Fall 2015 Hours

Mon, Tue | 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wed, Thu | 12 noon-7 p.m.
Fri | 9 a.m.-12 noon

Closed: Oct. 7, 8, 9

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H.T. Sampson Library
1st Floor
Digital Intellectual Commons


What We Do and Why

August 4th, 2015 by wrightcenter

What We Do and Why: Engaging Students in Writerly Behaviors

In the Richard Wright Center (RWC), we are often asked to "correct" students' papers both before they submit them to instructors and after they have defended their theses or dissertations. Concern for correctness is understandable. After all, professors want to read papers without stumbling over fragments or run-on sentences or without being distracted by inconsistent formatting issues, and students want good grades and their degrees.

In the RWC, our mission is to engage students in intellectual conversations about their writing, speaking, and research projects. In one-to-one or small-group conversations, correctness can be discussed in relation to students’ ideas and their new academic audience.

While we recognize the concern for correctness, we want to challenge the idea that the RWC is a place where students' papers are edited and proofread, or fixed. In fact, this is a common perception of writing centers. However, we have learned that by focusing on errors, we do more harm than good. Dr. Elaine Maimon (1979), expert in the teaching of writing and a founder of Writing Across the Curriculum, says that if we “continue to emphasize an avoidance of error, then students will finally learn to avoid as many errors as possible by not writing at all” (p. 366). Of course, we all want students to improve as writers, and writing becomes better when students write a lot, particularly in response to issues that matter to them and when they receive feedback.

Feedback from faculty and peers allows students to gain experience with academic writing and to build confidence as writers, which are undermined when editing and proofreading are the initial focus. So when students come to the RWC, our tutors will

• greet them and ask them to sign in

• ask about their assignment and what they are working on

• ask them to summarize what they have written or what they plan to write or speak about

• respond to students in a non-evaluative manner (e.g., “I’m confused about this. What are you trying to say?” instead of “This is incorrect. You need to fix this.”)

• invite students to complete a response form—and to return to the Richard Wright Center.

As needed, tutors may also

• ask about parts of students’ writing or speech (e.g., introductions, thesis statements)

• discuss options for supporting ideas with credible evidence (e.g., expert opinions, statistics)

• share information about documentation, even in speeches and presentations

• read with the student aloud or silently, asking about any confusing sentences or shifts in topic

• listen to presentations and share strategies for effective oral communication

• discuss strategies for editing and proofreading for specific issues, such as fragments.

When we engage students in conversation, offer feedback, and discuss strategies for presenting their ideas, we let them imagine their academic audience and invite them to "behave" as writers (Maimon, 1979, p. 365), to experience writing practices that we share as academic writers, and thus we invite them into the academic community.

Now we would like to hear from you! When you write, how do you begin? When do you proofread? From whom do you seek feedback, and what kinds of feedback do you find most useful? What do you think makes a good writer? How do you address the issue of correctness with your students?

If you would be interested in discussing a writing, speaking, or research-related issue in a seminar format, please let us know! Also, what issues would you like to read about on our blog?

Thank you. -Kathi and Tatiana


Maimon, E. (1979). Talking to strangers. College Composition & Communication, 30, 364-369. 

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“Students Just Don’t Get It”

June 5th, 2015 by wrightcenter

"Students Just Don't Get It" – Yet! 

The Role of Feedback in Student Learning

By Kathi R. Griffin with valuable feedback from Christopher Peace, Graduate Assistant

We often hear faculty say, "Students just don't get it." If we add the word "yet" to the comment, we might then ask, "What can I do?"

Feedback does not have to mean more work. As faculty, we may balk at the idea of doing anything differently, or we may think giving feedback would require doing more work. Actually, it involves work that is more focused, more intentional. In addition, feedback may be understood as evaluation, which can actually prevent students from "getting it." When we offer students timely "feedback," it can help them take responsibility for their learning, and as students move toward "getting it," grading time can actually be reduced and more rewarding.

