“Something Magical in Meeting with a Group of Like-Minded People”: Graduate Writing Groups in the Writing Center

By Chris Earle, Elisabeth Miller, and Bradley Hughes

Chris Earle is currently a co-Coordinator in the Writing Center at UW-Madison where he is completing a dissertation on the writing and activism of imprisoned individuals. In the fall, Chris will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Elisabeth Miller has been a Writing Center instructor at UW-Madison for the past five years and is currently co-coordinator of the Madison Writing Assistance community literacy program. She is currently completing her dissertation on literacy and disability, and in fall 2016 she will be joining the faculty in English, Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Nevada, Reno. Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison.

Every week this spring semester, roughly 90 graduate students keep coming back to Helen C. White Hall on the UW-Madison campus. They slog through ice and snow on winter mornings; they eschew sunny spring afternoons and evenings all to participate in the Writing Center’s Graduate Writing Groups. Modelled after UW-Madison Writing Center’s Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and Writing Retreats, these groups began in Summer 2014. As Sarah Groeneveld previously detailed, the Graduate Writing Groups are designed to provide space, time, and support for graduate student writers throughout the semester.

Each group, enrolling anywhere between 20 and 30 graduate students, meets for three hours every week. These students come from a wide range of disciplines: Electrical Engineering, Psychology, Neuroscience, French and Italian, Educational Policy Studies, Art History, Environmental Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, East Asian Studies, Geography, Sociology, Political Science, English, Forestry, History, Library and Information Studies, Curriculum and Instruction, German, and many, many more. An experienced member of the Writing Center’s staff serves as a facilitator (this semester, the authors of this post).

We open each week with a focused goal-setting activity and small- or large-group discussion about the writing process, about challenges they’re facing in their projects, or about whatever else writing related is on people’s minds. At the close of each session, the facilitator brings the group back together for the last few minutes to share progress and to set goals for the week. But the majority of the time–about two-and-a-half of the three hours–is dedicated to writing time during which writers can make substantial progress on their dissertations, article drafts, grant proposals, fellowship applications, and more. In this way, the groups follow what Sohui Lee and Chris Golde in their recent article in The Writing Lab Newsletter term the “Just Write” model. (more…)

A Wonderful Program to Work Across the Disciplines, Universities, Countries, and Institutions

By Franziska Liebetanz

Franziska Liebetanz is since 2011 the director of the Writing Center at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) Germany. She is a member of the Board of the European Writing Center Association and the “Gesellschaft für Schreibdidaktik und Schreibforschung.” She was one of the first peer tutors in writing in Germany and wrote together with Ella Grieshammer, Jana Zegenhagen and Nora Peters the first book of writing consultation at universities. “Zukunftsmodell Schreibberatung. Eine Anleitung zur Begleitung von Schreibenden im Studium.” She publishes together with Simone Tschirpke, Nora Peters, David Kreitz and Sascha Dieter a journal about writing and writing research, „JoSch“.

Last year we have had a great opportunity to improve and to develop our Writing Fellow Program at the European University Viadrina. In 2007, Katrin Girgensohn founded our Writing Center. At this time only a couple of universities in Germany had Writing Centers and one was now located next to the Polish border in Frankfurt (Oder). In 2011 she went to the USA to visit American Writing Centers; mainly she spent her time at the Writing Center of the University Wisconsin-Madison. From Madison she brought the idea of a Writing Fellow Program back to our Writing Center. Due to our Mission statement, we thought this writing program in the disciplines would be a good contribution to our work.
Our mission statement says

The Writing Center is the umbrella institution for all activities that deal with the key competences of ‘writing’ at the European University Viadrina. It supports students and graduate students alike to communicate with confidence and persuasion, using writing as a medium for critical thinking. All writers, experienced as well as unexperienced, benefit from conversations about writing processes and texts. (https://www.europa-uni.de/en/struktur/zsfl/institutionen/schreibzentrum/Writing-center-mission-statement.html)

Schreibzentrum_Logo (2)

 

 

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Acknowledgments & Alignments: Writing from a Center Place

By Mary E. Fiorenza

Mary E. FiorenzaMary E. Fiorenza would like to acknowledge Wendy Bishop’s “You Can Take the Girl Out of the Writing Center, But You Can’t Take the Writing Center Out of the Girl” for providing her with a way to see her writing center origins and consider how they influence her thought and practice as a teacher and administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As associate director of English 100, a writing program for first-year students, her current writing center relationship is primarily through its proximity to her office. That said, a brief disclaimer: This blog post uses the word center as an image, but writing centers are not directly addressed.

 The night before I turned in my dissertation was a kind of waking dream, and not a good one. Perhaps you have experienced a similar dream or night. Looking back, I see now that I might have rescheduled the appointment. I still had two days of a grace period left. But I remember feeling now or never. The dissertation had been defended; it needed to be gone. I worked through the night with periodic naps. I had corrections to finalize, paragraphs to rework, sources to check, citations to format, proofreading. And I still needed to write my acknowledgments.

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Which Shoes Should You Choose? A Meditation on Indecisiveness in Writing

By Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

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.

