Peer Tutoring and the Serious Work of Undergraduate Scholarship

Samantha Stowers, Julia Boles, Chelsea Fesik, Samantha Lasko, and the author after their presentation.

Samantha Stowers, Rachel Herzl-Betz, Julia Boles, Chelsea Fesik, and Samantha Lasko.

By Rachel Herzl-Betz

Rachel Herzl-Betz is an Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has been a tutor and administrator since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature and Disability Studies. 

I’ve always been a fan of academic conferences. At their best, they offer an unprecedented chance for scholars, students, and practitioners to step out of their individual institutions and connect with the wider intellectual community. We often become so ensconced in our own contexts that we forget the possibilities being put into practice one state, one city, or even one neighborhood away.

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Writing Center Workshops: Test-Drive an Academic Writing Genre Today!

By Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall is the 2015-16 TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where he has been a tutor since fall 2012. He is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on American literature, slavery, and media culture.

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Here at the UW-Madison Writing Center, we offer a broad range of short-term, no-credit writing workshops that teach student-writers about specific academic genres and writing tasks. The first Writing Center workshop I helped teach in the spring of 2014 taught 120 students how to write more successfully on the undergraduate application essay for the Wisconsin School of Business. My wonderful colleague Michelle Neiman (then the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center) invited me to join her at a session with a representative from School of Business Admissions to plan this particular workshop. As a second-year instructor at the Writing Center, I was flattered by the offer of more responsibility and decided to join her.

Although I went to the workshop planning meeting feeling interested, I also felt apprehensive. I had taught in the classroom as a teaching assistant and in the writing center as a tutor, but I felt like I was in the way since I had never planned a workshop before. In our meeting, our thoughtful colleague from the School of Business explained her goals for the workshop—helping students write in more detail about their experiences and personal goals. It was a great goal, but I didn’t have a specific plan for what to do to achieve it. (more…)

Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.

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Filling in the Gaps: Storytelling and Close Looking

By Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to teach a class as an undergraduate?  In this post, Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik will explore what it has been like to fall down the writerly rabbit hole and into the strange and wonderful world of peer mentoring and peer teaching.  With one foot in the realm of the student, and the other in the realm of the teacher, we have had to think deeply about our positionality as peer writers, tutors, and instructors.  How do these different identities shape the ways that we connect with our students?  How have our academic backgrounds shaped our styles of teaching?  This post will explore a myriad of questions, partially for your entertainment, dear reader, but also in order to make sense of what these experiences mean in our own lives.  Buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

What we do: 

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Who Am I?

Jessie GurdJessie Gurd is the 2014–2015 TA Coordinator for the Online Writing Center and a PhD student in Literary Studies; she has been an instructor at the Writing Center since the Fall of 2012. Jessie studies early modern English drama with a focus on ecocriticism and spatial theory. You can find her on Twitter @jesstype.

If the image above is any indication, I am definitely away right now.

It is midmorning here in Bermuda—still early back home in Wisconsin—and my “office” affords a view of the harbor and the hotel pool deck. We are just on the edge of Hamilton proper, so the noise of a small city occasionally leaks through the wind, birds, and tree frogs. For the past few days, I have woken, made a cup of tea, and come out on our little balcony with my laptop to work.

Technology makes it not only possible but fairly easy for me to keep up with my work as the Online Writing Center’s TA Coordinator from here. Even in Madison, my trips to campus are relatively infrequent, and I assess the queue of requests for email instruction much as I do here: with my first cup of tea. Being so very away right now and yet having much the same experience I do at home highlights the perspective my position affords. Even when I am on a laptop in the heart of the brick-and-mortar Writing Center on campus, I am working at a distance. (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?”
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Considering Transfer: Pedagogical Interdisciplinarity in the Classroom and the Writing Center

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.  img_06371

In this blog post, I’m going to explore the ways that my Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum training has enhanced the way I think and talk about my own teaching.In a move my students will recognize, I’m going to try to push that conclusion further and ask how and why my Writing Center training has and will continue to improve my classroom teaching.

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Shame and the Writing Center

Lauren in Boston Commons.JPGBy Lauren Vedal. Lauren Vedal was a tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center from 2004-2009. She is now the Writing Specialist in the Humanities at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and support for faculty who want to better incorporate writing instruction into their courses.

Shame and Writing
I’ve been thinking about shame and writing. As writing tutors, we consider writers’ shame not infrequently. Writers sometimes explicitly express shame about their “bad writing,” and there is shame implicit in the vulnerability of sharing one’s writing-in-progress. But I’m interested in taking another angle on shame—shame as it relates to earnestness.
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(Under) Graduate: Reflections on the Joint Writing Center-Writing Fellow Staff Meeting

mertzjenna1By Jenna Mertz, Undergraduate Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program.  Jenna is a senior majoring in English, Spanish and Environmental Studies.  She has been a Writing Fellow for six semesters.

Last Friday, undergraduate Writing Fellows and Writing Center instructors convened to mingle, share, and engage with each other at the annual joint staff meeting highlighting the original research of seven Writing Fellows. Attendees shuffled from room to room to listen to presentations featuring discussions about power dynamics, body language, and agenda setting during the writing conference; to explorations of identity, rhetoric, and multilingual tutors.

As my fellow Undergraduate Assistant Director, Logan, and I watched our peers present and grad students listen and scribble in what seemed to be shake-up of roles, we got a little existential. We got to thinking about ourselves. We got to thinking about undergraduates, and what it means to be us. (more…)