Monday, December 15, 2008

Parallels between tutoring and therapy

In the 303 class, the one about tutoring writing at BSU, We discussed an Essay earlier in the semester called "Freud in the Writing Center: The Psychoanalytics of tutoring well" by Christina Murphy. She suggested a comparison between the tutoring process and the psychoanalytic process (page 96 in our St. Martin's Sourcebook text). Although the two practices address different subjects and contexts, both include a degree of vulnerability for the client. In our case, the client is a student writer who seeks help with the writing process. We can assume that many of these writers are not feeling particularly confident in their writing ability, so sharing their experiences with writing can be uncomfortable. There are certain qualities that a receptive writing tutor displays to ease some of the discomfort and gain the trust necessary to adress the writer's needs (97). Murphy connects this to the relationship between a therapist and a client, which also benefits from a sense of trust (96). As writing tutors, we're not giving psychological therapy in the way that a counseler or psychiatrist does, but the consultation process sometimes requires us to use empathy and be sensitive to the possible fear of being negatively evaluated (98).

Think about what it can be like for someone sharing writing (especially for the first time), which is often very personal. It does include a degree of vulnerability for the student writer coming in for the consultation. I think as writing tutors, we are involved with writing and around writing on a regular basis, so it may be easy to forget how intimidating the experience of a tutoring session can be for a student who feels very uncomfortable with writing and self-conscious about his or her work. This has been a topic I have been looking at in my pedagogy paper (philosophy of tutoring) lately as well, so I was wondering about anyone else's thoughts on the subject.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why Does My Pedagogy Sound Like an Episode of Seinfeld?

It’s a pedagogy about nothing. But it encompasses everything. How else could it be? I mean, there is no way to really approach a consultation with a cohesive plan. Every person, every paper, every encounter brings with it a new opinion, a new view on working with people, or a new insight into how your own biases affect the way you consult. Sure, there are the ideals: don’t take over the paper, try to take culture and experience into account, give concrete examples…..but is there a theme? I have toyed with a directive minimalist approach, where you gage how much you direct the work (could be read ‘bully into your own opinion’) based on the writers experience, fluency, etc. But is that really a way to look at consulting? When everything is possible, is there anything left to rely on?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Consultations to fulfill class/assignment requirements

Hello, this is Eric from the BSU Writing Center. We had a discussion in class the other day about students who come in to the writing center to fulfill a requirement for an assignment. In other words, a student gets points for turning in proof of a writing center consultation. Some tutors thought this was irritating because the student may show a lack of concern and involvement with the session, caring only about getting the proof of consultation form and not about learning or improving their writing. The idea came up that these sessions steal time away from writers who earnestly want help with their writing.

I am not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, though, because I can see some positive aspects of these sessions. A situation like this can make for a frustrating and unproductive session, but it could also be a means of introducing the benefits of a writing consultation to someone who otherwise would have never explored what the writing center has to offer. Personally, I never made an appointment at the center before taking this class and becoming a tutor, simply because I never thought I needed one, but once I had one, I realized how helpful it can be just to have someone else to read my paper and discuss my writing. I have experienced one or two of these frustrating sessions, but I also have had teacher-assigned sessions in which students found that they had benefited from the experience more than they expected. I can also understand that if a writing center appointment is required for an assignment, a student may feel uncomfortable or unsure about what to say or what to ask for help on. However, many students can be difficult and have unfair expectations. Whatever the circumstances, I think we should try to remain as helpful and amiable as possible. Worst-case scenario, the students don't come back and we have a frustrating session. Best-case scenario, we have a successful session and a student who would otherwise be unaware of the center's benefits may return for future sessions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Service Learning Reflective Writing Podcast

The Peer Writing Advisors (yes that's what they chose to be called many years ago) from the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center have put together their first podcast episode on service-learning reflective writing. The podcast can be found on the "Step ahead with writing" podcast page. Click on the link at the top labeled "StepAheadPodcast" to see the list of episodes. (There is only the one currently.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Helping or Hindering

Hello, this is Susan from Boise State's Writing Center and ENGL 303 class. Last Friday (the 7th) I conducted a consultation with a student who was to write an eight- to ten-page persuasive essay. She brought two pages with her and was seeking help in finding more to write about to in order to fill the instructor's requirement. I felt I gave her quite a bit of information to ponder, focusing on the three main parts of the essay: introduction, body, conclusion, as well as a few extra things, such as background and personal experiences. I asked her specific questions regarding her topic, and in doing so, she was able to formulate the rest of her essay.

"So what is the problem?" you ask. Well, when looking over her notes, she realized she still had a lot of research to do. She came to the Writing Center on Friday and the paper was due on Monday. She was clearly dismayed. Even though I felt the session had gone well overall, and she had enough information to fill the needed requirement, I came away feeling a little dismayed myself. Why? I would have welcomed the extra information with open arms. But she didn't. Anyone else have a similar experience? Did I help her . . . or hinder her?

Team Effort: Contrasting Collaboration

Howdy, Phil and Rick here from the BSU 303 class. A couple of weeks ago we had an irregular session (as if any could be regular), and we wanted to get some input from the peanut gallery. Don't let the third person throw you off...

A student had an appointment with Rick to go over grammar and structure in his paper. The student was an ELL writer, and came to the appointment having already worked with Phil on a similar paper. During the session, the student repeatedly reminded Rick that the paper was due in an hour, and that he just needed to know what was wrong and how to fix it. Rick resisted the idea of straight out telling him what to do. For awkwardly worded phrases, Rick decided to ask the writer to think about other ways he could word them, without telling him what the 'correct' way to phrase them would be. The writer became increasingly agitated with Rick, and was not engaged with the session. He asked several times if Phil was free, and if he could work with him instead. After about a half hour ( the session was scheduled for an hour), Rick decided to ask Phil if he could join the session. Phil was confused at first as to why the writer would seek assistance from someone other than Rick. While observing the interaction between Phil and the writer, Rick realized that Phil was a lot more forthcoming than he had been regarding the writer's grammar and word structure. As Phil's part of the session went along, he realized the writer just wanted him to write the paper for him. When the writer asked for help with his conclusion, he expected Phil to tell him explicitly what to write. Phil, aware of this, after explaining the concept of a conclusion, informed him, "I'm not going to write it for you." The writer insistently told Phil, "What do I need to write?" Phil had to re-enforce that he wouldn't and couldn't write the paper for him. The writer soon stormed out, obviously frustrated with Phil as well, because Phil wouldn't write it for him.

In the end, Rick decided his approach of trying to let the writer use the language that he had to revise his phrases may have been too distant. But the idea behind his approach was the same as with native speakers: that they should be the authors of their own work.

Phil uses a more forth-coming, direct approach in the hopes that the writer will begin to recognize where they can improve on their own as they go along. While he hasn't dramatically altered his approach, Phil has since become more aware of writers expecting him to do the work for them throughout the consultation.

How forthcoming can you be until it becomes evident that you're doing the work for them? Does your mindset change if you're working with someone without the same command of the language as you do?
Has anyone else faced a similar dilemma of having to seek help from another consultant in a session?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Philosophical View

Hello everyone,

Lizzy here from the elite and famous 303 class at Boise State.

We are coming to the end of this grand semester here at BSU, and I'm starting to think about my end or term paper. We have to write a pedagogy about ourselves as consultants.
I don't know about my class mates, but I'm freaking out.
I decided to use the Brooks essay on 'Minimalist Tutoring' and pick out the good and bad things about it. Mike gave me an idea for an article to look at as well (now the name escapes me) and I would like to take this moment to thank him. :)

But... I'm having second thoughts. I really don't know.
I want to be the kind of consultant that teaches each writer I sit down with something new about writing. I want to spread my passion for writing with the world and get people excited about it.

Does anyone have any ideas for me? Any articles that fall on the lines of, "Saving the world, one consultation at a time" ?

I would really appreciate your input. :)

The one with the cupcake tattoo.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


A few weeks ago I helped make an advertisement video for the Boise State Writing Center to put on YouTube. Actually, I was in two videos, but one was a group shot, so I am part of a team, not myself.
The video I am in is to help prospective consultants understand some aspects of working in the writing center. A few veteran consultants and a consultant currently in training were video-taped answering questions. The questions were nothing strange, nor were they ground-breaking. But they did get me thinking.

What do we as consultants want out of our training and experience? There are numerous articles about how to train and what to train and what to expect; what do we want? Yes, we want to help writers, but we are all critical readers and know to look deeper than that.

This is an honest question: What do you want out of your training and experience in your writing center?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Antiracsist Writing Centers Blog

There is a new blog in the 'sphere that focuses on antiracism work in writing centers, appropriately called Antiracist Writing Centers. It comes from the work of both the IWCA Antiracism Special Interest Group (SIG) and the staff of the University of Illinois Chicago Writing Center. Check it out!