It has recently come to my attention that I don’t know what to do when I work with writers who experience a certain kind of writing anxiety.  As a writing tutor, part of my job is to provide motivational scaffolding to the writers I work with—encouraging them when they make progress, recognizing the challenges of writing, and exhorting them to future progress.  Another part of my job is to help writers who struggle to produce writing think about the habits that create roadblocks for them, such as trying to get all of their writing done in one day.  However, there’s a kind of writing anxiety that some writers experience that has challenged me recently because I’m not sure it can be resolved by encouraging them or advising them to adopt better habits.  The type of anxiety I’m thinking of is when writers feel unable to make decisions they must make in order to write.  Let’s call it “indecisiveness in writing.” (more…)

The Rhetoric of Composition

WC_BlogrickNBy Rick Ness

Rick Ness is a PhD Candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and a writing center tutor. Rick has led graduate writer’s groups and has co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp. His research focuses on the simultaneous emergence of British Romantic literature and biopolitical, medicalized societies.

Last January, I co-taught The Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp with Nancy Lynn Karls and Neil Simpkins. During the camp I was perusing the collection of dissertation guide books in the Writing Center, and I noticed some common visual and verbal metaphors: mountains, journeys, and light bulbs (and while technically not a metaphor, a towering stack of books is a popular image). (more…)

Crossing the Barrier: Advocating for Students, Educating Faculty

By Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche. Photo by Kari Adams.

Alexandra Asche is the Student Assistant Director at the Writing Center of the University of Minnesota, Morris, a public liberal arts college. She works with Director Tisha Turk, who served as a UW-Madison Writing Center instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program while earning her PhD. Alexandra has been a consultant in UMM’s Writing Center since 2014 and the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper since 2015. In her spare time, she studies English and Psychology.

When I first started planning this post, I intended to write about the UMM Writing Center’s formal outreach to faculty. However, as I looked through the previous posts on this blog, I found that others have already written about how to plan this sort of outreach. I also noticed, though, that I was in the peculiar position of being a student consultant and administrator attempting to educate professors who, to say the least, vary highly in their degrees of interest and investment in our small campus writing center.

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Using Peer Writing Groups For the Senior Thesis and Beyond

By Rebecca Steffy

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Author Photo by Carrie Castree.

Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, where she also serves as a TA Coordinator for The Writing Center and Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program. Her research focuses on the relationships between community formations and aesthetics in contemporary poetry and performance. 

This year, I have the privilege of coordinating the UW-Madison Writing Center’s Senior Thesis Writing Groups, small peer-led writing groups that meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the daunting semester- or year-long process of writing a senior thesis. I help spread the word that senior thesis writing groups are forming at the beginning of each term, lead orientation meetings to better inform interested students about how the groups work, and facilitate the first meeting of each group to guide them in establishing a set of shared expectations for working together. Then I keep in touch throughout the semester by email or a shared check-in document, and by dropping by another meeting later in the semester. Our model aims at maximizing the rich benefits of writing groups for senior thesis writers with a minimum of direct instructional hours from our staff. (more…)

Water Damage, Writing Technologies, and Alternative Modes of Feedback

By Kathleen Daly

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric and is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research looks at technologies that underwrite digital archive projects in order to explore questions of archival materiality, accessibility and discoverability.

Kathleen Daly

Two weeks ago, I spilled water on my laptop. Despite my frantic attempts to dry it off, a few drops of water seeped in through the keyboard and into the internal components, rendering my computer entirely useless. While I wait for my computer to be repaired, I have been taking advantage of the Equipment Checkout System (ECS) available through UW InfoLabs. Through ECS, I am able to rent a laptop that is the exact same make and model as my personal computer. However, these laptops have a loan period of only three days with no options for renewal. This means that every three days, I have to check out a different machine.

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Access as a Lens for Peer Tutoring

By Annika Konrad

Annika Konrad is a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and an Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research focuses on the rhetorical practices that blind and visually impaired people use to gain access. When Annika was an undergraduate at UW-Madison, she was a Writing Fellow.

Annika Konrad is a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and an Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at UW-Madison. Her doctoral research focuses on the rhetorical practices that blind and visually impaired people use to gain access. When she was an undergraduate, Annika was a Writing Fellow at UW-Madison.

Photo credit: Annika Konrad

“Why didn’t we start with access?” one student asked during a discussion near the end of the semester in English 403, an honors seminar for new UW-Madison undergraduate Writing Fellows. Writing Fellows at UW-Madison are trained undergraduates who serve as peer writing tutors in courses across disciplines. As a first time teacher of the course, I had added a day to the end of the course focused on disability, a move that I knew was not ideal for treating difference. While disability is often excluded from lists of disadvantaged groups, scholars in disability studies have long warned that access should not be approached as accommodating “problemed bodies” (Yergeau et al, 2013), but instead as an effort that requires and benefits all parties (Dolmage, 2014; Price; 2011). I was worried, then, about tacking disability onto the end of the calendar. (more…)

Rethinking Patience

By Rachel Azima

Rachel and Cameron

Rachel and Cameron at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo

Rachel Azima is the director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Writing Center.  While completing her Ph.D. in English, she worked for 13 semesters in the UW-Madison Writing Center. 

When I took my first writing center director position, I inherited a set of interview questions that I have continued to tweak, semester by semester. One question I have retained is one I imagine many folks might ask prospective consultants: what are some qualities you feel a consultant should have (and, as a follow-up, how do you embody them)?

An answer I have often received—and that tends to make me wince a little—is “patience.” This probably seems like an odd response to get hung up on; “patience” is one of those words that seems pretty reliably positive. It reminds me of “community” in Joseph Harris’s “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing,” in which he invokes Raymond Williams’ discussion of community as a term that “seems never to be used unfavourably” (13). (more…)