Happy 40th anniversary from the California Writing Project, the state network of sixteen local sites! CWP has celebrated these anniversaries every five years beginning with the 25th. The 30th, 35th, and now the 40th have been particularly important because they have coincided with devastating cuts to state or federal funding and so have served as a reminder to celebrate our strength and resilience.

For the 40th anniversary year, we decided to begin celebrating last October 5 by convening directors, co-directors, and teacher-leaders to reflect on what has sustained our work for forty years and what gives it momentum for the future. To accomplish that, each site was invited to lead a 75-minute session in response to the following framing issues and questions:

In 1973, the Bay Area Writing Project was born. It soon expanded to include the sites of the California Writing Project and the National Writing Project. Much of the growth of the writing project was intertwined with the growth of a new field—writing and composition. Writing project sites and writing teachers were developing new practices: process approaches to teaching writing, peer response strategies for feedback and revision, holistic writing assessment, classrooms as communities of writers, just to name a few.

Forty years later, Writing Project sites and writing teachers are developing practices for today’s priorities: writing for college and workplace readiness, technology-mediated writing, formative writing assessment, writing in and beyond the classroom, writing as participation and civic engagement. “Today, in the 21st century, people write as never before—in print and online. We thus face three challenges that are also opportunities: developing new models of writing; designing a new curriculum supporting those models; and creating models for teaching that curriculum.” (Kathleen Yancey, Writing in the 21st Century)

In this 40th anniversary year of the California Writing Project, what is new in the teaching and learning of writing? But what remains the same? What is foundational? What is current, cutting edge, or still to come?

In this 40th anniversary year of the California Writing Project, what is new in the teaching and learning of writing? But what remains the same? What is foundational? What is current, cutting edge, or still to come?

I couldn’t wait to see what sites would decide to contribute to the day. It brought me back to being a site director when I anticipated the inquiries and demonstrations summer institute fellows would create for their colleagues, trusting completely in the ISI process for everyone sharing their expertise and questions as teachers of writing.

Trusting that process for the CWP 40th Anniversary Conference resulted in fifteen sessions that comprised the following five conference strands:

  • Strengthening the Components of the Writing Project Model
  • Digital Reading, Research, and Leadership Development
  • Essential Knowledge for Making Effective Use of CCSS and the ELD Standards
  • Leadership Development and CCSS-Informed Professional Learning
  • Supporting All Writers—Students and Teachers

CWP Anniversary MeetingComplementing the breakout choices was a lunchtime session of hands-on rocket making and discussion of what happens when we think of writing as making. Download the conference program (PDF) and explore descriptions of the terrific site sessions.

To open and close the day, the planning team decided to provide a writing experience that pushed us to think about teachers as writers, then and now—the ways teachers explored varied genres, points of view, and going-public purposes forty years ago, and the ways that are available to us now.

We wrote about and then discussed the power of the Writing Project on us as teachers, writers, and leaders. And then, whether we wanted to or not, we all learned to turn those reflections and anecdotes into tweets. Check out the highlights of the opening session Peter Kittle and Kathee Godfrey captured in this Storify—Twitter and the Teaching of Writing.

We closed by going public with our reflections on the day. Some found a group to chat with. Others took to their notebook or Evernote. But many others took the opportunity to “unconference” with colleagues offering to teach a new digital genre for individual or collaborative reflection, and many more taking the opportunity to learn Storify, Go Animate, Quickmeme, Instagram, Vine, or Animoto.

For one example, check out this culminating Storify—CWP 40th Anniversary Conference.

‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬In 1982, when I was accepted into the Area 3 Writing Project’s ISI, all I wanted to be was a good teacher and that meant learning to teach my reluctant, dare-to-teach-me, middle school students to improve their writing. I was convinced they could do more; I just didn’t know how to support their improvement.

I left my ISI with enough instructional support and resources to keep me pedagogically fortified for years. Completely unexpected, and much more important though, was that I gained a professional community that would continue to challenge, nurture, and inspire me. Ann Lieberman captures this phenomenon so well. “Teachers come to the writing project most often as individuals who are isolated in their schools and essentially struggling alone with the inevitable dilemmas of teaching; they leave the summer institute as a member of a supportive professional community.” (Ann Lieberman, “The National Writing Project: Commitment and Competence,” Reconnecting Education and Foundations: Turning Good Intentions into Capital).

In 2013, I left our conference reminded that in this 40th anniversary year of the California Writing Project, funding may be fragile, but our sixteen site communities are not. The teaching and learning of writing may be changing, but CWP’s responsiveness to the needs of teachers and students and the urgencies of schools and districts is steady, sustained, and unwavering. I know that is also true for your local site, your own state or regional network of sites, and for our national network as well.

For me, what has remained the same across our forty years and is foundational is our expansive, inclusive Writing Project community—this learning and leadership community that we claim as our professional home for the lifetime of our career, this service and outreach community that works so hard in local communities, in states, and across the nation to support us and our students to success.

MarlinkThose who know Jayne Marlink know how much she hates taking pictures. They also know her 32-year passion for supporting students and teachers through the National Writing Project, beginning as a teacher-consultant and site director of the Area 3 Writing Project, and now as the executive director of the CWP state network.