Monday, November 03, 2008

PeerCentered Podcast 3.2: Nancy Grimm Keynote

Over on the podcast, you'll find a new episode featuring Nancy Grimm!

Are WCs asking too much of peer tutors?

At his plenary wrap-up of the Joint NCPTW/IWCA Conference, writing center and peer tutoring legend Harvey Kail asked a simple question in response to the various ideas that came his way during the conference: "Are we asking too much of peer tutors?" Harvey was referring to specifically, I think, Nancy Grim's keynote challenge that writing centers take on new social realities and extend their project to important issues in social justice such as anti-racism work (among others.) (By the way, I only had the opportunity to record the tail end of Nancy's speach, and I will no doubt be podcasting it soon.)

After he finished his talk, Harvey had us write on 3 questions--all relating to the challenges that the conference threw at us as writing center folk. The table I went to sit at were very interested in Harvey's statement about peer tutors. One person thought it was a false dichotomy, as if there was one pure thing that we are asking of peer tutors and that was some how distinct, for example, from a tutor thinking of the effects of race, class, and gender in a tutorial and how that effects the writer. I tend to agree with that assessment, in that it seems that Harvey was defining tutoring only from the Brooklyn School perspective (something he readily admited to, by the way). To say that including other things other than response to the writing is "asking too much" begs the question of what peer tutoring is in the first place. Writing tutoring is about responding to student writers, to be sure, but that does not exclude other important work the tutor can be doing. Responding to the students writing alone seems to be just producing a better text, not a better writer and thinker.

It was an honest question on Harvey's part, I think. He also stated throughout that the conference had given him a great deal to consider and he was redefining his notions of writing center work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stray cats

No, I'm not writing about the 80's Brian Setzer band project, but about the cats that are wandering around the Alexis Hotel where the 2008 NCPTW/IWCA joint conference is being held. Today, as I was walking back to my room taking a break from being Lord Techmeister General, I noted the cats that someone had mentioned to me earlier that day or yesterday. They, of course, are not really stray cats (being that they never really had a home) but are true wild cats. They, no doubt, rome the Alexis grounds catching vermin and birds for a living. They may dine on the odd convention sandwich carelessly left on a bench, but hey, that's free food, and who is going to refuse free food?

Now what 's the point, you are asking yourself and me while you read this? I found these cats rather interesting. Here they are, hanging on to this resort--making it their own lair. They live quite well here. I came upon a crew of them in mid-cat-argument. One was strutting his stuff. Another was cowling in a corner. A third, who had fled the previously-mention strutter, was strutting-his own stuff across the way.

All hell broke loose, however, when I intervened. I generally like cats. I always have. It is not necessarily their aloofness that appelas to me, as much as their general indifferent friendliness. Generally if you pet a cat, it will pet you back, so to speak.

These cats, however, were having none of that. They skittered away from me quicker than Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Ok, you are now asking yoursef what the hell this all has to do with peer tutoring.

A whole lot, I tell you.

It is so easy to think that we know best. It is so easy to come from the outside and think that what we have to offer is what student writers need. The fear these cats displayed at my trying to be friendly reminded me of the general trepidation that is often reported about students before they come into the writing center.

Can we learn anything from stray cats or stray students?

Friday, October 31, 2008


I've been pretty busy the last couple of days coordinating tech support and hosting my own personal Mike Douglas show with writing center megastars by the Alexis pool. I haven't been able to blog as I wanted, nor to record any sessions at all. I've run into various PeerCenterites, and we had our flash mob yesterday at noon. Despite Tiffany Turcotte's belief that our flash mob was at midnight, instead of noon, we had a great time.

In between running around solving people's tech issues along with Allison Scheel, David Rockwell, Suzy Gehring, Zach Koppelman, Dusty Bailey, Jeannette Jeanault, and Chris Bently, I've seen many interesting sessions today. I have to run to the banquet now. More later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blogging the conference

I encourage all PeerCenteristas to blog during their time in Las Vegas for the upcoming NCPTW/IWCA Joint Conference. I'll be posting, although I have several official duties that most likely won't let me attend many sessions. I'll also (I hope to have time that is) be conducting some podcast interviews. If I have the time and the gumption, I'll post those on-the-fly! We'll also be having our PeerCentered (facebook) flash mob in the Apollo foyer on Thursday at 12:05. It will last for 10 minutes. Come get your PeerCentered button!

See you in Vegas!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Podcast Episode!

Today I had the opportunity to chat with Claire Hughes, Coordinator of the Weber State University Writing Center and President of the Rocky Mountain Writing Centers Association about the upcoming NCPTW/IWCA joint Conference in Las Vegas. Give it a listen! (And apologies for the sound quality, but it was an old-skool phone line recording!)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Writing Center hours/availability

Interesting post on Arizona State's writing center blog. The author goes into the reasoning behind 30-minute maximum appointments at their facility along with humorous case studies behind that reasoning. It does not state their hours...
Boise State's Center is available for 30 minute or 1 hour appointments. From my experiences and observations 12 out of 13 thirteen times these are sufficient options. That said, I've had a a couple walk-ins that went on for well over an hour. Initially I wouldn't think of this as a possible hazard. I assumed the more time you could work with a writer the better. True enough, but spending a large chunk of time on one piece can make it difficult for both the writer and consultant about what could be improved.
Has anyone else gone through a similar session, if so, what was going through your head, was the extra time beneficial?

The author for the ASU blog stated writer coming in were annoyed or upset by the "small" window of time provided for appointments. All of us at Boise State have heard similar grumbles about our consultant availability, that we're not open enough. The factors going into this are much different than those for session lengths. I think our Center's hours are pretty good considering consultant work hours, budget, etc... (We're available for more hours than the bus system here
Still, I understand other students' frustration when the schedule is full on a day you would really x 3 like to or need to have an appointment. If it was manageable and reasonable I would have my center open eight days a week, six am-midnight or later. But that's in an ideal school setting where sleep isn't an issue, writers are coming out of the woodwork, and the phrase budget concerns is unheard of.
Alas, one can still dream.

Abuse of Power?

Hello, Eric here from the 303 tutoring class at Boise State. We have read many essays in the 303 class about methods and practices in tutoring writing. Although they all provide useful insight, I also find they can be inhibiting. Allow me to explain:

I have just begun to conduct my own consultations, and I sometimes find myself getting lost in the vague web of whatever "dos" and "don'ts" I might be reminded of from the essays as I sit down to consult with a writer. For example, I may reach for my pencil and a voice speaks up inside: "You're not going to write on his paper are you? You're not an editor, you're a collaborator!" I find myself second-guessing myself a lot in consultations, wondering if I am violating the rules that have been set forth in the Murphy and Sherwood text. This kind of hesitation can be stifling for a number of reasons. First of all, there is not a lot of time for hesitation in a half-hour session. And further, the writer is here seeking my assistance, so it's not likely to put him or her at ease to see any uncertainty in the writing tutor.

Some situations feel like they are testing my unspoken 'code of conduct' as a writing tutor. What if somebody comes in only wanting assistance with grammar and punctuation? Is it wrong to tell her that a colon would work better here, or that the use of a certain word is confusing and another one would work better? I wonder about trying to find a way to lead students to this information on their own, but it's not always easy in situations like this. Does anyone else feel uncertain about how far to go in assisting a student, especially when there is an expressed concern to revise grammar, punctuation and spelling? I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Rock on

Monday, October 13, 2008

Recording Consultations

I only like my voice if I have a really, really bad cold. It's kind of cute then. The rest of the time it's terrible--loud, at a weird pitch, and constantly stumbling over word pronunciation as it tries to suppress an undesirable accent. I record my voice mail message over and over, but my voice doesn't change so I let the Mechanical Lady say that I'm unavailable. Her voice is pleasant. (All of my whining has to do with Writing Centers, I promise; you'll see in the next paragraph.)

The director of our center wants us to record one of our consultations in the next couple of weeks. "What a great pedogical tool!" I think. "What learning can be done by going back and analyzing how a consultation went, what I would change, what I would do again!"

But then, "Shoot! My voice! They'll hear my voice! I'll hear my voice!" How distracting. I'll be hyper-aware of the way my voice sounds through the whole session. This may mean I'm distracted from the writer, which is bad. It may mean I adapt an extreme minimalist tutoring approach, a la Jeff Brooks, which could be good or bad.

I think we all have something we can be hyper-aware of about ourselves. Does anyone have to deal with these things often in consultations? Has anyone recorded a consultation before? How did it go?

