College Composition Students on their Writing Center Visit

I recently had my students write an “About Me” essay as it might appear on an Electronic Portfolio, a cover letter for a job, or an application for graduate school.  The assignment comes from a campus initiative toward incorporating ePortfolios and from what I’ve noticed about students’ writing who come to me as they approach graduation and are faced with writing such texts.  The students met with writing center consultants and wrote reflections about their visits.  With the students’ permission, I’m sharing some lines from their reflections.  I also snapped a few pictures of the writing center at St. John’s University where I teach.

Welcome to the Writing Center!

The people at the front desk are cheery and good-natured. I quickly passed this off as a trait of English majors.

–Max Blitzer

My expectations prior to going in [to the writing center] were to meet with a nerdy, potentially socially awkward valedictorian type of student.

–Daniel Herrera

Consultants Not the Grim (or nerdy) Writers Some Students Expect

I realized that I was actually doing most of the talking; she [the consultant] was just a mediator and I answered my own questions.”

–Malgorzata Stapor

Students Often Surprised How Nice It Is In The W.C.


When we were first assigned to go to the writing center to get help on our “About Me” essay, I was honestly confused.  How could someone help me write about myself?…When we sat down I tried to explain to her [the writing consultant] how I did not really understand the purpose for me being there.  Shortly, she explained to me how their job was to bring out ideas that we ourselves might have missed.

–Bibin George

College Ready Writing With Dr. Lee Skallerup

Just what the heck is a bad female academic?  It’s what Dr. Lee Skallerup (sometimes) calls herself.  She’s also a mother with a PhD in Comparative Literature who writes about peer driven learning, teaching composition, and other issues related to higher education.  I’d be more apt to call her “Super Woman.”  Lee also co-founded a regular Wednesday night TweetChat where writing teachers come together via the hashtag #FYCCHAT.  It’s on Wednesday nights at nine o’clock if you’d ever like to check it out.   Lee recently joined me for a podcast discussion and also took the time to answer some of my questions about her teaching and writing process.  You can also access the podcast on iTunes by searching for “digital book club.”  My questions for Lee are given in italics and her answers follow.

Can you take me through the highlights of the writing of your
“Peer Driven Learning: Success!” post?  To what degree did you take
notes throughout the semester?  What’s different about writing a
reflection as opposed to the other sorts of posts you write?

I knew that as soon I started blogging about my peer-driven learning
experience (see an archive of the posts here:
that I would have to/want to write a post that looked back on the
entire process at the end of the semester. One of the things about
keeping a running blog/commentary during the semester, it showed me how
much the term ebbed and flowed and how things changed and evolved as
we worked through the uncertain process. I hoped that the title of the
post would be “Success!” but there were points in the semester where I
wasn’t sure. I don’t take written notes during the semester, instead
relying on mental notes and distinct memories both good and bad. I
have to say that the class did leave some pretty distinct impressions
on me, so it was easy to call on those impressions while writing.
Reflections, for me, are much easier to write (in fact, one could
argue that almost all my posts are reflections) because I’m free to
record my thoughts and impressions as they come to me, rather than
have a thesis, evidence, etc, etc, etc. I think that blogging lends
itself quite well to reflection-type writing.

What’s the usual way that an idea comes to you for a post and
are there any that you can remember that came about in a way that
stands out to you as different?

Sometimes I have my posts planned out in advance, sometimes I have an
incomplete idea that I write down and I think about it until the idea
comes together for a post. Other times, I’ll read something or
something will happen that makes me want to write about it
immediately. But possibly the biggest exception to that was my series
of Bad Female Academic posts
that I wrote over the summer. I had been reading and thinking about
the intersection of class, gender, and professional expectations from
higher education and I suddenly got this idea of exploring all the
ways I (and, from the reaction I got from the posts, many, many
others) don’t seem to fit into the higher education mold. I try not
to write out of a place of anger (but I will write from a place of
frustration) and these posts were my way of working through that
anger, that feeling of not fitting in. They were the most fun,
frustrating, liberating, and ultimately rewarding posts that I wrote
and they really helped me to try new things and write about tough
issues on my blog. It also really solidified a virtual community for
me. I’m still getting emails from academics and PhDs for whom the
posts resonate. It’s really been a great thing and I’m glad that I took
the chance to write them,

What sort of things might you say to a blogger
about writing?  The same stuff as you’d say to a writing student about
an essay?

