Teachers learn by doing

By Karen A. Grava, CLAS Today

The motto of the Connecticut Writing Project might be, “you have to do it to teach it.”

The CLAS program, part of the National Writing Project, which has 209 sites nationwide, focuses on coaching teachers to be better writers and teachers of writing.

The program also provides enrichment, a summer institute and publications for the best teacher and student writing. And it honors students across the state who write well and are selected for publication in the Connecticut Student Writers Magazine.

And it works with English majors and students who are in the Neag School of Education’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s program pursuing a concentration in teaching English.

“One of the goals of the program is to put University-level research into teachers’ hands,” says Jason Courtmanche, director of the project and a lecturer in English.

Funded with University, federal, private funds provided from UConn’s Aetna Chair of Writing in CLAS and other funding from schools and school districts, the program provides six graduate credits in English to teachers who spend four weeks at the University during the summer.

While they are on Storrs, they do research in composition, participate in writing workshops, compile a portfolio of their own writing and develop a research-based professional development workshop on some aspect of teaching writing.

The best writing of the summer, including poetry, non-fiction and fiction prose, is published each fall.

Teachers then take their skills back to the classrooms in their home districts.

Courtmanche says they return with a new focus on integrating writing into other projects. “One of the deadly virtues of English teaching is that we ask students to study fiction, poetry and drama and never let them write those things,” he says. “Teachers who participate in this program see that the writing process is not divorced from the curriculum but an integral part of it.”

The program, founded in 1982, also offers sessions with visiting writers and Saturday enrichment programs throughout the year. Courtmanche also supervises Neag master’s degree students who participate in internships in school districts around the state.

“Our program is a model that has spread throughout the country,” Courtmanche says. “We disseminate quality research on how to teach writing.”

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