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…)

The Quiet Game of Writing Center Diplomacy

By Melvin Hall

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

The author in 2008 on a mountain overlooking the small Christian town of Maaloula whose residents take pride in speaking and preserving the biblical Aramaic spoken by Christ.

In 2006, I took a leave of absence from the PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Arabic language in Syria, 2007-2008. Upon my return, I had the privilege of managing the National Security Language Initiative for Youth at the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs, where I visited families in Egypt and Jordan hosting American high school students. And from July 2010 to July 2011, as a social scientist on a Human Terrain Team, I had the privilege of deploying with the 3rd and 4th U.S. Army Infantry Divisions in Northern Iraq to conduct ethnographic research. I recently returned to UW–Madison and finished my PhD dissertation this past summer. During my leave of absence, I met, lived, and worked with many different people from different cultures and bureaucratic institutions from almost every socio-economic strata of society: diplomats, military leaders, soldiers, local political leaders, sheikhs, imams, families; Christian, Druze, Muslim; Arab, Kurdish, Yazidi, and Palestinian.  Between 2006 and the present, I have spoken to and interviewed well over a thousand people in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco.  And my cross-cultural experience and ethnographic research brought me to the following idealistic, if not utopian, conclusion: writing center training and teaching should be required for diplomats, international workers, and researchers.  What makes me confident in this? (more…)

Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center

photo of the author holding a grey angora rabbit

Neil Simpkins and a delightful bunny

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is a first-year writing center instructor at UW-Madison and a graduate student in Composition and Rhetoric. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He loves cats, rabbits, and tutoring personal statements.

In a rare moment of downtime during my writing center shift, I started to read Jay Sloan and Andrew Rihn’s article “Rainbows in the Past were Gay: LGBTQIA in the WC.” Early in the article, they unearth a letter to the editor of Writing Lab Newsletter congratulating the newsletter’s return to ivory paper after several issues had been released on pink and purple paper, stating, “The rainbows in the past were gay, but as the survey results pointed out, not always compatible with the old Xerox machine.” Stark and Sloan unpack the fact that this stray mention of the word “gay” actually represents the paucity of writing center work that sufficiently addresses the needs of LGBTQ tutors and clients (I’ll use this acronym designating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer as my adjective of choice for talking about this particular community, for which acronyms and descriptions abound); this humorously, unintentionally queer sentence is one of the few times that the word “gay” is even used in the corpus of the Writing Lab Newsletter.

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Déjà vu, presque vu, and jamais vu at the UWMC Writing Center

By Andy Karr

Andy1Andy Karr is Coordinator of the Wausau Homes Learning Center and Lecturer in English at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County. Andy worked from 2008-2010 in the UW-Madison Writing Center. He is completing a dissertation on writing and thinking in general education.

The University of Wisconsin-Marathon County is one of the thirteen two-year UW-College campuses. About 1400 students attend UWMC, located in Wausau, Wisconsin. Many UWMC students transfer to Madison, but, at the same time, all UW Colleges have a policy of admitting all qualified applicants. This makes for a broad range of services our writing center aims to provide. Not all UW College campuses have a writing center that operates in the same way that UWMC’s does.

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Why Do You Need to Know That About Me?

By Kirsten Jamsen, Katie Levin, and Kristen Nichols-Besel, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities

KirstenKatieKristenKirsten and Katie are directors and Kristen is a graduate writing consultant at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing. Given that Kirsten is an alumna of the UW–Madison Writing Center, where she worked as a graduate student and professional staff member from 1993 to 2001, and that all of us are active members of the Midwest Writing Centers Association, we are thrilled to join the conversation on Another Word.

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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…)

A Tale of Two Centers: Writing Centers and Learning Commons

last oneBy Adam Koehler, Manhattan College

When I started my position at Manhattan College, I was hired to play three roles: Assistant Professor of English, Director of Composition, and Director of the Writing Center. I was fresh out of my PhD at UW – Madison and when I got to Manhattan I was excited. Of course I knew that I was walking into a heavy administrative role (and as a junior faculty member), but – how do I say this? – I like building things. I don’t know how else to put it. And I loved that this position asked me to bring some programmatic vision. So I got to work straight away. One of the first things I did, with the help of the English department, was to externalize our Writing Center from the Academic Support Services office, where tutoring in writing was offered alongside tutoring in math, history, etc.: a one stop shop for students looking for extra help. Over the course of two years I established an independent budget, hired twice as many tutors, gained a new space on campus (far more visible and accessible to foot traffic), set up workshops, and pretty much copied everything I learned from Brad at UW – Madison. When we opened our new full-time and independent Writing Center we helped over 300 students in one semester. That was almost a three hundred percent increase.

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Lost in Translation? One Dissertator’s Experience Writing across Languages

By Chris Earle

Me

Chris Earle

Chris is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His research interests are in intercultural rhetoric and the political and ethical dimensions of rhetoric and writing.  He was a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Veronica, a dissertator from the Spanish Department, and I worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center weekly during the Spring 2013 semester on her dissertation proposal and related writing.  One of the things that was so interesting about our work together was that she wrote her drafts in English but she’d ultimately translate them into Spanish for her advisor. I often found myself wondering how much of the work we did carried over to the Spanish product, or if much of it was lost in translation.  Recently, I met up with Veronica to find out more about her writing process and we had a conversation about writing between and across languages and about how every writer needs a reader. (more…)

Writing Offstage

Jessie Gurd

Jessie Gurd

By Jessie Gurd

Jessie Gurd is a fourth-year PhD student in Literary Studies and has been an instructor at the Writing Center since the Fall of 2012. Jessie studies early modern English drama; her work focuses on ecocriticism, geography, and spatial theory.

A run, whether on a lakeside path or a treadmill, is not an obvious time for writing. There’s the sweat, the awkwardness of carrying a computer or notebook, and the small problem of all the jostling that running entails. Even so, when I tie on my running shoes and fill my water bottle, I am often anticipating a writing session. Occasionally I go home with some actual words set down—sometimes I send myself a typo-riddled email from my phone—but more often all my writing is invisible. This invisible writing is critical to my future drafting and work on the current project. (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…)