Monday, October 06, 2008

3 Times as Awesome...

Yes! It finally happened. No, I didn't win the lottery or pay off my mortgage, but this is close: there's a writer who wants to schedule weekly appointments with me! I know, pretty cool, huh? This is my 3rd semester, and this is my first "regular." And, as I pretend that I didn't just leave myself vulnerable for a "brothel" interpretation, I'll say, "although that's awesome all by itself, it gets more awesome... "

Awesome thing # 1: This writer originally visited the center because he'd receive extra credit for coming in. He came in expecting "editing" help and desiring only the extra credit. Yet, when he discovered that writing consultants look at student's essays as Readers, not Editors, he was thrilled. In fact, we spent only a few minutes on the essay he'd brought in for the extra credit. Then, we spent the remainder of the conversation talking about ideas on essays, which weren't due for (get this) months!! He had an interested Reader to bounce his ideas off of, and he took full advantage of that.

"Fix-it shop" busted.

Awesome thing #2: He's a great writer. His grammar is almost perfect, and his ideas are well organized. I suspect that he entered the center believing that we couldn't help him. But, he realized that we are Readers, and we offer reader's response. We don't edit, and we don't proofread. He liked that we actually read, digest, and contemplate his academic writings and then offer our feedback.

"Writing centers are for poor writers", so busted.

Awesome thing #3: I feel reassured. I am positive that I am not the only one who wonders, "Am I doing this consultant gig right? Am I helpful to writers, at all?" I have these negative thoughts quite often, more often than I have positive thoughts. This experience has alleviated a lot of personal doubt, and it's reassured me that I am actually a consultant. I'm not a perfect consultant; I botch things up sometimes. Occasionally, I do get things right, though. Knowing, that's a nice feeling.

"I stink", so, so busted!

Now, although this awesome thing feels like an anomaly to me, I'm sure that it's not anomalous. We are all great, passionate consultants. We all strive to do our job well. We all strive to help writers. We don't often get a lot of oral feedback, but I am positive it does happen. It has to...

Many of you already have regular appointments with the same writer(s). How did that come about? How do you feel about it? Does it offer reassurance for you, too?

Also, is there a time when you've felt utterly "awesome" because of a consultation, a moment, a comment, a writer?

I'd love to hear about it...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Writing Center Humor--Pick your favorite

I just went over to the Writing Lab Newsletter website and found this pretty hilarious cartoon section. Which one is your favorite? I vote for "Poe" or "Gertrude Stein"...

Jacob Says...

Peer Centered Response

“A Metaphor is a Glorious thing”

I like metaphors. A lot. They make explaining essay writing a lot easier sometimes.

Say, for example, the writer’s essay seems to kind of sort of linger around the point a little, and the essay’s language feels a bit convoluted because the writer’s kind of trying really hard to stress something or something else about a certain subject, but the writer is not really sure how to kind of phrase it in an adequate way so that said point comes out clear and concise-like.

Voila—Burger King Metaphor.

Say you’re at a Burger King drive-thru. You’re there for one reason and one reason only—to get a Whopper. When the employee says, “Welcome to Burger King, how may I take your order,” what do you say?

--“I want a Whopper.”


--“Well, I think I’m going to get a hamburger, but I don’t want it to be too small or too large, so I’m probably going to go with the Whopper please.”

The BK employee is the reader. The customer ordering the food is the writer. It is the writer’s (customer’s) responsibility to get his or her point across clearly so that the reader (BK employee) knows exactly what he or she is talking about.

That’s what we’re going for with college-level essay writing. Not “dumbing it down” per se, but rather keeping language in an understandable context. How do we remember to do this when we’re writing? Burger King Metaphor. Be bold with your writing. Don’t feel you have to hide want you want—i.e., a Whopper—with super tedious sentences. Be precise. Affirmative. Uncomplicated.

More to come in following posts…

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Upper-division English snobs, just kidding, stigmatization

Hello Writing Center world,
Once again Phillip Bode coming at you live from the Boise State Writing Center.

My post concerns a common stigma I encounter and have dealt with since entering upper-division classes. The stigma and derision of upper-division students (primarily English majors) who are reluctant in coming to our humble abode. The stigma appears to stem from the notion "by going to the Writing Center you are conceding you're not a quality writer and the center is only for struggling writers." (Of course, if someone is mulling over an argument or thesis, as everyone is prone to do eventually, can't we all be considered struggling writers?)

Any consultant can tell you this notion is false in every sense. Yes, we mostly work with lower-division writers but how much of this is affected by upper-division English majors letting their pride get in the way? It is absurd to think since we primarily work with younger writers they are the only ones who struggle.

Every paper I have come in to the Center for help has received an excellent grade (one paper received a B and it was on a very vague assignment both Ian and I were unfamiliar with). I don't consider myself a great or fantastic writer but wouldn't consider my writing as poor either (except my poetry and fiction. ugh). There is always room to improve my writing and I have never resisted assistance from fellow writers. Their help is always beneficiary, so it bemuses me that talented and smart writers would resist the Writing Center or pass judgment on those who go.

I've campaigned to classmates to seek the Center for help but I acknowledge I am not an alluring model for inspiration.
So what can we do? What ways do others think Writing Centers can alleviate or change this stigma? Is this a problem at other campuses?

Writing Center on Wikipedia Challenge

If you haven't noticed, the entry for "Writing Center" on Wikipedia is woefully inadequate. I, therefore, put for the challenge of cleaning it up and making it more academic. I've been "taking care" of the entry for a few years now, but have done little else but trimming it down and making sure it didn't mis-represent our mutual work.

What do you say, PeerCenteristas? Who has the gumption to make the entry 1) more scholarly and 2) more reflective of our community?

Note: this doesn't mean just adding links, it means making it a better encyclopedic entry with sources noted.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writing Center Society

In the truest--if that can be said--sense of a blog, I am going to ramble for a few lines about an issue that faces me in the Writing Center.
I love my job in the Writing Center. There is a great group of dedicated consultants and a supporting director. However, the society within the center is changing. Changing in a way that leaves me on the edges. This is not a 'bad' thing; it is what is happening.
Before I get into this more, I am not hurt or angry about this. Centers change and progress as the consultants come and go. I have seen my center change many times in many ways over the last three and a half-ish years. So I am not mad or hurt. The center is changing and I am not as much a part of it as before.
There are a number of good reasons for this. First, I am not working as many hours this year. My lack of exposure to the new crew prevents forming close bonds, and it prevents me from integrating into the changes.
Second, I am teaching now and I do not have as much time to just sit and talk with the other consultants. Years past I would spend my free time on the couch chatting with whomever was in the center. No longer.
Third, I am not a highly social person. I am comfortable in groups and can move easily within and between groups, but I do not often intentionally seek out groups or new friends. I rely on work and classes to introduce me to new people. This is important because a large portion of the other consultants is highly social, so they form groups and friendships and networks that I am not part of. It is not that I am actively excluded--at least, I do not think I am--it is that I do not seek these networks out.
So what does this mean? I do not know. For me, it means that I am watching a new group of consultants make the center their own. I see--partially--how eager, enthusiastic, energetic students become consultants and form their identity in the center.
But for a wider group, for other centers or my own, I think it means that every center is not a place or an idea, but rather the people who call it theirs. That sounds romantic and cheesy when I read back over it. However, from where I sit, my center is growing and changing in ways I would not direct it, but it is still my center.

My first sessions, unlisted disability

Hello Writing Center World,

Phillip Bode, intern at large coming to you live from Boise State University.

I had the pleasure today of handling my first two solo sessions with writers this afternoon. Both had never been in the writing center before and dropped in, unfamiliar how Da Center works. Conveniently enough both writers were from the same class (Communications 101) with the same assignment (write about your experience exchanging a worthless item). In both sessions I attempted to use the minimalist technique emphasized by Brooks.
The session with X got off to a slightly awkward start when I asked X to read the paper. X had already informed me they wanted to focus on grammar. when X read the paper though, he hovered over it completely not allowing me to even glimpse at it. It was not out of timidness on X's part however. I think that was just how they were comfortable/used to reading. I took quick notes as X read, on anything positive or negative that stood out audibly. X caught a couple of grammatical errors while reading it aloud but I figured it'd be best if I went over it as well to check more closely. I ended up doing something similar with Y who read her paper similarly to X.
With both writers I had to take a more directive approach to their grammatical and structural errors because they struggled to recognize them on their own. Most of their errors showed early in the paper. I pointed these out, provided the best solution and told them to watch for them when revising papers on their own. After we finished probing the papers I showed X and Y how to register and set up appointments online.
X and Y seemed receptive to my assistance. Hopefully I didn't I scar X and Y badly enough so they avoid Da Writing Center in the future.

