Category: Opportunities

(Literally) Meeting Writers where they are at Community Literacy Sites

Rachel Rodriguez,  Assistant Director of The Writing Center

My favorite tutoring session this year was a group session, where the two writers were working on drastically different projects.Rachel Rodriguez One writer was working on a paper in which she had to identify an area in her life where she possessed rare expertise, and our brainstorming led her to a past job as a phlebotomist and her unique knowledge on how to draw blood.

This brainstorming and outlining was often interrupted by the other writer, whose projects included buttoning, unbuttoning, buttoning, unbuttoning, and buttoning both her and my jackets, discussing why snowmen don’t need jackets and monkeys prefer bananas, and finding the perfect video on Youtube of children baking imaginary cakes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this “other” writer was about 3.

When you imagine a “typical” writing center session (does such a thing exist?) you probably envision a quiet setting in which two people are examining a draft, exchanging ideas, and conversing, with plenty of pauses to think, consider, and reflect. Sessions in community literacy sites tend to take on a slightly different hue. Community means many, ever-shifting, laughter.

At the Gladys and Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass Louisville Scholar House Campus, writing sessions happen in an open space designed to look like a Starbucks, with computers and chic furniture. Large windows connect this room to a playplace so moms, many of whom live on-site, can keep an eye on their young ones. Every writer I have worked with at Family Scholar House is a mother, and every one is intensely and impressively dedicated to the pursuit of education.

At the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, tutors sit at a table at the center of the main floor – strategically within view of the entrance as well as the computer banks nearby. While cushioned by stacks of books, the sound of Fortnite is a constant buzz. Here, the typical writer may be a middle-schooler, hanging out with friends at the library after school but before heading home. Sometimes tutors cajole writers to take out their homework with the wave of a coveted piece of gum.

This is all to say that writing sessions at community literacy sites are all the things you might not expect: noisy, chaotic, dynamic. And this is precisely what makes tutoring there so fun!

A key skill in writing tutoring is flexibility, going with the flow, recognizing when a strategy isn’t working and changing it up, moving from poetry analysis to a biology lab report to an engineering dissertation in the span of a few hours. Community literacy stretches this skill to the max, expanding what we think of as a “session,” “writer,” and even “writing.”

This expansion is good for tutors’ brains: we return to the UWC with a bigger sense of what is possible. After all, the University of Louisville doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is part of a vibrant, complex community of individuals, families, and groups who in turn pursue a myriad of writing and reading endeavors. This may take the form of a comic book, rap lyrics, fan fiction, or a personal memoir. The University Writing Center is one of many writing centers that takes as a central tenet the idea of meeting writers where they are, and community literacy projects take this to a new level, literally seeking out writers where they live and play and gather, to listen to their needs and offer up our knowledge of audience, genre, and style. This literacy matters to the UWC, and this academic year, our volunteer tutors have contributed 477 hours towards these sites, with a few weeks to go.
Two former Assistant Directors of the University Writing Center, Dr. Layne Porta Gordon and Dr. Amy Nichols, have both stressed the importance of continuing to “show up” for our community (check our Layne’s post here, and Amy’s here), and I’m proud to continue to move our initiatives forward. Personally, I’m looking forward to a summer of tutoring at Western Branch, where I hope to encounter many writers like my friend so deft at buttoning.


I think it’s fair to say that the denouement of most writing tutoring sessions isn’t having a 3-year-old fall slowly into a heavy sleep on your lap, while talk with your writer of ethos and evidence-based claims is punctuated by the chatter of a tour group of local business people. But that’s precisely what made this my favorite session of the year, and I can’t wait to see what next year has to offer!

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together: Finding a Starting Point to Write

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page and a blinking line for the past hour. Jacob DeBrock know what you want to write about, you’ve done your research, and you’re in the perfect environment to let your thoughts turn into words. The problem is you don’t know how to start or where to go after that.

