Here at the UW-Madison Writing Center, we have been thrilled to have Katrin Girgensohn spend the year with us as our visiting scholar from the Writing Center at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. And here on this blog you’ve gotten to see a little of her, too. I’m privileged to get to share an office with Katrin, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about writing centers and about her work. We wanted you to have a chance to sit in on a conversation with us about what it means to be a visiting scholar at a writing center, what Katrin has learned this year, and what she plans to do with the research she’s completed. Katrin’s kindness, enthusiasm, and straightforwardness shine through when you talk with her, and her intelligence about the work she does make her a pleasure to talk to about writing center work. Thanks for joining our conversation!
By Dennis Paoli, Coordinator of the Reading/Writing Center and Co-coordinator of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at Hunter College, City University of New York. He also writes plays and films and is Donor/Adviser of The Heidi Paoli Fund for cancer patients. He met Heidi in Madison.
Hi. Dennis Paoli, University of Wisconsin Class of ’69. You know, the golden age. “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!” Wordsworth was writing about the French Revolution, but he must have gone to Madison in the 60’s. In my four years, the football team won one game (that was a party). The band could barely make a W (we didn’t jump around so much as hop from foot to foot to keep warm). And the defining moment of my college experience was walking out of class into a cloud of tear gas. Good times. (more…)
By Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame
“So, what are you working on today?”
“When is your paper due?”
“Are you concerned about anything in particular in this draft?”
In the writing center that I direct at the University of Notre Dame, we spend a good deal of time asking questions. We pose questions about practical parameters of assignments—length, due date, assignment requirements, etc. We pose questions about writers’ goals, their concerns, and their hopes for their work. Most importantly, we pose questions with writers to help them discover and articulate their own ideas. (more…)
It was in 2010 when a student in our writing center complained about her procrastination habits: “For me, you should open at night, because this is when I eventually get started and would need a writing center”. This student’s comment came up at our next team meeting, and suddenly an idea took shape: “A Long Night against Procrastination”. “Long Nights” are very popular in Germany. We have “Long Nights of Museums”, “Long Nights of Science” or “Long Nights of Sports”, all designed to attract attention through offering events at unusual times.
Obviously this idea works, because shortly after we announced our Long Night, the writing center’s phone began to ring and wouldn’t stop until our event started. All of the important German newspapers suddenly wanted to report about our writing center and its Long Night. A TV team occupied our rooms, and radio reporters were everywhere, so that we had to hold a press conference. The press conference provided us the unique opportunity to talk about writing center work in detail, and several reporters stayed all night long to experience what we had claimed: that we would provide a serious work atmosphere, profound writing consulting and, nevertheless, a fun event. The newspaper “Der Spiegel” later wrote that the night was reminiscent of a pajama party but was a serious event at the same time.
By David Charbonneau, Director, Writing Center, Mt. San Antonio College.
When I first came to my current position at Mt. San Antonio College, the largest single-campus community college in California, my experience in Writing Centers had been entirely in the four-year context, both at UW-Madison as a graduate assistant and then at a four year liberal arts school as a faculty director. My ideas about Writing Centers had been shaped by these experiences. Similarly, my pedagogy was largely shaped by my own personal trinity of scholars: Stephen North, Peter Elbow, and David Bartholomae. I felt that Elbow freed up the creative impulse in each writer and Bartholomae helped us learn where and how to direct it in the academic context, while North gave us a blueprint for how the Writing Center could contribute to each student’s experience of “inventing [or, hopefully, reinventing] the university.” While the truths of these seminal thinkers in our field still held in the community college context, I found that there were many issues that I had not anticipated. (more…)
During the snow storms last week, I trekked through the layers of fresh Wisconsin slush to the Social Sciences building. I made my journey upon an invitation to meet with a Sociology faculty member, prepared to discuss co-teaching a session on poster presentations. While watching flaky descents of snow through his window, we chatted for almost an hour about how we might help his students emulate the department’s prize winning posters. Of course, we didn’t actually need nearly that much time to discuss the session. We were both so eager to explore the challenge and craft of visual design and to understand one another’s approaches to teaching this genre that our conversation stretched beyond our original plan. By the end of our meeting, we both left with an enhanced understanding of how our respective fields (Sociology and Composition and Rhetoric) approach visual design in posters, and we had collaboratively developed a strong lesson plan for teaching research posters for his department’s graduate student professional development group.
On Friday, February 17 the Writing Fellows Program hosted our annual Joint Staff Meeting with the Writing Center. Seven Writing Fellows gave presentations based on research they conducted for their English/Interdisciplinary Courses 316 class. Writing Center instructors served as moderators for each presentation and posed questions designed to help audience members delve more deeply into the issues. As usual, the presentations were highly engaging and the discussions were lively and enlightening. There was a genuine spirit of camaraderie as we discovered what we can learn from one another and how our experiences in the Center and in the Fellows program intersect and diverge. Our meeting was enhanced this year by the presence of several distinguished visitors: Michael Mack, professor of English and Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Taryn Okuma, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center—both from American Catholic University in Washington, DC; and visiting scholar Dr. Katrin Girgensohn, faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University-Viadrina in Germany.
The presentation titles suggest the broad range of topics discussed:
I’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.
All Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are beyond their first semester of tutoring in UW-Madison’s Writing Center participate in professional development opportunities, known as Ongoing Education opportunities, affectionately, as an “OGE.” At the start of a semester, Teaching Assistants will often see a description at the top of an OGE selection form that reads as follows:
“Ongoing Education activities are opportunities to challenge ourselves as teachers, think critically about our work, reach our personal goals, and collectively build a broad base of diverse knowledge, skills, and practices from which we all can draw.”
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…)