Tag: 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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Time, Talk, and Attention to the Individual Writer: How Learning Happens in the Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Every year I spend much of my August telling people about the University Writing Center. I go to a number of departmental and college orientations and resource fairs so I can offer an overview of our services. I tell people that we work with any member of the UofL community on any kind of writing at any point in the writing process. I talk about dscn2185our various writing groups, writing events, and the workshops and retreats we offer. And I describe, briefly, how we don’t edit papers for people, but work with them to discuss the strengths and weakness of a draft and come up with strategies for revision that will make the writer stronger yet.

Yet, I usually have only about 15 minutes to talk, at best, at these events, so I don’t get to explain much beyond that. There are any number of things I’d like to be able to say, but with the start of the new academic year, I want to take a moment to focus specifically on a few values and approaches that we have in the University Writing Center that both set us apart from other parts of the University and create distinctive learning experiences that keep people coming back to make appointments with us. These are all ideas we spent the day talking about at our start-of-the-year orientation this past Thursday.

People, Not Just Pages: We work with writers, not just on drafts. We’re not an editing service that marks up a draft with “corrections.” Instead, our focus is working with a writer to provide that person with suggestions and strategies that help the writer make the draft in question stronger, but also offer the writer ways to write more effectively in the future. We remember that we’re responding to a person, not just a set of pages. Such an approach also means that we work in dialogue with writers, listening to their concerns, offering suggestions, and emphasizing that the best learning comes from such cooperative and collaborative approaches.

Location, Location, Location: We can start with writers where they are. In a class full of students instructors have to make assumptions about what the students know and start from there. Being able to work with writers individually means we can find out what they know, what they want to learn, and adapt our responses accordingly. The reality is that no writer is always a strong or weak writer. Competence and confidence depend on the writer’s familiarity with the genre in question, whether you’re a first-year student or working on a doctoral dissertation. We tailor our teaching to the individual and the context.

Time Is On Our Side: Unlike conventional courses, we’re not bound by the limits of a 14-week semester. Our timeline for learning is up to the individual writer. Some writers make multiple appointments with us during a given writing project (writers can make up to three appointments per week). Some make regular, standing appointments each week was they work on a longer piece, like a dissertation or book. Others we see from time to time during their years at UofL. The point is, we can keep working with a writer over the course of college career and our approaches to teaching and learning can take the long view and not be truncated by the semester schedule. Such an approach, again, means we can focus on teaching the individual, not just fulfilling a course syllabus.

Learning, Not Grading: When we sit down with a writer, our focus in on helping that person write more effectively, not coming up with an evaluation of that writer that

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University Writing Center Staff, 2017-18

reduces it to a number or single letter. Taking this approach allows writers to be more honest about their struggles and more willing to explore a variety of approaches knowing that an approach that doesn’t work won’t result in a failing grade, but just having to try again. In the Writing Center the response of the reader is what matters, and in that way reflects more closely the reality of writing in daily, non-academic contexts. What’s more, research on motivation – and research on grading – overwhelming demonstrates that instrumental reward systems such as grades diminish both internal motivations and learning. We offer a learning environment that emphasizes individual learning, not group assessment, and that makes the learning and motivation that much stronger.

Writing Matters in the World: We’re committed to cultivating and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community. Our writing groups (Graduate, Creative Writing, LGBTQ), our community work and workshops, and our events (Banned Books Week, Celebration of Student Writing, International Mother Language Day, among others) are all done with the goals of supporting the writing that people do, but also reminding people of the important work that writing does in their lives and in the world. Toward that end, we also value and emphasize the role of writing and literacy in advancing and advocating for equality and social justice.

Regardless of your political views, it’s hard to argue with the idea that these feel like tumultuous times. But, as my father once said, “Education is an optimist’s racket,” which means I can’t look at the new faces on campus and not feel hopeful. We are excited to  open our doors at the University Writing Center to begin another academic year and remain a positive force for UofL writers and their writing.

