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A Center for Writing Launched at Community College of Philadelphia

by John Nace

Throughout its history as Community College of Philadelphia's academic support service—originally at the 11th Street Center City campus before moving to 17th and Spring Garden in 1983—the Learning Lab has served as the primary institutional resource in the assistance of developmental education's several programs and as a tutoring center potentially available for students taking any course offered at the College. Lab classes dedicated to serving College Achievement Partnership, Act Now, Cooperative Learning Program (the precursor to the Collaborative Learning Community), and ESL program students have provided supplemental instruction in writing, reading, and study skills. In addition, small group and one-on-one tutoring in English have met the needs of individual students through workshops on specific topics in writing and through appointments with professional and student tutors.

In recent years, however, new calls have come for the College to enhance its language arts support to the college-level writer. In the view of some observers, Learning Lab services had become overcommitted to the support of programs and a targeted developmental education population to the disadvantage of the individual student seeking help for discrete needs, such as meeting the challenges of a writing assignment in a college course. Students in English 101,102, and higher-level courses, including content area courses requiring the writing of papers and reports, have always had the opportunity of making individual appointments for tutoring, but a newly directed effort to enlarge and enhance the Lab's outreach to the college-level writing population has inspired the institution of a support service targeting this population. Consequently, with the start of the Fall, 2004, semester, the College has introduced The Learning Lab Writing Center.

The Learning Lab Writing Center's mission statement follows: The Writing Center of the Learning Lab at Community College of Philadelphia serves the interests of all registered students in their curricular and/or personal engagement in the writing process. The Center encompasses both professional and technical resources as a learning opportunity extending the benefits of primary instruction at the College. The Center welcomes students seeking assistance in meeting both content and language arts course requirements and, more broadly, encourages individual achievement in written expression while supporting independent learning for academic success.

The Writing Center anticipates serving three major components of the wider Community College of Philadelphia family: students engaged in college writing tasks; faculty requesting support for students facing writing requirements; and the general College community. Whether in small or whole class groups or as individuals, students will benefit from an array of Writing Center support: workshops; person-to-person professional and peer tutoring; on-line tutoring; and exclusive computer access for word-processing purposes, Internet use, and document printing. College faculty in all curricula will benefit from consultative and instructional support in the form of in-class presentations by Writing Center staff; customized workshops on course- or class-specific writing topics offered at the Writing Center; and invitations to participate in an advisory role in Writing Center projects and to provide evaluative reviews of Writing Center services. The College community at large will benefit through on-line access to posted information for reference and research. In addition, the Center will sponsor professional presentations for the general College audience on topics and issues in writing as a learning or communicative venue. A quarterly Writing Center newsletter will update the College community on the range and availability of Center services, announce upcoming Center events and presentations, and feature items of special interest to writers.

When the Writing Center opened for business on Monday, September 27, 2004, the first service to meet student demand was one-on-one tutoring in English 101, 102, and courses in various curricula involving a writing requirement. The Learning Lab Department Head and the Writing Center Coordinator collaboratively identified faculty and student tutors to pioneer the tutoring effort. Typical of the newly assigned staff is a spirit of commitment and dedication to the job. One of the new tutors, Matt Desiderio, is an ABD in English literature and film at Temple University. Prior to arriving at Comunity College of Philadelphia, Matt worked for five years as a teaching assistant in Temple's Writing Program and English Department. Matt's experience includes some tutoring at Temple as well as volunteer work as a tutor with the Philadelphia Cares Network and with a charter school population of elementary students. Asked for his impressions of characteristics of Community College of Philadelphia student writers, Matt explains that they are generally “very interested in making a point.” He notes that most of the students he has tutored "have something to say and are interested in finding the clearest way to say it." Much of the drive behind students’ investment in their writing efforts Matt attributes to their desire to "say something because they want to" and not because they have to write something to complete an assignment. He also finds that many of the challenges Community College of Philadelphia students find in grammar and rhetoric are comparable to those faced by many Temple University student writers.

