SHS teaching better writing skills

By Annette C. Silva

"There is no happiness where there is no wisdom...." reiterated the teacher. "What do you think this line means?" These words, attributed to Aristophanes of ancient Greece, were uniquely apropos at a recent brainstorming ses-sion held in Seaford High School's new Writing Center. The line was both a subject for inquiry and even the reason for being in this place of learning. In any case, the words engendered lively discourse among Jim Westhoff, center director, and two English students-Emily Goricki and John Wheatley. The tutorial focused on finding a thesis topic and reasonable arguments for an assignment in writing based on four lines of the Greek play "Antigone." Brainstorming is but one of the Writing Center's activities created by Westhoff. Other objectives outlined by the new English teacher include understanding writing assignments, creating cohesive and strong thesis statements, learning to revise drafts, training student and volunteer tutors and providing instruction in grammar, usage, style, proofreading and other tools of the writing craft. Initiated by the district as part of Seaford's School-to-Work grant proposal, the full-time program (one of only three such centers in the state) is designed to help young people become skillful and thoughtful writers. "My goal is to improve students' writing abilities, to help them express themselves effectively and to encourage them to enjoy good literature," Westhoff said. In his first weeks, Westhoff began by telling students via study halls, presentations to English classes and intercom announcements about the Writing Center and its accessibility. "I'm here all day-students can come in when they have time," he said. Teachers can and do recommend the center to students for specific assignments or to work on particular skills.

An Iowa native, Westhoff was a newspaper reporter who turned to a public relations career. Somewhere along the way, "I realized what I really wanted to do was teach," said the lean 34-year-old University of Virginia English major. He found his destination on the Internet. "I was searching for teaching opportunities," said Westhoff, "and discovered Delaware's Alternative Routes to Certification [ARTC] program." Sponsored by the Delaware Department of Education, ARTC is designed to attract professionals in fields other than education. Once on board, the new candidates begin a teaching career and the certification process simultaneously. But let's return to Aristophanes. "How do you interpret the line, 'No wisdom but in submission to the Gods'?" asked Westhoff. Spurred by this question, Emily, John and the teacher talked about their various interpretations of "submission." Emily said she understood the word (as used in the play) in terms of "how we might view obedience to God." John, initially not certain about the word "submission," came to view the concept in terms of King Creon's realization that he couldn't control all things. When Emily and John left, they had their essay topics in hand; they also carried away quotable arguments from the play to prove thesis points. Not bad for 25 minutes of probing their own minds, not to mention the ponderings of a classical Greek writer. "In an ideal world, the students would show me their first drafts tomorrow so they'd have time to revise before handing in the papers," Westhoff said. Unfortunately, the papers were due the next day. But as students begin to understand how the process works, he hopes they'll plan for follow-up time. School principal Dr. Ken Madden said the Writing Center will be an on-going program involving student and volunteer tutors. "It is very likely we will extend the center to an after-school program," he said.

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