Online Tutor. Classroom Teacher. How Written Feedback Shifts

By Matthew Fledderjohann

Matthew is a PhD student at UW-Madison studying composition pedagogy, revision theory, and apocalyptic rhetoric. He is currently serving as the Online Writing Center Coordinator for the UW-Madison writing center.  He has been a writing center tutor at Purdue University Northwest and DePaul University.

Matthew

Whether I’m responding to a piece of writing as a composition teacher or as a writing center tutor, my comments look similar. I plug in Microsoft Word’s two-toned comment bubbles and write things like, “Hmm . . . I’m not sure how this sentence connects to the purpose of the paragraph. Could you make that connection clearer, cut this sentence, or fit it into the next paragraph?” I use different colors to highlight lower-level error patterns. I compose a summative note about my overall impressions of the piece and recommendations for revision.  I email the commented-on document back to the writer.

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Sharing Your Most Cherished View: A New Metaphor for Dissertation Writing

By Hyonbin Choi

Hyonbin is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, writing her dissertation on modernist long poems. She has been a Writing Center instructor since 2013, and currently serves as a TA co-coordinator. She also moonlights as a translator of children’s and YA literature from English to Korean.

Writing your dissertation—or any long research project—is mostly a lonely affair. One dissertator once said to me that it feels like you’re stranded on an island trying to survive, while an occasional surveillance aircraft flies over to check on you. Or even worse, not even that.

Hyonbin

As Rick Ness pointed out in a previous blog post, metaphors of dissertation writing are often associated with survival, climbing mountains, or pulling through a grueling boot camp. These metaphors of perilous adventures or life-threatening situations have the danger of intimidating and overwhelming dissertators. And yes, parts of dissertation writing are strenuous and even conditioned with fear. I mean, who can say they haven’t run for cover when the hum of a surveillance craft sounds from afar? Continue reading

Empirical Research in the Writing Center – What’s so RAD about it?

By Angela J. Zito

Angela Zito has worked as a tutor with the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2013 and currently serves as a TA Co-Coordinator. She is a PhD candidate in English Literary Studies working on a dissertation titled “Student Learning and Public Purpose: Accounting for the Introductory Literature Course.” 

Angela, the author

This past fall I led an ongoing education seminar for seven of our graduate writing tutors called “Empirical Research in the Writing Center – What’s so RAD about it?” I cringe at the punny question every time I write it, but I find the implications of the interrogative alluring…curiosity, skepticism, maybe derision…and I appreciate how functional its readiest answers are:

What’s “RAD” about it is that it’s replicable, aggregable, and data-supported research.

What’s “RAD” about it is that empirical research is making its presence known as some hip new thing in writing center studies.

What’s “RAD” about it is that it seems radical to position empirical research within this discipline. Continue reading

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

More Than Words: A Collaborative Approach to Writing Instruction in a Graduate Science Seminar

By Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls

Nancy Linh Karls is a senior instructor in the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she serves as its science-writing specialist. She also coordinates and teaches the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. 

With 2016 soon drawing to a close, many of us have been reflecting on what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past year. For staff in the UW-Madison Writing Center, that’s a pretty significant list: meeting with thousands of student-writers in one-to-one sessions at our main location and across our many satellites; responding to hundreds of writers’ drafts via email and Skype; offering a robust series of Writing Center workshops; teaching brief units on writing in courses across the curriculum; consulting with faculty to strengthen writing instruction in their home departments; and providing our own Writing Center tutors with ongoing training and support. Continue reading

The Bicameral Writing Mind: Writing Tutors as Writers

By Leigh Elion

Leigh Elion has been a Writing Center tutor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since the fall of 2010, where she has also served as TA Coordinator, Coordinator of Writing Center Multicultural Initiatives, Outreach Coordinator, and Summer Writing Center Director. She is also a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric, writing a dissertation that explores the role of the visual within contexts of gentrification.

I’m angry with Paul Silvia.

Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a very nice person. When he came to UW-Madison in 2013 to speak with our Writing Center tutors, he was funny, generous, and insightful. Silvia is a psychology professor at UNC-Greensboro. His book, How to Write a Lot, offers a number of practical strategies for becoming a more prolific, efficient writer. He encourages writers to make writing a regular habit, to plan and schedule our writing time, to make writing as much of a commitment and priority as other professional obligations, to give up our false writing idols of favorite pens/chairs/weather/moon phases and instead worship at the altar of just getting it done. 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.

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A map of the UW-Madison campus with red stars showing locations where Outreach instruction has occurred in the fall of 2016, as of November 7th. Substantially more of the campus is covered than by satellite locations alone.

The Impact of Writing Center Outreach: Empirical and Anecdotal Evidence

By Leah Pope

A Photo of the Author, Leah Pope

Leah Pope

Leah Pope is the TA Coordinator of Outreach for the UW-Madison Writing Center, where she has been an instructor since 2014. She is also a PhD Candidate in English Literary Studies, working on a dissertation that examines theologies of disability and bodily difference in Anglo-Saxon England.

Every semester, the Outreach team of the UW-Madison Writing Center devotes dozens of hours to visiting classrooms, workshops, resource fairs, and student organizations to deliver brief introductions to the Writing Center’s services and teach or co-teach workshops on various genres and aspects of writing [1]. As the TA Coordinator of Outreach this year, I have the unique pleasure of a bird’s-eye-view of Outreach teaching; each week I field requests from across campus and each week I receive reports from instructors about completed events. It is from this perspective that I want to mull over the purpose of Outreach, why we leave the comforts and resources of our Writing Center and its cozy satellites to traverse the UW-Madison campus (and it is not, I would point out, a small campus).

Just last week, I was asked to give a group of undergraduates (of whom, it turned out, not a single one had ever had a Writing Center appointment) an introduction to the Writing Center’s services. I described our core beliefs; some reasons one might want to visit the Writing Center; our availability in person, by Skype, or by email; how to make an appointment; and some workshops we offer that this particular group might find helpful. In encouraging these students to make use of the Writing Center, my immediate goals were to give the Writing Center a face (my own) and demystify the process of making an appointment and attending a writing conference. 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?”

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