March 26, 2011
If you are connected in any way with the National Writing Project (NWP), then I bet the scenario below is a familiar one:
On Tuesday I had an email from Skye Smith, a first grade teacher in my district, who wondered if I could offer her a bit of help using Movie Maker 2. In my current position as a technology integration specialist, I often have the privilege of witnessing outstanding teaching from teachers who create an environment that so exciting, inviting, and supportive that I’ve barely left their classroom before I’m already online or on the phone with other colleagues to share about my latest amazing-teacher find.
And that was exactly how it went on Tuesday. One of Skye Smith’s students, a budding writer (and also a Level 1 English Language Learner) had been inspired by the expression “ants in your pants” to create a hilarious story by drawing on the literal meaning of the words. Skye shared with me several video clips of the student reading her story to her classmates, who were clearly and completely enthralled.
Because the students were also following the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, they thought maybe if they turned Ants in Your Pants into a movie, they could share it with the children of Sendai, Japan, “to give them something to smile about, maybe even laugh about.”
Over the course of two days, Skye’s students busily and collaboratively transformed Ants in Your Pants from a vision to a full-on video production. And in the process took learning to action.
Barely out of the parking lot, I called Lesley McKillop, a 4th grade teacher at Skye’s site – who participated in last summer’s NWP Summer Institute through our local Area 3 Writing Project. I prefaced my description of Skye’s teaching style and lesson by stating, “We have to bring Skye Smith into the Writing Project!” Throughout our 5-minute phone call, we must have said at least 6 times, separately or simultaneously, “We have to bring Skye into the Writing Project!”
Rewind a year back at the same site (Prairie Elementary), and Lesley would have been the topic of my parking lot phone calls. Following a visit to Lesley’s classrom and watching, for instance, her students transform “show-not-tell” writing into award-winning multmedia pieces, my phone calls were to NWP colleague Pam Bodnar – along with emails to A3WP director Karen Smith – to say, “We have to get Lesley McKillop into the Writing Project!”
No, the NWP does not award finder’s fees for bringing inspiring teachers into a Summer Institute. The project is all about teachers teaching teachers. NWP is sort of a “give one/get one” concept that exponentially supports and promotes outstanding teachers on their journeys to becoming coaches and mentors beyond their own school sites. “NWP believes in knowledge that grows organically in and by the specific community of learners” (Joseph McCaleb).
I joined the NWP community 16 years ago. Like so many of my fellow NWP colleagues who have more eloquently explained the importance and benefits of this vibrant, dynamic community, I realize that it has become second nature to me to actively recruit the best of the best for the A3WP. No finder’s fee needed.
From the bottom of my heart – and in view of my list of Teachers from My District Who Should Join the Writing Project, teachers whose expertise should be extended to a national audience – I hope we can convince our representatives to restore funding to the National Writing Project, a project that “bridges that gap between what was not in our teacher education classes and what our students demand from us as we prepare them for their worlds” (Ellen Shelton, Mississippi Writing Project).