At times like this, you might be wishing “Why didn’t I write an outline ahead of time?” Fortunately, I’m here to show you how to make the outline that will make your paper a breeze to write.

1: Think of it like a puzzle

First, you’ll need to figure out what you want in your essay. To go along with my metaphor, these are the pieces of your puzzle, typically dumped out in a random fashion. You’re not sure how they fit, but you know they’re each important.

At first, your outline will look rough and disjointed, like trying to put together pieces without a greater sense of the picture. It’ll take some time, but eventually some aspects will start to come together. An order forms. You might have an edge or a corner of the puzzle done before you begin to feel confident.

As you get more of your paper outlined, the puzzle will start to look like an actual image; you’ll understand how everything connects. By the end of it, you’ll have hopefully come to an understanding of what you want your paper to be and how you want it to flow. All the pieces matter.

2: Be detailed, but not too detailed

Writing an outline isn’t as simple as having a few ideas and putting them in some order. You’ll want to make sure that you know what you want to talk about in each section of your paper to make it as fleshed out and coherent as possible. Each section of your outline should have several points underneath it that structure the section and elaborate what you are going to do with it.

However, this isn’t saying you should have every little detail in it; this is still an outline right now. Instead, pick the most important items you will need to discuss and then build the section around it. Having a good number of first-level details will provide the skeleton for your outline that your paper will be built around.

3: Give it room to breathe

Just because you have your outline set up doesn’t mean it’s going to go the way you expected. You may start writing your paper only to realize that your pieces have been sown together with cheap thread, leaving them barely hanging together in a disjointed body. One should always expect that some part of the outline will not go the way they expected once they start writing. Your outline should have enough space that your paper doesn’t fall apart if a part needs to be altered, shifted, or removed entirely.

Writing a paper is always difficult, especially when it’s a subject that is not a forte. Creating an outline beforehand, however, can take some of the stress of your back. It’s like drawing a map; it takes a while to figure out the basic outline of the terrain, but once you get squared away, the little details just pop right out.

A Miracle Opportunity

Adam Yeich, Writing Consultant 

Are you a creative writer? Are you part of the University of Louisville Community? Are you part of the larger city of Louisville community?Adam Yeich

If so, this post is for you. Miracle Monocle, the literary journal published through the University of Louisville, is hosting a variety of events this semester, in addition to accepting submissions for publication in the journal (set to re-open at the end of the semester for the next upcoming issue).

Our first upcoming event is our Valentines’ Day open-mic event hosted in the University Writing Center inside Ekstrom Library on the first floor. The event will be on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 5:30pm-7:00pm. Come share your poetry about love or a lack of love (in any of its many varied forms).

In addition to this, we will be hosting events later this spring for both University of Louisville students and the larger metropolitan Louisville residents, including a writing workshop toward the final third of the semester. You can bring in your creative work for class, work on getting a final portfolio together. You can bring in work you’d like to submit—either to Miracle Monocle or elsewhere—and get feedback from peers and some of the editors at Miracle Monocle.

Or, you can just come in to take the time to write in a productive atmosphere amongst other writers. Details will be announced later this semester. Submissions for the fall issue of Miracle Monocle will re-open after classes conclude for the semester, after the spring issue, Miracle Monocle 12 premieres. The editors will also be starting a podcast soon, either streaming readings of past work published in the journal or else performing the readings themselves.

So, if you write, no matter what you write, stop by for a visit at one or all of our events. You’ll have a good time, and you can meet the editors and other writers in your community. For more information, you can follow us on one of our social media pages, with the links and handles listed below. We’re looking forward to exciting semester of writing and literature with you all.

Don’t forget, you can stop by the University Writing Center to speak with a consultant if you want some help with your story, poem, play, script, or essay (or any other writing project, school-related or otherwise). We have consultants here to help with whatever you need, in a variety of focus areas, including creative writing. See you soon!

