Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project held its annual fall conference yesterday — Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing — with many workshops from teachers, for teachers, and a powerful keynote address by Sydney Chaffee, a Massachusetts teacher who is the National Teacher of the Year.
The conference really embodies the notion of “teachers teaching teachers” and workshops ranged from writing in the content areas, technology-infused writing concepts, student journaling, and more.
The video is a little teaser of some of the writing, learning, sharing going on all throughout the day at the University of Massachusetts.
I led/am leading the WMWP end of things — facilitating all of the professional development and guiding the development of the summer program for middle school students. The teachers — two of whom are co-presenting with us — are from a social justice magnet school in Springfield, our main urban center. The Springfield Armory is an often-forgotten piece of local history. The project connects the school to the Armory (and continues into the school year … we just had another meeting this week, planning out activities.)
In our presentation at the WMWP conference, we aim to share strategies for engaging students in writing with primary sources and historical perspectives (and we aim to get folks writing as well). The Minds Made for Stories title, which is what we called our project, refers to Thomas Newkirk’s book of the same name, in which he argues that everything is story.
Another objective here, along with sharing our story, is to give our Springfield teachers a chance to be in the spotlight and to present in a conference setting, in front of other educators. They seem a little nervous, but we’re all here to help them.
As a bonus, we have the National Teacher of the Year — Sydney Chaffee — as our keynote speaker for lunch, and the title of her talk is “Composing Change: Equity and Civic Engagement Across Content Areas.” That should be interesting.
A column that I wrote for our local newspaper through an ongoing monthly publishing partnership via the Western Massachusetts Writing Project to feature WMWP teacher-writers ran yesterday morning. In it, I explored how the book Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst has me wondering what else I can do to get my sixth graders deeper into independent reading. The stats they provide, and my own classroom observations, indicate a decline in “books in hand” and I find that alarming. I decided to do a podcast version of the piece.
After eight years, we finally pulled the plug on something known as the iAnthology Network. Hosted on Ning, it was created for National Writing Project teachers to connect, to write, to share in a closed space. We had weekly writing prompts, photo prompts, book groups and more. We were not part of the official NWP umbrella. More of an unofficial space.
In recent years, participation in the site dropped and became a trickle and my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and our sister site, Hudson Valley Writing Project, decided not to fund the Ning anymore. The National Writing Project funded the launch and supported the iAnthology for the first few years with small grants. The whole structure and original design of the iAnthology was based on something that was known as the eAnthology, which was a summer writing space for teachers going through their Summer Institutes.
My friend, Bonnie Kaplan, and I worked closely together to launch the iAnthology — I remember us both thinking, will anyone sign up? — and we guided it through the years, working to give more ownership to members (we had a large list of folks who volunteered to host writing prompts every week).
When it was active, it was wonderful.
But it was time.
Most social networks eventually fade as part of the natural arc of participation over time. With us, Facebook and Twitter and other social spaces began to fill in where there was once a gap.
Still, we celebrate that 800-plus teachers with National Writing Project affiliation were able to find a writing home for a bit that kept them connected. If you were part of the iAnthology, thank you. I hope we stay connected and that you keep writing your heart out.
At our summer camp project at the Springfield Armory, as our middle school students were working on a variety of projects, so were us teachers. I had already shared out my Rosie the Riveter 2.0 project. One of the Armory rangers had mentioned that another ranger is in the midst of planning out an app for the museum. I decided I would try to imagine what might be in a Virtual Reality app for the Springfield Armory, which is a National Historic Site for its role in our country’s history.
The ranger asked me to leave the drawing behind, in case it offers up ideas for thinking about the museum in the future as they begin to mull over ways to make the museum more interactive. So, who knows? My ideas might someday become reality. Or not. My favorite, and the kids’ favorite too, is the virtual roller coaster set within the gears of the innovative machinery of the Armory.
On the last day of our Minds Made for Stories summer camp for middle school students — a partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory, Duggan Middle Academy, Veterans Education Project and Mass Humanities — students worked to finish up historical research projects, including the Home Poem project that was worked on each day of the week.
I set up a podcasting station and each student (and a few of us teachers) read stanzas or lines from the Home Poem, which sought to connect students to their heritage and culture and family through sensory imagery and memory. Each day, we guided students into stanzas. None had ever done podcasting or recording of their voices before, so it was a new experience.
We used the “quilt metaphor” quite a bit during the week — it was part of the information about the kind of work women might have been doing at home before they went into the workforce during WW2. We’ve created pieces for an actual quilt that will hang in the Duggan School in the fall, as a visual connection between the social justice school and the Springfield Armory. We created daily video quilts, of work and play being done all week.
The Home Poem Quilt Video Project is stitched together by layering student voice underneath images and videos of the quilt project, and the two themes — the visual connection to culture and memory and the poetic writing about home — came together quite nicely.
Today is the last day of a summer camp project I am facilitating, which is connecting inner-city middle school students with the Springfield Armory, a National Park Historic Site. (The project is funded and supported by our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, Mass Humanities, The National Writing Project, the Springfield Armory, Veterans Education Project and the Springfield City Schools … it’s a complicated endeavor, to say the least).
The middle schoolers (who come from a Social Justice-themed school) are now hard at work on a research project, in which they have taken on the “persona” of someone from the Armory’s past (our focus has been women and immigration), and represent what they know through a multi-genre effort. One piece is writing, and another is more art-related.
To show students what we are thinking when it comes to multi-genre, another teacher and I both created some texts. She wrote, and performed, an amazing rap song (she used to work for Flocabulary, I found out) about women in the workforce during World War 2. Meanwhile, I decided to use what we learned about Rosie the Riveter in a presentation by a historic re-enactor to create two different projects about Rosie.
My premise was, what would a Rosie icon look like today?
First, I wrote a Poem for Two Voices, and had students come up and read it with me. In the poem, the two voices were Rosie 1.0 (the original icon) and a Rosie 2.0 (a modern day icon).
Second, I created a comic strip in which woman are auditioning for the job of Rosie 2.0, and what happened when a strong, active woman gets the part. (OK, so I didn’t reference the Trump administration, but I imagined them being the voices off in the wings).
I am excited to see and hear what students are making today. We’re seeing board games, comics, rap songs, journals, stories, poems and more. It’s been fun and interesting, and educational (Shhhh. Don’t tell the kids. It’s summer camp, remember.)
I’ve mentioned before that I am facilitating a project with some middle school teachers in our largest urban school district (Springfield, MA) through a complex partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory and the Veterans Education Project. We’ve been doing a series of professional development days, with a focus on the historic primary source archives of the Armory, and offering a free summer camp experience at the Armory for urban middle school students. The project — which we call Minds Made for Stories, in reference to the book of the same name by Thomas Newkirk — is funded by Mass Humanities and the National Writing Project.
There are a lot of strands to our work, from writing to history, and yesterday, one of those strands — how oral history can enhance understanding of the world — came to life as a visitor to our PD session presented and talked about his childhood in Africa, during war, and his eventual journey to the United States, where he now works to help other immigrants navigate the culture.
Jowel Iranzi’s story is powerful, as he narrates how strife and violence in his native Congo (then, Zaire) led his family to flee, first to Rwanda, and then Burundi and then to Tanzania, living in refugee camps and dealing with the tragic loss of his father and separation from his younger brother and mother. He talks of adversity, of perseverance, of education, of the realization that he cannot look back and blame others for his life situation, but has to look forward and forge a new life out of the ashes of his old one.
We’ll be having Jowel come in to present to students at our camp — which has a social justice theme and is focused on immigration and the Springfield Armory. Our intention is that his personal story, through oral history, will bring to the surface how one struggles and perseveres, and the difficulty of being a refugee and immigrant in the United States can be.
We’re reminded again of the power of story. My sketch-noting of his talk is proof of how complicated a life can be. By listening to his narrative, we all came to better understand Jowel, and in doing so, the larger world, too.
I am helping to co-facilitate a new project that connects middle school educators and students with the Springfield Armory, our local National Park historic site through writing and inquiry and service learning projects.
Yesterday, at our first meeting, we began our work on the project, as our group of teachers from an urban magnet school took a tour of the Armory itself and learned of its rich historical resources, took part in a workshop on Authentic Writing and Performance Tasks, and began initial planning for a free summer camp we are offering at the end of June for city students at the Armory.
I can’t say enough about the educators who have agreed to be part of our project, called Minds Made for Stories (influenced by the work and book of the same name by Thomas Newkirk, who argues that narrative is the underlying nature of all writing that we do). They were inquisitive, passionate and ready to dive into the work ahead of us.
The overall theme of our project is Social Justice, and the thread that will tie our work and the development of the camp is “immigration,” as the current climate around immigration is a central focus in the lives of many of the students at the school where our teachers teach. This became clear as we worked through a variety of topics, as teachers talked about the all-consuming worries and anger about the current immigration policies and politics of the national stage.
We’ll be looking at immigration, and racism and other related topics, through the lens of the Springfield Armory and its workforce, and its work as munitions center for the country for much of the 20th Century. We’ll have guest speakers to talk about oral history, and have student at camp design some sort of service learning project that can go back to their school in the fall.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
Ok. Summer is not close. It’s early March, already. But yesterday afternoon, in a meeting, all we talked about was summer. I am the lead organizer of a proposed free urban Youth Summer Camp that connects middle school students from Springfield, our main urban center, with the Springfield Armory, our only National Park in Western Massachusetts.
A lot of the work ahead of us is contingent on a grant that the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has submitted to a regional arts organization, as we propose weaving narrative writing, primary sources and local history, and professional development for teachers who will design and run a free summer camp. We’re optimistic on the grant, which would fund two years of collaboration.
It’s a lot of juggling, though, to plan such a project. Sitting around the table with my colleagues, including a school administrator from the social justice/expeditionary learning magnet middle school we are targeting and a park ranger from the Springfield Armory, we were energized by the possibilities of the partnerships underway. The fourth colleague is another teacher who has been an educational consultant with the Armory and helped run a similar camp last year. (I’ve worked with the Armory via WMWP for Professional Development but was not involved in the camp in the past)
We talked about who will do what, and how things will unfold, and possible logistical hurdles (and solutions). We all agreed that the kids will benefit greatly from this endeavor.
I’ll be helping to run the Professional Development aspect, with mostly Social Studies teachers diving into writing about history and civics, and those teachers will co-design the curriculum of the summer camp at the Armory itself. This will be the third year WMWP has partnered with the Armory, thanks to support from the National Writing Project, so we are not starting from scratch.
Recruitment of teachers now begins and then the campaign to get as many as 40 urban middle school students into the camp for the last week of June. That seems far away. It’s not. I need to get working on a flier for students.