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.

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”

Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion

In a previous post,  Dr. Sarah Prince and Beth Nastachowski, MA, of Walden University started a discussion about online writing centers. In addition to starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list–they’re happy to share some thoughts about two of their successful online services: chat and webinars.

Because Walden offers its paper reviews asynchronously, offerings like synchronous chat and live webinars not only provide students with supplemental writing instruction but also give them the rare opportunity to interact in real time. The chat service is designed to quickly answer students’ writing questions while they are actively constructing their drafts. In contrast, Walden Writing Center’s bimonthly webinars offer more in-depth instruction on topics ranging from scholarly writing, style and grammar tips, and practical writing skills. Although these services aim to serve students at different points during the writing process, they both were created with the same goals in mind: to provide human connection and real-time writing instruction to distance students engaged in what can often feel like an isolating writing process.

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Chat Service Overview

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-17-41-amWe use a live Chat feature through LibApps to give students a chance for live interaction and an opportunity to get questions answered immediately. Our Chat widgets are embedded on our writing center’s homepage and in slide-outs on every page of our website to make Chat accessible in multiple places. Because online students often crave immediate, personalized support, this service’s goal is to reach students who may not be inclined to e-mail us with their inquiry (though our policy is to answer all e-mails within 24-hours) or to try to search through our web content.

Before the current successful iteration of Chat, we piloted chat a few times with limited success. It originated as a pilot called Tutor Talk in the summer of 2013 in a separate platform that was not integrated with our website. It was at one set time each week and targeted undergraduate students only. When this pilot did not gain interest, we opened it up to all students toward the end of 2013, but we still had little participation. Finally, when we discovered that our current platform had the option for Chat, we revisited it in early 2015. We offered it at varying times on varying days of the week, and we also were more intentional with the way in which we marketed it (when we had targeted advertising in an all-student communication, we had better results.) Now, in 2016, we’ve had anywhere from 150 to almost 400 students use the Chat service each month (the numbers vary depending on term starts, student communications and advertising, etc.)

Continue reading “Chats and Webinars–an online writing center discussion”

Introducing the Online Writing Centers (OWC) Email Discussion List

sarah_princeToday’s post comes courtesy of Dr. Sarah Prince, of Walden University. Together with Beth Nastachowski, MA, Dr. Prince is starting a new discussion group–the OWC email discussion list. Today’s post is about the OWC–stay tuned for part two, coming next week, about best practices for online centers!

The idea for the listserv grew out of a SIG we presented at the 2015 IWCA conference titled “Refocusing the Conversation: Creating Spaces for Online Writing Center Community, Support, and Discussion.” After talking through possibilities for community building during the SIG, many ideas were on the table—an annual conference and/or a possible affiliation group within IWCA (much like the current regional affiliations rooted in specific geographic locations). Post conference, to follow up with these ideas, we sent out a survey to all who attended the conference and others at the conference who signed up to receive more information. Based on the group’s voting, it was decided that we would initially start with a listserv, or discussion list, to promote communication about what centers are doing and how we could all better serve students in a fully-online capacity.

Please join us today at the Online Writing Centers (OWC) email discussion list!

We hope that this listserv does in fact start as a building block that generates wider conversations about the state of current online writing centers, common issues among fully online centers, and possibilities for future collaboration among these centers. We would love to see our group gain the support and membership to work toward a separate affiliation under IWCA one day or even create an academic conference around issues specific to tutoring writing in a virtual environment.

We are advocating for further conversations among staff and tutors that serve students online, so we can, as a group, come up with best practices. Because such a community is still in its infancy, perhaps a better discussion would be how we’ve come to the practices that work for our center– through trial and error, gaps we perceived in our services, ideas for conveying information about writing in new ways, etc. In other words, we can talk about how we have a lot of this stuff, in part, because we don’t really have many discipline-wide best practices and, consequently, we’ve had to experiment. Our guess is that other centers are in the same boat, so we’d like to really advocate for a space where important discussions on innovation and new technologies can take place.

Continue reading “Introducing the Online Writing Centers (OWC) Email Discussion List”

In Other Words–a book review

arihn%20imageToday’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College. Andrew says that “the book does not discuss writing centers directly, but the topics it does discuss overlap with the work of the writing center in many ways (language acquisition, translation, identity issues, genre and style, etc).” 

