My Journey Toward a Writing Center – Part Three

WC blog post 3

After four months of observation, preparation, and prayer, the day arrived to open our school’s writing center. And despite our modest beginnings, we had six different visitors on our first day alone!

We opened at the beginning of January, and in the four months we’ve been open we have had over 150 different appointments. For a school with only 325 secondary students, that is astounding!

Here are some pics of our coaches in action.

 

So much of our success is due to our amazing faculty members. Several teachers have offered extra credit for visiting the writing center, which is a wonderful promotion, as long as we know ahead of time! We learned quickly that when students are given this incentive oftentimes we have more visitors than writing coaches. But if I know to expect many students ahead of schedule, I am able to schedule extra coaches on for that day, and everyone is taken care of. So far this semester we have had 3 different “all-staff” days, where almost every coach was utilized due to our flood of traffic.

Some ways I’ve kept the writing center a well-oiled machine are through organized binders containing writing resources.

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I have a file box containing writing handouts given out in our school’s ELA classrooms, including quote integration, italicization vs. quotation marks, MLA formatting, and more. When a writing coach is stumped or I see them struggling to remember a concept, I can easily grab a handout from this box and bring it over to them. Receptionists often do this on their shifts as well.

 

All of our writing center resources are contained in these two locations: a shelf at the entrance of my room and a wooden organizer on a table near the entrance. The shelf holds the writing resource box (see above), binders containing assignment details and rubrics, sample essays, dictionaries, thesauruses, and other resources. Oftentimes the receptionist on shift will distribute these resources once visitors are checked in, and they know to re-file them when students leave.

The other container holds highlighters, post-it notes, a list of all writing coaches and skills (for receptionist use), scratch paper, and most importantly, the tutoring session form.

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This document is the most important in Writing Center success, in my opinion. It tells me what brought a student into the writing center, and gives feedback on each individual experience. The coach notes at the bottom are also very valuable. For example, one visitor gave positive feedback, but the writing coach noted that the student sat back and seemed to expect the writing coach to make all of the changes for her, which directly contradicts our policy. She even became angry when asked to do the work herself. This feedback was very useful to share with the assigning teacher, who was able to speak to the student directly about taking more initiative over her own assignment, rather than asking others to do the work for her.

Overall, the experience was grueling but incredibly rewarding. Our attendance is strong and so much of the work is done to implement an even stronger writing center program next year.

One benefit of going through this process is the ability to share what I’ve learned. I am so grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read this, especially if you read all three posts! To any teachers or administrators interested in forming their own writing center I have bundled all of my resources for training and running our writing center into a Writing Center Starter Kit, available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Click here to read Part One or Part Two of this post series. Special shout-out to Nicole Case for some of the photography in this post 🙂

Word of the Week – A Year-Long Vocabulary Strategy

Word of the Week

I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of the cardinal sin of English teachers.

I have given out a list of vocabulary words, told students to define the words, and given out a quiz the following week. Most English teachers have. It’s not because we’re trying to be lazy, I’m sure. It’s just that between bell-ringers, learning targets, taking attendance, engaging mini-lessons, ongoing lessons that focus on content that align with the common core, and homework that engages critical thinking, sometimes it can be hard to find time to teach vocabulary.

I do include vocabulary in several of my literature units, but those words are not based on age but on the content it’s being pulled from. Over the years I had been looking into ways to incorporate more vocabulary, preferably based on suggested words from the SAT list, but it always seemed to get put on the backburner.

An idea struck me one year when teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I was trying to explain how Brutus was a stoic, and I wrote the word and definition on the board behind me. It stayed up there all week and we referred to it a few times.

The next week, we discussed the very topical (for the time) discussion of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric. I told him that he was the definition of “bombastic,” and that word made it up on the whiteboard. As we discussed it later in the week, students attempted to use the word “bombastic” in a sentence to earn a star (a silly sticker reward in my class). And from there, Word of the Week became a regular fixture in my classroom.

It’s not a complicated procedure. Every week I choose a word from an SAT list, such as this one. I write the word on a small whiteboard in the front of my classroom. Monday mornings start with a quick review of the definition and some example sentences. Starting Tuesday, students can attempt to use the word in a sentence in class, and if they do so correctly, I give them a star.

I do not give any quizzes or require any homework with the words of the week. However, I do collect the words and definitions on a Quizlet list and include the Word of the Week words on our final exam.

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It may not be preparing my students to ace the ACT, but each week my students learn an age-appropriate word, learn how to apply it in a sentence, and hopefully, most of them make it into their long-term memory. It’s certainly better than my previous method of vocabulary…which was basically nothing.

Please follow me for more updates on quick and simple teaching strategies, or visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store for freebies and other resources for ELA teachers.