The Competition: Where NWP Stands

There was a newsletter email in my box the other day from National Writing Project Executive Director Sharon Washington that began with the line that “We would like to share some good news.” I wondered, is this it? Has funding for the National Writing Project somehow been restored? Has all the lobbying in DC and the hundreds of blog posts and all of those phone calls finally made a bit of a difference?

Not really.

Funding is still gone in the latest budget and the “good news” is only that NWP and all of the other literacy groups that got stripped of federal support can now apply for some competitive grants, which the government has “graciously” set aside from its $3 billion in teacher-quality testing money for educational programs. That amount is apparently just one percent of the $3 billion.

Thanks a lot.

The funding bill (see summary of entire bill) also eliminates a number of other education programs, including:

  • Educational Technology State Grants—$100 million.
  • Literacy Through School Libraries—$19 million.
  • Byrd Honors Scholarship Program—$42 million.

I know we are in the era of competitive spirit (ie, Race to the Top) as a push to enact positive change in struggling schools. It’s an era where “my” program has to beat “your” program in order to keep afloat from year to year. Survival requires lobbying, and political connections, and is anchored on other things that we classroom teachers don’t always “see” because we are too busy working on lesson plans, giving an extra hand to the struggling student or teaching, for goodness sake.

But I do wonder if the officials who set up these competitive elements realize that it may very well be our students — the most vulnerable population out there — who are most impacted. I look at the list of educational programs that are cut and I can’t help but think: so many of these initiatives are reaching under-served populations of students and struggling socio-economic communities, and now they are gone or in danger of disappearing.

What happens to those kids?

I’ve written and called my representatives about supporting NWP funding. Only one (Sen. Scott Brown) has responded to me — and not necessarily in a timely manner, either —  and that is with an email that looks familiar to the one I got about six months ago from his office. Here is part of what he wrote:

Like you, I believe that every child deserves access to a quality education that allows them to become successful and active members of their community.  As a parent, I recognize the positive impact that strong support systems and educational opportunities can have on children during their early developmental years …. I believe that federal, state, and local governments must continue to work together to protect the quality of education being provided to students while also developing additional efficiencies and cost-saving measures to respond to today’s tough fiscal environment.  However, because of the trillions in debts and deficits we face, there are virtually no areas of the budget that are completely immune from reductions. — Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass)

Which means, the cuts are continuing. Brace yourself.

Peace (in the frustration),

At the 4Cs: Our NWP Connections

On Friday, I will be in Atlanta for the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (4cs) and I am presenting an early morning session with some fellow National Writing Project/Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleagues– Anne Herrington, our site director and a professor at the University of Massachusetts; Donna LeCourt, a member of our WMWP technology team and a professor at the University of Mass, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, a co-director of  the National Writing Project.

Our talk is entitled “Broadening our Community to Reaffirm Connections with K-12 Educators” and our goal is to explore the connections between the university and the classroom, with the National Writing Project as a model for how those connections are made and nurtured.

Of course, our focus will shift a bit, given the latest news that the federal government has cut out all of its funding support for NWP, so we will be framing some of our discussion around what that change may mean for teachers and universities. (on a side note, the #blog4nwp effort continues to grow — read through the more than 200 blog posts so far in support of the Writing Project. It’s not too late to add your voice.)

My own part of this talk is entitled  “An NWP Site’s Teacher and Student Collaborations on Digital Projects,” and I have been thinking of what I can talk about in my 15 minutes or so. There are so many connections that have been made with the National Writing Project and so many ways in which my students have benefited from those connections.

So, here is an outline of my path of talking (still subject to change).

For me, the teacher

  • First year teacher — WMWP opened up my eyes to the value of what we now call PLC — that of teachers coming together to share and support and nurture each other.
  • Blogging in the Summer Institute with WMWP colleagues — realized the potential of blogging as a writing platform for my students — as publishing space, authentic audience, peer feedback
  • Led to Tech Friends (social networking space for NWP teachers across the country); the Collaborative ABC Movie Project; and the iAnthology (inspired by the eAnthology) which is now home to almost 450 NWP teachers for writing.
  • The Digital Is site is the latest iteration of collaborating for shared knowledge, with a focus on digital learning and how technology is shifting the way we teach and the way we learn.

