Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wisdom from Kylene Beers

This blog post by Kylene Beers perfectly captures the ethos of the teacher corps, the steady, consistent spirit of care and kindness that teachers enact every day in classrooms across the country. Something horrible has happened, yet we continue to do our good work, quietly and reliably.

I pasted her blog post below. You can also find it here (on her blog, which you may want to bookmark!):

On Monday

“Mom, help me review my words because my teacher says spelling still counts.”
That’s what Baker – now a senior in college – said to me as he ran into our kitchen one day after school when he was in fifth grade.
He was pulling me out of a three-day television-aided trance I had been in since the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  Oh, I got up each day, got each child off to school, did most of the work I was supposed to be doing, but then rushed back to CNN to watch again and again what had happened, to try, again and again, to make sense of what this meant our world – my family’s world – would now be.
I’m doing the same thing again.  Since yesterday.  Since Sandy Hook Elementary School locked down and we redefined tragedy.  Again.  I’m listening intently to all the reports, reading closely all the articles, looking for anything that makes this make sense.  But of course nothing will because one can’t apply logic to what was done illogically; one can’t apply reason to what was done without reason.
And I keep remembering Baker’s fifth-grade language arts teacher who each day after the 9/11 attacks didn’t sit home staring at a screen, but instead walked into her classroom to help twenty-two youngsters through the day.  On Thursday of that week, she sent her students home reminding them to study because “spelling still counts.”  I loved her for giving those students (and me) that nudge toward normalcy.  All of the teachers in that school – in schools across this nation – during those first long weeks after 9/11 gave our nation’s children something far more important than what could ever be bubbled in on a state-mandated test.  They gave them security; they gave them time; they gave them ways to process all that had happened; and they helped them learn that each of us has the ability to get through tragic moments even when we doubt we will ever get over them.
That’s what you’ll do again.  On Monday.  And on Tuesday. And on all the rest of the days next week and the rest of this school year.  Parents will hold on to children – of all ages –  tighter, and you will, with firm resolve, assure them you are a professional who knows what to do when tragedy strikes.  Some children will cry and you will dry tears.  Some will lash out in anger and you will know that is fear rearing its head another way.  You will worry and fret and wonder what else you should do.  You will talk with other teachers and principals – who will be doing all the same things you are doing – and together you will decide what is the right plan for your school as you help your students through what will, for some, be terribly difficult days.
Yes, on Monday and for all the days that follow,  you will  prepare lessons, watch for that student who doesn’t quite grasp the point, encourage the student who hesitantly offers an idea, help the shy one make a friend, remind the bossy one to listen more.  And you’ll do what no university class ever prepared you to do:  you will show students that when tragedy strikes, hope lives and goodness can always be found. You will help students recognize that their grief shows their humanity.  You will show them that we all go on, in spite of fear, or perhaps more importantly, to spite fear. And you will, as you nudge them toward normalcy, even remind them that spelling still counts.  You will be in our nation’s classrooms, teaching our nation’s children, and for this we are a grateful nation.
Thank you.  Thank you.  And, again, thank you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2013 Spring Conference Keynote Speaker & Call for Proposals

We are excited to announce our 2013 Spring Conference keynote speaker, education activist and teacher educator, Ernest Morrell. Dr. Morrell is President-Elect of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Professor of English Education at Columbia University and Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Columbia. Dr. Morrell's keynote talk will focus on engaging students in literacy activities by bringing popular culture into the classroom and by empowering students to become producers of knowledge, not just consumers.

The RIWP is now soliciting proposals for 75-minute conference sessions that focus on theory & practice in teaching reading, writing, and literacy in K-16 classroom settings. We invite you to consider submitting a proposal for a session that features the work you do in your own classroom and schools. We would like to especially encourage teachers from across the disciplines to submit proposals about how you are using writing to learn in your classrooms and, more specifically, how you are addressing the mandates of the Common Core. The RI Writing Project wishes to open its doors to all teachers, not just English teachers. We hope you will consider joining us. To access and print out the Proposal form, click here:

In order to prepare yourself for what's sure to be a great conference, we've sought out some great resources on our keynote speaker and on his work with youth, critical pedagogy, and popular culture. We hope these links help you cultivate your excitement for Dr. Morrell's visit to Rhode Island. 

