An Alumna Takes Her Writing Consultant Experience to South America!

Medellin Columbia

Image and story by Meghann Lewis

My work as a Writing Consultant gave me the confidence to enter the world of teaching beyond the University of Richmond. In fact, “Writing Consultant” was the position that I listed first while applying for teaching jobs over this summer.

After a fairly lengthy application process (finding jobs in South America while still living in the States is no easy task!), I landed a job at a small English-teaching company in Medellín, Colombia, where I will work part-time as I complete a 10-month research internship in the field of public health. I’m three weeks into my new job, and I have already applied so many tactics that I used every week in Boatwright 180.

Many of my students here are just beginning to learn English, so both their speaking and writing contain quite a few errors. Although it is tempting to overcorrect these students, I make myself think back to Dr. Essid’s mantra “the Writing Center is not a fix-it shop!” I know that “fixing” each and every small spoken mistake of an A1 or A2 English language-learner doesn’t do much good.

Rather, I single out repeated errors as a means of creating teaching points that will really stick with the student—that way, they can build upon their new language skills with each lesson. Additionally, working in the Writing Center with international and study abroad students (many of whom spoke Spanish as their first language) helped me build communication skills that I use with my Colombian students.

Even though we don’t speak the same first language, we are able to have productive lessons, relate to one another, and have a good time. I am grateful for the skills that I gained from working at the University of Richmond Writing Center; I truly will carry them forward and continue to develop them wherever my teaching jobs take me!

Word of the Week! Susurrus

This week, UR and VCU hosted writer Fran Wilde for a  workshop on voice. Fran is giving a reading at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, to celebrate the release of  the anthology His Hideous Heart, where modern authors reinterpret tales by Poe.

During our workshop on campus, I asked her the first word of Poe’s that came to mind, a word she associates with this unique voice.

“Susurrus” is a fine choice! The OED entry calls it a “whispering,” a “rustling.” Think about how the sense of the word fits its sound. That’s called onomatopoeia, a word I had to memorize in high school, and spell correctly lest the yardstick in Father Raymond’s hands came down on me:

From a remote distance, half-sensed in that gloomy place called a school yet more like a Romanesque prison-house beneath a mossy tile roof, I can to this day, in a moment of dread that darkens the sun, almost hear a susurrus of priestly robes, as the phantasmal figure glided toward me, a rod of malice raised high over the rage-knotted face

I think you get the idea of why Poe enjoyed the word.

If you can imagine the half-heard noises in The House of Usher, you have our onomatopoeic word of the week, as autumnal a term as any that Poe uttered. Though of Latin derivation, the term only dates to 1826. Why it came into being, save as an artistic coinage, remains a mystery.

Reading Poe to PoeBut that’s just so for this season of the year and for Poe’s work. He did give us the detective story, after all. Let’s get busy solving this one, if we can. I look forward to a susurrus of whispered half-answers.

Special thanks to Fran Wilde for an excellent workshop and a fine Word of the Week! She also provided advice about pronunciation. Accent that second syllabus, sus-SUR-us. I’ve been saying “SU-surrus” for decades, incorrectly. It’s a fine term never encountered in everyday or even academic speech, yet in writing, it conveys enormous power.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of Fran Wilde by permission of Ms. Wilde; image of Poe and the author by permission of The Great Beyond.

 

 

Writing Consultant of the Year, Emily Churchill

Emily with Joe EssidThis year, as we have done annually for a long time, the faculty recognize a graduating Senior who has impressed us with the assistance provide to student writers. Emily Churchill has an additional honor: she received three simultaneous nominations from the faculty she’s assisted, a record in our program’s history.

Emily is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with majors in LALIS & Global Studies, and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. She was first recommended to be a writing consultant by Dr. Aurora Hermida-Ruiz when she was a student in her FYS section, “Time & the City of Seville.” That summer, she had the opportunity to travel with Dr. Herimda-Ruiz to Seville for five weeks on a summer study abroad program. 

Dr. Stephen Long in Political Science and Dr. Olivier Delers in The Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures also nominated Emily for work in their classes.

Throughout her time at Richmond, Emily studied abroad a total of six times, including two summers in Seville, a summer in Morocco, an academic year in Granada, Spain, a civic fellowship in Ecuador, and a one-week trip to Santiago, Chile with Dr. Pribble’s Latin American Politics class. 

