Archive for April, 2014

Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition by James F. Slevin is expansive and is not intended for writing centers. However, the principles of writing curriculum play directly into the work writing centers. They serve as a guideline for a writing center’s objectives and reflect good pedagogy.

  • The writing curriculum should be built from the intellectual interests of faculty and students.
  • Faculty should be encourage and helped to take ownership of their own courses and the writing program.
  •  Writing programs enact, even epitomize–and do not simply prepare people for–the intellectual work of the university.
  •  Writing seminars entail assessment as part of their intellectual work; assessment should be integrated within and during, not outside and after, the intellectual work of the faculty and students.
  • Writing programs should help faculty develop a sense of responsibility not only for the teaching of writing but for the continuing study and review of its quality.

How do these principles relate to writing centers?

Tutors can act as consultants to survey interests of students. They can sit in on courses and offer suggestions to make the material more appealing to students. Tutors are not faculty; however, they can take part in research and assessment and mentoring. Writing center tutors act as third party readers or can role play a specific reader, which creates real-life writing scenarios. Tutors can constantly assess tutees with open-ended questions during the session about a variety of topics. Writing tutors can engage in meta-cognition by reflecting on their practices and how they grow as writers.

Writing curriculum principles and writing centers have something in common: collaboration through social constructivist theory

Teamwork makes the Dream work

Both essays discussed are from Intersections: Theory-Practice in the Writing Center edited by Joan A. Mullin and Ray Wallace

In Gillam’s essay “Collaborative Learning Theory and Peer Tutoring Practice” the dynamic of tutoring seems to just…work. There’s the whole social constructionist thing going on. Students are actively engaged. Learning becomes outward instead of inward. Writing becomes dialogic and forms part of a larger discourse. The tutoring relationship breaks the barrier of communication because tutor and tutee share the same status: both are students. Both are constantly learning new approaches towards writing.

Abascale-Hildebrand’s “Tutor and Student Relations: Applying Gadamer’s Notions of Translation” describes a more complex process. Tutoring starts off as reflective where

“Each person involved [fuses] what is already known with whatever they are beginning to know.”

Which leads to a translative approach where learning and writing work together so students and tutors can make new judgement about the writing process. The beginning of the session relies on a lot of information seeking. The language focuses around the assignment then to academic voice and then to writing (style, tone, organization, etc). Abascale-Hildebrand is very clear that tutoring sessions are not based on “models, methods, or templates” but on “relationships, interpretations, and translations.”

At the core of both of these essays is collaboration. The tutee gains writing skills. The tutor (from what I’ve seen in the research) gets one or all of the following.

I became a better writer. 
I picked up better strategies for beginning and ending essays. I found techniques for identifying writing quirks, including my own. (example: I tend to use “that” a lot). I became better at finding a focused thesis in a garbled first draft. I figured out how to eloquently defend my thesis as well.

I became a better listener.
I could relate to indecipherable chicken scratch professors left all over the page. I knew the stressors of college and how hard it was to find ample time and a quiet space to write. I  got writer’s block and had trouble identifying what exactly needed to be said and how to say it.

I became a better teacher.
I was exposed to confusing assignment instructions and vowed to never to create such horrible prompts. I heard all the tales of woe about unfair grading, boring lectures, assigned busy work, and ineffective research practices. I saw how to push students to be their best. I learned how to encourage them when they were insecure. I saw them come back again and again for advice. I taught them even thought they didn’t need as much help as they thought they did.


This link provides steps to make comic book shoes.

I imagine you could do the same thing with pages from an old book from a used bookstore like the ones on this Pintrest page.

Here’s one blogger’s adventure making literary wedges.

Get crafty!

In the midst of working on my final research paper, I found a pattern between Millennials attitudes and the job skills employers are looking for and the transferable jobs skills tutors bring with them. I’m interested to get the results back from what the undergraduates have to say. As for me, I’m not sure where I fall in the midst of this research. I’m not the most technologically-dependent person. Being attached to my cell phone isn’t a necessity for me. If I text it is out of absolute necessity. I don’t do Instagram, Pintrest, or Twitter. I rarely make Facebook status updates anymore, and I don’t have time to watch Youtube videos. If I watch TV, I do it online, and having cable isn’t part of my budget so I don’t DVR HBO shows.

