handbook: getting started

Getting Started

The information you need to hit the ground running.

Your Co-fellows

Checklist: The first time you meet the professor

  • Make a list of questions to raise at the meeting — both those on this list, and anything else you want to know.
  • Get a copy of the course syllabus.
  • Get copies of the writing assignments you’ll be fellowing. If the professor hasn’t yet written them, ask to have them e-mailed when they’re available.
  • Find out the due dates for both drafts and final papers.
  • Schedule any future meetings with the professor.
  • Set up a day in the first two weeks of the semester for you to meet the class.
  • Ask about the professor’s goals. What does he or she hope students will take away from the course?
  • Find out what kinds of students enroll in the course: What year(s) are they likely to be? How much writing experience are they likely to have?
  • Set up a system for the paper exchange.
  • Discuss a late draft policy: Will you accept them? How late? Does the professor want to know who turns in late drafts?
  • Discuss a missed-conference policy: What will the professor do to make sure students understand that conferences are required? Does the professor want to know who misses conferences?
  • If your schedule allows, ask if there’s a day that would be especially helpful for you to sit in on the class — say, the day that the professor explains the first writing assignment. Sitting in on class for a day is entirely optional: some Fellows do it; others don’t. But remember: even if you’ve attended class to get a better sense of the material, you should always refer content-based questions to the professor.

Most fellows work with one, two, or even three other fellows as part of a co-fellowing team, with each of you taking a fraction of the students enrolled in your assigned class. You will all report to the course professor. To streamline communication with both the professor and the Writing Fellows administration, you should elect one fellow at the orientation meeting (probably an experienced fellow, if there’s one in your team) to serve as the contact person for your group. The contact person will be responsible for relaying communication between the fellows and the course professor or administration and will make sure that you meet periodically throughout the semester in order to make sure you are all on the same page in terms of your policies (e.g., how lenient you will usually be about late drafts) and to standardize a cover sheet.

Meeting the Professor

You will be in frequent communication (both electronically and in-person) with the professor of the course you are fellowing, especially at the beginning and end of the semester, and throughout your students’ entire drafting process.

First meeting

Immediately after the orientation meeting, it is your responsibility to schedule a meeting with the professor of the course in which you are fellowing. Your contact person (see above) should organize a time that is convenient for the professor and all co-fellows to attend. This is a very important meeting for everyone involved: it gives you a chance to get acquainted, exchange logistical information, and begin learning about what the professor values in writing and how you can work effectively with the course.

This initial meeting is also a great time to be sure the professor clearly understands what Fellows do. Even though someone from the program has already met at least once with each new professor, you should be ready to explain your place in the students’ writing process and to remind the professor exactly what you do and don’t do as a Fellow. Listen carefully, take good notes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if the professor’s not being completely clear about something.

After this initial meeting, it’s important to remain in contact with your professor throughout the semester, in person or electronically, especially at the following times:

Before each paper is assigned

You will need to communicate with the professor about his or her expectations for each assignment. Before these discussions, be sure to spend some time reading and analyzing the assignment. Ask yourself what the purpose of the assignment is, what elements (i.e. thesis, analysis, summary) are required, and how the professor defines those elements. Look for important terms the professor uses in the assignment and consider whether those terms might have special meanings in the professor’s discipline. Think about what in the assignment might confuse you if you were a student in the class. Be sure to ask what the professor expects from written assignments: What is the goal of the paper? How does the professor define a good paper? Does the professor have copies of one or two successful student papers you can skim to get a clearer idea of what good means? Is there a particular form or structure the paper should follow? Is experimentation encouraged?

During commenting

Be sure to touch base with the professor while you are in the process of commenting on drafts. Prepare to talk about trends you are seeing in the drafts (e.g., no one seems to have a thesis; everyone’s struggling with the second half of the assignment; most people are making complex and interesting arguments, but lots of them are having a hard time getting their thoughts organized). Write comments on one or two drafts before the meeting and be prepared to share your comments with the professor and to discuss what was particularly difficult to comment on or that strikes you as very successful in those drafts. This meeting allows you and the professor to make sure you are on the same page and to adjust expectations or focus if necessary.

tip from a fellow:

“When meeting with the professor, it’s a good idea to mention general trends you see in student writing, especially content-related trends or the way students are responding to a prompt. My co-fellows and I once mentioned that our students were frequently referencing a particular passage from a novel in their literary analysis papers, only to find out from the professor that they had failed to address the deeper implications of the passage . . . something we never would have known, as none of us had read the novel!”

