Featured Center

The Michael J. Durney Writing Center

in Montana’s Bozeman High School 

History

The Michael J. Durney Writing Center, in Montana’s Bozeman High School, was founded in the fall of 1991 by its namesake, an English teacher and former department chair, and named in his honor upon his retirement in 2007. After years of observing students scribble their essays on paper in noisy study halls, cafeterias, hallways, and buses, Mike advocated for a quiet place for students to think and write. But his proposal went much further: he envisioned a room devoted solely to writing, with computers available for the writing process and an English teacher available for direction and feedback. In this Mike was something of a pioneer—at least in Montana—as writing centers were largely unknown in 1991 and the home computer was more novel than commonplace.

Current Status

Twenty-three years later our writing center thrives. We began with thirty Mac Classics; today we support forty-two iMacs and three Mac laptops, and we have at least one full-time English teacher assigned to the center throughout the day. Teachers from all departments reserve space online for their classes to draft and revise essays and presentations. Students drop in to work before and after school, and during lunch and study halls. Our staff fields questions regarding technology, drafting, documentation, brainstorming, revising and editing, and provides in-depth, one-on-one feedback to students. But because we are stretched thin, we can’t review papers with individual students as much as we’d like. School-wide budget cuts have limited the amount of tutoring we can offer, but we are addressing this by working with Bozeman-based Montana State University to establish a trained cadre of tutors from the university’s teaching program. This provides extra sets of eyes for our students and invaluable experience for the teachers-in-training. We hope to expand on this next year by working with MSU’s Writing Center staff to train selected BHS students to be peer tutors.

Service


Our staff helps content-area teachers develop prompts and rubrics, works with other Montana high schools to develop the writing center and/or handbook best suited for their needs and available resources, collaborates with faculty at Bozeman’s middle schools to improve the transition to English I for eighth graders—and like English teachers everywhere, assists our colleagues and administrators with their own writing. We also take great pride in assuming responsibility for maintaining our technology; our tech guys are the best, but we feel that the more we manage our own computers, the better prepared we’ll be to understand and then meet the needs of our students and teachers.

Handouts


In the meantime, we offer handouts that help students revise a peer’s work and checklists for their own. We also maintain a Google site that introduces the Writing Center, emphasizes academic integrity, and provides links to articles on writing (the site is a work-in-progress). Visitors to the site will also find PDF copies of the BHS Writer’s Handbook—our own MLA-based style manual. The handbook includes sections on style, essay writing, research writing and MLA documentation, usage, spelling, and terminology. We’ve created handouts for the classroom teacher to introduce their students to the handbook, which provides them with revising and editing marks, and assists them with grammar and punctuation, the writing process, essay elements, annotated bibliographies, and business letters and resumés. Freshmen receive a free print copy when they arrive in the fall. If or when students lose their copy, they may purchase another from us or, if at home, download and print what they need from our Google pages or those of our library. PDFs of the handbook are also available on Writing Center computers; students without a print copy handy can open the PDF version for reference as they write. The handbook has long been a valuable resource and today is especially so, now that the Common Core mandates that high school students learn to navigate a style manual.

Handbook


The handbook is particularly helpful to students when crafting entries for the works-cited page. We strongly discourage the use of online citation generators or any reliance on works-cited entries provided by databases for a variety of reasons—the most obvious of which is that the MLA entries generated are rarely correct. We inform our students that if they plug the same source into five different online or database generators, they will typically receive five different entries—each of which purports to be MLA. Nevertheless, some do take the easier route, so our teachers hold students accountable for checking the entries generated against the corresponding samples provided in the handbook.

Specialized Labs


Almost 1,900 students are enrolled at BHS. Fortunately, our administration is supportive of technology, and so in addition to our Writing Center and an all-purpose computer lab, BHS has designated labs for business, music, library research, graphic arts, industrial arts, the student newspaper, and televised student productions. These labs are very specialized, but because every student is assigned writing, the Writing Center sees all of them as some point, and many quite frequently. We owe much to the students who invest in the Writing Center; the teachers who place their trust in us; and our administrators, who support our every endeavor.

Jean Munch

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