A Call to Reflect On Lerner’s Bean Counting


Given the drumbeat about the need for assessment, we’re asking for your thoughts on Neal Lerner’s “Counting Beans and Making Beans Count,” Vol. 22.1 (September 1997), and if appropriate to what is on your mind, also his later “Choosing Beans Wisely” Vol. 26.1 (September, 2001). Both articles are available in the open access Archives on the WLN website. We look forward to reading your thoughts about this topic and sharing them with other WLN readers.

Please send your reflection through the Submission section on our website.

Other Reflection Opportunities

As part of our 40th anniversary celebration of the Writing Lab Newsletter (scheduled to become WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship with the beginning of Vol. 40 in Sept.), we also extend a broader invitation for you to reflect on an article that has appeared at some point during all those years. How has some particular article influenced writing center scholarship and work? How has this topic changed directions since the time in which it was written? Why? What relevance does the article have?

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“(De)Center: Testing Assumptions about Peer Tutoring and Writing Centers”–Call for proposals

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The National Peer Tutoring in Writing Conference announces its conference and call for proposals

The theme of the 2015 National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) and Rocky Mountain Peer Tutor Conference is “(De)Center: Testing Assumptions about Peer Tutoring and Writing Centers.” Throughout its history, peer tutoring has often operated on a set of sometimes untested assumptions, such as that peer-to-peer tutoring is an effective way of learning, that peers can collaborate in non-hierarchical relationships, that a writer’s role in the tutoring session is different than the tutor’s, and that best methodologies are known and easily practiced. As the assumed divide between the classroom, writing center and community shifts, peer tutors are challenged to find a place for themselves within dynamic rhetorical situations. By (de)centering traditional notions of peer tutoring, we can re-imagine the idea of a center as a place and a praxis.

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“Write it Like Disaster”–a writing center music project

Last year, something caught the attention of Scott Whiddon, musician and director of the Transylvania University Writing Center and member of the Southeast Writing Center Association.

“More and more conversations I have (and observe other artists having) with engineers and producers is quite similar to conversations between student writers and writing center staffers. Furthermore, every time I go to a conference, I meet someone else who does music (as an at-home hobby, as a weekend player, in a vocal ensemble or choir, or in other kinds of music)…”

With the support of the SWCA Conference, chaired by Stacia Watkins, who helped closely with the project, he put out a call last fall to the writing center community–not to write a paper, or panel another presentation, but to contribute music.

The result was Write It Like Disaster, described as “a compilation of music made by writing center staffers, professionals, and allies.”

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“Religion in the Writing Center”–CFP

May/June 2016 Special Issue of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship: “Religion in the Writing Center”

Proposals will be accepted though May 30, 2015.
Invitations to submit full articles will be issued by July 1, 2015.
Manuscripts will be due on December 31, 2015.

Guest editor: Lisa Zimmerelli, Assistant Professor of Writing and Writing Center Director, Loyola University Maryland

Religion in the Writing Center, May/June 2016 Special Issue

2789691676_39bb997f54_oAlthough a robust conversation around race, class, gender, and sexual identity has emerged within writing center studies, religion as a category of identity remains under-theorized in our field, perhaps because of its characterization as intimate, personal, and almost irreproachably private. Harry Denny’s consideration of the “politics attendant” to sex and gender in Facing the Center draws attention to the way in which “private” aspects of identity are performed in social contexts and how they shape and are shaped by political discourse.

Likewise, within composition studies, the obfuscation of religious belief in the academy has been noted. According to Anne Gere “because discussions of religion have been essentially off-limits in higher education, we have failed to develop sophisticated and nuanced theoretical discourses to articulate spirituality” (Brandt et al. 46). Elizabeth Vander Lei and bonnie kyburz’s Negotiating Religious Faith in the Composition Classroom represents an important move towards developing such a language around religion and writing. However, as Vander Lei and Lauren Fitzgerald observe in “What in God’s Name? Administering the Conflicts of Religious Belief in Writing Programs,” this scholarship has a rather limited focus on the role of religious belief on the composing practices of students. Vander Lei and Fitzgerald challenge “WPAs, as campus leaders with a vested interest in writing and public discourse…to work with students, instructors, and administrators to develop practices that address religious belief ethically and effectively” (185).

