Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Take-Home Message from the NWP Annual Meeting in Chicago

This year's NWP Annual Meeting was well-attended--a full house--and while the mood was kind of dim at times, there was also a hint of hopefulness in the air, as we were reminded of the power of the national network and of our collective voices. Some Writing Project sites around the country have already been closed--most shockingly the site at Florida State University--now that the core grant has dried up. Those were sad stories for sure. But, other sites--like one in Mississippi--are getting tons of work with schools and districts and are thriving. Despite the grim national economic landscape of funding for literacy and teacher development, Dina, Susan, and I were validated in many ways at the conference in terms of the steps we are taking at our site to plan for the future. Here's a recap of how far we've come since April...

Since learning last spring that our federal funding had been eliminated and that we were facing a future with no core grant from the NWP, we've made several proactive and productive moves to "shore up" our site for the long haul. We are certainly not done with this work, but some of our accomplishments include:

1. Meetings with both State Senators and Congressmen--in DC and in RI--to discuss the work of the RIWP and the need for federal funding of literacy and teacher development programs.

2. A 2-day Leadership Institute in June, bringing together Board members and stakeholders to discuss our mission & values, our strengths as a site, our 1 and 5-year vision, and our organizational structure.

3. Regular meetings with RIC's Vice President for Academic Affairs, reporting on our work, our strategies for fundraising, our research, and our connection to the College.

4. Increasing our visibility on the RIC campus as well as our connection to the Writing Program at the College.

5. Moving our organization to a shared leadership model, where in addition to the Executive Director and Co-Directors, we also have teams assigned to specific projects: Development team, Inservice team, Spring Conference team, Summer Institute team, Young Writers team.

6. Cultivating a nationally-known keynote speaker for our Spring Conference, giving the conference a theme for the first time--Literacy and the Common Core--and developing an organized peer review system for reviewing conference proposals.

7. Running the third successful session of the Rhodes Elementary Afterschool Program creative writing class in Cranston.

We've certainly accomplished much more than this, but those are some highlights to let you know that we are working hard to keep our organization and our network strong and viable. At the Annual Meeting, Dina, Susan and I felt affirmed in these accomplishments; we also developed some ideas for our site, based on things that other sites around the country are doing.

As I sign off to go prepare for a Thanksgiving celebration with my family, I feel hopeful about the future of the RIWP. We have a strong Executive Board with dedicated members; we have support from our College and its Administration; we have good strategies for moving forward; and we have a vast state network of teachers who believe that the Writing Project is the best professional development they have ever had.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Digital Reading and Writing

In preparation for the National Writing Project's Annual Meeting in Chicago this year (Nov 17), I was exploring NWP's "Digital Is" website, a portal to digital resources that will amaze even the biggest skeptic. I was inspired to take a closer look at the Digital Is website after hearing Chris Anson, of North Carolina State University, give a presentation at a writing conference I attended this past weekend at MIT. In his talk, Anson immersed us in the statistics surrounding digital writing in the past 5 years. For example, by the end of this year, 2011, residents of the planet Earth will have sent a total of 8 trillion text messages to one another. Anson also showed us how authorship has skyrocketed in the past 10 years, primarily due to the Internet and the digital media it has inspired, and how digital writing has changed the way people read and write.

The reason I'm telling the story of how I ended up here is because it is a Writing Project story. Like many Writing Project stories, it begins at a conference. I went to a writing conference, and I heard a good teacher talk about teaching writing. After his talk, I was moved to investigate the NWP's digital writing resources, to start breaking down the barrier that exists in my own mind around "digital writing" and all of its promises. So, I explored, and in my exploration, I came across a post by Troy Hicks, where I was linked to an article from a research team at the University of Connecticut, titled "Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies" by Donald J. Leu, Jr., Charles K. Kinzer, Julie L. Coiro, and Dana W. Cammack. (Access the article here: http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/leu/).

