Monday, May 9, 2011

Vision Accomplished

Our visit to a suburban writing center was a huge success. The director and co-director were well-prepared for our visit and even offered us complimentary box lunches. After a brief introduction of the principal and writing center staff, we viewed a brief powerpoint chronicalling the history of the center, recent events and day-to-day use. Teachers from different content areas stopped in periodically to talk about their use of the center in their curriculum, and we met a few tutors over lunch. At the end of the day, we experienced a research lesson taught by writing center staff to AP Psychology students.

Things I want to remember in particular have to do with marketing. As much as possible when staff is promoting use of the writing center, they use sports or theatre metaphors, alluding to the necessity of consistent practice and coaching in becoming skilled as a basketball player or a performer. They emphasize that becoming a skilled writer is no different. They also talk about building students' "tool kits." When a student's toolbox is full, they will have what they need in order to write well in a variety of situations.

The writing center uses Google docs calendars to schedule teachers and coaches. Students or teachers can view these calendars and then either sign-up for an individual visit or schedule a class visit to the writing center. The center has 24 student coaches and 12 adult volunteer coaches from the community. Depending on a class's needs, writing center staff will make sure they are supported adequately with other coaches as well.

"You need people to believe in this in order for it to work," was a memorable quote. I realize that my working in isolation, without the commitment or understanding of a majority of the staff was a hindrance this year. By introducing our English department to the potential of a center, I have gained considerable ground. We ended up being a group of seven and have already had a preliminary PLC meeting with the principal and administrative staff regarding a more active center here next year. A second meeting will be held this week.

Areas teachers are particularly interested in:
• How to provide whole-class support/use of writing center staff in the classroom
• How to involve the writing center in content areas other than English (integrated curriculum work)
• How to train and use parent/community volunteers
• How to train and use student tutors
• The best ways to offer before-school, lunch, and after-school options for tutoring

More to come...

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