Category: Uncategorized

To Senior Year: My Last Words

Demetrius Minnick-Tucker, Writing Consultant

A day most looked for —and for some —a day most prolonged: graduation is an inevitable reality of one’s academic career. And with last assignments and (more sadly) last goodbyes rushing after you as the school year comes to a close, it’s easy to forget the wonder of one’s college experience. So, in an attempt to slow you down and capture your entire academic career before it comes to a screeching end, if you would, join me for a moment of nostalgia. An ode to the graduates:

Attend to the letter forged from this pen,

The days of May-time, gone with the wind…

Seasons come, seasons go,

Experience taught us how to know:

Flower’s blossom, spring-time is here!

Leaves begin to fade, 

Met by a chilling crusade,

It’s clear, winter-time is near.

A generation comes, a generation goes,

That’s how school years often go:

The chapters begun, excited with a glow,

The chapter continues, long studying, only to expect the unknown;

The chapter slows to a close,

The chapter ends on a solemn note; alone.

So the story goes,

Freshman to Senior year. 

Then, young and uncertain, 

Now, matured and determined.

Senior year is here, and I can say I have known

The highs and the lows, 

And the paradox, that senior year

Is as the close of a remarkably happy career:

You’ve heard the applauds,

The criticisms and the assuring nods,

You’ve known what it is to hurt,

Yet, wake up tomorrow for work.

Oh Senior Year! 

What have you meant to me?

You have been like a sweet flower,

Fragrant, and beautiful to behold;

However, Time awoke: beckoning your bower

To join its withering cold.

You Should Send a Holiday Card This Year – and Here’s How!

Andrew Hutto, Writing Consultant

There is no understating the difficulty this year has brought. COVID-19 has taken loved ones, disrupted plans, isolated us from each other, and is already beginning to cast a long shadow over the holiday season. If you have never sent a holiday card this is the year to do it.

With traditional family gatherings jeopardized, sending out a card may be the safest option to connect with friends and family this winter. Sure you can send a text message, an “E-card” or social media message, wishing loved ones a happy holiday, but taking the time to send a physical card may be one of the most meaningful gestures of solidarity this pandemic. 

Greeting cards are an excellent way to slow down the speed of our interactions. Since they take a few days to be delivered by mail, cards represent an antidote to the instant gratification of a quick email or instant message. It takes time to sit down and compose a few words by hand before dropping your card off at a mailbox. This might seem archaic but research has indicated that taking time to compose a written message for someone may improve the sender’s happiness. This year, who could not benefit from an extra boost of joy? By sending out a holiday card, not only are you increasing your own fulfillment, but you may also be making someone else’s day. Receiving a hand-written card in the mail indicates that the sender has spent time thinking about you. Amid a global pandemic, where we have reoriented our means of connection, it only seems fitting that we might take advantage of writing a greeting card to signal our care for one another. 

Some tips for your holiday card:

Resist the urge to simply sign your name

You’ve spent 30 minutes picking out the perfect card, the message is clever, and you are sure your recipient will get a kick out of the cover image. Now what to do inside of the card?  I would resist the urge to only sign your name. Instead, try writing a brief, personal message in your card. This might take up a minute of your time, but it is worth it. Jotting down a few greetings in your own words and with your handwriting makes the card personal to the relationship you have with the recipient. 

Get creative with the envelope 

The envelope is your canvas! As long as the address is visible you can use the rest of the space to set the tone of your card. You can try your hand at drawing a sketch on the back or using some seasonally themed stickers to seal the envelope closed. Maybe you have a certain date for the card to be opened? You can write “open me on the 24th”. Whatever the case may be, the envelope is your first chance to make the first impression on your card, take advantage of this opportunity. 

Write the date inside of your card

If the recipient of your card is like me, they may want to save your card to look back on it the following year. Adding a date to your card helps your reader organize the card and provides a helpful marker for a particular season in life. (I still have cards from my grandparents from over the years and it is a nice retrospective to go back and how things have changed.) 

Ask a question in your card

This can be as simple as, “how are you?”. Asking a question engages the reader of your card and will likely prompt a follow-up. You can ask about a specific detail like, “how was this semester?, or “how’s the puppy?”, By connecting your question to your recipient’s life, you let them know that you are thinking about them. Asking a question in your card is a simple gesture, but it may be more meaningful than you could ever imagine. Sometimes people just need to be prompted with before they can truly connect. 

Pick a personal salutation

As with emails, the salutation at the end of your card offers another moment of personalization. There is nothing wrong with the standards, “sincerely”, or “take care”, but perhaps you could use this space to offer one more intentional moment in your card. Personally, I sign off my holiday cards with, “stay warm”. This phrase accomplishes an extension of goodwill to the reader and it plays off the seasonal themes. There is a litany of other appropriate options, the key is to pick a salutation that fits your specific reader and reflects your personal rhetoric. 