On a last note...
With writer Y I didn't notice until after the session when I was documenting the session that they circled "yes" when asked if they had any disabilites that may interfere with Y's writing. However, Y did not list what that disability is. I am not capable of making a medical diagnosis and did not see any apparent signals of disability on Y's part. The head of the staff and the grad. assistant reasoned with me that unless the writer brings it up, it is best for the consultant to ignore the marking for the time being. Have others encountered a similar issue? If so, how did you handle it?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A little "cheese" maybe? Or in this case, granola?

Arriving at my fifth week in my class on writing center tutoring, I found myself confused by all the MANY theories out there about writing center pedagogy. There are all sorts of opinions bouncing around inside my head, some with which I agree and some with which I do not (and I realize this may change after beginning sessions on my own). However, how do I make sense of it all? How could so many theories form together for the greater good the writing center, especially when some seem so very different from others?

And then it hit me.

Each of those sources is like each of the individual ingredients found in my favorite granola bars (Clif's new Mojo bar, mountain mix or peanut butter pretzel flavor to be exact), and like those ingredients, when melted into one unified form they serve a greater good.

You see, there are ingredients in those bars that, individually, I do not care for—just as with some of the journal excerpts on writing center pedagogy floating around in my brain. However, when those ingredients that I would not eat alone on a normal basis (e.g., raisins, chocolate chips) are added to others that I happen to love (e.g., sesame seeds, pretzels, peanut butter flavoring), the sum of them form a unified whole that happens to delight my taste buds.

Similarly, I presume that as I take in all of the opinions of authors and let them simmer in my mind until they form a conglomerate of goodness, eventually all of the arguments will somehow complement each other enough to form a delightful whole. At least, this is my hope.

Postscript: Please let me know if this doesn't make sense, and really sounds more like an addiction to the new Clif bar versus an insightful analogy. They really are quite good!

Are we aiding and abetting fraud?

So, I was driving to school today and as always was listening to NPR (that's my self-promoting conversational piece informing you on how intelligent and connected I am) really, I just like the coverage on the campaign and "This American Life." Okay, I am already getting off topic and I haven't even gotten on topic yet.
Anyhow, the story I was listening to was about a woman who used to be a part of the admissions committee at Dartmouth and is now working as an independent consultant helping students with the admissions process for schools. For a cool $40,000, she will work with you from 9th grade to graduation to help prepare you for your college admissions process. And for the budget price of $14,000, she will help you write and revise your college application essay.
So, how in the world does this correlate to our world? Well, her work with college applications includes helping students decide on effective topics (staying away from "teen angst, or the teddy bear on their bed") and helping them revise and polish their admissions essays. The commentator on the other side of the story was concerned that her work with the students was basically fraud, because the help that she was giving students was clouding their own work. Maybe better stated, the concern was that by helping students pick topics and polish their essays, she was helping them misrepresent their actual abilities.
My question is this: When we work with people on application essays, are we committing a form of fraud? Are we helping them misrepresent their abilities? I realize that this sounds like a ridiculous question since our philosophy is helping students become better writers while maintaining their roles as writers of their own papers. My trouble comes from the fact that the consultant on the radio today claimed the same ideals. How does our work differ from hers if we have only one consultation with a person specifically to polish a college application? What can we do in our own consultations to ensure that we are not aiding and abetting fraud?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NCTPW Conference Scholarships

This just in from Brian Fallon of NCPTW:

NCPTW Peer Tutor Scholarship and Travel Awards

The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing is pleased to announce that monetary awards to support the scholarship, service, and conference participation of undergraduate and graduate writing center tutors have been established for the 2008 IWCA/NCPTW Las Vegas conference.

The Scholarship and Travel Awards (up to $250) will support conference travel expenses for peer tutors who have registered for the upcoming 2008 IWCA/NCPTW Las Vegas conference.

The committee will accept multiple applications from one institution but will try to make a balanced distribution of the scholarship funds to ensure awards for tutors from a number of schools. Tutors are encouraged to apply collaboratively for one award. Candidates for these awards must provide the following materials in their applications:

1. Name, e-mail address, mailing address, phone number, institution, and academic level (undergraduate or graduate).
2. Requested award amount (no more than $250 per application)
3. A cover letter from the tutor no more than 350 words in length.
4. A letter of recommendation/support from the tutor's writing center director, coordinator, assistant director, or other senior member of the writing center staff stating why the tutor is a good candidate for a travel award.

Please use the cover letter as an opportunity to tell the conference committee about your interests in peer tutoring and why you feel you are a worthy candidate for one of the scholarship awards. The cover letter may address, but is not limited to, information on one or two of the following issues:

• Individual's skills and personal background, training, leadership, and scholarship in writing center theory and practices.
• The presentation you plan to give at the conference or why you would like to attend the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing as an audience member.
• Evidence of special contributions or accomplishments in tutor training, staff development, writing center outreach, applications of technology, or other unique activities.

Completed applications must be submitted to the NCPTW by e-mail no later than Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 5:00pm. Please send the above application materials as an email attachment to Brian Fallon at

This year's award winners will be announced October 24, 2008, and the checks will be available for winners when they arrive at the conference.

please visit for a pdf version of this announcement...

Safety first!

I've been reading Mike Mattison's new book Centered: A Year in the Life of a Writing Center Director (available from and came across the following passage:
My first year here [Boise State], we had a student come in, demand for us to read a paper, and then say "I'll shoot someone" if it doesn't happen. Incredibly poor choice of words, and the student was immediately brought before the conduct officer (fortunately, the conduct officer and I knew one another from a committee, so we had a good rapport). The student wrote letters of apology to the consultants and was also barred from the Center. (25)

Perhaps it is because of Phil's post below about mental illness and the writing centers or just the mayhem generally busy-ness of our writing center here at SLCC, but I've been thinking a lot about writing center safety of late.

Like most writing centers out there, we've had our scrapes with people who misbehave, but have only had to call the campus police once in our entire 18 year history. In that case, the student wasn't physically violent, but when a tutor attempted to end a session for what she perceived as an ethical violation (the student demanded, loudly I might add, that the tutor write a passage for her instead of the writer doing it herself), the writer became verbally abusive. When I intervened the writer turned on me and then everyone in the room. At that point, I asked her to leave the Center immediately. She refused, so I informed her that if she didn't leave, I would call campus police to remove her. She apparently thought I was bluffing, and continued to harrangue us. I then walked over to the phone and started to dial. She beat a hasty retreat out of the Center.
Later she accosted me as I was walking to class. No doubt I probably should have reported her for that incident as well, but I let it drop, figuring that she must have had enough problems with her mental health than to be hassled by the campus police. I later found that she had been thrown out of every institution of higher learning in Northern Utah for inappropriate behavior.

There have, of course, been other less disruptive events in the Center, and sometimes some rather scary situations that take place not in the Center but in the classrooms/halls around us. (A student wandering the halls with a machete looking for his teacher is not a nice way to start the day, and hearing of a colleague assaulted by an angry student while in class with a skateboard does make one slightly paranoid about the skater punks who wander into the Center with their long boards in tow, worked up about a teacher and how "unfair" he or she is.) Ultimately we do have emergency procedures to fall back on. Eric Hobson has an excellent primer for developing such procedures in the Writing Center Resource Manual ("Safety in the Writing Center."

In all this may seem like an issue for directors, and you may ask why am I posting it to PeerCentered? I think everyone who works in a writing center should participate in discussions of safety. In the spirit of shared governance, and in the belief that the writing center really is a student place, we all need to figure out ways to best respond to disturbances, of whatever level of danger they might be.

Two steadfast rules that we developed early on here at the SLCC Student Writing Center are
  • If you perceive a threat or are uncomfortable in any way, it is your right to end a session with a student writer immediately.
  • You and other people are much more important than anything else in the room. If you are in danger leave the situation.
These, of course, are not our only emergency procedures since we adhere diligently to our College's comprehensive Emergency Procedures Manual, but they do express concisely the purpose of such emergency procedures. They also fit rather nicely with our College's Student Code of Conduct. The first policy mentioned covers quite a range: from an angry or abusive student writer to one who is, as it were, becoming over-affectionate. In all they've served us quite well over the years and were developed by the peer tutors and I way back in 1992.

I am curious what safety policies other centers have.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

2008 Maine High School Writing Center Conference

From Richard Kent of the University of Maine:

We've organized our annual Maine High School Writing Center Day. I'm passing along this information as one model of a conference that asks students to be the primary presenters:

2008 Maine High School Writing Center Conference: "On Wednesday, October 22, the secondary school writing center community of Maine will gather at the University of Maine in Orono.")

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is "gender" a consideration anymore? Or is the Weasel still running wild?

Hi Everyone-
I'm a new tutor at Boise State and I wanted to comment on a piece of an essay we read in our 303 class written by Elizabeth Boquet ("Snapshots of Life in the Center"). This is a very good essay, and I wanted to comment on one smaller part of it.

