Executive Function and Writing: What Does It Mean for Writing Centres? – An Open Discussion

Amanda M Marshall, CTESL, M.Ed., is the Writing Centre Project Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Community College.

I have often joked that I have three fantasy careers: an astronaut, a neuroscientist, and a brew-master. While my career trajectory has not led me in those directions, I do have a keen interest in brain-based learning and in how to help students. When thinking about my role as Writing Centre Project Coordinator one evening, possibly over a pint, my inner neuroscientist and prior learning got me thinking, and I started to do some research into Executive Function (EF) skills. EF skills, which include “cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgement” (Bradley-Ruder, 2008), reside in the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex of the brain. Interestingly, “the prefrontal cortex is one of the last regions of the brain to reach maturation…[and] is not complete until near the age of 25” (Arain et al., 2013, p. 435). Whilst delving more into EF skills, I began to see a significant connection between EF skills development and the development and deployment of writing skills. I would like to explore more of these connections in this blog, as well as make room for discussion on the topic. I hope you will all join in on the conversation.

Amanda Marshall

First, let’s explore Executive Function a bit more. As mentioned, EF includes the ability to develop and reach goals, process and evaluate information, understand cause and effect, and make reasonable inferences (Bradley-Ruder 2008). Residing in the frontal lobe, we also know that this part of the brain is responsible for logic, strategy, working memory, planning, problem-solving, and reasoning skills (Schwaighofer, Buhner, & Fischer, 2017). When a learner faces difficulty in these areas and with these skills, they will likely encounter challenges parsing, sequencing, remembering, evaluating, organizing, manipulating, planning, self-regulating, and with general task follow-through (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011). This can affect both the learner’s interaction within their learning environment(s), as well as with specific program expectations and activities/tasks.

Understanding that the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex takes a significant amount of time to fully develop, and knowing that EF skills are not innate, post-secondary education is faced with some unique challenges. Much of what we require of our students depends on their ability to organize, critique, remember, reflect, evaluate, plan, and reason (Graham, Karris, & Olinghouse, 2007). If students are coming to us beginning at the age of 18, for example, not only are they still approximately 7 years from having a fully, physiologically-developed frontal lobe, they may also not have had enough exposure and EF training to be fully successful on their own. “Poor executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback, and mental inflexibility” (Johnson, Blum, Geidd, 2009, p. 219), which are all critical skills for post-secondary success and employability. With this in mind, it seems increasingly incumbent on adult educators to direct focus, time, and specific practice to help our students engage in and strengthen their EF skills. When discussing EF skills as they relate to adolescents and young adults, Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child states that “…executive function skills are not yet at adult levels, but the demands placed on these skills often are” (Harvard’s Centre for the Developing Child, 2017). Further, Weinberger, Elvevåg, and Geidd (2005) remind us that while adolescents and young adults are “full of promise, often energetic and caring, capable of making many contributions to their communities, and able to make remarkable spurts in intellectual development and learning…neurologically, they are not [yet] adults. They are…a work in progress” (2005, p. 19) and require support to continue learning and developing the skills required for post-secondary success. Continue reading “Executive Function and Writing: What Does It Mean for Writing Centres? – An Open Discussion”

Humble Brag: How Seriously Should We Take National Student Survey Results? || Mclean’s University Rankings Canada

Linnet Humble is the Writing Centre Coordinator at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

In April, a Maclean’s article shared by a colleague on Facebook caught my eye. This colleague noticed our university ranked first in a particular category on Maclean’s second annual Student Survey. When asked if their university was helping them write clearly and concisely, 55% of St. Thomas University students strongly agreed and 31% somewhat agreed, placing our university at the top of the list for that performance indicator—ahead of other similar schools in the region, like Acadia and Mount Allison, as well as much larger schools from Ontario, such as Queen’s.

When I saw our university ranked first in an infographic related to writing, I let out a whoop and immediately reposted the article. Just as I was wearily approaching my year-end reports, here was some external validation—from a prominent national publication, no less! It was a shot in the arm for me as the Writing Centre Coordinator. Friends and colleagues offered their congratulations; I walked around for half a day feeling quite chuffed.

But I soon began to second-guess this good news. Did these results actually mean anything? Is Maclean’s a reliable source of information? Can surveys like this accurately measure our students’ writing abilities in their own right, or in comparison to those at other Canadian universities? And how much credit could the Writing Centre reasonably take for such scores?

To learn more, I contacted Garry Hansen, Director of Institutional Research at St. Thomas University. Hansen is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and ensuring effective use of university data both internally (by informing strategic decision-making at the university), and externally, by providing data to agencies like Statistics Canada and Maclean’s.

Image source

Hansen cautioned me against placing too much stock in these survey results. In addition to lending his critical perspective on this particular publication, he was able to suggest other tools and organizations that can provide a more accurate perspective on our students’ writing skills and how they fare in comparison to others’.

First, though: a word on Maclean’s.

