The calm and inviting atmosphere is purposeful in hopes of making students feel comfortable while they’re here. After all, writing can be unnerving and even intimidating for many people.
“We’re not here to correct papers,” says Writer Center Director Dr. Alan Newton. “We are here to help students develop self-awareness as a writer and become better writers.”
To help students become better writers, high schools are increasingly establishing writing centers similar to those in universities. The Episcopal Writing Center is managed by a group of students, like junior Olivia Grice, who undergo a competitive application process to earn the Writing Center Fellow distinction. First year fellows must take an Honors Composition class and everyone receives yearly training on how to positively coach others.
She wants her classmates to know that writing fellows are available to help without judgement. “Don’t be scared. We signed up to do this. We are here to help,” she says.
Research on the effectiveness of peer tutoring, which is essentially what the Writing Center is, backs up Grice’s sentiment. In an October 1996 Higher Education article entitled “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature”, author K. J. Topping points to several studies that show that peer tutoring benefits both the tutee and the tutor. Topping found evidence that tutors and tutees actually obtain significant benefits such as an improvement in their skills as well as in their overall attitude and self-confidence.
Honors Thesis Director Katie Sutcliffe, who teaches several Writing Center Fellows, has enjoyed watching her students grow through a shared passion for writing. “What’s really fun is to see how the Writing Center mission and efforts extend beyond the actual Writing Center space. Students seem really eager to help each other on writing tasks at any time and in any place; I notice it in class, and I even notice with students making comments on each other’s work out of class when it isn’t required. The Writing Center has formed an identity within our school and the fellows really own their role.”
Social Studies Department Chair Dr. Rebecca Kuhn agrees. “I've seen students who have no idea what to write about or maybe even how to start writing come out of a Writing Center appointment encouraged with direction and motivation to write. Peer help in the editing and revision process through asking questions makes students think more deeply about their topic and the writing process. Students who have visited the Writing Center with good papers end up with great papers.”
Writing Center Fellows strive to meet classmates wherever they are in their individual writing journeys. They assist with a range of assignments from literary analysis to satire writing (a favorite of Grice’s). Grice says she has already been impressed with the student projects she has reviewed. She remembers a murder mystery written by a seventh grader for a creative writing assignment. The piece was interesting and compelling, especially considering that the young student created the entire story on his own. She also appreciates the opportunity to encourage fellow students who need guidance to stay on task and follow the assignment requirements.
Are all Writing Center fellows future writers? Not necessarily. In the case of the well-rounded Grice, she actually hopes to be an attorney. She says her favorite subjects are English and history and once she even wanted to be a marine biologist. Dr. Newton says students like Grice make the writing center strong. There are currently 33 writing fellows – all committed and engaged in school life. Fellows maintain regular office hours. Students in need of help can schedule an appointment or simply walk in for assistance. Already this year, students have conducted 144 tutoring sessions and are anticipating many more this spring.
The Writing Center is a tremendous resource for students in a college preparatory environment, such as Episcopal. As Grice explains there is a comfort created from students helping each other. Dr. Newton says because of the positive experience provided, many students who are tutored at the Writing Center later become fellows themselves. In the end, everyone wins - young writers receive the support they need and tutors bolster their writing confidence by helping others.
Writing Center Fellows offer writing workshops throughout the year – some of them even include waffles! The next one is scheduled for February 20th from 9:50 am to 10:25 am, and the topic is “Writing Document-Based Essays for History Classes.”
Need help getting that concept just right? Stop in and visit with a fellow for a cup of coffee and an understanding ear.
Writing Center Hours: 8:50 am to 2:25 pm, Monday - Friday
Click here to schedule an appointment with a Writing Center Fellow.