Category: Writing Center Theory

Writing Center Tutoring in the Time of Pandemic: A Focus on Written Feedback as a Conversational Space

By: Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing

Writing centers, like many other private and public workplaces, felt the unprecedented impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as much of the work in the centers had to be readjusted for remote operations. In the wake of this pandemic and remote operations, writing center tutoring necessarily had to also take a different and creative turn to ensure that writers have a space to discuss their writing processes and concerns. Hence, instead of meeting face-to-face with consultants, tutoring was transferred online either synchronously (over videoconferencing) or asynchronously (via written feedback). Unsurprisingly, both approaches continue to record remarkable success as writers’ goals and concerns are satisfactorily addressed. It is, however, important to discuss the dynamics of the written feedback approach to ensure that both writers and tutors are maximizing the low-hanging opportunities this approach affords, especially seeing that it is the most used appointment option.

The written feedback approach, which mainly requires the tutor to read, review and provide written comments on writers’ draft bearing the writers’ concerns in mind, does seem to lack the dialogic exchanges that make for a typical, productive tutoring session. Nevertheless, this does not make the approach less productive. In fact, it appears that the peculiarities of written feedback in terms of its un-dialogic exchanges make the approach very effective in writing center tutoring. Written feedback approach allows writers to establish the writing concerns they require help with––as it would obtain in a face-to-face tutoring. (The appointment forms writers fill require that they provide a detailed description of their writing project and writing concerns). And this serves as the premise for the kind of conversation/un-dialogic exchanges the tutor engages in with the writers’ drafts.

In a discussion on how comments and feedback on writers’ draft can be viewed as conversational, Busekrus (2018) explains that the art of asking thoughtful questions is one significant tool for instilling a conversational lens in feedback. Questions like: “Can you say little more about how you managed this situation rather than just hinting at it?”; “I’m not sure how this sentence connects to the purpose of the paragraph. Could you make that connection clearer or move this sentence closer to paragraph 3, or what do you think?”; “would an example be appropriate here?” among others. Busekrus, quoting Kjesrud (2015), further describes conversational questions as including those framed as non-interrogative (give more information about this point.); leading (isn’t this approach too simple?); tags (The author does not give facts to support it, does she?); and open-ended (How does the author further this discussion throughout the book?).

A cursory look at these questions shows the tutor in a dialogic mode with an ‘imaginary’ writer as if it were a face-to-face interaction with the aim of extending the conversation to the writer for their thoughtful responses and opinion to the questions through revision. This goes to emphasize the point that, though asynchronous, a written feedback properly done not only helps the tutor engage in a productive exchange with writers (and their drafts) but also provides writers with viable nuances to help make revision to their drafts and avoid similar issues in subsequent drafts.

The written feedback approach, thus, provides a conversational space for both tutor and writer to converge and exchange valuable revision ideas: the writer, in their appointment forms, leads the exchange by pointing the tutor’s attention to primary areas of concerns while the tutor enters into the draft with these concerns in mind for their interaction with the draft, asking thoughtful questions. Since the success of the conversation depends greatly on how much detail the writer provides in their appointment form, it is recommended that writers are encouraged to see the written feedback approach as conversational.

As we navigate the unnerving period of this pandemic, written feedback approach seems to have afforded writing centers an opportunity of a different and creative approach for continuing in the task of producing better writers.

Work cited

Busekrus, Elizabeth. (2018). “A Conversational Approach: Using Writing Center Pedagogy in Commenting for Transfer in the Classroom.” Journal of Response to Writing, 4(1): 100–116.

How a Writing Center Consultant Prepares for the Next Appointment

Writing centers are one of the few places in a university setting where every single Michelle Buntainstudent can be assisted. Every student has to write, and every kind of writing is welcome at the University Writing Center. But, given all the variables that come with working at a university of over 21,000 students, how does a writing center consultant prepare for their appointments?

