Getting a Fix on What Big 10 Writing Centers Are Up To

By Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University. She is joined here by Jo Ann Vogt (Writing Tutorial Services Director, Indiana University); Carol Severino (Writing Center Director, the University of Iowa); and Naomi Silver (Writing Center Associate Director, the University of Michigan).

Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University

Laura Plummer, Director of the Campus Writing Program at Indiana University

Q: Why did I start an informal working group for “Big Ten” writing center and writing program directors?
A: Because sometimes you just want to spend time with people who get your jokes.

The “tutored” dog
You’ve seen the 1985 Gary Larson Far Side cartoon before, no doubt: a dog riding shotgun in a car is talking out the window to a dog-friend: “Ha, Ha, Biff. Guess what? After we go to the drugstore and post office, I’m going to the vet’s to get tutored!”

It’s funny: our canine speaker misunderstands the play date his owners have planned for him. Tutoring or neutering—oh, what a difference a consonant makes.

For most audiences, the tutor/neuter confusion is funny enough. I would argue that writing center folks find this joke even funnier. We laugh at the distance and tension between what “tutor” means to us, and its potentially clinical meaning to those outside our small writing-profession group. (more…)

Sharing the Space: Collaborating in Sessions with Laptops

By Leah Misemer @lsmisemer

Leah Misemer is a graduate student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center there.  While her dissertation is on serial commercial comics, she is also interested in media specificity and technology in writing centers.  This is her sixth semester working as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center.

Leah Misemer

Photo of the author taken by Nicole Relyea

When I first trained as a peer tutor at Washington University in St. Louis, I was trained to look at paper drafts.  During my first shift as a Writing Center instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a student brought in a draft on a laptop.  I was a bit flummoxed about what to do.  While it was great for the writer to be able to make changes to the draft during the session, it felt less collaborative than sessions with paper drafts.  I had to ask the student to scroll down and up because I didn’t want to touch her expensive electronic equipment, and this felt awkward, like I was shut out of the draft in some way.

This is my sixth semester on staff at UW-Madison and I continue to have a moment of irrational anxiety every time I see a student pull out a laptop during an appointment.  This is not to say I don’t have productive appointments with students toting laptops; when I can get students to cut and paste large sections of a draft, the computer facilitates actual draft work the student can take home.  But appointments with laptops aren’t all like that.  (more…)

International Writing Centers and Environmental Humanities

RobDunes

Rob Emmett at the Kohler Dunes, Wisconsin with Elisabeth, 2010.

By Rob Emmett

Writing centers can launch lives in new directions, across continents and oceans. The years I spent working at the Writing Center while in graduate school in Madison certainly set me on a path to my current work at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC) in Munich, Germany. The RCC is an interdisciplinary, international center for research in environmental history and allied fields that aims to raise the profile of this work in public discussions of environmental issues, in the spirit of our namesake, the influential author of Silent Spring. The project is exceptional in many ways–one being that its directors, Christof Mauch and Helmuth Trischler, represent Munich’s oldest public university (LMU Munich) and the research division of the Deutsches Museum, respectively. For the last year I have served as Director of Academic Programs; I support the center’s research fellows, develop collaborations in environmental humanities with other centers, and teach in our international environmental studies program, among other things. (more…)

Notes from My 60-Day Writing Challenge

By Rebecca Steffy Couch

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

The author outside the Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, June 2013. Photo by Aaron Couch.

Rebecca is in her third year teaching for the UW-Madison Writing Center, and she is writing a dissertation on recent American poetics through the lens of community discourse and spatial theory in the English Literary Studies program at UW-Madison. She currently co-coordinates the Felix Series of New Writing.

For many of us in the university setting, semesters, quarters, and intercessions arrange our time into predictable, if also swift, units of work.  And these beginnings and endings invite us to assess and reconfigure our goals and habits. During the 2013-2014 cycle, practicing the habit of writing—indeed, making writing a daily resolution—has been foremost among my priorities.

Cultivating the everyday habit of writing serves two important purposes for me: it helps me, as a Writing Center instructor and teacher of writing, to narrow the gap between pedagogy and practice, between the suggestions I frequently give to other writers and what I do at my own desk. And, as a graduate student working on a dissertation of my own, the everyday habit of writing promises me that I will make steady progress toward its successful completion.

So last fall I embarked on a self-imposed “60 Day Writing Challenge,” in which I scheduled daily writing time and planned, on a weekly basis, writing tasks to tackle each day. This semester, I am once again challenging myself to write every day – this time, without the arbitrary end date.

By sharing my experience with a self-imposed “Writing Challenge,” as well as some of the resources that inspired it, I hope to encourage other writers to set new goals for their writing habits, and to invite teachers of writing to think about how they can coax students towards the habit of writing. (more…)

Congratulating Our Colleague, Emily Hall

By Kim Moreland

Emily Hall

Emily Hall

Kim Moreland is the current Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Ph.D candidate in the Composition and Rhetoric program and is writing her dissertation on agency and authorship in networks. She has been teaching in the Writing Center since 2008.

In this post, I’d like congratulate my mentor and colleague, Emily Hall, Director of the Writing Fellows Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the winner of the NCPTW 2013 Ron Maxwell Award. This award is “given annually to a professional in the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing organization who has contributed with distinction to undergraduate student development through promoting collaborative learning among peer tutors in writing.” I can’t imagine a more appropriate or worthy recipient for such an award; Emily’s contributions to the field of peer tutoring are truly inspiring, and, for many of the students who have worked with her, myself included, life-changing.  (For additional information about the award and to see the illustrious group of previous recipients, go here.)

“Learning originates with an undergraduate student, not with an institutional authority.”

Emily has been involved with the Writing Fellows Program at the UW since it started in 1997 and has served as its director since 1999.  Her work with undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty has had a profound impact on teaching and writing throughout much of the university. The program currently has 51 active Fellows who are working with over 500 undergraduate students this semester.

The program is designed so that students and professors receive the benefits of peer tutoring, and so that undergraduate students can play a role in the teaching mission of the university.  As Emily writes, “Learning originates with an undergraduate student, not with an institutional authority.”  As undergraduate peer tutors, Writing Fellows are assigned to a particular course each semester.  They work closely with professors and work with the students on two assignments, first giving extensive written feedback and then meeting with the students in conference.  This gives Fellows a teaching role that is usually reserved for graduate students.  Under Emily’s extraordinary leadership, hundreds of students as well as many professors have benefitted from collaborating with peer tutors.

The Fellows also undergo extensive training through English 316, a 3-credit honors seminar in Writing Across the Curriculum.  In this course, Emily collaborates with Fellows, teaching them to be smart readers of drafts and skilled commenters.  This course not only gives Fellows support and strategies for their tutoring, but it is aimed to empower them as scholars of writing and tutoring.  Under Emily’s thoughtful guidance, all Fellows complete an original research project related to the tutoring of teaching and writing.  These projects recognize the voices of peer tutors, shaping their own tutoring practices as well as the practices of others as they present their work to colleagues and at national conferences.  Emily’s tremendous dedication to undergraduate research and her belief that peer tutors must reflect and critically examine the field of writing studies have been a crucial component of our program.

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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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