Peer Writing Consultant Initiatives & Activities

2014 NCPTW Conference

By Penny Savryn

Last weekend, people of the mythical yet real writing center spent Halloween at the Coronado Springs hotel in Orlando, Florida. Costumes? Everyone dressed up as writing center supporters, or, themselves, (a few Mickey Mouse ears here and there) and gathered for the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing with the International Writing Center Association. This year’s theme was “The Wonderful World of Writing Centers” and participants gave talks on various themes of writing center work.

Discussion topics at the conference included multilingualism, safe spaces, gender roles, feminism, and the writing center’s online presence among many, many others. One panel, “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Writing Centers Seen through the Eyes of the Institution” including Harry Denny from St. John’s University, talked about institutional and faculty perceptions and misconceptions of the writing center. Another panel aware of what the kids are looking at these days brought Buzzfeed into the mix and talked about “Cultivating Your Writing Center Morale Through Multimedia Promotional Projects.” Jackie Grutsch McKinney won the IWCA’s Outstanding Book Award for Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers. Elizabeth Bouquet, the conference’s keynote speaker, spoke about how we can perhaps teach and encourage the skill of human kindness through collaborative projects. The hotel for all three days was filled with people looking to improve the current conditions of their writing centers and, really, the world itself.

Sweetland was well represented and part of this flow of ideas. Christine Modey accompanied eight students from Sweetland who gave a total of three presentations. Andy Peters, Jamie Monville, and Yona Isaacs created a panel that discussed style-shifting: how writing center consultants navigate various tutoring styles depending on the context. Ana Guay, Stacy Lecznar, Penny Savryn, and Dr. Lila Naydan, who presented on Skype, created another panel on how we perform our selves in the writing center and looked at mirroring during sessions, the writing center as a gendered space, and generation 1.5 speakers. Penny Savryn, Jamie Nadel, and Drake Misek constructed a roundtable that looked at the writing center as a subculture, similar to that of the Beats, Hippies, and Punks, and asked attendees to consider how the writing centers they inhabit may or may not fit that framework. All presentations sparked discussion and were well received. Ben Rafoth of Indiana University of Pennsylvania attended the roundtable and notably referred to Sweetland as a “world-class writing center.”

In the van ride home, our UM cohort was a bit sad to leave the wonderful world of Disney and writing centers behind, and not just because we returned to the bitter cold of Ann Arbor. It’s hard to leave the place where everyone loves the same things you do, like a Comic-Con or a music festival. But we returned empowered, recognizing how privileged Sweetland is to have the resources, opportunities, and people that it does. We can use all of that to improve upon our work everyday, not just to make better writers, but to make better people.

2013 NCPTW Conference

Several Sweetland Peer Tutors attended and presented at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing 2013 held in Tampa, Florida November 1st-3rd.

Our Community Project Image

Clothing in our Community
Presented by Logan Corey, Lauren Fitzgerald, Zeinab Khalil, Zoe Kumagai

Project Description
Everyone who steps into a writing center, tutor or tutee, is a writer with a unique social identity, often expressed through their clothing. How do clothes influence the type of environment that a writing center creates for both the tutee and tutor? Should tutors (who are also writers!) be expected to conceal their identity through censorship of their appearance for the sake of the tutee’s comfort or should the writing center act a “contact zone”? "Our Community: Writer Identity and Self-Expression" is a workshop that centers around the role of self-expression through clothing in the writing center. Through anonymous interactions as well as group dialogue, participants are prompted to think critically about clothing, social identity, the writer, and whether there exist boundaries in terms of “appropriate” attire in the writing center.

That Sounds Dope:
Negotiating Non-Standard Discourse with Standard English in the Writing Center

A Poster Presentation by Andy Peters
View or Download the Handouts (pdf)

Project Description
“Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily at hand.”
-William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

What if the language that "comes easily and naturally" to a given writer deviates from the prescriptive grammar and style rules of "Standard English"? What does the use of non-standard discourse such as slang say about a writer? How can colloquial and vernacular language reflect a writer’s unique identity and background? And, finally, what role does slang play in the writing center—both in composition and in conversation?

This poster presentation approached these questions by considering slang’s place in a generally prescriptive academic world. NCPTW attendees were urged to think about both the risks and rewards of using slang and other forms of non-traditional discourse in academic writing. Ultimately, participants walked away with a sense of slang’s tremendous potential as an expressive language tool as well as some interesting ideas about how to have fruitful conversations about these issues with the writers they work with in the writing center.

Tweeting Theses, Papers to Posts: The Dialogue Between Digital and Academic Discourse
Presented by Drake Misek, James Nadel, Liliana Naydan, Layne Vandenberg

Project Description
Our workshop focused on writers' identities and how these identities interact with both academic writing and social media. Why do some writers consider a Facebook status or a tweet more representative of their identity than an essay? How can writers use their digital media identities to develop their academic identities? How can the different discourse communities in which writers engage come into productive contact with one another in writing centers? These questions framed our workshop, which emerges out of recent scholarship by scholars like Jackie Grutsch McKinney and David Sheridan. Both McKinney and Sheridan posit that 21st-century writing centers must refashion themselves as multiliteracy centers to accommodate multimodal compositions in the digital age. Although we agree with McKinney and Sheridan, we argue that a more pressing concern involves writers’ conceptions of writing, especially in the digital media for which they write. In writing centers, we often discuss cultural contact zones, but we have not yet fully recognized the contact zones that exist between digital and academic identities. In our workshop, we invited writers to consider the heteroglossic dialogue between their discourses in digital media and academic contexts through small-group activities involving students transforming academic text to tweets and Facebook posts. Ultimately, we posit that broadening our collective sense of what counts as writing and who counts as a writer will enable us to empower ourselves to broaden our identities as writers in an ever-evolving digital age.


2010 IWCA/NCPTW Conference

“Safe Harbors or Open Seas? Navigating Currents in Writing Center Work” was the theme for the combined meeting of the International Writing Centers Association and National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing held in Baltimore, Maryland over November 4-6, 2010. Both the safe harbor and the open sea attracted 1000 people from the U.S. and beyond, among whom were eight peer tutors from the Sweetland Center for Writing.

Four tutors, Autumn Chapoff, Kristen Bialik, Colleen Cirocco and Stefanie Gibson created a panel to address whether tutoring centers provide enough multi-disciplinary tutoring. Titled “The Peer Tutoring Center: A Dock for All Disciplines,” their panel consisted of a multimedia component and an interactive discussion. 

Presenting on her own, Meghan Zingales talked about Michigan’s Online Writing Lab, both its traditional OWL and its new syncOWL. She asked the audience to consider whether the goal of reaching many students through the use of online media overpowers the goal of effectively helping each individual student. 

Shauna Russell participated in a Scholar-to-Scholar session, using her studies in linguistics to provide “A Critical Approach to the Lower/Higher Order Concern Framework for Non-Native English Writers.” 

Sarah Friedman and Brad Estes teamed up with Sweetland faculty members Matthew Kelley and George Cooper to address issues of directive and non-directive tutoring. Their session, focused on tutor training and pedagogy, was titled “Currents in Writing Center Pedagogy: Undertow from the Principle of Non-Directive Tutoring.” 

Last but not least, Sweetland Associate Director, Naomi Silver, collaborated with a cohort of Big Ten writing center directors to address “Issues Facing Writing Centers at Large Research Universities.” These eleven conference participants returned to Ann Arbor tired but exhilarated from three days of interaction with writing center colleagues from around the world.