For my students, collaboration opportunities

  • The Electronic Pencil — my classroom’s online home
  • The Flat Stanley Project (with fellow WMWP teacher Sara Palmer)
  • Blogging with DC (Maria Angala)– an online poetry collaboration
  • Making Connections — blogging with middle school students
  • Longfellow 10 Movie Site — movies by students
  • Youth Radio — podcasting with schools around the world
  • Voices on the Gulf — environmental exploration
  • Summer Writing Projects (through WMWP partnership with a local vocational high school) — Webcomics, Stopmotion Movies, Digital Storytelling, and Gaming.

The benefits of these connections/Projects

  • Authentic writing spaces
  • Authentic audiences
  • Fosters collaborative nature
  • Using technology for meaningful work and learning
  • The connections as WMWP/NWP teacher allowed me to tap into knowledge and expertise, explore it and then bring it into the classroom.

Peace (in the connections),

Dear Sen. Brown/Sen. Kerry: Support NWP

ImnwpHere is a letter I just sent off to my two Massachusetts senators. If you are in Massachusetts, can you spent a bit of your time to do the same? You can contact Sen. Kerry (D) here and Sen. Brown (R) here.

Dear Senator,

I know in the past you have been a strong supporter of the National Writing Project and I am writing you to urge you and your colleagues to reconsider moves by Congress and President Obama to eliminate federal funding for NWP.

As a sixth grade teacher, the National Writing Project network, and the connections I have made through the local Western Massachusetts Writing Project, have been invaluable. My skills as an educator have been enriched and supported through my work with National Writing Project teachers, and my students have benefited from those connections. I have gone deep into research around writing, reading and my own area of real expertise these days — technology and 21st Century Skills.

I understand that NWP funding was an “earmark,” which is a political sensitive issue these days. And I understand that President Obama sees a shift to competitive block grants. I am hopeful NWP still finds a way to fit within the framework of federal support.

However, the immediate loss of funding for NWP at the federal level will directly impact work that we teachers are doing in the classroom to instill a love of writing and to help strengthen language arts and technology skills that are needed for the future.

Please continue to find ways to support NWP. I appreciate any help you and your staff can give to us teachers and our networks.


Kevin Hodgson
Sixth grade teacher
William E. Norris Elementary School
Southampton, Massachusetts

Peace (in the lobby),

The Half-Full NWP/WMWP Glass: We Still Have Us

Basic RGB

We had our leadership meeting for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project the other day. This is the first time we have gathered together as a team since we learned that federal funding for the National Writing Project, which provided crucial financial and logistical support for us, has been eliminated by Congress and President Obama.

The mood was somber and reflective, but it wasn’t a funeral procession. We still have a lot of hope and we still have  a lot of faith in NWP leaders to find a path forward for the organization that means so much to us. And we know the power of the network is with us, and not in budget line item.

As WMWP Director Anne Herringon noted, “A corp of us remember pre-NWP funding (before the group of WMWP founders hitched their wagon to NWP). At the least, we’d still be a loose confederacy of teachers. There won’t be nothing.”

Past WMWP Director Bruce Penniman noted that there may yet be ways to stay connected to funding in the federal government, but maybe not primarily with the Department of Education. Other departments, such as NOAH and the Department of Agriculture, have educational components who may want to partner up with a proven organization, like NWP.

“We can re-invent ourselves, if we have to,” Anne concluded, and then asked that we dedicate most of our April meeting to deeper discussions about the way forward in the face of uncertain federal funds.

Then, I heard a piece on the radio today about NPR, which is embroiled in its own difficulties and faces loss of federal funding. The piece showcased folks seeing this as an opportunity to try new things, to re-focus efforts on local communities, to push further into the web-based listener audience. Even NPR reporters see possibilities that weren’t there before.

And of course, I am still thinking of Bud Hunt’s blog post about needing to take a breath and look at what we have in the NWP. It’s a challenge, but it’s not the end of the world. We still have us.

So, if change is afoot, what kind of change might we envision for our WMWP site? How can we try to see the glass as half full?  I’ll put out a few ideas and I want to note very strongly that this is only me — one person — thinking things through, and not the WMWP leadership.