In that article, I read this passage, "Consider, for example, the changes experienced by students who graduate from secondary school this year. Their story teaches us an important lesson about our literacy future. Many graduates started their school career with the literacies of paper, pencil, and book technologies but will finish having encountered the literacies demanded by a wide variety of information and communication technologies (ICTs): Web logs (blogs), word processors, video editors, World Wide Web browsers, Web editors, e-mail, spreadsheets, presentation software, instant messaging, plug-ins for Web resources, listservs, bulletin boards, avatars, virtual worlds, and many others. These students experienced new literacies at the end of their schooling unimagined at the beginning. Given the increasingly rapid pace of change in the technologies of literacy, it is likely that students who begin school this year will experience even more profound changes during their own literacy journeys. Moreover, this story will be repeated again and again as new generations of students encounter yet unimagined ICTs as they move through school and develop currently unenvisioned new literacies."


I then made my way back to the resource page on Digital Is, where I found a description of "Inanimate Alice," a born-digital novel. I read about the novel, and I had to know more.


If you have an hour or so to explore something really worthwhile, read and experience Inanimate Alice. I guarantee that it will leave you with something to think about.


The Writing Project teacher keeps following a thread, even if it leads down paths that may be unfamiliar. And, at all the stops along the way, the Writing Project teacher asks, "What might this mean for my students? For my classroom? For my school? For my conception of a reader and a writer?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Celebrate the National Day on Writing!

The National Writing Project, together with NCTE, is inviting all of us to consider WHY WE WRITE on the National Day on Writing, October 20, 2011.

At Rhode Island College, I will be leading a Writing Marathon between 12-2:00 tomorrow (Thursday, 10/20). Several classes of students, including my own, will visit four "stops" on campus, places where students rarely (have time to) go, and places on our campus that are "hidden gems" and that might offer folks a different perspective of their school. We will be visiting Bannister Gallery, the track/bleachers (a great view of the foliage, if the weather permits), Alumni House, and the sculpture and "waves of learning" near the Cafe. At each stop, folks will sit down and write. While we will have a consistent prompt all day--Why do I write?--I will also invite people to write about whatever inspires them, catches their eye, carries them away at the moment. In a way, a Writing Marathon serves as a kind of "mental floss," a way to clear out the clutter that has been building up since September 1, a way to calm the noise in our heads, a way to write for writing's sake, a way to write for the self and not for the teacher.

I hope you will join me, at your school, in your Department, or in your classroom, in celebrating the National Day on Writing this year. Show your students that you can take time out for writing. Write with your students and show them that you're a writer, too!

Also, check out the resources that the NWP has compiled for your use (see the right-hand margin for links to great articles on writing!).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Forward Momentum

Welcome back to a new school year and to a new year of this wonderful network that we know as the RIWP. This past year posed some challenges to our site, but after a productive Leadership Institute at Alumni House in late June, a successful Summer Invitational and Young Writers' Camp, and a hopeful first Board meeting on September 12, I was reminded of what a powerful network this is. Our first Board meeting of the year served as the catalyst to putting some of the ideas from the Leadership Institute into action, and I left that meeting feeling quite hopeful for what is to come.

Though our site--and the National Writing Project--is facing difficult financial times, I was reminded--first at the Leadership Institute, then in all of the good work taking place all over the RIC campus this summer, in working with Sarah and Luis in the office, and in meeting with the Co-Directors for one of our many think-tank sessions--that this is a network based in action, in our mission, in collaboration, in generating ideas, in returning to our core, in grassroots activism, in the power of children's writing, and in each other. I am so thankful to be a part of this strong organization of teachers, and I am looking forward to the adventure that we have ahead, hoping, of course, that you're along for the ride with me.

As we begin the fall at the RIWP, we are looking forward to several opportunities to expand our offerings, both in on-site after school writing programs and in looking at student work and assessing student work. We are also looking forward to a renewed partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education, as we prepare to work with teachers on reading, interpreting, and putting the Common Core Standards into practice in the classroom.

The best to you as you sail into autumn. Come visit us at the RIWP!