At the University of Louisville Writing Center, we pride ourselves on our accessibility to every writer we encounter. We have trained, studied, and practiced our skills to make sure that your experience in the writing center is the best it can be. This includes:

  1. Taking a class on Writing Center studies: Consultants take a class that teaches us about writing center theory, ethics, and strategies for the teaching of writing.
  2. Reflecting on appointments with our colleagues and our supervisors: We have formal and informal reflections on appointments with our fellow consultants as well as our supervisors, including the Director of the Writing Center.
  3. Discussing new ways to approach the teaching of writing: We are always sharing new ideas about how to approach our sessions with writers. Our best tips and strategies are often the result of what we have learned from each other.
  4. Staying up-to-date on citation methods: Citation methods can be confusing, especially since they are updated every few years. We study the new versions and update our handouts on different citation styles. Just last week our Associate Director gave a lecture on the 7th edition of APA!
  5. Mentally preparing ourselves before each appointment: Before the day begins, we open WC Online and look over the scheduled appointments. Each appointment form tells us what the writer wants to work on, so we make sure that we are comfortable with addressing the writer’s particular concerns before the appointment. If the writer is working on a kind of assignment or genre of writing that is less familiar, we will do research and ask our colleagues for advice. This preparation helps us begin a session with a good sense of what the end product should look like.

When a session is over and we return to the consultants’ office, we like to share our successful strategies and ask each other for advice. No session goes perfectly, but we take our work seriously and we constantly strive to do better. When you come to the University Writing Center, know that we are prepared and excited to help every writer achieve their goals!

Rethinking Writing in the Digital Age: Implications for Writing Center Tutoring

Olalekan Adepoju, Writing Consultant

The boom in digital technologies continues to challenge our basic understanding of writing and literacy practices. Which, for the most part, is a good thing.  This is because these technologies provide genuine platforms for improvement to our information and literacy practices in terms of what is learned, how it is learned, where it is learned and when it is learned. In fact, these available digital devices enable students to learn at their own pace and develop skills needed in a modern society.

It is evident that, nowadays, technological tools are ubiquitous and widely accessible to all categories of people, thereby aiding teaching and learning. This has no doubt contributed to the disruption to literacy practices, especially writing, in that information  used to be conveyed mainly through two modes, namely alphabets and visual elements such as white space, margins and font size.  But this has now been extended to include multiple modes such as visual images, video, color, and sound among others. Social media has also helped a great deal to extend the impact of writing practices beyond pen/pencil and paper to creating a wide space and opportunity for writing to occur beyond the pages of a book.

These forms of writing, thus, necessitate that we, as writing center consultants, re-consider our tutoring strategies to achieve our objective of making a better writer instead of simply making a better text. One of the crucial reasons for rethinking writing in this digital age is because of its implication for knowledge transfer. The proliferation of digital technologies has accentuated the need for creative thinking in all aspects of our lives, and has also provided tools that can help us improve and transfer important skills for knowledge production.

Although writing center consultants’ familiarity with different modes of communication is generally important during tutoring sessions, it is nevertheless not necessary for the tutors to possess expertise in the use of technologies or a genre-specific knowledge of how these modes work in their entirety. However, discussing the thinking and production processes of the digital text constitutes an important aspect of the tutoring; this inevitably helps writers in transferring relevant skills and knowledge garnered through the production stages of the digital texts into other aspects of life.

In addition, since writers, wittingly or unwittingly, approach their writing practices using “all available means of communication” (Takayoshi and Selfe, 2007) at the disposal to express their intentions to the audience, tutoring sessions should also include an examination of the effectiveness of the rhetorical choices and moves made by the writer to achieve this goal.

Rethinking writing practices in this digital age also has an implication for collaboration between the writing center and the digital media centers. Such partnerships, it is believed, will foster efforts on helping students who are struggling with the production of their digital writing practices as well as open a line of communication and exchange of information on the progress and improvements of writers’ digital texts.

To conclude, I would echo Takayoshi and Selfe’s (2007) notion that, if the writing center is to foster the goal of making a better writer, who can both “create meaning in texts and interpret meaning from text within a dynamic and increasingly technological world”, we need to rethink our approaches in order to enable a tutoring session that accommodates the affordances of writing in the digital age.