Dr. Morrell got his start as an English teacher with the Bay Area Writing Project in California. He has worked with urban youth from coast to coast and is currently involved in an exciting project with youth in New York City--Youth Historians in Harlem--which you can read about here:

Read more about Dr. Morrell's upcoming work at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education:

Read more about Dr. Morrell's work and affiliations with the National Writing Project: and this

Watch Dr. Morrell's keynote address at last year's NWP Urban Sites Network Conference in Boston:

Finally, if you're interested in joining a RIWP book group/study group on Dr. Morrell's most recent book, The Art of Critical Pedagogy, co-written with Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, please post a comment or email Jenn Cook ( Our study group will be forming in January 2013 in preparation for the conference. You need not be a Teacher Consultant or RIWP Fellow to join us. All are welcome! Here's a link to the book so you can check it out:

It's going to be a great conference this year, folks, so I hope you will set aside the conference fee of $75 (early bird/before Feb 1) and set aside the morning and early afternoon of Saturday, March 9, 2013. We will be so happy to see you!

The RIWP Annual Spring Conference is a professional development opportunity for K-16 teachers looking for innovative ways to inspire and engage students with writing and literacy. Those who attend will have the opportunity to hear from and meet with a nationally regarded leader in teaching, to participate in workshops, and to network with other educators.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shared Leadership

For several years, I have had grand ideas about implementing a shared leadership model at our organization, an idea that was precipitated by our loss of federal funding and our elimination of all office staff. But, even though shared leadership makes fiscal sense, it is a complicated idea in the workplace, as it requires so many things that are difficult for us as human beings: trust, collaboration, cooperation, letting go of control, listening, and being flexible and amiable. Tonight, after a lot of dreaming and even more hard work and team building, we held our first-ever Executive Board meeting that was a working meeting under the shared leadership model. Normally, you would find us, a group of 15 or so teachers, sitting around a large conference table, discussing items on an agenda and coming up with ideas to table for later. Tonight, I was twenty minutes late to the meeting. But, when I walked through the door to the RI Writing Project, folks were in their groups, working on the projects they chose to tackle. They were working with their updated To Do lists; some were at computers, some in conference rooms. The place was humming like a beehive. Groups of teachers were planning our spring conference, writing a new vision statement, developing our Facebook page, and planning our summer writing camp for 2013. I moved from group to group, offering feedback and lots of praise. After an hour and a half, an incredible amount of work had been accomplished, and everyone felt, I believe, happy. 

Folks had smiles on their faces as they said "goodbye." They felt useful, content. So did I.

Doing, instead of sitting. Creating, instead of following. Envisioning, instead of ignoring. These are the things teachers need. 

I love my work and am so grateful to work with the smart, capable Writing Project teachers in Li'l Rhody.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October is for Writing

It has been raining for days. A whole week, I think. And, this morning, thankfully, I can see patches of blue sky busting through the clouds, which are moving higher and farther away. This soggy, dark October still has plenty of time to show us its beauty, as I discovered when I was walking my dog today. For the first time since school has started, I found myself, this morning, finally noticing Nature all around me: the bright fireworks display of the maple trees in my neighborhood; the flurry of squirrels and chipmunks collecting and storing and preparing; the smell of autumn, that rich wet-leaf sangria that smells like apple cider and maple and sweet berry wine. One of the most inspiring phenomena to me, as a writer, is the natural world, and yet, I so often forget to notice it because I am scurrying and rushing and way too focused on my tasks and my to do lists.

But, this morning I remembered my sabbatical. I remembered that I pledged to myself to take time, to make time for Nature, as she so often calms me down and reminds me that everything is cyclical, that everything has its rhythms, that everything has its time. She also inspires me to be a writer in a way that nothing else can. Nature demands that I notice her, even when I'm too busy or too preoccupied. And, when her demands finally sink in, and when I pick my head up and look up--at the sky, at the tiptops of trees, at the hawks flying above, at the shapeshifting cumulus clouds--I am struck my emotion, by the flood of the feeling that everything is connected and that life persists, regardless.

This is how Nature inspires me to write. She makes me feel, deeply, and then I feel compelled to put down on paper how a little feeling can just rise up inside of me at the sight of a magnificent maple tree in its glorious red and orange autumn costume. I feel compelled to make a mark in my notebook that isn't inspired by anger or confusion or passion but one that is fueled by and inspired by an uncontrollable joy and awe of something much, much bigger than us, than any of our petty worries or battles.

