As of the start of Winter Term, 2020, the Interim Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum will be Dr. Anita Helle, Professor of English.
Dr. Helle’s research and teaching focuses on modern and postmodern American literature, gender and feminist theory, and rhetorical pedagogies. In the past, she has served as Director of the College of Liberal Arts Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research, and as Director of the School of Writing, Literature, and Film. She has a new book of essays on American poet Sylvia Plath coming out in 2021 from Bloomsbury Academic. Also, Dr. Helle has taught a WIC course on the histories of literacy for over 25 years.
A key principle of faculty development is, “Start with the willing.” The remarkable thing about the OSU faculty during my 26 years as WIC director is that so many of you have been willing: willing to take on the challenge of teaching majors to write in your discipline, willing to invest your time in the WIC faculty seminar, willing to do the hard work of responding to student writing, and willing to teach students what critical thinking looks like in your field. For all of these things and more, I thank you.
Over the years, you have generously shared your questions, your assignments and rubrics, your creative approaches to teaching writing with me and with your colleagues. I am especially grateful for all I have learned from you about writing in the discipline. That knowledge inspired me, in 2001, to begin offering WR 599, Workshop for Thesis and Dissertation Writers Across the University, which has been one of the great teaching joys of my life.
In 2004, a philosophy professor from Tajikistan, Abdurahim Juraev, came to OSU on a Fulbright to study with me. I asked him why me? He said because I teach critical thinking through writing. “The future of my country depends on our students’ learning critical thinking, which was never allowed earlier under the Soviet Union,” he explained. It is just as essential for our own students to learn critical thinking and to learn that the future of our country may also depend on it. Dr. Juraev has gone on to teach WIC approaches to critical thinking to more than 300 university faculty across Central Asia. When someone asked my vision for the future of the Baccalaureate Core, my vision is that every teacher of a Bacc Core course will clearly articulate what constitutes critical thinking in their discipline and give students not only a definition but also an abundance of practice thinking critically through writing and other modes, and meta-cognitively KNOWING that they are thinking critically.
As I look toward my retirement on January 1, 2020, my final thanks to the WIC GTA, the supremely kind and efficient Marisa Yerace, the lively WIC interns Regan Breeden, Matthew Fuller, and Alex Werndli, the amazingly organized and technologically adept Caryn Stoess, my kind and wise supervisor Alix Gitelman, and of course to all of you, the WIC faculty and supporters across the curriculum. My OSU career traversing the disciplines has been, largely because of all of you, a dream job. Thank you. Keep on writing.
The WIC program and staff would like to congratulate the 16 faculty participants of the Fall 2019 WIC Seminar.
Top row, from left: Nadine Orozco, Paul Hughes, David Kerr, Angelika Buchanan, Kristen Macuga, Maddy Bean, Kate Shay, Ana-Maria d’Ernesti, Scott Ables, Matthew Fuller (WIC Intern)
Lower row, from left: Kim Townsend, Mary Smallman, Andrea Allen, Natasha Mallette, Vicki Tolar Burton, Betsey Miller, Alex Werndli (WIC Intern), Regan Breeden (WIC Intern)
Not pictured: Chris Stout, Kelly Chandler, Marisa Yerace (WIC GTA)
Over the course of five weeks, participants in the 2019 Fall Seminar explored pedagogical nuances of WIC through their engagement with numerous informal writing-to-learn exercises. These included write-and-pass, looping, a change-three-things exercise, and more.
Building on faculty interest in peer review of WIC assignments, the seminar focused in on varied approaches for responding to student writing, including strategies for administering feedback for Ecampus students. Participants also reviewed assignments for each other and discussed ways to guide students through the drafting process.
At seminar’s end, faculty evaluated the seminar as effective and full of wisdom and useful information instructors might not otherwise learn; one faculty member said the best part was “hearing from other participants in the course as well as the formal presentation. It was a good balance of both.”
It was a pleasure and privilege sharing the learning space of the WIC Fall Seminar. This year’s participants were:
Scott Ables, History
Andrea Allen, Atmospheric Sciences, Geography
Maddy Bean, Health Promotion and Health Behavior
Angelika Buchanan, Management
Kelly Chandler, Human Development and Family Sciences
Ana-Maria d’Ernesti, World Languages and Cultures
Paul Hughes, Food Science and Technology
David Kerr, Psychology
Kristen Macuga, Psychology
Natasha Mallette, Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum, retires after 29 years at Oregon State University at the end of 2019. WIC Interns Matt Fuller, Alex Werndli, and Regan Breeden, and WIC GTA Marisa Yerace, sat down with Vicki to discuss her work, experiences, and legacy as a writing teacher, rhetoric scholar, and Writing Program Administrator.