Source

Takayoshi, Pamela and Cynthia L., Selfe. “Thinking about Multimodality.” Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers . Ed. Cynthia L., Selfe, Cresskill: Hampton P, 2007, pp 1-12.

The Inclusive Tutor: Addressing and Redressing Diversity in the Writing Center

Shiva Mainaly, Writing Consultant

What are the attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor? Why do we need an inclusive tutor?
How does an inclusive tutor differ from a non-inclusive tutor? Why is the question of inclusion so important to writing centers?

These are the questions that have compelled me to ponder.

We have sufficient records that our writing center has been visited by a large number of students year by year. Among those students who have visited our writing center, a considerable number of them are non-American, non-native speakers of English, resident students, visa students, students belonging to 1.5 generation, students on F1 and J 1 status. Some of these students are enrolled in undergraduate classes whereas others are enrolled in graduate level courses. These students embody different socio-cultural, linguistic, historical, and continent specific experiences.

The number of those students having unique cultural differences is on the rise. To provide care, support and guidelines, the writing center has been widening its scope. Since the writing center has already taken constructive steps to include students regardless of caste, creed, convention, color, disability and gender, it has been hailed as the hub where diversity, the differential, and disability are carefully accepted and constructive counseling is given keeping in mind the unique nuance, agency and concern of student writers.

To address constructively all those voices, expectations, dignity, agency and sensibilities of students, writing center needs inclusive tutors. Only inclusive tutors can handle with dignity the longings, concerns and curiosities of student writers. In the present time in which writing centers have been witnessing the flow of students both native and nonnative speakers of English, what writing centers need is inclusive tutors.

By an inclusive tutor, I mean the sort of tutor who demonstrates tremendous patience and a sense of acceptance when it comes to looking into the student drafts. Only those tutors who have the capacity to say ‘yes’ to their own weaknesses, frailties, flaws, feet of clay, shortcoming and limitations can accept the others as they really are. Here I am reminded of what Francis Fukuyama in his book Identity says “the longing to get recognition from others is the universal longing everyone is endowed with. It is this longing for recognition from others that drives us to forge and foment the question of identity”.

Below I have presented some attributes and traits of an inclusive tutor:

• The inclusive tutor does not get stuck on any identity category rooted in caste, creed, convention, color and gender when he or she starts tutoring in writing center.

 
• An inclusive tutor possesses tremendous power of acceptance. In no way, he or she deviates from the centrality of his or her power of accepting difference in any form.

 
• Language has the power to influence thought and vice versa. So, the inclusive tutor does not believe in the dichotomy of lower order concern and higher order concern.

 
• The inclusive tutor is always ready to address any concern of students be it grammar and punctuation or structural chronology of ideas without compromising with the foundational belief that writing center is not a grammar fixing center.

 
• The inclusive tutor acts in an innovative way. Labels, categories, stereotypes and banal modes of expressions are simply rejected by an inclusive tutor.

 
• The inclusive tutor knows when and how to switch deftly and smartly from non-directive modes of tutoring to directive modes of tutoring.

 
• The inclusive tutor believes and acts on the assumption that every student writer is a world in himself or herself. And the tutor navigates this world with consciousness.

 
• The inclusive tutor is driven by the belief that all forms of literacy are interrelated, supplementary, complementary, correlative, and symbiotically linked. Alphabetic literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, community literacy, twitteracy etc. are all important in knowledge making process. The inclusive tutor makes use of anything that serves the best goal of tutor and boosts the institutional prestige and standing of writing center.

 
• An inclusive tutor forcibly believes that after each interaction with student writer, a new self is born in the life of inclusive tutor.

 
• The inclusive tutor is a mirror on which student writer finds the reflection of his or her own image, face.

 
• Writing is not a product of solitary endeavor. It is a product of collective efforts. This is the quintessence of inclusive tutoring.