The power and beauty of Nature is right before your eyes, right now, in its full splendor here in New England. Can you see it? Does it inspire you to write?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The value of labor, the value of work

The new academic year began yesterday, and I spent much of last week in school and department meetings, preparing syllabi and working out schedules. In a break from the usual, I chose to do much of my preparation for the new semester at the RIWP office because it's far removed from the central traffic of campus, it houses a copier that is at my disposal, and it is deliciously quiet over there these days. Also, I put in several work orders to have computers and printers at the RIWP updated and to also have the massive pile of recycling carted away, so I was also there waiting for the technicians and workers who were slated to arrive.

When I got to the RIWP offices, ready to get down to working on my syllabus for my writing class, I noticed how dusty and grimy the desks in our office were. I thought, "Geez. These desks probably haven't been wiped down in months." But, I couldn't wipe the desks off until I removed all the piles of papers from the desks, papers that hadn't been sorted through for months. So, I sorted the papers into folders, recycle bins, and trash. Once the tops of the tables and desks were ready for the accumulation of a new year's worth of stuff, I got to spraying and wiping them down, keyboards, phones and all. Once I had sorted and wiped and cleared and cleaned, I needed to get to work on the computer, generating emails that had been neglected for trips to the beach and backyard barbecues. So, I sat down at our former program assistant's desk (we no longer have a program assistant), and I tried to channel her efficiency in getting right to work. There were many boxes to be checked on my To Do list.

But, just as I began to write the first of many emails, a RIC custodian came walking up the stairs, into the office, and asked if I requested that the trash and recycling be hauled away. I said, "Yes," and then asked him his name. I stood up, introduced myself, learned his name was Mike, shook his hand, and we started talking about why the Physical Plant doesn't assign a regular custodian to clean the RIWP offices. Apparently, the custodians in the Physical Plant on our campus operate on a rotating schedule, with some custodians assigned as "floaters." The RIWP generally gets the "floater" custodian, Mike explained to me, which is why we have to call in our requests for trash pickup. While Mike was working--breaking down big cardboard boxes, hauling reams of paper downstairs to another office, cleaning out the upstairs bathroom for me (even though I didn't ask)--he and I continued talking. I learned that, in the rush at the end of the summer to get the campus in tip-top shape, the staff members working for Physical Plant get all the overtime they want, while, during the summer, their hours got cut back. Mike also talked to me about his brother who used to work for a big company and who, accidentally, once recycled some very important papers from his boss's office. He got in big trouble. That's why, Mike told me, he's hesitant to recycle anything in our office until he's gotten the go ahead from me. What had seemed to me, just minutes before, to be a simple, mindless task (recycling paper) now took on a certain moral complexity. I learned something right then about custodians, recycling, and the business of cleaning up after others.

After Mike had finished with the recycling upstairs, he asked me to walk downstairs with him so he could show me the bathroom. He had cleaned it, he said, and he wanted me to see the difference. Also, he noticed that the toilet wasn't working. "The flush isn't flushing," he said to me, suggesting that I go upstairs and submit another work order to have the toilet fixed. But, to Mike's surprise (his face gave it all away), I lifted off the top of the toilet tank, reached my hand into the tank water, and reattached the chain that had come undone and had caused the flush valve to malfunction. Once the chain was reattached, I put the top of the tank back on, gave the toilet a flush, and looked at Mike with a glow of self-satisfaction. Mike smiled at me and asked, "Do you own a house?" When I replied, "Yes," he said, "Well, if you own a house, you learn how to do everything, I guess." I think Mike might've learned something at that moment about women and professors and assumptions.

