By Bradley Hughes
The staff of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison warmly welcomes you to our blog for a new academic year!
As in many other parts of the US, on August 21 eclipse fever touched many of us here in Madison, Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, the eclipse was, alas, not total—just about 85%. Even though it was cloudy that day in Madison, I joined a number of colleagues who had spontaneously gathered at the peak, a little after 1:00 PM, outside our campus building (Helen C. White Hall, which houses the undergraduate library, a number of academic departments, and the Writing Center) to see what we could see without ruining our eyes. We shared a pair of eclipse glasses, which, to my amazement, allowed us to view the eclipse through the clouds. It was stunning—like a crescent sun, I thought. And I loved the fact that it was a communal experience—as we shared the glasses, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.
What I especially liked about the eclipse was how it disrupted normal routines and allowed many viewers to see what is normally invisible to us—for those in the areas of a total eclipse, a rare chance of course to see the dazzling, mystical looking corona, the gaseous plasma surrounding the sun and other stars; and for those of us in regions with a partial eclipse, an equally rare chance to see a crescent sun, a shape I usually associate only with the moon.
I love having new perspectives on familiar things. And—here comes an admittedly awkward segue—those chances to slow down, to look in new ways at things familiar to us and to see exciting new things in new ways are what I hope a particular element of our Writing Center’s professional development does for tutors on our Writing Center’s staff. We call this “ongoing education.” As in many writing centers, new tutors in our Writing Center’s programs participate in a substantial professional development program—for the undergraduate Writing Fellows on our staff, a full-semester, three-credit seminar on the theory and practice of tutoring writing across the curriculum, while new doctoral-level teaching assistants joining our staff participate in a nine-week professional-development program. In addition, everyone on staff participates in periodic full-staff meetings, which include a substantial professional-development component. And then all tutors beyond their initial training participate in a form of what we call “ongoing education.”
In this post, I’d like to share examples of the topics for the ongoing education designed specifically for our graduate tutors and offer a few brief reflections about the history of this part of our tutor education. I will have more to say about this as part of a panel at the International Writing Centers Association conference in Chicago this November, when I will try to use activity theory to analyze the history of our writing center’s ongoing education topics. On that same panel, which is inspired by Mark Hall’s wonderful new book, Around the Texts of Writing Center Work (2017), my friend and colleague Mark Hall, from the University of Central Florida, will analyze writing center promotional documents using James Gee’s tools for discourse analysis, and my friend and colleague Rebecca Nowacek, from Marquette University, will analyze the role that session records play in prompting tutor reflection.
At UW-Madison, our ongoing education sessions started over 20 years ago. At the start, graduate tutors could choose from a short list of single-session conversations, which were designed and led by career staff in our Writing Center. The sessions focused on particular topics that tutors had told the Center’s leadership team that they wanted to learn more about and topics that the session leaders thought would deepen our tutors’ knowledge and strengthen the quality of our consulting. As you’ll see from the table below, over the years, some of these topics have remained similar—about helping science writers and about working with multilingual writers, for example. Another constant is that over the past 15 years, we have asked graduate tutors (TAs) in their second year on staff to complete their ongoing education by videotaping two of their consultations with undergraduate writers in the main Writing Center (with the writer’s and the tutor’s knowledge and consent, of course) and then to do a self-critique of those videos and then to meet to review and discuss those videos with a member of the Writing Center’s leadership team. With appropriate permissions, we then use some of those tapes in tutor education, staff meetings, and writing center research.
But over the years, the sessions have also evolved in important ways. Our ongoing education now usually includes some reading and some writing and involves two different meetings, with some data gathering and writing and small projects in between. The ongoing education groups often now produce new training materials, a policy statement, a panel at a regional or national writing center conference, a new Writing Center workshop, or a post for this blog, like a fabulous one this past spring, on building and strategizing diversity in the writing center, featuring the different voices of all the graduate tutors who participated. And I’m delighted that many of our ongoing education sessions are now initiated and led by graduate tutors themselves. In fact, the TA assistant director of the Writing Center plans and coordinates all of our ongoing education for the year they are in that position. What better advanced learning experience could there be than planning and leading and evaluating ongoing education for peers? We try to design our ongoing education sessions so that the total time commitment for the semester is about four-five hours, and we try to offer enough choices so that no ongoing education group is larger than six or seven graduate tutors.