Miracle Monocle Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/miracle_monocle

@miracle_monocle

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miraclemonocle/

@miraclemonocle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/miraclemonocle/

Miracle Monocle

Beyond Following Directions: Getting the Most Out of Your Assignment Prompts

Liz Soule, Writing Consultant

Have you ever read the instructions for an assignment and felt totally stumpedLiz Soule

You’re not alone. Last semester, dozens of students came to the University Writing Center to talk with me about their assignment prompt. Given how common this issue is, I thought it might be helpful if I share some of my tricks of the trade. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing methods any writer can use to decipher prompts and demystify assignments. We’ll begin by looking at the different features of a writing assignment prompt. To do this, we’ll review an assignment prompt I received in my English 102 class.

For your analysis of fiction essay, you want to choose a story and provide an analysis of some aspect of the story (a character, a theme, a metaphor, foreshadowing, or catharsis, for example). Your thesis should state specifically what aspect of the story you are analyzing and then HOW you will analyze it. The body of your essay should break down into 4-6 supporting sections. The conclusion of your essay should place your thesis in a social context.

The first step to understanding any assignment is to understand the task at hand. To do this, we look at the assignment prompt for certain understandings. We should find out what actions we are being asked to take, how we should go about it, and what the requirements of our assignment are.

What am I being asked to do?

Looking at the first sentence of my assignment, it becomes clear what kind of paper I am writing: an essay about fiction. The question is, what am I to do in this essay? By looking for keywords in my assignment, I come to understand what action I’ll need to take. As you can tell by the words I’ve formatted in bold, there is a trend regarding the word analyze (and related words, analysis and analyzed). This tells me that the focus of my essay is to analyze fiction.

How do I do it?

How am I to go about doing this? My professor laid out some breadcrumbs for me to follow in the form of essay parts: thesis, body and conclusion. In the thesis, I should lay out what aspect I am analyzing (e.g., a theme), and how I will do it (e.g., evaluating key plot points). The body needs to include 4-6 supports, which means that there will be 4-6 body paragraphs, each including their own unique story-related evidence that supports my thesis. Finally, the conclusion has to tie my overall point into a social issue.

But what if you’ve gone through this process and you’re still not sure? What if the assignment instructions are vague or unclear? What then? Sometimes, you need to think a little deeper, beyond the instructions, and look to the outcomes. Although they might not feel like it in the moment, writing assignments aren’t meant to torture you. Professors assign them so that you can practice skills, and show what you know.

What are you supposed to learn by writing this? (What is the course supposed to teach you?)

One of the ways a professor might teach you about discipline-related information (e.g., concepts in sociology) in your course is through the process of writing. This is known as “writing to learn”. Essentially, it’s thought that writing helps us engage with ideas more actively than reading might. You might be putting concepts together through writing, or coming to understand a text or topic better through the process of writing about it.

In other cases, writing assignments are utilized to help students hone their writing skills so that they can tackle more complex tasks. Many assignments in English 101 and 102 both connect together and build upon one another. For instance, in English 101, you might be asked to write an argument, then summarize another’s argument, and finally write an argumentative essay. In English 102, you may analyze an artifact, which leads to an annotated bibliography, which culminates in a research project.

In both of these cases, you can show what you know by engaging as best as you can with the skills or content areas you are supposed to be learning. This not only help you complete your assignment, but will help develop your knowledge and abilities overall.

 What knowledge can you show through your writing? (What is your professor hoping to assess?)

This leads us to the other goal of writing assignments: student assessment. This might seem like an obvious statement, but in the midst of writing the assignment, we can lose track of what exactly this means. As we write, we often focus heavily on how clear or eloquent our writing is, or how close we are to meeting requirements. In times like this, it’s important to step back and think: what have I learned in the course? How can I use this assignment to show what I know? This often leads to a more authentic assignment.

Finally: Talk to your professor.

If you’ve completed all these tasks, and you still aren’t sure, then it’s time to approach your professor. Try and think of specific questions you have about the assignment. For instance, if the format of the assignment wasn’t clear, you could ask about that. Likewise, if you’re not sure how it connects to what you’ve learned, you can always ask.