Continue reading “Humble Brag: How Seriously Should We Take National Student Survey Results? || Mclean’s University Rankings Canada”

Announcement | #wcchat 9/14/17 | Join our bi-weekly chats!

Join our bi-weekly chats!

South Haven Writing Center

The start of the academic year is one of the most important times for institutions, including writing centers. Training, routines, and center management become focal points; effective practices in these areas helps foster growth and efficient operations for the center. It’s an important, and sometimes stressful, time for centers, making it a vital topic for discussion for writing center professionals. For this week’s chat, we’ll focus on the role that training takes in starting our academic years, discussing specifically what we do, why we do those things, and what we struggle with in training. Through discussion, we will be able to share ideas for what works for our own centers, as well as offer ideas for others.

~ Kyle Boswell @boskm

Chat norms:

  • Follow the moderator (@boskm).
  • Questions are tweeted out with “Q” and question number.
  • Respond with “A” and corresponding question number at the front of your tweet.
  • Don’t forget the hashtag! #wcchat
  • Use an app that allows you to follow more than one stream. Set a column for #wcchat
  • Favorite tools include Tweetdeck and HootSuite
  • Follow those you connected with and/or learned from to grow your PLN.
  • Be respectful of others.
  • Focus on quality responses and questions that generate discussions that focus on our writing center practices.

Questions:

  • Q1: Describe the training consultants go through at the beginning of the year.
  • Q2: If you use journal articles for training, what articles do you find most useful? If you don’t, why don’t you use journal articles for training?
  • Q3: What are your biggest concerns during the initial training process? Why?
  • Q4: Describe your strategies for teaching consultation basics.
  • Q5: What initial struggles are most typical for consultants in your center? Why?
  • Q6: What is your favorite training activity? Why is it necessary?
  • Q7: What is your least favorite aspect of training? (Comment ideas for others that might spice up their training methods.)

Writing Centers in China | The Writing Center @BNUZ School of Design | Part 1 of 5

Over the next few months, we will be posting on writing centre work in China. Contributing are 杨雪 Xue (Rachel ) Yang, Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai School of Design; 宋凌珊 Lingshan Song, Writing Center Assistant Director, Mississippi College; Jessie Cannady, Module Convenor Writing Centre, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University; Brian Hotson, Director, Academic Learning Services, Saint Mary’s University; and Julia Combs, Writing Center Director,  Southern Utah University.

杨雪 Xue (Rachel ) Yang is the writing center coordinator at Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai, School of Design.

中文版

We first came up with the idea of establishing our own Writing Center in Spring 2015. We were facing an ever-increasing number of students enrolled who had to grapple with higher expectations in English competency. The program we build at the School of Design focuses tremendously on a globalized education which internalizes its doctrine in preparing students to be more active and engaged global participants through its ever more internationalized guiding themes, curriculum framework, teaching staff, study environment, and exchange program. A heavily IELTS-driven English language curriculum has therefore been introduced. 2+2 program students are required to pass the official IELTS test before the end of their sophomore year so that they can transition smoothly to a collaborative overseas program. 4+0 program students are asked to prove their English proficiency through IELTS as well since starting from the third year, all their design-related major courses will be instructed by lecturers/professors sent from Germany, where English is the main and only teaching language in class. At this point they will have no help from teaching assistants anymore. 4+0 program students will also need the IETLS score report for them to receive the bachelor’s degree from the German university side.

From this description, you can get a sense of how English language proficiency is a matter of life or death for students in our program.

Nearly every instructor in our English language team has some education background in a foreign country, and thus we are considerably excited and revitalized by the Writing Center idea. I did my master’s degree at Boston College which has a writing center that I took huge advantage of. The BC writing center is a sub session within an overarching learning center, which centers on tutoring that covers over 60 subjects, ADHD & Learning Disability Support Services, and writing support. “Writing support” is similar to what we have here at the School of Design Writing Center.

The Writing Center officially launched in September 2016, and we called it the “beta” trial version. We were the first on-campus writing center at our university, basically with no prior experience to build on. Thus, the format of the tutorial, size of student populations we intended to serve, and what kind of tutors we wanted to hire were all tricky problems we encountered. There is no perfection in your first try. What matters is that you do try. Bearing in mind this belief, we decided that the tutorial should follow the format of an ESL writing assistance session. These writing appointments focus on not only helping students formulate their writing ideas, structure and flow of papers, but also checking for their grammatical mistakes. Students are asked to come prepared with drafted writing pieces and attempted problems. Student population size is another thing that is hard to predict. The writing center aims at serving sophomores of international cooperation programs, accounting for over 450 students in total. However, this writing appointment service is on a completely voluntary basis, making the visits tricky to predict. We later agreed on providing 10 available sessions to the students and seeing how things go as time went on. As for recruiting tutors, we soon abandoned the idea of hiring student tutors. Back in early 2015, we did hire some senior student tutors from the School of Foreign Language to help our students with IELTS reading and listening, but it did not end up well. One of the challenges was it was extremely difficult to recruit sufficiently qualified tutors with a proper sense of responsibility and another was that the student tutors’ schedules varied to a great degree which caused unnecessary trouble for scheduling writing appointments.