Jhumpa Lahiri, the acclaimed novelist whose first book won her the Pulitzer Prize at age thirty-two, has released her first work of non-fiction: a collection of essays about learning Italian aptly titled In Other Words. The essays are animated by her passion, wide-eyed if a bit innocent, yet crafted by a masterful writer whose love of language is evident in every line.

Spoiler alert: the book never discusses writing centers. Rather, it is a personal narrative of language acquisition. Lahiri, whose life is devoted to the craft of writing, recounts her experience with Italian as one might recount a love affair. Lahiri embraces not only moments of exhilaration, but also those moments that disturb and disrupt, and even those that hurt; I suspect the writing center community will find much to identify with.

51wnsrzeh6l-_sx315_bo1204203200_In all, the book contains twenty-one essays, two short stories, and one longer, lyric afterword. Essays are short, most clocking in at less than five pages. In Other Words was first written in Italian and later translated into English, and both are presented side by side, making its 233 pages appear deceptively long. A fast and focused read, I could easily imagine this book being useful for teaching, or initiating conversations in a writing center (topics include language acquisition, the processes of reading and writing, the intricacies of identity, translation, genre and form, and the creative process).

The essays are short and episodic, focusing on one element of the language-learning process at a time. Many focus on a central metaphor or analogy. For instance, early in the book she compares learning Italian to swimming across a lake. For Lahiri, studying Italian in America was like swimming near the shore, good exercise but not exciting. She could always touch ground with her feet, revert back to speaking English. “But you can’t float without the possibility of drowning, of sinking. To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore.” Throughout the book, she revisits and revises this analogy, swimming through the deep parts of the lake, allowing the lake to become an ocean.

Continue reading “In Other Words–a book review”

Research on Writing Centers–Some Essential Studies

Lisa_professional_portrait_2011,_Nancy_FroehlichLisa Ede directed Oregon State University’s Writing Center from 1980 to 2010.  She retired from OSU at the end of fall term 2013. You can read a graduate student’s history of OSU’s Writing Center here.  Lisa also was a co-director of the 2007 and 2008 IWCA Summer Institutes and a leader at the 2006 Institute and has published several articles on writing centers.  
The post below is an excerpt from a talk that Ede gave at the Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference this past spring. Ede’s talk focused on the role that collaboration can play in energizing writing center communities. As part of that discussion, Ede emphasized the strong research tradition that both grows out of and supports the daily work of writing centers. In order to convey a rough sense of this tradition and show its development over time, Ede constructed a chronologically organized list of important book-length contributions to writing center studies. In this excerpt Ede introduces this list, which begins with the earliest monograph that Ede found and continues to the present. Here is Ede’s discussion of the list and the list itself.

I should mention two caveats about this list. I hope to explore the reasons why collaboration is a particularly enabling term and construct for those of us who work in writing centers, wherever they are located—in the US, Canada, or around the world.

I decided to construct a chronologically organized list of important book-length contributions to writing center studies. The list begins in 1984 with the earliest monograph that I found and continues to the present.

I should mention two caveats about this list. The first is that while I think this list includes most important book-length studies that in one way or another focus on writing centers, I cannot claim that it is comprehensive. The second is that because this list does not include articles, book chapters, or other briefer studies, it is only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. To get a full sense of research on writing centers, you would need to turn to the contents of such journals as The Writing Lab Newsletter (founded in 1976 and recently renamed WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship), The Writing Center Journal (founded in 1980), and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal (founded in 2003). Writing center research is also published in a variety of journals that focus more broadly on work in rhetoric and composition—journals such as College Composition and Communication, College English, WPA: Writing Program Administration, and similar venues.

Continue reading “Research on Writing Centers–Some Essential Studies”

“Does anyone know…?”: The National Census of Writing responds

gladstein_jill_profileAs a perfect kick-off to our upcoming fall semester, Jill Gladstein writes about the amazing work she and her colleague Brandon Fralix have done creating and curating the invaluable National Census of Writing. Their work was supported by a prestigious Mellon Foundation grant and is a game-changing resource for conversations in the field.  