I’m fascinated to see how the historical catalog of our ongoing education topics reflects not only the rise of new technology within the teaching and practice and study of writing but also other fascinating new areas of interest for tutors AND for those who propose and lead tutor education. There’s a lot to notice, I’m convinced, within these topics: they mirror trends within composition and rhetoric and within writing center studies, shifting emphases for our university and within higher education more generally, and national and international trends in culture and politics. Within our particular program, they also reveal tensions between theory and practice and a subtle competition for participants. Here’s a selected history of the over 20 years of topics for our ongoing education for graduate tutors.
|Spring 2017||To Tutor Is to Teach/To Teach Is to Tutor: Intersections Across Pedagogical Roles|
|Supporting Students of Color Through Co-Curricular Campus Partnerships|
|Writing Center Instruction in “Post-Truth” America|
|With, Not For: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center|
|Yet Another Word: Writing a Post for the Writing Center Blog|
|What Does a “Growth Mindset” Have to Do with Our Work with Student-Writers?|
|Fall 2016||Empirical Research in the Writing Center--What's So RAD about It?|
|Rethinking Reading Aloud in Writing Center Sessions|
|Visual Strategies for In-Person and On-Line Tutoring|
|Spring 2016||Keyboards, Google Docs, and Big Screens: Collaborating with Technology in Writing Center Sessions|
|Taking a Closer Look at Workshops|
|Meeting the Needs of LGBTQ Students in the Writing Center|
|Science Writing as Storytelling, Telling Stories about Science Writing|
|Asking Better Questions|
|Making the Most of Your Writing Center Experience When You Apply and Interview for Faculty Positions|
|Fall 2015||Rethinking Revision|
|What Do I Know? Disciplinary Expertise and Tutoring Effectiveness|
|Strategies for Working with Multilingual Writers|
|Spring 2015||How to Brag about Your Writing Center Teaching on the Job Market|
|Race and Inclusion in the Writing Center|
|Strategies for Working with Dissertators: Helping Writers Move from ABD to PhD|
|Accessibility and Screencasting in the Writing Center|
|Creating a Computer Simulation for Training New Writing Tutors|
|Fall 2014||The Writing Center: Theoretical Roots and Future Directions|
|Communities of Writers: The Theory and Practice of Writing Groups|
|Exploring Grant Writing: For You and Your Students|
|Spring 2014||Beyond Evals: Filming Student Focus Groups|
|Behind the Scenes: Madison Writing Assistance and the Celebration of Writing|
|Beyond the Two Cultures: Strategies for Working with STEM Writers|
|Good and Fast: Writing Efficient Comments|
|Exit Strategies: Representing Writing Center Work on the Job Market|
|Participate in the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium|
|Fall 2013||Double Agents: The Tutor as Writer and the Writer as Tutor|
|Beyond Student Evaluations in the Writing Center: Filming Student Focus Groups about Their Writing Center Experiences and Perceptions|
|No Crisis Here [about a crisis in the humanities]|
|Participate in the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium|
|Spring 2013||Writing about Your Writing Center Experience on the Academic Job Market|
|Working with Ongoing Students|
|Ethics of the Writing Center Conference|
|Writing a Social-Media Strategy for the Writing Center|
|Visualization: What Is It Good For?|
|Spring 1999||Writing Center Email Instruction|
|Using the Writing Center Library|
|Exploring Ways to Work Effectively with Academically At-Risk Undergraduates|
|Fall 1998||What’s Different about Writing in the Sciences?|
|Advanced Grammar and Style|
|Finding Resources on the Internet for Writers and Writing Teachers|
|Spring 1998||A Conversation on Style|
|Writing in the Sciences|
|Using the Writing Center Library|
|Fall 1997||Writing in the Sciences|
|Teaching Second-Language Writers|
I want to thank my many wonderful colleagues over the decades for proposing and developing and leading these ongoing education sessions. And I want to thank them for always thinking critically about how we approach professional development. I also want to thank the hundreds of smart, engaged graduate tutors who participated in these sessions and created new knowledge through their writing, their data collection, and their conversation.
And thanks so much to all of you who are reading this post! If you can spare a minute, I hope that you will add a comment–I really mean it:-). Any reactions to this brief history of ongoing education topics? If you have participated in some of these, what do you like about them? What could be better? If you’d led one, what did you enjoy about and learn from that? If you are from another college or university or high school, what does your writing center do for ongoing education or professional development for tutors beyond their initial course or training or workshops? Any suggestions for new approaches or topics? Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts and experience and questions.
Featured photo from NASA, “August 21 Solar Eclipse, From Ground and Space.”