After our interlude in the downstairs bathroom, Mike and I parted ways, though I told him I'd probably be seeing him around, even if he was assigned to another building, since I do a fair amount of "floating" myself as a teacher on this campus. I went back upstairs to the office and to my To Do list. I emailed and invoiced my way through the afternoon, but I couldn't stop thinking about what a nice experience I had with Mike that day and how appreciative I was of his bright personality, sense of humor, and pride in his work. I had retreated to the RIWP offices, originally, to seek solitude so that I could finish my work. As it turned out, I had a good afternoon--productive enough--made better by interacting with one other worker. On that day, in those moments of that afternoon, we were just two workers, doing our jobs, sharing in the day-to-day labor.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Becoming a Networked Teacher Leader

Six months ago, I was so proud of myself for having eschewed Twitter for so long. As someone who was hesitant to create a Facebook page (but finally did), I made a solemn pledge that my digital social network would not go beyond that. After all, I'm too old to Tweet, and don't only famous people Tweet, anyway? Also, joining Twitter would add another "distraction" to the already long line of things that are actively distracting me from my work and my family. Why on Earth would I voluntarily sign up for MORE social networking when I'm the person whose heart soars at the thought of a rotary phone, a letter sent or received by the postal service or a conversation on a front porch. I am the queen of slow, deliberate practice, of cursive handwriting and paper notebooks and face-to-face teaching. I am not a product of the digital revolution. In fact, in many ways, I fight the ethos of digitizing our communication. "It'll make us less human," I'd say. "It will make us forget how to talk to one another," I'd warn. "Hiding behind screens exacerbates our fear of the other," I'd predict. In April, midway through my sabbatical, I was at the National Writing Project's Spring Conference in Washington, DC, where people from every site in the US gather for a "lobbying blitz" on Capitol Hill. I was there in DC to visit our Senators from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, who have been supporters of the NWP and the RIWP, and whose support I wanted to continue to cultivate. Before setting us loose on the Hill, the smart staffers and consultants with NWP gathered us in a large hotel conference room to brief us on the fine art of lobbying. During that briefing, we were encouraged to "live Tweet" our Capitol Hill experience; that is, NWP folks were encouraging us to fire up our Twitter accounts and to send Tweets to a specified hashtag. One of the results, they said, of doing this is that we would be able to see, were we to follow the hashtag, who was winning support and who was meeting a challenge throughout the days of lobbying. As the only representative there from the RIWP, I felt somewhat responsible for updating folks on my progress. I was also intrigued by live tweeting. So, at that moment, spurred on by the NWP, I opened up my iPhone and signed up for a Twitter account. From that moment forward, my handle's been @cookout70 I now have 113 followers, have sent over 800 tweets, and I am following over 400 individuals and organizations that are in some way connected to me as a teacher and a professional. In the past 4 months, I have cultivated a digital PLN, a personal learning network, that is tailored to my interests, my stance, my professional beliefs, and my eclectic tastes. I have gained so much, in just this short time, from this tremendous network of thinkers and do-ers. Here are five tangible benefits I've experienced since joining Twitter: 1. I now have colleagues across the globe, folks who are preparing teachers, teaching in colleges and universities and fighting corporate privatization of public schools and spaces. 2. As a result of cultivating international colleagues, I'm heading to the UK in November for a week. I will be spending time with professors at the University of Lincoln to study and better understand their "Student as Producer" model of teaching and learning. This, in turn, has opened up a whole new avenue for my interest in teaching writing by engaging my students in authentic, original research. 3. I now have readers visiting my blog. Folks don't comment much, but I can see that they are reading! And, that feels good. Like I am making a very small footprint. 4. I am able to easily stay connected to my NWP network, especially by following @writingproject and @NWPSiteLeaders. 5. My Personal Learning Network gives me hope because I've chosen to follow hopeful people. And, that's a small way I can positively impact my psyche and self-worth in a time when I am made to feel ashamed about being an advocate for public school teachers. As a teacher educator, first-year writing instructor, and director of the RIWP, I'm so happy to be able to use Twitter to connect the three streams of my professional life in one place. The most important piece of advice I can give you about becoming a digitally networked teacher leader is this: If I can do it, you can do it. Here are some resources to get you started! What is a PLN?
George Couros: "What Should a Networked Educational Leader Tweet About?"

What are some good teacher-related discussions to join?
#edchat #engchat #edchatri #edblogs #yalitchat #teachchat #ISI2012

*diagram courtesy of Alex Couros

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Collaborating with Campus Colleagues

Yesterday marked a "first" for the Rhode Island Writing Project. Yesterday we held our first ever Summer Invitational Institute for Adjunct Instructors of First-Year Writing at Rhode Island College. Though the institute has a much-too-long title, to be sure, I am thrilled with what we created yesterday. Thanks to my good colleague and friend, Becky Caouette, the Director of Writing at RIC, for daring to enact a new tradition at our College: collaborating with K-12 teachers to improve our understanding of and teaching of First-Year Writing at the College.

