The Writing Fellows
Background and Definition
Writing Fellows is an undergraduate peer tutoring/writing across the curriculum initiative that began in the 1980s at Brown University and has since spread to many other colleges, small and large. The goals of the Writing Fellows Program are to improve student writing and writing processes, to promote collaborative learning, and to encourage instructors to use writing to learn in their courses. Because Iowa has no required writing courses beyond first-year Rhetoric, the Writing Fellows program extends writing instruction beyond the departments of Rhetoric and English and encourages instructors in departments across the College to consider writing instruction part of their professional responsibility. Writing Fellows are assigned to professors' courses and work with all of their students on drafts of two major course papers.
Since the program began in 2003, UI professors from American Studies, Anthropology, Classics, Dance, English, Exercise Science, Geography, Geoscience, Health and Sport Studies, History, Leisure Studies, Literature, Science, & the Arts, Political Science, Religious Studies, Rhetoric, Russian, and Women's Studies have worked with Writing Fellows to help more than 2500 students improve their papers.
The program has a director (Carol Severino) and an assistant director (Megan Knight).
How the Program Works
Each Writing Fellow comments on drafts of two assignments of about 12 students each in a professor’s course. After returning the comments, the Fellow meets individually with those students to discuss the comments and ways to revise. To emphasize that all writers benefit from feedback on their drafts, all the students in a professor’s class work with Fellows. For example, a course with 36 students would be assigned 3 fellows; a course with 24 students would be assigned 2. We generally do not work with courses larger than 40 students because the logistics of scheduling meetings between the professor and four fellows are too unwieldy. Nor do we currently work in courses taught solely by TAs, as we want to offer this opportunity first to professors.
After the commenting and conferencing cycle, the professor reads both the drafts and the revised essays and grades the latter. The Fellows themselves do not grade; they only comment and tutor. The first semester that they work, Fellows take an Honors seminar called Writing Theory and Practice (143:102) taught by the program’s directors. This course trains them to comment on papers and to tutor their peers. For the first semester's work, they receive an honorarium of $600. For subsequent semesters of work, they receive $700 each semester.
To be eligible to participate in the Writing Fellows program, professors must be willing to schedule two assignments that would go first to the Fellows for commenting and conferencing two weeks before they are due to them for grading. They must also be willing to meet with their Fellows to discuss goals for the assignments and how they reflect the goals of their courses. They also meet with their Fellows during the commenting process and after the first commenting-conferencing-grading cycle to evaluate and fine tune the procedure for the second paper cycle. Commenting mentors from the Rhetoric faculty look at drafts of papers and commenting letters during the week that their assigned Fellows are reading and commenting on drafts.
History of the UI Program
The program was started in 2003 by Professors Carol Severino and Mary Trachsel from the Rhetoric Department. In 2002, Carol had attended a conference presentation by the University of Wisconsin Writing Fellows and thought that such a program was needed and would work well at Iowa. An outreach program with undergraduate tutors assigned to courses complements our other Writing Center programs which use graduate student tutors who work only in the Writing Center or in one of its satellites. Writing Fellows reach undergraduate students in CLAS who might not otherwise use Writing Center services. The University of Wisconsin Fellows program invited Mary and Carol to talk with their Fellows, with their professors across the curriculum who have worked with Fellows, and to attend the Fellows’ seminar. When they returned, they made arrangements with Honors to recruit the first class of Fellows.
The Writing Fellows experience has provided participants with professional opportunities on national and even on international levels. Fellows have presented research at the Watson Composition Conference in Louisville, KY; at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing/International Writing Centers Association in Minneapolis, MN; at the Midwest Writing Centers Association (MWCA) Conference in St. Louis, MO; at the MWCA in Kansas City, MO; at MWCA in Rapid City, SD; MWCA in Madison, WI; and NCPTW in Chicago.
Beginning in 2011, a number of experienced fellows now tutor in the Writing Center’s Appointment Program in order to serve increasing numbers of undergraduates needing help with writing, especially international students.
Especially for Professors
Professors interested in working with the Fellows program for Fall of 2014 or Spring of 2015 should be teaching a class of 45 students or less, preferably by themselves without a TA. Send Carol Severino an e-mail describing your course and she will arrange to meet with you to talk to you about how the program might work in your particular class.
Become a Writing Fellow
If you are interested in becoming a Fellow, you should be an Honors student (maintaining a 3.33 or above GPA) with excellent academic writing skills and interpersonal skills. You should enjoy writing and talking about writing. You should currently (as of Spring 2014) be a sophomore or first-semester junior, although we will consider exceptionally qualified students who are now first-year students. Because we want the Fellows to work for at least three semesters, we won’t accept applications of students who will be first semester seniors or second semester juniors in Fall 2014.
Candidates for Fellows submit two papers from two different disciplines with explanations of why they chose them. They also submit a personal statement, answers to questions about their teaching or tutoring experiences, and a letter from a professor or instructor attesting to their intellectual and writing abilities and their social skills with both faculty and peers. After screening, candidates are invited for thirty minute interviews to discuss their own writing process and their own and their fellow students’ strengths and weaknesses in writing. They are also given problematic scenarios with students and faculty, and asked to think through what they would do in such situations.
Download the Honors Writing Fellows Program application HERE.
The Writing Center will recruit the next class of Writing Fellows in Spring 2014. We will have an information session in Blank Honors Center South Commons; check back here for the exact date and time. Although attendance at this session is recommended, you can apply to be a Fellow without attending the session. Applications will be due in late March to Carol Severino's faculty mailbox in 167 EPB. Inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.