Teaching in an Emergency: Writing Centers, Wildfires, and What We Take With Us

Leigh Elion has been a lecturer in the Writing Program at UC-Santa Barbara since Fall 2017. Before then, she was a doctoral student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison and worked in the Writing Center from 2010-17, where she served as TA Coordinator, Coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives, Summer Outreach Coordinator, and Director of the Summer Writing Center.

This blog post was supposed to be published on December 11, 2017. Having just received my PhD from UW-Madison and moved on to my first full-time academic appointment, I’d planned to use this space to reflect on all of the Writing Center teaching I’d done at UW, remember the hundreds of students I’d worked with across various locations and formats, and give them credit for preparing me to work and teach in a new institution and to participate more fully in my new community. I’d planned to consider how working with writers in disciplines from Mechanical Engineering to Pharmacy to Sociology to Theater had given me the opportunity to learn about fields I would have never otherwise had a chance to encounter during my time as a graduate student, and to argue that writing center work helps to achieve all sorts of goals of a liberal education. We talk often about teaching transfer in the Writing Center, about how to help students develop rhetorical skills and efficacy to work across new situations, but less often about teaching transfer – about how teaching skills and knowledge gained in one setting prepare us for new and different settings.

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Cultivating a Growth Mindset: Changing Students’ Beliefs About Learning

by Rick Ness

Rick is the TA Co-coordinator of the Writing Center at UW-Madison and a PhD Candidate in the Literary Studies program.

I’ll start this essay with some “fun” facts: Charles Darwin was an ordinary student whose father told him he wouldn’t amount to anything; John Stuart Mill was thought by his father to be of mediocre intelligence; Tolstoy was considered very dull, William James unexceptional. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team (Dweck 38). You get the point: these “mediocre” talents all turned out to be geniuses in their field. And we celebrate them for their genius. But we don’t really celebrate them for their hard work. Why? I suppose because genius is sexy and hard work isn’t sexy. Of course, we respect hard work, but we don’t glorify it. We value talent, brilliance, and genius more—whatever those terms mean. We even have a pejorative term for hard working students who achieve success through hard work rather than natural intelligence: we call them grinds.

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Unexpected Power Boost: Persona 5 & Writing Center Tutoring

By Niccole Carner

Niccole holds a Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Run-of-the-mill Writing Center shift selfie (mostly to document my plaid-on-plaid ensemble).

When I began working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center this past fall (2017), I was in the midst of my first play-through of Persona 5, a Japanese role-playing game developed by Atlus Games for the PlayStation 4. My approach to the first weeks of teaching was subtly and inadvertently influenced by the mechanics of this game, which were constantly on my mind. The phenomenon was not new to me, in fact, I had been in this state of video game hyper-association before when revising my dissertation. I knew a few things for certain: 1) I would lose a lot of sleep prioritizing finishing the game as soon as possible, and 2) I would learn a lot from this game, and the (borderline) obsession would shape my approach to teaching and writing. [[Want to read more about framing academic work in terms of nerdy games? Check out this great article on grad school and D&D.]] Continue reading

Toward a Writer Future: New Writing Fellows Leading Campus Collaboration

By Ishita Aghi and Erika Gallagher

Ishita and Erika are undergraduate assistant directors in the UW-Madison Writing Fellows Program for 2017-18.

At UW-Madison, the Undergraduate Writing Fellows program is composed of 50 students who assist other undergraduates with academic writing in courses across the College of Letters & Science. Fellows are undergraduate tutors from a variety of disciplines who possess a passion for helping others. They undergo extensive training and ongoing education, complete their own original research, and work directly with professors to help their students become better writers.

As Undergraduate Directors for the Writing Fellows program, we have experienced the joys of learning and collaborating as new Writing Fellows. All new Writing Fellows complete a writing-intensive training course, English 403: Tutoring Writing Across the Curriculum, in which they read extensively from the field of writing studies, participate in lively discussions, and conduct original research about writing and/or tutoring writing. In addition, during their first semester in the Program, they begin the work of a Writing Fellow, assisting 8-15 students with drafts of two different papers over the course of the semester. They do all of this while being full-time students themselves. Serving as a Writing Fellow can be challenging: Fellows must manage a hectic schedule of commenting and holding individual conferences with students and communicating regularly with course professors. Continue reading

Chasing after an Emerging Genre: Creating a Writing Center Workshop on Diversity Statements

by Antonio A. Byrd

Antonio is a PhD Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric and currently serves as the 2017-2018 Writing Center Assistant Director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As this academic year’s assistant director for the UW-Madison Writing Center, I teach a few sections out of more than 70 sections of free non-credit workshops in academic writing for undergraduate and graduate students. The Writing Center has offered these workshops since its inception in 1969, and I’m proud to have contributed to this stellar history by creating a new workshop this year simply called “Writing Diversity Statements for the Academic Job Market.” More and more universities are asking for diversity statements to hire academic staff who are willing to contribute to universities’ commitment to equality, equity, and inclusiveness. Many UW-Madison graduate students themselves have encountered prompts asking for such statements.

