By Elisabeth Miller and Stephanie White
Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)
On a Sunday morning in February, five students brave the icy winds howling off Lake Mendota, knock the snow and slush off their boots, and straggle into the student union toward a table near the windows looking over a snowy Memorial Union Terrace. That night, another five students wrap up their weekends by braving the same wind and snow to gather in a Starbucks near campus. And throughout the week, two other groups meet on campus, taking time from the busy schedules to gather with groups of their peers to work together on their writing. The students talk about their weeks and laugh about Facebook status updates before getting down to business, and throughout their meetings, the students’ warmth towards each other is as palpable as the snow outside. Indeed, these are no one-off study groups cramming for an impending midterm. These are groups of undergraduate honors senior-thesis writers meeting to encourage, support, productively challenge, and reinforce each other’s work as they work on projects that include discussing the idea of modernity in sculpture, analyzing data from a sleep lab dealing with parasomnia, studying rock formations in New Zealand, examining the archives of Asian-American publications on our campus, and much more.
Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison writing her dissertation on how serial comics form communities of authors and readers. She has worked at the Writing Center since Fall of 2011 and in email instruction for two semesters.
Whenever a writing center instructor and a writer sit down for a session, a negotiation of power takes place. Sometimes, the writer begins by seeing the instructor as a storehouse of information, and thus, believes the instructor is in charge of the session. One of the important things to me as an instructor is to help the student gain confidence in his or her own writing skills, so that I become just a partner in the writing process, helping along the way. For a long time, I struggled with how to create and maintain this partner relationship when a student asked for proofreading or grammar instruction. This is the story of that exploration, which ends with my current approach to addressing grammatical concerns in email instruction. I would love to hear in the comments about other instructors’ experiences with grammar instruction and the negotiation of power in tutorials where you have discussed grammar.
Nancy Reddy is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include composition pedagogy, literacy studies, and extracurricular writing groups. This is her first year with the UW-Madison Writing Center.
In one of my first shifts as a new writing instructor tutor this past fall, I found myself sitting across from a pair of graduate students from UW’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. As Suzanne and Caitlin described their research – a two-year, multi-site, multi-state study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control, concerning public health initiatives ranging from tobacco cessation to obesity prevention – I had two conflicting reactions: awe at the incredible amount of expertise they brought to bear on their topic, and a creeping anxiety about what I could contribute to their work.
Rachel Herzl-Betz is a PhD student in Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pursuing a minor in Rhetoric and Composition. Her research focuses on intersections between nineteenth-century British literature, rhetoric, and disability studies. This is her first year with the UW-Madison Writing Center.
I have a thing for personal statements. I realize that I’m unique in my appreciation for 500-1000 word essays required for graduate school, professional school, and most other “school” applications. The personal statement, otherwise known as the statement of purpose, has long been a sticking point for students who know what they want to do next, but not how to express their desire in two pages or less.
“Flexibility.” Photo by Jakob Breivik Grimstveit (Creative Commons License).
By Brad Hughes, Director of the Writing Center and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
At many universities, writing centers have now earned significant respect for the work they do with student-writers. Within that respect, though, almost never do I hear writing centers valued for what I like to call their flex appeal: for the flexible ways in which they meet not just the needs of student-writers who have drafts in hand, but the needs of faculty and of curricula and of institutions and of student groups and of campus communities and of the communities around and beyond a university. It’s important to note that these fascinating needs and opportunities often surface a week or a month into the semester, so they require a flexible organization–one with talented staff whose time is not already entirely consumed–to respond. Continue reading
By Andrew Kay. Andrew Kay is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is at work on a dissertation about Romantic and Victorian poetry. He has worked at the Writing Center since Fall 2009.
Toward the end of his life, Robert Frost wrote a wonderfully mysterious poem called “Directive.” In it the speaker coaxes you to accompany him to a simple, primordial time and place removed from the clamor and chaos of modern urban life–a space of renewal and wisdom, a sanctuary. To arrive at this fantastical, trippy no-place, you have to get lost first; and, “if you’re lost enough to find yourself,” you’ll make your way, in time, to a special goblet lodged in the inside of a tree-trunk, a grail-like chalice that, when drunk from, will make you “whole again beyond confusion.” Never mind that the goblet comes from a make-believe dinner-set belonging to children long-since dead; just drink deeply from it, and don’t ask questions.
By John Bradley. John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before joining Vanderbilt’s faculty this fall, John was the 2011-2012 Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center, having also worked as a tutor there for many years as he finished his degree in Literary Studies in the UW-Madison English Department.
Today Nashville, Tennessee, is known the world over as Music City, USA. However, long before it was the cradle of country twang, Nashville had another moniker. The local cluster of colleges and universities led some to dub Nashville “The Athens of the South,” a reputation that sprang up far back enough to influence the city’s decision in 1897 to build a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon. For the moment I’m withholding judgment on its Athenian nature as I slowly learn more about this town better known for its honky tonk, but across the street from Centennial Park, where you can still visit the reproduction of the Parthenon complete with its 42-foot statue of Athena, you’ll find Vanderbilt University, which I am lucky enough to call my new academic home. It’s here as Assistant Director of Vanderbilt’s Writing Studio that I’m contributing to a vibrant campus community and applying so much of what I learned 595 miles away (but who’s counting?) in UW-Madison Writing Center on the 6th floor of Helen C. White Hall. Continue reading
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.
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