Boquet used her difficulty with dealing with a fellow tutor "Bill" to express gender concerns within the Writing Center. If you read this piece, "Bill" can be summed up as nothing more than a weasel because, at the time when Boquet wrote this essay, "Bill" "lorded" over the writing center with his vast computer knowledge, which enabled him to avoid serious tutoring responsibilities and gain advantages. "Bill" also, according to Boquet, lied about teaching a female colleague about a computer program. Is "Bill" an appropriate example of typical male behavior?

Boquet quoted Tannen,"men's communicative strategies are primarily heirarchical, while women focus on connectedness. For this reason, women are more likely to involve others in operations involving them while men are more likely to view a teaching an opportunity to assert dominance and control." (126)

In order to get to my questions/thoughts, I'll just sum up some further points in the piece. Men (like Bill) do most of the talking in sessions, they dictate. Women are empathetic and better listeners.

I have seen weasels like "Bill" in company settings. He and his kind are still walking around the halls of companies with their clubs, no doubt.

But in my brief exposure to the Writing Center at Boise State I have not seen the kinds of gender issues which Boquet alludes to (student writers unwilling to work with tutors of a certain sex, male tutors telling writers what to do, women tutors passively listening, etc.)

Do experienced tutors working at Writing Centers today see some of these gender-based issues today? Are these issues still "real" concerns or have they retreated into a different, modern subtle form? Has my graduate student status insulated me from this?

writers exhibiting Mental Illness struggles

Hello Blog world,
Phillip Bode from Boise State's 303 Writing Center training course here.

In Volume 32, Number 10 of the Writing Lab Newsletter Mary Murray McDonald addresses the ways a consultant/tutor should handle writers who exhibit mental issues. In "Assessing and Responding to Clients with Severe Mental Disorders" she says she "spent much time talking with a counselor about these clients and decided to develop strategies using his advice, readings on these disorders, and our own observations." She recommends that the tutor/consultant direct the writer to the director of the writing center. How much this accomplishes is not stated other than it takes the distressed student out of the consultant/tutor's hands.
Murray notes that even though judging by appearance is not always ethical, it can be an early sign of a writer experiencing mental trauma, "one of the first clues that a student may have some severe mental difficulties that impact his or her ability to have a productive writing tutorial session is hygiene and overall appearance. While fashion and style can vary vastly on a campus, cleanliness, appropriateness, and good grooming are fundamental clues to how well a client is doing generally."
McDonald also suggests that the tutor/consultant make strident efforts to keep the student focused exclusively on the task at hand, the paper. I think this makes sense in that it could stop the writer's mind from wandering off into troublesome areas. The consultant/tutor must be careful in addressing the issue with the writer. It is common for the person afflicted to become defensive about their ordeal and thus take your good intentions as an insult.

The only concern I would raise is that by doing so are you also intentionally ignoring the problem apparent to you.
I find McDonald's suggestions for dealing with the writer as a group within the writing center as fruitful. The use of a code word to signal to other tutors/consultants that you are dealing with an at-risk writer is smart and relieves pressure from the consultant/tutor the student was previously exclusively working with.

I have presented papers, whether they're short stories or essays with suicide as a literary device/theme or that may have hinted/suggested a disturbed mental state. However, my instructor never addressed it in her comments or discussed it with me. She likely wrote it off as me being a whiny, pansy teenager, which she was right to do so. But the point of that blurb is what gives the tutor/consultant authority/evidence that the student is struggling if it is in the paper but exhibits no visible symptoms in behavior? If a paper touches on these themes at what point should the consultant be alarmed? And do you take a different approach than the one McDonald suggests? Is the consultant/tutor more responsible in reporting suspicions of mental illness/trauma than a teacher/professor is? Or vice versa?

I have experienced and confronted mental illness within my family and other forms since I was twelve years old. I have witnessed severe episodes along with minor incidents. From my own experience the only assistance the person can provide is patience. I was dealing with personal relationships though. How should a tutor handle a person who is suggesting there are manic issues that they are not familiar with? Does the tutor even know how to recognize symptoms or signals of mental issues? How does the tutor/consultant determine if intervention is necessary?

PeerCentered Wordle

So I ran the PeerCentered RSS feed through Wordle and this is what came out:

It seems like we write a great deal about writing centers! (Place appropriate emoticon indicating wryness here.)

PeerCentered Flash Mob @ the Alexis

The facebook PeerCentered strikes again! PeerCentered will be hosting a flash mob at the upcoming International Writing Centers Association(IWCA)/National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing(NCPTW) 2008 Conference in Las Vegas. For 10 minutes starting at 12:05 on October 30, 2008, PeerCentered will mob the Zeus Foyer in the conference hotel, the Alexis Park*. Come get a PeerCentered button and meet your fellow PeerCenteristas.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Part of the fulfillment for an internship at the BSU Writing Center is to spend time observing sessions at the center. I'm not really sure if this has helped or hurt my confidence as a future consultant...I enjoy being able to watch what goes on in the sessions and observe how the veteran consultants handle obstacles, exercise their tact, and find ways to get students thinking about how they can improve their work. Many times, the consultants will convey ideas to the students that I am already thinking about, or make suggestions to them that, in my mind, I have already decided should be suggested. However, there are times when I feel that I would have a difficult time doing what the consultants do, and it causes me to worry about my own abilities as a tutor.

One example of this was a session I shadowed on Wednesday. A student came to the writing center with a mostly-finished draft of a paper she'd written for her English class. This next part is going to make me sound fairly arrogant and judgmental, so I'd like to apologize in advance: I'm sorry. This paper was ghastly! The student had some really good thoughts and I knew that she KNEW what she wanted to say, but that it just wasn't being expressed in an organized, eloquent manner. Her ideas were scattered, sprinkled, and hodge-podged in small paragraphs with no elaboration on her statements, and no connection between the different subjects. Her sentences were difficult to understand and grammatically incorrect. In short, it looked like it was written by a 7th grade student (and that might be a tad generous).

I AM SO RUDE! I know this. Please, please have mercy on me. However, I really don't think any of us can deny feeling this way about another's work at some point in our academic careers.

As the student was reading her paper aloud to the veteran consultant, I began to have panicked thoughts: "How is she (the veteran consultant...let's call her "Jane") ever going to fix this!? Where would one even begin on something as messy as this?" This paper was a disaster, and it needed some serious literary housekeeping! It's like trying to clean up an utterly messy house; overwhelming to the point where one doesn't even know what to start with first. I watched the student as she struggled with reading the paper aloud: "It sounds so bad when you read it out loud..." she said. I could see the frustration on her face.

Jane was positive, calm, and organized in a situation that would have left me dumbfounded. She asked the perfect questions, made the perfect suggestions, and, rather than being the housekeeper herself, Jane handed the student the mop. By the end of the session, the student's discomfort had turned to relative ease, and her sad, frustrated face had morphed into a smiling one. She felt more confident, had begun to form a real sense of direction with her work, and she was ready to go home and make her own changes to improve the paper.

Does this kind of educational genius come naturally, or is it the result of experience in tutoring? I have always felt confident as a writer, but I am just now starting to realize that being a good writer and being a good writing tutor require different abilities and strengths. I could have written that girl's paper backwards, forwards, and inside-out! However, that's not what she came to the Writing Center for. When it came to HELPING HER write her paper, I struggled.

My fellow 303 students, have any of you felt this way while doing your daily eavesdropping at the Writing Center?


Misconceptions about Writing Centers

I'm in the BSU 303 class about tutoring writing, and we've had a few discussions about the misconceptions people have about the Writing Center. These inaccurate ideas can come from instructors who are not familiar with the Writing Center or from students, who may be inclined to bring these misconceptions with them to writing appointments.

Students may get the idea that the Writing Center will simply revise and/or correct a paper for the writer, or they may believe that an appointment with a tutor will guarantee a better grade. Student writers who come to the center may be frustrated and disappointed to find that they still need to maintain an active role in their own papers while in the center. I can imagine that many students would be tempted to say, "Well, you have the answers, just give them to me. It would make it easier on both of us."

I haven't actually conducted any of my own tutoring sessions yet, but I was wondering if any of the more 'seasoned veterans' have anything to say about this. Is this a common problem in consultations? Do you ever find yourselves saying, "I'm sorry, but that's not really what we do here"? Perhaps at times some re-education is necessary about what a Writing Center is and what it is for. And I am sure many students do not like to hear this. Feel free to share any relevant (or irrelevant) thoughts or experiences. Happy tutoring...


I'm ready! I'm ready! I'm ready!