 

Writing Time, Feedback, and Momentum: The Dissertation Writing Retreat – 2016

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The sound of people thinking. That’s what you would have heard had you come to the University Writing Center this past week. With fourteen UofL Ph.D. students focused on  writing their dissertations. I swear that, given the intensity with which they were working, you could hear them thinking. This year marks our fifth annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat. During the week, the schedule was the same: Writing in the morning, a short workshop and discussion on some area of20160525_104409

Dissertation Writing Retreat writers hard at work

research writing at noon (How to Write and Effective Literature Review, How to Revise and Respond to Committee Members’ Comments, How to Turn Dissertations into Publications, How to Keep Writing) , and the individual appointments with University Writing Consultants in the afternoon (and more writing…). The writers who took part in this year’s Retreat worked with a dedication and commitment that was inspiring. They came from eight different disciplines at the University: Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, Education, Engineering, Rhetoric and Composition, Humanities, Psychology, Public Health, and Sociology. The best way to get a sense of the experience of the Retreat and its impact on the writers who took part, however, is to hear from the participants and consultants themselves.

Participants

Amanda Pocratsky, Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology: It’s hard to synthesize in few words how much this retreat has transformed my dissertation writing experience. As a graduate student in the biomedical sciences, I was initially concerned about how effective this retreat would for me. These concerns proved unfounded. In the span of one short week, I’ve written my dissertation abstract and a complete first chapter. I will leave here with over half my dissertation completed, a well-defined outline of my discussion, and incredible momentum to push through the final stages. Moreover, the writing skills I’ve cultivated from this experience will effectively translate throughout my scholastic career. I strongly encourage students to apply and come prepared to succeed.

Yvette Szabo, Clinical Psychology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat has been invaluable to my dissertation progress! I am still collecting data for my dissertation, so I was able to

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Meghan, Rene, and Yvette hold a group consultation

use this protected time to write and edit large parts of my Introduction, Method and then outline my results and discussion. Overall, I doubled the length of my dissertation and received feedback on all sections.  Typically, I shift between many roles as a graduate student, so having the quiet space to work (relatively unplugged) was necessary and much appreciated. And working with the same consultant all week allowed me to talk through presenting ideas for my complex study as well as receive feedback on organization and parallel structure. Thank you for a wonderful experience!

René Bayley-Veloso, Clinical Psychology: I would highly recommend that any graduate student who is working on their dissertation attend the Dissertation Writing Retreat. I have made substantial progress on my dissertation in a very short amount of time. The retreat also helped me organize my thoughts and questions, which allowed me to have a necessary and productive meeting with one of my committee members.  I have learned quite a bit about my own personal writing process through this experience, and will be utilizing this knowledge to maintain momentum moving forward.

Jamila Kareem, Rhetoric and Composition: The 2016 Dissertation Writing Retreat has not only been the most productive time I’ve spent on my dissertation, but it has been the most valuable. The structure of the Retreat worked well, because it allowed me to prioritize my writing and get the most crucial aspects finished while I had guaranteed feedback. The Retreat helped me develop a more structured process to stay on track and to feel rewarded when I do. I’ve had a process that has worked pretty well, but the staff at the Retreat gave

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Dilan and Layne work together

me strategies to build upon it and work smarter. And it’s free! Just look for professional dissertation help around the Internet—prices are crazy! I would recommend the Dissertation Writing Retreat to every doctoral student whether they are having trouble getting started or almost done. The feedback, time, and structure you receive are invaluable.

Abby Burns, Epidemiology and Population Health: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provided an encouraging environment to work quietly alongside other students who all have the same ultimate goal – completing their dissertation and graduating.  It helped hold me accountable, but more importantly helped me build momentum that I hope I can run with in the following weeks/months.

Denise Watkins, Humanities: As someone who is married, a mother, and works full-time, the benefits of this retreat can’t be adequately explained. I was able to steal away from all other responsibilities and make significant progress. In one week’s time, my outlook towards my dissertation has changed from an insurmountable “where will I ever find the time?” project to a feasible, doable task.

Heidi Williams, Sociology: The Dissertation Writing Retreat provides supportive, focused writing time, as well as workshops and advice that help participants approach and manage their work. Working with a writing consultant helped me realize I was fixating on a problem, rather than making progress in an attainable way. I learned how to breakdown my writing into manageable, daily tasks that led to tangible results – an exercise that I could not put into motion myself.

