As we were in the throes of back-to-school registration and new student and family orientations, a very interesting (and timely!) article was published in The Washington Post. “Why can’t college graduates write coherent prose?” is a perspective piece, by Jeffrey J. Selingo, and it’s informed by the laments of college professors and employers. They’re frustrated that students and candidates have incredibly low writing skills.
Immediately, it was easy to draw straight lines between the problems stated in the article and the solutions we provide at The Gregory School: the dedication of our English faculty, guidance in the Writing Center, and the required junior-year critical paper.
Ms. Jessica Langan-Peck and Mrs. Elizabeth Young are the faculty advisors of our Writing Center, modeled after those found on many college-campuses. Interested students are trained in a variety of writing applications and volunteer throughout the year to assist the entire student body.
In its third year, the Writing Center is evolving. Mrs. Langan-Peck has introduced a new concept for those using this resource to review and improve their writing projects and assignments. “We will indeed be offering grammar/usage/style lessons in the writing center each Friday. The lessons are designed to help students write more clearly while developing their personal styles. They may include a wide variety of topics: developing a thesis, annotation skills, correct comma use, active verbs, eliminating unnecessary wordiness, and modifiers, etc.”
The head of our English Department, Mrs. Elizabeth Young, offered insight as to how the concept of process-writing is intentionally woven into The Gregory School curriculum.
I still remember the first question I was asked by the English department when being interviewed for this job sixteen years ago: “How do you approach process-writing?” I have zero recollection of how I answered that question (but, hey, I got the job!). The question, however, stayed with me because the English department continues to believe ardently in process writing today.
What is it? And back to my interview question, how do I approach it?
Process writing is the method of applying multiple steps (creating a process) to any writing activity. These steps might begin with brainstorming a topic, categorizing evidence, drafting, editing, and revising. Depending on where a student is in her writing life, this process changes. It adjusts to the needs of the individual.
At the beginning of any school year, after most students have taken months off from writing, I remind them before beginning the first step of an essay that writing is just thinking on paper. Step one: brain splat. Step two: clean it up into something a reader can follow and appreciate and learn from. Process your writing, I tell them. Even if the process only involves adjusting the position of one sentence for the sake of better organization or finding a more accurate word for the sake of precision, process your writing. Control the outcome (a tip that often helps them in this initial process is reading their work out-loud).
Because our class sizes are small, English teachers at the Gregory School have the great privilege of assigning frequent writing because we have the great privilege of having time to grade. The more our students write, the more we get to know their individual needs, which results in tailoring lessons to these needs so that the process becomes all the more relevant to the writers.
I think one of the reasons our students write so well upon entering college is because they have figured out their individual process.
The Gregory School is known for “writing” and the proof is in the pudding. Our graduates return with a consistent message: I can write well and I credit this skill with my success. Additionally, there are a number of authors, stage and screenplay writers, broadcasters, and published scholars among them. Most recently, Caitlin McCormick ’17, had her college essay published in The New York Times. We are incredibly proud of our alumni, their valuable work, and their mastery of written word!
The 2017 Writing Center Student Tutors at our all-school meeting.
A post by:
Director of School Advancement
(520) 327-6395 ext. 209