Why Teachers Write (for National Day on Writing)


This video montage was something we at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project created last year during a meeting in which we wrote about why we write, and then shared out. As it turns out, that is one of the theme of today’s National Day on Writing. I’m sharing it here in hopes of reminding us as teachers that writing is an important element of learning and discovery for us, too. Not just our students. We need to model writing for them and then also, talk through our understanding of why we write.
Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Thoughts from WMWP on Common Core

We spent a good part of a Leadership Meeting for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project yesterday, looking at and talking about the new Massachusetts Language Arts curriculum that is framed around the Common Core. Here are some notes from that discussion:

  • Most of our school districts have not yet begun to do much of anything related to the upcoming shift to the new state frameworks (mine seems to be ahead at this point, as we are using almost all of our professional development time with curriculum mapping as it relates to the shift)
  • There are “openings” for more collaboration between ELA teachers and content-area teachers, but we worry that our colleagues in the disciplines are not prepared for the ways literacy is framed to be taught “across the curriculum.” The content-area literacy ideas are bundled under the ELA frameworks, and those documents are not necessarily being given to non-ELA teachers (if there is such a thing, right?)
  • There’s an important theme of the introduction of the Massachusetts ELA document that stresses that the frameworks are not designed to dictate how things are taught, but rather, what students should be expected to have learned by the time they graduate high school. We appreciated that kind of language, as if feels more like adults talking as opposed to autocratic finger-pointing. Sort of.
  • ELA teachers are going to have to learn to teach new genres (scientific abstracts, “reading” data, understanding facets of historical documents, etc.) and shift the balance of fiction reading and fiction writing towards more informational text and expository/persuasive writing.
  • We all wonder what the assessment will look like and how that will drive the way the new curriculum is used by school districts. While the new curriculum seems on the surface to have flexibility, the nature of the assessment (our state is part of the PARCC group) will play a huge role for many schools. There was a genuine worry that financial considerations and logistical considerations will shape the assessment, rather than educational and learning practice.
  • While the Massachusetts curriculum acknowledges cultural and language diversity in its Guiding Principles, it seems like those principles get the back seat in the actual standards. This concerns our group, since one of our focus areas has been ways to support and nurture student voices. We talked about ways that a teacher could navigate through this minefield of language and expectations.
  • It was pointed out that while we often talk of the importance of an educated populace built around the three concepts of a strong democracy, pursuit of personal goals, and employment, the focus of the Common Core around college and career-ready goals says a lot about who was working on the original document.
  • While the Common Core may not be billed as a national curriculum, it sure is looking like it to us, and we noted that textbook companies are ramping up production of textbooks that tap into shared curriculum ideas among states, and we all know how often textbooks drive curriculum. That worries us, particularly if “canned curriculum” starts coming down the pike of Common Core.

It was a great discussion and we used an article from NCTE called “Keeping Students at the Center of the Common Core Classroom” by Lorna Collier (it was published in The Council Chronicle in September) as a piece of shared reading that shows ways that teachers can use and adapt the Common Core while still focusing on students as individuals. It’s a good piece to read, if you haven’t done so yet.

Peace (in the core),
Kevin

 

“Policies Don’t Teach Kids” — Jim McDermott, part one

We taped the keynote address given by Jim McDermott to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s Best Practices Conference. The theme of the conference was on Massachusett’s transition to the Common Core curriculum and Jim’s talk was about how people teach kids, not policies on paper. Jim’s role in developing the current curriculum, and assessment tools, gives him a valuable perch. He also served on our state’s Board of Education, so his insider knowledge goes deep. He was funny, engaging and thoughtful as he used his own experiences in the classroom with difficult students to demonstrate how teachers can reach students as learners.

This is Part One of the keynote. I’ll share Part Two tomorrow.

