“Writing is one of the best ways to learn because it allows a person to get deep into a topic, retain information, and reflect,” says Lauri Dietz, director of the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWBL). “That’s why we want to embed writing into as many pockets in the university as possible. A few years ago, I heard a leader in this field say that a program with multiple ways of reaching constituents was an ‘ideal’ destination, but we’re already there.”
In the writing center, tutors work with any writer — undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni — at any stage of the writing process. Dietz explains: “Our tutors are trained in many genres, so we help with essays or term papers for class, personal creative projects, job applications, articles for publication — really, anything goes.”
Javaria Afghani, a graduate student in the writing and publishing program (MA,’11), shares her enthusiasm for tutoring: “Students come to the center for all kinds of reasons — from being stuck because they’re confused about the assignment to wanting a second reader for a work in progress. Some need a lot of help, some only a little. I like to start with a conversation: ‘What are you working on?’ Sometimes, a writer just needs to talk about an idea.”
The writing fellows program puts peer tutors in the classroom to encourage and support faculty in making writing skills development part of their coursework. Working closely with faculty, the fellows understand assignments and expectations; they read the students’ papers and give feedback in one-on-one conferences.
Mark Lazio, an undergraduate in creative writing and in writing, rhetoric, and discourse (BA ’12), explains the collaborative process: “In reading a student’s draft, we note high-order and low-order concerns; we check the thesis, structure, flow, and grammar, pointing out strengths as well as weakness. When we meet, we answer questions and give more direction. I don’t worry about the text itself; I care about the writer’s attitude. If a writer, good or bad, wants to improve, that’s a good fit.”
“Having a fellow in the class improves the educational experience for students, while taking a burden off the teachers,” says Dietz. “We’ve placed fellows in every type of class — physics, religious studies, women and gender studies, English, history, to name a few.”
Joe Blosser, visiting assistant professor, Religious Studies, says the program is excellent: “Improved writing skill is one of the most important things a student can take away from a liberal arts education. The writing fellows really help students with their theses, ideas, and arguments. At the end of each quarter, my students tell me they’ve gained a lot from working with a fellow; 80 percent say they’re sure they got a better grade than they could have without the support. Also, I like knowing that students have received substantive comments about their writing; I can engage them more on the content itself.”
The suburban campus writing groups — on the Naperville, O’Hare, and Oak Forest campuses — foster communities in which writers give each other feedback. The groups afford writers opportunities for learning, critical inquiry, idea development, and reflection. One-on-one peer feedback and group workshops promote collaboration, as well as an understanding of the relationship between forms of writing and audience.
The collaborative for multilingual writing and research complements the programs that interact with the multilingual writing community, while faculty development gives faculty guidance and feedback on a range of topics related to teaching and writing.
Delia Cosentino, associate professor History of Art and Architecture, called on Matthew Pearson, assistant director for Faculty Development, to conduct a writing workshop in her class.
“In the department, faculty have seen the benefits of dedicating some class time to talk about the process of writing. Doing that is not a distraction to instruction; putting ideas together clearly and in logical sequence is fundamentally important” she says. “Matthew critiqued my own writing process to show students how peer review should work: it’s not about criticism; it’s about understanding the writer’s intent. I have gotten good feedback from the students about the workshop; they say it’s useful. For example, finding out that the thesis comes after doing some research — not the other way around — is an ‘ah-ha’ moment for most.”
With 110 tutors and fellows, UCWBL is a one of the larger employers of students on campus. “These are sought-after jobs,” says Dietz. “We’re starting our interview process for next year, and received 130 applications for 40 spots.”
One of the “perks” of the jobs is the training. Each tutor and fellow takes a four-credit class that covers the theory and pedagogue of tutoring writing. They also attend regular hands-on, research-based, in-service sessions dealing with issues of interest; one in April covered converting text into visual presentations. Finally, the students participate in leading practices in the field, such as keeping electronic portfolios of their work; eight are showcasing these at the DePaul’s Teaching and Learning Conference this month.
“UCWBL is more than the sum of its parts,” says Caryn Chaden, associate vice president for Academic Affairs. “These students make up a remarkable community of writers.”