March 15, 2019
The Writing Studio: Innovation, Excellence in Action
A college-inspired academic service has come to Ottawa Hills Junior/Senior High School, enabling students to get help with writing and literature assignments. While having access to such a service is uncommon in grades 7 through 12, so is how the service started: as an independent study project undertaken by senior Oscar Kasch. And much like those services at colleges, the Ottawa Hills version – The Writing Studio – also is largely run by students who help create and deliver the lessons, either in small groups or one-on-one tutoring.
“What made me interested in making The Writing Studio was a desire to make sure everybody gets that individual help,” said Oscar, who eventually wants to teach English at the high school or college level. “It’s important because we have a lot of existing support systems, especially for math and science. But it’s hard to sit with every student working on a paper because it is such a long process.”
The Studio’s similarity to college campuses in terms of structure and goals is not accidental. Oscar and his mentor, Darrin Broadway, visited colleges and other high-performing high schools last fall as part of their research. “What made sense to me was that we should tour college writing/learning centers to observe their response-to-intervention techniques and to see how the centers are managed,” said Mr. Broadway, who also chairs the Department of English at the Junior/Senior High School.
The Studio shares three elements with the programs they observed: academic coaching, one-on-one tutoring, and Structured Learning Assistance (SLAs, or micro lessons). The OH version adds a fourth element because of its place within a junior/senior high school environment: family conferencing.
The research and data collection, coordinated as part of the year-long independent study course Oscar has with Mr. Broadway, led to a presentation in October 2018. At this event, Oscar outlined the pros and cons to the English faculty, as well as Junior/Senior High School Principal Ben McMurray and Dr. Bill Miller, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. Once questions were answered and the plan modified, the idea was given the go-ahead. The Studio moved into a trial phase in November with the rollout of one-to-one tutoring.
“You have a passionate teacher who is doing advanced studies on his own. You have a passionate student who is stepping outside the normal curriculum structure and wants to do studies on his own. And they pair up,” Dr. Miller said. “They are focusing their energies on something that will make the school better. When you have those two sources of passion focusing on what can make the school better, it accelerates and expands things that were already happening but in a much more coherent, involved and collaborative way. Teachers are involved, students are involved: It’s contagious.” Continue reading