All the help we can get: How instructors can work with Student Writing Support

Daniel Emery

The Teaching With Writing series exists to help instructors use writing in their courses to support student learning, and we know that faculty members and instructors who assign and assess student work are the right people to help their students develop as writers in disciplines. At the same time, we hope that instructors will also encourage student writers to use all of the available resources on campus for support. To that end, this tip offers specific advice about how instructors can encourage student writers to use Student Writing Support (SWS) as a supplement to the work you already do in your course.

What is Student Writing Support? Is that the same as the Writing Center?

Yes. Technically, The Center for Writing houses SWS, but SWS is a writing center like those found at other universities. Student Writing Support offers consultations for students on all stages of their writing and is a service available to all University of Minnesota students. Staffed by more than 50 student and professional consultants, SWS conducts appointment-based consultations in Nicholson Hall, drop-in visits in Appleby Hall, and online appointments through its web portal, SWSOnline. The SWS mission reads:

Student Writing Support (SWS) helps student writers develop confidence and effective writing strategies through collaborative one-to-one writing consultations. Our writing consultants listen to writers, read and respond to their written work, pose questions that help them clarify and articulate their ideas, and affirm the experiences and abilities they bring to their writing. We value all writers and their life experiences, worldviews, and languages, and we seek to provide a supportive space for all writers to share and develop their voices.

Getting the most from Student Writing Support

The Resources for Instructors page offers sample language for your syllabus. It includes a detailed handout for students to help them understand what to expect from a consultation and how to prepare.

While it can be tempting to require all students to bring their writing in progress to SWS, available capacity does not support required visits. Nevertheless, you can include recommendations to use SWS on your syllabus and encourage students by reminding them  at different stages in the writing process about how a consultation may be helpful (generating ideas, experimenting with organizational styles, adding detail and specificity, documenting sources, or revising for clarity and concision.

Because consultations often begin with an examination of the assignment, it can be helpful for your students to have an assignment sheet that details the task, purpose, and audience for a given writing activity. It can also be helpful for you to note the features or elements of an assignment that can be especially important or challenging for students so that they can prioritize those elements.

Student Writing Support publishes student-facing guides “quick tip” under the Quick Help tab. While consultants may refer to these guides when working with students, they can be especially useful for faculty who may need to offer concise advice for technical components of writing like punctuation, grammar, or style. These resources can supplement in-class writing activities and often mirror instructor resources on our TWW resources site.

Finally, SWS employs undergraduate and graduate students from a host of disciplines (from applied economics and animal science to technical writing and theater and dance). If you know a successful student writer who works well in collaborative contexts, please encourage them to apply. Recruiting begins in February.

Further Support

See the Teaching with Writing pages on the Center for Writing website for teaching resources, including sample assignments and syllabi. As many of you know, our WAC program also hosts the popular Teaching with Writing event series. Each semester, this series offers free workshops and discussions. Visit us online. To schedule a phone, email, or face-to-face teaching consultation, click here.