Throughout the past 10 months, we have accrued concrete records of the Writing Center visits and plan to use these data for further adjustment of scheduling, which parallels the “big data” trend in the Internet environment where information is being densely analyzed for manifold purposes. Through browsing our visit tracking book we can easily see the pattern of student visits: which weeks are the peak visiting periods, which time during the day is mostly preferred, which student groups like to take advantage of this service the most, and which tutors are most frequently booked by the students. Continue reading “Writing Centers in China | The Writing Center @BNUZ School of Design | Part 1 of 5”

The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors : An Interview with Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta

Andrea Rosso Efthymiou, guest contributor 

Devoted to fostering research and conference participation for peer writing tutors, the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) is gearing up for its 2017 conference at Hofstra University. In this post, NCPTW 2017 Chair, Andrea Rosso Efthymiou, interviews this year’s keynote speakers, Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta, co-authors of The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors (OGWT). In their interview, Fitzgerald and Ianetta discuss their personal processes as long-time collaborators, the choices they made writing and editing OGWT, and of course, writing center tutoring.

Andrea: Can you describe your writing process as co-authors of this book? How did you work together as co-authors? Did you work on separate sections individually or did you actively write each section together? Or was the process altogether different?

Actually, we used a range of collaborative and individual composing strategies to write The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors (OGWT). Our approach depended on the stage in the process and the immediate writing goal. Some of these processes were very organic and highly collaborative – with the controlling concept for the book which we articulated for the prospectus, for instance, we worked intensively together for a couple of days. The process was so natural and so focused that we really don’t know any more who came up with what idea.

However, some parts of the process are very individual, so that one of us takes responsibility for a chapter or subsection. We’ll talk through the chapters, then each of us goes away to compose, and we trade drafts. We respond to one another’s work and then the original author responds to the commentary and revision. We’ll then trade again and, at that point, we often have lost track of who wrote what. There was a time, for example, when Melissa praised lavishly a change in a much-revised chapter – she really thought Lauren had taken things in an exciting new direction. And her enthusiasm was only minimally dampened when Lauren told her that the revision was hers –Melissa herself had written the text of which she spoke in such admiring terms.

This instance of the composing process, however, is only one part of the larger research process that comprises our professional partnership. We chose to write this book in part because, together, we’ve been writing and talking about writing centers for many years: our first shared work was a set of paired conference reports for Writing Center Journal (WCJ) on the 2005 IWCA conference. And while we published two separate conference accounts, the process we used there laid the groundwork for the process we still use. We talk, draft, respond, revise, and talk again. This is the process we used when working with a large group of collaborators on “Polylog: Are Writing Center Administrators WPAs?” and, most importantly, when co-editing WCJ. Our editorial conversations not only shaped journal issues, but framed our understanding of the field: our two special issues – on peer tutor research and the landmark essays of the field, respectively – lie at the foundation of OGWT. And, finally, we still use that process today –we’re using it right now, as we answer these questions, in fact! Continue reading “The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors : An Interview with Lauren Fitzgerald and Melissa Ianetta”

Tech in the Center: Beyond The Basics

When I speak with another writing center administrators, I’m fascinated by the patchwork of apps, programs, and social media platforms in use to connect with students and clients. In addition to the standards–such as WCOnline and Google Docs–we’d love to hear from you and share with our community:

  • What’s your best and most innovative technological discovery?
  • What program or app helps you organize the flow of people, information, and events?
  • What interesting or new things are you doing with well-known technologies?
  • What website or service could you no longer live without?

We’d like to post a series short testimonials on what works best for you. Please e-mail Amy Hansen at hansenae@appstate.edu with your answers. Include as much information as you can: links, photos of the technology in action, of you, your staff, or your writing center, and most importantly, a short (300-400 word) description of the technology, how you use it in your writing center, and what logistical or communicative need it meets.

“Connecting with Purpose”: 14th Annual Southern California Writing Centers Association Tutor Conference

California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA — Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

The Southern California Writing Centers Association invites proposals for our 2018 Tutor Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “Connecting with Purpose.” Connections are central to writing center work: between tutor and student, between concept and execution, and across genres, disciplines, and departments. This year’s conference asks us to question and confirm these connections. The conference organizers intend for participants and presenters to leave with new or renewed connections to each other, and to the meaning and value of their writing center work.

Questions you might consider as you develop your proposal; use them to aid, not limit, your thinking:

  •  What is the purpose of a writing center in facilitating connections across campus—connections around service, scholarship, support, learning, advocacy, development, professionalization?
  •  How can tutors help facilitate students in making their own connections between current and future writing projects?
  •  Who are we connecting with when we involve ourselves in supporting writers and promoting literacy education outside the classroom?
  •  Are there types of connections that writing centers should resist fostering? Or seek to promote?

