The Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium

madison_wc_colloquium_photos_smaller1I’ve long argued that writing centers at research universities should prepare interested doctoral students to lead strong, innovative writing centers and WAC programs when they move into their faculty careers.  And that we should do this in systematic and sustained ways.  Being a dedicated, successful, experienced writing tutor is of course a necessary part of that preparation, but that alone is not sufficient.  Professional development for future writing center directors is something our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes seriously—my colleagues and I are proud that this past year, in 2011 alone, seven more of our PhD alums, at various stages of their careers, were offered positions as writing center directors or assistant directors around the country, joining many other distinguished UW-Madison alums who direct writing centers.

This question—of how research universities can prepare graduate students to become writing center directors as part of their faculty careers—has been an important topic of discussion when the writing center directors from the universities in the Big 10 conference meet once a year (I’m always hoping that some athletic competition will break out during meetings of Big 10 writing center directors, but, alas, none yet).  We’ve talked several times about what we can do—intentionally and systematically–to prepare our grad students to lead strong writing center and WAC programs.  As an outgrowth of these discussions, at the 2010 IWCA conference in Baltimore, several members of the Big 10 group spoke about the opportunities we have and the challenges we face as we prepare graduate students to be future writing center directors.

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Exciting Things Going on in Germany

Katrin Girgensohn

Katrin Girgensohn

As a visiting scholar from Germany at the UW-Madison Writing Center, I sometimes feel jealous of all the things going on here. Having a writing center with 110 people working as writing fellows, writing consultants and as leadership staff, and, even more important, experiencing how the writing center is valued here at the university, seems to be paradisiac. In Germany, where I direct a writing center at European University Viadrina, writing centers are still new phenomena and far away from being well staffed and valued. And that is exactly the reason why I am here: I got a research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to conduct an explorative study on successful implementation of writing centers. The writing center at UW-Madison is the ideal home base for this, since it has such a variety of programs, like a very successful WAC program, and this amazing institutional standing. Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, sometimes it makes me feel jealous to see this. Or frustrated, because I cannot imagine that there will ever be a time when we will have a fixed and sustainable budget, sufficient staff and adequate acknowledgement from our institution. To deal with these feelings it helps me to remember that the UW-Madison writing center has not only its current hard working staff, but it has been built up by 43 years of people working here. And so do writing centers in the US generally: several decades have passed since most universities established writing centers, and the first writing-center-like institutions date even back to the 1930s. Comparing my own writing center with this one here in Madison, or comparing writing centers in the US with writing centers in Germany, is like comparing the achievements of a small child with those of an experienced, grown-up person. All these achievements needed their time and today’s writing centers profit from history. (more…)

Breaking Bad: The Process of Becoming “Just”

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Danielle Warthen, TA Coordinator of Writing Center Multicultural Initiatives

By Danielle Warthen.  As a writing instructor who’s also been a writing tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center for the past five years, I’d say that, hands down, the most common comment I hear from students new to the Writing Center when we begin our sessions is: “I’m a bad writer.” It’s often said in an apologetic tone, as if the student has already decided that this session will be yet another disappointing illustration of being “bad at writing,” and I should prepare myself for some sort of intellectual letdown. These words are often meant as a benevolent warning to me, I suppose as a way to help me manage my expectations. The student is telling me not to expect a “good writer” who’s going to be a breeze to collaborate with–this is going to be hard work for both of us, with questionable returns, because . . . well, they’re bad at it.

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Join Us “On the Isthmus” at the 2011 MWCA Biennial Conference!

By Rebecca Lorimer and Elisabeth Miller.

Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota, UW-Madison

Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota, UW-Madison

The 2011 Midwest Writing Centers Association Biennial Conference will take place here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison October 20th-22nd. This year’s theme, “On the Isthmus,” gestures quite literally to the conference’s location, but also to the quality that makes this conference unique: just as writing centers bridge disciplines, locations, and widely diverse writers, so does this conference connect writing studies professionals across institutions, interests, and multiple points of view.