My attitude is one of a Millennial though. I collaborate; I delegate; I think I’m entitled; I know I’m privileged; I’m liberal; I demand instantaneous results even when technology fails to work.

So where does that place me in terms of being a researcher commenting on the millennial generation? I’m objectively placed. This generation is my generation, but I see its flaws and inconsistencies. I see how much my generation wants to engage with each other through social media comments and social justice activism. I want to place writing tutors at the forefront of these activities so they are primed to get the jobs they deserve.

When I took this quiz, I scored a 79. Not extraordinarily high. I still consider myself fairly entitled, however. I am entitled to have an higher education, and in gaining that degree, I am entitled to have a full-time job with benefits. Entitled has negative connotations though. Enabled is perhaps a better word. I’m enabled by my constant connection to the ever-shifting trends of social media to promote my ideas, my content, my beliefs. I can create a brand that’s marketable; I can network, but most of all, I can hope my talents will not go unnoticed.

Creating a Writer’s Bio

Posted: April 21, 2014 in Writing Advice

Your writing bio must answer:

Who Are You?

  • Your first line should serve as a professional introduction.
  • What do you like to write about?
  • What is your focus/purpose for writing?

What Are Your Publishing Credits?

  • What experience do you have (courses, publications, contests, etc)

Are You Making The Right Impression?

  • Write in the third person and keep your bio short and meaningful
  • Include any organizations you belong to
  • Include a personal, but appropriate, fact about yourself.

Read more great information from Writer’s Relief

For an example of a writer’s bio you can view mine.

The Muse Theory

You have to be aware when you’re writing. Your work space must be created in such a way that you’ll want to return to it. You must be stimulated so you’ll never run out of ideas.Ray Bradbury says this in Zen in the Art of Writing about the muse that guides our writing.

We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events. These are the stuffs, the foods on which the Muse grows. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.

You muse requires a constant center to practice a disciplined craft. You must provide it with feedback about your self-knowledge (also called metacognition). To sustain a muse, you need time, energy, diligence, and persistence. But most of all you need to have joy when you sit down to write. Bradbury says, if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you’re only half a writer.”

The Writing Habit

But what happens when the so-called muse leaves? What happens when the dreaded writer’s block sets in? What happens with there are no words? Are you left with unproductive hours of sitting and staring at a blank page or screen? I’d say no. You haven’t lost your muse, and you don’t have writer’s block. You’ve merely gotten out of the habit of writing. To read more about my writing habits, read:

Habits are founded inside the part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which recalls patterns and acts upon them. Habits allow the brain to settle down as it chunks information and becomes more efficient. To trigger a habit, the brain requires a simple, obvious cue followed by a routine that is a procedure familiar from beginning to end. The routine should be followed by a clearly defined routine. This pattern works because the anticipation and the expectation of the reward’s sensation. A loop is created through repetition. This loop can encourage you to persist in healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors. The loop can sneak into your subconscious and make you buy, buy, buy. You’re triggered by the cue, crave the reward, and wander around doing the habits that are second nature to the synapses in your brain.

What if you could kill your procrastination and make writing a habit?

Consider that your procrastination is a habit you want to break. Changing a habit occurs when the routine shifts but the cues and rewards remain the same, which results in a craving being satisfied. To start, begin with with a self-inventory of your behaviors and their triggers. Consider these questions:

  1. What do I fear will happen?
  2. What would it mean if event/consequence happened?
  3. How will I feel if that event/consequence happened?

I’m sure that if you track these thoughts for two weeks you’ll discover procrastination is just another way you cope with stress and anxiety. Practicing Stephen R. Covey’s 8 Habits of Highly Effective People is another way to track your behavior. If you’re not following these eight steps, you’re not breaking your habit and therefore cannot get the most out of your daily living.