Dialogue, Trust, and Taking Our Time: The Values that Shape Our Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

On the Thursday before fall classes begin we always have our our annual orientation and staff meeting for the University Writing Center. Our staff is comprised primarily of graduate student teaching assistants, most of whom are new to our Writing Center and to UofL. There is a lot that our new consultants have to learn that day, from how to use our online scheduling system to the location of the coffee maker and microwave. The best part of the day, however, is when we get past the logistical details of writing center life

Staff copy 1
University Writing Center Staff, 2019-20

and can move on to talk about how we approach working with writers. We sit down after lunch and begin the crucial conversations about how to help students, faculty, and staff become stronger, more confident writers. The conversations that we start at orientation will continue throughout the fall in the Writing Center Theory and Practice Course they will take with me, as well as in the daily, informal conversations in our offices.

Learning how to teach writing effectively is an never-ending process, as 30 years in the classroom and writing centers have taught me. The new consultants in our University Writing Center will learn a great deal this year about writing pedagogy, from reading writing center scholarship and from reflecting on their own practices.  about how to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain a stronger sense of confidence and agency in their writing. They all come to the University Writing Center staff with a broad range of experiences as writers and professionally that will serve them well in their work. What is also clear from our first conversations at orientation is that, though their experiences and interests are diverse, they all understand and share our core goals and values in working with writers from across the university community.

Learning Through Dialogue

One goal of any writing center consultation is to help a writer to rethink, and revise, a draft through a constructive dialogue that enables the writer to make the decisions about possible revisions. In order to accomplish this, both the writer and the consultant must be willing to listen carefully to each other and consider other perspectives and suggestions. As we always explain, we our not an editing service, but a place were writers and consultants work collaboratively to help writers improve their drafts, learn new strategies for addressing future writing challenges, and gain confidence in their writing. improve. Our approach to teaching writing emphasizes this dialogic exchange of ideas in which consultants need to be able to listen to what writers say during an appointment and offer individualized responses and suggestions. Both the consultant and the writer need to respond to each other honestly and respectfully. We also approach teaching writing from the perspective that we are always open to learning from the writer and the draft, even as we have things to teach in return. In this way we model a stance of response and teaching that is more collaborative and less hierarchical.

Trust and Creativity

In such an environment of trust, writers can feel safe in testing ideas without worrying that the failure of an idea will mean a failing grade. Good writers need to be able to try new approaches, make mistakes, and try again. We pride ourselves as a space in which writers can get honest, constructive responses to their work without worrying about the inherent limitations and risks that grading brings. By focusing on learning, not grading, we offer spaces where writers can experiment and foster habits of creativity. We also remember that students may have previous experiences that make them reluctant to risk failure, and we reassure them that we can try different approaches until we find one that works.

Taking Our Time

What’s more, one of the central benefits and values of the University Writing Center is that we are not bound by the limits of a single semester. We have the opportunity to view our teaching through long timelines, in which writers can come in multiple times, not just during a semester, but over their academic careers. Being able to take the long view allows us to approach learning as an ongoing, always recursive, process. We can emphasize that learning to write is an ongoing process for all of us. Writing well is not an inherent talent, but an achievable ability. We do our best to convey to writers that achieving their goals may be a challenge and require hard work, but that we have confidence in the their abilities to meet the challenge.

It’s exciting for me to hear the enthusiasm and imagination the new consultants bring to their work. In the year ahead these consultants will provide more than 5,500 consultations for UofL writers, grounded in these core values, making an important and substantial contribution to the University community.

A Culture of Writing

In addition to our individual consultations, we will continue to offer other ways to support and sustain writing at UofL. We will offer workshops on writing issues for classes and campus organizations.  Once again we will facilitate writing groups for Graduate Students and Faculty, Creative Writers, and LGBTQ+ Writers. For graduate students we will offer workshops on writing issues and our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. We will sponsor events, from our annual Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, to our celebration of International Mother Language Day. What’s more, we will continue our community partnerships with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and Family Scholar House.