What is feedback? Feedback is information that allows students to adjust their writing, speaking, or research in response to a real audience. Thus feedback helps students develop more control over their work and take more responsibility for their work. It can also help build their confidence in their ability to "get it."

How does feedback work? Feedback that reports to students what is and/or is not happening in a paper or speech involves students in their learning by making them responsible for what is there. From facing complex challenges and solving complex problems to acquiring mastery, students need to learn to use feedback–not just how to follow directions or answer questions "correctly." The challenge for faculty is two-fold: to think of assessment in terms of guidance rather than grades, and to design programs, courses, and assignments with deliberate systems of feedback loops that actively move students toward learning objectives.

Feedback is essential to active learning. Courses and assignments that create opportunities for feedback make it possible for students to engage with peers, to reflect on their process, to give effective feedback to each other–with minimal intervention by instructors. In other words, well designed assignments and activities can free up instructors to provide purposeful feedback and guidance–when needed. (Look for a Blog on "Active Learning Strategies" in the near future.)

For students, responding to feedback is a critical skill that can only be learned through doing and can only become instinctive through practice and guidance. If students have been used to completing tasks and getting evaluated, they may initially need to learn what feedback is and how to use it before they can develop new habits of thinking, which takes some time.

For faculty, giving feedback may require new approaches at first, or it may require helping students learn to use feedback. For example,

  • In peer writing groups, students may not yet know how to respond to each other beyond correcting grammar.
  • In the sciences, students may not yet know how to use error margins to improve their methodology or the overall design of an experiment.
  • When writing, students may use spell-check but may not yet know the word they need or even how to choose the word they need.
  • When preparing a speech, students may fear feedback or take it as negative criticism rather than as information that could help them improve their performance.

In each instance, faculty can teach students how to give and receive feedback, thus help students move closer to "getting it." With practice, students can gain mastery, which cannot be achieved in the first or even fortieth attempt.

What happens when feedback is only evaluative? Evaluation alone, or summative assessment, can short-circuit learning. Without feedback students often struggle to understand what they did wrong–or even what they may have done right. It does not have the same power that feedback in process, or formative assessment, does to help students "get it." Seeking a grade (or pleasing an instructor) may also undermine students' overall professional growth. For example, if students wait for feedback until they are giving a presentation in a high stakes situation, such as for a grade or at a conference, then they have no opportunity to improve their performance. When students are given or seek feedback in the process of developing a presentation, paper, or idea, they have time to think about what changes they might make and why.

When students learn to seek feedback in the process of developing a speech, paper, or idea, they can learn what is working or not working and make more informed choices about their direction, which is what we do all the time as professionals.

Feedback in the RWC is focused on students and their goals. Tutors are not instructors, so they cannot evaluate students' work, but they can ask critical questions, offer valuable feedback, and  talk with students about how to incorporate feedback in their projects. In the RWC tutors ask students about what they are working on, where they are in their process, and what they want to work on during the tutorial session.

Feedback can take many forms, such as summarizing back what was read or heard, but it most often takes the form of critical questions about the student's purpose, audience, and genre that can help students fill in missing information or smooth out confusing sentences. Feedback in the form of questions encourages students to think about their ideas, goals, and processes. As students engage in intellectual conversations about their work, they begin to develop critical habits of mind as they make choices about their work.

Feedback from instructors is more often described as formative assessment, as it provides students with information to help them meet the goals of a particular class exercise or assignment, course objective, or educational objective. As instructors, we can get impatient when students don't "get it" quickly enough, or when they don't yet seem to act on our feedback. Within a context that includes clearly stated objectives and a range of opportunities for frequent feedback, students will be more able to "get it" in our classrooms and in our programs.

Feedback, formative assessment, and evaluation together help students "get it":

  • Feedback tells students whether or not they are on course.
  • Formative assessment can tell students the most likely ways to achieve their goals.
  • Evaluation tells students whether or not they have been successful.