As always, University Writing Center consultants are here to help you in breaking down assignment prompts and getting started. We’re happy to help you read through your assignment prompt and answer these questions.

For more help, check out the following resources:

How can I better understand my assignment?

Common keywords in assignment prompts

Five tips for interpreting writing prompts

The Places and Spaces of Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Sometimes, when I know I need to write – either creatively or academically – something possesses me and I think that writing in my bed is a good idea.Katie FrankelEven if it’s the middle of the day, I usually put on pajamas, because you’re supposed to wear pajamas in bed and I can write in pajamas just fine.

I crawl into bed, fluff my pillows, and set my laptop on my lap. If I’m determined to get some serious writing done, sometimes I’ll even open a Word document.

My dog sees me in bed so he jumps into bed, too, and snuggles up next to me. He is so cute. I set my laptop aside and grab my phone to take an adorable picture of him. While looking over this picture I start looking at other pictures, and the next thing I know, I am three years deep watching iPhone videos of my niece. I’ve now been in bed for half an hour and not gotten anything done. I’m kind of tired, and since I’m already in bed, a little nap wouldn’t really hurt, would it?

Does this writing process sound familiar to you? If it does, it’s probably time to reconsider the places and spaces where your writing is taking place. Today, I present to you a few suggestions of different writing locations that may allow you to be a more efficient writer.

The Coffee Shop

If you’re not a coffee shop goer, you’re probably already discarding this suggestion, but hear me out. I once was not a coffee shop writer either, believing that I needed privacy and silence to work, but mostly knowing that I didn’t want to pay the five-dollar-a-cup entrance fee. However, I have found that the coffee shop can be a great workspace. I like to write at coffee shops because I can usually sit with a friend (accountability partner), there’s some background noise that isn’t to the degree of being overwhelming, and food and coffee is there if you need it. If you don’t want to frequent coffee shops to write in because you don’t want to always spend money, then save coffee shops as an occasional writing space where you can also treat yourself (maybe for writing the last part of that paper?).

The Library

Sometimes, being surrounded by other students who are determined to make dents on their school assignments is helpful to me as I try to stay focused and write my own papers. Because the Ekstrom Library at UofL is so big, whether you want to be surrounded by constant noise or complete silence, you can find a place to sit and write on one of its four floors. And, if you’re doing research, the immediate accessibility to the stacks is certainly helpful. A major bonus working at the library affords students is that if you would like some additional help, you can stop in at the University Writing center on the first floor.

Your Home

Last but not least, your home can actually be a great place to get some writing done if you have more self-discipline than I do. Some people are actually more productive at home, and prefer to make various areas of their home their writing workspaces. Try writing at your desk, or kitchen table, or even sitting outside on your porch, if you have one. The benefits of working at home include not having to leave the house or interact with others, being able to stay in your pajamas, and having a constant source of food.

Leave a comment describing your favorite (or least favorite) writing space. And, if you have a dog, leave a comment if he’s a better assistant than mine.

 

Youtubin Your Way Through Literary Theory

Edward English, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

Years back, I began my freshman year at The University of Oklahoma knowing I would be an English major. Edward English Why not? English classes were my favorite in high school. I did well analyzing literature, waxing philosophy during class discussions, writing compelling essays about how Rasknolnikov’s struggles to combat guilt were not too unlike my own teenage worries that I wouldn’t find a prom date.

But as I began my college-level courses, something emerged in my English classes which I felt ill-equipped for—literary theory. Literary theory was, and still is, difficult for me for a number of reasons. While a single piece of literature may have little to no variance in its written composition, the theoretical framework(s) we use to extrapolate meaning from that same text can be seemingly infinite. So where do you begin? And which theoretical lenses are worth valuing and why?

What’s more, the philosophers/theorists canonized in contemporary literary criticism frequently appeared to me little more than a random amalgamation of scholars from various fields at numerous historical periods used to propagate particular political interests. Not to mention that many of these writings are incredibly dense and difficult for a beginner to absorb. I can recall making my way through the deconstructionists and thinking I might as well be reading a foreign language.