It’s a privilege to be trusted with the ideas and writing of others, and it can be fun too. We’re eager to start the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

(Literally) Meeting Writers where they are at Community Literacy Sites

Rachel Rodriguez,  Assistant Director of The Writing Center

My favorite tutoring session this year was a group session, where the two writers were working on drastically different projects.Rachel Rodriguez One writer was working on a paper in which she had to identify an area in her life where she possessed rare expertise, and our brainstorming led her to a past job as a phlebotomist and her unique knowledge on how to draw blood.

This brainstorming and outlining was often interrupted by the other writer, whose projects included buttoning, unbuttoning, buttoning, unbuttoning, and buttoning both her and my jackets, discussing why snowmen don’t need jackets and monkeys prefer bananas, and finding the perfect video on Youtube of children baking imaginary cakes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this “other” writer was about 3.

When you imagine a “typical” writing center session (does such a thing exist?) you probably envision a quiet setting in which two people are examining a draft, exchanging ideas, and conversing, with plenty of pauses to think, consider, and reflect. Sessions in community literacy sites tend to take on a slightly different hue. Community means many, ever-shifting, laughter.

At the Gladys and Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus, writing sessions happen in an open space designed to look like a Starbucks, with computers and chic furniture. Large windows connect this room to a playplace so moms, many of whom live on-site, can keep an eye on their young ones. Every writer I have worked with at Family Scholar House is a mother, and every one is intensely and impressively dedicated to the pursuit of education.

At the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, tutors sit at a table at the center of the main floor – strategically within view of the entrance as well as the computer banks nearby. While cushioned by stacks of books, the sound of Fortnite is a constant buzz. Here, the typical writer may be a middle-schooler, hanging out with friends at the library after school but before heading home. Sometimes tutors cajole writers to take out their homework with the wave of a coveted piece of gum.

This is all to say that writing sessions at community literacy sites are all the things you might not expect: noisy, chaotic, dynamic. And this is precisely what makes tutoring there so fun!

A key skill in writing tutoring is flexibility, going with the flow, recognizing when a strategy isn’t working and changing it up, moving from poetry analysis to a biology lab report to an engineering dissertation in the span of a few hours. Community literacy stretches this skill to the max, expanding what we think of as a “session,” “writer,” and even “writing.”

This expansion is good for tutors’ brains: we return to the UWC with a bigger sense of what is possible. After all, the University of Louisville doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is part of a vibrant, complex community of individuals, families, and groups who in turn pursue a myriad of writing and reading endeavors. This may take the form of a comic book, rap lyrics, fan fiction, or a personal memoir. The University Writing Center is one of many writing centers that takes as a central tenet the idea of meeting writers where they are, and community literacy projects take this to a new level, literally seeking out writers where they live and play and gather, to listen to their needs and offer up our knowledge of audience, genre, and style. This literacy matters to the UWC, and this academic year, our volunteer tutors have contributed 477 hours towards these sites, with a few weeks to go.
Two former Assistant Directors of the University Writing Center, Dr. Layne Porta Gordon and Dr. Amy Nichols, have both stressed the importance of continuing to “show up” for our community (check our Layne’s post here, and Amy’s here), and I’m proud to continue to move our initiatives forward. Personally, I’m looking forward to a summer of tutoring at Western Branch, where I hope to encounter many writers like my friend so deft at buttoning.


I think it’s fair to say that the denouement of most writing tutoring sessions isn’t having a 3-year-old fall slowly into a heavy sleep on your lap, while talk with your writer of ethos and evidence-based claims is punctuated by the chatter of a tour group of local business people. But that’s precisely what made this my favorite session of the year, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer!

