Mike Jacoby is the Tutor and Mentor Coordinator for the Athletics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, Mike worked at the Northern Michigan University Writing Center for many years.
When I graduated with my master’s in writing in 2015, I was fortunate to find a position coordinating a tutoring program for student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin. I had just completed my second year of managing a writing center as its associate director, and writing center administration was work I found both fulfilling
and challenging. My writing center experiences anchored me, but the move into student-athlete support as a tutor coordinator brought me into unfamiliar waters: I hadn’t worked with student-athletes before, and I didn’t (and still don’t) personally care about sports. In addition to being out of my element in that way, I also waded into another unknown dimension: the realm of multi-subject tutoring.
The Athletics Tutoring Program is funded and housed completely through the UW Athletic Department (we have an Office of Academic Services within the athletic department). We exist apart from campus and from any other department, which has more pros than cons. We’re funded through the (well-off) Athletic Department and thus aren’t pressed for resources in ways we might otherwise be. Our program employs over eighty tutors to support over five hundred student-athletes per semester in plethora of courses (we have usually over eight hundred student-athletes enrolled but not all student-athletes make use of our program). Continue reading “Boiling Down the Essentials: Transferring Tutoring Skills Beyond the Writing Center”→
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.
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”→
Our Writing Consultants Lauren Oddo and Kelsey Shields prepared a handbook with the cooperation of music faculty and our music librarian. Have a look for advice to writers, a sample essay, as well as transcripts of interviews with faculty at this URL:
My name is Kara Bollinger, and I am the Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Center at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscow, Russia. Our writing center is just now turning one-year-old and is one of only two writing centers in Russia. So, the Director of the WCC, Olga Aksakalova, and I are excited to join the conversation on CWCAB. We’re sure to have questions (and hopefully insights) in the coming months, but for now we want to say “hey.”
Students at our school are enrolled in one of three programs: Bachelor’s in Economics (a joint program with the Higher School of Economics), Master’s in Economics, and Master’s in Finance. Students write and give presentations in both English and Russian. The WCC offers one-on-one writing consultations in both English and Russian. We also hold workshops on a variety of writing and communication topics (again some workshops are in English and some are in Russian). Our students read in English, attend courses in English, and listen to presentations in English, but they often want more practice speaking; because of this, we also offer one-on-one English conversation sessions. In addition to Olga and me, the WCC employs four part-time professional consultants who work with students.
Though most of our time is dedicated to students, we also work with faculty. First, we are active collaborators with the English department in helping develop curriculum and providing guidance on aspects of courses like writing assignments, rubrics, and peer review questions. Second, we are beginning to work with Economics faculty on effectively teaching and incorporating writing in their courses.
As a recent transplant to Moscow (I’ve been here for a little over a month) what I’ve noticed most (in the WCC, that is) is that the writing pedagogy and the writing center theory that are commonplace in the US are new ideas here. Though students come to the WCC expecting help with their writing or speaking, they often show up for a session, sit down at the table and say “So, what is this place?” It’s quite rewarding to explain the writing center to students and makes the goal-setting portion of the session crucial. In the future, Olga hopes to write more about her experiences starting the WCC here last year, which illustrate the idea of Rhet/Comp being new in Russia.
One way we’re working to increase our school’s understanding of the WCC is through Open Houses. The WCC got a new home this year, so we hope that once students actually visit the space, we can say “Okay—here’s what we do here.” To help root our writing center, our Open Houses include a discussion of other writing centers. We hope this will help students understand the context in which the WCC exists. Additionally, we want students to feel like the WCC is “theirs.” So, we’re encouraging them to provide artwork, photos, creative writing, and/or favorite quotes to decorate the WCC. To start, we’ve asked students to write their writing and/or communication goals for the year on a Post-It note and to post those goals in the WCC. So far, the Open Houses seem to be working. Students have been active in engaging us with questions about the WCC and excited about continuing to participate.
That’s all for now. We look forward to sharing and collaborating with you all soon.
It’s so great to read all the posts so far. I’m Susan Thomas, the founding director of The University of Sydney Writing Hub (a name that Mickey Harris helped me settle on after much deliberation). I’m an American-trained Writing Program Administrator who never thought for a second that I’d be this far away from home directing a writing center!
I’d like to offer a little background information on the Hub in hopes of opening up a dialogue on some of the challenges of starting a writing center–particularly in environments where writing is viewed as “remedial” or a “content-free zone.” I’ve certainly had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years–and have shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears to make this dream a reality. But the difficulties and setbacks were all forgotten the first time I walked into the Hub and heard that unmistakable buzz of groups of students and peer tutors talking about writing.
I look forward to interacting with you all and learning more about writing centers on a global scale!