On campus, she served as the Study Abroad Peer Advisor in addition to serving as a Writing Consultant. As she told me, “Both positions have allowed me to mentor underclassmen and form lasting connections with the Richmond community.  My long-term plan is to take a few years to travel, do research, and work in NGOs before pursuing a PhD in Hispanic Studies. I hope to write fiction in addition to producing academic research throughout my career.”

This summer she will be working in San Isidro, Costa Rica with the organization, Amigos de las Americas, which provides service-learning trips for high school students. 

I want to congratulate Emily for her hard work and thank all the Consultants and Faculty who were nominated and who will return to campus to work with student writing again in the Fall.

Common Misconceptions of the Writing Center

By Griffin Myers, Writing Consultant

This week I asked Griffin, who is overseeing a proofreading project for our Writers’ Web online handbook, to discuss what she’s seen among peers.

Only bad writers use the Writing Center:

Students of all experience levels can benefit from visiting the Writing Center. Sometimes even just a second set of eyes can pick up errors that the author’s mind may not notice. Writing consultants also have training and experience with a wide variety of paper types, so can help out with unfamiliar formats or with particular professor pet peeves. Even consultants go into the center, because we understand how helpful an educated peer editor can be!

English isn’t my first language and the consultants might judge me:

Actually, English-language learners make up a significant portion of the students who come through our center.  Writing consultants are trained in how to break down errors in to patterns and can therefore address foundational confusions instead of simply fixing problems on a case to case basis. This can be helpful for any writer but especially for those still grasping the syntax and contradicting rules of the English language. We can also help you get in touch with teachers with ESL specific training, as well as those writing Consultants who have more experience with teaching English to speakers of other languages.

The Consultants will proofread my paper:

The Writing Center does not do grammar checks. Rather, we will look at your paper holistically to suggest areas of improvement from everything from format to content to yes, grammar. Our goal is to help writers recognize and correct potential weaknesses in their own writing, rather than to simply have a Consultant check off spelling and send the writer on their way.     This isn’t to say that we will not help writers with grammar: Consultants will just work with the writer to develop a better understanding of grammar, instead of just fixing case by case mistakes.

I have to have a completed draft:

Writing Consultants can help with every step of the writing process, from developing and organizing an outline, to analyzing an old graded paper to shore up weak spots together. One caveat is that the more prepared the writer is when they come into the appointment, the more the Consultant can help the student.

The Consultants are only for FYS classes:

We have in class Consultants in classes at all levels! Additionally, our Writing Center is open to everyone, regardless of current class.

The Consultants are only for English classes:

Our Consultants have a wide knowledge base that can be applied to almost any subject to improve writing quality. Additionally, if you have a specific subject that you would like help on, check out our list of Consultant majors online: one of us is likely taking the same major!

I can only go to the Writing Center for class assignments:

While sometimes a specific teacher will send you to the Writing Center with an assignment, we exist to help you, the student! This means from theses to job applications, we are happy to lend a helping hand for all of your writing needs.

The Writing Center is only for undergrads:

Any Richmond student, including SPCS students, are welcome at the Writing Center. Can’t come by at all? Try reaching out to one of our Consultants and see if they can meet on campus at a later hour, or if they’re willing to provide assistance via email.

Working With Your Writing Consultant or Faculty Member: Best Practices

Every semester I survey the Writing Consultants. Without naming names, they note how faculty employed their helpers well or might have made better use of them. By the same token, faculty surveys reveal a few issues that Consultants should address.

This post lays out advice that has worked since 1992, when the program of assigning Consultants (then called Writing Fellows) began.

For Consultants

  • Contact your faculty member early, and let me know if you do not hear back from her within a week or ten days.
  • Meet the faculty member personally to discuss deadlines, expectations, and any professorial “pet peeves” or disciplinary secrets you can use when meeting writers. Warn faculty members of your own busy weeks.
  • Visit class if you can, to meet the writers so they can pair a name with a face. It’s good to do so early in the term, and also on days when assignments get discussed. You are paid for all contact hours, workshops, and class visits.
  • Conferences should not be scheduled in 15 minute blocks. I expect them to run at least 30 minutes on the schedule. If a writer is eager to leave early, of course, wrap things up. Overly short meetings, however, serve no one well.
  • After a set of conferences, e-mail or meet your faculty member to discuss how things went. Do not use the online summary form we use at the Center and in 383; that is for Writing-Center shift work only or if you see a friend or person outside your usual assignment to a class (we like to have some record of who we saw for hourly work, for our annual assessment).
  • Let me know if, by midterm, your services have not been employed. We will find you some other duties.
  • If a faculty member dumps a lot of work on you at a terrible time, let me know as well. We’ll find you a helper.
  • When you have an English-Language Learner who needs continued assistance you feel unable to provide, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with Dr. Leslie Bohon-Atkinson, who does ESL work for the university, both one-on-one work and through classes.

