Five Conferences

* This analysis of five conferences was written by Jenna Cuddeback, a former Writing Center Consultant, in fulfillment of an assignment for Topics in Composition, the Writing Center staff development course.  Within this paper, Jenna provides an outline of five different Writing Center conferences that she participated in as a consultant. 

Conference # 1: Jennifer Mortensen, the Magnet paper (titles Magnets and Medicine, or I Thought We Weren't Supposed to Touch Magnets to Disks) 10/3/00, hallway

  • Started session by talking with Jenny about the assignment, the class, and my back problems (which were all interrelated into the paper, believe it or not)
  • She read through the paper silently stopping to offer caustic comments and humorous insights, or to note small, minor problems along the way; good flow of conversation
  • Technique of going over in macro detail the main points of my paper and tracing how my argument was formed.
  • Mostly a discussion of what the teacher expected; also, dealt a lot with tidying up because it was a completed draft of a paper. Dealt a lot with structure and also with the overall ideas of the paper and how they fit into what I was trying to say.
  • Very discussion oriented, dealt both with paper ad with the realism of pseudoscientific ideas like using magnets for therapy.
  • Attitude changed in that I saw a few places to realign the paper for maximum reader comprehension.
  • Learned how much interacting with someone you know influences the conference because we wandered away from the paper a couple of times before I had to call us back (I had a set time limit because of a doctor's appointment)
  • Learned that I need to stay on task a little better when I'm working on a deadline--even one that has nothing to do with the paper.

Conference # 2: Andrew Small, the Dracula paper (Draft: Help Me) 10/13/00, hallway

  • Started session with Andrew asking what the assignment was and for any background information I could supply; also a bit about the book because he had never read it.
  • He read paper silently.
  • Technique of leading what I wanted to change, discussing my feelings about a few issues, what I was thinking of wanting help on: also braising the stronger argument.
  • Mostly a discussion of how two discordant elements tie together.
  • Talk about plot theme, very draft focused, talked about the book.
  • Brought in elements from other works.
  • No fine-tuning, but a little bit of brainstorming for the second half of the paper because it was so different in them from the first half.
  • Attitude changed in that I realized I was arguing two different things under the pretext of one topic and I had to choose which path I wanted to take.
  • Learned that it can be uncomfortable to sit and watch someone read your paper; will make more of an effort in my own conferencing to read aloud, ask student to read, or go in smaller increments. This was a long paper, so I was left drifting for quite a time.

Conference # 3: Jamie Toalston, the Dracula paper (Draft: Help Me) 10/6/00, CWC

  • Started session by asking Jamie if she could read over a paper 'really quick" and tell me why it "really seemed to still suck even though the pieces were good."
  • She read paper quickly while I accessed a computer copy and tried to work on better transitions.
  • Technique of playing devil's advocate; asking me about a few wordy phrases that seemed to add to the confusion of the paper; also helped me identify what I thought was wrong with the paper, that nagging feeling I'd had and couldn't quite express. Also, pointed out where the argument really began to fall apart.
  • Mostly a discussion of how to improve the little pieces-the paragraphs-so that the whole thing could flow better and I should identify rough places more easily.
  • Mostly draft focused, talking about the specific examples in the paper but not just referring to the paper.
  • Brought in elements from common sense ideas about how to fix things-not all at once, one things at a time, et cetera.
  • Took ideas from other conference and kind of talked about them with Jamie, a little brainstorming on how to perfect an introduction and a conclusion.
  • Attitude changed when I solidified what I really believed about the paper and the novel.
  • Learned it can be fun to have a conference that wasn't supposed to be a conference; that ideas come out of two people trying to read something that has no coherent effect. Found it was nice to have something to do when I was waiting for Jamie to "catch up."

Conference # 4: Robin Swale, the Dracula paper (Draft: Help Me) 10/17/00, CWC

  • Started session by announcing that I had only a limited amount of time and wanted just any specific details she could notice about the structure of the pper. She read over the paper while I sat on the couch, and as she read, we talked about the paragraphs; she asked me questions as we went.
  • Technique of making me explain the paper rather than just reading over it; making me kind of go through it step-by-step instead of making me sit there and twiddle my thumbs; got me involved in the paper
  • Mostly a discussion of what I think an Irish Novel is and what has to be present to constitute one.
  • Mostly draft focused, step by step, but more of a development of ideas extemporaneous to the physical draft because we had to build on ideas I had not even scarcely mentioned.
  • Brought in elements from other class materials while talking about what makes an Irish novel.
  • Attitude changed when I verbalized what I believed had to be present for an Irish novel to be counted as such and thus could apply that idea to the paper.
  • Learned that it can be helpful to basically ignore what is in the draft and focus on what is left unsaid, for whatever reason.

Conference # 5: Mary Bruinius, Breakfast on Pluto (brainstorming) 10/20/00, CWC

    [This conference was a little unusual in that it evolved from a conversation, and because it focused on a book we both had to read for our Irish Literature class.]


  • Started session by asking if I was going to be working on out paper over the book Breakfast on Pluto. We joked around about the book, and started talking about what kind of overlying themes there are in the book.
  • We began discussing what the elements of the book meant as a whole and what the lead character, as a transvestite, was supposed to represent about Irish culture.
  • Evolved into a desperate joke as we began talking about writing thesis statements on scraps of paper and asking Dr. Drexler to just choose one from the pile.
  • Technique of open conversation; as we were both reading the book for the same class and will eventually have to write the same paper, it was helpful.
  • Mostly just a discussion mixed with textual references.
  • Talk about overlying themes, very much reliant on the book.
  • Nothing really decided, but a lot of good ideas left open.
  • Attitude changed in that I began to perceive the numerous different ways in which I would direct the paper; I was not tied to any one specific event.
  • Learned that talking about a book with something who has read it and preferably, has read it looking for similar things to what you are looking for, is a lot easier than trying to explain it to someone who has never read it (and doesn't care).

Bonus Conference # 6: Mel Aune, Extrasolar Planets (discussion, order, flow, macro-revising), 10/18/00

  • Started session with me asking Mel to flip through my paper and tell me where the first, third, and seventh paragraphs would better fit.
  • We just basically reorganized the paragraph order.
  • Technique of tracing flow of ideas though paper and trying to stay on-task with the ideas.
  • Mostly just stuck to the macro-functions, paragraph order and some sentence structure; blunt tooling.
  • Very draft focused.
  • Elements of my style blended with a back one, as Mel knows my papers tend to ramble.
  • Attitude changed as I began to follow a logical hidden order--not an obvious one, but one that relied not on a ladder but on a double helix kind of structure.
  • Learned it can be very helpful to follow words or names and study how things have naturally clumped themselves so that I can clump them more efficiently and effectively.

"If we are indeed the sole heirs to the galaxy, we must also be its future guardians." - Arthur C. Clarke, Sept. 1992.

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