Reading Out Loud in the Writing Center: Reflections and Questions

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is the current TA Assistant Director at the UW-Madison Writing Center. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He is in the Composition and Rhetoric Ph.D. program at UW-Madison.

picture of neil staring at the camera wearing glasses

Neil Simpkins

Prior to attending UW-Madison, I tutored at the Agnes Scott College Center for Writing and Speaking. At Agnes, tutors generally read and annotated drafts of the paper quietly while the student read to herself, got a cup of tea, or relaxed in the center. When I moved to UW-Madison, one of the biggest changes in practice that I adapted to was asking students to read drafts out loud. It felt like such a big question to ask, especially for students new to the Writing Center! As a practice I had never used, having the student read aloud also felt strange to me. But reading aloud also externalized the piece, gave the writer a fresh perspective, and fit well with the constraints of our business-like space of separated cubicles. Ever since that shift I have had a lot of questions about this practice. How does reading out loud—or not reading out loud—shape the space of the writing center, student experiences of tutorials, and the learning that happens in our sessions? Continue reading

Expanding our Repertoire of Responses: CARM in Tutor Education

By Mike Haen

Mike Haen is a first-year tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center and a second-year PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric. He teaches English 100 and has worked as a writing center tutor at UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

Five years ago, I was an undergraduate tutor-in-training at Marquette University. All prospective tutors at the Ott Memorial Writing Center are required to complete a semester-long training course, in which undergraduates familiarize themselves with writing center pedagogy and reflect on their writing processes. For me, the most memorable moments in that class required us to attend closely to tutoring interactions. We did this by (1) observing experienced tutors in sessions, (2) role-playing imagined interactions with classmates, and (3) transcribing a few minutes of tutoring talk.

Continue reading

A Peace Corps-Writing Center Partnership at UW-Madison

By Micah Kloppenburg

Micah Kloppenburg

Micah Kloppenburg

Micah Kloppenburg is a graduate student in Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was the university’s campus recruiter for the Peace Corps in 2015-16.

From 2009 to 2011, I served as a Peace Corps Agriculture Volunteer in northern Nicaragua. I lived in a small, idyllic village of 100 farming families at the foot of the climbing cerros called El Carbón. Here, I learned about and worked in the field of community food security. I thought everything I had done to become an aware, educated, and experienced individual had prepared me for this work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The following two years of service and their challenges and tribulations helped me understand the gap between individual preparation and what community work truly requires. My friends, my host-family–our community–helped me understand an important life-lesson in community work; that hubris is an individual quality best transformed into humility with learning and laughter. Though seemingly simple, this is a lesson that I believe is a critical step to becoming an engaged global citizen. And, as the UW-Madison Campus Peace Corps Recruiter in 2015, this was the underlying lesson I shared with students through stories, workshops, and presentations on what it means to grow from student to global citizen as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Continue reading

Shelter Stories: Homelessness, Human Rights, and Community Writing Centers

By John Tiedemann

John Tiedemann is a Teaching Associate Professor at the University of Denver, where he teaches in the University Writing Program and directs the Social Justice Living & Learning Community. He is a cofounder of the DU Community Writing Center, located in the Saint Francis Center and The Gathering Place, two daytime shelters for the homeless in downtown Denver. Before coming to Denver, John taught in the UW-Madison Writing Center and served as the Assistant Director of the Writing Fellows Program.

Stories without Homes

“Are you writing the real story here?” the man at the door asked.

Traveling home.

A homeless man in Denver seeks help returning to Texas for Thanksgiving. (Photo by John Tiedemann.)

I didn’t realize at first that the question was addressed to me. I was sitting at a little plastic folding table at the entrance to the Saint Francis Center, Denver’s largest daytime homeless shelter, where each Monday and Friday the DU Community Writing Center sets up shop. Beside me sat a woman writing a letter of apology to a staff member at another shelter, a condition of her readmittance after having shouted at him the week before. Behind us sat another woman, not writing but resting, after I’d helped her apply Bactine and a Band-Aid to the cut she suffered when she fell down outside the shelter doors. Across the table sat Mairead, a graduate teaching assistant who’d started working at the Community Writing Center just that day; she listened intently as John, a homeless Navy veteran and one of our regulars, outlined the chapters of a book he’d been working on all year. Nearby stood another fellow, who intervened intermittently to explain that he was the true author of the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

And so, preoccupied as I was with the several simultaneous conversations at our table, and surrounded by the ambient noise of the shelter, where a hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred people filled a space of about a thousand square feet, talking in groups around long tables or sitting alone in scattered chairs, I didn’t realize that the man at the door was addressing me until he repeated his question:

“I said, are you writing the real story here?”