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Co-Teaching as Synthesis: Learning to Ask Questions

Stephanie and Rebekah leading Rebekah's Class

Rebekah Willett (left), Assistant Professor of Library and Information Studies, and Stephanie White (right), TA Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum, leading Rebekah's class

The students in Professor Rebekah Willett’s first-year course on the Internet and Society are crouched over their desks and laptops, some scribbling, some typing, some doing so fervently, some reluctantly. All are working to formulate a couple of sentences that synthesize two paragraphs of text they have in front of them. I’ve just walked with them through the idea of putting texts into relationship with one another when writing a synthesis-driven assignment, and I’ve suggested thinking of this synthesis as giving a bird’s-eye view of the lay of the land, of describing how one text relates to the texts around it. I’ve explained that, with synthesis, we’re telling readers where multiple texts overlap, in what ways they connect, or how they are on completely opposite sides of the map. I’ve also emphasized the importance of using specific examples from the text to talk about these relationships. I’ve given the students these directions as a guest in their classroom, as an expert from the Writing Center come to bestow my great wisdom about writing upon them (if you’re skimming this post, please note the sarcasm in this sentence). Yet, as a number of students finish their sentences a little too quickly, their professor doesn’t hesitate to jump in.

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Who Needs a Muse? The Real Reasons Why UW-Madison Students Are Attracted to Ongoing Appointments

By Rachel Carrales.

Writing Center TA Rachel Carrales

Writing Center TA Rachel Carrales

The summer before last, I spent a month traveling through France, Italy, and Spain. It was a whirlwind trip, and I was only able to spend a day or two in each city I visited. It was so fast, in fact, that I find myself remembering only snippets of things: the fat, cuddly pigeons in Florence, the combination of 14th century architecture and graffiti in Toledo, and the palm trees in Rome. One of the things that stands out in particular, though, is my trip to the Louvre. I was finally able to see all of those paintings that I’d studied on slides in dark, crowded lecture halls as an undergrad, and while there was something thrilling about that, seeing brush strokes and colors up close, feeling intimately connected to a painting, my favorite moment was seeing a statue of the Goddess of writing.

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The Wisconsin Idea and the Writing Center

The Year of the Wisconsin Idea logo

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long and distinguished history of public service. The guiding philosophy of this commitment to public service, called the “Wisconsin Idea,” is often described as “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Since I have a scholarly interest in the Wisconsin Idea, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the Wisconsin Idea and writing centers. I’ve only begun to explore the connections, but I’m excited about the possibilities.

The Wisconsin Idea has been receiving renewed attention on our campus in light of the University’s designation of this academic year as “The Year of the Wisconsin Idea.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Wisconsin Idea, you can browse a redesigned website, which provides information about the Idea, its history and a timeline of its development, along with stories from current faculty, staff, and students about how their service to the state, nation, and world correspond with the Wisconsin Idea.

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A Graduate Education

This week my shift at the writing center will be bitter sweet. I’m finishing
my work on two dissertations and a master’s thesis. In my work at the
writing center, I’m a bit of a graduate student junkie. In fact I probably
spend way too much writing center time with graduate students and not nearly
enough slogging away in the trenches of business school applications and
literary analysis papers. However, when I started working at the writing
center the last thing that I wanted was to work with a graduate student. I
didn’t want to constantly deal with my intellectual insecurities and risk
highlighting all of the things that I didn’t know that I thought I should.
How was I supposed to help someone finish a dissertation when I was so far
from the thinker and writer I wanted to be? Lost and Confused Signpost

In my mind working with graduate
students, particularly ones finishing their dissertations, could only result
in them not getting the help they wanted and me getting a bruised or
battered ego in the process. I was pretty certain that I made it as far as
I did in graduate school on my fast-talking, wily distraction tactics, and
lots of nodding, so I was ill equipped to help others. By avoiding
dissertators and hiding myself in conferences with the comfortable security
of several kinds of power disparities on my side I could protect myself, and
those I was helping, from facing all the things I didn’t know. That is until
Melissa found out. (more…)

Joint Staff Meeting–Another Big Success!

The undergraduate Writing Fellows and the staff of the Writing Center came together last Friday to build community and share scholarship at our annual Joint Staff Meeting. The meeting was conference-style, featuring panels of Writing Fellows’ original research on various topics related to tutoring and teaching writing. It was an inspiring experience, and renewed our (already strong) love for our writing community that has been cultivated around these programs and sustained by our shared passion for writing and tutoring.

The particular dynamic of this meeting reminded us, yet again, how unique and – okay, we’ll say it – awesome the Writing Fellows program is. Here were undergraduate students, usually considered the lowest rung on the academic ladder, presenting advanced and relevant research to graduate students, academic faculty, the works! The Fellows program offers a challenge to the normative academic hierarchy, and it’s refreshing to find those spaces on campus that are open to engaging with undergraduates on an intellectual level. We felt that the Fellows presenting rose admirably to that opportunity; we were so impressed with their poise and professionalism!

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