By John Bradley, Jane Hirtle, and RJ Boutelle
John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Before moving to Nashville, John served one year as the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center after many years of experience as a tutor there.
Jane Hirtle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychology & Human Development and is serving her second year as the Writing Studio’s Peabody Writing Fellow (Peabody College of Education and Human Development).
RJ Boutelle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of English and is currently serving as the Writing Studio’s English Writing Fellow for Spring 2015.
From the seat here at my desk, I only have to glance up to see the beautiful space featured in the photos spread throughout this post. More importantly, though, if I leave my office door cracked at any point during the week I am treated to the constant buzz of conversations happening just outside my door, conversations the variety of which would likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time talking and listening in a writing center. Those conversations certainly bear a strong resemblance to those I was party to during my countless, well-spent hours in the UW-Madison Writing Center, but now they’re happening here in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University where I help direct the Vanderbilt Writing Studio.
That pleasant background noise is coming from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio’s mixed staff of 30-some undergraduate and graduate writing consultants (tutors, instructors) and their equally mixed clients, writers seeking out the opportunity to talk over everything from their first college essays to their dissertations. Invariably, at some point throughout my day, one of those conversations will pull me out of my office and into its orbit. While conversation is one of my favorite metaphors for the work of academia and scholarship, more broadly, I love that I work in (more…)
By Chris Earle, Kevin Mullen, Rebecca Couch Steffy, and Nancy Linh Karls
Chris Earle is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, where he also serves as the Assistant Director of the Writing Center. Kevin Mullen completed his doctorate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and currently teaches writing with the UW Odyssey Project. Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and has been a Writing Center instructor since 2011. Nancy Linh Karls is a member of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s permanent staff and its Science Writing Specialist; she also coordinates the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. Together, Chris, Kevin, Rebecca, and Nancy have co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps several times, including the most recent camp in January 2015.
During the first week of the new year, and one of the coldest weeks of this winter so far, 19 graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison huddled together on the upper floors of the Helen C. White building around a common purpose—to escape both the isolation and the constant distractions that come with writing a dissertation so that they could dedicate an entire week to making significant progress on their work. By moving the solitary act of writing into a space shared by other people going through the same process, these students began to bond and find inspiration through their shared goals and the collective sounds of fingertips striking keyboards.
By Greg Smith
Greg Smith, assistant dean emeritus, had been the director of the First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2002 until his recent retirement at the end of December 2014. Prior to coming to UW-Madison, his work at other institutions included being an assistant professor of English, a registrar, a TRIO program director, and a director of student services.
FIGs: UW-Madison’s Interdisciplinary Learning Communities
The idea of reforming education is a hot topic, and for the most part the public focus has largely been on K-12 classrooms. By now we are all familiar with phrases like “no child left behind,” “common core,” charter schools, teacher accountability, and achievement gap, just to name a few. However, many institutions of higher education have also been involved in creating exciting innovations that focus on improving teaching and learning environments. UW-Madison has long been a leader in reforming undergraduate education, with Alexander Meikeljohn’s Experimental College being a prime example. Its goal was to create a unique learning community that brought students and faculty together as they studies a core curriculum based on “the great books.” While Meikeljohn’s experiment was short-lived–it was established in 1927 and closed in 1932–some of the fundamental ideas behind it did not disappear but emerged many years later. (more…)
Rebecca Lorimer Leonard and her handsome cat, Jon Snow.
By Rebecca Lorimer Leonard
Rebecca Lorimer Leonard is an assistant professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a former UW-Madison Writing Center tutor and Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program. You can read about her work at http://blogs.umass.edu/rlorimer/.
In late November, CNN aired Ivory Tower, a feature-length documentary that asks if college is “worth it” given the rising costs of higher education in the U.S. The film, which premiered at Sundance, is an accounting of dated and disruptive trends in college financing, teaching, and managing. As do many books and documentaries that investigate crises in U.S. education, Ivory Tower uses several campus cases—Harvard, Spelman, Bunker Hill Community College, San Jose State, Deep Springs College, and Cooper Union—to fill out something like a higher ed. balance sheet, weighing “spiraling” costs against “entrenched” practices. (more…)
By Elisabeth Miller
Elisabeth Miller is currently serving as Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at UW-Madison. In this role, she’s had the wonderful opportunity to work with several TA Fellows to facilitate Comm-B training. She is also a PhD Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric.
Each semester during Welcome Week, the Writing Across the Curriculum program at UW-Madison runs a two-day training for new teaching assistants in Communication-B (Comm-B) courses. Comm-B courses are writing-intensive, exposing students to conventions of writing in disciplines from anthropology to biology to journalism to psychology. The training, with 70 TAs every fall and 40 every spring, is energetic and packed with advice preparing TAs to conference with student writers, run effective student peer review sessions, support students in developing strong thesis statements, and much more.
What makes our Comm-B training most effective, though, is not just the efforts of WAC director Brad Hughes and the TA Assistant Director of WAC (a role that transitions to new TAs every two years). Our interdisciplinary training greatly benefits from thoroughly cross-disciplinary expertise: specifically, the participation of TA Fellows, experienced Comm-B teaching assistants who design and facilitate breakout sessions and act as positive peer role models.
