“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…)
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.
By Kim Moreland
Kim Moreland is currently the Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program. She is a Ph.D candidate in Composition and Rhetoric, writing her dissertation on authorship and networks.
Undergraduate research is on my mind. Undergraduate writing center tutor research was the focus of Lauren Fitzgerald’s keynote address at the International Writing Centers Association conference in San Diego in October. And undergraduate writing center tutor research has long been the focus of English 316, the honors course in writing across the curriculum that all Writing Fellows here at UW-Madison are required to take. But what drives this research? What do these projects look like? How do they help us rethink these issues central to our field?
This semester, I’ve been thinking about these questions often. I’ve been teaching a section of English 316, and I attended the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Chicago with five undergraduate Fellows who presented their research. Before this semester, I was familiar with the research conducted by Fellows – I’d seen several Fellows present at our annual joint staff meeting in the Writing Center. But it wasn’t until I starting mentoring Fellows in 316 that I gave much thought to where the questions that sparked these projects came from: the particular interests of Fellows who are immersed in WAC as both tutors and students. (more…)
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.
By John Bradley. John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before joining Vanderbilt’s faculty this fall, John was the 2011-2012 Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center, having also worked as a tutor there for many years as he finished his degree in Literary Studies in the UW-Madison English Department.
Today Nashville, Tennessee, is known the world over as Music City, USA. However, long before it was the cradle of country twang, Nashville had another moniker. The local cluster of colleges and universities led some to dub Nashville “The Athens of the South,” a reputation that sprang up far back enough to influence the city’s decision in 1897 to build a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon. For the moment I’m withholding judgment on its Athenian nature as I slowly learn more about this town better known for its honky tonk, but across the street from Centennial Park, where you can still visit the reproduction of the Parthenon complete with its 42-foot statue of Athena, you’ll find Vanderbilt University, which I am lucky enough to call my new academic home. It’s here as Assistant Director of Vanderbilt’s Writing Studio that I’m contributing to a vibrant campus community and applying so much of what I learned 595 miles away (but who’s counting?) in UW-Madison Writing Center on the 6th floor of Helen C. White Hall. (more…)
By Jessie Reeder. Jessie is the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a dissertator in literary studies, focusing on 19th century British Literature and Latin American revolution.
Every instructor in our Writing Center knows the blue record sheets we stock. They provide a simple grid for marking down the date, the time of each appointment, the students’ names, and a few notes about each conference. The front side of these sheets is a study in order. I was not, however, a kid who placed my toys into neat rows; I was a finger-painting, dirt-tracking chaos-maker. This is probably why I almost exclusively use the back side of the blue sheets, which is, delightfully, completely blank. At the end of every shift I teach, the back of my blue sheet is covered in arrows, inscrutable Venn diagrams, crude drawings of staircases, circled and re-circled symbols… Basically, if our civilization crumbles and the archeologists of a future age find only my blue Writing Center sheets, they will likely conclude that we were a race of madmen.
This tendency—unsurprisingly—spills off of the blue sheet and into most aspects of my teaching. During an average shift in the Writing Center you can find me ripping the staple out of a student’s draft so that I can spread the pages on the table, drawing an idea map while the student talks, scrawling symbols next to each paragraph that correspond to topics, or bee-lining for the “highlighter” tool in the student’s word processing software. This is something for which I seem to feel the need to apologize. I hear myself say the following with alarming frequency: “I’m sorry; it’s just that I’m sort of a visual processor.”
But why do I apologize? (more…)
By Kevin Mullen. Kevin Mullen is a dissertator in Literary Studies, with a minor in Composition and Rhetoric, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This is his third year working at the Writing Center.
There is a particular kind of shame that forms when you come face-to-face with the fact that you are not practicing what you preach. It usually surfaces when you are alone, probably at night, thinking back on all you did and said during the day. Suddenly, it’s there, looking back at you—the fact that the very thing you encourage in others is not something you yourself do.
The importance of collaboration in writing: it’s one of those core beliefs that I feel evangelical about, that I imagine at the heart of what I do, and of who I am, as a teacher. When I was a fellow in Turkey and had 180 students a semester I still managed to meet with each one individually in order to work on their writing; I think I broke the record for conferences in the Intermediate Writing course here at UW-Madison (every other week, all semester long); I convinced a very skeptical board of directors, as well as a group of reluctant teachers, at a local college to require two conferences a semester for their composition course; and, this last August, I led a workshop for almost 70 TA’s teaching writing-intensive courses all over campus that explored how, and why, to include conferences.
The author points out something else you’re doing wrong. Photo by Writing Center alumna Catherine A. Price.
By Mike A. Shapiro
This is Mike’s sixth year at the Writing Center. He is the 2012–13 TA coordinator of our Online Writing Center. Since 2010, he has worked as a tutor for the Pearson Tutor Services Online Writing Lab.
Writing centers use the phrase asynchronous online writing instruction to describe this sequence:
- A student sends a draft to the writing center.
- A tutor reads the draft and types a response to guide the student’s revision.
- That response goes back to the student.
I’ve gotten hung up on the word asynchronous: I’d like writing centers to stop using it, and I would like them to stop believing the things they must believe if they take the label “asynchronous” seriously. (more…)
Behind Nmachika is the beautiful Lake Mendota
By Nmachika Nwakaego Nwokeabia.When I found out that the UW-Madison’s Writing Center was offering a dissertation writing camp (or, as I fondly call it, a dissertation boot camp) during this past summer, I knew I had to apply for it. I was obsessed with my dissertation, and this was yet another way for me to shower my dissertation with love.
To prove my dedication to my dissertation I wrote every single day (often waking up at 4:00 AM and racing straight to the computer to put down my crispest, freshest thoughts), joined every virtual and real-life writing group I came across, pestered colleagues with my groundbreaking ruminations, and religiously practiced the BIC method during periods of writer’s block; yet all I had to show for my hard work was a directionless, unwieldy, unmanageable, intimidating 100-page monstrosity of a chapter that only seemed to grow by the day. I was in deep trouble, and if anything could help me, it was the Writing Center.
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