We invited 10 participants to enroll in a day-long Institute devoted to: (1) discussing the new General Education program at our College and how it will impact our teaching; (2) discussing the new Common Core State Standards and how they might impact our teaching of college writing; (3) hearing from a panel of high school teachers about their experiences and observations teaching high school writing. The Institute was filled, a good sign, and we welcomed a panel of three exceptional high school teachers to the Institute in the afternoon to share their experiences with us. By the end of the day, we had grown to 15, and there we were: high school and college writing instructors, at the same table, talking about teaching our students to write for various audiences, despite and in light of assessment pressures. It was AMAZING! And, in true Writing Project fashion, it happened in a tiny little corner of a tiny little state in a dimly lit, air-conditioned room in a weird little building on the far side of campus. But, nevertheless, there we all were, changing the world in our small but sincere way.

So, what happened as a result of this attempt to break down the institutional barriers between people who share the same passions and concerns?

We built a new community. We instilled some confidence and scooped out a lot of validation. We passed along some new and relevant knowledge. We shared our writing: stories of good and not-so-good memories of ourselves as high school writers. We marveled at each other's writing abilities. We ate good food and snacks. We drank lots of water. We listened to one another, with respect and good intentions, and without fear of judgment or evaluation. We shared practices. We shared secret fears. We compensated everyone. We also gave them nice tote bags. There's no doubt in my mind that everyone left the room--and the day--much lighter and much happier than when we had all entered.

At an institution where 95% of the First-Year Writing courses are taught by Adjunct Faculty, I am so proud to have begun a professional development resource for this under-served and under-recognized population of vital instructors on our campus. Becky and I both believe that without taking good care of our Adjunct Instructors of writing, without building a community in which they, too, feel that they are growing as intellectuals, as researchers, and as practitioners, the entire college community will suffer. Writing--and the teaching of it--is just that important.

Here's to many more collaborations between the RI Writing Project and RIC's First-Year Writing Program. It's one way that the Rhode Island Writing Project is working to make our presence on the RIC campus vital and our work, both on campus and off, indispensable to the College.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

I am so sad that Ray Bradbury has died at 91. Wasn't he supposed to live past all of us, to see robots making him eggs in the morning and to vacation on Mars? He will always be one of my favorite writers, someone who cracked open my imagination and my fascination with the space. When I was younger, I was slightly obsessed with aliens and with Mars. I even dressed up like a "Martian" once to do a report at school on Mars. Ray Bradbury helped me embrace my inner dork. Space continues to fascinate me and always will: all that eternity, time, darkness, mystery, and the unknowable. It scrambles my mind just right.

Bradbury once said in an interview, "Lone at night, when I was twelve years old, I looked at the planet Mars and I said, ‘Take me home!’ And the planet Mars took me home, and I never came back. So I’ve written every day in the last 75 years. I’ve never stopped writing." God, I love that!

My favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. The man was a prophet, a seer, a visionary. In 1953, he looked into the future and saw a culture ruled by fear, one in which people are burning books, have become slaves to their screens, and are addicted to substances that dull their senses. He envisioned a band of "Book People," living in the woods, in the margins, who dedicate their lives to memorizing books, which are outlawed. They "become" a book, and their life is about preserving the cultural memory that the leaders are so intent to destroy. (Sound familiar?)

So long, Mr. Bradbury. Thank you for the stories, for feeding my mind with visions of other worlds. In my fantasy world, here's how it all went down: You simply hitched a ride with Venus last night, as she sailed across the face of the Sun. You planned accordingly, packed your bags, and waited for the right moment. What a genius. I hope it's a great ride up there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Achieving balance

The summer is nearly here, though you wouldn't know it from the weather in Rhode Island this week. Our minds are easily fooled by the weather, and when I stepped outside this morning and smelled the crisp, wet-leaf air, it felt, just for a moment, like back-to-school and not the end of the school year. I'm sure my sensory confusion also has something to do with the fact that I've been on sabbatical since December 22, freed from my teaching and administrative duties for six months to rekindle the creativity and drive from within. I have been a teacher since 1994, the year I graduated from UMass Amherst with my M.Ed. and my Massachusetts 7-12 English teacher certification. I was full of fire then, my desire to affect change, to make a difference, to make a mark, fueled the gears and pistons inside of me. But, as even a hybrid car will show you, engines cannot run without fuel. After 18 years of teaching high school, completing a doctoral program and dissertation, co-founding a non-profit organization, hopping on the "tenure track" and eventually earning tenure and promotion, the brain and the body deserve a rest, a recharge, a renewal.

