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
By Christopher J. Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, and Faculty Liaison, Advance Credit Program for Communication Courses, Oregon Tech
Christopher Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, Oregon Tech
At Oregon Tech, where I became an Assistant Professor this fall in the Communication Department, I volunteered during a recent Communication department meeting to take on the role of the department’s Web Content Manager. Volunteering for this role, of course, reminded me that I had promised Brad Hughes to write a blog post for Another Word about a project that four TAs and I undertook to revise part of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s website.
Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound
I’ve considered myself a “writing center person” for over twenty years now, ever since I anxiously took my first college paper to my undergraduate writing center and left with a few concrete ideas for revision and the sense that I might actually be able to do the whole college thing. I eventually became a writing tutor in that same center, and then later went on to teach in the writing center at Madison. And, in January of this year, I became the director of our writing center at the University of Puget Sound. I’ve always loved the community in writing centers, the chance to break down hierarchies and have real conversations about writing. But those interim years as a full-time English professor—in charge of my own classrooms, teaching writing through assignments I’d designed and working with students whose work I’d be grading—had led me away from the core principles of writing centers. And I knew it. (more…)
A typical scene at Comm-B TA training
Every semester, our Writing Across the Curriculum program gets a head start. The week before classes have even begun, we have the privilege of spending two mornings training up to 75 new Teaching Assistants. These TAs will be teaching writing-intensive courses across the disciplines—courses that fulfill an intermediate communication requirement for undergraduates. In our UW-Madison parlance, we call these Communication-B (or Comm-B) courses. During Comm-B training, then, we get to provide TAs with skills, theories, and practices they need for teaching with writing. As the TA Assistant Director of our WAC program, I get to help plan and facilitate the training. I’m always energized by the buzz of conversation about teaching with writing and by the “aha” moments as TAs consider—some for the first time—the challenges and opportunities that come with teaching writing in the disciplines. (more…)
Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2004), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
In this blog post, I would like to honor the legendary founder of the Writing Center (originally called the Writing Laboratory) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the most influential pioneers in the modern writing center profession—Professor Joyce Stribling Steward. Professor Steward founded the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969 and directed it until her retirement in 1982. Among her many accomplishments, she—
- pioneered writing center methods that emphasized respect for individual student-writers and that tailored instruction to individual students, starting where students are and working collaboratively with them
- conceptualized and designed a writing laboratory for writers at all undergraduate and graduate levels, writing in all disciplines
- expanded writing center programs beyond individual tutoring to incorporate workshops in the center as well as outreach in courses across the curriculum, at the graduate and undergraduate level
- published, in 1977, an article about writing laboratories in an MLA journal for English Department chairs, The ADE Journal
- co-developed and led a week-long summer institute about developing writing laboratories, held at UW-Madison in 1981
- co-authored, in 1982, one of the first books about writing centers, The Writing Laboratory: Organization, Management, and Methods
- influenced the development of many other writing centers around the United States through her publications, by hosting visitors from many colleges and universities, and through her invited lectures and consulting around the US
- developed and taught the first course on women’s literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.
Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .