This weekend, I flew down to the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project site to take part in a series of exciting discussions about the work being done by various groups (such as the Western Massachusetts Writing Project) that are considered Technology Seed Sites. This means that we are pioneering some use of technology for professional development for our network of teachers. The NWP brought us all together to share the successes and challenges that we are facing in our work.
I talked about our Making Connections weblog project that is designed to reach out to urban and rural communities and help forge relationships with teachers in those districts, provide support for technology implementation, and get kids from very different communities “talking” to each other via weblogs. We are just about to entire Year Two of the project. You can view the report from Year One here.
In Kennesaw, however, I was able to get an inside look at what the other sites are doing and much of it is very interesting. For example:
- Third Coast Writing Project (in Michigan) has been conducting mini-institutes around the concept of digital storytelling (which seemed to be a common strand among some of the 8 Seed Sites). They have created a cadre of workshop presenters and a task force to think through technology.
- The Maine Writing Project has been moving away from the term Digital Storytelling and into the realm of Writing in Modern Media, which reflects a general shift towards reflection on how we are re-casting composition in our classrooms.
- The Prairie Lands Writing Project (in Missouri) has been focusing in on technology institutes for its teachers as well as professional learning communities where thoughtful educators come together to brainstorm the integration of technology with writing.
- The Oregon Writing Project has created a vibrant state network of technology leaders, with hopes of filtering knowledge down to the individual sites.
Meanwhile, Inverness Research has been gathering data from interviews with project leaders and they presented some initial findings to us, including:
- There are many challenges to using technology in the schools (access, equity, etc) but the work is exciting.
- Much work focuses on three areas: Writing with technology (genres, rhetorical context, etc); Teaching with technology; and professional development.
- There is very little research out there to help provide the framework for what we are doing — we are in “uncharted territory,” as they put it.
- Teacher-leaders involved in these ventures are becoming “hybrids” in that they are forging a connection between the disciplines, writing and technology in new ways.
- And more …
The National Writing Project received a wonderful feature in the National Staff Development Council’s publication (Summer 2006) which showcases the work being done by teachers in the NWP network.
“The National Writing Project is a leading example of how teachers, immersed in the practice of writing, are better able to both teach writing and lead peers to improve.” — By Mary Ann Smith
The article can be found PDF file from this link from the NSDC archives. Pass the link on to someone else who might be interested in the work of the National Writing Project and spread the good word.
(thanks to Troy for sending this along).
In the past two years, I have been on the local NPR affiliate (WFCR) two times — first, as a guest commentator speaking of the values of nurturing student leadership and community service at my school (Norris Elementary School), and, second, as a leader of the National Writing Project-funded Making Connections Weblog Project.
As I continue to explore ways to integrate audio into Weblogs, I figured this would be a time to link those two radio files to this site.
Last night, my wife and I went to see the band Los Lobos in concert at a small outdoor arena in our town of Northampton, Massachusetts. They were energetic, playful and brimming with great musical ideas.
What struck me is this — The opening band was The Mammals and they pulled up a few band members from another band called The Ducks on the stage to join them for a few songs (and playfully referred to themselves as The Platypus — get it? Duck-billed mammals?). Then, when Los Lobos hit the stage, they pulled up the violin player from The Mammals for the opening song. And this is common for many bands to do — grab an up and coming musician and give them the experience of a larger stage.
So, I was thinking, that as Susan B. and I work on our NWP Monograph Project about the site structure of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, one theme that keeps coming up is how one program leader will ask someone new to partner with them on a project, and then pass the baton to the new person, who them repeats the process. Just like Los Lobos and The Mammals did on stage last night.
The power of that system is that it works like an expert-apprentice relationship and creates strong bonds for someone new to experiment in a safe environment. Kind of cool to think of WMWP along the same lines as Los Lobos.
I made it home from California only to find a heat wave sweeping through New England this week. Phew, it sure is hot!it might reach 100 degrees today. I had to catch a red-eye flight on Sunday night because my rock and roll band, The Sofa Kings, were doing a live television performance that I just could not miss. I paid the price with a tired body but received a jolt of energy to my brain from the performance.
