Always in Beta: Incorporating Choice and Encouraging a Sense of Ownership by Revamping Tutor Training in a Secondary School Writing Center

Kate Hutton is the President of the Secondary School Writing Centers Association (formerly CAPTA) and co-director of the Herndon Writing Center at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, VA. Kate has presented on two IWCA-sponsored panels of Secondary School Writing Centers: “Writing Centers as Sites of Advocacy” (2016) and “Writing Center Revolutions in the Contact Zone” (2017). She is looking forward to presenting on her third IWCA-sponsored panel and leading the Writing Center SIG at NCTE 2018.

 

My mantra as co-director of the Herndon Writing Center (HWC) has long been “we’re always in beta.” Each year presents a unique challenge either within our center or our larger school community that we seek to address through the work of our center. Some years, we’ve sought to make our space more inviting for our school’s growing population of English Language Learners, while other years, we’ve worked to develop a community of writers and a culture of writing in our school.

This year’s challenge? How do we offer quality, ongoing tutor training and foster a sense of ownership in our center when we have an abundance of enthusiastic, dedicated tutors and a scarcity of time to formally come together to discuss tutoring best practices and make plans?

The Herndon Writing Center is a student-run, teacher-directed space where all students at our very large, very diverse suburban high school in Fairfax County, Virginia can work with a peer tutor on their writing. While there are many models of implementation for SSWCs, which include opening all day thanks to tutors who give up a study hall period or opening only before or after school, the HWC operates through a course called Advanced Composition, an advanced writing elective that was originally revised and repurposed by Amber Jensen of Edison High School to house writing centers in Fairfax County Public Schools. Students may apply to become tutors and enroll in Advanced Composition beginning in their Sophomore year, and once accepted, they may enroll in the course every year until they graduate.

HWC Tutors at CAPTA 2017

Continue reading “Always in Beta: Incorporating Choice and Encouraging a Sense of Ownership by Revamping Tutor Training in a Secondary School Writing Center”

A Year and a Half Later: A Humble Reflection || St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration Certificate Program

This post is a followup from Carol’s piece, Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program, from February 2017, with reflections on the program from students. Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director.

 

Carol Mohrbacher

In spring 2017, St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration certificate program offered its first two courses, “Writing Center Theory and Practice” and “Issues in Writing Center Administration.” Students became bonded early on. Friendships and collaborations for research projects and conference presentations grew during that semester and continued into summer term with the final two classes, “Staffing and Training” and “Case Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Because the program is delivered entirely online, I was surprised at the strength of the community, which was much more than I’d hoped for during the 2 ½ years it took me to slog through the morass of bureaucratic speed bumps on the way to program approval. As I said in the earlier article/interview, I’d had to secure approvals from 14 different individuals and committees along the way. This was an intense, real-world lesson in discovering audience expectations, a topic we discuss throughout the WCA program in all of the courses.

The most significant challenge in designing the WCA program has been providing sources, instruction, and assignments that allow students to personalize a learning experience most beneficial to each one of them. Last year’s students represented a range of experience from zero to nine years in WC administration. Some were new MA students; some were PhD students; some were professionals in the field. They represented public and private institutions at the high school, 2-year, and 4-year college levels. One student had developed an independent writing center and had tax-exempt status and a board of directors in place. One, a high school teacher, had never worked in a writing center before and knew just a little about them, but hoped to help build one at her school. This year, there are more graduate students and fewer professionals; however, we have, for the first time, an administrator from a private high school boys’ preparatory school and also an assistant director from a writing center in China. Caswell, McKinney, and Jackson note the development and variety of non-standard writing centers in their book, The Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors, a longitudinal study of nine new writing center directors.

That our participants include writing center directors in a charter school and in a European boarding school is emblematic of the times. Writing centers have been sprouting up in secondary schools and in non-US settings at a growing rate. As this happens, we think we’ll see that more alternatives to the US university model will emerge as different though effective, ways to do writing center work. (199)       

To reflect this diversity in the WCA certificate program, course materials cover a variety of common contexts and issues pertaining to writing center administration, like navigating institutional relationships, researching the writing center, creating assessment activities and reports, grant writing, hiring, training, and other shorter units. Assignments are flexible enough so students can create individualized documents that might be included in an application portfolio or provide a model for their home institution or for the type of writing center setting they are most interested in.

