Author Archive

Incomplete Perceptions of the Writing Center

By Kimberly Niesing - Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 10:43am

As I was creating surveys for my research project, I decided to look over the criteria for writing intensive courses at St. Norbert. The WI class description is pretty basic and includes requirements you may expect to find in WI classes. However, I found one section that caught my eye and made me again wonder about professor’s perceptions of the writing center. The section says,

Instructors should concentrate in class on the higher order concerns about writing-content, organization, audience, research, etc.-and address lower order concerns-grammar and mechanics, for example-individually with students as these problems pertain to specific writing assignments. Instructors should refer students with basic writing problems to The Writing Center. (“St. Norbert”) (emphasize mine)

The last sentence in the paragraph surprised me because I feel that this sentence encourages incorrect perceptions about the writing center. Yes, we are here to help students with basic writing problems and with lower order concerns. But that is not all we do. The paragraph in the WI description makes it seem that professors are to address higher order concerns while the writing center picks up the lower order concerns that professors don’t have time to address or that the writing center only helps students who struggle with writing.

So, I began to think why professors might think of the writing center as a place that only helps students with basic writing problems. Here are a few things I came up with:

  1. The writing center is staffed by students who are not professional writers or teachers and who themselves are still learning good writing skills.
  2. The client report forms may often address basic writing skills and not higher order concerns. The forms may not give a professor a good idea of what goes on in a consultation because the forms are written more for the students’ benefit, and writing center consultants don’t fill in all the background knowledge of what happened in the consultation.
  3. Some students who go to the writing center still hand in poor papers because the writing center consultant cannot transform a paper in 30 minutes; the student must take responsibility for transforming their own paper.
  4. It seems that writing center visits are required in lower level classes more than they are required in upper level classes.

Professors can get the wrong idea about the writing center whether they get those ideas from print material, personal experiences, or an incomplete understanding of the writing center. I think it’s important to recognize why some professors have an incomplete view of the writing center, and I think that we should re-evaluate the description of the writing center in the writing intensive course description.

“St. Norbert College Writing-Across-the Curriculum Program.” Writing Across the Curriculum. St. Norbert College. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <>.



Technology in the Writing Center

By Kimberly Niesing - Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 9:48am

I know several people have already posted about the articles we read on incorporating technology in the writing center, but I’d like to add some of my thoughts. At first, I thought that accepting technology projects was not a good idea. I do not know much about technology, and do not want to disappoint a tutee who comes in expecting me to be tech-savvy. Also, technology can be time-consuming work. A student might expect to make a quick, three-minute formatting change that ends up taking 15 minutes. I don’t want to spend half of the consultation figuring out how to change the color of the background instead of talking about the rhetoric strategies of the entire project. Finally, I also don’t want students to insist that we only work on  formatting the technology aspect of the project without listening to any rhetorical advice.

However, as I continued to read the articles, I saw the benefits of incorporating technology into the writing center’s work. Being tech-savvy can be a big benefit to working with students on their projects, but those skills are not necessary. I can give tutees my basic knowledge in technology and recommend them to other sources for the questions that I can’t answer. Also, I don’t need lots of experience with technology to help with rhetorical strategies.  For example, I can say, “I don’t know how to edit this picture, but I suggest asking someone how to do it and then lightening up the background of the picture to make it more appealing to the audience.”

Finally, the opportunity to help students with the rhetoric of their technology projects is an important reason for why we should incorporate technology into writing center consultations. One of the articles we read suggested that if the writing center does not help with multimedia projects, then students might only get help from the technology department, who may not help students with writing or rhetoric. (I would like to provide the exact quote, but I do not remember where it’s found.) Even if students don’t want help on their writing and rhetoric, as consultants, we can try to sneak in some of that instruction which they may not receive from anyone else.

So, although the idea makes me a little nervous, and I’d like to receive some basic training in multimedia projects before I work with one in the writing center,  I think incorporating technology into writing center sessions is a great opportunity for us to reach a broader audience and to train students on the rhetoric strategies of technology.



Sheridan, David. “Words, Images, Sounds: Writing Centers as Multiliteracy Centers.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Ed. Christian Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 334-44. Print.

McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Ed. Christian Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 344-61. Print.

