Writing Group as Community: The Case of DePaul’s Writers Guild

 By Jen Finstrom and Matthew Fledderjohann

Jennifer Finstrom

Jennifer Finstrom is the Outreach Coordinator for the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL), a peer writing tutor, and a writing group facilitator. She is also an instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the Honors Program and a poet. 

Matthew Fledderjohann

Matthew Fledderjohann is a fourth year PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison currently working on a dissertation on how writers revise in response to experiences of radical dissonance. This is his third year with the Writing Center at UW-Madison. 

Jen Finstrom and Matthew Fledderjohann served together as graduate assistants and then professional staff at DePaul University’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) for four years. During that time, Jen began in her capacity as a facilitator for Writers Guild—the UCWbL’s creative writers’ writing group—and Matthew was a regular participant.

The following is a conversation between Jen and Matthew about Writers Guild, its unique qualities, and what its success suggests for writing centers’ facilitation of writing groups in general.

Matthew: Hi, Jen!

Jen: Hi, Matthew!

Matthew: Thanks for agreeing to engage in this reflective dialogue with me about Writers Guild! Writers Guild is a group that has been influential for both of us across the years, and I’m excited about this opportunity to share some of its vibrancy with the wider writing center community. To start things off, could you describe what Writers Guild is?

Continue reading

Writing with Evidence in the Age of Alternative Facts

By Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker has been a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2014, where she also served as the Coordinator of Writing Center Outreach during the 2016–17 school year. Leah is also PhD candidate in English Literary Studies.

Conversations about evidence in writing center pedagogy traditionally focus on the genre of the research paper, where evidence includes the ideas, data, and quotations located through research that must be incorporated effectively into the prose of the paper. However, if we think about evidence more broadly within writing center teaching, as any aspect of writing that claims the authority of truth or expertise in order to achieve the objectives of the written document, then nearly every conference presents an opportunity to talk about evidence. Traditional forms of evidence (such as facts, figures, and the citation of authoritative perspectives) turn up not only in thesis-driven research papers, but also in literature reviews, scientific reports, and resumes. Forms of anecdotal or narrative evidence are also deployed in application essays, cover letters, and personal reflections. Even choices made around primary sources in class assignments that specifically do not call for secondary research can be considered a practice of writing with evidence. Thinking about evidence in all of these modes means that nearly every writing center conference presents us with the opportunity to encourage our students to think critically about their sources and the assumptions that writers and readers make around evidence and truth. Continue reading

The Tutoring Corona: New Perspectives on Professional Development for Tutors

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is delighted to be starting his 34th year as director of the Writing Center and his 28th year as director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The staff of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison warmly welcomes you to our blog for a new academic year!

Brad, about 10 years ago.

As in many other parts of the US, on August 21st eclipse fever touched many of us here in Madison, Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, the eclipse was, alas, not total–just about 85%. Even though it was cloudy that day in Madison, I joined a number of colleagues who had spontaneously gathered at the peak, a little after 1:00 PM, outside our campus building (Helen C. White Hall, which houses the undergraduate library, a number of academic departments, and the Writing Center) to see what we could see without ruining our eyes. We shared a pair of eclipse glasses, which, to my amazement, allowed us to view the eclipse through the clouds. It was stunning—like a crescent sun, I thought. And I loved the fact that it was a communal experience—as we shared the glasses, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Continue reading

Honoring Tutor Excellence at UW-Madison’s Writing Center, Spring 2017

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is the Director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is the editor of Another Word, the UW-Madison Writing Center’s blog.

It’s graduation and award time, and the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is delighted to honor two of our wonderful tutor colleagues, who are the recipients of our first annual teaching awards for graduate teaching assistants on our Writing Center staff. Every semester there are between 45 and 50 doctoral-level teaching assistants on our staff, in addition to c. 50 undergraduate writing fellows. Through all of the Writing Center’s programs, each year we work with over 6000 undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the university and in the community through our Madison Writing Assistance Program.

We invited all of the teaching assistants who were on our staff in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 to nominate colleagues or themselves for these awards. All of the nominees were then invited to submit a 300-word statement reflecting on their Writing Center consulting and to include a summary of evaluations from their Writing Center students. The primary criterion for these awards is demonstrated excellence in individual consultations in the Writing Center, with both undergraduate and graduate-student writers. The selection committee read the nominees’ statements and evaluations from Writing Center students for evidence of–

  • dedication to students
  • success in tutoring
  • ability to work with writers in various disciplines and at different levels
  • evidence of student learning
  • innovation in tutoring
  • and reflective tutoring practice.

The selection committee (Nancy Linh Karls, Emily Hall, and Brad Hughes) then selected the recipients for our two awards. We had many very strong nominations and statements, and we honestly wish we had 20 awards to give! Continue reading

With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center

By Hyonbin Choi with Dipo Oyeleye, Zach Marshall, Calley Marrota, Leigh Elion, Minhee Kim, and Elisa Findlay

Hyonbin Choi

Hyonbin is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, writing her dissertation on modernist long poems. She has been a Writing Center instructor since 2013, and currently serves as a TA coordinator for the Writing Center. She also moonlights as a translator of children’s and YA literature.