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South African Writing Centres: A conversation with Dr. Rose Richards and Sharifa Daniels

Editor’s note: Recently I joined the South African Writing Centre’s group—and quickly realized I knew very little about the work being done by writing centers in their part of the world, or the challenges they face. Thankfully, Dr. Rose Richards and Sharifa Daniels were happy to share about both the SA WC group and the work they do together at Stellenbosch University.

10730925_588613957950431_5474706137902620402_nDR. ROSE RICHARDS

The SA WC group is an informal body. It’s been around since the early 2000s. We’ve never formally constituted, preferring our independence. Also time and money are considerations with these types of things, as these types of formal groups need to be maintained. Some years ago we formed the first Special Interest Group at the Heltasa (Higher Education in Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa) national conference. Since then SIGs have become part of the conference and several SIGs now exist; we’re working on formalising our community a bit more this year.

We haven’t really had leaders as such, being more of a collective. We have SIG convenors. I was one, Sherran Clarence and Jacques du Toit have also been convenors. I ran out of funds around the time I was busy with my PhD and haven’t been to Heltasa in a while.

Rose 46We have a listserv and a directory for the SA WC community. Just about every tertiary institution these days has a writing centre (in some cases more than one). I think we have at least 13 WCs in the country. We are not a big country: only about 56 million people and relatively few of us get to university. University study is very expensive here. There are bursaries and scholarships, but not nearly enough and those that exist are for the most part not very large. Because of SA’s history many parts of the population have been educationally disadvantaged for decades and this has an effect on the current generation. It’s hard to escape a cycle of poverty for instance when you come from an under-resourced and under-educated background.

I started the Stellenbosch Writing Lab with Sharifa in 2001. I was tutoring in the English Department at Stellenbosch and working in a bookshop. I had planned to be a freelance writer, but was struggling to make ends meet. A senior colleague saw the advert for the writing lab post and urged me to apply. The post was being advertised by a lecturer in the department of Afrikaans and Dutch. He had started his own organisation for language and communication and had researched writing centres in the states. His aim was to start a bilingual one here, hence two heads. I am the English Head and Sharifa is the Afrikaans Head.

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The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris (part two)

Editor’s note: Continuing our previous conversation about the history of the WLN, I asked Dr. Harris to comment on a few other writing center matters, including the history of the Purdue OWL, concerns for the future, and the future of the WLN.


We started the Purdue Writing Lab in 1975 on an experimental basis for a year, and next year, beginning in 1976, it was officially started. But that was long before email or the internet. We developed cabinets full of handouts for students to keep them from taking notes as we talked, and if we took out handouts, we’d mark them up so that they were personalized for the student to take home.

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Somewhere in the 80’s when email came along, I thought we should make those hundreds of handouts available when the Lab wasn’t open, so I managed to scrape bits and pieces of funding to get them up on an automatic system so that students could email a request for a list, then email by number which handouts they wanted (all in ASCII characters, of course), and it would come back immediately.

I don’t know how people all over the world learned about that looooong list of handouts, but we quickly realized thousands of requests were coming in. When Gopher became available, we moved to Gopher, and when web browsers came along, we moved onto the web, all the while watching increasing numbers, so that it quickly jumped to millions of requests from all over the world. It’s still well into the millions.