  1. Be Proactive: become responsible about your self-awareness, take the initiative on having a more positive outlook, actively determine where you place your time/energy
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: have a vision for what you hope to construct, rely on your personal leadership abilities, ask yourself “How can I best accomplish my tasks duties, tasks and responsibilities?”
  3. Put First things First: focus on your highest priorities that are of most worth to you, allow yourself to say no
  4. Think Win/Win: life is a competitive arena, seek mutual benefit
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood: display empathy by listening 1 of 4 ways (evaluating, probing, advising, interpreting)
  6. Synergize: engage in creative cooperation that brings together experiences and creates new insight despite differences
  7. Sharpen the Saw: practice self-renewal for your physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual needs
  8. Find Your Voice: trust yourself and your ability to execute, be empowered by your chance to influence and serve

Affirmative Growth Statement

Keeping the faith that things will get better is also a powerful tool in breaking a habit. Another option is having an affirmative growth statement to acknowledge and replace negative emotions. An affirmative growth statement might be closely aligned to Covey’s Step 2 “Begin with the End in Mind.” An example of this statement comes from Tapping into Ultimate Success, “I deeply and completely accept myself. I am open and willing to change even though I belief I was made a certain way. I am willing to look at a new perspective.” If you truly struggle coming up with an affirmative growth statement, your capacity to believe in yourself might instead come from social interaction or group support. Communities can make change believable because there is not only safety in numbers but also help and empowerment.

My affirmative growth statement comes from Taoism. Tao translates to mean “the way, the underlying natural order of the universe, the un-carved block.”

To return to your fate is to be constant.

To know the constant is to be wise.

The way does not compete. It has no self-interest.

The way files down sharp edges; unties the tangles;

softens the glare, and settles the dust.

Do you have the patience to wait

‘til your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving ‘til the right action arises by itself?

Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.


Manifest plainness, and embrace the genuine.

Lessen self-interest, and make few your desires.

Eliminate learning, and have no undue concern.

Maintain tranquility in the center.

Thinking Through Theory: Vygotskian Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing by James Thomas Zebrosk; Chapter 6: A Vygotskian Theory of Writing

I first encountered Vygotsky’s theory of collaborative learning in and educational psychology class at York College. The basis of his theory is founded on the Zone of Proximal Development. It’s easier to show you than explain it.

Pretty much tutoring in a nutshell, right? I was browsing through the stacks at Towson Library and came across this book.

Chapter 6 outlines the ways writing works on different levels. From the looks of it, writing and tutoring are meant for each other like peanut butter and jelly.

  1. Social relation: leads to individual cognition and creates group processes–>writing is collaborative
  2. Developmental: progressive growth, building upon stages–>reflection is necessary in the writing process
  3. Inner speech: used in problem-solving context, may be related to writer’s block–>gets an outlet through brainstorming
  4. Dialogue: language is changing, need constant practice–>connects the inner world with the outer world

Now I’m not a huge fan of theory and prefer praxis instead, but these concepts I can handle. I can’t resist wondering how these levels come into play when two people sit down to revise, say a persuasive piece on why adults should exercise more.

Both tutor and tutee are interested in the topic. The tutee is pursuing a degree in nursing and includes many statistics and jargon in the draft. The tutor’s mom is suffering from heart problems because of her obesity. Both are emotionally invested in the paper. The tutee wants a good grade; the tutor wants the tutee to succeed.  The tutee expresses he has difficulty coming up with strong conclusions and didn’t write one yet.  

Social relation

  • Collaboration between the two incorporates logos and pathos into the paper but retains the tutee’s original thought processes and arguments. 


  • The tutor and the tutee work together to define the jargon in the paper. To break up the statistics, the tutor helps the tutee to develop vivid examples and correlations.

Inner speech

  • The tutor asks the tutee to verbally explain the paper in about 2 minutes. While the tutee speaks, the tutor takes notes. There are several similes mentioned. The tutee counts on his fingers when identifying main points.