Murphy, Christina and Lory Hawkes. “The Future of Multiliteracy Centers in the E-World: An Exploration of Cultural Narratives and Cultural Transformation.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Ed. Christian Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 361-74. Print.



I Don’t Want to Write Your Paper for You

By Kimberly Niesing - Thursday, December 1, 2011, 6:19pm

I enjoyed reading the article, “‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie” by Anne DiPardo. I learned a lot about some of the struggles that multicultural students face when writing a paper. I saw two main problems that students face. First, they sometimes struggle with representing the unique ideas their culture gives them in a paper that will be evaluated by whites who do not understand or maybe even appreciate those ideas. Secondly, they have trouble expressing their thoughts into words.

As I was writing this last sentence, I thought if something else minority students might struggle with: understanding how their thoughts fit with the assignments. Often assignments are crafted for the students of the majority class. Minority students may have ideas they want to express, but they are not sure how those ideas connect to what the assignment asks for. For example, a writing prompt may ask students to consider how an issue works in society. A writer may have an opinion about the issue but not know how to write about it in light of white, middle-class American society. I think that when tutors have this situation, they can either help the student appropriately talk about the student’s opinions in the context of the society they are comfortable with or help the student see how their opinions can fit into the majorities’ society, depending on which way is more appropriate for the particular assignment. I know this paragraph is kind of abstract and general, but I hope that you can see how to apply it in a specific situation.

So, what I really wanted to write this post about was that, although the article gave me some provoking thoughts, it also left me a little discouraged. When Fannie didn’t know what to say, Morgan supplied some ideas of her own. I often give students ideas in my sessions. I try to ask provoking questions, but when a student is stuck, I give suggestions. I hope that students would say, “No, that’s not what I want to say” if I suggest something they do not want to say. I guess I assumed they would, but I understand now that some students will just do what you suggest because they are too unsure of themselves. Therefore, the student might walk away saying something they don’t really mean or saying something they like but that is made up completely of your own words and not their thoughts. So, now when a student either cannot clarify an idea or cannot come up with additional ideas to round out their paper, I don’t know what to do. I’ll start with asking provoking questions, but if that doesn’t trigger anything, don’t want them to walk away with a blank page. But I also do not want to put words in their mouths. How do the rest of you supply ideas without compromising what the student wants to say or without handing out easy answers to the students that don’t encourage the students to add their own ideas?


DiPardo, Anne. “‘Whispers of Coming and Going’: Lessons from Fannie.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Ed. Christian Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston: Bedford, 2011. 233-49. Print.


What to do when a tutee won’t write

By Kimberly Niesing - Thursday, November 10, 2011, 4:10pm

So, I just finished a consultation during which I had to deal with a frustration that I have come across several times this semester. This particular student brought in a draft of his introduction and first paragraph. He was lacking several concepts in his paper. Therefore, I pointed out what he was missing and ways that he could fix his paper problems. I then stopped talking, hoping he would insert his own solutions to the problem. Instead, he just looked at me and said, “okay.”

If I point a specific problem, like a thesis that lacks significance, I like the student to write down a revised thesis that reflects what we talked about together. If students just listen to me explain what components a good paper should have without writing down anything to improve their own paper, I can’t tell if they really understand what I am saying and the student may forget what I said by the time they go back to the room to work on the paper. I often take notes or ask them to take note so they can remember some things, but I don’t know if the student will follow those notes.

So, I ask this blogging community, what you do when a student doesn’t want to work on fixing paper problems during the session? (To clarify, the student seems willing to receive any help I give, they just don’t want to put my advice into practice at that moment.) I understand, that sometimes students may recognize the problem but don’t want to work on it because they are not sure how to fix it. If I feel that this is the case, I ask them prodding questions or give them some examples. But beyond that, I don’t know how to make a student write something during the session rather than just sit and listen to me and say, “Yeah, I understand; I’ll fix that later.”

Do I just need to say, “Write down something, and after you do, we will talk about it” and then keep my mouth closed until they write something? I think that sometimes the student doesn’t fully understand what they are arguing, and I’ve exhausted my supply of questions meant to pull something out of them; at this point, I try to tell them what to do (ex. make your thesis more specific) when they figure out their argument/subject content—is there anything else I can do? If students don’t walk away from the session having written something better (even if it’s only something small) than what they came in with, I don’t know how much I’ve helped them.