Consider donating with your card

Several excellent organizations sell cards as part of their holiday donation season. You can give back along with providing a moment of joy to your loved ones. When purchasing your holiday cards, you might consider buying a card from a charity that your recipient is passionate about. This way you have connected your greeting to their cares and interests while also using your investment to help those in need.  Greet for Good is an excellent aggregate site that compiles different card offerings from a variety of charities. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital also offers box sets of holiday cards that were designed by patients. 

If you have made it this far, excellent! I hope these tips will be helpful as you write out your holiday cards this year. I have found this practice a nice break from the semester’s grind. You might pick a day in the coming weeks to sit down and spend time with this challenge. 

Stay warm and happy holidays!

Finding the Strategies, and Confidence, to be Stronger Writers

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

If you’ve ever heard someone from the University Writing Center talk about what we do here you’ve likely heard them say that our goal is to do more than help a writer simply “fix” a current draft. We also want to provide ideas and strategies to help that person become a stronger writer in the future. Some of these suggestions are nuts and boltsdscn2185 suggestions about organization or revision or grammar and usage. Yet we also believe that writing well involves more than just mastering a set of skills. The writing processes we use, as well as how confident and motivated we feel to work on a piece of writing, can be crucial to how successfully any writer navigates new writing challenges.

Talk to many university students – or, quite frankly, most people in the culture – and you will hear people say things such as “I just can’t write,” or “I’m not a born writer.” After years of unproductively harsh criticism, rather than constructive instruction, they have internalized a belief that there is some kind of hidden magic to being a good writer, and that they don’t have it. The truth is, that writing well takes time, practice, failure, revision, advice, and is an ongoing, life-long learning process for all of us. There are simply no “born writers.”

In recent research of mine, I have been focusing on what makes people feel anxious about, or confident in, their reading and writing abilities at a given moment. Put more simply, what makes a person feel literate at one time and not another. Many factors facilitate or obstruct such a feeling of agency for people. A new technology can make writing suddenly much easier, or can make previously simple actions complicated and confusing. A teacher’s response to a writing assignment can be dismissive and discouraging, or offer encouraging suggestions for revision that make a writer feel that success is possible.

Culture, material conditions, language, and many other factors shape all writers’ perceptions of agency. All of these external influences result in experiences, emotions, and memories that also shape such perceptions. My research on how these factors influence student writers took place in part at the UofL University Writing Center as well as with students in the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan, (the book is titled Literacy 9781138667112Practices and Perceptions of Agency: Composing Identities). In this research, I drew on research in psychology and neuroscience, as well as other fields, to understand how writers’ sense of confidence could vary dramatically from one context to another and how that affected their abilities to write successfully. A student could write well in one course, and struggle in a new course, even in the same major, when facing a new genre. Another student could excel at writing at work, but not at school. Each experience creates a different emotional memory that will influence how that student both thinks and feels about a similar writing situation the next time it comes up. Research in psychology on emotion, memory, and motivation, illustrates how important the kinds of response we provide as writing consultants and teachers is to the ways in which students approach their writing.

At the University Writing Center, we have incorporated some of the ideas from this research into the ways we work with writers. We are developing strategies that help writers approach revision, even substantial revision that will require a great deal of work, with more confidence in their abilities to do such difficult work, and more internal motivation to complete the work. One key part of this approach is helping writers understand that their struggles and anxieties are not unique to them, but typical of all writers, from first-year students to famous novelists. We sometimes take the time to talk about how learning anything is first a struggle, but one that they can work through. Writing is not an innate gift, but a learned activity that gets better with practice. That knowledge alone, research has shown, can result in significant changes in how willing student writers may be to put in the hours and effort to improve their work. We both give students strategies for improving as well as talk to them about how, like all writers, they have strengths, challenges, and the abilities to keep learning.

My research is just one example of the ongoing research about writing and the teaching of writing that takes place at the University Writing Center. We are, as our mission statement points out, “committed to being part of ongoing scholarly conversations about the teaching of writing.” You can see this research reflected in work that Cassandra Book, our Associate Director, did on our Virtual Writing Center, or by the publications and graduate student projects that you can find listed on our website, or the conferences at which our staff present each year. An essential part of being a research university is the idea that we should use our research to contribute to knowledge in our field and enhance the educational experiences of our students. We’re looking forward to the start of the spring semester and to helping all writers find the strategies, and confidence, that will offer them the chance to express their ideas as clearly and creatively as possible.

Invisible Lines

Mark Williams

I dropped composition 102 two—maybe three—times in college. I did finally complete it in my last semester. It was “take comp or don’t graduate”: I took comp. But even then, it turned out to be the worst grade of my college career, by about an entire grade.

