This year the Morehead Writing Project has started a new program. The Morehead Writing Project Writing Studio Program provides peer writers to lead groups of student writers in developmental writing classes (now) and early college writing classes (coming). Why? The mission of the National Writing Project is to improve the teaching of writing and we believe this project can do so on three fronts.
First, we believe our program can help the students of our host institution. We know there is a need to support our developmental writing students. More than 50% of incoming college students must take one or more remedial courses (in writing, math, and reading). First-year attrition among all college students is high (25% nationally) and the three main reasons that students struggle (and often leave) is that they are underprepared academically, lack the necessary student and life skills, and possess low confidence in their academic skills. We believe a studio approach is more compatible with the approaches to teaching writing endorsed by the National Writing Project than a writing center or lab. We believe working within a supportive community of writers will help our developmental writing students learn and grow as writers as well as students. We hope providing peer writers to serve as mentors and advisers will help our developmental writing students attain the knowledge and skills they need to not only stay in school but succeed.
In addition, a writing studio program supports the growth and development of the writing instructors and the peer writers (English Education majors who will be writing teachers in a few years). We have created a learning community to support our studio program. The learning community includes me (as MWP Site Director and the peer writer mentor), the two developmental writing instructors (also MWP site leaders) whose classes are piloting the studio program, and five peer writers (upper level English Ed majors who have worked with MWP in the past). We are meeting weekly to discuss practical issues ranging from current assignments and discussion topics to cover the theoretical and pedagogical challenges the peer writers encounter in their studio group sessions. In addition, we all regularly reflect about our experiences with the studio project to help us document the process. I look forward to these meetings and love the give-and-take of our discussions. We are all learning and growing as teachers as a result and I know my enthusiasm about the project and teaching has only grown since we began meeting.
Finally, as a result of both the hands-on experience teaching writing and working with writers as well as participation in our learning community, we believe our peer writers will be better prepared to teach writing when they graduate and enter their own high school classrooms as teachers. Our five peer writers are learning strategies they can employ in their own classrooms in the future and developing their own teaching style, but perhaps most important of all they are learning how to shape and direct their own professional development through a network of peers. I am so proud and excited to watch these pre-service teachers work through the challenges they face and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Stay tuned as I share the progress of our new program in the months to come! Soon I hope to share a description of what our writing studio program looks like and how it works.