Chapter in Innovative Developments in Writing Studio Practice forthcoming in 2015 from Hampton Press
For 40 years, the mission of the National Writing Project (NWP) has been to improve the teaching of writing. Nearly 200 NWP sites located on college campuses across the United States work with educators from primary through postsecondary on this goal. The foundation of this successful professional development model is the learning community. The writing studio model, which creates learning communities focused on writing, is a natural extension of the work of NWP sites as NWP methods already center around writing workshop and process theory. The learning communities and writing workshops that NWP teachers create in their classrooms and schools create the same mentoring roles which writing studio programs develop.
In true NWP fashion, the Morehead Writing Project Writing Studio has created a master learning community to support both the Peer Writers, as our writing group facilitators are known, and writing instructors teaching the classes working with the studio. In this way, the mentoring that results from our studio program has many levels. Our undergraduate peer writers mentor the developmental students they work with and the instructors and MWP site leadership mentor the peer writers. And of course, as this is a learning community, the students sometimes become the teacher and sometimes everyone is a student learning from the shared experience.
In this chapter, I propose to share the development of this pilot NWP writing studio and its impact on the facilitators and instructors as well as the NWP site and its host institution, including both the writing and education programs.
The NWP learning community is an ideal model to support studio work and, in particular, the training and support of studio personnel. As the NWP model is based on teachers teaching teachers we are already equipped with the tools and experience necessary to support the development of new teachers or facilitators and we believe the ability to provide this instruction in the context of a studio is a win for all the stakeholders.
Much like the studio model itself, the NWP site is both outside and alongside. We serve our host institution in a number of ways – working with both students and faculty. However, NWP work offers a different experience than more traditional studio programs because our work already reaches beyond campus boundaries. This offers us the potential to take our studio work in K-12 classrooms, which we have already done on a limited basis, and we expect that as our peer writers graduate and move into their own classrooms that studio work will find its way in.
While an NWP writing studio offers many advantages and increased opportunities over the more traditional studio model, such as being above institutional mandates, this model also brings with it limitations and disadvantages. As an “outside” program we do not have control (or input) over class and instructor schedules and have very little financial or administrative support for our studio. While our data speaks strongly to the positive impact of our studio work, we suspect that our administration will gladly accept the gift but give nothing in return.
This chapter will address not only what other studio programs can learn from the NWP model but will also include an argument for why an NWP site would want to start a writing studio program.