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Toward a World of Better Writers

By Jeffrey Gibbs
Toward a World of Better Writers

Published with permission from Hisar High School 

In his seminal article on Writing Center work, Stephen North said, “Our job is to produce better writers, not better writing.” Hisar began our peer-managed Writing Center with that goal at the forefront, to transform our school into a collaborative community of writers who believe in writing as a means to make their way in the world, no matter their profession. We have come closer to that goal thanks to a joint project with Columbia University’s Student Press Initiative which has given our students’ work a solid presence in the real world that is empowering and motivating.

This fall, the Hisar School Writing Center celebrated two years of work in Writing Across the Curriculum with the release of two volumes published with the Student Press Initiative. The premier of both books was delayed by the onset of the global pandemic, but with the opening of our school in the Fall of 2021, we were able to celebrate publication with live readings and full fanfare on the stage of our culture center. After two long years of quarantined waiting, we finally welcomed back our student body with a professional, internationally-distributed book, designed, written, illustrated, and edited by their peers.

Our premier volume, titled Origin Stories, was published in the summer of 2020 and featured poems, short stories, personal essays, and graphics from fifty-nine high school students. Their task was to write about beginnings, and students met the challenge with mini graphic novels of a reimagined Creation story to thoughtful essays on the origin of Turkey’s cultural mosaic. Coming out in the summer of 2021, our second volume, titled S.T.E.A.M Punks, pulled in work from eighty-one students and four different disciplines to address the role science and math play in the modern world. The art, math, science, robotics, and English departments collaborated with Hisar’s writing center to put together a work of student research papers, op-eds, and artwork that explored emerging fields in contemporary science. Art students experimented with the new genre of “bio-art,” math students penned exploratory essays on the emergence of mathematical sequences in nature, while science students tackled brain-machine interfaces and the heat death of the universe.

Our work with Columbia’s Student Press Initiative has helped Hisar Writing Center’s goal to foster the nurturing of writers in all departments. We were able to transfer our philosophy of draft writing, growth mindset, and our system of peer and self-evaluation to subject areas whose teachers were originally skeptical or hesitant to focus on writing skills in their classrooms. These teachers found a new confidence in writing’s place in school and their ability to teach it. Thanks to Student Press Initiative, students were motivated by the promise of a true audience and wrote, many for the first time, with a real reader on the other end of the process. Collaboration is part of our whole school’s mission, and with this project there were more lines of collaboration than with any previous endeavor. Excitement is already building for this year’s book with which we intend to expand the number of departments we have worked with by putting Social Sciences in charge of the theme.

In an age where misinformation, fake news, and post-truth is becoming as endemic as any other virus, equipping our young people with the ability to communicate clearly and effectively is more important than ever before. To that end, we see our collaboration with the Student Press Initiative as our contribution to creating a generation of better, more responsible writers that may, if not transform their world, then at least help us understand it.

Jeffrey Gibbs is a teacher and writer living in Istanbul with over twenty-six years of experience teaching international students. He is director and founder of Hisar School's Writing Center. 

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