  • The tutor allows the tutee to use the notes to write a conclusion paragraph. As the tutee writes, he asks the tutee about how to start. The tutor provides several sentence stems for summarizing. The tutee picks the one he thinks is the best fit and begins writing.In the final product, the tutee includes the similes he talked about and introduces sentences with first, second, third.

Incredible. Zone of Proximal Development. Collaborative Writing Theory. All working together. So cool.

  • Staying up late/getting up early/writing on the go/setting aside time to write

Night-time awakes a more alert chemistry in me (Thomas Wolfe)

Early morning writers: Sylvia Plath at 4 am; Jack London, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Anne Porter at 5 am; Kurt Vonnegut  at 5:30 am; Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton at 6 am.

Naps are essential to my process (William Gibson)

  • Have a cue, a deadline, a routine, and a reward

Anthony Trollope used the egg-time method and pushed himself to produce 250 words every 15 minutes.

Get to the typewriter right now and finish this (Ray Bradbury)

A writer who waits for the ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting word on paper (E.B. White)

I had a ritual once of lighting a candle and writing by its light and blowing it out when I was done for the night…but now I simply hate to write (Jack Kerouac)

  • When in doubt, drink

Coffee gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects (Balzac)

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day…the drink helps (Joan Didion)

  • Find a process and make it a habit

I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that (Susan Sontag)

In an unmoored  life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me (Kurt Vonnegut)

Victor Hugo walked and mentally composed his works except for when he wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame (He wrote it under a self-imposed house arrest). Aldous Huxley and Virginia Woolf were all writers who walked to create.

Charles Dickens had an eclectic menagerie of animals, and paper knife, a green vase, a desk calendar, blue ink, and writing quills to create the setting of his writing desk. He would spend time writing from 9 am to 2 pm and then went for a brisk walk at a pace of 4.8 miles per hour.

Some writers need a specific pencil or a certain color ink, but James Joyce chose the strangest writing instrument due to poor eyesight–cardboard and crayons.

These writers thought great thoughts while in the bathtub: Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, and Vladimir Nabokov

A Short Course in Writing by Kenneth Bruffee, p. 208-213

This section of the book was directed towards writing center directors and focused on the idea that “students can often teach each other things which resist assimilation through the direct instruction of the teacher.” It also highlights the benefits that tutoring provides to the tutee: personalized education and improved writing skills. In addition to this brief discussion, there is an outline of possible sample essays for tutors in training to use to practice critiquing one another in a safe zone. A recommended syllabus is listed, but it is meant more for classroom peer tutoring because it focuses on specific subject areas. This book was printed in 1980, and pedagogy has changed. Parts of this section of the book are still relevant but need a little modern-day tweaking to be usable.

There was another section featuring example essays from tutors that caught my eye on page 174. I found this section more valuable because it made me consider the give and take, back and forth discourse that happens during a tutoring session. There’s a lot of learning experience to be had in a tutoring session. Learning to work with someone is one skill not often thought of. Objectivity when critiquing writing and conscientiousness about word choice and tone are more obvious skills.

I have to consider the lessons that have stuck with me from my tutoring experience, and the biggest one has to be tactics for approaching challenges.

