Understanding Student Perceptions of the Writing Center–A Conversation Between a Student, a Writing Center Instructor, and a Director/Professor

okuma_tarynBy 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?”
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A Sixth Birthday and a Newborn: News from Our Writing Center in Frankfurt (Oder)/Germany

Writing center at the European University Viadrina during a peer tutor education session

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”.

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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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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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Writing Centers Have Flex Appeal

"Flexibility."  Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).

“Flexibility.” Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).

By Brad Hughes, Director of the Writing Center and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At many universities, writing centers have now earned significant respect for the work they do with student-writers.  Within that respect, though, almost never do I hear writing centers valued for what I like to call their flex appeal: for the flexible ways in which they meet not just the needs of student-writers who have drafts in hand, but the needs of faculty and of curricula and of institutions and of student groups and of campus communities and of the communities around and beyond a university.  It’s important to note that these fascinating needs and opportunities often surface a week or a month into the semester, so they require a flexible organization–one with talented staff whose time is not already entirely consumed–to respond. (more…)

Undergraduate Research in Writing: Keeping It Real

By Kim Moreland

Kim Moreland is currently the Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program.  She is a Ph.D candidate in Composition and Rhetoric, writing her dissertation on authorship and networks.

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Kim Moreland

Undergraduate research is on my mind.  Undergraduate writing center tutor research was the focus of Lauren Fitzgerald’s keynote address at the International Writing Centers Association conference in San Diego in October.  And undergraduate writing center tutor research has long been the focus of English 316, the honors course in writing across the curriculum that all Writing Fellows here at UW-Madison are required to take.  But what drives this research?  What do these projects look like?  How do they help us rethink these issues central to our field?

This semester, I’ve been thinking about these questions often.  I’ve been teaching a section of English 316, and I attended the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Chicago with five undergraduate Fellows who presented their research.  Before this semester, I was familiar with the research conducted by Fellows – I’d seen several Fellows present at our annual joint staff meeting in the Writing Center.  But it wasn’t until I starting mentoring Fellows in 316 that I gave much thought to where the questions that sparked these projects came from: the particular interests of Fellows who are immersed in WAC as both tutors and students. (more…)

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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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…)

New(s) from the UW-Madison Writing Center!

The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison.  Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .

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