As always, this conference is by tutors, for tutors. Therefore, we seek proposals for highly interactive 50-minute conference sessions (10 minutes of presentation, 40 minutes of interaction) that seek to investigate, reimagine, and/or rediscover the purpose(s) of writing center work. After giving a short framing presentation (approx. 10 minutes) on research or ideas related to the theme, presenters will engage the audience in activities or discussion to collaboratively explore the issue. The conference will close with a community hour for further sharing and conversation.

Proposals due November 1, 2017 via http://sandbox.socalwritingcenters.org/2018-tutor-conference/

Writing Center Administrators: During the tutor conference, SoCal writing center administrators will engage in a parallel meeting featuring presentations by and discussions with other writing center professionals. Registration, lunch, and community hour will offer opportunities to connect back with tutors.

 

An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth

Editor’s note: This past semester, I had the good fortune to work in Budapest, Hungary for a semester, at my institution’s European campus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and greatly appreciated networking with colleagues in the city. At the end of my trip, I invited the director of Central European University’s writing center, Agnes Toth, to sit down and tell me more about her graduate Center for Academic Writing.

As you may know, this past year, CEU has made international headlines, due to an unprecedented level of government scrutiny. Their accreditation structure—and, in particular, their funding ties to billionaire philanthropist, George Soros—resulted in a series of legislative moves that threw their future in Hungary into question. While discussions and negotiations are ongoing, I wanted to find out more about the work of their writing center, from Agnes—and how the university’s uncertain future was impacting the day-to-day work of her team.

WLN blog: Hi Agnes! Thanks for meeting with me today. I’d love to learn more about you and your center. Can you tell me a bit about CEU, and what did you do before working at CEU?

CEU is a graduate-level university accredited both in the US and Hungary, which offers English-language, 1/2-year Masters and doctoral programs in the social sciences, law, management and public policy. CEU currently has about 1400 students from over 110 countries, which makes it the second most international university in the world, according to The Times of Higher Education.

CEU’s Center for Academic Writing (CAW) was established at the beginning of the 1990s. Its primary mission is to ensure high standards of written academic English throughout the university by helping students become proficient, independent writers who can function effectively in CEU’s and the wider academic and policy community even after graduation and by supporting and working with faculty to assist their students. To date, CAW is the only European writing program to have ever received the “Writing Program Certificate of Excellence” award by the CCCC.

I have my masters in English language and literature. I also have postgraduate degrees in Translation Studies and Business Coaching.

WLN blog: I’d love to learn more about your center. CEU is a graduate school, that serves only graduate students. Can you tell me about your classes and your writing center?

Our center is a combination of a writing center and a writing program. We teach mandatory academic writing courses and offer consultations to students in all departments. We also collaborate closely with department heads and professors to tailor our course content towards students’ writing needs.

Our staff is entirely made up of professional writing instructors; all are considered part of faculty,  We teach native and nonnative speakers together. Most of our courses are in the fall and winter terms. We teach twelve sessions in academic writing in the fall, focusing on cultural differences in thinking and writing, the research paper and another, discipline-specific genre we choose in collaboration with professors.

Increasingly our writing instructors work with departments to develop guides/expectations. There are big differences between policy and research writing, for example. All students are asked to write something in multiple genres. Developed with different professors.

In winter, when students start working on their thesis, we offer classes on how to write thesis proposals, departmental thesis requirements, and then the thesis itself.

Our center is basically mandatory for all students. We don’t need to advertise our consultation services hardly at all! Students are required to come once or twice early in the semester. From that point on it’s optional. What may make us different from other writing centers is that we ask students to send their papers in ahead of time. We do utilize WCOnline, but only do online appointments for students that are doing thesis research abroad

Now we are very busy consulting with students in the spring term. Some students work through the whole thesis in one concentrated push, others just bring in sections.

For us, marketing/selling ourselves is more about proposing things to management! Such as last year’s initiatives for PhD students. We work with them mostly in consultations, currently, often over years, but want to do more. My team wants to provide special writing training for the PhD students, so we worked with the programs to tailor things to their needs.

Continue reading “An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth”

Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance conference: Transfer and Transform

Elizabeth Whitehouse (Ewhitehouse@uaeu.ac.ae) is the Executive Secretary of the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) and the Supervisor of the Student Academic Success Program (SASP) Writing Centers at United Arab Emirates University.

Following up on our first post about MENAWCA in 2015, Elizabeth Whitehouse provides an update here and talks about their 6th biennial conference in February 2018, Transfer and Transform.

WLN Blog: Tell us about MENAWCA. What does it stand for? How did it begin?  How do you communicate with each other?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA stands for the Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance; we are a regional affiliate of the IWCA. The alliance was established by some teachers at my own institution, UAEU, in 2007. They saw a need for a network to connect writing center directors, tutors and staff in the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, MENAWCA has worked to foster best practice in MENA writing centers, provide professional development and networking opportunities, raise awareness of the value of writing centers as an educational resource and promote research into MENA writing center activities. We pursue these goals in various ways, such as our website, newsletters, listserve and social media (Facebook; Twitter) but most importantly, we hold biennial conferences for our membership and the wider community.

