If you check the International Writing Center Association (IWCA) website, you’ll find a section on K-12 writing centers that includes a map noting writing centers in the United States. The northeast has the largest cluster of centers, though there aren’t many states that don’t have at least a couple of schools with writing centers. This is all good news—and the result of very hard work on the part of the IWCA as an organization, as well as individual teachers across the country. In my years of teaching at the Bread Loaf Graduate School of English, I have helped many teachers found writing centers in their middle- or high-schools (and even one in an elementary school!).
Last summer I met another such teacher, and one fairly close to me here in California. She teaches at a public school in Santa Rosa, and we’ve kept in touch this year as she thought about the possibilities of a center at her school. Then just a week ago, this teacher and a colleague drove down to Stanford with six fabulous sophomores to visit Stanford’s Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. After welcomes, our director, Sarah Pittock, led us all in taking a “writing inventory,” answering questions such as:
- Do you require particular conditions to start writing or continue writing?
- How much planning do you do?
- Do you write in multiple drafts or revise as you go along?
- Do you seek input from readers as you write?
- What are the biggest obstacles you face when you write?
- What do you like about writing?
We all wrote for twenty minutes or so and then shared our findings. As always, I was fascinated by what these students had to say. Some needed utter silence in order to focus on writing; others needed “white noise” or music. Some revised painstakingly as they went along; others blasted out a draft and then began revising. All did some planning, from scratch outlines or notes to more complete blueprints. And all sought response from other readers, though when they did so differed: some liked to have a “pretty good draft” before sharing it with anyone else, while others called in outside readers from the get-go. All had experienced procrastination “issues,” and a couple of them had experienced serious blocks—but they had strategies (everything from running or other physical exercise, to cooking, to talking to parents or friends, to reading what they had been able to draft out loud.) And they all liked to write—I was surprised to find that several of them much preferred to write on paper rather than computer screen. Said one: “I find it engages me more so I do my best work on paper.” And: “When I write for fun, I almost always write on paper because of the easy access. I can always find paper and a writing utensil around me!”
What bothered them were constraints put on them by what they regarded as often rigid prompts or “rules” they must adhere to (they all talked over one another when describing a teacher that insisted they have SIX quotations in every paragraph!). Nevertheless, as they continued reflecting, they could see value in some strictness, saying it gave them confidence that they could produce text under such conditions. Nothing particularly new here, but I was struck by the maturity of these sophomores, by their thoughtfulness, and by their willingness to work hard and their understanding that writing well is hard.
We talked some about the pleasures and challenges of peer tutoring (they loved the idea of not having to be a judge and of having a chance to help others) and explored the logistics of their school—issues of space and time and a little funding—but most of them seemed hopeful that they could pull off a center. I concurred and hope that I can visit their school next year and find it up and running.
If you have stories about a high-school writing center, I would very much like to hear them. In the meantime, here is a photo of our visitors in one of the workshop rooms at the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking.
Credit: Photo by Andrea Lunsford