On behalf of all of us in the Center for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi, welcome to everyone attending this year’s Transitioning to College Writing Symposium! As the coordinator of the Symposium, I am privileged to have been working for the past six months or more with fellow writing teachers here in Mississippi to develop a program that offers as many opportunities for conversation, discussion, and learning about writing instruction as possible in just a day and a half of roundtable and workshop sessions.
The need for an event like the Transitioning to College Writing Symposium is timely, given the full integration of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) now taking place in our public schools. We are privileged to host writing teachers from across Mississippi who have or are willing to embrace the opportunity and potential embedded with the Common Core Standards to help their students learn more effective ways of analyzing non-fiction writing, how to examine and craft evidence-based arguments, and how to become more professional in the writing they do. At the same time, they are passionate about retaining the value of close reading, of textual analysis and interpretation, and of engaging with values and ideas that push beyond the sometimes narrow and prejudiced-based enculturation their students may have received in their home communities. They want to share their love of reading stimulating, challenging literature and talking about the ideas generated by such reading with their students, using both traditional and new texts to do so. They want to foster in their students the awareness that writing actually supports learning, so in learning to write well, students are also writing to learn. They want to share their own ideas, learn from others ideas, and engage in helping other writing teachers understand and learn about the landscape where writing instruction takes place. It is all of this – and more! – that our annual Symposium seeks to encourage and provide a safe space for all of us to talk about and share our work.
We are gearing up this year for more attendees than ever. We have been privileged to receive partial funding for this year’s Symposium from the Mississippi Humanities Council, and thus our registration is free and open to the public. We continue this year to include as much input from high school and 2 and 4 year writing teachers: our program was developed by more than 24 writing teachers from K-16 settings! Also as in past years, we also have the opportunity to learn from experienced writing teachers and writing studies scholars.
We will learn from one of our region’s own, Laura Hammons, an English teacher from Hinds Community College. For many years, Hammons has been exploring ways to engage students in writing; she also draws on the resources of the Two-Year College Association (TYCA), which she helped found, in helping community colleges provide a solid learning experience for their students to help them in their transition to the writing they will do as juniors and seniors in four-year colleges. We also have as visiting scholar Dr. Pamela Childers, Professor Emerita of The McCallie School in Chattanooga. In addition to her expertise in the area of Writing Across the Curriculum (and in designing assignments and assessment for such work), Professor Childers has for years been a guiding light in the field of secondary school writing centers. She will present workshops on planning and setting up writing centers, and she will also talk to us about writing across the curriculum on both Friday and Saturday.
We continue to support the development of high school writing centers. At our first Transitioning to Writing Symposium, Mississippi writing teachers put onto their “needs and wishes” list something that we here at Ole Miss esteem: peer-staffed Writing Centers! There are now writing centers active in both private and public schools settings – Jason Jones of Strayhorn High School in Tate County has opened the Strayhorn HS Writing Center along with 8 or more high school students as tutors, and Lisa Whitney of Jackson Prep has launched The Writer’s Block, along with 14 high school seniors! They are both bringing some of their tutors with them to this year’s symposium.
We in the CWR are thrilled to see that our colleagues in high schools and community colleges also recognize the value of their students having access to writing centers, and from our work in writing center studies, we realize that students working with fellow students improves not just the paper or writing project, but improves the writing abilities and confidence of the writer. Improved writing leads to better grades, which in turn leads to increased motivation and retention among our students. Each year since that first Symposium, we have featured a strand in the program specifically for encouraging the development and implementation of writing centers, and this year is no exception. Dr. Pamela Childers will be leading sessions on Friday that specifically address planning, and then implementing, high school writing centers. Additionally, her afternoon writing workshop will incorporate how to plan for effective partnerships between secondary and post-secondary schools so that growth and support for new writing centers is part of the implementation of such writerly spaces.
As I contemplate the arrival of this year’s Transitioning to College Writing Symposium, I think how fortunate Mississippi is to have such dedicated and innovative writing teachers! This past summer, I was part of the University’s Writing Project Summer Institute, and we worked with teachers from across the state who wanted to improve their delivery of writing instruction. Teachers from across and around our state are very interested in helping our students succeed in career and college. With the implementation of the Common Core Standards, we will see an increased (and increasing) emphasis on writing in all subjects. Thus, we are most fortunate this fall to have sessions and workshops that will help us work with students across the curriculum to improve their critical reading and writing skills. We hope you are among those we meet this weekend!
Alice Myatt, 2013 Transitioning to College Writing Program Director