How We [Actually] Write: Neurodiversity, Writing Process, and Writing Instruction

Leah Pope

By Leah Pope

Leah Pope has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since fall of 2014. She is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies, writing a dissertation that explores representations of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Alexandra Gillespie opens her essay in How We Write: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blank Page by confessing that she only writes when she has to [1]. “Because reasons” (19). She writes this casually, as if she’s not breaking my mind by using Internet diction. But it’s not just her delightful, playful writing style — shared by many of the essays in this collection — that is revealing. Gillespie describes anxious and determined binge writing, fueled by deadlines ranging from a DPhil advisor’s note asking to have coffee — how terrifying! — to a paper promised to a friend/colleague for review. She describes writing 6,000 words in one day to meet a deadline — not drivel, mind you, but a conference paper and later the core of a book chapter. (more…)

Teaming Up: A Collaboration between the Writing Center and the Library

By Nancy Linh Karls and Barbara Sisolak

Nancy Linh Karls is a senior instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she serves as its science-writing specialist. She also leads and teaches the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and coordinates the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. Barbara Sisolak is a senior academic librarian with Steenbock Library, where she provides reference and instruction to library patrons. As Instruction Coordinator, she manages Steenbock Library’s information literacy instruction program in alignment with the UW Libraries Teaching and Learning Programs office.

Barbara Sisolak

Barbara Sisolak


A Game of Solitaire with Many Players: US Writing Centers from a German Perspective

By Stephanie Dreyfürst

Stephanie Dreyfürst, founder and director of the Writing Center at Frankfurt’s Goethe-University, holds a PhD in Early Modern German Literature. She is interested in everything that has to do with (academic) writing, reading, and thinking. Her favorite areas of research include WAC/WID programs, genre, rhetorics, and the acquisition of academic writing competency. She’s an avid lover of opera and a proud member of the board of the German Skeptics.

Recently, I was on a six-week long research trip which led me to different Writing Centers in the US. My main focus was on researching the effects the local Writing Fellow programs have on faculty, students, and the writing fellows themselves. But aside from that task, I couldn’t help noticing the similarities and differences between different Writing Center “cultures” in the States and in Germany. When I came to my first stop (the über-impressive Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), I was welcomed with incredible warmth and open arms. Three wonderful colleagues from two other German Writing Centers (Viadrina University Frankfurt (Oder) and Leibniz University Hannover) were also staying at UW Madison at the same time. The amount of work that Bradley Hughes and his team had put into the preparation of our visit was immense: We felt like members of the team immediately and were able to talk to many incredibly interesting people and learn a lot. (more…)

Peer Tutoring and the Serious Work of Undergraduate Scholarship

Samantha Stowers, Julia Boles, Chelsea Fesik, Samantha Lasko, and the author after their presentation.

Samantha Stowers, Rachel Herzl-Betz, Julia Boles, Chelsea Fesik, and Samantha Lasko.

By Rachel Herzl-Betz

Rachel Herzl-Betz is an Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has been a tutor and administrator since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature and Disability Studies. 

I’ve always been a fan of academic conferences. At their best, they offer an unprecedented chance for scholars, students, and practitioners to step out of their individual institutions and connect with the wider intellectual community. We often become so ensconced in our own contexts that we forget the possibilities being put into practice one state, one city, or even one neighborhood away.


Queering RAD Research in Writing Center Studies

By Neil Simpkins and Virginia Schwarz

Neil and Virginia are in the Composition and Rhetoric PhD program at UW-Madison and tutor in the university writing center. Neil is working on a dissertation proposal exploring how disabled students experience writing-intensive classrooms. Virginia studies program and classroom assessment and is designing a dissertation study on contract grading.

In the Spirit of Inquiry…

At the 2015 IWCA Collaborative in Tampa, FL, we set out to have a roundtable discussion about the current push for RAD research in the writing center community. Many writing center scholars have called for more RAD research (empirical inquiry that has replicable methods, aggregative results, and data-driven conclusions) as a response to “lore-driven” conclusions about writing center theory and practice. In other words, writing center scholars are making a deliberate effort to design more and more studies that ask how we know that our “best practices” are actually serving student writers. (more…)

A Case for Compulsion? On Requiring Whole-Class Writing Center Visits

By Jessica Citti

Jessica Citti, Ph.D., has tutored in the writing centers at UW-Madison and the University of Iowa, where she also taught composition, rhetoric, and technical communication. She is now the Writing Skills Specialist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and coordinates the HSU Writing Studio.

I remember learning the word “volition” in college. A friend used it over the phone (a phone with a cord, attached to a wall) and I was impressed. Volition. A word from the medieval Latin: volō, I wish, I will.