WLN Blog: You are organizing an upcoming conference. Does the conference have a theme? What do you hope participants will get out of the experience and what do you hope to achieve by organizing this conference?
Elizabeth: Yes, work is underway for our 6th biennial conference, which we are convening in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). The conference will be held in the beautiful, historic oasis town of Al Ain, in the UAE, in February 2018. Our conference theme is ‘Transfer and Transform,’ which we hope will act as a springboard for engaging discussions and critical reflections on our work with student writers in the Arab world.  Participants will have an opportunity to share insights, raise questions, hopefully get some answers, and leave with refreshing new ideas and perspectives that will help them advance the work of their centers.  We are particularly excited to be welcoming Dr. Chris Anson, Distinguished University Professor and Director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University, as our keynote speaker; his wide-ranging scholarly expertise encompasses areas of key importance to our work with student writers (http://www.ansonica.net/).

WLN Blog: Can you tell us about opportunities and challenges you see for the MENAWCA and for writing centers in the region?
Elizabeth: MENAWCA is in a position to offer professional development opportunities for anyone involved in writing center work in the region. Whether someone attends our conferences, reads our newsletters, uses our website, or seeks advice by posting a question on our listserve, MENAWCA should help them get an answer to a writing center related question. It is not uncommon for teachers in the region (such as myself) to find themselves tasked with starting or managing a writing center, with little or possibly no prior writing center experience. Being able to visit an established center or link up with a more experienced peer can be a great help. I see a lot of potential for MENAWCA to expand its work, particularly in encouraging discussion about the work of writing centers in ESOL academic communities. That brings us directly to the challenges!  While institutions in the region often use higher education models established in the US, the academic support services that go with those models are not always in place, or secure. Center directors can find themselves expending a lot of time and effort explaining and justifying their work, and trying to secure appropriate resources. Of course, this challenge is not unique to our region. Continue reading “Middle East and North Africa Writing Center Alliance conference: Transfer and Transform”

WLN BLOG UPDATE

Note from the editor

Recently, I shared with the WLN team some snapshots of how our online presence has evolved over the past few years. We quickly decided to pull back the curtain and share some of these with you, as well.

Back in 2013, the blog was reaching a thousand page views or so. Today, we’re on track for 20k page-views, and well over 12k unique visitors. In the past year alone, we’ve had visitors from 124 different countries.

We’ve posted more than 35 times in the past two semesters, from articles on high-school writing centers to discussions about writing centers’ relationship with learning centers, from a review on the movie Arrival to a wonderful roll-out of our first creative writing feature.

Thanks to you, we have a full slate of upcoming articles in development, including profiles of centers in China, an interview with the graduate writing center of CEU in Hungary, a round-up of helpful new software tools and practices, tips for those on the job market, and more. We’re excited for what’s ahead. I’m proud to be part of such a meaningful field!

This past year, I put out a call for more collaborators to join the WLN blog staff, and I’m thrilled that colleagues from all over the world answered. Now, with a great team in place, I’m pleased to hand things off and transition to an advisory role with the blog. Our team includes:

  • Brian Hotson: editor-in-chief, Saint Mary’s University, Canada.
  • Amy Hansen: assistant editor/social media, Appalachian State University, USA.
  • Ann Gardiner: staff writer, Franklin University, Switzerland.
  • Josh Ambrose: consultant/editor emeritus, McDaniel College, USA.

Of course, our most valuable team members are, and always have been, you. And we want to continue hear from you, about the great work you’re doing at your centers, the opportunities and challenges you face, and the new directions ahead. E-mail an editor today with a story tip, and we’ll help you boost the signal—and don’t forget to join the conversations at https://www.facebook.com/wlnjournal and https://twitter.com/wlnjournal.

Gratefully,

Josh Ambrose
McDaniel College

File cards of bravery: First-year writing anxiety

Brian Hotson

Brian Hotson is editor-in-chief of the WLNBlog and Director of Academic Learning Services at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS.

Each August, our centre holds a two-day Summer Writing Workshop. Its main purpose is to provide incoming, first-year students an opportunity to experience writing at a university level prior to September. It’s also a chance for students to make friends and meet professors. There is a lecture from which students use as a means to write a short paper, the instruction of the two days focussed on this paper. Usually 70-75 students—of an incoming class of 900-1200 students—register. The program is voluntary with a fee of $200, which includes materials and meals.

As an icebreaker on day one, I give each student two file cards. On one card, I asked them to write their name and something they’d like others to know about themselves. On a second card, I ask them to write a question they like to ask a professor (we have a Q&A with professors at the end of day two), and what they are most afraid of in coming to university. Many of our students are first generation students. Their expectations of themselves are very high, without any experience of how such expectations might be met.

