Thursday, March 31, 2011

The National Writing Project

Schedule of Demonstration Lessons
"There is a connection between what writers have to say and the way they say it, good expository or narrative prose is born of deep investment and passion..."

- Milton Meltzer, Nonfiction for the Classroom

Are you a National Writing Project teacher? I am. In 1997 the NWP invested in me. I got a scholarship to the Central Florida Writing Project. Some $600 or so was given to me as a stipend to attend the writing project.  That was the first time in my teaching career I'd been paid to learn or to attend training. We met each day from 8:30- 3, writing our way through most of it. If you're unfamiliar with the Writing Project let me explain it. Teachers from a variety of grade levels and content areas come together to learn how to teach writing. We know, from Ralph Fletcher and Donald Graves and other writing gurus that the best teachers of writing are writers themselves, so that's what we became during our month long summer writing camp.  We lived the beliefs of the National Writing Project recopied here from my 1997 Writing Project binder:

  1. The writing problem affects both universities and schools. 
  2. Student writing can be improved by improving the teaching of writing.
  3. The best teacher of teachers is another teacher.
  4. Change can best be  accomplished by those who work in schools, not by transient consultants who briefly appear, never to be seen again and not by packets of teacher-proof materials.
  5. Programs designed to improve the teaching of writing should be made available to teachers at all grade levels from all subject areas.
  6. Classroom practice and research have generated a substantial body of knowledge on the teaching of writing.
  7. The intuition of teachers can be a productive guide for field-based research, and practicing teachers can conduct useful studies in their classrooms.
  8. Teachers of writing must write themselves.

In the morning we participated in a writing demonstration lesson given, the first week by UCF professors and local graduates of the Central Florida Writing Project. Our goal was to create a writing demonstration lesson we could take into our schools and beyond. One day we wrote about music with Dr. Judy Johnson. We wrote about the history of laughter after reading The Tickle Octopus with Kim Whitney, an elementary school teacher who is now an elementary school principal. We wrote and wrote and wrote ourselves new lives as teacher-consultants.

My summer with the Writing Project renewed by passion for writing. The experience grew my confidence as a teacher of writing and connected me with teachers who became important players in my professional life. When I think back about the writing demonstration lessons we created, I amazed not only at their breadth but also at how they foreshadowed our futures as educators. We wrote about space by reading about space and creating A to Z books about space. We created concept maps about ecology and used them to write a short story (mine is title "Reintroduction of Grizzly Bears into the Wilderness"). We wrote about food and memory and the human body and American immigration and the Revolutionary war and even math.

Many of the teacher consultants that year went on to work with Janet Allen in the literacy institutes she would run across the country for the next dozen years. Soon to become a fellow institute facilitator, Lee Corey introduced us to different countries with her writing demo and we created travel brochures based on what we learned. After the writing project she spent several years teaching Turkey; she's serving in  Department of Defense schools in Japan right now. Each teacher took a turn at writing the daily log. Christine Landaker's was titled "Donuts, Cake, and Berries, Oh My!" She's an amazing teacher, National Board certified in both social studies and language arts, she nows blogs about gardening and food.

The Central Florida Writing Project connected me with educators outside of my classroom, teachers' lounge or school. Suddenly there was a network of committed, like-minded teachers I could call upon to process instructional issues or to share ideas.  I knew then and I know now that the Writing Project gets results. Beyond the student achievement results, the Writing Project kept me in teaching, a field that weathers more than a 30% turnover rate in the first 5 years. Teacher turnover costs the nation an estimated 2.2 Billion dollars a year. How much did the National Writing Project cost us? According to the Appropriations Committee, 25.6 Million dollars. Million. Not billion. Can we afford not to retain quality teachers invested in learning?

Today I am asking Washington to continue to support the National Writing Project. NWP funding is labeled an earmark in the reductions. How is it defined as an earmark? An earmark to this voter signals special interests and pork bellies. Do teachers have a special interest in NWP funding. We do, so should parents. If you have a stake in students, if you want to support the National Writing Project, contact your representative (search for them on Twitter here). Search by zip code by using the search box on the bottom left. Blog about how the National Writing Project supported you as a teacher. Follow @writingproject, @chadsansing, and the #blog4nwp, or #nwp hashtags. Lend your support to those gathered in Washington today for the spring meeting of the National Writing Project. Let them know their work matters.

The Writing Project mattered to me. It showed me that I was not alone. I was valued as an educator, writer and teacher of writing. I learned from other teachers and they learned from me.  I saw my classroom as an extension of the learning I did professionally. I took responsibility for my own learning and for the learning of my students. I realized that teaching and learning could be joyful events which fed into a community much larger than my own classroom. The Writing Project empowered me and gave me voice. That made all the difference.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Books Read

Do you challenge yourself to read? How much? How many books? Do you aim for certain types of books? I joined Paul W. Hankins' The Centurions of 2011 group on Facebook this year. The goal? Read 111 book in 2011. Many folks track the books they've read using the note feature of Facebook editing the note at the end of each month. That's what I've done for the first two months, but Teri Lesesne's wall post this morning inspired me to blog my list instead.
Lesesne blogs each book she reads which never ceases to amaze me. I first heard Teri Lesesne speak at an institute day during NCTE. Janet Allen had organized a team of folks to present a day-long program prior to the official start of the conference (Secondary Reading or NCTE, I'll have to go back through my journals) . Who was there? Teri Lesesne, Bonnie Hill Campbell, Linda Rief and more. The day was organized with keynotes and round-table discussions. I led a round table. An eye-opening day early in my professional journey outside of the classroom, I'm not surprised that  more than a decade later I'm still finding inspiration  from Tere Lesesne. 

I don't  blog each book I read as Lesesne does. But I do I talk about them to friends quite a bit or my students. Feeling as if I had to write up each one would quickly sap the pleasure from the reading experience. Sometimes I'm moved to write or review, but I'll leave that to an occasional practice.  I'm a habitual reader. There are few things I enjoy more than diving into a good story.  Below are the books I read this month:
  1. The Sliver Chair, C.S. Lewis (February)
  2. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  3. Witch & Wizard, James Patterson
  4. When the World Was Young, Tony Romano
  5. House Rules, Jodi Picoult
  6. The Looking Glass Wars, S.A. Bodeen
  7. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  8. Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy, Carlos Eire
  9. S is for Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet (Alphabet Books), G.Gregory Roberts and Bob Douce
  10. Touching Spirit Bear, Ben Mikaelsen*
  11. Dear Author Letters of Hope, Joan Kaywell, ed.
  12. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson*
  13. The Compound, S.A. Bodeed
  14. Huntress, Malinda Lo
*re-reads with students

So what does all of this reading mean? The first three books I read so that I could participate in my son's reading. We saw The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so I dipped into his Narnia collection to read the last two. He asked me to read Patterson's Witch & Wizard after he read it, so I did and on our commutes from school one week we talked about the characters. A student in my first period class recommended The Looking Glass Wars--a futuristic Alice in Wonderland retelling. I wanted to honor his recommendation, knowing as Donalyn Miller writes in The Book Whisperer that he would be more open to my own title recommendations if I also took his. I've always believed that when it comes to independent reading in the classroom teachers need to follow Ralph Fletcher's advice. Though he talks to us about writing, his words are easily applied to our reading community classrooms: you need to know your students, know your resources and know how to teach [writing]. For me, knowing how to teach the readers in my room means knowing the books that will interest them. I read. I read what I can, when I can, as often as I can. It's that simple.