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
The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.
Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .
A revision addict, I mean—addicted to sharing my work with others and responding to theirs, addicted to creating a community of writing collaborators.
Cydney Alexis, Ph.D. candidate in composition and rhetoric, assistant director of the Writing Fellows program, and former Writing Center instructor
By Amanda Detry and Molly Rentscher.
Each new semester in the Writing Fellows Program presents a range of exciting opportunities and challenges. Having served as Writing Fellows for the past few semesters, we have collaborated with many faculty members and worked with students of all writing levels and abilities. Amid such diversity, however, every writing appointment is shaped by two core values. First, Writing Fellows help students see revision as an essential part of the writing process. Second, Writing Fellows believe in producing good writers—not necessarily good writing—by offering students tools and examples for improving their work. Continue reading
Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame
By Matthew Capdevielle, Director of the Writing Center, University of Notre Dame
“So, what are you working on today?”
“When is your paper due?”
“Are you concerned about anything in particular in this draft?”
In the writing center that I direct at the University of Notre Dame, we spend a good deal of time asking questions. We pose questions about practical parameters of assignments—length, due date, assignment requirements, etc. We pose questions about writers’ goals, their concerns, and their hopes for their work. Most importantly, we pose questions with writers to help them discover and articulate their own ideas. Continue reading
On Friday, February 17 the Writing Fellows Program hosted our annual Joint Staff Meeting with the Writing Center. Seven Writing Fellows gave presentations based on research they conducted for their English/Interdisciplinary Courses 316 class. Writing Center instructors served as moderators for each presentation and posed questions designed to help audience members delve more deeply into the issues. As usual, the presentations were highly engaging and the discussions were lively and enlightening. There was a genuine spirit of camaraderie as we discovered what we can learn from one another and how our experiences in the Center and in the Fellows program intersect and diverge. Our meeting was enhanced this year by the presence of several distinguished visitors: Michael Mack, professor of English and Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Taryn Okuma, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center—both from American Catholic University in Washington, DC; and visiting scholar Dr. Katrin Girgensohn, faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University-Viadrina in Germany.
The presentation titles suggest the broad range of topics discussed:
I’ve long argued that writing centers at research universities should prepare interested doctoral students to lead strong, innovative writing centers and WAC programs when they move into their faculty careers. And that we should do this in systematic and sustained ways. Being a dedicated, successful, experienced writing tutor is of course a necessary part of that preparation, but that alone is not sufficient. Professional development for future writing center directors is something our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes seriously—my colleagues and I are proud that this past year, in 2011 alone, seven more of our PhD alums, at various stages of their careers, were offered positions as writing center directors or assistant directors around the country, joining many other distinguished UW-Madison alums who direct writing centers.
This question—of how research universities can prepare graduate students to become writing center directors as part of their faculty careers—has been an important topic of discussion when the writing center directors from the universities in the Big 10 conference meet once a year (I’m always hoping that some athletic competition will break out during meetings of Big 10 writing center directors, but, alas, none yet). We’ve talked several times about what we can do—intentionally and systematically–to prepare our grad students to lead strong writing center and WAC programs. As an outgrowth of these discussions, at the 2010 IWCA conference in Baltimore, several members of the Big 10 group spoke about the opportunities we have and the challenges we face as we prepare graduate students to be future writing center directors.
Coordinator of the UW-Madison Online Writing Center, TA Christopher Syrnyk and future word-enthusiast Aubrey.
All Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are beyond their first semester of tutoring in UW-Madison’s Writing Center participate in professional development opportunities, known as Ongoing Education opportunities, affectionately, as an “OGE.” At the start of a semester, Teaching Assistants will often see a description at the top of an OGE selection form that reads as follows:
“Ongoing Education activities are opportunities to challenge ourselves as teachers, think critically about our work, reach our personal goals, and collectively build a broad base of diverse knowledge, skills, and practices from which we all can draw.”
As a visiting scholar from Germany at the UW-Madison Writing Center, I sometimes feel jealous of all the things going on here. Having a writing center with 110 people working as writing fellows, writing consultants and as leadership staff, and, even more important, experiencing how the writing center is valued here at the university, seems to be paradisiac. In Germany, where I direct a writing center at European University Viadrina, writing centers are still new phenomena and far away from being well staffed and valued. And that is exactly the reason why I am here: I got a research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to conduct an explorative study on successful implementation of writing centers. The writing center at UW-Madison is the ideal home base for this, since it has such a variety of programs, like a very successful WAC program, and this amazing institutional standing. Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, sometimes it makes me feel jealous to see this. Or frustrated, because I cannot imagine that there will ever be a time when we will have a fixed and sustainable budget, sufficient staff and adequate acknowledgement from our institution. To deal with these feelings it helps me to remember that the UW-Madison writing center has not only its current hard working staff, but it has been built up by 43 years of people working here. And so do writing centers in the US generally: several decades have passed since most universities established writing centers, and the first writing-center-like institutions date even back to the 1930s. Comparing my own writing center with this one here in Madison, or comparing writing centers in the US with writing centers in Germany, is like comparing the achievements of a small child with those of an experienced, grown-up person. All these achievements needed their time and today’s writing centers profit from history. Continue reading
By Emily B. Hall, Director, UW-Madison Writing Fellows Program.
Alexis Brown, 2012 Rhodes Scholar from UW-Madison
Those of us who know her and work with her in the Writing Fellows program are simply thrilled that Alexis Brown has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar for 2012. A deeply motivated student, Alexis has an outstanding academic record and a rich and varied set of intellectual and leadership experiences. In addition to founding and editing the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, keeping up with her coursework in two demanding majors, and working for Americorps, Alexis has left an indelible mark on our program as a Writing Fellow. She has provided thoughtful, critically astute feedback to students in courses in English, psychology, and legal studies. In her Writing Fellows seminar, Alexis wrote an outstanding paper that explored how phatic speech (or small talk) can create a sense of community between Writing Fellows and students and can facilitate meaningful conversations about writing and academic discourse.