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Building Better Writers: A Student-Run Writing Center Takes Shape

This is a guest post written by Chantal Winstead NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst from Virginia.

ChantalIn March 2013, after recognizing writing weaknesses in Virginia’s 11th-grade English Standards of Learning (SOL) test, the 11th-grade English team began brainstorming ideas to help support writing across the curriculum. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the NAEP, acknowledges that “writing is one of the most difficult academic areas for students to master” and notes in their 2011 report that only 27 percent of eighth and twelfth graders are scoring at or above the proficient level in writing (NAEP, 2011).

We were a young school at the time (just two years new), and our small but growing population of Gap Group 1 students (Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners, and Economically Disadvantaged Students) highlighted a need for a student-centered writing resource to support all learners.

After observing the operations of the Edison Writing Center in December 2013 and reading Richard Kent’s A Guide to Creating Student-Staffed Writing Centers, our team spent the spring recruiting tutors for the coming school year through teacher recommendations. We mailed 28 invitations that May and welcomed 17 tutors-in-training to a one-day workshop later that summer. There tutors designed our mission statement and practiced effective tutoring skills. In early September 2014, we met again to create an “ice bucket challenge”  reveal video, assign leadership roles, and develop our center’s blog and Twitter accounts. Our first writing-center clients began trickling in that October.

WritingCenter

Since 2013, the writing center’s staff has grown to include more than 25 tutors. In addition to supporting the writing process in English classes, we have found past success in partnering with the counseling department for essay-writing workshops and in extending our services to ELL students at our feeder elementary school. While this year and last we have been solely a volunteer operation offering services before and after school and during study periods, beginning next year, Writing Center will be offered as an elective course in high schools throughout Loudoun County.

The introduction of this pilot demonstrates that effective schoolwide writing programs begin with the support of teachers and administrators who value and understand the benefit of writing across the curriculum.

Chantal Winstead is NCTE’s P12 Policy Analyst for Virginia. She teaches English 11 and Advanced Placement Language and Composition at John Champe High School in Loudoun County, Virginia.