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.

Your Written Voice Matters: Embracing Writing Language against the Standards of the Academy

In consultations as a tutor, I notice students struggle with their own written language based on the demands of the academy. Many students e...