National Writing Project Grows Lifelong Learners

In 2005-6 I was in the midst of my graduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington. Working toward a Masters of Education with a Literacy Emphasis fit very well with my love of teaching reading and writing. In the spring of 2006, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Bluebonnet Writing Project’s Summer Institute. I would earn 6 hours of Masters credit and become NWP certified at the same time. Little did I know how much more that time was worth than 6 hours of grad credit.

I was tasked with studying brain research, writing research, pedagogy research, and… you get the message. I was challenged to write in all different types of modes that would extend my skills and experiences. I collaborated with writers in my class as well as the global audience provided by the National Writing Project through their digital portals. I was able to sit and work in the presence of greatness from school districts all around Texas during those five or six weeks. My skills as a writing teacher grew to levels I never thought possible.Not only did I become a trainer consultant, but I became a technology liaison. Both have given me extended opportunities to network with educators from other states in an effort to improve professional development in both their states and ours. It is a connection that was born out of six weeks worth of work one summer, but it is one that will hopefully continue well into my teaching career.

How important was this training to me? Well, if you consider that I live 3 hours from UT-A and commuted, I’d say it was pretty darned important.

From that experience with the National Writing Project, I’ve become a lifelong learner. I realized the impact of networking with other professional educators to build my skills, learn new methods of instruction, and how to impact my students in great ways through literacy. Thousands of students and untold numbers of educators have been touched by the National Writing Project through just my experiences in the last five years.

What value can you place on the positive changes that have taken place due to the National Writing Project’s untiring devotion to training educators nationwide? These are changes that happen one year and disappear the next. These are lifelong changes that can be directly attributed to the work NWP and those who have been trained by them have done.These are changes that go beyond any multiple choice test and right into the lives of teachers and students on a daily basis long after the tests have been scored and filed away for another year.

Do the right thing. Continue to fund this project for its proven, positive results. You want to fund the best programs available for the taxpayers’ dollars? Fund the National Writing Project.

What can we live with(out)? Part Two

I bet you thought I forgot about this little series here. Sorry. Got a little backed up with work. So, here we go with numbers 4-6.

Photo Credit: apdk

4. HOMEWORK
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

This one has me on the fence. Part of me says you know they need it (practice), yet the other side of me says we get them 8.5 hours a day and they only have a few hours of daylight left to be kids when they get home. I’ll admit that I am fortunate. My son does really well with school. He is still not a fan of homework, but what kid really is? I will say that if it takes a student more than 15 minutes to do your homework, you have given too much. If the child cannot decompress like we do when we come home from work, then they will build a negative image of what school and learning really is. In the end, though, it is really about the learning.

I agree with Shelly’s statement that Arne Duncan is wrong. “We do not need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more.” Would a shift in how we teach and learn within the classroom help our students become 24/7 learners? Some it will. Some it won’t. What I do know is that as long as we keep teaching to the lowest common denominator, we will continue to graduate the lowest common denominator. Is that a fault of the teacher or the system? One drives the other. You know my stance on this. The system is out of control. Or too much in control. One or the other.

5. THE ROLE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

What a great segway from homework, teachers, THE SYSTEM…. I hope this one is true, but the reality is that authentic assessment, like ePortfolios, is expensive. We had a great pilot in Texas several years back that I was a part of: Performance Standards Project in TX.  Great assessment. Great idea. Poor funding. Got scrapped. I was privy to a conversation about this project earlier this year. It is not dead just yet. Maybe it is just hibernating until the right time.

For this to be successful, the state and federal government are going to have to change their views on trusting local teachers to submit accurate assessments of where the students are at in their learning. Otherwise, we will maintain the current testing machine we have in place now. That makes a small few very rich and a rather large population hate school.

6. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION AS A SIGN OF DISTINGUISHED TEACHER
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

I am pretty sure many teachers are here already. Those that are not are stuck in some prescribed instructional system (there’s that word again) that tells them what to say and do at each moment of the day. Those systems become popular when administration no longer trusts their staff to do the right thing in instruction, earned or not. But, Shelly is correct. This is a great time to be an educator. Being able to find tools that allow each student to be successful at the level that encourages them to improve is made easier than ever. You just have to spend a little time searching. And networking. Don’t forget to network.

So, this ends this group of three. Join me next time when we discuss attendance offices, paperback books, and the dreaded “W” word (Wikipedia).