I have kept these cards over the years. Each is a personal account of a young person on the threshold. The anonymity of the cards provides a startlingly frank openness into these students’ emotion. For me, it’s not the fear that is insightful, but the bravery of their openness and their willingness to use this openness to try something new.

 

(2016)

University is a chance to learn from mistakes. Drafting is an ongoing second chance, a means to understanding the process of thinking, as well as thinking about thinking. I read these cards before my opening talk of the workshop. I try to insert into the talk words from the cards, and let the other staff presenting during the workshop know of the contents of the cards. This one I keep pinned to my bulletin board.

Continue reading “File cards of bravery: First-year writing anxiety”

Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency

Editor’s note: What do writing centers look like in other parts of the world? In this blog post we get a glimpse into how things are done in Germany at the University of Cologne’s Centre for Writing Competency. Today’s post comes from Esther Breuer, the Director of the Kompetenzzentrum Schreiben at the Universität zu Köln in Germany. She founded the center in 2007.

The Centre for Writing Competency of the University of Cologne was founded in 2007 and is going to celebrate its tenth anniversary this October. Our university is one of the largest state universities in Germany with nearly 50,000 students in six faculties or schools. In the beginning, it was funded by the students’ fees of those at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. After students’ fees were abolished, the Centre remained under this faculty and is supported by a fund set up by our federal state for balancing the budget. We now form a team of eight: one director, one specialist on teaching academic writing, the head of our classes on tutoring, an L1 English tutor, and four students for the coaching. As a result, most of its offers are exclusively for students of the Humanities, or for those students who major or minor in at least one subject at our faculty.

The main objective of the Centre is to coach and support students in the process of writing term papers, Bachelor, Master theses, as well as PhD dissertations. We work with the concept of peer-tutoring. At the beginning, our clients often had difficulties with this concept as they expected to come into an office where a lecturer was going to correct their papers. They expected this lecturer to be an ‘older’ person (from the students’ perspective) who knew how everything was to be done. They did not assume that they had to cooperate (or do the main work) in enhancing their papers, finding the weaknesses as well as workable solutions for coping with these. This passive attitude towards feedback might be the effect of a widely-accepted attitude in Germany that writing is a gift and that one cannot learn how to write well. In former times – and sometimes this is still the case today – professors made students believe that they were not apt for studying if they did not know how to write academic papers. This belief is still implanted in some of the students’ heads, and for them it is hard to understand that writing is a learnable competency that simply needs knowledge of concepts and methods, as well as training.

Continue reading “Lessons We Learn: 10 Years of Cologne Centre for Writing Competency”

From Far and Wide: The Fifth Annual Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference

The Canadian Writing Centres Association (CWCA) hosts its fifth annual conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, Ontario on May 25th and 26th, 2017. CWCA represents members of writing centres, broadly defined, in colleges, universities, and institutions of all sizes across Canada. It is an affiliate member of the International Writing Centres Association (IWCA).

Clare Bermingham is the Director of the Writing and Communication Centre at the University of Waterloo and is Secretary of CWCA.

WLN Blog: The theme of this year’s CWCA conference is From Far and Wide: Imagining the Futures of Writing Centres. In developing this theme, what were you hoping for?

Clare: “From Far and Wide” is a phrase pulled from the Canadian national anthem, and it’s connected to the 150th anniversary of the formation of Canada as a political nation. However, rather than simply and uncomplicatedly celebrating this milestone, our theme seeks to recognize the complex, often difficult, history of Canada, which plays out in our institutions today and feeds into the questions that writing centres ask about language and writing. We want to challenge ourselves to take note of this history as we turn and look ahead to what’s next for writing centres. We want to know how our community is engaging in work that is inclusive and equitable. How are we working with both Indigenous and international student populations? How are we responding to questions about power and language in training, in theory, and in our daily practice? In what ways are we opening our centres up to be places of real diversity and inclusion in our respective institutions?

WLN Blog: The keynote, Dr. Frankie Condon, has written a great deal on racism and rhetoric. How does her keynote fit into this year’s conference?

Clare: Dr. Condon’s work challenges us to think more deeply about how we do the work we do. It moves us to face issues of inequity and bias head on, but to do so with generosity and care. Frankie’s work, for me, is a generous conversation that’s grounded in the assumption that we want to act in good faith, that we’re taking these issues seriously, and that we acknowledge the potential harm of not listening to each other, especially to the marginalized voices in our communities. Her work is personal and reflective, and she is always equally responsible for the work she calls others to do.

Continue reading “From Far and Wide: The Fifth Annual Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference”

CWCAB: Creative/Writing Center Note

Amy Hansen, staff writer, introduces our special creative writing feature to wrap up the spring ’17 semester! To read individual pieces, click the pull quotes below, or scroll through the creative writing section of the blog. 

I had no idea what we’d receive when we put out the call for creative writing about writing center work, but I was banking on the obsessive devotion both fields require to produce good results. We read so many good submissions from all over the world — from South Africa to Hawai’i to Canada (and beyond!) — and gradually, as these things do, a theme began to emerge.