On the Writing Intensive Curriculum at OSU
What drew you to WAC/WID studies?
I think I have an interdisciplinary mind, and I’ve always looked at things from multiple directions. I’ve had jobs where I was working in different environments, from labor law administration to the National Institutes of Health. I saw different kinds of discourse, and they all interested me. So Writing Across the Curriculum felt like a good fit for me from the start. This job requires rhetorical sensitivity, specifically an understanding of audience and context and an ability to persuade people to do the right thing for their students, which I also enjoy.
How have you articulated the value of the WIC program to the university community and beyond?
The WIC requirement’s purpose is to help OSU undergraduates become effective writers in their discipline. The WIC program’s purpose is to support faculty who teach WIC courses, to help them employ best practices for teaching writing in their discipline, and to help with the assessment and certification of WIC courses. The best argument for the WIC program’s value is the success of WIC faculty who feel their teaching has been improved and even transformed by taking the WIC seminar or gaining support from another aspect of WIC. These confident teachers of writing in the disciplines become the face of the program and the best argument for the program.
WIC gains value in the university through collaborations between the WIC director and staff and WIC faculty and academic units, as well as with other writing entities like the Writing Studio (formerly the Writing Center) and the Writing I and Writing II courses.
On Teaching Writing
When did you begin teaching writing? What kinds of writing have you taught?
I started teaching writing the day after I turned 22. I was in a master’s program at Duke University. Duke arranged with different school systems to employ their grad students as regular salaried high school teachers. So, I went to a really interesting high school in Westport, Connecticut, which is a bedroom community to New York—very artsy, and a lot of brilliant people live there, and their kids go to the public high school. The faculty were among the most interesting faculties I have ever taught with, because many of them had other careers in the arts and business, finance and publishing—all different fields—then they decided to be high school teachers as a second career. It was an amazing education for me. That was my start, I was teaching 10th grade English. When I got married, my then-spouse was in the Air Force, so we moved around and I was always able to get a job. If I couldn’t get a teaching job, I did something else, like labor law administration. I’ve taught 6th grade through PhD students, including community college. I’ve taught at a historically black university in Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University. So, I’ve had a quite varied career—all this before I got my PhD at Auburn and then came to OSU.
What do you wish more people knew about teaching writing?
One thing is the value of robust revision in response to feedback. Also, I wish more teachers and students knew how to give feedback that is both specific and encouraging, that helps writers prioritize revising tasks and say, ‘Hey, I can do that. I can fix that.’ I would like to free faculty from the urge to line edit all student writing. We need to help students get the big things right first—audience, purpose, organization, accurate content—and leave correctness for a much later stage.
What do you think people struggle with most with when teaching writing?
One of the big challenges is helping students identify, understand, and practice the particular kind of writing that is valued in their field. Faculty often assume students understand this by osmosis, just because they are majors, but many don’t. Teachers need to articulate these characteristics to students. The other biggest challenge is probably giving effective feedback that leads to robust revision.
What are the qualities of a successful teacher of writing? Are these qualities the same as those of an effective writing program administrator?
don’t think they’re necessarily the same. I think you can be a great teacher of
writing and know that you’re not suited to direct a program. And, that’s
good—you have other gifts. Successful writing teachers are student-centered.
They’re not just delivering information under the banking model—making deposits
of information in students’ heads. They have clear standards, so the students
know what’s expected. They design writing assignments that require critical
thinking and push students out of their default position. Successful teachers
of writing are committed to the success of all levels of students, not
dismissing struggling students, not overlooking middling students, not leaving
the best writer on their own. Every writer can improve with the right feedback
A successful WPA has to have a larger vision of the program’s purpose and be able to keep all the parts moving in the right direction. After my grandson, 4, visited my WIC office, he told me he has an office with a big round table like mine and two computer screens. “What kind of work do you do in your office?” I asked. “I sit in a big black chair, and I spin,” he replied. So there is that part, too.
Why teach writing?
