In my last post, I discussed the positive implications of Academically Adrift’s provocative findings: intensive writing classes have an important impact on students’ abilities to think and write critically. No one in our field will be surprised to hear this news, but neither would anyone in the field think that intensive writing classes alone are responsible for helping students to develop these skills. That would ignore at least one other vital part of writing education: the writing center.
Writing centers work to support teaching and learning in so many, many ways. I have often said that the most professional fun (joy, really!) that I have had in 35 years of teaching college students has been founding and developing Stanford’s Hume Writing Center. I loved conceptualizing it as a space that would celebrate student writing and that would welcome students at every stage of writing and at every level, and seeing the Center grow over the last decade has been pure pleasure. Stanford’s Admit Weekend—when prospective students come to look around and decide whether they will matriculate next fall—is coming up, and the Open Mic at the Writing Center has now become a tradition. I know I will see our own undergraduates reading and performing—and that I’ll see a lot of high school seniors, prospective college students, leap up to perform their poetry, sing their songs, read their stories. And I know when I go to the Center later this afternoon to tutor that I will see undergraduates eager to improve their writing and glad to have a place where someone is not just willing but delighted to talk through issues of writing and to attend, with great care, to their concerns. And I’ll be glad to have all the resources of the Center close at hand: we keep several copies of books about writing along with handbooks, dictionaries, and examples of student writing from across campus, including all the journals that Stanford students produce.
Writing centers like ours also play a vital role in reaching out to struggling high school students. I spend many winter Saturdays meeting with Project WRITE, an outreach program for tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders who attend under-served schools in our area. Stanford undergrads visit the two schools during the fall, explaining that our program will bring them to the Writing Center for ten Saturday mornings for workshops on writing, speaking, and presenting. The workshops, which run from 9:30 to noon with lunch following, are coordinated by three Stanford undergrads, who work with Center staff and faculty to build the program every year. Students write personal narratives, poetry, and stories along with other genres, including college application essays, and every year they collect their best work into a book that we publish and then present at the schools. I look forward to Project WRITE every year and am proud of its success: during the last few years, every senior who has participated in Project WRITE has gone on to college. I can’t help but wonder whether the authors of Academically Adrift have visited many writing centers!