Like our writers, all of whom identify as creative writers and writing center folks, each piece we chose features a space between the creative and the academic, between self and other, between prescriptivist and descriptivist, between music and poetry, and between play and form.

This makes sense to me! As writing center tutors and administrators, our work requires us to shift rapidly in and out of discourse communities and interpersonal roles. So why wouldn’t that same tension translate thematically and stylistically to our creative writing?

Continue reading “CWCAB: Creative/Writing Center Note”

WLN Announcements!

Interested in Joining the WLN Editorial Staff?
Because of an ever-increasing work load and an interest in adding someone with new ideas and approaches to engage our readers, the editorial staff of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship is in need of another staff member to join our team for the print journal. We envision this person as being an Associate Editor with some development work as well.

Interested in applying? If so, send us your CV, a short statement about any editorial experience you’ve had, and another short statement about what skills and ideas you would bring to WLN. Also, please let us know if you regularly use email and if you are available to work all year long, including summers.

Please send your CV and the requested additional information to us: Lee Ann Glowzenksi (laglowzenski@gmail.com) and Muriel Harris (harrism@purdue.edu). The position will remain open until filled.

An Invitation to Add Your Voice to WLN Conversations

We recognize that articles in WLN should be two-way conversations between authors and readers. And so, we want to provide space (when we can) in WLN issues to hear from you as readers responding to articles you’ve read in WLN. Because page space is always a problem with any journal trying to stay brief enough to actually allow you to read all articles, please keep your comments brief too. It’s difficult to predict when we will have space to include your responses, but we’ll do our best.

Please send your comments through the submission page on the WLN website.

The Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association: Legitimizing and Sustaining the Work of Secondary School Writing Centers

Kate Hutton is the director of the Herndon Writing Center at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, VA, and the Vice President of the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association. She served on an IWCA-sponsored panel of Secondary School Writing Center Directors at NCTE 2016 entitled, “Writing Centers as Sites of Advocacy.”

In the past decade, the Secondary School Writing Center (SSWC) movement has gained tremendous momentum and traction, and perhaps no region has seen such rapid growth in the establishment of SSWCs as the greater Washington, D.C. area. When I became co-director of the Herndon Writing Center in 2012, I was excited about what our center could do within our school. It wasn’t until I became involved with the network of SSWCs that eventually became the Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association (CAPTA) that I recognized how important it is for me to engage in a professional community dedicated to celebrating and supporting the work that SSWCs do. In an effort to highlight the ways in which CAPTA has unified and amplified the voices of SSWCs, I reached out to long-time and new CAPTA members to ask them to share how our network has helped them to legitimize and sustain the work we all do in our SSWCs.

CAPTA has grown out of what was once an informal network of SSWCs that began in Fairfax County, Virginia. Amber Jensen established one of the first area SSWCs at Edison High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2009, and by 2011, SSWCs had established enough of a presence in the region to warrant partnering with the University of Maryland and George Mason University in hosting what has become an annual peer tutoring conference hosted by CAPTA. “From the beginning, it was evident that the sustainability of our centers would require working together to develop a vision for the role of an SSWC director and to collaborate on creating and sharing resources specifically tailored to our contexts,” Jensen explains. “The growth of SSWCs in our area, I think, is directly related to the work of this informal network of directors to create and share replicable implementation models, to collaborate in creating and modifying resources, and to support and share the emotional labor of defining and continually negotiating our positions in our schools and within the greater writing center scholarly community.”

In 2014, six SSWC Directors—Amber Jensen of Edison High School; Beth Blankenship of Oakton High School; Alison Hughes of Centreville High School; Jenny Goransson of West Springfield High School; Hannah Baran of Albemarle High School; and me—officially founded CAPTA, an organization dedicated to building community among, promoting advocacy for, and supporting the development and sharing of resources for new and existing SSWCs in the greater Washington, DC, area.

The CAPTA Executive Board at CAPTA 2016

While many of us acknowledged the need for and sought out opportunities to connect with other university writing centers around the country via existing peer tutoring networks, we quickly realized that SSWCs, their directors, and their tutors faced challenges and opportunities unique to the world of secondary schools. CAPTA was born of the need to create a sustainable network that specifically catered to our needs, that legitimized our work, and that encouraged scholarship in the field of SSWCs.

Janice Jewell, founder of the Herndon Writing Center, reflects, “The creation of CAPTA gave a wider sense of legitimacy to the fledgling writing centers. I think that as centers become established, participation in CAPTA normalizes these programs, so that once established, they become part of their communities, and the impulse to do away with them can subside.” As a diverse group of directors from schools with diverse needs, the formalization of the CAPTA network helped us to establish norms and identify our own best practices for sustaining successful SSWCs.

Trisha Vamosi, Director of the Eagle Writing Center at Osbourn High School in Manassas, VA, and CAPTA’s website curator, has found “the resources and guidance from other directors to be overwhelmingly supportive. CAPTA has provided not only an irreplaceable resource toolkit, but a space inviting constant networking” among directors in the field.