Without feedback and formative assessment, however, evaluation makes little difference in student learning.

Our aim, therefore, must be to engage students in ways that better equip them to "get it." 

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RWC in an International Blog

May 1st, 2015 by wrightcenter

We were invited by the folks at the new blog for the Writing Lab Newsletter (a highly regarded newsletter in our field) to write about our fabulous RWC space for an international audience. To view, click here

Please check it out!! 

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What Is “Scholarly Writing”?

April 29th, 2015 by wrightcenter

In a workshop hosted by the Chemistry Department this semester, a group of 25 JSU graduate students asked, "What is 'scholarly writing'?" We love questions like this, especially when students look to us for an explanation. The students said they heard about scholarly writing a lot and weren't sure what their professors meant.

Instead of explaining, however, we turned the question back to the students and asked what they thought scholarly writing might be. We also asked what might be one aspect of non-scholarly writing. One woman said, "Sometimes I write the way I speak." We then discussed how we often write like this when we're first getting our ideas down on paper, but when we write for a scholarly audience, we need to develop a more formal voice.

We talked about what being formal might include. In general it means to be more specific with our word choice. We then talked about using vocabulary specific to the field, which includes words students might not yet recognize, and about the importance of learning those words and using them accurately. Each field, we also mentioned, has different conventions for the use of personal pronouns.

We also discussed that formal writing is straightforward and specific in descriptions of an issue or process. Scholarly writing has clear organization: The introduction includes an identifiable thesis statement and "map" (brief outline of main points), and each section or body paragraph follows that map.

One student said she thought non-scholarly writing meant that there was not enough evidence to support an idea. So we talked about how it is important to seek credible, scholarly evidence and use it to support whatever we assert in our papers or presentations as well as how it is important to cite and document sources according to the style for our particular field.

Scholarly writing also involves seeking feedback as we write or prepare a presentation, even a poster, to make sure we are being clear, accurate, and relevant––to make sure we are meeting our audience's expectations. All professional writers seek feedback from colleagues, professors, mentors, and peers––including peer and graduate tutors in the Richard Wright Center (RWC). That is why JSU provides the RWC––we are a community of scholars in the making. As we write for our scholarly audience, we all need feedback along the way!

Kathi R. Griffin and Tatiana Glushko


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Kiyadh Burt on Being Black in America

April 15th, 2015 by wrightcenter

Kiyadh Burt

Kiyadh Burt, a Political Science Major and Peer Tutor in RWC, Talks on Channel One 

About Being Black in America 

Now former peer tutor Kiyadh Burt was interviewed in spring 2015 by Channel One, a news station that broadcasts to over 5 million middle and high school students! He spoke on the anniversary of the Civil War, the Black experience in the American South, and prospects for progress in the Black community. Congratulations, Kiyadh! And congratulations on your graduation from JSU!

You may watch the full interview here: 



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Avoiding “Academic Bullshit”

April 8th, 2015 by wrightcenter

Avoiding "Academic Bullshit": Meeting Disengaged Students Where They Are*

-Kathi R. Griffin

“This is boring.” “This is stupid.” “I shouldn’t have to take this class. It’s pointless. I’m a good writer!” “I hate to write.” “I hate to read AND write.”

Having been in first-year college composition classrooms for twenty years, I have heard students’ distancing comments in halls, coming into and leaving classrooms, and I have heard them in the classroom and in journals when I have invited student feedback on reading or writing assignments. During summer “College Writing” workshops, I also heard rising juniors and seniors share their fears about writing in college. Might “boring” and “stupid” be interpreted as “scary”? Of looking stupid?

