Tag Archives: National Writing Project

Structures

I treated myself to a walk on the beach today after a writing project meeting at the university.  So instead of walking on the beach near where I live, I walked on the beach down the hill from the university.  It was foggy and cool, a perfect day for thinking and reflecting.

As I was walking I was thinking about the meeting…a follow up to the Invitational Summer Institute (a 4-week intensive leadership institute in the teaching of writing)…and the structures that we need as learners to move along the continuum from novice to expert (with the endpoint constantly moving) and from follower to leader.

The structure of the Summer Institute (SI) is designed to immerse teachers in writing, researching, reflecting on their practice, and critical conversations about teaching and learning.  The structure is strong and well built, based on the 40-year-old model developed by National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray.

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This pier is also a carefully designed, well built structure made to withstand the battering waves of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless wind and sun.  I love the way when you look through the pier it narrows and provides a window through the corridor of surf out to sea just like the SI helps teachers look carefully at policy and practice and then focus on instruction that best supports the students in front of them.

And some of the structures we depend on are organic like these cliffs.

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They are shaped by the natural environment.  I watched our SI participants create their own structures as well.  They gathered this morning, organically, catching up with each other as we, as facilitators, finalized our last minute plans.

And then there are structures that are light and flexible, like this feather on the beach.

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It makes me think of our Twitter Fellow of the Week.  This playful use of social media supports more weight than you might imagine.  While we originally saw this program as a way to connect to one another within our project by giving each other a glimpse into a week in the life of an SDAWP educator, it has proven to do more.  When teachers use Twitter as a professional learning network, their interactions begin to impact their practice.  Suddenly they are reading more professional articles about education, “listening in” to debates about policy and practice, getting and sharing ideas from others (within our site and beyond our site), and making their own classroom practice more visible.

Today we asked our SI 2013 cohort to sign up as Twitter Fellows…and starting tomorrow we will begin to get a glimpse into their lives.  (You can follow @SDAWP_Fellow on Twitter) Those who are more confident on Twitter signed up first…but others are willing to dip a toe into this unfamiliar world of tweets and hashtags and mentions.  And they have the rest of the SDAWP community who are happy to help…and the others in their cohort will also be “listening” on Twitter, ready to respond and retweet and favorite…so they won’t be hollering into the dark.

My beach walk today was quiet and introspective as I thought about all the structures I noticed…and those we use to support learners.  Structures can help us stretch and reach and connect as we learn and grow.  What structures support you?  What structures support your students?

Making Rockets and More…

I spent yesterday at UC Davis at a conference we threw for ourselves to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the California Writing Project.  The conference was an opportunity to teach each other strategies, structures, and approaches that we find successful at our local writing project sites across the state…and to learn together.  And we did that…and more.

At lunchtime there was an informal “making” session led by the director of the Northern California Writing Project.  Using transparency film (Finally!  A practical use for the boxes of the stuff schools have sitting around since document cameras have replaced overhead projectors.), colored electrical tape, cardboard, and hot glue, we crafted rockets (using a piece of pvc pipe as a mold).

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We would then test them by firing them from a bicycle pump, air powered launcher.  (Directions on Instructable…here) You’ll notice we sealed the tops and taped around them in hopes they would soar…rather than explode.

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When our rockets were ready, we headed outside with the launcher and our rockets to test our creations.  We had to place our rocket on the launch pad and then pump with the bicycle pump to build pressure in the system.  We aimed for between 50 and 60 pounds of pressure.

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After pumping, we pressed a button to release the pressure into our rockets and… POW!!! They shot high into the air and then turned down to land in the grass.

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I’m looking forward to offering my students more opportunities to build and test and tinker.  They might be building and launching rockets some day soon.

And building these rockets in much like the work we do in the writing project. At the San Diego Area Writing Project we build programs to support teachers and students with writing and writing instruction.  Then we test them out, paying close attention to how they “fly”–what design elements are working, where do we need to tweak our design?  What can we do to help these programs and approaches meet the “mark” we are aiming for?  And then we continue to tinker. How can we make this work better?  What improvements are needed?  Which teachers and students are we reaching?  Who is missing?

I had a lot of fun building and testing rockets with my friends and colleagues yesterday.  And I love building and testing programs for teachers and students.  Writing itself is a lot like building a rocket.  Writers need opportunities to compose and test, get some feedback, and then tinker (or start over) until it gets closer to the desired target.  Sometimes it takes some tangible tinkering with rocket design to remind me of all the tinkering that happens in my life and in my classroom and in our writing project.

So, go out and tinker today…  What rockets have you launched lately?

A Small Orange Bead

I’m in New York doing some National Writing Project work at a conference center owned by the Girl Scouts of America.  Girl Scout memorabilia and history are prominently displayed and there will even be a s’mores reception tomorrow evening!  Girl Scouts and scouting generally brings to mind merit badges and good deeds–organizations that encourage appreciation of the outdoors as well as effective stewardship of the home and community.  Many women I meet remember their days as Brownies or Girl Scouts with fondness…and who doesn’t anxiously await the annual Girl Scout cookie sale?  Ummm…thin mints!

I wasn’t a Girl Scout.  I was a Camp Fire Girl.  And other than those in my community and my mother who was also a Camp Fire Girl, I seldom run across others who participated in Camp Fire Girls.  It doesn’t have the iconic imagery of scouting or the name recognition, although it still exists today as Camp Fire USA, a co-ed organization.  But somehow, in my group of NWP colleagues we discovered a common bond–several of us were Camp Fire Girls!  This led to reminiscences of our WoHeLo days and the inevitable progression to our collection of beads and how they were sewn (or not) on our ceremonial vests.

So this morning Judy gave me a gift.  She pulls a piece of paper and a small baggie out of her purse and hand me the paper and a small orange bead–a Camp Fire Girl honor bead.

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Judy and I also spent some time this morning, in the course of our work, talking about play and its value in the learning process–and all the ways it has been pushed out of schools and classrooms.  So what does this have to do with Camp Fire Girls, you might ask?  Isn’t it an out-of-school organization?  It is–and there is still a connection in my way of thinking!  My memories of Camp Fire Girls were of sewing, craft projects, field trips, camping trips, cooking out of tin cans, and selling those butter toffee peanuts–we helped each other when we got stuck, when we needed a next bit of information, or someone to show us how.  I remember talking and laughing with my friends as we did these things, and I still remember how to do things that I learned in this context.

In my classroom I want this same kind of playfulness and collaboration among my students as they learn.  I want them to make meaning from their activity, from useful approximations that are revised and reshaped through iteration after interation–not required “drafts” from teachers, but student-generated improvements that clarify thinking and move closer to the intended end point determined by the students themselves based on their audience and purpose.  I want this in classrooms because organizations like the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire USA are not accessible to everyone–and all our kids go to school (or nearly all).  I want playfulness and collaboration to be educational values that are practiced in our public schools as a means of becoming literate, thoughtful, problem posing, and problem solving learners.

I think I’ll find a special place for this small orange bead to remind me that we all need places to play and explore as we learn.