What To Do Before, During, and After Your First Writing Center Appointment

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

We’ve all been there. We’ve got a paper that we’re working on that’s puzzling us in some way or that we want someone else to look over. You might have heard about the Writing Center from other people, but you’ve never been there before, so you don’t know what’s like. How much information do I need to bring?Jacob DeBrock Is the tutor scary? Will they put my paper in a shredder if they think it’s bad? The answers are, respectively, at least some, only before 11, and no… for now.)
This blog post should hopefully make your first writing center appointment a less stressful and helpful experience by just learning a few simple tricks in advance, whether you’re a freshman or in your last semester.
1) List as much information as you can when you sign up for an appointment
First things first: you have to sign up for an appointment. While there are quite a few things you have to fill, the two most important things are what you are working on and your concerns are.
For the former, you don’t have to state every single aspect of the work; rather, this helps to give us an idea of what tactics and structure we will use in our appointment. The way we tackle a personal statement will be different from a research paper or a creative work. By knowing this in advance, we are able to get started quickly on the meat of the paper or other material.
Concerning concerns, if you are not sure about what they are in advance, that’s fine; sometimes, you only notice things odd once you hear them through the voice of another. However, if you are able to think of any concerns, this will help us to direct the appointment in a targeted approach to get at the heart of these issues.
2) Bring any and all materials relevant to the task at hand
Syllabi, assignment prompts, previous notes, texts that you’re working off of: your paper goes beyond your words. Having these materials with you provides us with a map to make sure that we understand what it is that you are working on and that, if you have any questions about it, we have something to look at for any potential answers.
3) Use your voice
Oftentimes, I get the feeling that people see our words as the final verdict to a paper’s issues and problems, but that’s not our purpose. We’re not editors; our main goal is to help improve you as a writer now and in the future. As such, we’d like you to speak up any moment that you are unsure about why we are asking you to do something. This way, you will leave the center with a better understanding of what exactly it is you need to better about yourself and how you can do it.
4) Think about your writing center experience
Your appointment doesn’t end after 50 minutes. After your first appointment, take the time to think about your appointment. Was there something that your tutor did that you really liked? Was there something you wanted to ask them, but didn’t get the opportunity to? Asking yourself these questions will not only help you to become a better writer, but to make sure that your next writing center appointment will be just as good as the first.
Going to the writing center can be a stressful experience. There’s a vulnerability, that you are letting someone look over your words and critique them. Yet we serve a vital purpose to the college community. We offer a service that cannot be found anyone else, solely dedicated to helping writers grow and become stronger. So, when you’re walking through our doors for the first time, know that we’re not here to judge or scorn or look down upon you; we’re here to help, to nurture, to strengthen.

Behind the Scenes at the Virtual Writing Center

Cassie Book, Associate Director

DSCN3703

As the University Writing Center’s (UWC) Associate Director, I’m always interested in ways to move from practice-based questions to research and practical improvements. The goal of a recent research project was to improve the overall Virtual Writing Center experience for both writers and consultants. During my day-to-day experience in the UWC, I noticed that some writers (the students, faculty, and staff who use our services) had difficulty locating Virtual Writing Center appointments on our online schedule. The “Virtual Writing Center” broadly encompass our website and synchronous (live chat) and asynchronous (written feedback) online tutoring. We offer both forms of Virtual appointments to Distance Education students and those who cannot visit for a face-to-face appointment. In addition to noting that some writers couldn’t find the Virtual Writing Center appointments on our online schedule, other writers accidentally scheduled a live online chat session when they really wanted asynchronous written feedback on their draft. These were not trivial issues. If not corrected, they result in a writer not getting the help they wanted or losing valuable appointment time.

I developed a research project based on “user-experience” (UX) methodologies that would allow me to investigate where the breakdown in usability and/or communication occurred. The most important reason why it is important for writers to be able to successfully use the technology writing centers employ is accessibility. For instance, in physical writing center spaces, stairs leading to an entrance could be a barrier for a writer using a wheelchair or crutches. In online spaces, the clunky setup of online scheduling systems could create barriers to accessing writing centers. Understanding how writers use our UWC’s online scheduling system would help us redesign elements of the system to make it as welcoming and usable as possible for all potential users.

