National Writing Project

Who's Training Whom? What a Writing Project Director Has Learned from Classroom Teachers

By: Carol Booth Olson
Publication: California English
Date: May 18, 2012

Summary: After spending only a day participating in the UCLA Writing Project's Summer Institute, Carol Booth Olson was determined to bring the experience to her own school and went on to help found the UC Irvine Writing Project. Over the course of her extensive career as its director, she has learned a great deal and shares some of the wisdom she's acquired for anyone else eager to learn.


Excerpt from Article

Thirty-four years ago, I arrived at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), fresh out of graduate school, to assume an academic position. Before I was even settled in, I returned to my alma mater, UCLA, to spend the day at the charter Summer Institute of the UCLA Writing Project. After participating in what Dick Dodge, one of the UCLA Writing Project founders, called (only partially in jest) "one-third seminar, one-third group therapy, and one-third religious experience," I was completely hooked. I must admit that it was hard not to wax evangelical about the spirit of community engendered by this inspiring teachers-teaching-teachers model. My plans for creating a Writing Project site at UCI began that day, and our own project was established one year later in 1978.

As the youngest member of the first UCI Writing Project Summer Institute, and having the dubious distinction of possessing the least amount of teaching experience, I had a serious case of what has come to be called "the imposter syndrome." Indeed, my biggest concern was how I could bluff my way through the one-hundred hour program without revealing how green I was. Right off the bat, I discovered, to my great relief, that in a community of learners no one person needs to have the "right" answer. Further, as National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray, reminded us again and again in the early days, there is no one right way to teach writing. The point is to have good questions about the dynamic processes of teaching and learning and to pursue inquiries and illuminate understandings collaboratively. . . .

Copyright © 2012 California Association of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.
Booth Olson, Carol. 2012. "Who's Training Whom? What a Writing Project Director Has Learned from Classroom Teachers" California English 17 (3): 21—22.

Read more California English articles from this issue.

About the Author Carol Booth Olson is director of the UC Irvine Writing Project and an associate professor in the Department of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

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