Another new tutor, Kate Bykov, is a Penn State major in sciences. She has prior experience in teaching ESL students for two years in a non-credit program at a computer school in Northeast Philadelphia. There, she encountered small groups of recent immigrants seeking survival skills and personal enrichment in a new language. Like Matt, Kate expresses great personal satisfaction in serving the College writing population. It is, she says, “very rewarding when you help the student who is confused.” In her Writing Center experience, Kate enjoys the reward of seeing students respond in discussions about writing requirements or instructors’ comments on students’ texts. She notes, “You feel satisfied when the student understands.”

Madelaine Marshall holds a BA in English from LaSalle University. Madelaine presently studies in the paralegal curriculum at the College. She remembers helping junior and senior high school classmates with writing assignments as her first experience in tutoring. Like Kate, Madelaine reports the high level of personal satisfaction she receives in “being able to help people or point them in the right direction.”

Other newly designated Writing Center tutors include veteran CCP full- and part-time faculty members who have served predominantly as instructors and tutors of developmental and/or ESL students, student peer tutors experienced in English 101 and 102 tutoring, and a number of student tutors with academic backgrounds qualifying them to tutor students in specific humanities and non-humanities content courses with a writing requirement.

Judging from the positive outlook of the new Writing Center tutoring staff and the busy pace of "walk-in" students seeking help in writing, it is apparent that the first semester of Writing Center tutoring services is off to a strong and promising start.

Beyond meeting the immediate demand for student tutoring and specialized workshops serving the college-level writer, the Learning Lab Writing Center will benefit from a gradual or phased-in networking with other collegiate writing centers both locally and regionally. At a recent Philadelphia Area Writing Program Administrators meeting hosted by Community College of Philadelphia, Dr. Eli Goldblatt, co-director of the Temple University Writing Center, offered strong support for Community College of Philadelphia's launching of its own center and suggested potential links between the two. Interestingly, one research initiative of Temple's Writing Center has been to compare writing topics used by Community College of Philadelphia English instructors with those used at Temple in order to analyze differences between instructors' expectations of student writers' experience and sophistication implicit in the construction of writing assignments. Although no conclusions can be drawn from a limited sampling, it is instructive to observe anecdotally how differently the two populations of writers are addressed in writing prompts composed by some instructors. Studies such as this tempt one to imagine the possibilities for inter-collegiate collaboration in the planning of writing assignments that would anticipate a cross-institutional writing continuum for the many students who, after beginning their college careers at Community College of Philadelphia, continue their undergraduate education at Temple University. The Writing Center could then serve as a primary resource for Community College of Philadelphia students planning a future at Temple to view and perhaps use representative Temple writing topics in "practice" writing experiences guided by Writing Center tutors. Of course, Community College of Philadelphia students planning to move on to an undergraduate program at any other institution could benefit equally by practicing with Temple's topics as representative of university-level writing assignments.

Although carefully designed as a service to a university audience, Temple's Writing Center and like facilities already well-established at other institutions can also serve as models for reference as The Learning Lab Writing Center grows and develops. For example, in addition to a comprehensive mission statement, the Temple University Writing Center web site features a detailed list of services for students and faculty which clearly parallels the conceivable interests of Community College of Philadelphia student writers and faculty whose courses involve a writing requirement. Along with tutoring and workshop offerings, resources for students include guides for using professional documentation styles in writing research papers; interactive grammar quizzes available for students to use for practice; sample student papers with commentary by Writing Center staff; guidelines for using on-line tutoring services; and self-help materials on special topics in writing, such as taking notes and avoiding plagiarism. For faculty, the following detailed services are posted: resources for support of instructors' planning of writing assignments; workshop request forms; interactive grammar quizzes available for faculty to assign to students; and workshop evaluation forms.

References

Temple University Writing Center. (2004). Resources and services for students.

Temple University Writing Center. (2004). Resources and services for faculty.

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