I am happy to say that I have achieved this goal. I've found renewal in an odd combination of lo-fi and high-tech. I've found new joy in the exploration of Nature, in drawing with a pencil, in writing cards and letters and mailing them, in resurrecting forgotten technologies in order to access old memories (slide projectors, reel-to-reel tapes, record players). I've also found joy in Twitter, where I've formed a professional development network of people I respect and want to commune with as intellectuals. I've found joy in digital comics-creating tools, in creating YouTube videos of my mandolin playing so I can share my music with others, and in creating a digital presentation using my ethnographer's skills.

I find that the slower technologies--paper, ink, stamps, magnetic tape--slow me down, too. And, I like that. The reward is in the doing, in the process, in the unfolding. It's also in the inconsistencies and idiosyncracies of these tools. ("Oh darn! The rain is smudging the fancy ink on the card! I should have used ballpoint. Oh well, I'll put it in the mail anyway and see what happens.")

The faster technologies--namely Twitter and Facebook, all accessed with one device, my iPhone--allow me to cast a wide net and catch halfway decent-sized fish very quickly. The reward is in the instant gratification. The reward is in the instantaneous publishing of, well, anything. ("Look at what I found, everyone! Make sure you read this! Right now! It's important! I'm important!)

These two modes of being--slow, deliberate and quiet and hasty, multifaceted and public--have gotten me thinking a lot about teaching and learning and schooling. As with most things in life, the answer to the riddle we are all trying so desperately to solve lies in the balance: balancing what we know about how people learn and grow with preparing young souls for the the imminent rapidity of technological change in this futureworld.

I read an article last summer about how young children in China are growing up without knowing how to create, with brush and ink (or brush and water for the novice), the individual characters of their language because they've been taught to read and write on computers and keyboards, where they press a button for a character instead of learning the brushstrokes needed to create it. Surely this isn't only happening in China. I think about the muscle memory of learning how to write, the slow, artistic process we use when we create letter after letter, words after word, the complex brain and fine motor function that we cultivate by practicing and practicing this most basic form of communication. I think about a teacher showing her students how to make letters, how to move their fingers, hands, and arms to create these abstract symbols that indicate sounds that make up words that form sentences that allow us to talk to one another, face to face and screen to screen.

I worry about losing these things--these ancient human traditions and interactions--because we are so drunk on solutions, competitiveness, and "reform." We need to resist this strong pull to let the machines and the men who own them take over our schools, our jobs as teachers and teacher educators, and our expertise. There's no balance in their "solutions;" they are quite one-sided, in fact, in that these "solutions" benefit the purveyors and not the consumers. Until we remember that balance--of the old and the new, of the slow and the quick, of the bland and the sexy--is how we achieve our fullest potential, we won't be able to "fix" anything. Balance=sanity.

Here's some further reading to get you up to speed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rhode Island Writing Project’s
Summer Invitational Institute on Writing and Critical Literacy

July 9 –July 26
Monday – Thursday
8:30 AM - 1:00 PM @ Rhode Island College

4 RIC graduate credits in English or Education

With application open to all teachers (K-16) in all content areas, the Summer Invitational Institute invites teachers to draw from their broad range of experiences to share ideas and to develop new understandings about teaching and learning. During the three weeks of the institute, teachers read and discuss professional texts, write formally and informally, share practice, and re-think what it means to promote literacy and to teach writing within their schools and classrooms. Now in its 27th year, the RIWP Summer Invitational Institute transforms the way teachers think about themselves and their work.

Teachers who are accepted into the Summer Institute for four graduate credits in either English or Education pay $750.00, a much-reduced fee made possible by a generous grant from the National Writing Project. (A 4-credit graduate course at RIC normally costs between $1400-$2800.)