Often someone posts a question on WCenter or via social media asking about common practices in the writing center. Where is your writing center located? How many consultations did you hold last year? Are your consultants undergraduates, graduate students, or professional tutors? How are they trained and paid? Who directs the writing center? Sometimes people request this information with urgency in order to save a threatened writing center or other times people request this information out of curiosity to provide context for how their individual writing center fits into the larger landscape of writing centers. The answers to these questions provide perspective for folks working in and out of our centers, but we have been limited by the lack of response to these data requests.

Last fall my colleague Brandon Fralix from Bloomfield College and I, with the assistance and support of many, launched the National Census of Writing database.

We sent individuals at over 2500 institutions a 200+ question survey covering eight broad topics.

survey

Our goal was to complement individual research projects and larger projects such as the Writing Centers Research Project and WAC Mapping Project by providing a large set of data that would be easily accessible via the internet. We wanted to make it easier for people to create a data-informed practice within their writing program or center.

Continue reading ““Does anyone know…?”: The National Census of Writing responds”

Tutor Perspectives on Dress Code in the Writing Center

Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by a conversation on the WCenter listserv in November about dress code in writing centers. In this post, current tutors share their perspectives on dress codes within their writing centers and their personal considerations when they choose what to wear to work.

Headshot (2)Shannon Henesy- Shannon is a junior studying English and Creative Writing at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. She is the Assistant Director of Salem College’s writing center.

In Salem College’s Writing Center, “appropriate dress code” does not constitute particular wardrobe pieces, per say, but rather takes into account the preferences of the individuals who work there.  Prior to opening in the fall, all of the writing center consultants discussed with our director, Dr. Katie Manthey, how strict dress codes are inherently problematic.  The question which arises from assigning a dress code asks who gets to make the decision as to what is appropriate and what is not; additionally, this ordinance can cause discomfort or disassociation in certain individuals.  We all consider ourselves equal in our writing center, and we collectively came to the decision to not enforce a rigid dress code.  Instead, we choose to present ourselves in clothing in which we feel comfortable.  We believe that the attitudes we put forward contribute to “professionalism” more than the clothes we wear.

That being said, I am certain to have different considerations I take into account than the rest of the consultants.  Personally, I prefer to dress in a manner that makes me feel confident, approachable, and put-together.  An outfit which adheres to these qualifications can vary depending on my mood.  Overall, I want to wear clothes that do not set me apart from the students which come in to be tutored; I want the consultant and the student to be on equal footing, including what we wear.

 

image1Zubayr Chohan– Zubayr is currently working on an Education After Degree (Secondary) at the University of Alberta in Canada and has previously earned a BSc. He is a tutor at the University of Alberta Centre for Writers.

I think that as a male, my decisions on what I wear are less motivated by questions of safety, and instead stem from a desire to be professional. Although we work in a Peer Writing Centre, I still try to dress in a way that might make me seem older, more “professional” in an attempt to be regarded as more of an authority in the field.

I find that the days I wear a t-shirt or hoodie rather than a collared shirt are the days I feel like I may be deemed as less capable or knowledgeable on my subject. That is not to say I wear a suit and tie to the centre, however I have found myself making a conscious decision to dress myself accordingly on tutoring days.

I’d also like to comment that I don’t feel that clients themselves should have a dress code.

Continue reading “Tutor Perspectives on Dress Code in the Writing Center”

Ethnographic Films: Supporting Visual Assignments

FestaEditor’s note: Dr. Elizabeth Festa is the Associate Director at the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication at Rice University. I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation at IWCA 2015 and asked if she’d be willing to share more about the Center’s unique workshop.

Earlier this spring, our Center supported a graduate course in ethnographic research methods. The students were assigned to make short ethnographic digital films informed by a theory they had encountered in the course. The instructor wanted to introduce them to current film projects that embrace more experimental approaches to work in the discipline. I was intrigued by this opportunity to address visual argument beyond the familiar topics of slide design, poster design, and data presentation; ours is a relatively new center (we opened in 2012) and supporting visual communication is an important part of our mission.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.47.38 PMI designed a 2 ½ hour workshop in which we discussed some recent examples of visual ethnographic work (or film/videos of anthropological interest). I participated in a 3 hour film screening 8 weeks after the initial workshop to offer feedback on the students’ films alongside the instructor and film scholars and filmmakers from the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department. I was fortunate to share our vision for the workshop through an Ignite session at IWCA 2015 and later, to benefit from a broader conversation about visual engagement in writing centers at the lively roundtable facilitated by Daniel Emery, Holly Bittner, and Rachel Wolff.

