Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WCJ Live with Harry Denny & Anne Ellen Geller, this FRI., FEB. 21, 3pm Eastern

This just in from the International Writing Centers Association:


Please join us for WCJ Live with authors  Harry Denny & Anne Ellen Geller this FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21st, at 3pm Eastern/noon Pacific. Login and other important information follows:

For a session abstract, author bios, and a link to Denny & Gellar’s recent WCJ article "Of Ladybugs, Low Status, and Loving the Job: Writing Center Professionals Navigating Their Careers," check out The Writing Center Journal’s website at (Click “WCJ Live” on the homepage banner.) 

To join Friday’s WCJ Live session, click or copy and paste this link:

The following information may be helpful as you prepare to log in to the session:
If this is the first time you will be using Elluminate, you may be prompted to download some software which may take anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes depending upon your Internet connection speed. You can pre-configure your system with the required software by going to the support page located at:   Please make sure your computer has a microphone and speakers to be able to talk and hear while you are in the Elluminate session.

Like all synchronous online meeting platforms, Blackboard Collaborate runs using Java.  Given security vulnerabilities, most systems require users to explicitly give permission each time Java is opened.  The following link walks users through installing Java and giving it permission to run:  Some universities set their firewalls to block Java applets.  If you receive error messages in the process of installing, please contact your local IT personnel.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

International Student Workshops: An Innovative Approach to an Age-Old Issue

For the life of me, I couldn't understand what they were saying. I truly wanted to contribute to my girlfriend’s conversation, and I understood all of the words she was saying to her friends, but the sentences she that came out of her mouth made almost no sense to me. What in the world is a Vera Bradley double tote with crossbody straps and a trendy clutch? How can a sundress be “crepe with a playful flutter”? And for the love of all things manly, why does everything lead back to conversations about shoes?! Despite my frustration with the current topic matter, I held in any desire I had to change the subject out of a fear of being made fun of; I didn’t want everyone to realize that I lacked any semblance of knowledge about the fashion industry. However, after 10 more minutes of listening to an argument over whether a skirt was cadet blue or turquoise, I finally jumped in, saying that I believed the skirt “would look better in ‘toke’”. The girls stared at me incredulously until they all broke out laughing. Apparently, I had butchered the pronunciation of the color “taupe” so badly that it more than unveiled my fashion ignorance, a moment that I look back on with dread anytime I see Jimmy Choo platform cork sandals. There I stood, shamed, embarrassed, exposed, and vulnerable, just because I had misused a word. International students feel any combination of these anytime they put a pen to paper; English language learners are all just boyfriends trying to figure out what a “skort” is.

Writing centers practice strategies to help international students understand how to use their technical understanding of the language in their writing. However, many practices often fail to address that American-born tutors simply cannot understand the struggle a non-native speaker faces practicing the English language in an English-speaking country. While this may seem discouraging at first, realizing this may provide an innovative way to approach international student teaching. In fact, the only students who can truly empathize with these language learners are other language learners. Helping these students by giving them access to similarly minded peers allows them a unique environment in which they can improve their English learning skills. By putting the ideas of group learning and collaborative learning into practice, writing tutors can utilize an incredibly powerful tool to help international students: the international student workshop.

Implementing a program like this is no easy task, but doing so is worth the trouble. Texas A&M University began its own international student workshop program in 2011 simply because there was a need for one. The program began as a small, open forum with only a couple students each week. Interest in the program grew, and the consultants behind the workshop continued to think about how they could use the workshop environment as a teaching advantage. This led to a set program for the workshop, where every week is dedicated to teaching a specific type of writing. For one week's meeting, the workshop leaders discussed resume building, paying special attention to aspects of the resume only international students would have. The consultants tailored their presentation to international students and the common questions they asked about the process. Then, because the consultants understood the importance of group learning in the workshop environment, the students were given an opportunity to work with their peers on writing an effective resume. The students soon began pointing out mistakes as they saw them and helped each other correct the errors. Coming from another English language learner, writing suggestions did not embarrass or discourage the students like it may have if it came from a native speaker. The consultants oversaw the interactions from a distance to ensure that accurate information was being conveyed without compromising the group learning element.  In its infancy, the initial workshops saw less than 10 attendees per meeting.  Now, just two years later, A&M’s international student workshop program has weekly sessions that welcome upwards of 40 students per session, and those that review the program continue to give it strong ratings for its innovative approach to international student learning.

At Texas A&M, the workshop’s leaders continue to groom the program to accommodate the feedback of the students who attend, creating a product that constantly improves and attracts new attendees. The success of the program, however, hinges not on the number of people who attend the workshop, but on how much each student gains from the unique learning environment. International student workshops may not work for all learners, specifically those who consider themselves introverts, but for those who give the workshops a shot, they are guaranteed a new perspective on the English language. And sometimes, perspective is all it takes to change “toke” to “taupe”.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CFP: AEQ Winter 2014 Issue on Writing Center Theory and Practice

The Winter 2014 (Vol. 18, Iss. 4) Issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly, an independent double-blind-peer-reviewed print journal, is now accepting submissions for its special section on Writing Center Theory and Practice.  Articles may explore issues of theory, practice, and experience in writing center work, including qualitative and empirical studies and discussions of pedagogy.

Articles may also consider the following: How writing center professionals cope with change and the eventuality of needing to expand their efforts in response to new economic and demographic challenges.  Furthermore, as we move towards increasingly virtual and technologically dependent learning communities, how can these efforts help meet the evolving demands of our students? 

