I first learned of the Bay Area Writing Project when my daughter was in 2nd grade at Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco. At a PTA meeting, teachers enthusiastically shared how a summer institute across the bay had completely changed the way they would be delivering writing curriculum to their students.
And I remember my daughter coming home with her writer’s notebook and talking about “sloppy copy” and “author’s chair” and, just, well, wanting to talk about her writing.
We moved the following year out of the Bay Area and up to the Sierra foothills, where I eventually fell into a teaching job at my daughter’s school – and where I learned about the Area 3 Writing Project, the Sacramento region’s counterpart to the BAWP. I had the good fortune in 1995 to attend the A3WP Summer Institute. Like the Rooftop teachers, I began the next school year with a commitment to bring out the writer in every student.
It’s easy to make commitments like the above when you know you can count on the support of the amazing Writing Project network. For example, checkout what I found this morning while browsing the National Writing Project website: Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling: 21st Century Learning in Action. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Clifford Lee’s Digital Stoytelling session live during an NWP conference. But now, thanks to a collaborative effort between the BAWP, NWP, and the Pearson Foundation, Cliff’s wonderful immigration project is online. This video is but one of the many resources posted to the site, providing the scaffolding for teachers thinking about structuring an immigration project – or any kind of documentary project.
What a gift to have 24/7 access to best practices for digital storytelling from teachers like Clifford Lee and his colleague Yumi Matsui!
“While teachers are concerned about this lack of participation in classroom talk, they are also often relatively accepting of these quiet students who don’t pose a discipline problem, who turn in homework on time, and in general, get passing grades.“
I am pulling a few quotes from Carol Tateishi‘s article Taking a Chance with Words, which she has published with Rethinking Schools. Carol shares insights from her own background of growing up Asian (Japanese-American) in a post World War II era as she observes through recent visits to San Francisco Bay Area high school classrooms “the lack of participation by students of Asian descent in the oral language activities of the class.”
In interviewing Asian-American students, she found four shared qualities:
Oral Language tends to be used functionally
Speaking publicly about one’s problems is discouraged
That restraint in talking is valued
You don’t talk about feelings or personal experiences
Yet as teachers, we commonly share a very different set of beliefs:
Oral language can be used to negotiate meaning
Risk-taking in talk is valued
Speaking in class increases engagement
Classroom dialog deepens learning
Carol points out that there is more at stake than “better learning of the curriculum.” Her concern is how the lack of strong verbal skills impacts future career paths for many Asian-Americans. “It mattered in the 1940s and matters again today if Asian-Americans have the words and voice to speak up for themselves and their communities. It matters if we have lawyers, writers, activists, educators, business leaders, elected officials, and ordinary citizens who understand the power of language and use it”
I will be passing this article on to colleagues whose class rosters include Asian-Americans. As Carol Tateishi points out: it’s easy to overlook the needs of students who seemingly pose no problems.