After papers are graded

Plan to exchange feedback with the professor after he or she finishes grading the papers: Did everyone come to the conferences? How did the students respond to your comments? What might you do differently on the next round of papers? What might the professor need to clarify or emphasize in class?

introducing yourself to the class

The purpose of meeting the class is to introduce yourselves and the program to the students you are fellowing and to exchange important information with them. You and your co-fellows will want to accomplish this in week 1 or 2, before the first set of papers are due.

It’s important to keep in mind that many students will have never heard of the Writing Fellows program. This first interaction will set the tone of future interactions during the semester, so it’s important to be informative, concise, and enthusiastic.

Tips for a successful class visit

  • Schedule your visit at the first meeting with your professor
  • Plan what you want to say ahead of time and bring note cards with you for reference
  • Divide the speaking duties with your co-fellows
  • Practice delivering your spiel
  • Arrive early to get your bearings and make last-minute adjustments
  • Have the professor introduce you to the class, remind students of program goals, and emphasize “rules” governing turning in drafts, etc.
  • Project your voice, your friendliness, and your authority
  • Keep an eye on the time, making sure to factor in the time it will take students to fill in note cards (see below)

What to say

  • Explain the program’s benefits
  • Emphasize the importance of coming to conferences
  • Tell them just a little bit about yourself and/or your goals as their Writing Fellow
  • If you already know which students you will be fellowing, let them know (i.e., if your last name starts with A-L, you’re with Kate; Ms-Zs, you’re with Mike)
  • Information to collect from your students

Fellows agree that having students write on a note card during the class visit is the most efficient way to collect important information. Note cards are simply 3×5 index cards that Emily has in great quantity in the Writing Fellows supply closet — just ask and she will give you a stack. Note cards are a great way to have your students’ details at your fingertips and begin to get to know the students as individuals. But what should you ask for?

Obvious things

  • Name
  • Email
  • Major (or area of interest)
  • Year in school
  • Any questions, comments or concerns they have

Less obvious things (choose one or two, and make sure they’re easy to answer quickly)

  • Why they’ve chosen to take the class
  • A good book/movie they’ve read/seen recently
  • An aspect of their writing that they’d like to explore, improve or discuss this semester
  • A weird fact about themselves (or any unusual thing they know)

tip from a fellow:

“We asked students to name their favorite book or author. Then in introductory emails, I often referred to their choice with a question or a comment. I also enjoyed seeing what everyone said! Even without a note card, you could ask the question in a group email.”

After meeting the class

As we all know, out of sight, out of mind. You will want to remind your students that you exist, and many Fellows have found that sending a follow-up email is a good way to re-connect with students and impart useful information. In your email, you may want to include the following:

  • A reiteration that you’re excited to work with them
  • Your contact information: full name, phone number (if you want), email
  • Instructions for turning in papers to you
  • The format you’d like their drafts to be in (double-spaced, if it’s OK for them to print on both sides of the page, etc.)
  • Details on where conferences will be held if you know, a little about what they can expect

Using Technology to Facilitate Peer Interaction

Ah, technology. What would we do without it? While it’s true that many aspects of the Writing Fellows Program work best in analog (i.e., reading and commenting on paper drafts, conferencing with students face-to-face, collecting and returning papers via the professor), judicious use of digital applications can streamline many of the administrative tasks you need to accomplish.

