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  • 19 High School-College Collaboration

    Henry A. Luce Thomas G. Ferguson Associates, Inc. Parsippany, New Jersey

    In a very perceptive and realistic discussion of the future of writing centers, Jeanne Simpson explains that " the writing center movement has expanded because writing center people have learned to commu- nicate-to form a network, to transmit information, and to exchange assistance" (Simpson 1985, 3). One especially exciting and rapidly growing area for the kind of exchange of which Simpson speaks is that of high school-college collaboration in writing centers. Moreover, those of us who have been fortunate enough to participate in such collabo- rations can offer one other observation: they are also a lot of fun. Those institutions who are looking to expand or improve their writing centers, indeed their entire writing programs, would do well to consider high school-college collaboration. The need is there; the time is right.

    These are rough days for those of us in education, and I'm sure we have all heard the lament before: in the face of declining enrollments and rising academic underpreparedness, of retrenched faculties and budgetary constraints, of sharply shifting federal mandates and weak- ened public confidence, all levels of the American educational system are experiencing this national crisis. In a study of undergraduate education, Ernest L. Boyer, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, discovered " one of our most disturbing findings is the discontinuity that exists between the public schools and institutions of higher learning" (Boyer 1986, 284).

    Part of this national crisis, but more pertinent to our purposes here, is the much discussed " writing crisis ." From lengthy reports by pres- tigious national commissions, to hundreds of articles in local news- papers and magazines, the evidence is everywhere and overwhelming. It has become, according to Joyce Steward and Mary Croft, authors of The Writing Laboratory, " everywhere the loudest noise in education"


  • 128 The High School Writing Center

    (Steward and Croft 1982, 2). Furthermore, at a time when society is becorrling increasingly complex, when more and more underprepared students are being encouraged to attend college, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that many teachers are themselves underpre- pared in the teaching of composition. Theories of writing process approaches differ greatly from the traditional methods of teaching composition. And as Brannon and Knoblauch note, many student writers have been harmed by teachers who have "exaggerated formal and technical constraints" (Brannon and Knoblauch 1984, 43).

    But if both precollege and postseconqary education are indeed in crisis, then for both the way out is clear. Collaborative efforts make the transition more successful for students. It is, clearly, in the mutual interest of both sectors to do so. Because of their concern for the "literacy crisis," the Modern Language Association has established a Commission on Writing and Literature (1983) whose charges include identifying "ways in which MLA and ADE can support the teaching of writing and literature in secondary schools" (MLA 1988, 70). In 1987, the National Writing Center Association, comprised primarily of college members, elected two high school teachers to its executive board and another the following year. They even plan to publish a position statement for high school writing centers.

    A significant amount of collaboration is already under way. The Carnegie Foundation itself in 1983 published the first in a series of special reports, Gene Maeroff's School and College: Partnerships in Education; in 1985 as part of its series New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Jossey-Bass published William T. Daly's "College-School Collaboration: Appraising the Major Approaches:' The Yale-New Ha- ven Teachers Institute, one of the oldest and most successful collab- orative programs, has been under way since 1978. Increasingly, federal agencies and private foundations have been funding collaborative projects. The Commission on Writing and Literature reports that "specific collaborative projects (e.g., the National Writing Project) have made significant improvements in the teaching of writing" (MLA 1988, 74). With specific regard to collaboration through writing centers, programs in one form or another have begun in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin.

    Different in purpose and design though they may be, writing center collaborations are beginning to flourish because, quite simply, they make sense. When an individual school tries to address its own

  • High School-College Collaboration 129

    particular writing crisis, it discovers all too frequently that it is inadequate to the task, not because it lacks the skill or commitment required, but because it lacks the larger perspective from which to examine and evaluate its programs. For example, a high school English department cannot effectively prepare its students for the demands of college writing unless it knows what colleges expect from incoming freshmen. Similarly, a college cannot very well design its program unless it knows how high schools have prepared students. Collabo- ration between the sectors, then, becomes the means for bridging the gap between high school and college, for ensuring the continuity of excellence throughout the system.

    This is not as easily done as it might appear, however. Indeed, to some people the entire notion might seem a bit radical. American institutions of higher education have traditionally had very little to do with secondary education, especially since World War II. So if American education is to improve to the extent now demanded by public and private sectors alike, then collegiality must become the most natural act of all.

    It is imperative that college instructors, too long aloof, isolated, and absorbed in the demands of their own disciplines, come to understand and appreciate the concerns and priorities of-and the demands made upon-their colleagues in the secondary schools. College instructors need to ask themselves how realistic they are in their assumptions about high school writing instruction and in their expectations about the writing performance of incoming freshmen. They need to know more about the objectives of high school writing programs, the teaching strategies, the nature of writing activities, and the evaluation practices. Such an understanding will go a long way towards enabling college instructors to deal with the often bewildering array of problems their students seem to arrive with.

    Five classes, a homeroom, cafeteria duty, and assorted other obli- gations leave high school teachers with precious little time for scholarly activities such as research and experimentation. But they have a tremendous amount to offer to the collaborative experience. Hence, it is equally imperative that there be made available to high school teachers a mechanism that can incorporate into current pedagogical theory their experiences, insights, and approaches. That mechanism can be writing center collaboration.

    Though now widely appreciated as being of tremendous value to students, writing centers as currently utilized in most schools and

  • 130 The High School Writing Center

    colleges have offered little help to the great number of teachers of composition-at any level-who are in need of improving their own teaching skills. Certainly, like writing itself, the teaching of writing can always improve. And it is here that the writing center becomes even more valuable.

    A writing center collaboration can provide teachers with a splendid opportunity to interact with their colleagues and to share experiences, strategies, and insights into the teaching of writing. Such a collaboration offers teachers a freedom and flexibility unavailable in the traditional classroom situation. In the writing center, the opportunity exists to develop and refine diagnostic and conferencing skills, to experiment with new strategies and new techniques, to test the effectiveness of various materials and to develop new ones.

    Thus, in addition to bridging the gap between high school and college, a writing center collaboration also bridges the gap between rhetorical theories and classroom activities. The result, beneficial to teachers and students alike, is an on-going and growing community of writers, mutually supportive, mutually instructive.

    I mentioned earlier that such a collaboration has an additional benefit: it's fun. These days, not much of what we do in our profession can make that claim. In the discussion of the two very different examples that follows, I am sure that the enthusiasm, the energy, the sheer good will of the participants towards their projects will make this last point readily apparent.

    Begun in 1984 and designated an NCTE Center of Excellence in 1986, the Kenmore Project is a splendid example of high schoolj college collaboration through writing centers.

    According to Rosa Bhakuni, Director of the Kenmore High School Writing Lab, the project was initiated by Dr. Harold Foster, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Akron. As part of the requirements for his course "Instructional Techniques in English;' Dr. Foster places each of his Akron students for one hour per week with an experienced English teacher at Kenmore High School. Initial placements were made in English classrooms where the Akron students observed and wrote reacti

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