Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creating a Writing Studio Program

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.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I have always known what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with words. I wanted to write and work with writers and I wanted to use my words to teach others. I am one of the fortunate people who knew from an early age what I wanted and I am even more fortunate that most of my adult life has meant doing just that. I have been lucky enough to have a long and varied love affair with the written word which has also allowed me to earn a living. I have been a newspaper reporter and editor, magazine writer and editor, and I been a published novelist. I have been a freelance writer for both print and web publications and worked as a technical writer. I ran a successful web publication company with a number of ezines, blogs, and web sites. Then I moved into academia and have had the dual joy and burden of teaching writing to both undergraduate, and graduate writing classes. I have taught everything from developmental to professional writing and after more than a decade I still believe I have one of the most important jobs on campus – even if my status and paycheck do not reflect that belief.

While I consider myself very lucky to have a job that includes important work that I love, I also know how difficult it is to work somewhere that work is not valued. I owe it to myself as well as all those who have contributed to the professional I am today to find that dream job. Of course, the real challenge is sorting through my dreams to uncover the true specifications for that dream job. This is hard. Very hard. Academia wants to sort people into neat little boxes. And I am not a neat little box kind of person. I have a lot of skills and a lot of interests and I do not want to abandon one skill set in favor of another – and I don’t think I should have to do so when I believe there are academic programs out there that are looking for people just like me. Am I fooling myself?

The Modern Language Association Job Information List is coming out soon and I need to be ready. I need to think about what I really want and where my needs and wants fit in with the needs and wants of academic programs. My current institution hired me to teach general education writing. At the beginning my course schedule was filled with developmental writing and the two-course composition sequence, Writing I and Writing II. Then I developed and piloted online versions of the composition classes which have become a mainstay of our general education program. As time passed I was also offered the opportunity to teach introductory creative writing and technical composition (an alternative to Writing II). Then shortly after entering my Ph.D. program I became the Site Director for our National Writing Project site which led to teaching graduate classes that covered a spectrum of topics from teaching writing to research and theory to creative writing. After earning my Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric I have added professional writing to my list of course offerings. I like teaching all these things. I like working with developing writers to help them find their voice and confidence. I like working with more experienced writers to help them grow and develop as professionals. I like sharing my experience as a working professional writer with others who want to pursue a career with words. I like working with educators to improve the teaching of writing. I want to do all those things. Am I fooling myself?

In addition, my position as a National Writing Project site leader has given me administrative experience. I manage a budget with a variety of funding streams as well as writing the grants and reports that support those streams, a staff of students and professionals serving in a variety of roles, and oversee a number of community and professional development programs. This is important work and tremendously rewarding work. I love this work and the people I work with as a result. I know that I may not end up working in a program with a National Writing Project site, but I hope to work in program that fosters this kind of work – this synergy between writing and teaching writing  and I want to work in a program that is large enough to share this work and vision with others.
And so, the question remains. Am I fooling myself? Does such a dream position exist? Will I be able to find just the right program (not too big and not too small) that needs a multitool like me? And how do I position myself for that job? I anticipate that this is the type of job that will value teaching and service over research, but I still want to research, write, publishing and present -- but where and which focus? However, now I need to stop dreaming and focus on the job I have.