Additionally, the RIWP Summer Invitational Institute on Writing and Critical Literacy can be included in a Personal Growth Plan for the new Rhode Island Model Educator Evaluation System. Please see our website for information on how to apply:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Believe it or not, there's hope in Washington!

I've just returned from the National Writing Project's Spring Meeting in Washington, DC. This year's meeting, as to be expected, was considerably smaller. Many sites were not even able to spend the money to travel to DC. I was lucky to be there to represent the RIWP, and I feel that, in my meetings with our Congressional delegates, I did my best to amplify your voices and convictions as Writing Project teachers. What I do know is that all of my audiences listened...intently. Everyone is interested in and invested in literacy and in writing, as well as in teacher professional development. We are lucky here in Rhode Island as we have people representing us who DO, in fact, understand that teachers need constant "updating" and renewal in the form of quality, local, context-based professional development.

So, I'm happy to let you all know that there is hope in Washington, despite what you might think when you turn on the television or read any news from Capitol Hill. There are folks there who listen and who "get it," and they are doing what they can--which, sometimes, isn't much--to show their support for our work.

I was there to specifically ask them to sign a Dear Colleague letter, expressing support for increased funding from Title II/professional development funds to support national networks and programs, like the National Writing Project, so these organizations can continue to work with teachers in local schools, across their network, to support teacher growth and development. Three of our four representatives from Rhode Island agreed to sign the letter; this is fantastic news, and it bodes well for the National Writing Project's 2013-2014 budget. Just as we were able to competitively win the $11.3 million from the Department of Ed this year, so might we be able to compete for even more funding next year. This, of course, means that the Rhode Island Writing Project can then compete for funding. We are currently at work on a SEED grant made possible by last year's lobbying efforts in Washington. It is amazing to see the fruits of our labors in this way.

Thank you for your continued support of the Rhode Island Writing Project. I urge you to visit our read about our Summer programming. Our Summer Institute is one of the best deals in local, professional development for teachers, now in its 27th year. Our Writers' Camp for kids, which also has a rich history on the campus of RIC, is promising to be bigger and better than ever. In addition, we are busy at work on developing our Common Core workshops for teachers, planning our Spring Conference for next year, and doing what we can to ensure that we are still around next year, the year after that, and the year after that.

Happy Poetry Month! Remember that April 26th is Poem in your Pocket day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Buy Local PD!

RIWP's Spring Conference on Saturday, March 10 at RIC

The Rhode Island Writing Project is local professional development delivered locally, presented by local experts in the field and grounded in the richness and uniqueness that makes Rhode Island both an exciting and challenging place to work as an educator.

As a literacy-based organization that has thrived in Rhode Island for the past 26 years, the RIWP knows Rhode Island's schools, as well as the many versions of writing assessments that have come and gone over the years in our state. With the onset of the Common Core and, soon, the PARCC assessment system, which purportedly will all be computerized, including the long-response writing, the RIWP is prepared to help equip teachers with an understanding of how to meet expectations, and how to help their students succeed under new expectations, while staying true to their beliefs in equity, social justice, engaging pedagogy, and inquiry-based learning.

We hope you will join us for our Spring Conference on March 10. And, remember: Buy Local PD!

Literacy And The Common Core
Featuring Jeff Wilhelm As Keynote Speaker

Also Featuring
Tom Chandler, poet laureate emeritus of Rhode Island

Jeff Wilhelm, author of Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change, is this year's keynote speaker. The conference also offers two 60-minute workshop sessions on various writing and literacy-related topics, as well as topics related to the Common Core State Standards.

For three decades, Jeff Wilhelm has been dedicated to building and sharing his knowledge about literacy and literacy education.He is an internationally-known teacher, author, and presenter. A classroom teacher for fifteen years, Wilhelm is currently Professor of English Education at Boise State University. Jeff works in local schools as part of the Professional Development Site Network, and teaches middle and high school students each spring. He is the founding director of the Maine Writing Project and the Boise State Writing Project. Last year the Boise State Writing Project reached over 1000 different teachers through the delivery of nearly 30,000 contact hours of professional development support.

For more information on Jeff Wilhelm check out his website at

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Time to Write Your Micro-Memoir!

Here's a great offering by one of our local RI non-profits. I plan on attending, as do several teachers I know. Come out on the 21st and join us for micro-memoir fun!