In 2010, I found an article entitled “Bullshit in Academic Writing,” in which Peter Smagorinsky et al. (2010) share “one high school senior’s process of academic bullshitting” (p. 368), and I was immediately intrigued. After the authors define “bullshit,” they explain that “although it is known as a common phenomenon in academic speech and writing, it has rarely been the subject of empirical research” (p. 368), and they reference Macrorie’s 1970 term “Engfish: the spuriously elevated language seemingly endemic to school writing” (qtd. in Smagorinksy et al., 2010, p. 369). While students’ language may reveal a lack of engagement, it is, unfortunately, nothing new and may mean their expectations have achieved a level of carefully honed disengagement. But why?

I took the article and my question to class and asked my students. I held up the journal, Research in the Teaching of English, a serious peer-reviewed journal in my field, I explained, and I read them the title of the article. Of course, they laughed as sideways glances shot around the room. I asked if they knew what the authors meant. They erupted, “Yes!” And they explained, and I asked, “Have you ever written bullshit?” (Remember, this is in a college classroom, not high school.) Again, but a bit sheepishly, they replied, “Yes.” When I asked, “Why?” I got an earful: boring, stupid, pointless assignments. Writing had become something, anything, just to get the task done, to please a teacher or get a passing grade because “I didn’t care about the topic.” Writing in school had become pointless, an act of bullshitting. Why? How might we build, design, revise “assignments” with a point, one that students can see, one they can relate to?

All of us convening on this website, considering or planning to attend the TCW Symposium this weekend (even if we don’t have the time or can’t get the funding) care about students. But are we engaged as teachers? What does “engaged” mean? We want to reach our students, to engage them, but how? And high school teachers have more restrictions in the classroom and in the curriculum than college teachers, yet we each must negotiate institutional expectations, meet our students where they are, and try to move them forward, to help them be more effective, more engaged readers, writers – people. Do we know what students expect when they walk into our classrooms? How might we acknowledge – and change – their expectations?

As a composition instructor and a writing center director, I have heard – like a student mantra – “I hate to write.” “Really,” I often respond, “that’s not unusual. But you text, tweet, Facebook, yes?” (Is “Facebook” a verb yet?) “Yes, but that’s different,” they explain. “How?” I ask.

Then we engage in a conversation – and I ask them to write. Later I ask, “What was your worst writing experience?” And they write. And I ask, “What was your best writing experience?” (Sadly, some explain that they have never had a good writing experience. And we talk.)  Then we compare and contrast their bad and good writing experiences, looking for similarities and differences, for what elicits bullshit. It is enlightening – for them and for me.

This approach may seem limited in its usefulness, but it has helped me at the beginning of the last several semesters. After years of conditioning, feeling that their perspectives rarely matter, students will not engage with one simple “shot” of engagement. It has to become a habit of mind. It is exhausting for me, but when students do begin to “come around,” usually around midterm or after, sometimes not until after they leave my class and come back to tell me, the work was worth it. This is why we need to come together, to share ideas, to invigorate our teaching, to engage among ourselves.

*This article was originally posted in September 2013 on the blog of Transitioning to College Writing Symposium, Univeristy of Mississippi. 


Smagorinsky, P., Daigle, E. A., O’Donnell-Allen, C.  & Bynum, S. (2010). “Bullshit in Academic Writing: A Protocol Analysis of a High School Senior’s Process of Interpreting Much Ado  About Nothing.” Research in the Teaching of English 44(4) May: 368-405.

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RWC on the Road

February 11th, 2015 by wrightcenter

The Richard Wright Center on the Road!

Kathi Griffin–Director of RWC

Fifteen years ago, while working as writing center coordinator at Millsaps College, I asked if I could attend a writing center event at Tougaloo College. When the director said yes, I asked if I could invite other writing center folks I knew from Mississippi College and Jackson State University. When the event was over, we decided we liked talking to each other–and the Mississippi Writing Center Association (MSWCA) was born. It's had its ups and downs, ins and outs, but it's still going–and now stronger than ever. It's gratifying, to say the least. But what I find most rewarding is the sense of community, of helping change the educational landscape of Mississippi–for the better. Last year we hosted MSWCA in Innovate–the first conference to be held there–and we got to show off our fancy new center.