In time though, my disposition towards literary theory has shifted dramatically. As a current graduate student in English here at the UofL, it now feels like half of my life revolves around geeking out with my friends and colleagues about various theoretical takes on a piece of writing. There is one resource, however, that I wish would have had in my undergrad (had it been available): the YouTube channel The School of Life.

With relatively short videos (5-10 minutes), this channel entertainingly distills the main ideas of various literary theorists, as well as explicating the life and writings of specific famous writers. Watching these videos can be helpful on several levels. Maybe you’ve read through some literary theory but want to know how well you understood a given theory. Perhaps you’d like to prime yourself beforehand with an overview before you jump into the denser theory itself. Or, could be you just want to watch an engaging, and often silly, video that will expand your mind on how you can read a text. Either way, check them out! They are well worth your time.

Some of the major literary movements, theorists, and authors available on The School of Life:

Jacques Derrida
Michel Foucault
Karl Marx
Friedrich Nietzsche
Jane Austen
Leo Tolstoy
Virginia Woolf 
Marcel Proust
George Orwell
Romanticism

What To Do Before, During, and After Your First Writing Center Appointment

Jacob DeBrock, Writing Consultant

We’ve all been there. We’ve got a paper that we’re working on that’s puzzling us in some way or that we want someone else to look over. You might have heard about the Writing Center from other people, but you’ve never been there before, so you don’t know what’s like. How much information do I need to bring?Jacob DeBrock Is the tutor scary? Will they put my paper in a shredder if they think it’s bad? The answers are, respectively, at least some, only before 11, and no… for now.)
This blog post should hopefully make your first writing center appointment a less stressful and helpful experience by just learning a few simple tricks in advance, whether you’re a freshman or in your last semester.
1) List as much information as you can when you sign up for an appointment
First things first: you have to sign up for an appointment. While there are quite a few things you have to fill, the two most important things are what you are working on and your concerns are.
For the former, you don’t have to state every single aspect of the work; rather, this helps to give us an idea of what tactics and structure we will use in our appointment. The way we tackle a personal statement will be different from a research paper or a creative work. By knowing this in advance, we are able to get started quickly on the meat of the paper or other material.
Concerning concerns, if you are not sure about what they are in advance, that’s fine; sometimes, you only notice things odd once you hear them through the voice of another. However, if you are able to think of any concerns, this will help us to direct the appointment in a targeted approach to get at the heart of these issues.
2) Bring any and all materials relevant to the task at hand
Syllabi, assignment prompts, previous notes, texts that you’re working off of: your paper goes beyond your words. Having these materials with you provides us with a map to make sure that we understand what it is that you are working on and that, if you have any questions about it, we have something to look at for any potential answers.
3) Use your voice
Oftentimes, I get the feeling that people see our words as the final verdict to a paper’s issues and problems, but that’s not our purpose. We’re not editors; our main goal is to help improve you as a writer now and in the future. As such, we’d like you to speak up any moment that you are unsure about why we are asking you to do something. This way, you will leave the center with a better understanding of what exactly it is you need to better about yourself and how you can do it.
4) Think about your writing center experience
Your appointment doesn’t end after 50 minutes. After your first appointment, take the time to think about your appointment. Was there something that your tutor did that you really liked? Was there something you wanted to ask them, but didn’t get the opportunity to? Asking yourself these questions will not only help you to become a better writer, but to make sure that your next writing center appointment will be just as good as the first.
Going to the writing center can be a stressful experience. There’s a vulnerability, that you are letting someone look over your words and critique them. Yet we serve a vital purpose to the college community. We offer a service that cannot be found anyone else, solely dedicated to helping writers grow and become stronger. So, when you’re walking through our doors for the first time, know that we’re not here to judge or scorn or look down upon you; we’re here to help, to nurture, to strengthen.