Consultants:

Laura Tetreault, Assistant Director: In my conversations during the Dissertation Writing Retreat, either with the writers I was working with or the other consultants and writing center staff, we often circled back to one idea: writing is hard. (And interesting, and fun, and exciting, but also hard a lot of the time.) As a Rhetoric and Composition PhD candidate

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Laura Tetreault leads a workshop discussion on turning dissertations into publications

and Assistant Director of the Writing Center, people sometimes I expect that I have this whole writing thing figured out, but the reality is that I became interested in writing teaching and writing center work because I also find writing to be really difficult a lot of the time. But instead of finding this discouraging, I actually find it comforting that most writers express at some point how difficult writing can be for them. The common experience of struggling with writing helps to diminish the inner critic that many grad students have in our heads. I can tell that critic: hey, it’s not me; writing is just hard sometimes. And it gets a lot easier for me when I can find a sense of community in the struggle.

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director: Watching writers work on their dissertations this week has reminded me why I love one-on-one writing conferences. It’s been great to talk through ideas and text with writers who have differing processes. For some, it seemed like the chance to talk through small sections of writing/thinking gave them better language to describe their overall argument and intervention by the end of the week. For others, designing study frameworks and making targeted edits to various sections of text

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Rose and Amy discuss Rose’s dissertation

helped them accomplish larger goals. Working the retreat has also given me a better sense of what it might look like to write my own dissertation in the future; this is definitely an event I’d like to return to as a participant next year.

Layne Gordon: As a soon-to-be second year PhD student, I was so inspired this week by the progress of the writers I was working with! At the end of each meeting, we took a couple of minutes to set some writing goals for the next day. Although sometimes those goals had to shift or be adjusted (writing requires so much flexibility!), the writers always made progress and pushed themselves to get as much done as they could. While I got to learn a lot about their respective topics, I also learned a lot about the dissertation writing process itself and the importance of just not stopping.

Brittany Kelley: I learn so much when working with others on their dissertations, especially when it comes to the writing process. This year, I learned that it’s important to create a hierarchy of goals for your dissertation. The highest/most important goal is getting words on the page. The next highest/most important goal should be your well being. After you’ve got words on the page, remember to rest. See friends. Exercise. Eat well. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Always.

Ashley Ludewig: I have always enjoyed working with students of all levels on their writing projects and this week’s retreat was no different.  But, even though I participated in the retreat as a tutor, this week was also really helpful for me as someone who is also writing my dissertation.  Talking with other writers as they thought through some of the most complicated parts of their projects and reflected on their writing processes reminded me to be more accepting of my own writing process and helped me see why I was feeling stuck in my own work.  Now, instead of beating myself up over a lack of progress, I feel prepared to re-think my priorities for the next few weeks and make a plan that will actually work!

Meghan Hancock: This year at the diss retreat I was reminded of the importance of setting aside concrete time to write in a space without distractions. It seemed like many students most valued the amount of quiet work time that the retreat provided them with, and in my last consultation, we talked about how to create those kinds of spaces after leaving the retreat as well as how to continue to block out time in schedules just for writing. Though I always encourage others to maximize their productivity in these ways, I don’t always practice what I preach. Being able to see the amazing work ethic that students at the diss retreat had this year has inspired me to try harder to follow my own writing advice and to set aside more routinely scheduled quiet times for me to work on my own dissertation.

Thanks…..

It’s also important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and Robin Blackett, our Administrative Assistant, and Assistant Directors Stephen Cohen, Amy Nichols, and Laura Tetreault. Thanks also to the fantastic consultants (themselves Ph.D. students) who do the most important work of the week in working with the writers: Layne Gordon, Meghan Hancock, Brittany Kelley, and Ashley Ludewig. And thanks to Dean Beth Boehm, of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.

See you next year!!!!!!

Giving Thoughtful Feedback, or The Challenge of Being a Reader

Ashly Bender, Assistant Director

Last week, our director Bronwyn Williams wrote about the anxiety many writers feel when they share their work with others. In the Writing Center, consultants often hear about those anxieties. Part of our work is to help writers develop the confidence and positive self-perception that lessens those anxieties. Reading Bronwyn’s post made me think, though, about the other side of the situation: the pressure a reader can feel to offer insightful and productive feedback.