How I write is a little odd. It’s left over from the bad, bad habits I
had a student, which was to write everything at the last minute, which
means I’m really good at “word vomit,” I write fast and I write a lot.
But, I do spend an awful lot of time preparing to write and thinking
about what I am going to write. I read, a lot. This is so important
for students to remember; often they have trouble writing because they
have nothing to say. Reading a lot helps with that. Then, I think. I
tweet out ideas, see what the response is. When I was an undergrad and
a graduate student, I was a terrible insomniac, so I would lie awake
at night basically writing my essays. Now, I start to write once I
have an idea of where I want to go in the post and I just let the
writing take me where it wants to go. More often than not, I have an
epiphany part-way through the post and it’s a fantastic revelation
(for me, in any case). This will often happen when I’m writing papers
now, too. I am, however, absolutely horrible at proofreading my own
work. It’s one skill that I try really hard to teach my students
because it’s so valuable and it’s also really difficult.

Do you think of yourself as a writer?   To any degree you are writing well, how would you say you learned to do it?

I think of myself as an efficient writer; I write fast and I write
well enough. If you need something quickly, I’m perfect. My writing
has gotten better, especially in terms of me being able to find (or,
perhaps more accurately, rediscover) my own voice, and that just came
through practice. I love writing and I’ve always written, from the
moment I knew how. I was very stubborn and very attached to my writing
and that’s something that I’ve slowly improved on. I’ve also gotten a
lot better at adapting my writing to different audiences and purposes,
and this is another lesson I try to get my students to understand.
But, it just comes with a lot of practice and some good feedback from
people. But also developing a critical eye. It’s something I’m still
working on. I let/force my husband to read my work and give me some
good feedback.

Fond or dreadful memories of writing in school?  What else do you write besides blog posts?

English, at least in high school, was my worst subject. But I wrote
and read all the time. I read just about anything I could get my hands
on and I wrote stories, poems, essays, and kept a journal (not to
mention pages and pages of notes to my group of best friends, as this
was pre-texting). I also wrote for the school newspaper and wrote
press releases for my swim team for the local papers. I initially
wanted to be a journalist, but I can still clearly remember in a
literature class where the light finally went on that maybe I could
do/write about literature. I compared “The Rhyme of the Ancient
Mariner” and “Frankenstein.” Something clicked, and at that moment, I
knew that when I wrote essays, I had to include some sort of “new”
insight that I had come up with, and that I could, in fact, do that. I
trained as a technical writer and journalist, which made me learn how
to be brief and concise. Then, I went into grad school, which taught
me how not to be. I’ve always struggled with the “academic” voice.
When I started blogging about higher education, it was like a perfect
merging of all of my training as a writer. I’ll admit here that I also
still try my hand at writing fiction, but it isn’t very good.

Inside Higher Ed Skallerup Torgerson composition teaching

Lee Writes at Inside Higher Ed

Tell me about the audience for your blog.  What effect do you think it’s had on your writing?  Do you see your writing as having evolved since the first posts?

It’s really funny that you ask that. I was reading a blog a while back
and point number 7 was “To be the voice of a group” and the author
pointed to my blog as an excellent example of that particular piece of
advice. I think I speak for those of us who are off the tenure-track,
trying to navigate our way in (and out) of higher education despite
our tenuous positions. The audience tends to be other people in higher
education, although (at least at my old blog) I had some posts that
helped students in their writing. I also write for other people who
are trying to teach writing. My writing has definitely evolved as I am
less afraid of what topics to write about, as well as gaining
confidence in my voice. I’ve been working on that as my blog moved to
Inside Higher Ed, meaning that my audience was, in theory, much larger
than it was before at my old blog. But, I’ve figured out that I’m just
better off being myself, although I’ve also decided that I am going to
use the bigger platform to promote people, causes, and issues that I
think are important.

What nuts and bolts advice might you offer to a blogger?  And I
mean from getting ideas, to thinking in terms of a theme or subject
for the blog, or keeping track of the posts to come?  Is there a dry
erase board or plans on a computer or phone?

Just keep at it. It might take a while to find your voice, and it
certainly takes a while to find an audience, but it’s worth the
trouble. But I would tell bloggers to write about what you are
passionate about and what you either already know or are really,
really passionate about learning more about. I tried blogging about
kids’ TV shows and about swimming, but both of them faded away, as I
wasn’t completely interested in the topics (I thought they’d be catchy
and have a niche audience). It was only until I started to write about
higher education that blogging made sense for me and got “easy.” I
used to keep track of ideas for my blogs as drafts to be written
later. I also just use good, old-fashioned pen and paper beside my

What do you read?  I mean blogs or otherwise.

