Founded in 1974, the goal of the National Writing Project is to improve the teaching of writing. The Morehead Writing Project is one of NWP’s 200 local sites. We are located at Morehead State University and serve more than 200 schools both in and adjacent to the MSU service region.
Traditionally, the core of our work is our Summer Institute in which we bring together K-16 educators across all content areas for an intense, collaborative professional development experience. Unlike the “sage on a stage” or “sit-n-get” models of professional development, our PD is designed and delivered by real classroom teachers who work with real students right now which means they are aware of the current challenges and trends in education and our model is open and inclusive so every educator has the opportunity for leadership as well as learning. Our goal for the Summer Institute – a month-long fellowship – is for teachers to become better writers and better writing teachers through their experience in a community of writers and teachers.
A writing project site has a number of constituencies. First and foremost are our teachers. They are both our purpose and the structure of our organization. Without teachers we don’t exist. Every summer it is my intense pleasure and privilege to watch the transformation that takes place at our Summer Institute. I watch teachers become writers and I watch teachers learn how to enact those same transformations in their own classrooms. I believe in the power and magic of the National Writing Project because I know this same alchemy takes place across the country. I believe in the power and magic of the National Writing Project because I know from my own experience as well as bearing witness to the transformation of dozens of teachers that we are the most powerful professional development model in existence.
But the Morehead Writing Project had a problem. We did little work with our undergraduate education students and we were only reaching a small fraction of the teachers in our region. We knew (thanks to NWP’s extensive research as well as our own experience) that our methods for teaching writing are effective but we wanted to get this knowledge, this experience, into the hands of more teachers – in more schools – and we wanted to do it sooner rather than later. Every summer I would hear the plaintive wail from teachers – “If only I knew this sooner!” – as they felt that they had failed their former students because they didn’t know how to nurture writers until their experience with MWP.
And so I pondered and researched and questioned and brainstormed ideas for creating a program that would allow us to provide a supported experience for pre-service and new teachers to learn the right way, the NWP way, of teaching/nurturing writers. A writing center was certainly one option but most writing center sessions are infrequent and rarely guide writers through the writing process. I wanted something that would be more long-term and have a more lasting impact on the writer. In the end I was much more attracted to the idea of embedded tutors who work with a specific teacher and class over time. Then I was introduced to the idea of the Writing Studio.
A studio learning environment is one where activities of production are undertaken individually, but in a place where others are working and discussing their work simultaneously and where teachers along with other students provide guidance and suggestions. After meeting Rhonda Grego and Nancy Thompson and reading their book, Teaching/Writing in Thirdspaces: The Studio Approach, as well as studying studio programs at other schools I knew I had found the right medium. In 1992, Grego and Thompson began a Writing Studio program that was a highly-adaptable model of the studio learning environment. Their program included small groups of students who met weekly to work on their writing with the help of a facilitator. The writing studio groups focused on the process of production by discussing the work as well as getting and giving feedback on the individual writing pieces brought to the group. The MWP Writing Studio is based on this model.
During this, our pilot year, we have focused on working with pre-service teachers but we hope to eventually include new teachers, such as those in MSU’s alternate certification program as well as recent MSU graduates. We have only recently begun working in the classrooms of some teachers who are interested in learning more about writing project methods as part of a learning community we sponsor in Bath County.
The pre-service teachers we work with have unanimously reported that this is a tremendous experience for them. They have learned so much about teaching in general and teaching writing in specific and now feel much more confident and excited about teaching. They now have experience of the range of challenges that student writers face and have helped these writers work through challenges and grow as a result.
We are also able to provide an important service to the student writers in our region. At MSU we have provided support for some of the most at-risk populations in our developmental writing classes as well as Early College students. In Bath County, we are able to provide supplemental instruction for young writers.
Finally, we are also able to serve our host institution in a number of ways. The MSU education program is large and we educate the majority of teachers in our region. The MWP Studio program is another way we can support that program by providing valuable learning experiences as well as field experience opportunities. In addition, we are providing support for two populations of students – in particular the developmental students are a major concern for retention and graduation rates. There is also growing concern that Early College students are not getting the exposure they need to college culture and expectations – and so come to campus facing the same expectations as other sophomores but are not equipped with the same experience and knowledge which could set them up for failure.
While our Studio program is not perfect, we are still young and learning as we grow, we consider the program to be a win on all fronts. We are serving our core mission of improving the teaching of writing while serving our core constituency (teachers) but we are also able to expand our reach by serving more educators and more students as well as providing a valuable service to our host institution.