All the best from Sydney,
The University of Sydney Writing Hub was established in 2009 as the teaching and research home of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Writing (WRIT) Program and Writing Centre. Since “centre” in Australia carries a different connotation from that in North America, the name Hub was chosen to reflect Burke’s idea of communication as spokes radiating from a wheel, implying multiple pathways and modalities that undergird, shape, and define the writing process. The Writing Hub is different still from North American Writing Centers since it administers seven credit-bearing courses (five undergraduate and two graduate), and offers drop-in writing assistance for students across the Faculty. While most North American Writing Centers are located in academic departments, the Writing Hub is an independent unit that sits within the Teaching and Learning Network of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Writing Hub courses are required for some degrees across the Faculty and electives for others. While many of our students come from within our own Faculty, we attract a wide range of students from other faculties, including Science and Engineering, particularly in Summer and Winter School (three to six-week intensives during semester breaks). Our flagship course (WRIT1001) and our new cross-cultural writing foundations course (WRIT1000) are offered year-round, in both twelve-week main semesters as well as in Summer and Winter School. Our (new) advanced and graduate courses are offered on rotation, but at least once per year. All Hub courses meet for three contact hours per week in some combination of lecture, tutorial, or seminar, with all courses featuring a hybrid model of delivery (incorporating face-to-face and online instruction). Small group meetings (tutorials) are held in a 24-person, custom-designed computer classroom.
Drop-in peer writing assistance is available to students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and/or a WRIT course. This restriction is purely financial, and we anticipate expanding our services to include the wider University community as funding becomes available.
In addition to courses and peer tutoring, the Writing Hub offers writing workshops for faculty, often facilitated by international experts, and two seminar series: “How I Write” (borrowing from Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric), featuring high-profile writers discussing their craft; and “Rhetoric in the Real World,” featuring presentations on applications of rhetoric outside the academy. The Writing Hub also offers consultancy services to area businesses, with all profits re-invested in the Hub to support student programs.
Before the Writing Hub was created, the Faculty offered only two undergraduate writing courses: one housed in English (developed by me), and the other in Linguistics (developed by Professor William Foley, a sociolinguist), with no writing support services for undergraduates. When the Hub was created, Bill andI redesigned these two existing courses as the pilot WRIT courses, which have now undergone several iterations.
The Hub represents a departure from the way writing is usually conceived of and taught in Australia, in that it emphasizes writing as a discipline with a classical rhetorical framework. There is a particular focus on invention and the multimodalities that support discovery in the writing and research processes.
In 2006, €27,000 was awarded to Caroline Graham, Director, University of Limerick (UL) Language Centre, and Dr. Angela Chambers, Professor of Applied Languages, to develop a number of Writing Centre activities and an academic business plan for the creation of a Writing Centre in UL. Subsequent to that initial award, Sarah Moore, Dean of UL’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, assisted with the expansion of the UL application to take advantage of the newly announced Higher Education Authority (HEA), Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) context. Subsequently, UL was successfully awarded a 2.5 year, €250,000 budget to fund the creation of the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre. An inter-institutional initiative based in UL, serving as a nexus of writing activities at four institutions in the Shannon Region, the Shannon Consortium Regional Writing Centre won its award on the strength of its recognition of the centrality of writing to teaching and learning in higher education and the importance of writing for not only the dissemination, but also the discovery and creation of knowledge. Seeing the great value of the Writing Centre to the furtherance of many of the university’s strategic goals and envisaging the centre’s eventual value to the wider off-campus community, the university’s administration mainstreamed the Writing Centre at the end of its SIF contract in 2009, placing it under the auspices of the Centre for Teaching and Learning and assuming responsibility for its financial support.
Today, the re-titled Regional Writing Centre, UL, continues in its support of undergraduate and postgraduate student writers and collaboration with faculty to develop their own writing and to expand writing-based curriculum innovations. Since its inception in 2007, over 75 key writing-enhancement programmes, attended by approximately 15,000 participants from across the region, were offered by the Regional Writing Centre, including the following:
Design, delivery and development of modules in writing
Integration of writing into course support and curriculum development: Writing to Learn and Writing in Disciplines
Expansion of the one-to-one Peer-tutoring in Academic Writing initiative to undergraduate programmes in all four Faculties (currently, the module is taken up only by Humanities students)
Online resources, including How I Write, Ireland interviews on video, with transcripts and with Writing-to-Learn prompts for subject specialists who wish to develop writing in their discipline
Secondary School Essay Writing Competitions
The Regional Writing Centre is now seen as a centre for excellence in the pedagogy of academic and professional writing development across Ireland and throughout Europe, as evidenced by the successful tender to host EATAW 2011, the European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing conference, which welcomed 300 international delegates to the Limerick in June 2011.
While writing centres have flourished in American universities since the late 1960s, the Regional Writing Centre is the first of its kind in Ireland. The value of the Centre is its contribution to the academic success and future professional development of students and staff at UL and its aspirations for writing development for the region.
When working with engineering and science English learners who have difficulty explaining science concepts during a tutorial, I have often found it useful to bring out the scrap paper and have them draw out the relationship on paper or use simple algebra-like equations: Do you mean (a + b) + (c + d) OR (a) + (b + C) + (D) to show which words, phrases or clauses go together in a sentence, particularly complex lists.