Every semester, the UW-Madison Writing Center offers a series of on-going education (OGE) activities for continuing staff members, in addition to the 9 week proseminar for newly appointed graduate tutors. The OGEs help us further develop our Writing Center skills and practices, and think critically about our own teaching. The OGEs usually entail a four-hour time commitment spread over two or more meetings throughout the semester, involving reading, thinking, discussing and writing activities. During the Spring 2017 semester, we had 6 OGEs including “To Tutor is to Teach/To Teach is to Tutor: Intersections across Pedagogical Roles,” “Supporting Students of Color through Co-Curricular Campus Partnerships,” “Writing Center Instruction in ‘Post-Truth’ America,” “With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center,” “Yet Another Word: Writing a Blog Post for the Writing Center Blog,” and “What does a ‘Growth Mindset’ Have to Do with Our Work with Student-Writers?”

Among the six OGEs, I had the pleasure of planning and leading the OGE “With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center,” in which I wanted to think about diversity in the writing center from the instructor’s or administrator’s point of view. We often discuss diversity and inclusiveness in relation to students who visit the writing center, but diversity and multiplicity on the instructors’ side are also topics that should not be neglected. Multilingual and multicultural instructors often face skepticism and doubt, from both native and non-native English speakers. On the other hand, these instructors also have the resources and empathy to engage with students using another language or cultural perspective.

At the same time, I also wanted to think about issues of strategizing this diversity from the administrative point of view, and also how to address it in relation to our careers. How do we address the strengths and challenges of building a more diverse writing center from within? Another question raised by Elisa, one of our participants: How do we enact diversity without commodifying it? Continue reading

Searching for a Writing Center Assistant Coordinator: 1 Job, 2 Views, 8 Months

By Margaret Mika and Daniel Harrigan

Margaret Mika

Dan Harrigan

Margaret Mika has directed the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Writing Center since 1999 and  currently serves as Wisconsin’s Writing Center Consortium Coordinator. She is amused and shocked to note that her Center tenure spans two centuries. Her professional interests never fail to include tutor hiring and training processes, and writing center directors’ overlapping roles as teachers, administrators and employers.

Dan Harrigan is the Assistant Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Writing Center. He was a UW-Madison Writing Fellow before graduating in May 2016 with double majors in English and Journalism.


The end of the semester—and graduation—is in sight, which means job hunting and job hiring may lie directly ahead.  Some writing center directors may be re-filling an established professional assistant’s position or hiring a full-time assistant for the first time.  Meanwhile, experienced tutors may be eyeing job ads for full-time professional center administrators.

From our very diverse perspectives—director and job applicant/new hire—we reflect on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Writing Center’s recent search for an Assistant Coordinator (AC) and his first months on the job. In offering a view into the other’s world, we hope to lure readers into commenting about our experience and their own. Continue reading

Writing Center as a Storycenter : A “New” Metaphor for Tutors

By Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi, a Fulbright scholar from Nigeria, completed his Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Ogunfeyimi explores the place-based notion of ethos and focuses on how disenfranchised groups often invoke their cultural ethos to negotiate a hospitable ecology for their survival. While doing his doctorate in Wisconsin, Ogunfeyimi tutored at the writing center for five years, drawing on his research interest to create hospitable writing sessions for a diverse range of student-writers. Presently, he teaches writing courses and participates in a data-driven writing research project at the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

What If . . . ?

What if we also begin to think about the writing center as a storycenter, a place where student-writers come, meet, and share their stories? What if we begin to think about the work that we do in the writing center as storytelling, a way of encountering student-writers and their writings as repositories of stories? And if we must recast our writing center location as a storycenter, what might this “new” metaphor afford us, open up for us, and how might it shape how we see, engage, and interact with student-writers who frequent or visit the writing center?

Writers’ Stories in the Writing Center

Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

Not until I began to reflect on the role of storytelling in my writing class did I consider these questions while working with the student-writers at the writing center. But I had always engaged with these writers from this metaphorical lens. That is, I had paid attention to the stories that the writers brought to my writing sessions and shared about themselves and (through) their writing experiences. Some of these stories touched on their college transition experiences, commemorated their migration struggles, reminisced about their community advocacy, contested their racialized identities and bodies, narrated their escapes from war-torn nations, etc. Through these stories and their vast rhetorical purposes, I came to understand that my work in the writing center had always figured as a storytelling project, that is, as an opportune moment seized upon by the writers to share their writing and writerly experiences, and, more importantly, as a way of encountering the writers as storytellers.

