Two Heads Are Better: An Experiment in Paired Skype Tutoring

Picture of the author

Picture of the author in Madison, WI.

By Leah Misemer

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years.  She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.

Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student.  If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor.  In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.

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Toys and Transformations in Online Tutoring

The author, as illustrated by cartoonist Abby Howard.

The author, as illustrated by cartoonist Abby Howard.

By Mike A. Shapiro, @mikeshapiro.

Mike is a graduate student at UW–Madison, where he is completing a Ph.D. on the modern novel and where he is a TA in the Writing Center.

At last week’s Midwest Writing Centers Association conference, we asked the folks who attended our panel whether their centers were tutoring online. Many of them said they were toying with the idea.

What a layered metaphor that is! Compared to the careful pedagogy, scholarship, and hard work of teaching students, one by one, how to become more effective writers, online instruction can feel like a kind of toy.

Yet the superficial unseriousness and gadgetry of online instruction have given us permission to experiment online in a way we might not risk experimenting in our physical centers, and throughout the MWCA conference I heard dedicated, serious scholars speak with delight and energy about the ways they have been toying with online tutoring to reach new students and to improve the quality of all their tutoring. The improvisations of our work online force us to invite the trickster not to our table, as Geller et al. have it, but to our screens. (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…)

The Social Center: Why Writing Centers Need Twitter

Mike Shapiro (front, beard) pictured with the UW–Madison Writing Center’s email instruction team. Photo by Jessie Reeder.

Mike Shapiro (front, beard) pictured with the UW–Madison Writing Center’s email instruction team. Photo by Jessie Reeder.

By Mike Shapiro, a graduate student and the online coordinator of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Writing Center.

At its best, Twitter looks like the perfect tool for promoting any writing center’s goals: it privileges writing, supports lively conversations, and develops long-term relationships between writers and readers. Twitter can remind students, faculty, and administrators, every day, of the center’s services. At the same time, Twitter can help writing centers around the world stay in touch, sharing new programming and approaches.

For our Writing Center at UW–Madison, the reality of how we use Twitter falls short of this ideal. This spring, I got the chance to work with a team of instructors who turned their critical eyes on our Twitter feed. We compared our tweets to those coming from other centers, and to tweets coming from campus programs that use Twitter to build strong relationships with students. This exploration confirmed for us that Twitter is not merely a powerful vehicle but a necessary one for our Writing Center, a tool that gives us one more way to work directly with our students and to help them see themselves as writers. (more…)

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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Looking Gorgias: Coming to Be in the Online Writing Center

The view from my webcam. I'd like to think that the cat calendar makes things cozy.

The view from my webcam. I'd like to think that the cat calendar makes things cozy.

Anne Wheeler is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric. Her research tends to focus on rhetorical artifacts produced in the Japanese American internment camps during World War II. She is also a TA Assistant Director of the UW-Madison English 100 program and has worked for the Writing Center since Fall 2011.

Perhaps it’s because I’m reading for my preliminary exams, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the sophists lately. The sophists are enticing figures from the classical world who made their livings and reputations by traveling through the city states teaching oratory and other subjects for a fee. The accessibility of their teachings, among other things, raised some hackles amongst the more elite philosophers of the day.  When I first started thinking about sophistry, I had trouble understanding the vehemently low regard in which their contemporaries held the sophists.  In trying to wrap my brain around the sophistic reputation, I found myself looking for the sophists’ contemporary parallel and in so doing, I recalled my own consternation regarding the ever-expanding field of online education. (more…)

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…)

This rant is asynchronous

The author points to a poorly-chosen word. Photo courtesy of former Writing Center instructor Catherine A. Price.

The author points out something else you’re doing wrong. Photo by Writing Center alumna Catherine A. Price.

By Mike A. Shapiro

This is Mike’s sixth year at the Writing Center. He is the 2012–13 TA coordinator of our Online Writing Center. Since 2010, he has worked as a tutor for the Pearson Tutor Services Online Writing Lab.

Writing centers use the phrase asynchronous online writing instruction to describe this sequence:

  1. A student sends a draft to the writing center.
  2. A tutor reads the draft and types a response to guide the student’s revision.
  3. That response goes back to the student.

I’ve gotten hung up on the word asynchronous: I’d like writing centers to stop using it, and I would like them to stop believing the things they must believe if they take the label “asynchronous” seriously. (more…)

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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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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