Wait, am I? Well… not entirely.
As a consultant in training, I’m still not even sure what being ready to be a writing consultant would entail. It’s sort of like preparing yourself for the unknown. I mean, who can really say what kind of issues will come up in the writing center? We may assume that all issues would have to do with writing, but even that assumption is occasionally (usually?) tossed out the window. In the 303 tutoring class, we’ve read and discussed quite a few different perspectives and ideas about writing center consultations. We’ve talked about different situations and different strategies. Honestly, sometimes there is so much to think about I get a little dizzy. But, I’m making progress. I find every time I observe a consultation I learn something new. I notice that more and more I have questions and suggestions for the writer during consultations, so maybe that is a sign of readiness? I do feel like I am getting somewhere, but I’m not quite sure if I will be ready when I get there.
Does anyone else feel ready?
And if so, what’s your secret?

Maslow's Hierarchy and the Writing Center Philosophy

GOOD BLOG TO YOU. As I read through the essays about writing center philosophy in our training class, I have begun to see a trend. It is obvious that the ultimate goal outlined in these articles is that a writing center should make students better writers through helping them to take ownership and agency in their work. Every essay and discussion is centered around a student finding their own way through the process, and becoming self actualized in the process. Taking true ownership depends on being outside the structure and thinking beyond grades and the desire of a professor for a certain project. Even the training class is an example of this. It is structured to give the students as many chances as possible to find the solutions for themselves. There are sometimes in there that it is a little frustrating, and I just want to hear that 'the answer is BLANK'. But it really does allow us to empathise with a student in that type of model. It's sort of a learn through example setting. But it is also contrasted by what I have been observing in the center. I have found that many of the sessions revolve around structure and grammar, and I see the tutors taking allot more control in directing the outcome of the papers than what is seemingly recommended by the essays on tutoring. So, I see a rift between the ideal and the application. And as I was thinking about it, I began to see parallels between the writing center philosophy and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow says that to achieve true self actualization, and truly be free, you must first address the basic needs of body, shelter, emotional stability, etc. Couldn't the center's philosophy be just another interpretation of this model? I think it can. If you do not address the basic needs of the writer, like how they approach writing, grammar, structure, and understanding of analysis, it seems nearly impossible for them to achieve true ownership of their writing, and be that better writer that we want them to be. But, maybe that's what it's all about.

My Hobby

Today in class,
(I call it the "Tutor Training" class but most refer to it as "the 303 class")
we talked about grammar. Not really a whole lot was covered, but we went over some terms.
Someone in class mentioned that it was difficult to use these terms such as "comma splice" or "sentence fragment" Do we really need to know all of them? Is it necessary to know the names of the grammar tools we are using?

Mike said, "You all have hobbies right?" A couple people chatted about shooting guns and photography, they all used specific terms. Mike pointed out that each hobby has its own language and terms used to describe it.

Writing is a hobby of mine. I would love to learn the grammar language and use it in consultations. My goal as a writing consultant is to instill writing and grammar techniques that the writer can use later in life. It might be a far fetched goal, but I've always wanted to change the world. And I think that this is my calling. :)

My question for all of you other writing consultants is this:
What's a grammar tool that you find yourself using in consultations to help writers?
What is your favorite grammar tool? What is one that you think people forget more often than not?

I would love to hear all of your feedback. :)
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Learning Really IS a Life-Long Process

As I was reading through our text, I came across words like "nexus," "vociferous," "ethnocentric," and "matrilineal," just to name a few. I am not ashamed to admit that I had no idea what these words meant, even though I read the text and it all flowed nicely. OK, actually, I sort of knew what matrilineal meant, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I still had to look it up just ease my mind. I wrote these vocabulary words down and logged onto when I got home to look up their meaning.

I am 44 years old and here I am, looking up these words online because I don’t know what they mean. I know the author used them in the right context. Still, to me they are big words. Does that mean I have a limited vocabulary? It sort of makes me feel like my education is a little inadequate, and I ought to have a huge vocabulary by now. I am, after all, 44 years old. I mean, I worked as an executive assistant for a vice president in a large corporation for five years. I also worked in word processing for 16 years. You’d think my vocabulary would include words like nexus, vociferous, ethnocentric, and matrilineal, and other such big words. Nope. Never heard of those words before. Seriously.

I once attended a writer’s conference in Colorado Springs. The guest speaker said we should not use big words or we would lose our readers. Yes, at times, I did get lost in our text, but after re-reading the paragraph, I understood those big words. So it takes me a little longer to “get it.” I am at least getting it. There is nothing wrong with looking things up in the dictionary if you don’t know the definition, even at my age. When I was in word processing, our motto was, “When in doubt, look it up.” And that’s exactly what we did if we questioned grammar, punctuation, and even spelling. One can’t know everything all the time, right?

An English professor (name withheld to protect her identity) said that we should not use a thesaurus in our writing. The guest speaker in Colorado Springs said it needed to be a staple on our reference shelf. I guess it boils down to individual preference because I still rely heavily on both the thesaurus and dictionary for improving my vocabulary, as well as my writing. Learning really is a life-long process. I am forever learning big words, even at 44 years of age.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


You know at 41, having been on the internet since 1988, you would think that I would have it all down. Yet I couldn't log in to the PeerCentered blog, since I confused my Google account with it and for some reason just didn't "get" that I had to ask Clint nicely to be included. This is a perfect segue into talking about those exasperating moments when you think you know things like the back of your hand, and then you look down and discover your hand has aged twenty years when you weren't paying attention, and now appears to have carpal tunnel and some kind of spotty dry skin. Aargh.

I'm in the 303 class with the most delightful people, struggling over stupid personal problems that I know intellectually are not the baggage of a twenty something and don't need to be carted into an environment primarily populated with twenty somethings. I found myself crankily spouting some cynical ideas about the educational system and how we simply can't cater to everyone as though every person at college level somehow "deserves" to be there and "deserves" to get good grades simply because they want them.

I have made a rough peace with the establishment over the years; go on and call me a radical intellectual if you like that term. I can handle that. I've thought long and hard about what it means to pay to go to college and find out that in many circumstances grades are meaningless and I'm just paying more or less for a diploma. I have learned to pursue my teachers like a hound dog to get the most out of my education, because I want my time and money's worth, too. I have an ESL husband and I've watched him go nakedly through school, learning to deal with "the man" and "the system" on many levels. I decided to go back to school because I love learning and I want the paycheck that comes with the diploma, and I like to navigate the syllabuses and quirks of my professors as part of the game. Like participating in any competitive sports event, I put my mind towards winning and force the body to follow, because I believe more or less in the rhetoric of the current zeitgeist's educational system. I do what I have to do to survive and succeed.

I am stumped and ashamed when I realize that for many of my peers, these are still the radical years, where you question all authority all the time. My peers are still deciding what's ethical and what's appropriate and how to deal with "the man" and "the system" and wondering if they should encourage others to fight the power. They haven't become exhausted from constant war, and haven't learned to pick their battles.

I am saying to myself: here we are in this nifty year 2008 where everyone has free, unlimited outlets for their creativity: the internet, 'zines, music, poetry.... Why should you get all hung up on whether or not you can't be creative in your college essays, when essentially it's just part of the hoops you jump through to demonstrate you can jump through hoops (and theoretically land yourself a job on the other side)? Why not simply smile at your classmates and say "Subversive is as subversive does. Write the essay the way your prof wants it, and then post a snarky version on your blog!" or "Use the lingo to your advantage - make it look technically perfect, but turn the arguments to your advantage, use excellent logic, and make your professor concede to your point whether or not he/she likes it." Why fight about the logic of irritating, exacting, particular-style-loving profs, don't you realize this is just a taste of what work is like in the real world?

I feel old and grumpy. I'm tired of a lot of the jargon that's new for my classmates and afraid of some of the "old stuff" that I don't know as well as I think I do (save me, Martha Kolln!) and worried that what I perceive as friendly shyness will come off as weird and inappropriate to my age. Alas, I have thought about these issues without actually doing anything about them for a long, long time.

Writing Center Research Project Survey

This is from Vanessa Kraemer posted on WCENTER:


We are pleased to announce the 4th biannual writing center survey. Please go to and click on "Take the Survey for 2008!" Directors who have completed the survey in previous years may simply update information that has changed. If your school is not listed, you may create an institutional profile under "New School."

Your information will be saved if you would like to complete the survey in more than one session. If you are no longer director of your writing center, please forward this message to the current director. This survey produces benchmark information about writing centers essential to our field. Therefore, your participation is vital.

Please complete before October 15th, 2008. If you have any questions, please contact Carrie Wright ( or Vanessa Kraemer (

Thank you for your cooperation!

The Writing Centers Research Project

University of Louisville

Encourage your writing center director to take the survey! It is invaluable to the writing center field. It provides a great deal of information for writing center scholars about the state of writing centers. For those of you working on writing center research projects, I encourage you to visit the site and see the data. You might also be interested in the "Oral History Project" which has interviews from writing center scholars.