In addition to Writing Center Directors and other Administrators, submissions are welcome from professional staff, faculty tutors, and graduate students who work in the writing center.  Manuscript length should be between 2,000 and 3,000 words.  Please identify your submission with the keyword “Center-2.”

Every published article automatically qualifies for inclusion in the upcoming Sound Instruction Book Writing Center Theory and Practice.

Submissions will be accepted now until the end of August; however, early submissions are encouraged as they offer the following incentives:
-       longer time for revision
-       opportunity to be considered for Editor’s Choice
-       eligibility to have article’s abstract and/or full text posted on journal’s main webpage
-       opportunity to be considered for inclusion in Sound Instruction Series

For more information, please visit, or email Feature Editor and Sound Instruction Book Editor Kellie Charron at

Monday, February 10, 2014

Recycling Formats: an “essay” consultation

I think it’s safe to assume that most everybody in college understands the three main organizational blocks of an essay: intro, body, conclusion. As consultants, we know how these three blocks should look and what they should include, and we probably know about a dozen different ways to explain why/how/what. We got this part down.

On the other hand, consultations are much harder for us to organize, since these usually take the form of a conversation; sometimes new consultants—or even veteran consultants—worry about how to get started, or how to end a consultation. I’m glad we’re worried because as it turns out, the structure of a consultation is as important for the student as organization in an essay is for the reader. The good news is, we don’t need to worry for long. The “format” is already ingrained in our memory, as I have pointed out above: simply compare our consultations to an essay.

First, the introduction. I can’t count how many times I have used the word “game-plan” to describe the thesis of a paper, so what about in a session? Do we have a game-plan there too? I think so. When we first walk into a session, we introduce ourselves (hint hint), maybe introduce the writing center, then ask the consultant, “So what are we working on today?” and, “What in particular are you concerned about?” These questions help form our game-plan for the session, and just like in an essay, the establishment of this game-plan is absolutely necessary to the rest of the session. Sometimes as a consultant, we might see so many things to discuss that both we and the writer become overwhelmed—a game plan helps narrow that down. A game-plan also gives forward direction, something to work toward; we established our thesis, now we need to prove it. This forward momentum helps to get the session started.

Then, in an essay, comes the body. Same in a consultation. Sometimes we talk about several different things, sometimes we talk about just one or two things…but it’s the “body,” and we all know that essay bodies will look different depending on the topic, the writer, the requirements, and the lunar phase of the moon in the night sky. 

The last part of the essay is unfortunately left out of consultations from time to time. But a conclusion is just as important in a consultation as it is in an essay. In an essay, we use the conclusion to remind the audience what was discussed in the paper, what the take-away points are, and (if this paper is a call-to-action) how these points can be applied. Likewise, in a consultation it is important to reserve the last few minutes to review over what was discussed in the session, and (since this is definitely a call-to-action session, by its nature) to come up with a new “game-plan” for the client to take home. 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Hand over the scuba gear.

We’ve all had them—the good writers. The ones who really know what they’re doing, who know what they’re talking about, who know the basic rules of grammar. The ones that make us draw a blank, a complete white wall of nothingness because—really—it is so tempting to stay at the surface level grammars and word choices and citations that we resist putting on our scuba gear and really diving in.
But perhaps “diving in” is the wrong metaphor. “Diving in” might imply that we, as consultants, are initiating that first jump in the water, pulling the client in behind us…and I don’t think this is the answer to “how to help a good writer.” In fact, I think we should do the exact opposite: hand that scuba gear right over to the writer. 
From my experience in being both a consultant and a client in these situations, I think that stepping back and letting the client take control is extremely important; if a writer shows a high level of comprehension about her topic, and if the reader isn’t distracted by blatant issues related to organization, grammar, or sentence structure, I would bet that the writer already has ideas about what needs revision—and this writer is gonna be frustrated if it’s never brought up.
Besides being a good way for the writer to get her concerns out right off the bat, this is a huge weight off our chests. Now that the client “has the floor,” we have a few moments to catch our breath and readjust to the new situation. 
Okay, so now what. How exactly should we “adjust” for this kind of writer? Sometimes we get off the hook—the writer tells us that she hates her last three paragraphs and thinks that they are repetitive. Great, so we spend the rest of the session talking about writing concisely. But sometimes the writer isn’t so sure about what exactly is wrong. In a session I’ve had before, the client mentioned that she had read everything so many times, it all seemed to blur together. So what can we do in that situation? How can we make that good paper even better? Consider this:
1) Is the writer doing “final polishing”? Even a strong paper can benefit from sentence-level revision, and although the writer knows how to stylistically manipulate grammar, sometimes multiple revisions gives birth to strange punctuation.
2) Or we can compare apples to apples. Which parts of the paper were the strongest? Why? How can these techniques be applied to other paragraphs?
3) Or what about Audience Awareness: sometimes a paper is very strong but has not taken into account that the audience is inter-disciplinary, or doesn’t require great formality, or is wanting to know about the author personally, or already knows everything about the topic and is wanting to discover something new, etc, etc.
4) Conciseness should also make this list. I have yet to meet a writer—even really good ones—who can convey their ideas most concisely every. single. time.

These are just a few ways to start a session with a “good writer.” Like every semester project that we procrastinate two months on, starting is the hardest part of these sessions and, once started, the conversation seems to propel itself. So instead of blank white walls of nothingness, give the client the scuba gear, take a minute to readjust, then get that conversation going.

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...