by Harmony Button
“Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing. Any given project … is for the writer the prime, often exclusive concern. That particular text, its success or failure, is often what brings them to talk to us in the first place. In the [writing] center, though, we look beyond or through that particular project, that particular text, and see it as an occasion to address our primary concern, the process by which it is produced.”
— Steven M. North
What is a Writing Center? At its best, a school’s Writing Center can be the beating heart of the liberal arts philosophy: this is a place where students see connections between disciplines and a place where they can cultivate the critical thinking skills that apply to all of their endeavors. The Writing Center is a mirror to the mind: students bring in their written work and experienced consultants provide feedback on how accurately the students’ words reflect their thinking… and then, students are better prepared to see how their thinking reflects their personal voice, their identity, and their burgeoning sense of self. In the Writing Center, the goal goes beyond getting the student to complete a better paper — the goal is to empower the student to be a clearer thinker, and therefore, a stronger writer.
While the result of Writing Center consultations is often a measurable improvement in student performance on a specific assignment, the philosophy of the Waterford Writing Center is to always turn the difficult work back over to the student, and to guide each writer into the heart of the most challenging (and therefore, interesting) aspects of their assignments. If you listen in on a Writing Center consultation, you will notice that our faculty consultants rarely tell students what to do — instead, they ask the student to frame their own goals, and then they coach each student on how to achieve these goals. More often than not, students leave the Writing Center with more questions than they came in with… but with a greater sense of the depth and potential of their particular project.
The Writing Center is a resource center designed to serve all MS and US students. It is organized by Casey O’Malley and staffed by our fabulous part-time writing consultant, Bethany Bibb. Students can sign up for consultations through their Canvas calendars, and consultations are available during most lunch periods, as well as after school. The Writing Center is physically located in the conference room across from Amy Dolbin’s desk, and we have an online presence through the Waterford homepage.
The Waterford Writing Center is in its second year, and has been expanding to meet a growing demand for writing support across all disciplines. Both Casey and Bethany have been working to increase student participation in the Writing Center — and we have seen student usage of this service nearly double within the first few months of school. Casey has developed an online sign-up through Canvas for all MS/US students, she has implemented a system to send feedback from the WC directly to each student’s teacher, and she is also overseeing the training of our first Peer Tutor in the Writing Center, a program that we hope to see expand in the future. The Writing Center is also home to a brand new Middle School Newspaper club, an entirely student-driven initiative that publishes the Raven Eye paper once a term. The Writing Center also hosts and promotes other extracurricular writing opportunities such as creative writing and essay contests, and in the coming months, Casey has also promised to bring about World Peace and find the cure for the common cold.
How you can help: please encourage your students to make use of the Writing Center for any project where they are synthesizing and presenting information or ideas in a written format. These can be presentations, posters, papers, lab reports, or interview projects. Expect to hear from Casey or Bethany if they have any questions on the expectation of the assignment, but students should be in the habit of bringing assignment sheets and clarifying their goals at the beginning of their consultations. Stop by to see what’s going on in the Writing Center, or if you’re curious about learning about ways to give your students feedback on their writing, especially if it is in a discipline outside of the Humanities.
Good thinkers get feedback on their thinking. One way people can express their thought processes is through writing. The Writing Center is not simply a resource to remediate poor writing, but an institution that promotes a culture of feedback: all good writers crave feedback, and their growth happens through discussion, not through getting all the right answers. A healthy Writing Center can be a sign of a healthy school, where students see their intellectualism as transcending disciplines, and where all faculty members value independent, analytic thought.