Two of my favorite plenaries in the Summer Institute are Trading Spaces and Learning With and From Our Tutors. And they’re not my favorites because they are fun – they are! But rather they combine the best of fun and opportunities for some real learning.
Trading Spaces is fun not only during but before the session. Participants and leaders alike work in the meeting room putting their posters together, some with scissors and tape and others by firing up their Powerpoints. Then the session begins, and the Ooohs and Aaahs mingle with the Awws. Some spaces are enviable, painfully so. Some people have parklike grounds just outside their windows, giant oaks; even the acorns are venerable. One participant in 2003 had a river running just alongside the writing center. Imagine! Some will show us plans of remodeled spaces. Others show us spaces they are struggling to adapt to their work. Some members of this year’s group have no writing center at all.
And that’s the fun of this kind of sharing – we allow ourselves to imagine how our space might approximate the elements others show us and explain so generously. We make wish lists, real and outlandish. And we envision ways we might improve even our own good spaces. Why does the space, the details, the ethos of a place work for us? We ask those questions around the session.
Learning With and From Our Tutors falls just before lunch on Thursday. By then we enjoy the pleasure of the company of tutors and writers. This year an undergraduate writing fellow from UW-Madison and an undergraduate writing center tutor from Marquette will join a literature graduate summer director from Marquette and a graduate tutor from UW-Madison. In addition, there will be two writing center users, a graduate and an undergraduate writer. These experts sit amidst us, and we chat with them, asking them questions, engaging them in conversations, learning from them. Participants rank this as one of their favorite sessions, and it’s one of mine, too.
We’ll have hard labor at the Summer Institute all right, but we’ll have fun, too. Just you wait.