When I met with these writers in the writing center, I always looked forward to the moments they would tell their stories. I anticipated these moments because their stories and the ways they crafted such stories often helped to repurpose, reorder, and reshape our writing sessions. And because these stories showed the writers’ ways of writing about and seeing their worlds, their stories also constituted the meaningful ways of ordering and talking through their writings. For instance, these writers invoked their stories to clarify the directions of their drafts, redirect the conversations for better understanding, and contextualize their writing purpose. Continue reading

Writing Doesn’t Need to Feel Like A Near-Death Experience

Edited by Annika Konrad with contributions by Emily Hall, Laura Strickland, Mike Passint, and Julia Boles

a headshot of a woman with blonde hair and white skin

Annika Konrad

Annika Konrad is a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I learned that writing doesn’t need to feel like a near-death experience. I’ve come to actually enjoy it more. By workshopping a vast diversity of papers, I’ve acquired new skills that help me better isolate issues within my own writing.”

This is a comment that a student left on their course evaluation for UW-Madison’s Spring 2016 Rose Pathways Writing Workshop (RPWW). RPWW (which has previously been written about on this blog here) is a one-credit peer-facilitated writing workshop hosted each spring in partnership between the UW-Madison Undergraduate Writing Fellows Program and Chadbourne Residential Co llege. UW-Madison’s Undergraduate Writing Fellows Program prepares selected undergraduates to serve as peer tutors in writing-intensive courses across disciplines, providing extensive written comments on drafts of student papers and holding individual conferences with those student writers. Chadbourne Residential College is a residential learning community on campus where the UW-Madison Writing Center has hosted a satellite location for individual consultations since it became a learning community in the 1990s. Continue reading

Special People, Inquire Within: Recruiting Season in the Writing Center

By Matthew Capdevielle

Matthew Capdevielle is the Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Notre Dame. He worked in the Writing Center at UW-Madison while pursuing his doctorate in English Composition and Rhetoric.

The author, feeling special at “Special Person Night” at his daughter’s school (Photo by Ms. Morgan, Rosie’s teacher)

Standing in front of the tutor photo board in the Writing Center, I marvel at the collage of faces, the collection of extraordinary—truly special—people we have working in the Writing Center at Notre Dame. Each and every one of these tutors has surprised me in the most wonderful ways with their insights, their humor, their true brilliance. And with each of these magnificent individuals, our relationship started with our very first conversation in an interview, a conversation that left me wanting to hear more.

Springtime is recruiting season in the Writing Center at the University of Notre Dame. This is the time when we begin to face the fact that several of these beloved veteran tutors will be graduating soon and heading on to other adventures. It’s a sad time, to be sure. There’s no getting around it—about a third

The ND Writing Center Tutors (including honorary WC Tutor St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers)

of our staff will say goodbye to us within a few weeks. And of course, they are wholly and entirely irreplaceable. And yet, as a director, I have to consider our resources, our scheduling demands for the next academic year.  So even as I stand looking at the photos of their faces, the thought creeps in, We’re going to have to hire at least 12 new tutors. Probably eight sophomores, two juniors, and one or two seniors.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this endeavor. I have these very same tutors to collaborate with in the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process, for in our Writing Center at Notre Dame this process is our largest-scale collaborative project. And in many ways, this is the most exciting work that we undertake together. The recruiting process presents us all with a unique occasion to reflect deeply upon our mission, on who we are, and who we want to be. Involving the current tutors in this process is not only an effective way of sifting through the hefty stack of applications or simply an efficient system of divvying up the workload of recruiting.  In my view, tutor involvement in the process is an essential component of our identity formation as a center. There is no better way of centering the Writing Center than to decide together who will join us next year. At our writing center, current tutors are deeply involved at every step in the process. Continue reading

Tending Other People’s Texts: Writing Center Tutoring and MFA Workshops

By Sarah Dimick

Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in literary studies at UW-Madison, and has taught at the Writing Center since 2013.  Before coming to Madison, she received an MFA in poetry from New York University.

Headshot of Sarah Dimick

Sarah Dimick

Last winter, during a late afternoon appointment, a graduate student in the history department asked me how he might make the final chapter of his dissertation more compelling.1  We’d already discussed what I think of as skeletal concerns: the order of his paragraphs, the clarity of his topic sentences.  We’d already examined his thesis and his conclusion for coherence.  I asked if he was concerned that the intellectual contribution of this chapter wasn’t sufficiently groundbreaking, that other scholars in his discipline might not feel he was making a substantial intervention.  “My argument’s brilliant,” he told me, “but this chapter is totally dry inside.  I want to write the kind of history that makes people turn pages, to write a story where the characters come alive.  How do you do that?”

A few weeks later, I met with an undergraduate student in an advanced physics course who was trying to condense the caption beneath one of the figures in her lab report.  “The challenge,” she explained, “is that I’m trying to say so much in so few words.  It’s like writing a haiku about a gravitational field.  Each word has to be so precise.”

And this past fall, a senior applying to medical school pulled three crumpled pages of paper out of her backpack.  She spread them on the table in front of us, each one containing a different opening paragraph to her personal statement.  “My academic advisor said the first paragraph needs to give the admissions committee a sense of my voice,” she said.  “But after writing all of these, I’m not sure any of them are me yet.  And I’m worried my voice isn’t the kind of voice med schools like anyway.  I guess what I’m saying is that I need to find a voice.  Really soon.  Before this is due on Tuesday.” Continue reading