Now that I am in my 2nd year, I view at the program with a perspective emerging out of a year and a half’s experience. I’ve learned that cohorts differ from year to year. The first year’s class was energetic and immediately collaborative; this year’s cohort is quieter and less bonded than the first—but they are similar in their creative energy and commitment to writing center administration studies. Continue reading “A Year and a Half Later: A Humble Reflection || St. Cloud State University’s Writing Center Administration Certificate Program”

An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth

Editor’s note: This past semester, I had the good fortune to work in Budapest, Hungary for a semester, at my institution’s European campus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and greatly appreciated networking with colleagues in the city. At the end of my trip, I invited the director of Central European University’s writing center, Agnes Toth, to sit down and tell me more about her graduate Center for Academic Writing.

As you may know, this past year, CEU has made international headlines, due to an unprecedented level of government scrutiny. Their accreditation structure—and, in particular, their funding ties to billionaire philanthropist, George Soros—resulted in a series of legislative moves that threw their future in Hungary into question. While discussions and negotiations are ongoing, I wanted to find out more about the work of their writing center, from Agnes—and how the university’s uncertain future was impacting the day-to-day work of her team.

WLN blog: Hi Agnes! Thanks for meeting with me today. I’d love to learn more about you and your center. Can you tell me a bit about CEU, and what did you do before working at CEU?

CEU is a graduate-level university accredited both in the US and Hungary, which offers English-language, 1/2-year Masters and doctoral programs in the social sciences, law, management and public policy. CEU currently has about 1400 students from over 110 countries, which makes it the second most international university in the world, according to The Times of Higher Education.

CEU’s Center for Academic Writing (CAW) was established at the beginning of the 1990s. Its primary mission is to ensure high standards of written academic English throughout the university by helping students become proficient, independent writers who can function effectively in CEU’s and the wider academic and policy community even after graduation and by supporting and working with faculty to assist their students. To date, CAW is the only European writing program to have ever received the “Writing Program Certificate of Excellence” award by the CCCC.

I have my masters in English language and literature. I also have postgraduate degrees in Translation Studies and Business Coaching.

WLN blog: I’d love to learn more about your center. CEU is a graduate school, that serves only graduate students. Can you tell me about your classes and your writing center?

Our center is a combination of a writing center and a writing program. We teach mandatory academic writing courses and offer consultations to students in all departments. We also collaborate closely with department heads and professors to tailor our course content towards students’ writing needs.

Our staff is entirely made up of professional writing instructors; all are considered part of faculty,  We teach native and nonnative speakers together. Most of our courses are in the fall and winter terms. We teach twelve sessions in academic writing in the fall, focusing on cultural differences in thinking and writing, the research paper and another, discipline-specific genre we choose in collaboration with professors.

Increasingly our writing instructors work with departments to develop guides/expectations. There are big differences between policy and research writing, for example. All students are asked to write something in multiple genres. Developed with different professors.

In winter, when students start working on their thesis, we offer classes on how to write thesis proposals, departmental thesis requirements, and then the thesis itself.

Our center is basically mandatory for all students. We don’t need to advertise our consultation services hardly at all! Students are required to come once or twice early in the semester. From that point on it’s optional. What may make us different from other writing centers is that we ask students to send their papers in ahead of time. We do utilize WCOnline, but only do online appointments for students that are doing thesis research abroad

Now we are very busy consulting with students in the spring term. Some students work through the whole thesis in one concentrated push, others just bring in sections.

For us, marketing/selling ourselves is more about proposing things to management! Such as last year’s initiatives for PhD students. We work with them mostly in consultations, currently, often over years, but want to do more. My team wants to provide special writing training for the PhD students, so we worked with the programs to tailor things to their needs.

Continue reading “An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol:
About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol:
The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”