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Directors with MFAs

Editor’s note: Dillon Tripp, of Jackson State Community College in Tennessee, recently started a Facebook group for writing center directors. Sharing snapshots of our careers, several of us noticed that there were a fair amount of directors with MFAs. I invited them to share more about their experience transitioning into the field after finishing their degree, the advantages their MFA has brought to their careers, and the challenges they face today. Some excerpts are below:

403124_10151107688881571_2037315856_nPATRICK HARGON
MFA in poetry, Colorado State U, 2000
Director at University of Nebraska at Kearney Learning Commons

The main connection that ties my former experimental poet days to my WCD days is simple: despair. But the good kind, the kind that propels. Writing forced me into places I never actually found my way out of–I’d draft a poem for two years before it started to mean something unified to me. I wanted the medium to do so much more than I could make it do, and I felt drawn to find out what lies “north of the future,” in Paul Celan’s language.

from https://twitter.com/LCommonsUNK/

from https://twitter.com/LCommonsUNK/

It is the labor and the discouragement that immediately bonds me to the students who come to the writing centers I’ve directed. I find myself tuned into gradations of readiness–are you ready to just abandon this draft and come at it from a more promising vantage point? Are you ready to gut this paragraph? The next one too? Those writers I feel the deepest kinship with, just as I did with my fellow agonizers in the MFA program. They despair, but they despair productively.

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A Preview of International Writing Centers Week

Editor’s note: I asked Amber Slater, a former tutor of mine now studying Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse at DePaul University, to talk about how their Writing Center is preparing for International Writing Centers Week.

IMG_2201[1]International Writing Centers Week, running from February 8th-14th, is almost upon us! At DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL), this means a flurry of programming, celebration, and the annual release of the highly coveted UCWbL t-shirt.

The UCWbL is home not only to DePaul’s Writing Center, but also many other writing-related initiatives such as Writing Fellows, Writing Groups, and Workshops, which is the team that I work with directly as a Graduate Assistant. Our team traditionally produces and facilitates in-class workshops at the request of professors on topics ranging from group work to personal statements. During this year’s International Writing Centers Week, though, we are expanding our team’s efforts and offering voluntary, in-house workshops for all DePaul writers.

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The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris

Editor’s note: I asked our fearless leader, Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris, to share a bit of history with us, especially for those of us who began directing in the past few years. I’m sure you’ll find Mickey’s responses to be as friendly and informative as I did! Here’s Part One of the conversation (Part Two can be read here.)


An informal snapshot of Dr. Muriel "Mickey" Harris

An informal snapshot of Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris

The Writing Lab Newsletter began in 1977 as a list of names and addresses gathered after a session at the Conference on College Composition and Composition, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Given that the CCCC planners didn’t expect many people to show up at a session on the little known topic of writing centers, we had a small room in which to gather. But very quickly there was standing room only, and the feeling of delight and amazement was palpable as we all looked around and realized we had colleagues who shared our interest in one-to-one tutoring of writing!

The very first issue!

The very first issue!

As the session ended and people waiting for the next session began filtering in, I grabbed a notepad and asked those who were leaving to sign up, and I’d try to keep us in touch with each other. Needing a name to place at the top of the list, I called it The Writing Lab Newsletter, since “lab” had a “hands on, anything goes” connotation that we liked.

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Count-down to next “Long Night Against Procrastination” on March 5, 2015 is on #lndah #writein

Katrin Girgensohn, Writing Center Academic Director of the writing center at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder (located on the border with Poland) is currently also the chair of the European Writing Centers Association (EWCA). She and Daniel Spielmann, webmaster for the website “Long Night against Procrastination,” provided information about this event for this blog. The event mirrors the #InternationalWriteIn that successfully took place last December 4-9, 2014. Organized by over 22 small liberal arts college writing programs and the writing centers consortium, these campuses hosted an International Write-In between the end of classes and beginning of exams.

The first writing center event called “Lange Nacht der aufgeschobenen Hausarbeiten” took place at the writing center at European University Viadrina in 2010. In 2011 six more writing centers in Germany joined and in 2012 the event became international, with writing centers in the USA participating. This year organizers are hoping that they might twitter #lndahhave writing centers from Iceland, Australia and Canada participating, too.

To connect all participating writing centers, the wordpress blog Long Night against Procrastination (Schreibnacht) was created in 2012. The hashtag: #lndah (lange nacht der aufgeschobenen hausarbeiten, which means “Long Night of Postponed Papers” but many writing centers use “Long Night against Procrastination” to advertise this event) initially linked posts on various social media.Starting this year, organizers are also promoting the hashtag #writein for especially international participants. Continue reading