Instruction Beyond the Assignment: Working with Learners of English

By Rubén Casas

Rubén Casas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department’s Program in Composition and Rhetoric. In addition to his Writing Center teaching, he teaches for the English 201 Program.

Two weeks into the spring 2014 semester I worked with a student in the Main Center who, upon asking her what she was working on, identified herself as a foreign student and asked, quite directly, “How do you write in the U.S.?” She explained that she knew what writing was “supposed to do” in Korea, “but not here, in America.” This must have been one of the clearest questions I’ve gotten as a Writing Center instructor, but it also caught me off-guard. Most students come to the Writing Center to get help with some specific element of their writing—often they talk about “flow,” or “development,” or “cites,” terms that somewhere along the way they’ve learned to use in relation to writing, and that I take for granted as evidence of their knowledge of the writing process and their own issues with writing—but it this actually the case? (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…)

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?”
(more…)

In Praise of Quiet

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!

(more…)

Making Charoset: Teaching by Hand in the Shadow of MOOCs

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

Wendy Osterweil and Eli Goldblatt

By Eli Goldlbatt, Temple University.

Eli Goldblatt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990 and taught at Villanova University from that year until he moved to Temple University in 1996.  He is currently professor of English and Director of First Year Writing at Temple.  He was faculty co-director of the Writing Center at Temple from 1999 until 2005. Through New City Writing, the outreach arm of the writing program, he has helped to support Tree House Books, Temple Writing Academy, and other projects in collaboration with community partners in North Philadelphia. Among other scholarly publications, he is the author of Because We Live Here: Sponsoring Literacy Beyond the College Curriculum (Hampton P 2007), and Writing Home: A Literacy Autobiography (S. Illinois UP, 2012).  His books of poetry include Journeyman’s Song (Coffee House, 1990), Sessions 1-62 (Chax Press, 1991), Speech Acts (Chax Press, 1999), and Without a Trace (Singing Horse Press, 2001). In addition, Goldblatt published two children’s books, Leo Loves Round and Lissa and the Moon’s Sheep, both from Harbinger House in 1990.

My wife, Wendy Osterweil, is a printmaker, often screen printing on fabric in multiple layers and then quilting back into the shapes and colors.  She also teaches art education in a fine arts college, where she prepares young artists for a variety of urban and suburban K-12 classrooms.  In our many, many talks about teaching and the arts over the years, she links the art she most admires with the teaching she seeks to foster: work that shows the human hand. Together, we have come to think about teaching as an art done “by hand,” and I’d like to share with you some thoughts about this conception for writing instruction. (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…)

Directive

Andrew Kay

Andrew Kay

By Andrew Kay. Andrew Kay is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is at work on a dissertation about Romantic and Victorian poetry.  He has worked at the Writing Center since Fall 2009.

Toward the end of his life, Robert Frost wrote a wonderfully mysterious poem called “Directive.”  In it the speaker coaxes you to accompany him to a simple, primordial time and place removed from the clamor and chaos of modern urban life–a space of renewal and wisdom, a sanctuary.  To arrive at this fantastical, trippy no-place, you have to get lost first; and, “if you’re lost enough to find yourself,” you’ll make your way, in time, to a special goblet lodged in the inside of a tree-trunk, a grail-like chalice that, when drunk from, will make you “whole again beyond confusion.”  Never mind that the goblet comes from a make-believe dinner-set belonging to children long-since dead; just drink deeply from it, and don’t ask questions.

(more…)

Paneling: A Communal Approach to Writing Center Outreach

img_0637

Kristiane Stapleton

By Kristiane Stapleton

Kristiane Stapleton is the 2012-2013 TA Coordinator of Writing Center Outreach.  She is also writing her dissertation in Literary Studies, working on early modern women writers and the visual rhetorics for authorship they construct.

Before I really get going, I’d like to offer a little bit of background on the Outreach program at the UW-Madison Writing Center.  We work with faculty, student groups, and departments across the university, at their request, to help them to integrate writing instruction at both the graduate and undergraduate level.  We also make targeted visits to classrooms and groups to provide information about the Writing Center services that are available and the ways that the Writing Center can help students with their writing.

(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

(more…)

How I Became an Addict

A revision addict, I mean—addicted to sharing my work with others and responding to theirs, addicted to creating a community of writing collaborators.

Cydney Alexis, Ph.D. candidate in composition and rhetoric, assistant director of the Writing Fellows program, and former Writing Center instructor

Cydney Alexis, Ph.D. candidate in composition and rhetoric, assistant director of the Writing Fellows program, and former Writing Center instructor

(more…)