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Lifelong learners: A growth mindset at the Writing Center

Ben Whitney and Sophie Kolstdad discuss professional development and education. Photo courtesy of Drew Bixby

Helping student writers one consultation at a time

It’s the second Friday in February, 10 a.m., and the door of the Writing Center in North Classroom #4014 is locked. A hand-written sign reads: “Closed for Staff Professional Development & Education.” Inside, the scent of strong coffee, tea, donuts, and home-cooked dishes floats in the air.

“Alright everyone,” Drew Bixby, Assistant Director says, across the boisterous gathering. “Let’s talk about plagiarism and paraphrase.”

Operating six physical locations across the Denver metro area and four distinct online services available at almost all hours, The Writing Center at CU Denver is a student and faculty resource passionate about teaching, writing, and learning. It offers both individual and group writing consultations, in-house presentations on various writing topics and genres, and customized in-class workshops. All services are free.

Behind the scenes, the 25+ Professional Writing Consultants who serve more than 11,000 students, conduct more than 7,900 sessions, and run more than 200 writing workshops per year are always growing into better peer supporters and teachers of writing. To apply for the position, the diverse, interdisciplinary staff has to first acknowledge being “ambitious and empathetic lifelong learners” committed to “a growth mindset” (according to the website). Once hired, they participate in a constant process of training, professional development, and education in writing and teaching across the curriculum.

“I think students would be surprised to know that consultants have more than 50 hours of professional development every single semester,” Justin Bain, Writing Center Director says. “This huge amount of professional development and training results in consultants who are capable of providing effective instruction in writing and really mentoring [students] to become better and more confident writers.”

Julia Layton, a first-semester consultant, was a professional writer and editor before joining the Writing Center staff. “Before I started sitting in sessions with students, I had to read some 50 handouts and take notes on them,” she explains. “I had to observe about 10 sessions and write reflections and review those with my shadow partner and my lead consultant; I had to do two days of orientation and four hours of Professional Development & Education meetings. I read tutoring papers; I learned about specific teaching and tutoring practices because I was not a teacher before.”

Part of the challenge for consultants is that the Writing Center provides writing support to students in all disciplines, on any type of writing, and at any point in the writing process, whether it’s a lack of ideas to get started, writers’ block, or a finished draft. The Writing Center staff adapt to this diverse academic environment through research, collaboration, and ongoing professional development.

It’s now noon on the second Friday in February, and the Writing Center’s door has re-opened to students. Some staff are preparing for appointments, while others head home to rest and recover before the week to come. Yet all finish this latest learning experience more prepared as consultants and empowered to serve whoever walks through its many doors.

 

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