Ashly_Version_3Bronwyn mentioned that he was nervous to send his post to his assistant director, me. I was just as anxious to offer him feedback and suggestions. I mean, he is the director (both of the Writing Center and of my dissertation), and he has been writing successfully for years. While my nervousness is informed somewhat by those facts, it is more so the result of my belief that giving thoughtful feedback is a demonstration of respect—for the writer, the text, and the relationship between the writer and the reviewer.

As Bronwyn explained, writers often feel as though their work is a part of themselves. This is important for readers to remember because their feedback has the potential to shape the writer’s perception of his work and his self. Many of us are familiar with the overly critical grader that has marked up our writing to the point where we wonder why we bothered. This is one of the many places those writing anxieties come from. But many of us are also familiar with the feeling we get when a reader says, “This is good” or even “great” but doesn’t give any examples or mark any places on the text. It gives the feeling that the reader didn’t even bother to really read it. In this case, we may be left wondering, “How do you know? Did you even read it?”

This is why thoughtful feedback that is supported by examples from the piece is so important. It sends the message that the writing is important and valuable; it is worth the time of everyone involved in the creation of that piece. As a reader, I’m trying to discover the main goals of a piece of writing and how the content in the version I’m reading is supporting those goals. I consider as I’m reading what could be elaborated on or what might be missing in the writer’s effort to achieve those goals. Also, I want to be sure that I’m considering the writer’s anxieties—if the writer is unhappy with his piece, why might he be feeling that way? Sometimes those nervous feelings originate outside of the text, but sometimes a writer knows something isn’t quite working in the current draft but can’t identify or articulate the problem. I want to help the writer identify those places so he can revise them for the next draft.

It is my hope as a reader that these kinds of responses communicate to the writer that I appreciate the leap of faith he has taken in letting me read his work and that I take his work seriously. That can be a tall order for a reader sometimes, but it is the challenge that writing center consultants rise to every day they walk into work. As nervous as it may make us some days, those of us at the University Writing Center find it exciting and inspiring to be included in the crafting process of so many writers’ work, which some of our tutors have already discussed in previous posts.

While writing center consultants are always aiming for thoughtful feedback, it can sometimes be difficult to do in the 50 minute sessions we offer, especially with longer texts. There are some things clients can do to help consultants give that thoughtful feedback. The main thing is helping us become more familiar with their writing. Some ways to do this are to help us understand the context for the writing (the assignment, the class, etc), to tell us their goals for the piece, and to share their concerns. Also, we cannot stress enough the value of visiting the Writing Center multiple times. By doing this, as Brit Mandelo has discussed before, the client can find a consultant that he works best with, and they can develop a relationship that allows more time to focus on the writing in each session.

Ultimately, Bronwyn’s post and the process of giving him feedback made me think about the collaborative process between writers and readers. Often readers are anxious like the writer, even if those feelings develop for different reasons. In some ways, that anxiety is productive because it encourages the reader to be more invested and encourages the writer to be more open. Together these perspectives lead to better writing and better individual pieces.

iPads in the Writing Center

Sam Bowles, Consultant

Just recently our Writing Center added to its technological arsenal a collection of iPads available for consultants to use with clients during sessions.  As technology has always been an area of extreme interest for me, I actually piloted the use of an iPad during consultations last semester.  Here are some of the key areas where I think iPads (or any tablets for that matter) have a lot to offer the kind of work we do in the Writing Center.

Planning

We help writers at all stages of the process, including the brainstorming or planning stage.  The iOS platform has a litany of apps that can be helpful for getting started with writing projects.  One that I like, IdeaSketch, allows users to create concept maps or flow charts and then convert those into a hierarchical outline.  The process can also work in reverse, creating a traditional outline and then converting it to a mind map, both of which can be continually manipulated, moving items around with ease.  IdeaSketch also has a nice iPhone app, so the file created during a session can be emailed to a student with a compatible device, or a PDF can be printed or emailed if needed.

SamReviewing

Tablets can also be a great way to workshop drafts.  Using a program like Notability, users can not only annotate a document in ways that mimic working with an analog document, but additionally, one can zoom in particular parts of the paper, allowing the consultant and client alike to focus on an isolated issued.   Once the session is completed, the annotated document can easily be emailed to or printed for the client.