The workshop that we developed was inspired by a film by Stephanie Spray that the course instructor, Cymene Howe, had seen at the “Ethnographic Terminalia” series at the AAA conference. The collective’s mission is to “develop generative ethnographies that do not subordinate the sensorium to the expository and theoretical text or monograph.” Defining “terminus” as “the end, the boundary, and the border…a site of experience and encounter,” the series encourages audience engagement, interaction, and discovery.   Spray’s film, much like an interactive digital media installation produced for the series by anthropologist and artist Lina Dib, an instructor in Rice’s Program for Writing and Communication, appropriates the visual as a responsive medium through which viewers might explore the nature of human experience.

We began our workshop by contrasting two very short digital stories by anthropologists,  “Participant-Observation” by Wynne Maggi and “The Machine is Us/ing Us” by Michael Wesch to demonstrate the difference between projects that depend primarily on narrative telling rather than filmic showing to make a point and those in which image and sound convey content and argument.   In the course of the workshop, we limned some of the historical values and principles of ethnographic film and contemplated how more recent digital projects draw upon, eschew, and/or transform these values. We referenced a variety of samples, not all of them ethnographies, to illuminate a range of interests, audiences, and tactics including photojournalistic work such as that produced by Media Storm; experimental projects at MIT’s Docubase ; non-profit “client work”; and activist, participatory and applied visual projects.

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Meet MENAWCA

Editor’s note: I was excited when Kelly Wilson of the Texas A&M University in Qatar agreed to share more with us about the Middle East – North Africa Writing Centers Alliance. Read about their valuable work below!

2014 MENAWCA Conference
2014 MENAWCA Conference

MENAWCA (Middle East – North Africa Writing Centers Alliance) was founded in 2007 to foster communication among existing writing centers in the region and to promote the work/practice/pedagogy of WCs in hopes that other institutions would be interested in starting them. Currently, our board has nine members.

I serve as President. My term began in May 2015 when the president at the time learned that she would be leaving the region. The expat world can be quite transient and some of us come and go without much notice. But, I was happy to take the role on as I love writing center work and I see it as an opportunity not only to serve the field, but to learn and develop new skills. My term will end in March 2017.

I have worked at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) for 5 years, both as a writing consultant and now as the Program Coordinator of Tutorial Services in our Academic Success Center. I oversee the training and supervision of tutors for writing as well as some math and sciene courses. TAMUQ is an engineering college – we offer bachelor’s degrees in mechanical, electrical and computing, petroleum and chemical engineering. We also offer an MEng or MS in chemical engineering.

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The remainder of the members on the MENAWCA Executive Board are as follows:

  • Vice President: Maimoonah Al Khalil (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Past President: Molly McHarg (Washington DC)
  • Secretary: Elizabeth Whitehouse (Al Ain, UAE)
  • Treasurer/IWCA Representative: Sherry Ward (Doha, Qatar)
  • Public Relations Officer: Paula Habre (Beirut, Lebanon)
  • Conference Co-Chairs: Ryan McDonald and Susan Finlay (Muscat, Oman)
  • Webmaster: Amy Zenger (Beirut, Lebanon)
  • Member at Large: Jodi Lefort (Muscat, Oman)

Continue reading “Meet MENAWCA”

An Update on PeerCentered!

Editor’s note: It was my pleasure to meet Clint Gardner in person at IWCA this year and hear more about PeerCentered. The Director of the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center, he currently serves as Archivist for the Two-year College Association (TYCA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). On his website, Clint shares that “having worked in writing centers for over two decades, I have learned a great deal about writing center theory and practice, one-to-one instruction, peer tutoring, the role of writing centers at two-year colleges, as well as the uses of computers in composition classrooms and in the writing center. My role as Student Writing Center Director at Salt Lake Community College allows me to teach writing to students from diverse backgrounds, as well as to teach tutors how to respond more effectively to their peers. ” Below, Clint shares more about the past, present, and future of the PeerCentered community!