Continue reading

Tutor Session Reports—Narratives We Build Together

By Angela J. Zito

Angela Zito has worked as a tutor with the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2013 and currently serves as a Co-Coordinator for the Center. She is a PhD candidate in English Literary Studies.

Angela, the author

The author, Angela.

This past summer, I had the good fortune to step from the familiar position of tutoring at the UW-Madison Writing Center into two roles new to me: administration as co-coordinator at the Writing Center, and instruction with Madison Writing Assistance (MWA), our center’s community-based arm. While each of these positions has me thinking about the work of the Writing Center, its tutors, and its writers in many new ways, I’ve found myself thinking quite a bit about the documentation for all these MWA and writing center tutoring sessions—that is, their records. Continue reading

Our Blog Receives the John Lovas Award from Kairos!

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is director of the Writing Center and 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.

Two of the nominators--Professor Kate Vieira (left), University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Professor Annette Vee, University of Pittsburgh.

Two of the nominators–Professor Kate Vieira (left), University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Professor Annette Vee, University of Pittsburgh.

In May of 2016, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center staff was thrilled to learn that our blog, Another Word, which you’re reading now, received the 2016 John Lovas Award, a major national award. This award honors the best use of blogs and other open-publishing tools of the Internet for knowledge-creation and community-building in rhetoric and composition. The award is given each year by the journal Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, which is the longest running e-journal in rhetoric and composition and one of the top journals in digital rhetoric.

The UW-Madison Writing Center’s blog, which began in 2009, features weekly posts about writing center theory, research, and practice, collaboratively written by current members of the Writing Center’s staff, including undergraduate and graduate students, and by alumni and friends of the Writing Center. In a typical month, the blog draws over 58,000 page views from around the world. The nomination for this award came from 39 PhD alumni from our department (led by Annette Vee, who is on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh) and by other friends of our blog from around the country.

At the risk of seeming self-congratulatory, we thought our blog readers might enjoy reading the letter nominating our blog for this prestigious award. We also thought this would give us a chance to thank Kairos, our nominators, Rik Hunter who played a key role in designing and launching our blog in 2009, and the many, many authors and commenters who have contributed to our blog over the past seven years. Thank you all! Continue reading

Play and the Writing Center—From Kindergarten to College

By Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

bio-photoErica Kanesaka Kalnay has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2015. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian literature, children’s literature, and literature and psychology. A former early childhood teacher, she studies intersections between reading and play.

When I taught kindergarten in an urban public school in Milwaukee, my “writing center” was a real plastic mailbox I purchased at the hardware store. The mailbox was satisfyingly large and had a bright red flag that the children could flip up and down to announce the arrival of the mail. When I called center time, the children at the writing center would move the mailbox to a table and reach deep inside it to unearth its contents: pencils, papers, envelopes, child-sized clipboards, stickers, and other surprises. Continue reading

Disrupting the “Grand Narrative”: Outreach Instruction and Writing Center Pedagogy

By Stephanie Larson

Stephanie Larson is beginning her third year as a Writing Center tutor at UW-Madison, where she has served as a member of the Writing Center Outreach team since fall 2015 and as the co-coordinator for Outreach during summer 2016. She is also the senior assistant director of the English 100 program and a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. 


The author, Stephanie.

In Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, Jackie Grutsch McKinney makes the argument that writing centers operate under a “grand narrative” that narrowly equates writing center work solely to one-to-one tutoring. “[W]riting center work,” writes Grutsch McKinney, “we’re told, is about tutoring students—and a particular breed of tutoring that takes place in one-to-one sessions of a designated length and of a particular pedagogy that is more about conversations than answers” (58). In particular, outreach instruction demonstrates a useful case study of pedagogy operating outside of the center that doesn’t cleanly fit into the grand narrative Grutsch McKinney sketches. In this shift to outreach instruction, not only does the narrative of one-to-one tutoring dispel, answers and conversations play a different role than they do in tutoring sessions. That is, outreach instructors must cultivate flexibility in our conversations because instructors outside the center seeking our help are looking for answers—answers about teaching writing that will help their students demonstrate success in their own courses. In an interview with former UW-Madison Writing Center instructor Chris Earle, Grutsch McKinney hopefully suggests that it might be possible to hold this “grand narrative” at “an arm’s length,” and in this blog post, I outline how writing center pedagogy changes in the context screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-9-59-17-amof outreach instruction. Outreach instructors must adapt, adjust, and alter their approaches based on the rhetorical situation of the moment to meet the needs of instructors and their students.