Learning More About ESL Students

By Kimberly Niesing - Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 7:33pm

Lately, I have had a few experiences that made me think about ESL students who come to the Writing Center, and I thought I’d share those thoughts here.

I had an hour long consultation working on grammar with an ESL student-it was actually only scheduled for 30 minutes, but I guess the student felt like I was helping him because he wanted to extend the session. The session was difficult but rewarding. It was a good exercise in directive vs. indirective tutoring. I used as much indirective tutoring as I could because I didn’t want to make changes without the student learning why he needed to make the changes. But sometimes I just had to tell him to change something, and I had trouble explaining why he needed to change it. However, I believe the student was learning and that he appreciated my help. The next day, we saw each other on campus. He stopped me and we talked about the upcoming weekend. I know it was a simple gesture, but this conversation encouraged me by reminding me how appreciative some of the tutees are and how they care about the writing center beyond its resources to help them receive a good grade on papers. I think we sometimes influence students more than we know.

A few days later, I had an experience that really made me appreciate the dedication of ESL students. I had gotten back a Spanish paper I had written. I usually do fairly well on Spanish papers, but I made many grammar mistakes on this paper. When I proofread my paper before handing it in, I did not see many of the grammar, vocabulary, and syntax problems. It was only until afterwards when my professor marked the errors that I saw the mistakes. I was able to do a revision of the paper, and for some of the errors, I struggled for a while before I figured out what exactly was wrong. This experience placed me in the shoes of some ESL students who can’t see their errors until someone, like a writing center consultant, points them out. It also reminded me of how hard it is to master a second language. Finally, this experience showed me that, as ESL students advance in the difficulty of their writing assignments (as I had done with my Spanish paper), sentence-level problems can increase.

So, from my experiences, I was able to practice directive vs. nondirective tutoring, I saw how much some students appreciate WC consultants, and I was able to better understand some struggles ESL students face.


How English Fits into WAC

By Kimberly Niesing - Thursday, October 27, 2011, 2:36pm

Although I didn’t get to post on it last week, the class discussions we had about Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) really interested me, and I decided to explore the idea further. Since I am an English major, I am interested in how English fits into WAC. In the past, I had viewed English as “the class where you learn how to write” (as well as interpret texts). But I understand now that English classes should not be the only classes that teach writing. It is not solely the English department’s duty to produce good writers. Just as science students learn content such as enzymes and chemical reactions and then write lab reports, English students study texts and then write on those texts. Each class has content to learn and each class must teach students how to appropriately respond, in writing, to that content.


Not only did I used to think that writing was the responsibility of only English classes, but other people I talked to recently thought so too. Last Friday, I was talking to my sister about school. She said that, when she was in college, she wrote few papers (she studied Human Resources). I said that I have a lot of papers to write this semester. She immediately responded, “that’s because you’re an English major.” She had the impression that English majors should write so much more than other majors.

I got another impression from one of my general education professors. After she had read a draft of my paper, she asked if I was a writer because my paper was well-written. I told her that I was studying English, and she immediately took that statement to explain my writing quality. So, if I interpreted her correctly, she thought that being an English major means you will be good writer.

My mom also believes that it is the responsibility of English classes to teach people how to write and that writing correlates with English more than with other classes.

So, I feel that the general public believes that English majors are the people that write more and better papers than other majors. And I feel that some professors see writing assignments as opportunities to teach content or to asses a student on their knowledge and do not believe it is not their responsibility to teach writing methods or quality.


Now, I don’t whole-heartedly disagree with all these people. Writing is a major component of the study of English. It does make sense that English majors write many papers, and since writing is a component of English, English professors will likely be more concerned with writing quality than science professors who may focus mostly on content.

However, I think that viewing English in this way can lead to a faulty perspective of writing. English teaches a particular type of writing, one that will not apply to all disciplines. Also, writing is an important life skill; therefore, proper writing should be taught in all classes since some students only take one English class during college. So, I guess to sum up what I’m thinking right now is that I think writing is more of an integral component in the English discipline than it is in other courses, but individuals should not leave sole responsibility of writing to the English department because it is a skill that spans across disciplines. We need to combat the belief that “English majors write and other majors don’t.”