Here is a quick bio of Jim McDermott:

James E. McDermott, Ed.D. , clinical educator and assistant professor at Clark University, is a former Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year who has taught English, Writing, Drama, and has coached championship teams in baseball in a career spanning 34 years working with urban students in grades 7 through 12.  He is Co-Founder and former Co-Director of the Central Massachusetts Writing Project, and for seven years served as the English Language Arts Liaison for the City of Worcester during which time he led the task force for developing an articulated k-12, portfolio-driven curriculum.  He served as a leading member of the Massachusetts State Curriculum Framework and Assessment Development Committees.

Professor McDermott has presented numerous workshops locally and nationally.  His focus is on creating classrooms that engage all students as thinking and feeling human beings through using low stakes writing to help even the most at-risk students to think deeply and to understand rigorous content.

In 2010, Jim was appointed as the first teacher to the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.

Peace (in the talk),
Kevin

 

From Old to New: The WMWP Website

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project launched a new website this month, in our hopes to make our site cleaner and easier to navigate. The change came on the heels of a long inquiry process of how our writing project site can best project our mission statement and our goals to our online audience. It’s still a work in progress, with some areas still under construction and some links still to be added. But I like the new site, and I appreciate all of the world folks put into making it go live. We had lots of voices in the mix because we realize the importance of a strong web presence.

Our New Site
WMWP new
 

Our Old Site
WMWP Web Old

Peace (in the change),
Kevin

 

Moving WMWP onto NWP Connect

Connect WMWP Space
The National Writing Project’s new networking space — NWP Connect — is a move towards making connections among various NWP site members and within sites. At the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we have been using a Ning site for our leadership team (sporadically) but yesterday, I presented to our board the possibilities of using NWP Connect. Among other reasons, we don’t want to keep paying for Ning.

After a tour of the NWP Connect site, we had an engaging conversation about we might best use the main site and our space within the Connect community. There were discussions around:

  • Do we make our space public or keep it private? We mostly seemed to lean towards a public space, particularly as one of our missions to visibility to our teachers and our community.
  • How do we use our social networking site in a way that does not conflict with our website?
  • How do we label and name things in our Connect site in a way that is clear and understandable for users? You’d be surprised at how difficult that can be at times.
  • How do we best integrate the Connect site with our website, so that a user can move fairly seamlessly from one to another?
  • What activity can we launch (book talk?) to get people on the site and writing?
  • Who will be in charge of making sure that every post gets a response?
  • And more …

It was interesting and a good discussion. The key is for us to keep designing our WMWP Space with simplicity of use in mind, and to avoid making another site that people don’t need to go to. We don’t want to stake out some ground that is never used, or replicates what people already have in their professional teaching lives. But we also see Connect as another way to bridge connections with teachers who are part of WMWP and maybe need another line to our organization.

Here is a document I created and shared with our WMWP folks, but it may be helpful for others, too. (Note: The NWP Connect space is not just for NWP teachers. It’s an open place for resources on writing and literacy. Take a look. Stay awhile.) All of the members of the Leadership Team pledged to tour NWP Connect on their own, maybe add a few comments to some posts, and then take a critical look at the WMWP Connect space.
Using NWP Connect

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Moving into the WMWP Connect Space

WMWP Connect Homepage
This afternoon, I am heading off to our Summer Institute at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in order to give our teachers a tour of our new online space, which is called Connect, and which is part of the National Writing Project’s new push to provide a networking space that encompasses both the entire NWP network and individual sites. I’m a little worried because, to be truthful, I don’t have a full handle on the Connect platform (built off Drupal, I believe) and find it a bit difficult to navigate and manage right now. I am hoping that with experience will come ease.

But I will pitch it to our SI folks as a way to dip their toes into something new, just my own Summer Institute did when we were introduced to Weblogs in a time when blogs were certainly not in fashion and had certainly not even begun to take hold much in classrooms. I remember thinking “OK,” and diving into something new. There were times when it was frustrating but I kept at it, and learned quite a bit. I am hoping our 2011 folks can do the same. I hope.

Peace (in the Connect-ions),
Kevin

Western Massachusetts Writing Project Is …

I was inspired by an NWP friend’s Animoto of her writing project, so I copied it a bit for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. This will become part of our new website and social networking space. I used elements from our Mission Statement as the text.

Peace (in the WMWP),
Kevin