 

Sharing

Finally, the iPad adds a lot to sessions because it puts access to endless resources at your fingertips.  I regularly use the iPad in session to help clients look of terms, review citation information from websites like the Purdue OWL, or even search our library’s databases for articles.  Sure, this could be done on a computer, but with an iPad the session doesn’t have to be interrupted by the move to a computer station.  And the iPad is physically closer to a printed document that can be passed back and forth and set aside quickly, unlike a computer monitor and corresponding peripherals.   Additionally, as with almost all the resources iPads have to offer, links to websites, handouts, and other resources can be quickly and easily emailed to the student.

Modeling

iPads can add a lot to Writing Center consultations, making much of what we do already more convenient and accessible, but another reason to use such mobile devices in sessions is to demonstrate for clients how they could be using the mobile technology many of them already have to serve them in their academic work.

Students are using their phones and tablets to perform web searches already; why not show them ways they can use their devices to perform more academically relevant queries?  They are using apps to find out what time a movie starts on Saturday; why not show them some apps that will help them find and understand a given term and its synonyms?  They are using their phones and tablets to organize their lives already; why not show them the ways they can use their devices to organize their thoughts and ideas for upcoming projects?  Could we grab a physical dictionary just to make a point? Sure.  But by showing students good, reputable and often free mobile dictionary apps as well as the host of other uses and applications available on mobile platforms, we are demonstrating for them skills they can use on their own outside of the library or Writing Center with devices they always have available.

A Two-Way Street: Learning from Clients in the Writing Center

Scott Lasley, Consultant

With my first semester at the writing center complete, I call up the images of all the students I’ve worked with and surprisingly, find more faces of science and business students than English major students.  In the few months of my infancy as a writing consultant, it was especially daunting to work almost exclusively with students in fields of engineering, business, and chemistry because what could this lowly English student help with outside of mundane grammatical and surface-level concerns?  This sentiment was a mere manifestation of my “newness” anxiety that was barely a whisper by the end of the first month.  I became entranced with what work the non-English major students brought in to the writing center.  I found myself learning ideas and concepts that I never dreamed would cross my path from deformable models regarding imaging software to simpler things like how to write business letters and memos.  It was as if I had become the student, my eyes wide as I listened to the teacher inform me of some new piece of knowledge. 

I remember reading a student assignment about some new findings regarding a hominid species that supported the possibility of co-evolution in Southeast Asia.  Staring down at the pages of pictures and blocks of text on this new hominid, I found myself getting lost in the circled and highlighted prints and lines, entranced by the unexpected nature of this newly found knowledge.  What if it were true?  What if this changed our very understanding of world?  Dramatic, I know, but being presented with something I had never considered or even thought of made such findings like a stop sign of sorts in that I must wait and take notice of what lies in front of me.  Even though I knew next to nothing about evolutionary studies, I could not help but absorb all that could from what I saw, like a young boy does when listening to his father.  I craved to know more and found myself taking mental notes of names like homo floresiensis and co-evolution as I worked through the session.  As I sat down in front of my computer after the session, I quickly brought up Google, typing my mental notes into the slender search bar, excited less by what I may or may not find and more by the shear possibilities of what might be found.

This experience, like many others so far while working at the writing center, has demonstrated the importance ofScott consultants not only tutoring and teaching students in order to help them become better writers, but learning from them as well.  That’s not to say that we have to play the role of the engaged student or that we will always enjoy and want to know about what our clients are working on.  Desire and curiosity have their limits.  However, by being intellectually curious of the world outside the English department, we not only see what other writers are doing, but we also open our minds and by extension, our writing, to new areas of intellectual exploration.

Teaching Practices in the Writing Center: Looking Forward

Amy Nichols, Consultant

More than a year ago, I took my first glance at the University of Louisville website. I remember being enthusiastic, as a former professor had recommended the program as one which might match well with my interests. I looked over the application and the professors in the department, but what really caught my eye was the description of the graduate assistantships for M.A. students: “Until they have completed eighteen hours of graduate work in English, M.A. GTAs are assigned to the University Writing Center.” As a student deeply interested in writing pedagogy, both in writing centers and in the classroom, this requirement crystallized my interest in the program; however, I still had some reservations. Would I be able to make a successful transition into the first year composition classroom in the second year of my M.A.? Would one year of classroom experience give me a strong enough C.V. to apply for other teaching jobs in the future?  

