Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Writer's Block

Writing Centers at the college level are common, but Edina High School's Writing Center, The Writer's Block, is only the second high school writing center in the state. Thank you to the Edina Education Fund for making this leadership experience possible for our students. And happy National Day on Writing!
--Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

The bell for first lunch rang as I sat down at one of the round tables situated throughout the Writer's Block in the sub-sub basement of Edina High School. As my first day on the job as a writing coach, I was unsure of what to expect. I braced myself for a flood of eager writing students, all desperate for help and vying for the attention of a relatively small cluster of novice coaches. However, as I prepared my coaching materials, I was surprised to find only one student waiting for advice. I asked her to take a seat and we began to look over her paper together. As she threw out ideas and we discussed the organizational strengths and weaknesses of her essay, I was astonished feel that I was learning as much through participating in the experience of coaching as she probably was from receiving a coach's advice. As the coaching session drew to a close, I was left with a sense of satisfaction greater than the sense I would have achieved by merely offering advice informally to one of my peers.  Together, the student and I had collaboratively accomplished something, and we both took away new knowledge from the experience.

Strangely, this humble room in the basement, deprived of sunlight and fresh air, has grand implications for Edina’s young writers. The Writer’s Block came to life with a grant from the Edina Education Fund, and is currently staffed by a handful of junior and senior “Coaches” under the tutelage of Ms. Martha Cosgrove and Ms. Bethany Mohs. According to the website, the mission is to “provide non-evaluative, individualized writing support through one-to-one consultations to all students and staff.”

All of the coaches have embraced a notion fundamental to the idea of the writing center: we are coaches, not editors. We sit next to, not across from, students; and we ask questions meant to formatively influence students to improve their writing.

This style is what has drawn me into the writing center. I feel that our purpose is to improve the writers in our school, not just to improve our writing. We coach writers. This philosophy makes us excellent, Ms. Cosgrove brags. “We have the best-trained and most engaged coaches in the state. You can’t touch us.”

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