Schools look to Ole Miss’ DeSoto Writing Center
By Erin Garrett
University of Mississippi
SOUTHAVEN — As director of the Writing Center at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Jeanine Rauch sees the value of honing writing skills early.
“Ultimately, writing is clear thinking,” said Rauch, an instructor in the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “When students are confident in their own writing, the writing process becomes more focused on audience and purpose, which leads to clear communication.”
The Writing Center at the UM regional campus offers free services designed to help students become stronger writers and critical thinkers. Teachers from DeSoto and Tate counties recently visited the center to glean ideas for creating and developing writing centers at their respective schools.
“Incorporating a middle school or high school writing center introduces the importance of writing and helps students become more aware and connected to their own writing,” Rauch said. “Peers helping peers allows for a collaborative conversation through the writing process.”
Robert Cummings, chair of the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, said that Rauch’s leadership at the writing center “knows no bounds.”
“(Rauch) has long been of great service to her students, the students of the University of Mississippi, and to students at Northwest Mississippi Community College,” Cummings said. “Not content with this level of contribution, she is now extending opportunities for designing supplemental peer literacy instruction to her partners in the K-12 environment.
“Her work is truly exceptional and exemplifies the best work of writing centers on a national level.”
A passion for writing
Tarra R. Taylor, English teacher and writing center director at Hernando Middle School, met with Rauch this summer.
“Teaching writing is a passion that I have,” Taylor said. “So, in an attempt to do what I love to do, I wanted to offer something to my school that would not only benefit the students that I teach but also the entire student body.”
Taylor began by reading and researching writing centers in colleges and secondary schools.
“Jeanine and her team of consultants were more than welcoming and helpful,” she said. “They informed me of how their writing center was run and offered me suggestions for the middle school level.”
The DeSoto Writing Center team provided Taylor with a number of resources, including “The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors,” a sample writing center feedback survey, a tutor script and relevant articles. Rauch and one of the center’s consultants even accompanied Taylor when she presented the idea to faculty at Hernando Middle School.
Many students enter middle school with “negative attitudes toward writing,” Taylor said. This could stem from a lack of confidence or limited writing skills, she said.
“When the confidence level of students is built, students will want to write more,” she said. “In turn, writing achievement will be positively affected.
“The end goal is for students to become effective written communicators. They will write for a plethora of purposes and audiences; therefore, writing skills are important in order for them to be successful at it.”
The Hernando Middle School Writing Center launched Nov. 14. Taylor is confident that the center will make an impact on her students.
Josh Green, English teacher and writing center director at Independence High School, also recently met with Rauch. Green’s writing center began in 2014 under the direction of Jason Jones, the writing center director at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
When Green was named director, he began investigating new ways to develop the center.
“As a teacher consultant for the University of Mississippi Writing Project, I know firsthand the quality work that Ole Miss does within the field of writing,” Green said. “I knew that (Rauch’s) work with the writing center could provide critical insight and perspective for us. Jeanine and the writing center staff members were extremely helpful and personally met with us. “
This year, Independence High School’s center has served some 20 students so far.
“They have shown significant improvement and most have now visited more than once, which is exciting for us,” he said. “We love the fact that students are beginning to feel comfortable and continue to come back. Some of them have even become our biggest recruiters.”
Green recognizes the role that writing plays in student success.
“Writing is a vital skill that essentially permeates all academic disciplines and endeavors,” he said. “Whether it is at the elementary, secondary, post-secondary or corporate level, writing is a key component in succeeding in any field.
“Writing is not a vacuum skill that is applicable and/or useful only to students pursuing an English degree or a career in technical writing, but rather it is something that is used in practical facets of life such as: resume writing, surveys, engineering field reports, research proposals, etc.”
Rauch encourages schools to consider the development of a writing center.
“Writing centers create both a learning and collaborative space where students help each other improve upon their writing skills,” she said. “Students who frequent a writing center become more engaged with their own writing which leads to finding their own unique voice.”