  • Since I came on board, we have seen our site’s direct engagement with students dwindle. This is mostly because of stipulations on how NWP/federal funds can be used. It can support professional development and teacher worker, but not student programs. I wonder if we can now re-double our efforts in helping meet the needs of student writers, directly. I feel as if student writing programs is an area that needs more attention, particularly in our urban and rural districts.
  • The reality is that our university, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, is very generous with its support of our WMWP, even in tough times. It provides release time for our leader (Anne, right now; Bruce, before that; Charlie Moran, before that) and office space and other intangibles that even I don’t quite understand. But that support is part of a matching funding agreement. Will UMass still support us without NWP funds? Given its own financial problems, I doubt it, a least in the long-term. Which means we might need to forge new partnerships with other community organizations. This won’t be easy and it is something Anne has been working on for years. I wonder if our cache as a place for teachers and writers and technologies might open the door for something at another space of higher learning? I’d hate to lose the UMass connection. But it might happen.
  • We need to redouble our efforts on grant programs. Anne and other do a lot of this right now — they work hard at this — and the fact is that we will need to cast a much wider net for grant opportunities, and begin to revamp some of our expertise to fit the needs of funding agencies. We can do this.
  • There has been tremendous work in creating inroads with our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. As we talked about in our meeting, the state’s shift to a Common Core Curriculum (already underway) opens up an opportunity for our WMWP folks, some of whom are already doing deep work (thanks to NWP and its connections to the Gates Foundation). I think we can position ourselves as a leader for school districts wondering how to help teachers re-envision their curriculum in light of Common Core. I see this as a real positive direction (oh, and my wife is part of our WMWP team working on it, so I have a vested interest).
  • Will the loss of NWP bring forth new energy to our  WMWP? Will this turn of events with federal funding be a rallying cry for local folks? Our energy ebbs and flows. We’d like more flow, and less ebb. Perhaps folks who take WMWP for granted will suddenly remember why they connected with us in the first place, and reconnect on the journey ahead.
  • Will the shift mean more online presence work for our site? It may have to. Which means that our work on redesigning our website better get in high gear soon (the delay is mostly me, sorry to say). If funding limits what we can do in physical space, perhaps we need to become more acute in virtual space. We’re dipping our toes into online classes and offerings. We may need to make a full push ahead in this direction to leverage our expertise across a wider spectrum.

Yes, I am uncertain and worrisome about it all. But it does no good to harp on all the reasons why change is bad. We also need to remember what we tell our students: the only thing certain is that things will change.

Peace (in the glass),

Slice of Life: Leading a Digital Storytelling Workshop

Slice of Life 2011I spent four hours yesterday with a small group of teachers in our school district who wanted to learn more about digital storytelling. The principal found some money for Professional Development, we negotiated a fair price, and I developed a plan of action for the day, along with multiple resources.

The session went wonderfully well. We were doing hands-on work with Google Search Stories, then into iMovie, and then onto Voicethread. I peppered my work with leading questions around how technology and media are changing our perceptions of composition (and we had a long conversation about how important “design” is in this world). There was laughter, silence, sharing and reflection.

(see some of the Search Stories they created)

Then, one of the teachers asked, “What is this Writing Project I see on some of the books and papers you brought?”

It was an opening I wasn’t quite expecting, but I was ready to explain all about the National Writing Project, and most important, I talked about how the experiences within the NWP prepared me for the kinds of presentations I was doing with them. It was one teacher sharing their knowledge with another, or teachers teaching teachers. It was hands-on activities, followed by reflective pedagogical practice. It was examining what the students might need for learning. It was even about bringing enough food to the session.

(See a voicethread they played around with)

I owe a lot to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for my ability to lead workshops and PD sessions. My experience there, and the nurturing that I got over the years (I remember Paul Oh inviting me to be his partner at my first National Writing Project Annual Meeting, to talk about advanced summer technology institutes) has profoundly shaped me as a workshop leader. I never would have known I had it in me, to be honest, until someone tapped me on the shoulder (Paul and Bruce Penniman, among others) and said, you should do this. You can do this. The door opened for me and it has remained open since then, and that has forever changed my own perception of myself as an educator.

Whether or not my teaching colleagues from yesterday follow me into the WMWP, they certainly got a taste of what it means to be in a NWP session around writing and technology. They were learning. They were doing. They were reflecting. They were writing.

(You can come view our workshop website and use the resources as needed. The NWP is also about sharing with the world).
digistory screenshot

Peace (in the workshop model),

Why the National Writing Project Matters

The National Writing Project has lost its federal support. Money to support the NWP, of which I am an active and vocal member and advocate, was on the chopping block during recent budget cuts. (See NWP Executive Director Sharon Washington’s response). It’s still too soon to say what the direct impact will be of losing that support, and what our local organizations (like my Western Massachusetts Writing Project) will look like in the near future. It’s been difficult to even digest the news, to be honest.