First, a bit of background about outreach at UW-Madison: The outreach team at UW-Madison is currently coordinated by one lead TA and staffed by eight writing center tutors who, much like the work of a WAC coordinator, also provide writing instruction and consultation to faculty, TAs, and instructional staff primarily part of the UW-Madison community but also to those outside of the university. The UW-Madison Writing Center offers a range of outreach services from brief introductions to the writing center, to co-teaches on brief units of writing, to stand-alone instruction on writing, to even new student orientations, and more. My outreach experiences have introduced me to a wide variety of students writing in diverse genres—from high school students at the Middleton Public Library seeking strategies for writing strong personal statements for college application essays, to international and U.S. undergraduate students studying through the UW-Madison Integrated Biological Sciences-Summer Research Program pursuing design approaches to poster presentations, to even aspiring writing center tutors from Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee, WI wanting tools for effective pedagogy. Among many others, these experiences continue to stretch what I think writing center pedagogy looks like. Continue reading

Two More Cultures: Or, Fostering a Writing Culture at a STEM University

By Shaundrea Hirengen and Christopher J. Syrnyk

Shaundrea Hirengen, an alumna of the George Fox University Writing Center, is starting her second year as the coordinator of Oregon Tech’s Peer Consulting Center. Christopher Syrnyk, a UW-Madison Writing Center alum, is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition and director of the University Honors Program at Oregon Tech.

Christopher sporting vintage Wisconsin fan hat (photo by the author).

Christopher sporting vintage Wisconsin fan hat (photo by the author).

Shaundrea and her dog Sampson (photo by author).

Shaundrea and her dog Sampson (photo by author).

Shaundrea and I sat down to talk before the start of Fall term (Oregon Tech is on a quarter system, and the academic year starts at the end of September) about how we can do more to foster writing culture, through good writing center practices at our Peer Consulting Center, and how, in doing so, we can connect our campus. By “writing culture” we had in mind all the ways to use writing to refocus student work, to help students process an idea, and even how to refine and revise an orientation to thinking about a product they are diligently working to figure out or produce. About our Peer Consulting Center, Shaundrea has this to say: “The Peer Consulting Center at Oregon Tech is unique for a number of reasons. We are a predominantly STEM university, so the majority of students who make use of our services come to work on math, physics, chemistry, and engineering courses, but also writing. However, our mission is to support, guide, and help students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to build a solid foundation in all of their courses. Our tutors are a well rounded and eclectic group of students—Mechanical Engineering majors who dabble in biology and Computer Science Engineering Technology majors who write fiction. Continue reading

Writing Center Moonshots

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. He is delighted to be starting his 33rd year at UW-Madison. This post is adapted from his keynote address at the Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference, held in Iowa in March 2016.

Do you know what moonshots are? They are really ambitious goals–or the process of trying to achieve those kinds of goals. The term refers to US President John Kennedy’s 1961 speech, at Rice University in Houston, about space exploration, when Kennedy boldly promised that the United States would land a person on the moon by the end of the decade. Moonshots are really audacious projects, ones that are, in fact, so difficult that they are unlikely to succeed. As Kennedy said in that now famous speech: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” In his State of the Union address in January 2016, President Obama invoked the term when he announced the start of an ambitious new “Cancer Moonshot,” an initiative designed to advance cancer care and prevention.

moonI am inspired by ambitious goals, and I hope that you are too. In fact, I think that establishing ambitious goals and working collaboratively to achieve them are important parts of leadership in an academic culture. I want to think together with you all about what could be moonshots–ambitious goals–for you as a tutor, for your writing center, for the writing center profession. I will try to challenge you to think in some new ways about your writing center work. Later in this post, I’m going to invite all of you to think and talk about setting an ambitious goal for improving your own tutoring or for improving your center or for strengthening the writing center profession. Maybe while you read this post (you can multitask, right?), you can begin freethinking about something substantial that needs improving in your tutoring, something important and challenging that you need to learn, some significant ways in which you or your center needs to stretch or grow or improve. Your moonshot should be challenging and ambitious but can be small in scope–it doesn’t have to involve a journey to Mars. Continue reading