PeerCentered FAQ project?

I've received a few requests from potential PeerCentered bloggers with questions about how to post and what not. Does anyone want to take on the task of posting a FAQ for PeerCentered that lets people know what to do and how to do it? I'd be forever grateful. It would be nice if were like WordPress, where you can create static pages out of such posts, but we'll just have to live with it as a post, that I can link to over in the sidebar -->.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

NEOWCA wrap-up

Yesterday was the 2nd annual NEOWCA conference, held at Walsh University.

First, a bit of background: last year, a group of WC directors in North East Ohio formed the NEOWCA (North East Ohio Writing Centers Association), a kind of mini-local. Last year, was their first conference.

I had a great time; the conference ran very smoothly, in Walsh's brand-new conference center. They said about 90 people registered to attend, an increase from last year. For a mini-conference, its getting pretty big!

The goal of NEOWCA is to be very tutor-focused. In keeping with that, most of the conference presenters are tutors themselves, and when directors do present, they focus on tutor-related issues, rather than tackling more administrative subjects. This approach works well, given the smaller size of the conference, and a more salient feeling of community emerges. Since we're all nearby, we know each other's schools, and many faces from last year's conference (as well as Spring's ECWCA) attended this year as well.

The lunch featured a panel discussion in lieu of a keynote. Their subject was how the WC helped them get a job later on. We heard from five speakers, now applying their WC skills in a high school, as campus minister, graduate student, PhD student, and missionary.

Presentations touched on a wide range of subjects, from creative writing tutoring to having a mentally disabled tutor on staff. A large number of tutors attended each session, and as usual, the conversations that were sparked during Q & A were the highlight.

On a personal note, I really think the idea of a mini-local is a good one. Two subjects that were brought up numerous times were WCs ability to create community, and to allow for productive networking. These are two things that conferences like NEOWCA are all about, and keeping it local makes these two points much more noticeable.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The New Crew and Being Misunderstood: a two part blog entry

Since the semester started, I have seen many new faces around the Center at BSU. I am quite excited about this both in the sense that I get to talk about my experiences with writers, and that I am able to see entirely new, fresh perspectives of writing center work. For the past year now, I have been able to form my own opinions and pedagogy to working with students based off of class lectures, readings, writings, and watching veterans. But now I feel like I get to see all new ideas and personalities when working with writers, and, quite frankly, I am excited.

Now for my other thought. I visited a history professor of mine yesterday and threw out the idea that she suggest to students the writing center when they get hung up on developing arguments, creating flow in the paper, or simply writing a history paper in general. She was very excited that I mentioned these things rather than mechanics, grammar, and spelling. I have talked to people before who have all given similar reactions. I wonder if the writing center is pervasively misunderstood...If so, what can we do about it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paring down the cast

Occasionally (well usually once per year) I have to trim down the PeerCentered contributor list, just to keep it sane. What this means, unfortunately, is that if you haven't posted within the last 12 months you will be unceremoniously removed as a contributor to the blog. That doesn't mean, of course, that you can't comment on the blog. It just keeps people on their toes, I suppose.

For those folks who just joined, don't worry--I have a good enough memory that I won't delete you. In case my memory has failed, just send me an email in which you attack my poor memory, and I'll make sure you're back in.

Bring! bring!

Sorry for the title. I thought maybe I could annoy people with my cheesiness, just as sometimes people annoy me with their cell phones in the Writing Center. Of course we have polite signs strategically placed around the Center whispering "If you need to use your cell phone, please do so in the hallway" and "Please turn off your cell phone during consultations--Thank you." But of course, just like in class, at the movies, and in traffic court, cell phones continue to ring--and sometimes, continue to be answered.

What's the best thing to do when a writer answers a phone during a consultation? We've talked a bit in our Peer Consulting class about how we would react to such an affront. Responses vary from reading through and making notes for discussion on the draft while the writer is 'engaged' to quitting involvement in the session completely.

Yesterday, I had just shown a writer to a consulting table and given her forms to fill out. I left the table to get her a cup of water while she filled out the forms . While I was away from the table, her phone rang and she started chatting. What to do? Should I respect her privacy by waiting until she was finished with her phone call to sit back down at the table? Or might she feel she could talk on the phone until I returned, in which case if I stayed away from the table, she would stay on the phone indefinitely? But what if I returned to the table, and she didn't get off the phone? Awkward! I decided to sit down at the table, and she did get off the phone, and all was well.

Has anyone had any nightmarish situations involving cell phones during consultations? Does anyone have any fun strategies or ideas on how to chastise cellphone use with proper etiquette?

Fierce new look! Hot mess up in here!

Ok, the only way I know the term "fierce" is through the above Saturday Night Live sketch that makes fun of a fashion reality show that I haven't seen, so I can't say if I am using it correctly or not to describe PeerCentered's new look and feel.

In any case, the highlights of our new hot mess are a fancy blogroll applet that actually takes quotations from the specific blogs in question, a link to writing center-related videos on YouTube, RSS feeds, a "follow me" section, and a news feed with links to writing center news articles on the web.

Enjoy the hot mess, folks. Hey, at least I didn't call it tranny now did I?


Sunday, September 07, 2008


Well, a new semester has begun, and I've bought all my books, but the only thing I am excited, at all, about is returning to the Center. I wasn't planning to return this semester--hence my last "Goodbye" post, but I am so glad I changed my mind. I changed my mind for various reasons--the student writers are great, the other consultants are super, the selection of candy is always divine--but, perhaps the number one reason I decided to return is that I just plain missed it, all of it.

It's odd, the effect consulting can have on an individual. (When I say individual, I really mean me.) Seeing new faces around the center reminds me of how much change occurs within the walls of the center, within the peoples of the Center. There, change occurs on various levels. Sometimes, change occurs almost invisibly within a session--like that "ah ha!" realization that happens silently, internally within a writer. Sometimes, it's a little more external and noticeable--"There's Snickers instead of Smarties!" And, at other times, change is thunderous and impactful...

It's weird to consider myself a consultant. It wasn't always that way, and there were times I thought I'd never be of any help to writers. When I entered the Center a little over a year ago, I was scared, unsure, and confidence was something I only pretended to possess. It all felt so overwhelming. On top of trying to get to know the other consultants, get an A in the tutoring class, understand the writing center lingo, and understand the grammar unit, I was supposed to figure out how to consult, too?

"I'll never do it." I thought. "It's too much."

Luckily, my outlook on the center, on myself, and on consulting has changed. Because this is a blog, and not my personal 900-page memoir, I'll spare all of you the finite details, but I will say that I'm glad I never gave up. There were times that I wanted only to hide in bed, instead of going to class and admitting that I did not understand Kolln, had a bad session yesterday, or felt that I had failed in helping a fellow writer. And, for a while, the negatives consumed my thoughts and shook my confidence. The negatives took control, and it wasn't until about halfway through my first semester that I realized that I was failing to realize the positives. Truthfully, the positives outweighed the negatives by a few tons. And, in my own silent, internal "ah, hah" moment, I realized that I was simply being myself and figuring out the whole consultant thing, in my own way.

Despite my stumblings and despite my shortcomings, I was becoming a consultant. I was different from all of my fellow consultants. And, those consultants were unique and different from one other...

I see the new faces around the Center, and they remind me that change always happens; it will never stop happening. Change can be intimidating, but it can be satisfying, too. I look forward to watching the many changes that will occur within the Center this semester--within me, within the candy bowl, and, most of all, within the consultants.

Each new consultant is different and will handle becoming a consultant in different, unique ways. Each new consultant will also bring his or her own perspective, his or her own process, his or her own change into the Center.

I'm thankful that I'll be around to see it...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome new PeerCenterists

We've had a slew of new bloggers join PeerCentered over the past week. Welcome! Please introduce yourself in the comments on this post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Semester, New Ideas

Today is my second day of classes, and our WC doesn't officially open until Monday, Sept 1. This year we didn't have too much turnover, and we have a very strong group of tutors, so we've been talking about doing some new programs this fall. I wanted to briefly outline two of them and hopefully get some feedback from all of you.

Program One: Creative Writing Workshops. We've been holding weekly creative writing sessions for two semesters now. A number of our tutors (myself included) have a focus on creative writing. While we are technically always open for poetry and fiction, we rarely if ever saw creative writing in the WC. So we began holding specific weekly sessions, advertised just for creative writers. We've had mild success before. By far, our most popular thing was having the poetry faculty come in and give special workshops during National Poetry Month (each prof. held a workshop for a different kind of poem). I'm wondering, how do your WCs typically handle creative writers? Any special outreach or programs? What's been effective, and what's not?

