Writing Center Remains an Underutilized Resource

Photo by Elle Rinaldi/The Choate News

Jacob Meyers ’17 (second from left) works with a student as another tutor waits for someone to help.

The Writing Center opened last February as a new support system to help students with compositions. Students can visit during any stage of writing process, from brainstorming to finalizing. But a year since it has opened, there remains a disconnect between its offerings and students. 

According to Emma Griffith ’17, a tutor, on a busy week, the Writing Center helps ten to more than 20 students, while on a slow week, the Writing Center attends to around five to ten.

Griffith continued, “Some people are repeat visitors to the Writing Center. When students come in — often those who are assigned to do so by their teachers — they often say something along the lines of ‘Wow, this is such a cool thing we have going on here. I wish I knew more about this before.’ We’re still in our early stages of developing the Choate Writing Center, so some of our focuses going forward are how we can be accessible as possible to the student body and how we can get more repeat visitors in to see us.”

Griffith highlighted that because it is an academic support system, the misconception that only students who perform below expectations need help and the stigma of doing so may hinder students from frequenting the Writing Center. In addition, a simple unawareness of its existence could contribute to its underuse.

Ali Chatani ’18, a student who visits the Writing Center, said, “It wasn’t that helpful because they told me that everything in my essay was good, but I would go back. I think people know about the Writing Center but choose not to use it. I don’t really know why.”

Other departments, such as the Science department or the Math department, had implemented a tutoring system to assist students, but the History, Philosophy, Religion, and Social Sciences (HPRSS) and English departments did not have a similar program until several years ago. Ms. Ellen Devine, Head of the English Department, recognized that the two departments needed a similar peer tutoring system and spearheaded the movement to bring this idea to life. This school year, new English teacher Dr. Stephen Siperstein is her co-advisor to the Writing Center.

“Many universities have a writing center as a resource for all students, graduate students, and undergraduate students. While I was in graduate school, I was particularly interested in how writing centers were functioning and studied that as part of my degree work.  I also worked in a writing center when I was an undergraduate. So, as department head, I was eager to bring a student-run writing center to Choate,” said Ms. Devine.

According to Ms. Devine, Choate also previously had a writing center, though it operated differently. She said, “It was run by a faculty member who was available to read student work and talk through papers with anyone who wanted to come, but it was really hard to keep that going because it required a faculty member who had the time and inclination to be in a room every night during study hours, and most people, between duty and coaching and things like that, couldn’t do that. So when I became department head, one of my goals was to try and have a student-run writing center at school so that it could be a resource for students at any time during the year.”

Tutor Weston Miller ’17 added, “I think it is an underutilized resource. If it’s not at the end of term, it can get pretty lonely. I know a lot of people at Choate don’t feel like their work is finalized enough before the deadline to ask for feedback. You don’t have to come in with a finished project. You can come in even before you start just to talk about the prompt.”

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