  1. Professionalism
    Oftentimes I was asked to edit my peers papers, which was against the writing center’s policy. It was also against my personal philosophy to correct a paper. I preferred to look at the HOC’s (organization, style, word choice). I had to tactfully explain what I could and couldn’t do for the tutee but still retain rapport so the student would return. Tact went hand in hand with professionalism, which was required when a tutee suffered from a severe case of procrastination (one of my biggest pet peeves). I’d have to calmly explain I was limited in time and couldn’t help a panicked tutee bang out 15 pages in a 1 hour session 3 hours before a class started. Oh, and the paper was assigned 2 months prior. Usually it was a freshman daunted by the idea of researching and put the assignment off. Professionalism was giving the tutee a reassuring smile, say “We can do this,” and come up with a game plan. I’d then let the tutee know that the next time around to come to the writing center. A tutor is there to help whether it be time management issues or writing woes.
  2. Organization
    One of my favorite tricks I came up with to edit for organization was to “football it.” One semester, a friend of mine came into the writing center to see me about several papers. A law school application and a history seminar paper were the two big projects he needed help with. When he read his writing aloud he recognized there was no structural coherence. As a result, his insightful arguments spiraled into tangents. The problem was his though process. He couldn’t figure out transitions to link them, and he struggled with grouping similar concepts. We tried reverse outlining (making an outline after the paper is written) which didn’t help. The next trick was to have my friend read a paragraph, summarize it, list the topic on a separate piece of paper, and then repeat the process. We ended up with a series of disjointed concepts. To “football it” we drew arrows between the topics to link similar ideas–resulting in a document that looked like a page out of a football playbook. Breaking down the task of editing for organization became simpler and more fun. To this day, I use the same process for organizing my errands, my homework, finances, short term goals, long term goals…pretty much my whole life.
  3. Perseverance
    My favorite words in a tutoring session were “I can’t.” It was the signal of a severe writing block. Getting tutees to talk out their ideas usually cured this. They’d dictate to me, and I’d scribble furiously for five minutes. We’d look at the swirl of words. Maybe we’d draw lines and arrows. Maybe we’d use highlighters. Maybe we’d talk some more about how the ideas were part of a larger puzzle. None of this was easy. Most times trying to find the core of what my tutee wanted to say was like trying to chip away at a huge boulder to get at a diamond.
  4. Knowing what you’re good at…and what you’re not good at
    Tutoring can be a huge ego boost and it can also show you where you need to improve.
    Weaknesses: Most times I talk too fast and don’t allow people enough time to respond. I can be too directive, so I opt for a minimalist tutoring style.
    Strengths: I’m strong in doing research and finding appropriate word choice. I’m able to motivate the reluctant writers with humor, open questioning, and reassurance.

To MAWCA or Bust!

Posted: April 3, 2014 in Uncategorized, Writing Humor

It’s a great week because this Friday is the Mid-Atlantic Writing Center Association Conference. I’m really excited to be presenting the independent study I worked on in the fall. I also can’t wait to do a workshop on my writing to prepare it for publication. It will be especially awesome to see my old friends from York College of Pennsylvania and my new colleagues from Towson University.


In honor of the general nerdiness, read McSweeney’s.

A take on writing for perfectionists:

A take on Strunk & White:

Top 3 Tips

  • Read. Read to learn through osmosis. Read aloud to listen for the sound of your writing voice
  • Complete 10,000 hours of writing practice
  • Develop rituals to help you structure/support your writing life. These patterns help save you time because you are more efficient.

Writing prompts

  • Write about a time when you realized something you did became a habit. Did it feel like a chain? Or was it a good habit, something you had worked hard for? When and how did it go from a cobweb to a cable, from fragile to unbreakable?
  • Write about a ritual in your life. Where does it come from (ex. a need to feel safe)
  • Write about when you decided you were a writers or when you realized you wanted to write
  • Write about a time when your life unraveled and how writing put it back together
  • Write about an obsession
  • Write “I believe” and keep going
  • Write about your name. Who named you and why?
  • Write what you are. Start with “I am”


  • What helps you get ideas/inspiration
  • What motivates you to write
  • What helps you get your work organized/outlined
  • What helps you write rather than not write
  • What are the best patterns for revisions
  • What helps you complete projects
  • What surroundings are conducive/distracting to writing, planning, revising
  • What time of day/week is best for generating ideas, outlining, writing, revising
  • What tools, sound, or people help your process
  • Think about the length of time for your writing sessions. What positions do you need to be in? What medium (pen/pencil, paper/computer) do you need?


How not to write bad: Ben Yagoda

Kicking the wall: Barbara Abercrombie

Write is a verb: Bill O’Hanlon