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

A table filled with bookmaking supplies and coffee cups

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

View of the sky

Crossing the Barrier: Advocating for Students, Educating Faculty

By Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche

Alexandra Asche. Photo by Kari Adams.

Alexandra Asche is the Student Assistant Director at the Writing Center of the University of Minnesota, Morris, a public liberal arts college. She works with Director Tisha Turk, who served as a UW-Madison Writing Center instructor and Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program while earning her PhD. Alexandra has been a consultant in UMM’s Writing Center since 2014 and the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper since 2015. In her spare time, she studies English and Psychology.

When I first started planning this post, I intended to write about the UMM Writing Center’s formal outreach to faculty. However, as I looked through the previous posts on this blog, I found that others have already written about how to plan this sort of outreach. I also noticed, though, that I was in the peculiar position of being a student consultant and administrator attempting to educate professors who, to say the least, vary highly in their degrees of interest and investment in our small campus writing center.

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How We [Actually] Write: Neurodiversity, Writing Process, and Writing Instruction

Leah Pope

By Leah Pope

Leah Pope has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since fall of 2014. She is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies, writing a dissertation that explores representations of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Alexandra Gillespie opens her essay in How We Write: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blank Page by confessing that she only writes when she has to [1]. “Because reasons” (19). She writes this casually, as if she’s not breaking my mind by using Internet diction. But it’s not just her delightful, playful writing style — shared by many of the essays in this collection — that is revealing. Gillespie describes anxious and determined binge writing, fueled by deadlines ranging from a DPhil advisor’s note asking to have coffee — how terrifying! — to a paper promised to a friend/colleague for review. She describes writing 6,000 words in one day to meet a deadline — not drivel, mind you, but a conference paper and later the core of a book chapter. Continue reading

redwood trees

A Case for Compulsion? On Requiring Whole-Class Writing Center Visits

By Jessica Citti

Jessica Citti, Ph.D., has tutored in the writing centers at UW-Madison and the University of Iowa, where she also taught composition, rhetoric, and technical communication. She is now the Writing Skills Specialist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she provides one-on-one writing consultations for students and coordinates the HSU Writing Studio.

I remember learning the word “volition” in college. A friend used it over the phone (a phone with a cord, attached to a wall) and I was impressed. Volition. A word from the medieval Latin: volō, I wish, I will.

Jessica Citti

Jessica Citti

Later, after tutoring in writing centers at large public universities in the midwest, I came to think of this word in relation to writing center visits. While an occasional referral might be appropriate, students should come of their own volition. Stephen North sums up the problem with mandatory visits in “The Idea of a Writing Center,” suggesting that such requirements—while well-intentioned—don’t carry lasting impact: “Occasionally we manage to convert such writers from people who have to see us to people who want to, but most often they either come as if for a kind of detention, or they drift away” (440). Continue reading

Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.

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Taking the Pot off the Stove: Teaching Students to Stop Writing Well

By Rob McAlear

Rob McAlear is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Tulsa, where he also directs the Writing Program. He is a former Assistant Director of the Writing Resource Center at Case Western Reserve University and UW-Madison Writing Center consultant.

“The aspects of things which are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something –because it is always before one’s eyes.)” -Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

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Pond's Edge in Summer

Reflecting on Processes: Building and Tutoring

KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia working with students.  A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication

KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia works with students when she’s not wielding a hammer. A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication

By KimMarie Cole, State University of New York at Fredonia

My thanks to Brad Hughes for the invitation and opportunity to share these ideas with you and to my colleague Heather McEntarfer  who provided helpful comments and insights on early drafts of this post.

My family and I are building a house.  For more than 2 years, it’s been at various times our hobby, our passion, our albatross, our marathon.  The house sits a quarter mile off the nearest road at the end of a dirt driveway that may prove our undoing in winter.

Digging the Pond

Digging the Pond

A few weeks after we closed on the property, excited and eager about the possibilities and ridiculously naive about all things construction and rural, our neighbor came back and offered the insight that we needed a pond.  We nodded. Seemed like a good long-term project.  Two days later we arrived to find him and his tractor excavating, digging the pond.

Our initial gratitude and befuddlement in equal measure have faded as work on the house progresses.  We were glad to get the pond, yet it felt weird not to have any say in its location or its timing.  Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pond wasn’t there, first a big dirt hole and now full of water and frogs who croak loudly when it’s about to rain and in the evenings as we try to finish one more task.   Certainly, though, as the photo record shows, it has changed a lot in the past two years. Continue reading

Two Heads Are Better: An Experiment in Paired Skype Tutoring

Picture of the author

Picture of the author in Madison, WI.

By Leah Misemer

Leah Misemer is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she has been working as a Writing Center instructor for three years.  She served as the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison for the 2013-14 school year.

Usually, we think of a writing center appointment as a collaboration between two people, the tutor and the student.  If there are more than two people in an appointment, we frequently assume that there are more students working with a single tutor.  In the Spring of 2014, my Skype team, in a professional development activity modeled after a previous in-person paired tutoring experiment, discovered that there are many benefits to sharing the task of instruction, both for instructors and writers. Jessie Gurd and I had complementary skills and working together showed us not only the gaps in our knowledge, but also offered strategies to help us fill those gaps.

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Instruction Beyond the Assignment: Working with Learners of English

By Rubén Casas

Rubén Casas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English Department’s Program in Composition and Rhetoric. In addition to his Writing Center teaching, he teaches for the English 201 Program.

Two weeks into the spring 2014 semester I worked with a student in the Main Center who, upon asking her what she was working on, identified herself as a foreign student and asked, quite directly, “How do you write in the U.S.?” She explained that she knew what writing was “supposed to do” in Korea, “but not here, in America.” This must have been one of the clearest questions I’ve gotten as a Writing Center instructor, but it also caught me off-guard. Most students come to the Writing Center to get help with some specific element of their writing—often they talk about “flow,” or “development,” or “cites,” terms that somewhere along the way they’ve learned to use in relation to writing, and that I take for granted as evidence of their knowledge of the writing process and their own issues with writing—but it this actually the case? Continue reading