For Faculty

  • Mandatory conferences, one before midterm and one after, provide Consultants the chance to help writers as they develop. In my sections, failures to submit drafts or meet the Consultant are penalized the equivalent of a letter grade.
  • If you make conferences optional, only 25% of writers will show up, on average. As one Consultant reminded me recently, those who show up are “typically the students who need the least help.”
  • Let the Consultant arrange the conference scheduling. Many of them use a Google-based sign-up sheet and lock it down after a while so writers cannot change times at the last moment.
  • Changing deadlines can cause problems when a Consultant has a busy semester. As Dr. Sydney Watts once reminded me “their first job is to be students, not Writing Consultants.” Well said.
  • Conversely, keep the Consultant well employed. This is a paid job; if you prefer to have Consultants only see one paper, let me know so they can find other work to supplement their income that semester.
  • Consultants need a week or ten days between getting drafts and your getting them back, for a typical FYS section of 16 writers.
  • As noted for the Consultants, when you have an English-Language Learner who needs continued assistance you feel unable to provide, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with Dr. Leslie Bohon-Atkinson, who does ESL work for the university, both one-on-one work and through classes.

We look forward to working with all of you in the coming semester!

Consultant News: Legal Writing

I enjoy hearing about Writing Consultants who have helped to bring a piece of work to publication. So we all should tip our hats to Rosemarie Ferraro, who assisted Gerald Lebovits, as a judicial intern, with four articles in the New York State Bar Association Journal about legal writing:

Legal writing is one of the hardest transitions of all for first-year law students. Professor Lebovits gives a good deal of valuable advice here, my favorite being “use the passive voice only when you have good reason to use it.”

One exception I know personally involves police reporting. I long ago taught Criminal Justice writing to police officers at Indiana University. As I told them “the passive voice incriminates no one. ‘The car was stolen and, according to two witnesses, John Smith was reported nearby’ works far better than ‘John Smith stole that car!’ ”

If you know Rose, congratulate her. She has returned from study abroad and is working in our program now. If she plans to attend law school, I have no doubt that her careful eye for sentence-level details, as well as this publishing experience, would make her first year a success.

Other Writing Consultants, tell me about your work in professional writing and I will share it here with faculty.

Writing Consultant of the Year, 2018: George Katsiotis

Each year, I ask faculty to nominate a Writing Consultant who has gone the extra mile helping writers do their best work.  We then give an award to a graduating senior. I want to thank Dr. Erik Craft in Economics for nominating our winner; he also nominated George last year!

In this year’s nomination, Professor Craft noted of George:

He has been consistently proactive, making numerous good suggestions, pushing me toward using new technologies to edit papers. My students report the value of meeting with him. He is flexible enough to accept my timelines for turning around papers. He volunteers to come to class to be introduced to the students. Last year, he met more often with one student who particularly required assistance, in part because English was not her mother tongue.

George, a native of Greece, has a double major in Leadership Studies and Political Science. He’s minoring in Economics, which made him a perfect partner for the students in Dr. Craft’s First-Year Seminar, “Inequality and Ethics.” The course description notes that FYS students study “income inequality, but we will investigate inequality in lifespan and education as well.”

After graduation, George will be the Supervisor of a YMCA camp in Thessaloniki, Greece, with many employees and over 400 youngsters to manage!

George met Richmond students to review drafts of essays he received in advance, and as with all Consultants, he followed a somewhat nondirective pedagogy of not proofreading. Instead, he helped writers find their central arguments if those were not clear, identify systematic errors at the local and global scale; he made a representative correction of a repeated mistake in order to teach each writer to self-correct other instances.

In addition to his work for our program, George worked as a Peer Advisor and Mentor since his first year at Richmond. He also helped in the Office of Admissions with the International Admissions team.

We want to thank all our graduating Consultants for their hard work and we wish them the best in the big world beyond our campus gates.