While I won’t begin teaching in the classroom until next fall, I can sense many of my questions already being answered through my interactions with students and assignments from a broad swathe of disciplines. As a consultant who students view as an ‘outsider’ not involved with the class or the professor, I have been able to watch them react to a variety of assignments, and to observe instructions and prompts which might engender interest or confusion. In addition, I have had to constantly refine and diversify my approaches to explaining any given assignment, seeing what methods help clarify the finer points in the art of academic writing.

Beyond these hands-on, writing-related experiences, there have also been moments when I have had to help students understand the college writing culture. When students begin with “I’m not sure what my professor means by…” our conversations often move beyond the piece of writing itself. I sometimes find myself becoming a sort of cultural guide for students learning to navigate in the world of academia; how to ask for clarification on assignments, how to request a meeting with a professor, and other elements of the communal life of the university often directly correlate to writing what might seem like a simple response paper. These conversations have made me remember my own experience as a first-generation student at a small liberal arts university, learning what Ruby Payne might call the “hidden rules” of college life – rules which might seem extra-textual, but which are critical to the success of any piece of writing (and succeAmyss overall) in the world of academia. 

Perhaps these observations are obvious; all writing is produced within specific contexts for specific audiences. But the position of writing center consultant sits at a strange intersection in the university: some liminal space apart from classrooms, professors, deadlines, and disciplines, and yet intricately connected to all of these things.  Without this direct experience at the writing center – that is, without getting involved on a deeper level in that interplay between individual and community which we call collegiate writing – I cannot imagine myself seeing the same set of needs in my future students or setting the same kinds of specific goals for my pedagogy moving forward. As I move into my second semester of tutoring, I can honestly say I would not have wanted my assistantship to begin in any other way.

Collaborative Relationships: Multiple Sessions and Extended Projects

Brit Mandelo, Consultant

While the majority of our sessions are one-offs—a single meeting with a client, or multiple sessions each on a different piece of work—there are also, occasionally, larger projects extended over many meetings: thesis work, research projects and the like. Though I appreciate and enjoy all the sorts of work I do in the writing center, I’ve found that these can be the most rewarding and intriguing sorts of partnerships. The process of collaboration is distinctly different when it’s extended over several sessions with the same goal in mind; a space opens up for an authentic and often personal relationship to develop.

When a client comes in for several appointments each week, slowly working through an entire long project with me, I not only get a sense of their personal interests, academic interests, and writing style, but also of their deeper-seated needs and expectations. The dialogue that we can then develop—balancing theoretical and structural concerns over one week with usage and style concerns the next, for example—allows room for flexibility and intense collaboration that a single fifty-minute encounter can’t have. In some sense, this is just really obvious: of course working with someone for six hours is more intense and allows for more connection than working with someone for one hour. In another, I think there’s something more intriguing going on when it comes to issues of identity and communication.

The first session with a client often consists of a “feeling out,” be that first session the only one or not. The client and I aren’t yet familiar—I can’t be sure where their strengths lie, or their weaknesses, or what their concerns are (the ones they’re willing to acknowledge out loud, and the ones they aren’t). So, we end up working out a lot of that communicative background while discussing the writing in question. There’s work being done below (or above?) the level of the client-as-writer; we’re often also learning how to communicate as two individual people with distinct skills and needs. As we all come from unique identity positions, with significant differences between each of our roles within the university, engaging in that process of “how to talk to one another” is essential before productive work can begin. Sometimes it takes five minutes, but sometimes it takes the whole session as we come together over a piece of writing.

However, given even one more session on the same piece of work—when we’re both already familiar with each other and the project in question—much of the proverbial throat-clearing and the sounding-out process that opens a first session have already been taken care of. Often, we’ve had a chance to work through structural and theoretical concerns with the piece, too, if it’s shorter. That second session on the same piece allows us to dig deeper, answer further questions that might have developed in the interim, and slip into a more comfortable space with each other. Multiply that by a few more meetings, and the collaborative opportunity consistently develops into a real relationship based on the writing, but also on each of us as individuals with specific needs and skills—which we’ve had several chances to fit together, like puzzle pieces, for the most productive possible arrangement. After having this happen reliably several times, I now wish that more clients would make several appointments for their projects, so that this same comfortable space could develop between more of us.