36222_507314723380_2934617_nPeerCentered started out in 1998 as an online text chat for peer tutors. The concept was simple: allow an online space for peer tutors to continue the kinds of discussions that they were having at conferences such as the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing and other more regionally-based writing center conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. Initially, the discussions were held weekly, and had a fair number of peer tutor and writing center professional attendees from various institutions around the United States, but we did have one writing center professional join in from Europe on occasion. Time zones do interfere with such live discussions. In the early days, peer tutors did outnumber professionals by a considerable amount—something that would change over time. The live chats were initially held weekly—then monthly—and then finally just a few times a year, mostly due to the difficulty in sticking to such a schedule by the main organizer—me! I fear I realized far too late that I could have turned over the organization and the moderation of the live chats to peer tutors themselves.

After playing around with asynchronous discussion forums which never really took off, I decided to add a blog to PeerCentered as a means of having peer tutors share their experiences in that media with others from around the world. The blog has been moderately successful, given that there have been over 750 postings, and more than 1,100 comments in its 14 year history. PeerCentered averages over 5,000 page views per month, during the typical school year. Contributors have written on a variety of topics ranging from practical tutoring techniques, to more theoretical discussions of how peer tutoring works, language acquisition, or the student’s right to his or her own language, for example.

Continue reading “An Update on PeerCentered!”

Advice from Seniors!

Editor’s note: This semester, I asked my senior undergraduate consultants to share their best advice with the rest of the tutoring team. I love what they shared–and was delighted to get some tips-and-tricks from some other centers.

Vanessa NakoskiVanessa Nakoski, Montgomery College – Rockville
Kill the Magic of Editing: While it’s tempting to show off to a student and produce the answers out of thin air, it’s more effective to dispel the mystery. Explain to the students what you’re doing as you’re doing it to model how they might replicate the process.

Instead of simply saying, “I won’t proofread for you,” tell the student “Let me show you how I look at your work to find errors so that you can learn to see your work the way I do.”

Etiquette & Organization: Students usually have a pretty clear idea about what they believe or think, but they get stumped trying to put it on the page. Ask them to state their thesis and then “Convince me out loud!” Students are so polite (and aware of time constraints) that they won’t waste your time rambling. They will get to their main points and put them in order right away. Write down what they say, then show them. Chances are, they’ve just written all their own topic sentences! When they go home, they can repeat the experience by speaking into a voice recorder on their phone.

Rewrite the Prompt: All too often, students write great papers that fail to meet an assignment’s objectives. Go back to the original prompt, and ask the student to rewrite the directions as a To-Do list in their own words. Then work with the student to see what they’ve missed or overemphasized. They can use that list to check their draft like a scavenger hunt.

Continue reading “Advice from Seniors!”

A Conversation with Ben Rafoth

Editor’s note: Ben Rafoth is the featured reviewer in our inaugural issue of the new format of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship.

Rafoth, Ben 73014D31A leading scholar and author in the field, Ben has been a writing center director since 1988 and shares that “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had great teachers and awesome students, and the hundreds of tutors I’ve been fortunate to work with in my writing center at IUP have made all the difference.”

He teaches graduate courses in the Composition and TESOL program at IUP, and has served as its director. In 2010, Ben was named IUP’s Distinguished University Professor, a lifetime title and the highest award for faculty at IUP.

The keynote speaker at this year’s International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Conference in Pittsburgh, Ben was gracious enough to share a few thoughts on his review of Talk About Writing, his upcoming presentation at IWCA, and the general state of the field.

On Talk About Writing and the art of conversation:

Conversation has always fascinated me. It’s so primal and simple but also spontaneous, intimate, complex, adaptable, universal, idiosyncratic, creative, and I could just go on and on here. Conversation as a topic of study has often been overlooked, and so when people like Schegloff, Goffman, Tannen, and others came along in the last century and devoted their careers to the study of conversation, it was very eye-opening, to me at least. In one of Deborah Tannen’s books, she writes about the conversation at her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s full of mundane back-and-forth and yet totally fascinating. I like to listen to conversations in restaurants and places where eavesdropping doesn’t get you slapped in the face.