What don’t I read? I read newspapers (online), local news, blogs on
higher education, on teaching, on writing, on politics, on
entertainment, on pop culture, on just about anything. I also ready
novels (or, I try to read novels) in both French and English,
particularly science fiction and speculative fiction. I love

When and under what conditions do the posts get written?  Email
open?  Checking phone?  Need quiet or doesn’t matter?

At night, after the kids go to bed, on my laptop, with the TV on.
Sometimes, I’ll write them in the afternoon but mostly I use that
quiet time to write and grade for my “day job.” My email is open, my
phone is on, and so is the TV. But once I get into writing a post,
none of that matters. I’m in the moment, writing.

The DJ as Modern Day Storyteller: Talking About Adam Banks’ Digital Griots

So you think your iPhone, some computer in the classroom, or the Blackboard online platform is just some neutral tool?  In this week’s episode of the READ, WRITE, & TEACH digital book club, I was joined by my colleagues Carmen Kynard and Roseanne Gatto so that we could discuss our reading of Adam J. Banks’ Digital Griots:  African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age.  It’s a book that interests me because as a writer and teacher who hopes to be professionally relevant in the years to come, I believe it’s important to be able to speak into digital spaces.  Early in the podcast Roseanne points us to these lines where Banks describes one of the goals of his text:

This book looks to scratch, to interrupt, to play a while in the grooves of two records–disciplinary conversations about African American rhetoric and those about multimedia writing–to begin to blend and loop them while posing one question:  how can African American rhetorical traditions and practices inform composition’s current endeavors to define, theorize, and practice multimedia writing? 

Adam Banks Digital Griots Kynard Sirc Rice Torgerson Gatto

Digital Griots by Adam Banks

Digital Griots is a call to action for every teacher who isn’t working to enable students  to enter into the digital space in a meaningful way.  This is a text that connects the role of the African griot storyteller to the role of the modern day DJ.  In this podcast you’ll meet my colleague Carmen, who is the director of First Year Writing at St. John’s University.  Carmen is mentioned several times in Digital Griots, including a reference to her article, “Wanted:  Some Black Long Distance [Writers]:  Blackboard Flava Flavin and other Afrodigital Experiences in the Classroom.”

My fellow composition teacher Roseanne wonders if as a white lady she’s got any business bringing a Jay-Z text into the classroom or teaching a hip hop themed course.   She also tells a pretty funny story about the time she and her friend went to a Buju Banton concert and were pretty much the only white people there.  (don’t worry if you don’t know Buju’s stuff; I didn’t either)  I’ll save the “punch line” to the story for those of you who listen to the podcast.  🙂

Roseanne and Carmen join Banks’ in his “playful” challenge of Geoffrey Sirc and Jeff Rice.  Banks writes, “And while I see value in both Rice’s and Sirc’s arguments in favor of the ability to play freely in texts and techniques in the writing classroom, their desire to lift, sample, and loop concepts from black traditions freely for their their mere applicability without concern for the culture or context that produced them, the mixtape as rhetorical practice offers composition pedagogy and digital writing theory far more than a whimsical pursuit of the cool.”

Banks’ primary objection is stated here:  “Now how Rice is able to claim that he “invented” a rhetoric of something, much less a rhetoric of the cool (Rhetoric of Cool 5, 113), given Fab’s description and many of the texts he himself cites, I have no idea, though the various traditions he links together in his study of cool help make the book an intriguing one.  My playful rib aside…”  (118-119).  This is a section of the book that Carmen brings into our discussion.

As for myself, Banks’ Digital Griots furthers my understanding of what a POWERPLAY literacy can be.  Language can be used to access power; of course language can be used to oppress and control.  For all the reasons you understand that it’s important to read and write, those same reasons can be applied toward an understanding of how important it is for a writing teacher to help others into digital spaces where they can be heard.

If you’re a teacher or student, I’d like to hear from you about how technology is or is not being used in your classroom.  Do you see technology as a neutral tool that does what you want it to, or do you think that the tool has a lot embedded in it that seeks to direct  or influence you?  If you’re a technology user, especially in a classroom or literacy program, how much of the conversation in Digital Griots is ongoing in the spaces you inhabit?

Thanks to Roger D and C Milli for providing the music!

Some links that might interest you:

You can link to the podcast here or

you can search “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.

Thanks for reading!