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Writing Center Outreach and Leading from the Middle

By Angela J. Zito

Angela is a PhD Candidate in English and currently serves as the Writing Center Outreach Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Last week, the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network held its annual conference in Montreal, Quebec, where the keynote speaker Randy Bass called upon all of us in attendance (and the programs and institutions we represented) to help steer higher education in the direction of increasingly inclusive and integrated learning by “leading from the middle.”

the author, Angela

It (leading from the middle) is a different kind of narrative for how the academic community can effectively re-situate students and their education at the center of a university’s mission—a narrative that doesn’t rely solely on classroom-level innovation (which is limited in scope and access) nor on institution-wide structural change (which is slow-moving), but rather pulls these forces together in collaborative action through the scholarship of teaching and learning and the experimental redesign of program-level instruction and assessment.

I am not a faculty developer or instructional designer, like most of the folks attending the POD Conference—I’m the current graduate Outreach Coordinator at the UW-Madison Writing Center. But leading from the middle, I realized as I listened to Bass’s address, is precisely what our Outreach and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs strive to do—and to do better—every semester at our university. Continue reading

Increasing Intercultural Competence through Consultant Education

By Christa Tiernan and Kelly Wenig

Christa Tiernan has directed the Writing and Media Center at Iowa State University since June 2015. Before then, she worked at the writing centers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (2013-2015), the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007-2013), and the University of Virginia (2004-2006). Christa holds a PhD in English: Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2014), an MA in English Literature from the University of Virginia (2006), and a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of California, San Diego (2003).

Kelly Wenig has served as the Intercultural Learning Specialist at the Writing and Media Center at Iowa State University since May 2017. In 2016-2017, he served as the center’s research assistant. Kelly holds a PhD in History from Iowa State University (2017), an MA in History from the University of Cincinnati (2008), and a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (2006).

Christa Tiernan. Image courtesy of Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University.

Kelly Wenig. Image courtesy of Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University.








The recent upsurge in international student enrollment in American public research universities has prompted us to think about the adaptability of writing centers during periods of changing university demographics. How do writing centers respond to enrollment trends?

Let there be no mistake: the demographics of American public research universities are changing. As state appropriations for these institutions are being reduced further and further, international students are being recruited in larger and larger numbers, their tuition being perceived as a partial solution to shortfalls in funding (Redden). Since 2011-2012, the United States has witnessed a sharp increase in international student enrollment. According to the Institute of International Education, in 2014-2015, international student enrollment in American institutions of higher education increased 10%, and in 2015-2016, there were over one million international students in the United States. Continue reading

LeMahieu elicits student skepticism.

Blame the Writing Center

By Michael LeMahieu

Professor Michael LeMahieu, Clemson University

Michael LeMahieu is Associate Professor of English at Clemson University and coeditor of the journal Contemporary Literature. He is the author of Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975 (Oxford UP, 2013) and coeditor of Wittgenstein and Modernism (U of Chicago P, 2017).

In the summer of 2011, I found myself in an unexpected position. I had just accepted an offer from the college dean to serve as Director of the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. This, some of my most trusted colleagues told me, was a mistake. Professional communication wasn’t my field. I still hadn’t finished my first book. The tenure clock was ticking. My kids were three and five.

So why did I do it? I blame the UW-Madison Writing Center. And that mistake forms part of a longstanding pattern of my experience in the Writing Center unexpectedly influencing my decisions.

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Let’s Chat: Considering “Friendly Talk” in the Writing Center

By Tori Thompson Peters

Tori has long brown hair, is wearing tortoise-shell glasses, a black shirt, and is smiling

Tori Thompson Peters

Tori is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison where she works in the Writing Center. 

Last year, I had several appointments with an advanced writer named Linda Park who was working on an article for publication about language and cultural barriers in our healthcare system. As we were discussing the project, Linda explained to me that even though she was studying communication between doctors and patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), the language barrier didn’t appear to be the primary problem in these scenarios. Rather, it was an issue with cultural literacy, or doctors in the U.S. being unfamiliar with different expectations for communication.

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Writing the Body: Writing Centers and Pronouns

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison. He works at the UW-Madison Writing Center and teaches English 201.

Neil Simpkins

During my sophomore year of college, I was starting my gender transition, coming out to my friends and family about my disability, and taking a class about disability studies and personal memoir. In that class, we read Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Too Late to Die Young, and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s Willow Weep for Me (among others), and I drank it all in. I had already started reading every book I could get my hands on to help me understand what I was going through, to help me put to words knowledges about myself that I’d never been able to articulate. I wasn’t ready to come out as trans or to switch pronouns–it was way too early for that. I was simply seeking the words that would help me move through my feelings. Continue reading