By Mackenzie McDermit and Kevin Mullen
Mackenzie McDermit is a recent alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she participated in the university’s Writing Fellows program. She spent a humbling and inspiring semester researching writing pedagogy in the Odyssey Project and has been hooked ever since. This is her first year as a tutor for the program.
Kevin Mullen recently completed his doctorate in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his time as a graduate student, Kevin was fortunate to work for several years with the Writing Center and the Writing Fellows program. He is currently applying all of the skills and insights he absorbed there to his current position as a Literacy Faculty Associate for the UW Odyssey Project.
Now in its twelfth year, the UW Odyssey Project is an intensive, two-semester humanities course that seeks to remove economic barriers to education for 30 adult learners a year by providing tuition, books, childcare, and dinner before class. While earning six credits from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Odyssey students explore a wide range of foundational thinkers in literature, history, music, art, and philosophy. As they discuss the ideas of Socrates and Frederick Douglass, analyze the poetry of Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson, engage with original historical documents like the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist essays, and read aloud scenes from Macbeth and A Raisin in the Sun, students gain skills in critical thinking, persuasive writing, and communication. Many students in this program are struggling with issues such as homelessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy and have been made to feel in the past that they are “not college material.” Under the direction of Prof. Emily Auerbach, who recently won a national award for her work, and a team of dedicated UW faculty members, over 300 students have graduated from the Odyssey Project and two-thirds have continued their education by taking more college courses. (more…)
The author, in a frivolous moment.
By Mike A. Shapiro
Mike worked as a tutor at the Writing Center at UW–Madison for five years, and as a coordinator for two. This fall, he is teaching first-year composition in the College of Engineering.
As Julia Dauer wrote earlier this fall, writing tutors often balance diverse instructional lives. But what happens when that balance is disrupted?
From January 2009–August 2014, I worked almost exclusively as a tutor. In those five years, I tutored thousands of students working on multiple thousands of drafts. The time I wasn’t working directly with students was spent supporting other tutors.
This fall, for the first time since 2004, I am not working as a tutor. Instead, I’m back in the classroom, teaching four sections of first-year composition. This shift leads me to a basic question: what skills, if any, transfer from tutoring to teaching? (more…)
By Chris Earle
Jackie Grutsch McKinney is an associate professor of English at Ball State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetoric and composition. Over the last eighteen years, she has worked at three different writing centers as a tutor, assistant director, and then as a director. Her book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, has been awarded the 2014 International Writing Centers Association’s Outstanding Book Award.
Chris Earle is the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is currently working on his dissertation in UW’s Composition and Rhetoric program. He would like to thank Professor McKinney for generously sharing her time to talk about her work.
Last October, Professor Jackie Grutsch McKinney joined the Madison Area Writing Area Colloquium to lead a lively discussion centering on her recently published book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers (2013 Utah State Press), which has since been awarded the 2014 IWCA Outstanding Book Award. The project, the talk, and Professor McKinney’s argument has stuck with me. On more than one occasion, I have been given pause as I find myself retelling, maybe too uncritically, what McKinney aptly names the Writing Center grand narrative. Demonstrating the persuasiveness of Mckinney’s account, in these moments I find myself asking—and not always answering—what work gets accomplished in this (re)telling and, more importantly, what aspects of our work it leaves out?
By Rachel Carrales
Rachel Carrales has worked in the writing center at UW-Madison since 2010. She is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, where she studies how middle-class mothers use their literacy practices to respond to the ideology of domesticity.
In addition to working as a tutor in the writing center at UW-Madison, I also teach a class on literacy practices and identity, an intermediate composition course that fulfills students’ comm B requirement. About a week before the start of the semester, Mary Fiorenza, the writing program administrator of English 201, handed out a list of lessons that Deborah Brandt, a literacy scholar and longtime teacher, had “learned the hard way.” One of the lessons she had learned was that it was important to “honestly confront the politics of language diversity,” a phrase which struck me as beautifully capturing what it is that I try to do with all of my students in the writing center, but a goal that I have in mind with my multilingual graduate students in particular. (more…)
Jessie Gurd is the 2014–2015 TA Coordinator for the Online Writing Center and a PhD student in Literary Studies; she has been an instructor at the Writing Center since the Fall of 2012. Jessie studies early modern English drama with a focus on ecocriticism and spatial theory. You can find her on Twitter @jesstype.
If the image above is any indication, I am definitely away right now.
It is midmorning here in Bermuda—still early back home in Wisconsin—and my “office” affords a view of the harbor and the hotel pool deck. We are just on the edge of Hamilton proper, so the noise of a small city occasionally leaks through the wind, birds, and tree frogs. For the past few days, I have woken, made a cup of tea, and come out on our little balcony with my laptop to work.
Technology makes it not only possible but fairly easy for me to keep up with my work as the Online Writing Center’s TA Coordinator from here. Even in Madison, my trips to campus are relatively infrequent, and I assess the queue of requests for email instruction much as I do here: with my first cup of tea. Being so very away right now and yet having much the same experience I do at home highlights the perspective my position affords. Even when I am on a laptop in the heart of the brick-and-mortar Writing Center on campus, I am working at a distance. (more…)