When I first learned about the OLLI program at USF Tampa, I was amazed at the quantity and quality of courses for older adults. I hear that the 2019 OLLI Winter-Spring Catalog offers nearly 180 courses and lectures. I think that’s a record.
I was even more amazed when I realized that the majority of classes were taught by my peers, adults like myself over 50, who volunteer for free their time, experience, and passion for teaching. When I was a child in school, I loved the opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer teaching, all the camaraderie and equality of it. Now I have a whole catalog of peer teaching to look over. I read it each semester with excitement and enthusiasm for what my generation has to offer.
In the 2016 Spring Catalog, the title of a particular class spoke to me. It was called “A Course is Born: From Concept to Classroom.” The description sounded both hopeful and challenging; the teacher in me was revved up by the words “hands-on workshop” and the writer in me by the lovely phrase, “the process of shaping your idea into a class.” It was taught by Jane Applegate, a former professor and Dean of USF’s College of Education with a PhD in curriculum and instruction, and Ara Rogers, the Director of our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI’s full name) with a doctorate from USF in adult education.
I signed up for “A Course is Born” because I wanted to design a writing workshop that I would enjoy taking as a student, something on a level with writing classes I had taken at the Iowa Writers Workshop and the New York Writers Institute, and had taught across the country and Canada in major cities with a group of writers modeled on the Amherst Writers program.
I had retired to Florida with my husband to be near our grandchildren. As a professional writer, editor, teacher of writing, and director of publications, I was looking forward to hours of free writing time. What I didn’t look forward to was writing alone. I had left an active community of writers back home in Upstate New York. I missed the human interaction of supportive feedback, gaining mutual understanding and celebrating writing success with others. To me, writing alone felt like punishment.
“A Course is Born,” which is offered by OLLI at least once a year, is rigorous. About 20 of us took the course. Jane and Ara, our professors, were serious about their expectations. The quality seen in many of the OLLI courses comes directly from top down. Over six meetings, we were brought up-to-date on a variety of teaching styles and the new technology we could get help with for presentations, if that was our style. We learned about special considerations for adult learners, such as hearing and vision issues (e.g., providing handouts in 14-point type). We met in small groups to pitch our course ideas and refine them with feedback. Outside of class, we sat in on classes led by the best teachers OLLI offers and wrote reports. Finally, we had to stand up in front of our classmates and teach a practice session. I still shudder remembering my presentation, but I’m grateful to OLLI for giving me the freedom to pour my heart into designing what I dreamed of teaching.
In the fall of 2016, I gave birth to a writing workshop and will always remember those first students who helped me to become a better teacher. I’ve been facilitating writing workshops for OLLI now for the past several years, and my students still continue to bring out the best in me. It’s not the same class I started with called “Fiction Writers Workshop.” It’s evolved into what we call the “Community of Writers,” reflecting students’ wider interest in story and narrative – with creative nonfiction, essay, memoir, and fiction.
This spring I will lead my sixth workshop, for the first time in two separate groups, advanced and newcomers. We will practice completion, and we will work on new pieces of writing for six weeks from beginning to end. So much about writing can be off-putting and confusing. We will understand writing as discovery and help each other with feedback and suggestions for getting unstuck and past the rough spots.
The newer writers will work on a three-to-four-page story; the more experienced writers, five to ten pages. Each class generally attracts between eight to ten writers, men and women, from different backgrounds, different experiences. Some are as young as 50, while others are in their 80’s. The conversations we have about writing are exhilarating. My students say that the best part of the workshop experience is participating in our development as more accomplished writers. This is a journey we all feel proud of, admiring others’ triumphs as our own, because they are.
Newcomers’ class starts Tuesday, Feb 12, 12:15-3:15. (See OLLI Class Catalog, Winter-Spring 2019, page 15)
Experienced class starts Wednesday, Feb 13, 10 am-1 pm. (See OLLI Class Catalog, Winter-Spring 2019, page 19; notice the time change since catalog publication)
You are invited to contact email@example.com with any questions.
Liesse Chable joined OLLI in January 2016. She has taken numerous classes in technology, writing, literature, music, history, genealogy, creativity, politics, and psychology as well as Italian and Tai Chi. Liesse’s Winter/Spring 2019 courses start on February 12 and 13: Newcomers Community of Writers Workshop and Experienced Community of Writers Workshop.