The Writers Room® Program

Community-based Writing Coaches

How We Train Coaches

Training volunteers to be effective coaches

Montclair High School Juniors and Seniors serve as writing coaches in Marie Attanasio’s 9th grade English class. The idea of training students as writing coaches was initiated by Gemma Sullivan and Sandra Kenny when they served as high school coach managers. Once trained, however, it was difficult for students to find time in their schedule to work in the 9th grade classrooms. Fortunately, Greg Woodruff, who was teaching AP: Language and Composition, asked Gemma and Sandy if they would train his students to work in 9th grade classrooms as part of his AP course. He then designed the course to include Writers Room training.

Now Greg runs two sections of AP: Language and Composition, and students coach 9th grade English classes in periods 3 and 4. Before each coaching session, the student coaches meet with Sarah Peterson, the current coach manager, to discuss what the teacher wants and what they should focus on. Throughout the year, coaches keep journals about their experiences coaching — and about how coaching has helped them to become better writers. Their responses vary stylistically, but the content is consistent: teaching others helps them improve their own writing. And the consistently high scores on the AP prove it.

Prospective coaches sign up for a five-week training course during which they learn how to make suggestions for revision that stay true to what works in the first draft. When a coach works with a student on a persuasive essay or a position paper, s/he is most concerned that the student can support each point in a convincing manner, and that the introduction lets the reader know what the topic is and indicates the general thrust of the student position. The comments that are made in discussion are then written on a response sheet to serve as a guideline for the student revision. The same approach is used no matter what the genre--a short story, a persuasive essay, an interview, a poem, a research paper, a literary analysis.

By the end of the initial five weeks of training, a majority of the trainees are able to identify something that works in a piece of writing—something that the student can build on. We do not expect everyone to identify the same things—only that each person learn to identify an idea that can be developed. They have learned to see what’s on the page and to help a student envision what else could be there.

Once they start working in the classrooms, coaches are supervised by the coach manager until they are ready to solo. However, they always have a go-to person, and coaches often help each other. Because this kind of work is new, we are all always learning. That's what makes it satisfying, and that’s what keeps it growing.

The coach managers who are drawn from a pool of active coaches, direct The Writers Room Program in the individual schools. When a new manager is needed, the rest of the managers make recommendations from their pool of coaches. The names are then submitted to the principal, who does the interviewing and the hiring.

The training system is the same for community members, for high school students, and for student teachers at Montclair State University. Staff development is also constructed around the same principles, using the same kinds of student papers. Our program would not be successful otherwise. The teachers of the Montclair Public Schools have always welcomed us as partners—we are and always will be in this together.