I teach writing because I believe it’s something that is important in people’s lives. Writing is a skill that people need, and I think it helps people become who they are—find themselves, find their best selves, share what they know, discover new knowledge. And if they can improve as writers and gain confidence as writers, then they can make choices in their lives and not be held back by lack of communications skills. I love teaching writing; I’ve always loved it. I like reading what students write, I like giving them feedback, I like talking to them as writers.
“Rhetoric and Composition” wasn’t always as clearly defined of a field as it is now. What led you to become a rhetoric scholar?
There were very few places, when I was getting my PhD, that had a Rhetoric and Composition PhD. I had rhetoric and composition coursework in my English doctoral studies.
Rhetoric and Composition was a clear choice. When I was teaching in Charlotte, North Carolina, I participated in faculty development based on the National Writing Project. It brought together teachers from many disciplines around teaching writing, especially as a process. I remember thinking, ‘That’s brilliant! I want to do that.’
I was drawn to more study of rhetoric because of a project that I happened into. When I was first working on my PhD, an elderly family member gave me an old book that was published in 1834. It was the spiritual journal of an 18th-century British Methodist woman who had the same name as my mother’s family. And this elderly relative said, ‘Somebody gave me this book and said this woman might be kin to us. Maybe you’d like to have the book.’ That night I looked at the first ten pages, I realized the author, Hester Rogers, was from England and I hadn’t been able to pin anybody in our family to one place in England, so I put the book away.
Then, a few months later, I had a dream. About the book. That I hadn’t read. And the dream was the book was important. And that I should read it! I sometimes have really strong dreams, so I got up in the night and–we had moved, everything was still in boxes and I had to go through boxes to find this book–but I found it. It wasn’t very long, so I just stayed up the rest of the night and read it. I didn’t say, This is the best thing I’ve ever read, but her writing style was very Jane Austen, even though she was writing pre-Jane Austen. That was kind of intriguing to me; she was obviously educated. I started trying to find out who Hester Rogers was. But this was pre-internet search, pre-Google, so I was just looking in the library at Auburn.
The first place I found her was an engraving of John Wesley’s (the founder of Methodism) deathbed scene, and she was in the room with John Wesley when he died. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting!’ Not only was she in the room, she was kneeling next to his bed, she was physically the closest person to him, and she had her hands up on the bedclothes while he was dying. I thought, ‘There’s definitely rhetoric in that picture.’ So I started looking for her, just for my own satisfaction. And I started thinking of the whole project rhetorically – and historically – so I started applying my rhetorical knowledge to something I was personally interested in, and I ended up writing my dissertation as a rhetorical study of Hester Rogers’s journal and her place in early Methodism. My argument was that she was used as the model of the ‘good woman.’ There were other early Methodist women leaders who preached, but Hester Rogers did not preach, and I think they – the men – picked her because she was ‘the good woman in the pew.’ In the 19th century, the preaching women were silenced but Hester’s journal went into more than 40 American editions. The women preachers were protected by John Wesley until he died, and then the men said, ‘Ladies, you can go home now, we have plenty of men to preach.’ So the ‘Good woman’ became the woman who was teaching Sunday School, leading the women but not running the church. It took more than a century, almost two, for Methodist women to get back in the pulpit.
That’s how I got into rhetoric: because I wanted to know something, and I wanted to have a frame for looking at it, and rhetoric worked for me.
On Her Legacy and Future Plans
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave at OSU?
The WIC teachers I’ve trained
and supported and the OSU students across the university who have learned to
write in their majors: they are my legacy.
The wonderful WIC GTAs and
interns who have learned about writing program administration from working with
WIC and taken that knowledge forward: they are my legacy.
A sustained and sustainable
WIC program that contributes of OSU’s excellence in the land grant mission:
this is my legacy.
And the undergraduates and graduate students I have taught in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, and especially the graduate students from across the university who have completed their degrees at least in part because they found my course, WR 599, Writing Workshop for Thesis and Dissertation Writers Across the University: these writers are my legacy.
I hope part of my legacy will be a contemplative one. I introduced the thesis and dissertation writers to contemplative practices that could help them with stress, focus, with balance—and with writing. Once in the airport in Portland, one of my former dissertation writers came running over and said, “I’m on my way to Sweden to give a paper. I’ve been wanting to tell you that Amy (someone also in WR 599) and I taught our whole lab how to meditate.” I love the image of an OSU lab of grad students learning to meditate together.