StripeDay
Tutors at IUP celebrating “Stripe Day”

So what Mackiewicz and Thompson have done is bring the disciplined study of conversation to writing center studies. There have been others, but their work lays out the research in a way that invites others to do their own studies, building on previous research. That’s an important contribution – I mean, to write in a way that breaks new ground. I think these authors have done that.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Ben Rafoth”

Semicolons Like Superglue! And Other “Stickable” Things

Editor’s note: Abby Shantzis and Lena Stypeck are tutors at the University of Maryland Writing Center and have developed some exciting strategies for using analogies as a tool in tutoring sessions. Timely advice as we start the fall semester!

Analogies in the Writing Center

lena and abby
Abby and Lena

Over the past three years, Lena has been especially interested in how students best retain information. As a University of Maryland Writing Center (UMD WC) tutor and now high school English teacher, she’s constantly worried that her efforts are for nothing–what’s the point of explaining something if your client is just going to forget the second they leave you? The issue of retention came to her attention when one of her regulars returned making the exact same mistakes as before, completely oblivious to their previous sessions’ discussions. Lena began to question her own tutoring abilities: If this client had forgotten everything they’d talked about, did her other clients forget, too? How bad of a tutor was she if her clients weren’t learning anything? Was she actually fulfilling the UMD WC’s mission to make better writers, if writers were coming back with the same mistakes? These terrifying–and potentially self-destructive–questions paved the way for research on analogies, which she used to combat student retention issues.

Continue reading “Semicolons Like Superglue! And Other “Stickable” Things”

A Writing Center to Envy

Editor’s note: After hearing from afar of the beautiful writing center space that Jackson State University in Mississippi enjoys, I wanted to know more! Tatiana Glushko and Kathi R. Griffin share their story below:

Entrance to the centerIn 2002 The Richard Wright Center for the Written Word (RWC) at Jackson State University began as part of a grant. As coordinator of the Millsaps College Writing Center, Kathi Griffin was invited to help train the first cohort of peer tutors, of which then undergraduate Summer Graves was a member. After the center got off the ground, funding sources changed more than once, which also changed the face and location of the center.

CAPTION GOES HERE
Tatiana Glushko and Kathi Griffin.

As we know, the location of the writing center speaks about its role on a campus. The evolution of the RWC reflects its changing affiliations, thereby its role and mission at JSU. When the center opened in 2003, it was located on the third floor at the back of the library. It didn’t have its own enclosed space and thus was furnished like the rest of the library, in unforgiving oak tables and chairs. It was a place where students, primarily undergraduates “who need assistance and encouragement in completing their writing assignments,” could receive support.

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Weekly #WCLinkup: Pinterest and the writing center spaces of UNR, IUP and TAMU

Every week the blog editors would like to highlight a few activities, materials or events related to writing centers from around the globe. We intend this to be a simple, fun weekly list of good reading/memes/links around the web by/for/about writing centers. You can help us by sending us links or those tidbits of information that make our readers smile. 

So for this first post I spent some time on Pinterest and entered the keywords “writing+center” first and found a gYes, I went to the writing centerreat number of virtual writing center spaces curated by parents and teachers for elementary and middle school children. I then added another keyword to the search “university+writing+center” and I came across three digital spaces from three universities. The writing consultants at the University of Nevada, Reno writing center started 12 boards and have so far compiled 138 pins. Why not check out the UNR writing center space on Pinterest now? The board titles range from “Writer’s Block,” “Writing Humor” to ‘Real World Writing.”

The IUP Writing Center has 18 boards so far that include information for “IUP Faculty” but also “Just for Laughs,” “Staying Productive” to “Writing in the News.”

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Night Against Procrastination 2015 at Grand Valley State University

This year March 5, 2015 is the day many international writing centers celebrate the Long Night Against Procrastination. Patrick Johnson, Director of the Meijer Center for Writing at Grand Valley State University, shares how his institution has run a #lndah, or how they refer to it, a #NAP event for the last 3 years (this year will be their 4th). Unfortunately, due to the university’s spring break, the Center for Writing has delayed their NAP event until March 12-13. Below is a brief overview about the planned events. 