The planning for our Monograph Book for the NWP at Work program went fantastic and the use of the web-based Writely as a tool for collaboration seems to be working great. My team members took to the program easily enough and it helped that I could show them the program in person and answer questions right on the spot. At the same time, WMWP Site Director Bruce Penniman was able to read through and offer suggestions to our writing from his cozy spot in Western Massachusetts. He could just have easily have been down the hallway. I really think Writely is the right tool for this stage of our project. Whether it will be the right tool as we move into the future remains to be seen but we all agreed that we could abandon Writely if it felt like it wasn’t working for us. (When I told our cohorts in Berkeley what we were doing with technology and collaborative writing, you can guess what NWP Associate Director Joye Alberts said: “You are going to write about this, right?”
Meanwhile, Bruce and I are also using Writely to begin putting together our Tech Matters Minigrant Proposal. I just finished a draft of the application and now he will review it, offer suggestions and/or make changes via Writely.
This is my working summary:
If site leaders and teacher consultants are to utilize the possibilities of web-based applications for publishing, collaborating and communicating, then they need to have time and space to learn and understand the technology. This project offers three separate workshops for teachers in our site network, with an emphasis on project leaders, to create and use Weblogs, experiment with Wikis and begin creating and posting audio files. Another facet of the project is designed to strengthen our state network through a series of newsletter Weblogs as a way to disseminate information across the various sites. Finally, our site will use some of the grant money to establish our own content management system so that we can independently oversee an emerging Weblog network for teachers and project leaders.
Our cohort of writers in Berkeley spent a good deal of time thinking about what we mean when we say continuity for our writing project sites. The book series we are working on is joined by a common thread of continuity and sustainability for various sites of the National Writing Project.
Here is what I wrote when asked about what continuity means for me:
At a very basic level, I see continuity as tapping into the energy of the Summer Institute for other levels of our site’s work. Teachers come out of the SI brimming with ideas, confidence and enthusiasm for implementation into their own classrooms – which is very important – but also with the sense that they are now part of something larger than their classroom and school. Many realize they can make a difference on a larger scale and this is where the seeds of leadership begin. That period of time following the SI seems to be most crucial for keeping people connected to the site. If too much time lapses, the energy begins to fade. Life impedes on the memories of the summer. If we can find connections that are relevant – and work on their new ideas and concepts and bring them to fruition – then we are more likely to have them emerge as leaders of the future. Continuity strengthens the site on so many different levels and outreach by the leadership team is important. For example, we tapped an SI graduate from last summer to be the editor of our online Weblog newsletter and I am now considering a replacement from this summer’s crop of teachers. There has to be a continual movement of people and challenges with support to keep people engaged. A site that ignores continuity runs the risk of fading away at some point in the future.
Meanwhile, the entire group brainstormed about continuity and came up with this list of ideas:
- Capture energy of SI
- Intellectual home – remodeled over time
- Honor the mission of the site
- Nourish and learn from NWP fellows
- Leaders open to change and ideas
- Having a place where people say ‘yes’ to ideas
- Imagine the possibilities
- Grassroots approach
- Social aspect – friendship and professional level
- Director gives out “keys to the office” – openness/access
- Mentor for leadership
- Challenges of diversity of teaching experiences/communities
- Addressing tensions within site
- “Never step into the same river twice”
- Continuum of Continuity
We had a lovely dinner last night with all of the folks who have descended upon Berkeley for the Monograph writing adventure. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Shirley Brown and our table had a long discussion about public relations and the reliability of journalists I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter so I had some inside info); the pros and cons of Charter Schools; how to mainstream autistic children; and many other interesting areas. Today, we head over the main offices of the NWP on the campus and get to work on some initial writing and discussions with our editors. Susan and I get to work with Tish, from the Vermont Writing Project, which is very neat since it wasn’t that long ago that I stole their idea for collaborating with the local newspaper to feature our teachers and students.
I realize now what a great variety of projects are being delved into here on the topic of continuity and sustainability at the writing project sites.
- Creating Learning Communities — New York City WP
- Presenting Collaborative Networks — Rhode Island WP
- Visioning Retreats — Prairie Lands WP
- Study Groups on Race and Homophobia — UCLA WP
- Leadership Inquiry Seminars — Philadelphia WP
- Strategic Planning — Western Pennsylvania WP
- Site Structure and the Role of Tech Liaison – WMWP