National Writing Project

The Successful High School Writing Center

Date: 2011

Summary: This book highlights the work of talented writing center teachers who share practices and lessons learned from today's most important high school writing centers. The authors offer innovative methods for secondary educators who deal with adolescent literacy, English language learners, new literacies, embedded professional development, and differentiated instruction.


The Successful High School Writing Center demonstrates how writing centers help school communities grapple with the realities that come with literacy education. Depicting real-life writing centers as leaders in literacy education, the accounts presented will enrich the work of secondary educators, writing tutors, and student writers in socially significant ways.

Book Features

  • Models of writing centers and literacy centers that explicitly integrate reading and writing across the curriculum.
  • Creative strategies from a diversity of schools, models, and students served.
  • Literacy-based, collaborative research projects for writing center evaluation.
  • Helpful forms.

Excerpt from Book

. . . [W]riters turn to the writing center, where the perspectives of students, instructors, and institutions intersect. Writing center tutors help students to understand these perspectives and then to negotiate them. They do so through intimate discourses that tutors and students draw upon from their experiences in the classroom and other communities to which they belong. Through their conversation, tutors and writers connect different perspectives in a way that leads to problem solving. We see this in writing centers when a student plans to write a paper one way, but their tutor reminds him or her that the assignment, and thus the reader, is asking for a different approach. We see it when tutors learn how to work with students whose language or learning style is different from their own. We also see it when directors or tutors engage faculty in conversations about ways to make their assignments clearer or more relevant to students' lives. Such conversations are difficult to achieve in a classroom where the teacher has little time for one-to-one instruction and the authority of the teacher and assignment are ever-present. They are especially difficult among colleagues who do not often share teaching ideas or, as is sometimes the case with new writing centers, misunderstand the writing center's role.

. . . Today's high schools need both the global and local perspectives in order to create an accurate map of the literacy lives of all of their students. Although schools may have lists of state mandated "literacy" checks—exams, standards, benchmarks, and objectives—these only hint at the big picture, and in some ways distort it. As critics of such sweeping evaluation tools know, desperately needed information is missing, information that can only be discovered by talking to students one-to-one.

A high school writing center allows for both global and local perspectives. We see the global perspective when the writing center becomes a place that enables authentic evaluation, evaluation that reveals the stories of students' struggles and successes to an extent that other measurement tools cannot. We see the local perspective when a tutor talks with a student, getting to the heart of that individual student's questions or anxieties about and approaches to their own writing.


"The Successful High School Writing Center is a book that holds transformational power. It is an immediately useful book, yes, but also a critical collection imbued with theory-to-practice models that address our marginalized students and their teachers."
—From the Foreword by Richard Kent, University of Maine

About the Authors: Dawn Fels teaches composition and directs The Writing Center at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. Jennifer Wells is the director of The Reading-Writing Center at Florida State University and a former teacher-consultant with the Central California Writing Project.

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