Jessica Citti

Jessica Citti

Later, after tutoring in writing centers at large public universities in the midwest, I came to think of this word in relation to writing center visits. While an occasional referral might be appropriate, students should come of their own volition. Stephen North sums up the problem with mandatory visits in “The Idea of a Writing Center,” suggesting that such requirements—while well-intentioned—don’t carry lasting impact: “Occasionally we manage to convert such writers from people who have to see us to people who want to, but most often they either come as if for a kind of detention, or they drift away” (440). (more…)

Building Bridges: Translating Writing Practices Between Disciplines

By Amy Kahrmann Huseby

Amy Kahrmann Huseby is the Outreach Coordinator for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian poetry, new formalism, and the history of science.

Amy Kahrmann Huseby. Photo by Danielle Schulke Kirkwood

Amy Kahrmann Huseby.
Photo by Danielle Schulke Kirkwood

Willkommen! Wie geht es Ihnen? (Translation: Welcome! How are you?) During the past week, our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted several colleagues from writing centers at German universities. These visitors were in town to learn from our practices and to collaborate with us, and it was delightful to get to know them and to learn about the spread of writing center programs in Germany. At one point, I even braved speaking the only German sentence I know to one of these kind colleagues, who encouraged me to give it a try. I said, sheepishly, “Jetz ich kann Deutsch sprechen, aber nicht gut” (Translation: Now I can speak German, but not well). My German colleague smiled broadly and said, “Nicht nicht?” with a gentle shake of her head. Nope, not at all, I thought. (more…)

Writing Center Workshops: Test-Drive an Academic Writing Genre Today!

By 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.

Zach Marshall

Zach Marshall

Here at the UW-Madison Writing Center, we offer a broad range of short-term, no-credit writing workshops that teach student-writers about specific academic genres and writing tasks. The first Writing Center workshop I helped teach in the spring of 2014 taught 120 students how to write more successfully on the undergraduate application essay for the Wisconsin School of Business. My wonderful colleague Michelle Neiman (then the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center) invited me to join her at a session with a representative from School of Business Admissions to plan this particular workshop. As a second-year instructor at the Writing Center, I was flattered by the offer of more responsibility and decided to join her.

Although I went to the workshop planning meeting feeling interested, I also felt apprehensive. I had taught in the classroom as a teaching assistant and in the writing center as a tutor, but I felt like I was in the way since I had never planned a workshop before. In our meeting, our thoughtful colleague from the School of Business explained her goals for the workshop—helping students write in more detail about their experiences and personal goals. It was a great goal, but I didn’t have a specific plan for what to do to achieve it. (more…)

Making Six Hours of Tutor Training Feel Like Sixteen

By Molly Rentscher, Arizona State University

Molly Rentscher, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Fellows Program alum, is the coordinator of the Writing Center at Arizona State University’s West campus in Glendale, Arizona. In June of 2015, she received an MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul University.

Molly Rentscher

Molly Rentscher

On May 26, 2015, I was a graduate student at DePaul University, anxiously awaiting graduation and frantically applying for jobs. On this particular day, I was also preparing a professional development workshop for DePaul University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) staff when Natalie Smith’s Wcenter listserv post popped into my inbox:

In the past, I was fortunate to have the funds to offer both CRLA training as well as weekly writing specific tutor training—tutors, by the way, are paid to attend training. I know that luxury won’t be possible in the fall. I need some creative ideas for training writing tutors and providing on-going support when the weekly, hour-long meetings the tutors want and need simply aren’t possible.

I found Natalie’s post astonishing, and admittedly, perplexing. (more…)

Writing Fellows as Interdisciplinary Scholars

By Emily Hall

Emily Hall is the director of the Writing Fellows Program at UW-Madison.

In his influential essay “Only Connect,” Bill Cronon explores the goals of a liberal education, arguing that “being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. . . . A liberal education is about gaining the power and the wisdom, the generosity and the freedom to connect.”

Forging connections (between different fields of study, between teacher and student, between reader and writer) is one of the goals of UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program. And one of the primary strengths of the students who serve as Fellows is their impressive ability to travel across disciplinary boundaries and to make connections with students whose writing may differ significantly from their own. Fellows excel at visiting new fields of knowledge and engaging with them in critical and meaningful ways. Indeed, as Jean Lutes (who along with Brad Hughes and Bill Cronon founded the Writing Fellows program at UW-Madison in 1997) has written, “A primary goal of the Writing Fellows Program is to foster an interdisciplinary community of undergraduates who can explore writing as an object of intellectual inquiry while helping their peers achieve success as writers.” As disciplinary boundary crossers, Writing Fellows approach writing as a way to deepen knowledge both within and across different fields of study. (more…)