Ken Macrorie Writing Centers: From Bread Loaf Campuses to Local Contexts

Oct 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Archives, Campus News, Fall-Winter 2012

by Dixie Goswami,
Bread Loaf Teacher Network Director.

In July 2009, the Ken Macrorie Writing Centers were established to honor the memory of Ken Macrorie, who taught at Bread Loaf for almost two decades. Ken’s students, friends, and many others contributed to the writing centers, which are now flourishing at all four Bread Loaf campuses under the leadership of Beverly Moss, Associate Professor of English at the Ohio State University and Bread Loaf faculty member at Bread Loaf-Asheville. Ken taught hundreds of Bread Loaf students, who wrote and edited Yeast, published weekly at Bread Loaf every summer for a decade. They drew upon Ken’s wonderful textbook The I-Search Paper, published in 1988 and still in wide use. A beloved and nationally influential writing teacher and scholar, Ken treated students as partners in learning, writing, and publishing. Ken received many honors, and was passionate about democratic education and the role of literacy in achieving equity. He worked against censorship in all educational settings, and loved his Bread Loaf students and his home, Santa Fe.

Since 2009, dozens of Bread Loaf students who serve as peer tutors in the writing centers on Bread Loaf campuses (and many more who consult with the tutors at the campuses), have benefited from what has become a Bread Loaf tradition, a resource for every member of the Bread Loaf community, and, increasingly, for the students and colleagues of Bread Loaf teachers in public and private schools across the U.S.

Writing Center leaders since 2009 have written about their experiences. The excerpts below mark the well-established path from experience on the Bread Loaf campus in Ripton, Vermont, to the spreading of roots in local K-12 schools and districts.

Jen Hansum (BLSE ‘03), Writing and Teaching Consultant, Bucknell Writing Center, Bucknell University, coordinated the Bread Loaf  Macrorie Writing Center in Vermont in  2010 and 2011. She shared the following reflections from Writing Center consultants and Bread Loaf, Vermont, students:

“As a peer reader in the Marcrorie Writing Center this summer, I read a comparison of movie, theatrical, and television performances of A Streetcar Named Desire, an essay exploring notions of suicide in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Dostoyevsky’s Devils, and an analysis of a photograph in W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants. I read pieces that were highly polished and (less often) others that needed a lot of work, usually because the writer hadn’t quite figured out what he or she wanted to say. I met with students who were frequent users of the writing center and those who, coming for the first time, didn’t quite know what to expect. But the nearly universal thread was that the writers I worked with were eager to delve further into the texts and questions they’d discussed in class. They sought feedback on their ideas and their writing not only to do better in a particular course, but also to develop as writers and thinkers. For this reason I generally found my experience in the Center to be more rewarding than my two previous stints at writing centers, where a small but significant minority of students wanted us simply to “fix” their papers. At Bread Loaf I didn’t feel like a tutor instructing a student; instead, I was having a conversation about the arts and writing with a peer. In this way, my writing center experience epitomized what, to me, Bread Loaf is about: communication that leads to discoveries about literature, writing, and ourselves.

“[My experience] was amazing. I tutor writing as part of my teaching responsibilities, and I feel like I understand the peer tutoring process but [my peer reader] was phenomenal. She offered tons of positive feedback, brought great questions to the table, and taught me a few things about organization. Working with a peer reader was a highlight of my Bread Loaf experience this summer…I can’t say enough good things about my experience with the BLSE Writing Lab.”

Susannah Kilbourne, (BLSE 2011), Teacher and Teaching Coach at Lafayette High School, in Lexington, Kentucky, wrote about coordinating the writing center on the Oxford campus, 2012.

“Since the Bread Loaf Oxford Writing Center (BLOX WC) was first introduced in 2012, the tutors and I did a significant amount of work not only tutoring BLOX students but also promoting and explaining the purpose and structure of a writing center. Many BLOX users were unfamiliar with the purpose of a writing center that functions independent of classroom instruction, but we found that students who had visited writing centers on other Bread Loaf campuses became not only the BLOX WC’s best customers but also its most effective advocates. Students new to the Oxford campus also found that the BLOX Writing Center sessions served as useful preparation for the one-to-one tutorials with professors that are such a vital part of the Oxford University instructional philosophy.”

At the Santa Fe campus, the Writing Center activity led to a year-round online resource for local center development.