For instance, you can
Use email to

  • Tell your students a little about yourself at the beginning of the semester and convey your contact information (see “After meeting the class” above)
  • Remind students the day before their conferences
  • Have students email you their cover sheets if they don’t have time to print a hard copy when the draft is due (see appendix.)
  • Write to all of your students, explaining trends in the drafts (common problems and challenges or things people did particularly well)

Schedule conferences using online tools such as

  • docs.google.com
  • whenisgood.com
  • doodle.com
  • Utilize Learn@UW if your professor uses it to
  • Access course readings, the syllabus, etc. (your professor must give you access)
  • Have your contact information stored there so students can always find your details

Use Skype, iChat, or other video/IM platforms to

  • Conference with a student in an extraordinary situation (contagious illness, to make up a conference missed for an exceptional reason)
  • Follow up with specific students after conferences are over
  • Be “on-call” to answer last minute questions the night before the paper is due

Should I schedule conferences in class or over email/using Google Docs/with Doodle?

Traditionally, Fellows scheduled their student conferences by handing around a sign-up sheet in class, and a good many Fellows still use this time-tested approach. But with email, scheduling apps, and multi-author word processing tools like Google Docs becoming more popular and accessible, other Fellows have found e-scheduling fits the bill.

It should be said that there’s no one right way to schedule conferences, though it’s best if all co-fellows in a class agree on a single method to avoid confusion. Also, keep in mind that if you are not familiar with these applications, it’s fine to use lo-tech methods!

Several Fellows weighed in on this subject:

“GoogleDocs is a useful tool because it allows everyone the chance to have an electronic version of the sign-up sheet while minimizing time and confusion. GoogleDocs works best when a Fellow invites students to the document early, allowing time for students who don’t check their email regularly to edit the document. Remember to set the settings for the document to editable by anyone before sending students a link to the file. A couple of days before conferences begin, freeze the file by sending emails reminding students when they have signed up, in the process making sure everyone has made use of the electronic sign-up sheet.” “I schedule in class because I like to have a hard copy. I send out email reminders, though, about the times and keep open the empty slots in case someone needs to make up an appointment.”

“In my experience, scheduling via an online medium such as Google Docs or Doodle should only be used when there are circumstances that do not allow you to show up to class in person (i.e., if you have class during the allotted time or if classes are for one reason or another cancelled on the day you were going to circulate a sign-up list). While these tools are helpful in a crunch, re-introducing yourself to the class and having them sign up for a conference [on the spot] yields better results. Without your presence in the classroom, students sign up for conferences at their leisure or might avoid it altogether.”

“I had no problems scheduling over email. In class gets annoying because people usually end up emailing me anyway to change their mind once they think about their upcoming schedules, so doing it over email allows them that time.” “I’ve found that I’ve received quicker responses by using an in-class sign-up sheet to schedule conferences, though using Doodle has worked fine — just allow for a bigger time window to get everyone signed up and be sure to promptly follow up and remind students that haven’t signed up to do so.”

In the end, choose a method that works well for you and that you’re comfortable explaining to your students. If you’re torn, it never hurts to discuss this issue with Emily, your co-fellows, or the course professor, since he or she may have a preferred method.

If You Start Fellowing Right Away

In 316, you will be learning the ropes of being a Writing Fellow: how to comment on papers, respond to student writing, schedule and hold conferences. You’ll also learn tips and tricks from your classmates in every class. However, you don’t learn everything at once, and you may be one of a few fellows who must dive into fellowing very early in the semester. If that’s your situation, here’s how to be an instant fellow:

  • When you get your course assignment and meet your co-fellows, immediately determine your contact point person (perhaps an experienced fellow) so s/he can get the scheduling ball rolling with the professor
  • Schedule a meeting with your professor right away, and make sure that you’re clear on (and that you continue to be informed of) the professor’s goals for the first paper
  • As soon as you learn who your commenting mentor is, schedule a meeting with him/her and also let your mentor know that your first round of papers is due imminently
  • Use your resources! While your semester will unfold much more quickly than your fellow Fellows’, there are lots of people who want to help (and who can help):
    • Emily
    • Cydney
    • The Undergraduate Assistant Directors (Rachael and Kelly)
    • Your experienced co-fellows
    • Other people in your 316 class
    • Your commenting mentor
    • Sympathetic Writing Center TAs (make an appointment at the Writing Center and bring some writing such as comments or end notes, or even writing for another class. Observe how your TA conducts the session and maybe spend a few minutes talking about holding successful conferences. While the WC is always busy, it’s less busy early in the semester, making this a good option to get feedback on your comments and prepare yourself psychologically for holding conferences.)