Continue reading “The Capital Area Peer Tutoring Association: Legitimizing and Sustaining the Work of Secondary School Writing Centers”

“If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma received attention in February after a press release about their social justice and antiracism statement was featured on UW Tacoma’s news and communications page. Following the article, several far-right blogs misrepresented the statement to suggest that UW Tacoma’s writing center director, Asao B. Inoue, had claimed that dominant English grammar is racist.(1) Below is our email interview with Asao about the creation of the writing center’s antiracism statement.

Asao B. Inoue

WLN: First, can you tell us a little about yourself, your writing center, and your staff?
Asao: I’m the Director of University Writing and the Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma. I am an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and I was just promoted to Full Professor, as of September. I am also the Assistant Chair of CCCCs and so am the Program Chair for 4C18 in Kansas City next March.

My research is in writing assessment and racism. I’ve published on validity theory, classroom assessment, writing program assessment, and composition pedagogy. Most of my work deals with ways to consider race, racial formations, whiteness, and antiracism as a practice in writing assessment. My work has won three national awards, two outstanding book awards, and an outstanding scholarship award from CWPA.

Our writing center is lucky to have four professional staff members, all of whom work full time (except one, out of choice), and full time administrative support. We also have fourteen student writing consultants (tutors), with majors from Communications to Philosophy to Environmental Science to Psychology. The center is centrally located on the second floor of the library. We conduct face-to-face and online sessions.

WLN: Can you describe the composing process and timeline for the statement? To what degree was your staff involved?
Asao: During our staff meetings in the winter and spring of 2015, we read some literature on racism and language, including some in writing center studies, and discussed them. During the process, student tutors and professional staff decided to build a statement with my urging. We used a Google Doc so that we could continue our work outside of the confines of the staff meetings, and so that others who couldn’t make a meeting could still participate.

I shaped a lot of things in the statement early on, then let everyone else craft and revise the statement. We went through several iterations of the statement. I suggested that we think of the statement as a living document, one we would come back to periodically to refresh ourselves of our understandings of our position on antiracism and what we promise to do about it. This periodical looking back also means the statement may change as we change and as we try things.

Continue reading ““If You Are Doing it Right, You’ll Encounter Bumps and Trouble”: The University of Washington Tacoma’s Social Justice and Antiracism Statement”

Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers

Melanie Doyle is a writing tutor at the Writing House in the College of Nursing and Heath Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She also teaches composition in UMass Boston’s English department while completing her MA.

In 2000, John Trimbur wrote of the importance of bilingualism in writing and called for more writing centers to transform from English-only to multilingual (30). Though many writing centers embrace notions of multiliteracies, some even rebranding themselves as multiliteracy centers, this designation tends to emphasize digital literacies rather than multilingualism or translingualism in the more traditional sense. In other words, despite college campuses becoming increasingly linguistically diverse, the majority of writing centers still operate under a dominant discourse. Indeed, though most (if not all) American college writing centers serve students from diverse language backgrounds, few can serve students in their preferred language. Looking slightly north, Canadian writing centers offer a unique perspective into writing tutoring, bilingually. Though Canada’s contribution to writing center scholarship has been historically small, the field is growing, and the work produced from the Canadian Writing Centres

Melanie Doyle

Association’s (CWCA) annual conferences look to extend the borders of writing research. And with the continuing interest—and current utter importance—of understanding students’ use of language, Canadian institutions are available sites for inquiry.

While Canada as a nation is officially bilingual, each Canadian province chooses its official language: Quebec, for example, is unilingual French, while Ontario, Canada’s largest province, is unilingual English. Still, many of Canada’s higher ed institutions offer francophone writing tutoring or bilingual writing tutoring. Ontario’s University of Ottawa, situated in Canada’s national capital and on the border with Quebec, is currently the largest bilingual university (French-English) in the world, and is thus is an interesting case study to examine bilingual writing tutoring.

To help me understand tutoring practices, pedagogies, and dynamics at the University of Ottawa, I spoke with Amélie from the Academic Writing Help Centre (AWHC), otherwise known as Centre d’aide à la rédaction des travaux universitaires (CARTU). Housed in a bilingual university where courses are taught in French and English, AWHC/CARTU’s mandate is to offer writing support to all students in the official language of their choice in order to fulfill the University’s mission. Indeed, the University of Ottawa is committed to protecting the region’s francophone culture; so in 2015, it obtained designation[1] for its services in French, including student support services like tutoring. In other words, by offering writing tutoring in both French and English, the AWHC/CARTU is doing its part to protect student rights to their own language, using official statutes to ensure protection and access. Ultimately, by supporting francophone students in their studies, the AWHC plays an important role in helping the University of Ottawa achieve its goals regarding the promotion and safeguarding of francophonie. Continue reading “Crossing Borders: Bilingual and Multilingual Writing Centers”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol: About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol: The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”