Program Two: Continued Tutor Training - Since a number of our tutors have worked for 2, 3,or 4 years, we have been talking about having an informal tutor training this fall. When we begin working in the WC, we take a semester-long course in WC theory and practice, so we all know the fundamentals. And the tutors we have are great; no one doubts their skill at what we do. But we have been talking about informally reading current theory, trying to see what we can do to help improve the work we already do. Hopefully not too heavy a load (we're already full-time students!), but something extra to keep us intellectually and academically engaged. Have any of you had continued training? If so, what was it like (ie, how often did you meet, what level of work/reading)? Also, if you were designing such a program, what would you just have to include?

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Consultant Mentoring

Augh! What is this black magic that made the summer go by in such a fleeting moment? As I settle in to thinking about The Return of the School Year, I think about our newbie consultants, who will be taking to The Center for the first time this fall. Here at BSU's Writing Center, we are looking for rich ways to develop connections between veteran consultants and new consultants. We're thinking about observation & disc Have you have good experiences of mentoring or being mentored in any ways in your work? I would love to hear about them!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making us stronger

So it is officially one week after the flood that tried to shut down the Salt Lake Community College Student Writing Center. They are are doing a massive clean-up asbestos abatement on our floor, we're back down in our building's lobby. We're not feeling so homeless this time, as we have a phone, a computer, and more students than we have chairs for. Our College's President and Academic Vice President have walked by regularly and have been impressed.

Here's what the hall near the SLCC Student Writing Center looks like some moments ago:

Sad. Well, as they say, whatever doesn't kill us....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Mic

Open mic was a great success! We all had fun, laughed, felt, were moved, and laughed even more. I will have to say that the entire trip was worth Paula using the phrase "Belching Divas" in reference to ordering cucumber seeds during the winter.

Sorry you all missed it.


Update. Here is a photo of me reciting poetry.

Here is the link to the SI Flickr site:

IWCA SI Days 3 and 4

To all the folks that missed the webcast: Boy did you miss out. I was great. But that was not all that happened on day 3, just the most public.

I had planned to write every night, but last night a group of us returned late--read 2345 local time--from a fantastic rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." As Brad asked, "What made it fantastic?"

Well, the actors did not really hurt the situation, nor did the lighting, music, setting, and the script seemed to be useful. To be honest, the actors performed brilliantly. The adaptation made parts of the setting more modern--such as dress and props--but the lines were more or less original. And the dancing at the end was really great, also.

The more academic--if anything can be more academic than Shakespeare--activities of day 3 included an opening session discussing how to prepare consultants for working with multilingual writers. As you can tell, multilingual writers are something of a theme for the SI, but for good reason. They have a different set of needs and expectations when they come to us, and we need to understand and respect their needs and expectations.

At this point I will rant. The most common point of discussion so far has been directive vs. non-directive. This idea was complicated with the addition of directing as a middle ground, but the basic premise still stands: How much do we tell and much do we ask for? There is no place that this comes up more than with multilingual/cultural writers. Here is were I feel we--as a field--get too caught up in our own theory and practice to stop and look at an assumption: the writer wants us to be non-directive. Working from this assumption, the debate is free to wax and wane in theoretical discussions and pedagogical experiments.
What if this assumption is wrong? Yes, we can all cite North's axiom of "better writers, not better papers," and pontificate about authority, power, ownership, and collaboration. But what if the write does not want non-directive? What if they want directing? What if the want directive? Then what? Do we tell them, "Nope. We can not--and will not--do that. Sucks to be you"?
In this debate, the overlooked complication--in my view--is the writers' wants. We can tell them what they need all day, and they can ignore us for just as long. But what do they want?

Shifting out of rant mode, the next order of business on day 3 was the webcast, which you can go watch for yourself here.

After lunch on the town, I attended a session concerning podcasts in the WC. Brad and Nancy did a wonderful job explaining what they have done and what they plan to do in the future. I would highly suggest looking up their site and giving their work a listen.

The day ended--brain work-wise--with a thought provoking looking look at mass literacy presented by Deborah Brandt, a WU-Madison faculty and well known scholar in the her field. She pointed out how writing ability is rapidly becoming more important than the ability to read. It was truly eye opening, especially the socioeconomic ramifications and implications.

Which brings me today.
By this point many of us are starting to drag and arrive at the first session closer and closer to the starting point. So far Brad has not grumped at us, but I am not sure how long that will last.

The first session of the day was a brief look at OWLs and what they bring to, or remove from, the WC. The session seemed to create some new believers, but there are still a number of skeptics, for good reason. The question is not simple and the concerns are valid. But, I think, that a well trained and dedicated staff can produce high quality online responses that will serve the needs of the student, WC, and institution. In the event you disagree, please argue; I am getting lonely on this blog.

Following the OWL pelts, or snippets of discussion, we moved into a panel grilling, er, discussion, with some consultants and writers. There were many hard, layered, pointed questions thrown at this group of willing subjects, but handled themselves exceptionally well. I do not think they ever got stumped or were at a total lack of something to say. In fact, many of their answers were very articulate and thought provoking. One comment the stuck in my mind was made by a writer who uses the WC. She commented the she 'shopped' for her consultant. She said, "I tried them on. Some didn't fit right, others were just wrong." It got a laugh and points to the ever importance of rapport.

The last session I attended was about research in the WC. Neal, Paula, and Brad all outlined various ways to conduct research, were to find data, and how to use what is found. We were given many handouts; we discussed our personal research projects or dreams; we discussed what did not work; we discussed how to fund research. In the end, I think we left with a great place to start and encouragement to go forth and examine.

Here in a few minutes we are having an open mic event. For reasons that I am not going to explain, I will be reciting poetry. Think about that for a while BSU folks. Also, for the BSU contingent, they have a beer here called Fat Squirrel. It is rather good.

So long for now.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Great flood of 2008

Great flood of 2008, originally uploaded by Student Writing Center.

Because of a problem with a new roof, the Student Writing Center was forced out of its traditional home by pouring water. We found a new space, however, in the foyer of our building.

Welcome home

It looks like is finally playing nice. Enjoy the new home!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Still trying is being very uncooperative on the redirect to I'll keep you posted.


Hello all.

Another packed day here at the Pyle Center. The weather is holding, the food is good, the conversation stimulating: A good day.

But what a day. It started with an in-depth cursory look at diversity in the writing center. Follow me on this one. It was in-depth because we discussed and questioned many oft-overlooked topics within diversity, but cursory because we could not run all the conversations out to their full length or strength. I doubt any conversation about diversity within any institution can ever be really run out, but we did not even get fully warmed up. One point that really stood out to me about the discussion was the varied--and often unaddressed--expectations. It seems that so many topics and points within diversity are hung up on unreconciled--or inadequately articulated--expectations, which are not being met. Since diversity means different thing in different situations--rhetorical or otherwise--and since each mean carries specific, if unexamined and unarticulated, expectations, part of the solution must be understanding what is expected by all parties involved. This sounds clinical and calculated; maybe it should be because it is so wrapped up in emotion. If we can step out of the hyper-emotional view and understanding of diversity, maybe some solutions to difficult questions would be easier to indentify, understand, and implement.

The next session focused on how tutors/consultants are 'trained.' The quotes are a result of the discussion that we do not so much train tutors/consultants as we educate them. A subtle delineation between training and education was drawn, a delineation that I agree with and find important. In short, as Nancy Grimm phrased it, "I train my dog, but my dog educates me." Training is focused on specific skills and steps that are to be followed. Education is focused on understand and analysis. The goal, therefore, is for tutors/consultants to be educated in the theory and practice of the writing center.

This was all before lunch.

After lunch, we made posters of our centers. Many participants--including me--brought photos and artifacts from their centers, which were then posted on colorful poster board and displayed around the room. The session was then centered around our centers and what is/was central to our layout--be it limitations or decision. Much discussion for and against cubicles--now called carroles (sp?)for reasons I am not fully aware of--ensued. As expected, no one view carried the day, but a compromise was reached: Do what you want in your own center. Other aspects of center layout and decoration were discussed, and there was a great presentation by Delma McLeod-Porter and Linda Larson outlining how they re-build their writing center after hurricane Rita.

I then attended a break-out session that was a continuation of the opening session. The small group and conversational nature led to more questions than answers, but the very fact that we are looking at the minute details and aspects of diversity will help our centers broaden our practices.

Many Special Interest Groups (SIGS) have been formed, each around a specific topic or question. They meet during lunch or for dinner. There is a varied selection and I am unsure which one--if any--I will attend this evening.

Remember the webcast tomorrow!

Any questions? Let me know!


Dear me...

Dear me, It's not about you, but it will affect you, this work. Expect that. Learn to embrace that--the fact that your writing voice ...