IDIS 287-288 | Tutoring Writing-Across-the-Curriculum

Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 | Prof. Ryan Cordell | | Mulva Library 302, The Writing Center | Office Hours: M 1:30-3:30, R 9:30-11:00, and by appointment

Working as a consultant to student writers can be challenging. Writing Center consultants are expected to help students from a range of disciplines, each with different conventions and expectations about writing. Consultants are also expected to help students with very different skill sets—from freshman who struggle to put together a college-level paper to seniors applying to graduate school. Though some principles of academic writing seem consistent across the College, others seem to vary widely. This course will help prepare you to meet those challenges. It will introduce you to writing center theory and practice, help you hone your powers of writing analysis, and push you to think less like a student and more like a writing mentor and teacher.

Course Objectives

At its most basic, this course sequence will prepare you to tutor in the St. Norbert College Writing Center. More specifically, in this course you will learn to:

  • think critically about the process of writing.
  • understand the wide range of challenges student writers face.
  • analyze writing assignments to discern what professors want to see from their students’ writing.
  • comment effectively on student writing.
  • recognize and articulate the conventions of academic argument in a range of academic disciplines.
  • work with student writing from multiple disciplines.
  • help students evaluate and use sources.
  • teach students to proofread their own work.

Along the way, I hope the course will also:

  • encourage you to reflect on and improve your own writing habits and processes.
  • introduce you to the fields of rhetorical theory and composition studies.
  • help you understand and be able to articulate the body of writing research that grounds the philosophy and mission of St. Norbert College’s Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Program


This course aims to create a vibrant academic community—indeed, as you study and work at the Writing Center this should become both and academic and a professional community. For that to happen everyone must complete the reading, complete any assigned exercises, come to class with questions and observations to put before the group, and take part in classroom activities with gusto.

Required Texts (provided by the Writing Center)

  • Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993).
  • Christian Murphy and Steve Sherwood, The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 3rd ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011).
  • Wayne C. Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, 3rd ed. (Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008).

Helpful Links

For our readings, please remember the following initialisms: The Craft of Research (CoR), The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors (SWT), and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (DTV). Any readings not in these books will be available on Moodle.



Writing Center Blog (Fall and Spring)

Throughout the year, we will engage with the ideas of the course through public writing on a course blog at Blogs only work when sustained by an energetic (and perhaps even chaotic) community. You should both post your own written responses to our class and comment on the posts of your colleagues.

  1. Your written responses should reflect on our course readings, tutoring sessions you’ve observed, or on your own experiences working in the Writing Center. Posts should be the rough equivalent of a 1-page, single-spaced paper, and should demonstrate your understanding of course topics, as well as your evolving understanding of your own writing practices. When you discuss a particular course text, you should quote and cite that text appropriately. You should also use your posts to develop questions you would like to address in class. As the semester develops, you may also want to refer back to previous posts: your own or your classmates’. You may also want to refer to the larger network of writing- and writing center-related blogs on the web.
  2. Your blog comments should directly engage with the content of your colleagues’ posts. These can be short and informal, but shouldn’t be flippant. What points do you find compelling? What further questions does the post raise for you? How did our class discussion change the way you thought about the post?

We’ll talk in more detail about the blog in class. In short, however: you should consider the blog a platform to engage in course-related ideas; it should not be treated as a diary or journal.

Blog posts are due by Thursday of each week at 3pm. There are 15 weeks in each semester. You are responsible for writing 10 posts and at least 20 comments in the first semester, and half that many in the second. You should not wait until week 5 to start writing posts and commenting; I assigned posts in this way to give you some flexibility during the busy points in your semester.

Writing Center Visit/Reflection (Fall)

To understand the Writing Center from a tutee’s perspective, Writing Center Consultants need to be tutees at some point. During the fall, you must make an appointment with one of your colleagues in the Center. Your visit should revolve around a real assignment—for this class or another. After your session, you should write a scholarly reflection on your visit. Your reflection should be approximately 3 pages long, and should contextualize your visit using our course readings and discussions (e.g. what techniques did your colleague use? How effective were these methods?). You are strongly encouraged to complete this assignment early in the semester. You must complete this assignment by the end of Week 8.

Session Report Writing (Spring)

After each session in the Writing Center, consultants complete a session report that is emailed to your student and his or her professor. We will discuss the qualities of an effective session report throughout our class. Several times throughout the fall semester, I will evaluate the quality of your session reports and provide feedback about how to improve communications with your students. At the end of the semester I will assign an aggregate grade to your reports. This grade will take improvement into account. I encourage you to meet with me during office hours throughout the semester to discuss your session report writing.

Short Analysis Paper (Fall)

A short, 4-5 page paper will be due by the end of the fall semester, though you may complete it earlier if you prefer. This paper will ask you to delve into one of your blog topics in more detail, and write an analysis that uses writing center research to make an argument about the St. Norbert College Writing Center. This assignment will require some additional research: you must have at use at least 3 secondary sources as evidence for your claims.

Grammar Slammers (Spring)

The St. Norbert College Writing Center does not promote itself as a proofreading service, but nonetheless students often need feedback on sentence-level aspects of their writing. To prepare consultants to give this feedback, each week one consultant will research and prepare a five minute presentation two aspects of grammar from The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. The presentations should be fun and interactive: designed to teach that aspect of grammar to the class.

Literature Review and Final Project (Spring)

In the spring semester, each of you will develop a research question based around a tutoring/writing center/composition topic that has caught your interest. This final project will demonstrate advanced knowledge of a single issue related to writing center theory, writing center practice, or composition theory. This project will also tie your chosen topic directly to the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Program or Writing Center at St. Norbert College. I will provide more information about this assignment at the beginning of the spring semester.




  • Course blog: 40%
  • Writing Center Visit/Reflection: 25%
  • Short analysis paper: 35%


  • Course blog: 20%
  • Session reports: 15%
  • Grammar slammers: 15%
  • Annotated bibliography: 10%
  • Research project: 40%

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