Writing Center Would Create Specialized Tutoring Community


The graph above shoes the results of one of a few questions on a survey conducted by the English department to 1,103 students. In hopes of providing trained, specialized writing tutors as writing increases across all subjects, Los Altos may implement a Writing Center course next year. Anne Schill, Arjin Unlu.

By Priya Dixit and Rachel Lu

In order to fill the need for specialized writing tutors, English teacher Caitlin Hannon has proposed implementing a Writing Center course on campus staffed by trained student tutors next year.

If the course attracts enough student interest and can be adequately staffed, it will train students to assist peers in writing across all subjects. As detailed by Common Core standards, writing skills are becoming more prevalent and necessary across all subjects beyond just English classes.

“Some students have access to tutors outside of school and that’s great, but not everyone does,” English teacher Carrie Abel Shaffer said. “People don’t know how to access tutors for writing, and so a lot of students don’t end up getting the help that they need. Or they rely on friends or parents, and again, those aren’t trained tutors. Writing is part of the Common Core. It’s not going away.”

Because individually workshopping with students takes more time than possible for English teachers, the Writing Center will serve to provide meaningful writing and revision help from trained peers.

“If I have a hundred and some odd kids, I can’t conference with every single student one-on-one about their writing in a serious way,” Abel Shaffer said. “I can have 10 minute check-ins, but in really working on their writing, there just isn’t enough time even if I wanted to stay here until 9 o’clock every day.”

In lieu of teachers trying to meet with all their students, peer tutors at the Writing Center will provide feedback after Hannon teaches a five-week training course. The course will focus on three main areas: technical skills such as revision and what makes good writing, giving feedback and being mentors or leaders on campus. Next year’s upperclassmen may sign up as writing tutors in January.

The Writing Center’s intensive training course differentiates it from most other tutoring opportunities on campus. It is modeled after Hannon’s university writing center, which required passing a semester-long course teaching the same three tenets to be a tutor.

After this training period, tutors will help students during the elective period, throughout the school day and after school. Hannon’s long-term plan is to have enough students signed up for the Writing Center elective each year so that the Writing Center can be fully staffed throughout the day. At the time being, administration has not decided where the elective will take place.

In addition to signing up for the elective, prospective tutors will undergo a brief application process involving a teacher recommendation. The emphasis on an application and training course ensures that tutors will not only be able to write well themselves but they will also be committed and well-equipped to provide structured writing feedback.

“There’s a difference between being a strong writer and knowing how to help someone who is struggling with writing, or helping someone who is a strong writer who needs to get to the next level — that’s even more challenging,” Abel Shaffer said. “[Tutors] would be enrolled in the class and have a good amount of time where they were being taught how to tutor so they would have those skills to go and implement. I think some of the tutoring that we have on campus is like, ‘You’re good at this subject, so you can go help people,’ but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good tutor.”

With the Writing Center, Hannon aims to encourage students to improve their writing skills by providing a constructive method of receiving feedback.

“It’s a resource that is really widely used, and the more time I spent digging into this, the more I thought it is really surprising we don’t do this on high school campuses,” Hannon said. “It’s weird that this isn’t as popular on high school campuses. Writing is really hard, and it tends to be a skill that people who don’t feel confident in their writing feel that they could never be good at writing. I’m hoping by providing a resource like this on campus, we can kind of help to fight that notion.”