A writing fellow is a Writing Consultant dedicated to a specific course for a semester. Details? Read on!
The core writing center philosophy is, of course, at the center of the fellows program: writers benefit from understanding how a reader reads/interprets the writer’s work. Writers benefit by understanding how readers build ideas–and fail to build ideas–from the words, punctuation, and sequence the writer has chosen. At writing centers, trained writing consultants are able to offer a variety of options for restructuring the elements of writing, revealing the flexibility and logic of the language.
Using a dedicated writing consultant with a specific course offers several benefits versus standard, voluntary use of the Writing Center:
- Students develop a closer relationship with the consultant and are more willing to open up about their writing process and struggles;
- The consultant develops a progressively better understanding of each writer and their struggles and concerns, allowing more focused, efficient consultations;
- The consultant develops a better sense of the instructor’s goals and concerns with the writing assignments, allowing more focused, efficient consultations; and
- The instructor spends less time working on general writing feedback, allowing a greater focus on content.
Keep in mind that many of the consultants are going to be teachers after university–and not all English teachers (we hire across all disciplines). The consultants welcome the opportunity to hone their interpersonal communication skills. They also welcome the opportunity to facilitate and present to a class and/or small groups.
However, consultants are also not allowed to work, over the course of the semester, more than 40 of their 58 required hours as fellows. And those 40 hours can’t be stuffed into one week. The consultants are students, first and foremost.
Services Offered (I’m going to speak directly to you):
- Voluntary Consultation – the consultant is available for your students for a certain number of hours per week. This may be each week or select weeks coinciding with writing projects. A class-specific schedule on the Writing Center’s online scheduler will be used. Students make the choice to use the service.
- Required Consultations – your students are required to work with the writing fellow once or several times throughout the semester. The fellow can set up their own schedule (greater flexibility/efficiency) or use a class-specific schedule on the Writing Center’s online scheduler (easier). The required visits can be for general feedback or specific issues/elements. You will receive post-consultation reports.
- Small Group Instruction – small group (3-5) workshops allow the efficient but interactive delivery of certain writing-related ideas. For example: how to think about drawing conclusions; how to use APA citation style; or how to integrate sources into the writing.
- Peer Review Workshop – I teach a specific peer review procedure. It incorporates an initial discussion about the procedure, three-writer groups, an Imperial Ban on addressing grammar/mechanics, and the central focus on a face-to-face discussion between readers and writers. If the writing is less than seven pages double-spaced, the consultant can pull off an in-class review workshop in 50 minutes. If the writing is 7+ pages for most of the students, the procedure is split into an instruction/discussion stage (20 minutes) and a workshopping stage (40+ minutes. Because the procedure focuses more on preparing for the face-to-face discussion, less time is spent forming extensive notes for the writer to interpret when they work on editing/revision. During the face-to-face part of the workshop, the writer takes notes.
- Whole Class Presentations – your fellow can also deliver a 10-50 minute presentation/discussion on some writing-related subject. Again, this could be citing sources, integrating sources, developing transitions, identifying and getting rid of draft language, or whatever you’re looking for. The fellow and I (it’s me, Dave Leaton, the Director of the Writing Center) will work up content for the presentation, but do keep in mind that the prep time does count toward the fellow’s available hours.
Requesting a Fellow
The Fellows program operates in an ever-changing set of conditions: resource availability, resource timing, writing situations, number of students, et al. Thus, Give the Writing Center Director a call (x4484) or an email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Email may reach the Director more quickly during pandemic conditions. Ideally, first contact would be made well before the start of the semester.
Working with a Fellow
Again, the fellow is an undergraduate (probably) student working as a semi-professional, trained reader. Your fellow might be new to fellowing. Knowing my colleagues, I probably don’t need to say this, but I will anyway: be kind. Work together for the benefit of student writers. If you can’t resolve an issue (technical, personality, etc.) between you, talk with me.
Can I have a fellow semester after semester, indefinitely? Probably not, but this has already happened for a three-semester run. But it happened just once. The variables change too much to allow this to happen. But we’ll see.
What about confidentiality issues? Don’t ask a fellow to put a grade on an assignment. The fellow is working within the context of the Writing Center, and we have strict rules about sharing the details of consultations. The fellow will not share anything about a student or a student’s writing with anyone other than yourself, and not even then if it’s not relevant to the student work or development within the class.
Can I nominate one of my own students to be a fellow, compensated through the Writing Center? Yah, sure, if the student is willing to go through the Writing Center’s hiring process and take ENG 403: Practicum in Writing Consultation in their first semester of consultation. If they are going to represent the Writing Center and be paid by the Writing Center, they need to be approved and trained by the Writing Center.
Isn’t this person just a TA by another name? Not really, unless your TA has been trained in working closely with writers and has had at least a semester’s worth of weekly experience in doing so. TAs tend to be either experts in the content area or grunts shuffling paper. A TA might be a good writer, but we hire for understanding of academic writing, interpersonal communication skill, and motivation toward helping people help themselves.
What if the fellow has little experience in my discipline? Then you have to ask yourself if and when that will present a problem. Keep in mind that a writing consultation often involves the consultant asking the writer to explain something they wrote, even if the consultant understands the content. It might be ploy to get the writer to talk about their work. The consultant is focused primarily on how well the writer is making decisions about the communication of ideas. If the target audience for the writing is the moderately-educated general reader, a writing consultant is an excellent choice for a reader. If the target audience is other professionals in the field (professional-to-professional), the consultant might struggle with discipline-specific forms and language. However, overall structure, grammar, and citation can still be addressed, and the writer may be able to help with the development of ideas and the use of sources. As usual, the writing center mantra applies: “it depends.”