To understand how our website and schedule confused writers, I recruited six UofL students who have never used the Virtual Writing Center and conducted usability tests and interviews. A “usability test” is not really a “test;” it simply provides scenarios for study participants to undertake (such as, “schedule an appointment in the Writing Center; you want the kind of appointment where you do not physically have to go to the Writing Center”) while a researcher (me) observes them. My follow-up interviews asked the students to discuss their perceptions of the scheduling process and the website. Finally, also I observed three Virtual Writing Center consultants as they worked and conducted a focus group about their use and perceptions of the technology. I collected and analyzed the data on the usability tests, interviews, observations, and focus group to create a picture of what was happening “behind the scenes” of the Virtual Writing Center. For example, to analyze the usability test data and interviews, I simply looked for patterns. One pattern I noticed was that most participants did not stop to read the instructions on our website before attempting to schedule an appointment. My data overall showed me how consultants and writers used the technology, which was valuable for me as an administrator wanting to improve their online experiences.

After I analyzed the data, I developed a list of recommendations for changes to the website and scheduling system based on my findings. We’ve already put in place several improvements! These include: redesigning the Appointments webpage using icons and new resources, such as a new Frequently Asked Questions about the Virtual Writing Center. We also added disclaimers and visual clues on the Appointment page and online schedule to grab writers’ attention to let them know where to find the Virtual Writing Center schedule (see below). We changed the names of the Virtual appointment types to more logically descriptive names. Now the choice between “Written Feedback” and “Live Video Chat” in the Virtual Writing Center is, we hope, clearer. We also revised some of the training for our Virtual Writing Center consultants to ease their anxieties about using technology to communicate about writing. If our consultants aren’t 100% comfortable with it, we can’t expect the writers to be.

announcement uwc wconline
The revised announcement on our Ekstrom Library location schedule, which uses visuals to capture users’ attention.

I would like to make two points to conclude. First, I believe that integrating user-experience perspectives into writing center practices benefits both writing center administrators, to make more informed design decisions, and writers, to more easily access centers. Writing centers (alongside other entities in education) can get easily excited about a new innovation or tool, but we need to also think critically about the impact on students, especially in terms of accessibility. Writing center theory already values writer-centered practices and user-experience studies build on that foundation. Second, a major tenant of user-experience research is that it should be ongoing, so our work is not done! We will continue to collect data on how our writers and consultants use our technology and use those insights to make adjustments to practice.

This research was funded by the Christine Cozzens Research Grant from the Southeastern Writing Center Association and will likely appear in more detail in a future publication.

Silence in Writing Center Sessions

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

I’ve always known that silence can be beneficial in various ways during writing center sessions. It recently dawned on me, though, that silence often requires a conscious effort to create, and that perhaps I could be doing more to actively create productive silences during meetings with writers.

My desire to incorporate more silence into my writing center sessions is largely based on the role silence plays in facilitating my own writing and thinking process. When I receive feedback on something I’ve written, I need time to comprehend verbal feedback and to process my own thoughts. I also need time to think of the words I want to use to articulate my responses. This is why I’m grateful whenever I work with people who, when giving feedback, allow for moments of silence throughout the discussion.

When I have my tutoring hat on while working at the Writing Center, I sometimes forget that the writers I work with may feel the same way about silence as I do. I always try to be ready with the next question or the next suggestion, to keep the trains of thought all moving smoothly forward without much pause. I tell myself that by doing this we’re getting the most out of the allotted 50-minute time frame. But I think it’s worth asking: am I not giving us enough time to nurture certain conditions that might fuel productive, reflective, creative thinking?

One strategy tutors use is to have writers brainstorm and/or write on their own; the tutor might walk to another room and come back after 5-10 minutes or more, depending on the context. This is one way to allow for quiet time for writers to work, and can be an effective way to incorporate silence into a session. However, this is not quite the kind of silence I have in mind. The silence I want to use more during my sessions is a mutually shared, collaborative sort of silence, during which both the tutor and writer are still sitting together side by side, thinking. Sometimes the silence might be broken to exchange an idea or two. I’m thinking of a type of silence that is the opposite of empty and/or uncomfortable – the anti-awkward silence.