The first time I took the class, at community college, I stayed in almost the entire semester, but at some point halfway through I quit turning in the assignments. The turning point was a long “article summary” that the teacher gave me a D on, some article by a scientist named John Polkinghorne. (It bothered me enough that I’ve remembered, apparently.) I thought I understood the article, I thought I’d written a summary, and the teacher simply said (over and over) that I “had not summarized the article.” I couldn’t get any farther than that with him. So when he began giving small assignment after small assignment and telling us that they would be “helpful,” I no longer trusted him—I’d already decided that he was not helpful, so why would his assignments be helpful? I quit turning things in, then dropped the class on the last possible date.

The next time I took composition, I walked out halfway through the first class. I had some important reasons: first, he called the writing process “percolating,” a really obnoxious metaphor for people like me who hated coffee. I still smell that bitter coffee smell when I picture his classroom. Second, he was using his percolating metaphor to justify a mountain of assignments that I thought were way overboard for a simple gen. ed. requirement. I don’t like coffee and I don’t like being overworked in a gen. ed., so I walked out before he’d finished the syllabus. I picked up stellar astronomy instead.

I arrived at the last semester of college, finally forced to take ENG 102. I felt dragged along, alternately insulted and embarrassed by what I was learning, until the final paper when we were required to have a tutoring session at the writing center. I remember my writing center tutor was a girl I’d gone to junior high with named Courtney, and how much it embarrassed me to be “asking” for help on an English 102 paper from someone I wanted to view as an equal. But I didn’t see much choice, and Courtney was quiet, and thoughtful, and patient, and helpful—and forty-five minutes later I was walking out of the library into the cold Chicago air with a new blue pencil and the uncomfortable realization that I could’ve been a lot better student, and a lot better writer, than I would now be as a college graduate. I felt as if an opportunity had been there, and I was too late to make good on it.

That was nine years ago this month. I still feel the almost infuriating helplessness I felt in those moments—moments when I knew there was something I could not do but needed to do, something just on the other side of a paper-thin curtain. The causes of those impotent moments can be different—in my stories I can see circumstances, a teacher’s failure, my laziness and my pride all getting in the way; for other people it can be language barriers, or educational differences, or a language disorder. But in all those cases writing doesn’t work like other skills. It’s not like basketball, where we always can see that we’re missing our shots or dribbling the ball off our foot or just getting beaten by bigger, faster, stronger players. Oftentimes, success and failure in writing operate along invisible lines for those of us who are failing. As a writing tutor and teacher—a “success”—I have to say that the lines haven’t really gotten more visible. They’re more strongly felt, I want to say—but then again, I felt my failures as a writer so deeply back then, too. I think it comes down to this, for all of us: we may not be able to recognize what’s going on in our writing, but we do acquire a “feel” as writers. Good feelings, but bad feelings too, feelings that make writing impossible, undesirable, beyond us. If I’m right, then we need to work to pay attention to the forceful, invisible lines writing continually bumps us up against. And trust that everyone else feels them too.

Reading with Writers

Emily Freund

Autumn! While the daylight subsides and leaves a blaze like a phoenix, we have more excuses to curl up in a comfy chair and hold a cup of piping-hot coffee in one hand and a good book in the other. As winter approaches, I’ve noticed that I have started thinking about my holiday reading list. Although I enjoy reading my classes’ assigned texts, my fellow recreational readers must agree that nothing compares to winter and summer reading. However, not everyone is as excited about reading and writing. Since I am relatively new to Writing Center consulting, I had never considered the close connection that reading and writing enjoys. After a few months of holding my own consultations, I am settling in and becoming more improvisational and collaborative with writers. I have learned more about how I view myself and strategize as a tutor, realizing that the Writing Center offers a cooperative environment composed of many ideas about writing and reading.

I have realized that by sharing and exhibiting reading strategies within the Center, I am a better tutor by being an engaged reader. Reading puts me in the role of the writer’s audience, and I give the writer ownership of his or her text while offering a thoughtful interaction with his or her work – which is what every writer wants, right? As a responsive reader, I show that writers can define their own roles as scholars, and I help others find a distinct voice in the academic dialogue. By paying close attention to the way I read a text, I have the opportunity to better serve the writers’ requests and allow them to guide the session. I give writers the power to guide my reading by asking where they want me to focus. Making meaning based on the writers’ requests gives tutors the chance to help them in a resonating way.

Writers come in to the Writing Center for many reasons, but one thing that everyone wants is someone engaging with and investing in their writing. By reading, we as tutors ask questions and help writers find what their text is and what it could be saying to their audience. Although we are working on making “better writers,” writers expect us to enter into a conversation about their work. Focusing on the text does not mean forgetting about the writer; instead, using the session-specific text allows tutors to offer their own techniques and strategies or give examples that can be improvisationally modified for new or different concerns. By inhabiting our roles as readers and tutors, we can exhibit qualities and show possibilities for each writer’s own new readings, giving writers the tools to read their texts from a new and focused point of view.

So, as the semester reaches its most stressful weeks, remember that we’re here to help. We all love to read and discuss our interpretations, and we would love to spend some time with your thoughts and ideas. We even have comfy chairs and hot coffee.