for applying to our school of nursing, seniors sprinting to finish applications to some graduate schools that have later deadlines, grad students and senior-thesis students resuming regular weekly sessions as they work through long writing projects, students with incompletes from last semester anxiously trying to finish a project they wish they had finished already.

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