February 21, 2012 – Micro-Memoir

Co-Presented with Not About The Buildings

Join us to write and read aloud extremely short (200-word) personal memoirs based on an object/muse to be presented by our workshop facilitator, the noted short-short prose pioneer Karen Donovan, as the session begins. Participants will experience both the rigors and elation of writing short-short prose, and the reading aloud segment will be buoyed by the energy of surprise and speed. The more diverse the writing is, the more exciting the readings will be, so bring your parents, your children, and your friends, old and young. The intergenerational diversity and interaction will give participants new perspectives on the different way humans view the world around them at different points in their lives.

Workshop made possible in part by a grant from the RI State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the RI General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Our generous sponsor is Yankee Travel.

Location: 251 Benefit Street, Providence, RI
Time: 5:00 – 8:00pm (5 to 5:30 for refreshments, activities begin at 5:30)
Cost: Free

Friday, January 27, 2012

Teachers want meaningful professional development

This morning, I was at North Kingstown High School, presenting an hour-long workshop to the English Department on group conferencing in the writing classroom. We began our 60-minute session by making name tents, doing some quickwriting, and then sharing out a bit of the writing as a way of introducing ourselves. After that, I introduced myself and gave the teachers an idea of what I teach and what gives me the right to stand before them and talk about the teaching of writing. I then made a segue into another quickwrite activity; I asked them to list their top three frustrations when it comes to the teaching and assessing of writing in high school. After they wrote for about 3 minutes, I asked them to turn and share their ideas with a partner for 2 minutes. Following the "pair/share," I solicited themes from the group by asking, "Would anyone like to share out one of the ideas you talked about with your partner?" We made an amazing list on the board! Here's a sampling, with all of these coming directly from high school English teachers:

1. How do we know which rules, techniques, and grammar concepts to teach and to reinforce? There are so many!
2. I feel like all I do is fix student writing.
3. I often think about the students and about how they feel when they get one of their papers back all marked up with my comments. What builds up student writers instead of tearing them down all the time?
4. How do I give meaningful feedback to 28 kids with no time and too much volume?
5. There is so much pressure to "give grades." How do we allow time for ungraded process?
6. How do we break students out of the habit of writing "safe" prose that is boring to read, that lacks a sense of audience and that has little sense of engagement?
7. How do we reward effort and progress in our student writers in a culture of "proficiency?"

This is an amazing list (of near universal concerns of writing teachers at all levels, I might add!). Using this list as our backdrop, if you will, I launched into a 20-minute explanation of why it might be worth their while to try small group conferencing at least once in their writing classroom. I left the workshop feeling good about teachers and good about professional development. My ideas were well-received. We laughed at the craziness of these times in education. I told them how smart they are and how much they already know about their students that they can bring to their teaching of writing. I tried to "build them up," just as they so badly want to build up their students. Enough tearing down of teachers already!

Tonight, as I was thinking about what a wonderful experience this was for me today, I received this email from one of the English teachers at NK:

"Jenn: Loved the presentation today. Finally something both practical and inspiring. Hope you can come back for more. For what it's worth, I will add my name to the growing chorus of teachers trying to convince the administration that this is just what we need."

This email validated for me that teachers have NOT become numb to what matters in the classroom, despite all the nonsensical messages they are getting from competing authorities. Today also reminded me that teachers want to be treated as intellectuals. During the workshop, we talked about who we are as writers and who our students are as writers. We talked about the socialization of writers in schools and how our students learn all kinds of "unwritten curricula," such as "my teacher is my only audience for my writing" and "I should play it safe in my writing to insure that I get a good grade." We talked about how teaching and learning writing is all about taking risks, about experimenting, about sharing your writing with others, teachers and peers alike, and about learning from reading a lot of others' writing.

Thanks, North Kingstown English teachers, for being so open to new ideas, for remaining positive in the face of negativity and pressure, and for welcoming me so warmly to your school.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hope in Grassroots Philosophy: A Conversation with Jeff Wilhelm

Get a glimpse of our upcoming RIWP Spring Conference keynote speaker and hear about his new book, Literacy for Love and Wisdom, in this NWP Radio interview. (Click on the title below)

A Conversation with Jeff Wilhelm and Bruce Novak 05/26 by NWP radio | Blog Talk Radio