So, let me know if I have the wrong ideas. Do you think English has the primary responsibility to assign writing assignments? Do you think people believe that it is English professors’ duty to teach writing quality while other professors only need to evaluate writing bases on the discipline’s content?


Learning from Another Tutor

By Kimberly Niesing - Sunday, October 16, 2011, 3:51pm

So, as I was writing my writing center visit reflection, I found I had more to talk about than I thought. I decided that the following ideas were something I wanted to share on the blog. So in this post I will share two helpful techniques Joanna used with me in the writing center.

First, Joanna had my paper in front of her. In my sessions, I have been placing the student’s paper in front of the student. When I do this technique, I encourage the student to take ownership of their own writing because they must be the ones who use a pen to mark their paper. However, Joanna showed me how keeping the paper in front of the tutor can be helpful at times. When we were working through a rough spot, we would talk about it and then she would say, “Okay, what should I write on your paper to remind you how to fix this problem?” When she did this, we put down an idea I might not have written down (and probably would have forgotten once I left the consultation).

Also, when Joanna asked me this question, it encouraged me to say what I wanted written down rather than allowing me to ask the tutor what I should write down. I have found that when the tutee has the pen in their hand, they often want me to tell them what to write, but when I ask them what I should write, I give them the responsibility of formulating the words.

Finally, when Joanna kept the paper in front of her, it allowed her to shift out the good ideas I said and to write them down. When she asked me to orally explain what I had written, she sometimes wrote down the strongest and most clear statements I said. When Joanna practice this technique, it allowed me to see what made the most sense to my audience and it jogged my memory when I reviewed her notes after the consultation. Of course, a tutor should be flexible and recognize which technique—keeping the paper primarily in front of the tutor or in front the tutee—will be most helpful to each student.


The other thing I found useful was the way Joanna read through my paper. She went paragraph-by-paragraph (or section-by-section), reading the paragraph and then discussing it with me. Again, this method will not work for every session, but I found it more useful than some of the ways I approach papers in my consultations. I tend to carefully read the introduction and maybe the next one or two paragraphs. Then I often skim the rest of the paper (focusing on topic sentences). I like to get a feel for the entire paper before I comment on it. However, when I use this method, I sometimes find myself jumping around in the paper, addressing issues I think are the most important but that may not fall in order of each other.

Deciding how to read the paper is a fine line to walk. I want to know if a major problem appears in the end of the paper (in case we do not get to the end before the session is over), but I do not want to jump around so much that I waste time and confuse the student. The method Joanna used gave the session more structure than I feel some of my sessions have had. If I use the paragraph-by-paragraph method and the student keeps a consistent writing pattern throughout the paper, I can hope that the student uses the ideas we talk about in the first part of the paper to independently improve the last part of his/her paper. I think the method tutors read through papers should change based on the student/paper but I do not know how to choose which method is best before I read through the entire paper.


So, if anyone has good reasons for why they use any of the methods I wrote about, I’d like to hear why you do what you do and how you choose which method to use for each consultation.

Debatable Claims and Other Concerns

By Kimberly Niesing - Thursday, September 29, 2011, 2:22pm

After my first week as a consultant in the writing center, I have a few questions/concerns that came out of my sessions.

1) To begin, I am not sure what each discipline considers to be a good claim. Before working at the writing center, I knew that each discipline approaches writing in a different way. However, as a consultant, I was forced to consider what those different approaches are. As an English major, most of the college-level papers I have written are literary analysis. As I was helping a student on his history paper, I needed to consider what makes a good history claim. I see a difference between literary analysis and history. I consider a literary analysis paper to be subjective; one needs to interpret the multiple meanings of a text and argue their personal perspective of a piece of literature. I see a history paper (or science or math paper) as objective; one needs to convey facts.

At first, I did not understand what made a history, science, or math claim debatable when one is arguing something more objective than subjective. However, as I write this blog post, I think I am beginning understand how such claims can be debatable.  Similar to the way you argue an interpretation of a literary text, you can argue the consequences of historical fact. For example, instead of claiming, “I am going to talk about the military strategies used in the American Revolution,” one can claim, “The military strategies used in the American Revolution, contributed to the U.S. victory.” It may be that no one will argue against someone if they use that statement (whereas English students are told that their claim is not debatable if all their readers agree with them), but it is making a claim rather than just stating a dry fact.

