Conference and Collaboration: Using Writing Center in High School English Composition Instruction
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I often ask aspiring secondary English teachers in my methods courses what they can tell me about writing instruction. They almost always identify a number of essential best practices: careful assignment guidelines that describe rationale, product, and process; clear student-friendly criteria; models students can relate to; specific feedback that is diagnostic in nature; and opportunities for revision. I then ask them to create a chronology of those practices, blocking out instructional days that correspond to those activities. Most of them are surprised to learn that all of these are either prewriting or post-first-draft strategies. When I ask them to examine the middle portion of their instructional period, they discover that the actual drafting stage is often absent of teacher intervention. Teaching while students are actually drafting–what we might call real-time instruction as opposed to pre-writing or teaching after the fact–is relatively rare and for many an awkward business that seems to defy the deliberate steps that characterize other phases of the process. And while many high school teachers rely on the individual conference as a critical aspect of process, most see this step as a post-draft activity not as something that happens simultaneously with the creation of text. What is even more remarkable is that so few refer to composition instruction that occurs while writers are drafting work in a lab equipped with computers. However, once the writing center model is introduced, opportunities for meaningful conference and collaboration increase dramatically.