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"The National Writing Project (NWP) is a professional development network that serves teachers of writing at all grade levels, primary through university, and in all subjects. The mission of the NWP is to improve student achievement by improving the teaching of writing and improving learning in the nation’s schools." Each Coalfield Writer is a teacher consultant, but the way we all arrived at that place in our lives is vastly different. Read our stories below.
Laura Tracy Baisden
Shirley Lumkin, MUWP Director, gave the leadership team this challenge at our 2009 Planning Retreat:
- Write about a pure Writing Project Moment from your classroom.
- Submit it within a week for publication as a first draft.
Ian Nolte "On Friday, the network went down, and I couldn't have my 8th graders continue their Internet research activity, so I started dragging the desks around in a circle and I said, "C'mon. Let's play a game." There was the briefest of moments of excitement in the air as I could see their eyes spark with thoughts of heads-up-seven-up. Then Josh said, "Hey, wait a minute. You're going to make us write aren't you." So we played the round-robin write and pass along creative writing game I played at SI in the remodeled skeleton of what was once the Calamity Cafe and at least one kid who writes only reluctantly was and only while I am standing over him was writing in long, blocky paragraphs by the end of it and we had fun and practiced the act of composition and only one of us got our feelings hurt."
Writing Project Moments in my Classroom
Everyday at the opening of my 7th Mod. Advanced Placement Literature class while the announcements drone on and on, my students write: seven minutes, 100 words. While the Essential Question is the prompt and it is directly related to content, it is still sustained writing; it is still thinking and articulating on the page; it is still fluency development; it is still sacred. And then we share. I write too and it actually helps the day slow down for me. I write. I breathe.
At the end of each semester in this same course, students write me a Reflection Letter in which they recall the work they have done over the last six weeks. The go back through their portfolios and daily journals and think metacognitively. I ask them to reflect on moments in the class where they demonstrated strong thinking. I ask them to think about how their reading and writing is developing. I want to know about specific assignments, readings, discussions. They are always very candid about the activities we've done; however, they are very candid too, about themselves. It is a good airing time; never negative but always revealing for us all. I too write a class letter to them. This is a way for me to address some of the same points that came up in the letters. Sometimes it's a ways for me to justify the point and purpose of some things that may not have been clear before. I share my own sense of accomplishment for the six weeks as well as my frustrations and failings. I think the honesty and the opportunity to genuinely engage in this very personal way, builds our community.
I also use my own weekly teacher journal (ethnography) to reflect on things that might be going on in all my classes. Students know I have a journal and I often share sections from it that might apply to their class. Several weeks ago my Latin I courses took a 'magnus celebration' that's code for really big and super important Latin Test! Two thirds of my students not only passed, but made A's. The statistics are good. However, one third of the total Latin I (two classes of about 30 each), did poorly: not on the edge poorly, not a C or a D. I'm talking about hideous Fs. I wrote about my frustration and why I believed this was happening. I wrote about how maybe I should just pat myself on the back and move on; after all, 2/3s of my Latin students were more than accomplishedthey had mastered everything they had learned. Still, I talked about how that one third kept me up at night and I wasn't ready to throw the towel in. I wasn't even ready to pass the blame. I was candid about what I thought the problems were, but I still set forth hope. The subtext of all of this was a sneaky kick in the butt to those who had failed. The students appreciated that I cared enough to write about them, even if I was 'hopping mad.' Some of them outright talked about why they were in the one third. I wasn't far off my mark with some of them. Sometimes people just need to know they are thought about. My writing did that for them. It also made me more human to them. My real goal is to humanize Latin for them. We'll see.
In my Latin III/IV class there's a lot of sitting around and talking. Sometimes this makes me very nervous even though I know it is engaged, academic thinking, at least most of the time! But as one student said to me as we strayed farther (yes, distance!) and farther from my plans, "Mrs. Mac, what we're talking about really is important, even more important than translating Cicero." I said I knew that, but that we had to at least remember that it was Cicero who brought us to this conversation; it was something about the nature of a liberal education. I do love Cicero!
What I most strongly believe about Writing Project and what I most realize each day in my classroom, is that Writing Project is not so much activities we do or pedagogy we ascribe to. Writing Project is a way of 'being' in the classroom; a way of being with learners; a way of being with content. It is that beautiful balance that is the engagement between all of these elements. Those moments when we achieve that balance, we know it and it is Writing Project.
Other Three Bridges Stories are posted on their website, threebridges.wordpress.com