DSC_0633This year the conference was hosted by the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. We traveled to Oxford, where more than 70 folks gathered from all parts of MS–from high schools and community colleges, from private and public four-year institutions, directors and tutors, graduate and peer tutors. And this year, we presented research from our own center, three of us: director, coordinator, and graduate assistant. We were joined by two other graduate assistants who share their experiences below. The response we received from our colleagues has helped us deepen our understanding of our research, which we will write up to submit for publication.

Below you can learn more about our research, about the keynote speaker–Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, whom we hope to bring to JSU–and about the fun we had being "on the road."

“A Deeper Understanding”

Daoying Liu–Graduate Assistant and Tutor

The conference was an academically rewarding and memorable experience for me. I presented our research with Dr. Griffin and Dr. Glushko on “Searching for Evidence of Our Effectiveness.” The presentation was focused on how we might evaluate the effectiveness of the Richard Wright Center. Audiences from different writing centers of Mississippi raised questions on how to conduct a discourse analysis and how to interpret the data in the writing center. The audience members also shared their experiences. Interaction with peer professionals helped me with a deeper understanding our current research project and directions for future research. DSC_0665

In addition, I also attended a couple of panel presentations and workshops. Presentations offered me an opportunity to know what other professionals are doing, and inspire reflections on what I am doing now. My interest was captured by one workshop “Preparing Tutors to Work with Multimodal Assignments.” Multimodal assignments can help student writers improve their visual and digital literacy, especially their genre awareness in writing. We shared our experiences on how to assign a multimodal assignment and what we expected from student writers to fulfill this genre-based task. We also discussed how to provide trainings on preparing tutors in response to new digital assignments other than traditional print essays. This was really a wonderful academic trip.

“My First Conference”

Christopher H. Crump–Graduate Assistant and Tutor

I always imagined that attending my first conference would be a big deal. There would be people of a certain intellectual caliber sitting in stuffy rooms, the air thick with the smell of fine, hand-rolled cigars and well-aged Scotch; ideas wielded in the King's English, as if they were the fire of Prometheus itself; me, huddled in a corner, lamenting my own lack of genius, aspiring to the greater heights of academia. Also, for some reason or another, there were tuxedos, monocles, and evening gowns.

Then, I actually went to a conference . . .

and it was nothing as I had imagined it, of course. The atmosphere at the conference was very relaxed. The keynote speaker, Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, led several discussions on the use of code-meshing, and its place in writing centers and society as a whole. I was even lucky enough to be able to pick his brain during a small impromptu group discussion shortly after. People mingled and shared their stories as tutors. They gave presentations on the future of writing centers, both in practice and technologically. They agonized over the ridiculous nature of page requirements. They were nervous, confident, tyro, and experienced. They were people. They were me.DSC_0654

“The Questions of the Century”

Christopher Peace–Adjunct Instructor, Graduate Student, and Former Tutor

Last month I was given the opportunity to attend the MSWCA Conference with members from the Richard Wright Center. Held at the University of Mississippi, this two-day long event was filled with educational epiphanies, good food, great communication, and exciting activities. Dr. Vershawn Young was the keynote speaker of the conference, and he was one of the most fascinating parts of the entire conference. Dr. Young’s talks on African American English (AAVE) and code-meshing in the classroom and writing center sparked several discussions throughout the event. He proposed that people’s variant “Englishes” should be accepted in the learning space as a cultural resource instead of an educational hindrance. Getting an education should not erase one’s cultural, linguistic upbringing in favor for an elitist mode of academia. Dr. Young stated that the acceptance of AAVE in academia will be the big question of this century.