The “awkward silence” is an interesting concept I learned about as I became more familiar with social conventions in American culture. Growing up in Japan, I always felt that silence was the default way to exist in the world, a way to convey respect and mindfulness. It was difficult moving to the U.S. where presence often seems to be measured by how much one speaks. There appears to be a widespread aversion to silence in social situations, which is perhaps linked to the phenomenon of “small talk.” So, while I personally appreciate moments of collaborative silence when discussing my own writing with people, I understand that some writers might find silence uncomfortable. So, as tutors, we should be attentive to cues that might suggest whether or not a writer might really benefit from silence during sessions.

I sometimes initiate collaborative silences by asking the writer, “can I take a moment to write this down?” Sometimes I will stop myself from thinking of the next thing to say. It has been surprising how many times writers will then break the silence with a new idea or insightful comment they may not have offered had we not taken a moment to pause. Whenever this happens, I remind myself of how valuable and productive silences can be.

Community Literacy and the Writing Center: Building Foundations

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director Amy N

For the past two years, the Writing Center has been working to build a commitment to community literacy into our activities. While writers from all over the university come to us for help with course assignments and beyond, writing centers constantly inhabit a liminal space where personal, academic, and professional writing collide. To honor this fact, we also wanted to expand our offerings to value writing that may happen off-campus, whether connected to higher education or not. While the role of writing centers and community engagement is still relatively new to writing center scholarship, we are excited about the potential benefits that what we might call writing center values, with their focus on listening and building trust over time, may have for the way university entities approach community partnerships.

Amy Picture1In Summer 2015, we began conversations with academic support staff at Family Scholar House to find out how our skills might be of use, and started offering workshops and tutoring hours for student writers on FSH campuses. This year, we expanded those hourly offerings and began allowing some of our trained consultants to volunteer as well. Three accomplishments we are particularly proud of this year:

  • Working in conjunction with Bronwyn Williams’ Spring 2017 Community Literacy course, we have been able to expand our spring hours to offer hours on multiple FSH campuses throughout the week, meeting a long-term FSH goAmy Picture2al of providing more in-house academic support for student writers.
  • Assistant Director Amy McCleese Nichols led families in a set of “Story-Making Workshops” during Fall 2016, which focused on composing for fun using family (or imagined) stories. This 3-day set of workshops had a total attendance of 81 adults, 52 children, and 48 hand-sewn booklets with individualized covers were made for participants to write stories in and take home.
  • This spring, we have also added another community partner: the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Also working with the Community Literacy course, we are providing writing help every Tuesday for K-12 students.

Throughout these conversations, we have kept several values in play: showing up, listening, and building partnerships gradually for continuity. In Bronwyn’s words, we begin by simply “showing up.” Showing up in our context has meant keeping a sense of flexibility when setting up programs and plans. While we have put time and effort into making sure our work is meeting a need articulated by our partners, we also save room for the moments when no one shows up – and then we show up the week afterward. By building our relationships and a sense of trust gradually, we have found ourselves more able to have conversations when offerings need to change for the mutual benefit of both organizations.

We are also creating logistical structures within the Writing Center to support long-term partnerships. As the first Assistant Director working with community literacy, I brought a unique skill set from my previous work as a nonprofit volunteer coordinator. As I have worked with our partners, I have written manuals, kept records of previous conversations, and passed that knowledge on to other staff in the Writing Center so that our partnerships are not bound entirely to a semester-by-semester schedule. While our offerings and volunteer numbers will ebb and flow over time as partnerships evolve, we hope that having a consistent contact who stays in touch from year-to-year within the university will provide a sense of continuity for us and our partners while also providing opportunities for graduate student assistant directors to gain experience in the logistics of managing partnerships.

We look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library. This fall, we are partnering with the English 508: Literacy Tutoring course, taught by Dr. Andrea Olinger. The course will cover teaching writing individually and in small groups in academic, professional, and community contexts, and students that have taken it will be qualified to complete internships and volunteer work through these partnerships.

Ultimately, we hope that what Tiffany Rousculp has termed a “rhetoric of respect” will define our community literacy efforts. By putting our partners’ voices first in the conversation, keeping elements of our partnerships consistent, and strategically partnering with service-learning courses, we look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library.