The Night Against Procrastination has become an annual tradition at Grand Valley State University. We started offering the event four years ago after learning about it from Sandra Ballweg (TU Darmstadt). Each year it has grown and we have been able to involve more campus programs in the promotion and organization of the event. The first year we held the event we had roughly 120 students attend, whereas last year we had over 200.

For students, NAP is an opportunity to get started on end-of-semester projects/papers after returning from spring break. For writing consultants, it is an essential form of staff bonding where many consultants participate as students as well as assisting with the running of the event. Traditionally, there are not many public outreach events that writing center’s host, so NAP is our one event where we invite everyone on campus to come to the writing center, learn about services, and surround themselves with productivity. A local pizza restaurant donates pizza for our midnight snack and we also offer desk yoga, brain games, campus walks and sunset viewings, as well as a victor’s breakfast for those who survive the night. We also give out pins to students who participate that say “power napper” and “I went all night.” Continue reading “Night Against Procrastination 2015 at Grand Valley State University”

A Call to Reflect On Lerner’s Bean Counting

Given the drumbeat about the need for assessment, we’re asking for your thoughts on Neal Lerner’s “Counting Beans and Making Beans Count,” Vol. 22.1 (September 1997), and if appropriate to what is on your mind, also his later “Choosing Beans Wisely” Vol. 26.1 (September, 2001). Both articles are available in the open access Archives on the WLN website. We look forward to reading your thoughts about this topic and sharing them with other WLN readers.

Please send your reflection through the Submission section on our website.

Other Reflection Opportunities

As part of our 40th anniversary celebration of the Writing Lab Newsletter (scheduled to become WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship with the beginning of Vol. 40 in Sept.), we also extend a broader invitation for you to reflect on an article that has appeared at some point during all those years. How has some particular article influenced writing center scholarship and work? How has this topic changed directions since the time in which it was written? Why? What relevance does the article have?

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South African Writing Centres: A conversation with Dr. Rose Richards and Sharifa Daniels

Editor’s note: Recently I joined the South African Writing Centre’s group—and quickly realized I knew very little about the work being done by writing centers in their part of the world, or the challenges they face. Thankfully, Dr. Rose Richards and Sharifa Daniels were happy to share about both the SA WC group and the work they do together at Stellenbosch University.

10730925_588613957950431_5474706137902620402_nDR. ROSE RICHARDS

The SA WC group is an informal body. It’s been around since the early 2000s. We’ve never formally constituted, preferring our independence. Also time and money are considerations with these types of things, as these types of formal groups need to be maintained. Some years ago we formed the first Special Interest Group at the Heltasa (Higher Education in Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa) national conference. Since then SIGs have become part of the conference and several SIGs now exist; we’re working on formalising our community a bit more this year.

We haven’t really had leaders as such, being more of a collective. We have SIG convenors. I was one, Sherran Clarence and Jacques du Toit have also been convenors. I ran out of funds around the time I was busy with my PhD and haven’t been to Heltasa in a while.

Rose 46We have a listserv and a directory for the SA WC community. Just about every tertiary institution these days has a writing centre (in some cases more than one). I think we have at least 13 WCs in the country. We are not a big country: only about 56 million people and relatively few of us get to university. University study is very expensive here. There are bursaries and scholarships, but not nearly enough and those that exist are for the most part not very large. Because of SA’s history many parts of the population have been educationally disadvantaged for decades and this has an effect on the current generation. It’s hard to escape a cycle of poverty for instance when you come from an under-resourced and under-educated background.

I started the Stellenbosch Writing Lab with Sharifa in 2001. I was tutoring in the English Department at Stellenbosch and working in a bookshop. I had planned to be a freelance writer, but was struggling to make ends meet. A senior colleague saw the advert for the writing lab post and urged me to apply. The post was being advertised by a lecturer in the department of Afrikaans and Dutch. He had started his own organisation for language and communication and had researched writing centres in the states. His aim was to start a bilingual one here, hence two heads. I am the English Head and Sharifa is the Afrikaans Head.

Continue reading “South African Writing Centres: A conversation with Dr. Rose Richards and Sharifa Daniels”