We attended several sessions throughout the day on Thursday that varied in topics. I sat in on sessions about online tutoring and thesis statement development. One main motif of these sessions was making the writing comfortable in any medium. If the writer understands the agency they have with their writing, then the writing process would go more smoothly. Our writing center group also visited William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, after trekking through a nature trial close by. We prayed that Faulkner’s creative energy would inspire us to write and create. We also visited a blacksmith at The Treehouse Gallery on the edge of town. All in all, the trip really helped me relax and aided my pedagogical approach to teaching writing in the academic space.DSC_0784

“A Walk in the Woods”

Tatiana Glushko–RWC Coordinator

What I liked most about the conference was the atmosphere—friendly and comfortable, almost homelike. It was a small conference where you could meet your colleagues–all of whom are extremely enthusiastic about the writing center work–to share your experience, and to hear from others about their innovations in the writing center. I enjoyed hearing the keynote speaker, Dr. Vershawn Ashante Young from University of Waterloo, Ontario, who introduced the participants to his theory of code-meshing and discussed how this theory could be used to help overcome the privileging of one language variety (e.g., Standard American English) over another (e.g., African American English) in teaching and in the writing center work.

DSC_0730After the conference, we visited William Faulkner’s house Rowan Oak and walked in the woods surrounding it. We also stopped by the Treehouse Gallery located outside Oxford to see the works of local artists. The trip back to Jackson was far from boring: Beautiful music selection (courtesy of Chris Crump) that included jazz compositions and Bach’s Chaconne played by Nathan Milstein made the 2.5-hour ride worthwhile.







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RWC by the Numbers

February 2nd, 2015 by wrightcenter

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Academic Argument as Process

January 7th, 2015 by wrightcenter

This blog was originally posted on October 6, 2014 by Transitioning to College Writing at the University of Mississippi.

Kathi R. Griffin, Instructor of English and Director of the Richard Wright Center for Writing, Rhetoric, and Research – Jackson State University

During our first discussion of a reading in Comp I this fall, a student asserted, “I’m entitled to my opinion!” and his classmates whipped their heads in my direction: “Yes, you are,” I said, and they relaxed, “but,” I added, “in the academic world, more is required.”

While the simple word more hides a complexity of skills, the word academic hides a complexity of definitions. For many students, the word academic itself may present a problem.

In the third week of class, a student asked, “When do we get a break?” I replied, “In November.” Another student asked, “You mean we have to read and write for every class?” “Yep.” After a short pause, I asked, “Why don’t you think you should read and write for every class? We only meet twice a week.”

The most engaged response this semester bursts forth from across the room: “I hate to read,” “I hate to write,” “I hate to read and write.” And I am thinking, “for school,” because many students are sneaking to read and write on their phones! When I asked, “Why are you in college then?” I got a few furrowed brows, but I also got an equally energetic response, “To get a good job.” It’s not necessarily that they hate to read and write; it seems more likely that they hate to read and write for school. They have trouble seeing the purpose for what they are being asked to read and write.

At this early stage in their academic careers, academic seems to mean “not practical; not directly useful; conforming to rules and standards” – rather than entering a “learned or scholarly” community. They know about the parts of an essay and the steps to produce one, but they remain focused on the text as product rather than as a means for engaging in a larger conversation. In addition, their reading for school has primarily been for information, so being asked to read for a different purpose also confuses them. Before they can write an “academic argument,” however, they must learn to read critically, to critique, to analyze. As I try to persuade them, to engage them, to inform them, to challenge them in a variety of ways, I cannot always be sure the struggle is worth it.

But it is. This past week I was asked to address a group of first-semester graduate students on “writing in graduate school,” and a former student asked, “How do I only write 5 pages when I have 10 already written?” How different that is from where he began just a few semesters ago. Laughing he said, “Yeah, I used to struggle to fill the page limit, and now I have too much to say.” All I could do was smile and remind him about focusing on the purpose for his argument – and, of course, invite him to make an appointment in the writing center.

If interested in sharing strategies for engaging students as they learn to read and write academic arguments and discuss related issues, such as how we might use technology to help us in the process of engaging students, please let us know.

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