By Becca Tarsa
Author photo – courtesy of Matthew Collins
In addition to teaching both first-year and intermediate composition for the English Department, Becca Tarsa has worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center for five years, and is currently serving as TA Coordinator. She is in the final year of her PhD in UW’s Composition and Rhetoric program.
In her article “Composition’s Imagined Geographies: The Politics of Space in the Frontier, City, and Cyberspace,” Nedra Reynolds sums up in three words something nearly all writing instructors have learned keenly by experience: “Space does matter.” For better or for worse, our authority as writing instructors is often drawn from the contexts in which we’re working – as are the practices through which we enact that role. Because, as Reynolds puts it, “surroundings have an effect on learning or attitudes towards learning, and material spaces have a political edge,” our ethos and praxis are to some degree (often a significant one) determined by the location in which our work takes place: “where writing instruction takes place has everything to do with how” (20). (more…)
by Julia Dauer
Author photo, by Rebecca Dauer
Julia Dauer has worked at the Writing Center since 2012. She is a graduate student in literary studies at UW-Madison, where she writes about American literature and teaches literature and composition courses.
I went to a small liberal arts college, where writing spaces were relatively uniform. The Writing Center was housed on the fourth floor of the only library on campus, right next to the English building. When I came to UW-Madison, navigating campus spaces was a real challenge for me. All of a sudden there were so many! And they were so different!
Of course, UW isn’t the biggest campus in the country, nor does it have the widest range of spaces. But it is a large campus, serving a large student population — the University lists its enrollment at over 43,000, and nearly 30,000 of those students are undergraduates. And to me, coming from a college of 2,400, it seemed huge. (more…)
Author photo. Image taken by Jennifer Brindley.
By Rachel Herzl-Betz
Rachel Herzl-Betz is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach 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 Literature, Disability Studies, and Rhetoric.
This August, when I began my work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Writing Center, I found myself fascinated with an unexpected challenge. Every year, tutors from our Writing Center have the pleasure of giving presentations and creating collaborative writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. As the new coordinator for these efforts, I assumed that I would be caught up with new genres of writing and discovering new campus buildings. Instead, I found myself wondering at the wobbly line between creation and adaptation.
Annika Konrad is in her third year as a Writing Center tutor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. She has taught undergraduate writing courses and is a TA assistant director of the first-year writing program.
I was always wary of stepping outside the classroom. As someone who moved straight from college to graduate school, I’ve felt most comfortable working with students. I had a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to bring my skills as a writing instructor to communities outside the university: Would people trust me? Would they view me as a know-it-all academic? Would my university experiences actually translate into helping community members with their writing? For a long time, questions like these prevented me from taking the leap. But when I joined a support group at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Madison, Wisconsin, I quickly realized I had walked into a relatively unheard community. (more…)
Picture of the author in Madison, WI.
By Leah Misemer
Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years. She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.
Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student. If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor. In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.
By Brad Hughes
Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 31st year as director of the Writing Center.
Welcome to a new academic year at UW-Madison’s Writing Center! With contributions from my wonderful colleagues, I’d like to celebrate some of our program’s accomplishments during the late spring and the summer of 2014 and share some of our plans for the fall. Throughout the summer, our staff have been busy collaborating and venturing out—as always—to offer instruction across our campus and around the city of Madison and beyond. Here are some highlights. . . . (more…)
What’s happening behind this door? Come visit us this fall to find out!
Warm breezes waft down State Street, students linger on Memorial Terrace, and a thousand construction vehicles purr in the gravel-filled trenches that used to be our roads and sidewalks. It’s August in Madison, and the Writing Center is open.
Many of the Writing Center’s programs continue over the summer—instruction, Fellowing, outreach, and workshops, among others—with a smaller staff and on a smaller scale.
But great summers are about not doing the same things you do during the rest of the year. Summer in the Writing Center is, for us, the perfect time for experimenting with new approaches to supporting student writers. This summer we piloted two exciting instructional programs that really took off. (more…)
By Bryan Trabold, Suffolk University
Bryan Trabold is an associate professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, former director of Suffolk’s Writing Center, and currently serves as a faculty mentor to writing tutors at Suffolk’s newly created Center for Learning and Academic Success (CLAS). He is in the final stages of completing his book on South African anti-apartheid journalists entitled To Write it Down: The Story of the Weekly Mail and New Nation in Apartheid South Africa.
When Brad Hughes, the director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked if I would be willing to write an entry for this wonderful blog, I of course accepted. I have said this to countless people so I may as well share it in this post: Working as a tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center from 1995-2000 (except for the year I lived in South Africa) taught me more about writing – and how to teach writing – than any other experience I have had in my life. I think most people who have tutored at a writing center can probably say this. I know anyone who has had the privilege of working as a tutor with Brad Hughes at Wisconsin almost certainly will. (more…)
Mattie Burkert is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2011. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies.
Imagine you’re a writing tutor with no background in biology. A student comes to meet with you in the Writing Center about a draft describing the process of obtaining lysates for an experiment, like the example in the image above. What do you do when faced with this material? Do you admit that you don’t know the first thing about what lysates are and why they might be useful? How can you look beyond these unfamiliar terms to identify and respond to the larger intellectual and rhetorical work the writer is doing?
Ineffective and effective practices for commenting on student writing
By Mike A. Shapiro, @mikeshapiro, TA and Co-Coordinator in the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The author, pontificating about something. Photo by Amy Patterson.
Those of us lucky enough to teach in a classroom or tutor in a writing center recognize how much learning can happen in a 30-minute conversation. Spending those same 30 minutes writing comments on a student’s paper can feel like we’re teaching only a fraction of what we’re capable of, and yet writing these comments is an enormous part of our work! A professor in a writing-intensive discipline may spend 300 workdays of her career grading papers, and a writing center may spend a large percentage of its tutoring time on written feedback.
But what do students learn from all these hours dedicated to commenting? Troublingly, the answer is that we don’t know.
C. H. Knoblauch and Lil Brannon have, for thirty years, followed research on teacher feedback. They believe commenters fall for the logical fallacy that what teachers teach is the same thing as what students learn, and they think we count as student learning things that are really just error correction. They conclude from the studies they reviewed that comments on student writing have “limited meaningful impact on draft-to-draft revision and virtually no demonstrable effect on performance from assignment to assignment” (2006, p. 14).
As Anson (2012) puts it, “What would it mean to us, psychologically and pedagogically, if we were to find only a modest educational return on the colossal investment of time and energy we put into responding to student writing?” (p. 188).