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...

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 ...