That’s the beauty of cross disciplinary learning. That the lab is good for more than just measuring things, it’s good for mutual support. So part of my WIC legacy of writing in the disciplines is that WIC led to teach WR599 and to all of the graduate students who have finished and defended and gone out in the world, some of whom have taught their labs to meditate.
What is next for VTB?
I plan to spend more time with my Oregon grandkids and with my East Coast grandkids. I’m going to do lots of hiking, some traveling, and, I hope, lots of writing.
Dr. Vicki Tolar Burton will be presenting at two upcoming conferences: the 71st Conference on College Composition and Communication (March 25-28, 2020, in Milwaukee, WI), and the 19th Biennial Meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America (May 21-24, 2020, in Portland, OR). She also has a chapter, “Ethical Writing in the Disciplines,” forthcoming in After Plato: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing, and an article, “Mapping Dual Credit for College Writing: Notes from the Oregon Trail,” forthcoming in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, written with Jordan Terriere-Dobrioglo.
Attention WIC faculty! Remember to identify strong papers from your fall WIC course as possible nominees for the WIC Culture of Writing Award in your discipline. Units submit nominations by June 1st, 2020.
In order to recognize and value excellence in student writing at OSU, each spring the Writing Intensive Curriculum program sponsors the WIC Culture of Writing Awards in the Disciplines, offering $50 in matching funds to $50 from any unit that wishes to participate in this undergraduate writing prize.
As the name implies, the WIC Culture of Writing Awards are designed to help create a culture of writing in which writing is taught, practiced, modeled, valued, and recognized at the class level, the unit level, and throughout the university as a whole.
Why give writing awards in the disciplines? This recognition sends a message to undergraduates and to the university community that excellence in writing matters in the unit, is recognized by the faculty, and is rewarded. For many students, even knowing that a professor has nominated their paper for a writing award is a significant form of recognition and a source of pride. The WIC program conducted a survey of previous Culture of Writing Award recipients in spring of this year, wherein respondents articulated the value of the award to them as young scholars:
“I still have the certificate. It wasn’t until I received that award, that I might have even considered myself a good writer.”
Anonymous, College of Liberal Arts, 2006
“When Dr. Natchee Barnd presented me with the WIC award, I actually cried because, still, in my senior year, I wasn’t terribly confident in my writing and I think part of me thought I was undeserving of it for some reason. The award spoke far more to my skills than I realized, and it validated all my hard work that I’d put into my classes (I’m welling up just writing about it).”
Elena Ramirez Robles, College of Liberal Arts, 2018
“Thank you for your support. The Culture of Writing Award was the first award I received during my academic career. It’s an accomplishment with significant positive impacts on young scholars during a vital stage of their progressive young careers.”
Andrew Larkin, College of Science, 2010
Participation in the Culture of Writing Awards has thrived since 2006, as 326 total students have earned recognition and cash awards through both individual and collaborative writing projects. WIC would like to thank all participating units for their continued desire to recognize and reward outstanding student writing.
Participating units select and nominate the best student paper written across their undergraduate courses, whether it was written in a Writing Intensive Course or not. As each unit assesses the best writing by their undergraduates, faculty have an opportunity to more clearly articulate what aspects of writing are highly valued in their field and select the student writing that best represents those qualities. Recognizing that the qualities of excellent writing are discipline-specific, awardees are selected by faculty within each discipline, with the selection process administered within each participating unit. WIC and the home unit each contribute $50 toward a $100 monetary award. In addition the WIC Program issues an award certificate that is unit-specific — for example, the WIC Culture of Writing Award in Forest Engineering, or the WIC Culture of Writing Award in Political Science.
How to Nominate a Paper:
Model 1: The academic unit might use the unit awards committee to ask faculty to nominate and submit their best undergraduate paper for the year. The committee chooses the awardee.
Model 2: The academic unit wants the awardee to be from a WIC course, so one or more WIC instructors select the best paper.
Model 3: The academic writing occurs in a capstone course with a team project. The unit selects the team with the best-written capstone project for the award. When the award goes to a team of four, some units divide the $100 award four ways, while other units contribute more than $50 so that individuals will receive a more substantial award.
Specific instructions for nomination your unit’s award winner will be in the Winter term issue of Teaching with Writing. Remember to hold onto strong fall term papers for consideration.
For more information regarding the Culture of Writing Awards, please visit our website.