So, please comment and let me know what you consider to be a debatable claim in the different disciplines of knowledge.


2) Also, I want to learn ways to help students write about topics, especially literary texts, that I don’t know about. I find it difficult to work on the argument of a paper if I’m not familiar with the literary text that the student is writing about, and I think it would be very hard to help someone brainstorm about a text I have never read. Does anyone have helpful strategies that they use when they are in this situation?


3) Finally, I would be interested in hearing how other tutors point out problems in students’ papers without seeming offensive or hypercritical. I often found myself wanting to say, you need to fix this mistake in the paper. I want to alert students to the errors they make, but I don’t want to say, “You did it wrong.” What are some tactful ways you approach this issue?


To Address or Not to Address: Sentence-Level Revision

By Kimberly Niesing - Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 8:50pm

Several thoughts came to mind as I read “Responding to Student Writing” by Nancy Sommers. One theme that Sommers addresses consistently throughout the article is the importance of commenting on global issues of a paper such as argument, organization, and clarity rather than on sentence-level structures. I agree that global issues must be resolved before sentence-level issues. In high school, I did not receive many comments on global issues, and consequently, as Sommers describes, I did view the first draft as something that needed little revision to bring me to the final draft. My teachers seemed to convey the idea that drafting was about perfecting sentences, not strengthening argument. However, after taking writing-intensive college courses, I do not think I could go back to seeing the revision process solely as the chance to perfect sentence-level issues.

Although I agree with Sommers’ logic, I also questioned some of her suggestions for teachers.  Sommers implies that teachers should comment on sentence-level weaknesses during the second or third revision. At St. Norbert College, I have received very little comments from professors regarding sentence-level issues. However, professors will realistically not have the time to read every student’s paper three or four times, and therefore they may never address sentence issues. I do not think it is profitable to never address sentence-level issues. Some students will go through several writing courses and still make simple errors such as these. Often students write better sentences in their papers as they strengthen and clarify argument and organization, but some grammatical issues may need to be addressed directly. Right now, I do not have an answer for how to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on sentence-level errors while at the same time making sure students write good sentences. However, I know that teachers need to find a balance so that they encourage revisions on a global-scale while at the same time helping students form good individual sentences.


Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May      1982): 148-56. JSTOR. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.


Claims, reasons, and evidence

By Kimberly Niesing - Thursday, September 15, 2011, 2:13pm

Our readings from The Craft of Research about making a claim and supporting it was very familiar to me as many St. Norbert professors teach this structure to their students. However, there were some new thoughts that came up as I read.

The readings raised a concern for me related to my work in the writing center. The readings emphasized the core structures of the claim, reasons, and evidence (and acknowledgement and response) as the most important ideas needed for a successful paper. However, I have noticed that many tutors and professors tend to emphasize a student’s introduction while ignoring the reasons and evidence when working in a limited amount of time. I understand the importance of the introduction as it provides the foundation for the paper, but I question whether an inexperienced writer who is sent away with a great introduction will be able to fix the rest of their paper on their own. So, my question for the rest of the blog community is: in a limited space of time, should a tutor focus solely on the introduction to build a great foundation for paper and then hope that the student will independently work on the reasons and evidence, or should the tutor work to revise the introduction, reasons, and evidence to merely an acceptable level and hope the student will continue to independently work on improving them?

Concerning my own writing, the readings caused me to consider the idea of adding depth, or multiple layers to my arguments. Often I have one claim, three to four reasons, and a handful of evidence for each reason. Most of my papers take this predictable path. However, experienced writers don’t just stick to one claim. They have one main claim and multiple sub-claims. They have claims within claims, reasons within reasons, and multiple warrants.  When an argument has this kind of depth, it is more interesting and convincing. I think that the main reason I don’t have such depth to my arguments is because I don’t feel that I have the time to develop such a paper, and I’m afraid of getting lost in my own argument. When students need to write multiple papers for multiple classes, they often spend just enough time on a paper to receive an acceptable grade, rather than doing their absolute best on the paper, which would likely require more time than they have. This may not be a good excuse, but I think it’s a realistic way of looking at a problem that impedes a student’s best work.

Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., and Williams, Joseph M. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.