Muddling through the blogosphere

February 15, 2010
by blogwalker

What Works in Education – The National Writing Project

I choose my battles carefully. But I’m definitely jumping in on this one:

On February 1, the Obama administration released its 2011 budget proposal. In this proposed budget, funding for the NWP is consolidated with five other literacy programs under a new states-based competitive grants program that provides money for improving literacy. The NWP as a national network would not be eligible to compete for funding.”

If you visit the National Writing Project ning and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find examples of how the NWP supports local Writing Projects in building professional learning communities that empower teachers to make a difference in their students’ lives.

I’d like to share an example from the Area 3 Writing Project, my local project – a group that has profoundly influenced my commitment to support teachers in their efforts to structure a writing program and environment where students find their voices and write for change.

In my current role as coordinator for my district’s EETT grant, I’ve had the opportunity to view first-hand the impact of the A3WP partnership on student performance on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English/Language Arts, which includes a writing prompt. Of the three elementary schools in the grant, two are Title 1 and both are in “Program Improvement.”  At all three sites, students raised their E/LA CST scores.

Typically Program Improvement = drill, drill, and more drill, with little opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning. Thanks to our EETT/A3WP partnership, “drill ‘n kill” is not what you are likely to see when you when visit 4th and 5th grade classrooms at our targeted sites. Let’s take, for example, the 4th grade team at Prairie Elementary and let them show you what can happen when effective writing strategies are combined with technology:

  • Lutrica Hardaway will share that “In over 30 years in the district, the A3WP sessions were the most valuable writing workshops I’ve ever participated in.”  If you visit Lutricia’s class blog, and listen to her students’ Tree House podcasts or Barack Obama VoiceThread, you will have a window into the rich, multimedia writing environment her students have the good fortune to experience every day.
  • Lesley McKillop, with 20 years teaching experience, will tell you “I cannot emphasize enough the impact of the Writing Project on how I now weave the teaching of writing into my classroom practice, and, in so doing, empower my students as writers and as members of our classroom and school community in ways not possible with canned programs.” Her students have taken writing into a script-writing and movie-making venue, transporting their voices beyond the confines of community and poverty – and on to a major regional video competition for K12 students.  I’m betting you will be able to follow this movie made on the fly and to also understand why Lesley’s students were thanking their principal for driving them to the SEVA Awards Ceremony.
  • Halle Ferrier, a newcomer to teaching with four years of classroom experience will add to her colleagues’ comments: “Thanks to the strategies, lessons, and resources shared by Angela and Heather (two A3WP Teacher Consultants), I returned from each EETT workshop with ideas I could implement the next day. Although I’ve pretty much shied away from technology, when I saw how my students were growing as writers, I knew their voices deserved a larger audience than just me.” And a larger audience they indeed now have for their Letters from the Internment Camps VoiceThread, a piece that has merged genres, inspired other educators, and, at current count, has had over 20,000 viewers.

Teachers come into the Writing Project at a local level.  Wherever on the map their project might be, this isNWP where they begin membership in a community that for most will remain a lifetime connection. Local sites, as dynamic and amazing as they are, do not operate in isolation. Newcomers, understandably,  do not always have an immediate understanding of the many ways the National Writing Project  supports all local sites. Continued funding the the NWP is integral to the heart and sole of each local site.

As for myself…My first direct connection to the NWP happened eight years ago, when I traveled to Baltimore for my first-ever NWP Annual Meeting. It was there I joined the Technology Liaisons Network. Becoming a TL has provided me with a vision for teaching and writing in a digital age – and with the support to help transform that vision into a reality within a growing number of classrooms.

There is simply no other technology training or network that equals the vision and collaborative energy and reach of the NWP TL Network. It is wholly due to the ongoing input of the TL community, that I was able to craft the above-mentioned EETT proposal and to firmly ground the technology components of the grant in sound practice.

I hope that the thousands of teachers who have benefited from the NWP will join the effort in letting our politicians know that the National Writing Project is clearly an example of something that works in education.

February 9, 2009
by blogwalker

Video Opportunities for You and Your Students!

If you’re looking for filmmaking venues for you and your students, here are some sites I think you’ll want to checkout:

  • Letters to the Next President Video Campaign – In the fall, the National Writing Project and Google teamed to sponsor the Letters to the Next President Google Docs project.  The NWP is now partnering with the Pearson Foundation for the next level – student-produced videos. The project “encourages filmmakers ages 13–18, with the support of their teachers, to voice their points of view by creating and sharing digital videos about the issues they want President Obama and his new administration to address.”

February 7, 2009
by blogwalker

BAWP: Scaffolding for Success – One digital story at a time

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!

December 25, 2008
by blogwalker

From Del Paso Heights to City Hall – A victory on many levels

I love it when a city unites to celebrate the accomplishments of a group of students – especially when those students have overcome the odds to reach a goal. And so it was on Tuesday when the City of Sacramento cheered on Grant High School’s Pacers, the underdogs who had just defeated Long Beach Poly High at the state football championships, as they set out on their victory parade from Del Paso Heights to City Hall where our newly elected Mayor Kevin Johnson presented the team with the keys to the city.

While probably less than 20 miles from Grant High School to downtown Sacramento, the distance traveled is more than just miles when you consider the high dropout rates, the gang-related violence, and extreme poverty levels this group of student atheletes has clearly not allowed to stand in their way.

Now that Grant High School is in the limelight for its sports accomplishments, I would also like the public – especially Mayor Johnson and his frequent advisor Michelle Rhee – to know about a group of English/Language Arts teachers, whose passion for teaching and dedication to providing Grant students with an achievable and academically rigorous program may have a subtle but more important impact. While I am sure Grant has similar groups of remarkable teachers across the disciplines, I know this particular group first-hand through their inspiring leadership at the Area 3 Writing Project (part of the National Writing Project). Year after year, they share at a regional, statewide, and national level, lessons and strategies that have made the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) attainable for “at risk” students.

But this group has also vowed to provide all students with the background, scaffolding, and requirements that will move them considerably past the CAHSEE and prepare them for the level of academic writing required to succeed at the university level. Each year, through the A3WP and California Writing Project, this team of teachers guides participating teachers through the highly successful ISAW program.

With Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and others in top educational positions promising “to shake up education” and advocating merit pay for teachers , I suspect – and I certainly can understand why – a number of effective teachers, for monetary reasons, will transfer to wealthier school districts. But the Writing Project teachers at the heart and soul of Grant High School’s English Department, well…I hope not.

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