“The Writing Rodeo, Bread Loaf Santa Fe’s writing center, provided its users with an effective, cost-effective model for establishing writing centers that help students visiting the centers for help on writing projects, teachers across the curriculum, and tutors as well. Using Breadnet, the software that links Bread Loaf students during the academic year in their home schools, I organized an exchange for those of us in the process of establishing writing centers at our home schools. This online exchange raised pedagogical issues, management matters, and methods of documenting and evaluating our work this common goal. The outcome: a confirmation that writing centers based on peer tutoring and collaboration have a big role to play in improving teaching, learning, and especially writing abilities, in our schools.” (Susannah Kilbourne)

Bread Loaf peer tutors are the stars of the Macrorie Writing Centers’ story. Two Asheville peer tutors wrote about the experience:

“Tutoring fellow Bread Loaf graduate students was rewarding, and it gave me an opportunity to talk as never before with professional peers about academic and intellectual issues as well as about the writing process. The Writing Center has transformed Bread Loaf, creating a community that I’ve been in need of for some time.”

“One of the greatest benefits of working as a tutor in the Writing Center is that I have become a more involved member of the Bread Loaf community than I have been in summers past at Bread Loaf. Through the work I’ve done in the center–which is outside  my own courses, my own thinking, even my own interests–I’ve gained a deeper sense of the deep commitment that others have to the study of literature, poetry, writing and teaching.”

The influence of the Writing Centers goes beyond the Bread Loaf campuses. In 2011, the Write to Change Foundation awarded start-up grants to outstanding Bread Loaf students and alumni, trained in writing center pedagogy and practice, who are establishing writing centers in their schools in 2012-13: Katie Lupo (Pennsylvania), Susannah Kilbourne (Kentucky), Flor Mota (Texas), Deborah Alcorn (North Carolina), and April Raymond (South Carolina).

Flor Mota, a current BLSE student and English Department Co-chair at A. N. McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, wrote recently about the McCallum High School Writing Center. Having served as a peer tutor at the Macrorie Writing Center at Bread Loaf Asheville, Mota received a grant of $500 in 2012 to establish a writing center at her school. Her experience as a Bread Loaf Writing Center tutor is clearly making a difference to her entire school community.

“Since the McCallum High School Writing Center re-opened in September 2012, we’ve have more than 100 visits, many of them from returning students. This year we were open five days a week; peer tutors are committed to doing their best, and it’s working! We meet every couple of weeks to evaluate our work and discuss ways to improve. We’re planning a visit to the University of Texas-Austin Writing Center for a training session. Students visiting our Writing Center and their teachers are happy with the help they’re getting: they evaluate the experience and we pay attention to what they say. The writing tutors are proud of their work and are themselves becoming in the process better writers. In just one year, the Writing Center has become an important resource for teachers and students at McCallum High School.”

Debbie Alcorn, 2011 BLSE M.A. and current M.Litt. candidate, and English teacher at Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina, recently updated us on the beginnings of a writing center in her school.

Northern High School’s New Writing Center and Poetic Justice
“Inspired by the success other Bread Loafers have had establishing writing centers at their high schools, I approached Kathryn Bonner, the principal of my high school, about establishing a writing center at Northern High School in Durham. She was very positive and especially liked the idea because of the new Common Core mandates for writing across the curriculum. She also suggested that I contact Alicia Stevenson, our new assistant principal, because Alicia had run a writing center as a teacher. Alicia agreed to find a space to house the center and get it running. Dixie Goswami, Director of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, strongly encouraged us and helped secure a start-up grant funded through Write to Change. I also received essential and timely information from Bread Loaf Professor Beverly Moss.

This year the project really took off. My Assistant Principal Alicia shared her ideas for the project. We met with Matt Hunt, another of our assistant principals; they were so enthused about the project and had such great plans, which I could not have put into place by myself, and I was happy to have such support. Their vision included making the center open to parents in the evening and to provide project supplies to students who needed them.

Moreover, we’ve done some writing ourselves: we began work on a proposal for a grant to Design for Accelerated Progress (DAP) that was available locally through Durham County. I wrote a grant proposal for “Poetic Justice” that was included in the project, and Northern High received full funding for the DAP grant, which furnished the Writing Center with desks, chairs, materials, and fifteen computers. Licenses will be purchased for the students to take the ACT/SAT online preparation courses; teachers will be paid stipends for working in the center, and $2,000.00 was allocated for a professional writing center library. In all, Northern High received $59,300 for the writing center, the Poetic Justice program, and other literacy programs at Northern this year. All of these wonderful initiatives began with the inspirations I received from my experience working and learning among the motivated professional teachers who attend the Bread Loaf School of English.

The Ken Macrorie Bread Loaf Writing Centers highlight the power of collaboration at Bread Loaf, drawing on the community–faculty, staff, peer tutors, Bread Loaf students–to create a rich and evolving resource for the community. Beyond Bread Loaf, writing centers led by Bread Loaf teachers are changing the culture of writing and collaboration in schools. Writing centers will serve all Bread Loaf campuses in 2013.

One Comment to “Ken Macrorie Writing Centers: From Bread Loaf Campuses to Local Contexts”

  1. Debbie Alcorn says:

    Congratulations, Dixie, on a wonderful article! The administration at Northern was thrilled with the article, too.

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