But we won’t go quietly.

Today and into this weekend, many of us with online voices are joining together for a Blog4NWP event (spearheaded by Chad Sansing, of Virginia) in which are using our spaces to lobby our representatives and our friends to push for reconsideration of the NWP’s importance in supporting teachers and their students.

As Chad writes:

On March 2nd, 2001, President Obama signed a spending bill to keep the federal government operating during budget season. The bill cut federal funding to the NWP as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP. While pork-barrel projects are, perhaps, easy political targets for elected officials looking to make names for themselves as no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, the NWP is not a pork-barrel project and it makes no sense to eliminate funding to the NWP, a program with a proven track record in raising student achievement that provides teachers and students with authentic opportunities for communication, inquiry, and problem-solving – opportunities to practice those deservedly ballyhooed skills our students need to be college-, community-, and life-ready.

Here, I’ve tried to come up with a list of Reasons To Support NWP:

  • It’s Effective. No other professional development organization that I have come across has been more powerful than the model that is at the heart of the National Writing Project: teachers teaching teachers. The experts in the network are teachers themselves, sharing their best practices and pushing each other to continually move forward with instructional ideas and innovations. The organization began with a small group of teachers in Berkeley, talking about writing, to become something larger. But it’s heart is the same: What I know, I pass on to you, and what you know, you pass on to me, and what we both don’t know, we learn together.
  • It’s Far-Reaching. Whether it’s how to help rural teachers and their students in isolated areas, or urban teachers and their students in city centers, or considering how writing is changing in this Digital Age with multi-modal composition, or working to celebrate and support English Language Learners, or considering the possibilities of curriculum change like the Common Core or simply creating networks of teachers who come together to write as writers on regular basis, the National Writing Project is woven into the threads of the educational tapestry. It is about the major trends facing education and it is always moving in a direction that signals thoughtful, reflective work.
  • It’s About Students. Whenever I am in a room with NWP folks, the talk almost always turns to our students. It seems to be a common lens — this question of, how will this help MY students? You may think, well, of course. You’re teachers. But I have also been in lots of rooms with non-NWP teachers at non-NWP events, and the tone and tenor of the conversations are often different than at NWP spaces. The role of the student is never more front and center than it is when NWP teachers are talking about the struggles and successes of a young writer.
  • It’s About the Doing. The hallmark of a dull professional development session is the talking head at the front of the packed hall, disconnected from the folks there. I’ve been in that hall, all too often. Take a look at the audience, and they are most likely trying to check their cell phone or mobile device. In NWP sessions, the participants are almost engaged in activities, inquiries and construction of shared knowledge. The hands-on work of teachers actually and actively writing, sharing, reflecting, or constructing something new, or some twist on the old, is built into the foundational philosophy of NWP’s mission. You should always expect to be writing when you come into a NWP-led session.
  • It’s about Leadership Opportunities. One of the things I have always marveled at with the larger NWP network is how acute folks are at identifying leadership in its teacher cadre, and then, bestowing responsibility on them. I am quite certain that the NWP teachers who take on projects and other initiatives are also teachers who are doing the same in their own schools, now that they understand how to tap into that passion for change and learning. Leadership in NWP is not necessarily a title that you wear on your shirt. Leadership in the NWP means seeing a direction ahead, getting resources to support your vision and then finding similar-minded folks to come along with you.
  • It’s About Connections. I can’t even begin to name the incredibly talented folks whom I have worked with over the years on NWP endeavors. Bonnie, in Hudson Valley, and I are partners in many projects. I am forever indebted to thinking partners like Troy Hicks, Paul Oh, Christina Cantrill, Andrea Zellner, Bud Hunt and many others. I’d be hard-pressed to find a more willing audience for feedback and even more hard-pressed to find folks who are willing to share themselves and their work so often. The NWP is my professional network. It is not the only one, but it is the most powerful. And in the end, I think it my students who benefit from the influence of my NWP friends. I’d like to think, too, that I am not alone in this sentiment.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

I’ll leave you with information from Chad about Blog4NWP Day. He asks that we, “Please support the NWP by sharing your experiences with the project, its institutes, its teacher consultants, and the resources it freely provides for all teachers. As you post,  send the links to Chad via Twitter (@chadsansing, by @ or DM), or email your link to him. He will collect and publish the links at his blog:  If you tweet about NWP, please include @EdPressSec, @Ed_Outreach, @nwpsiteleaders, and @whitehouse in your tweet. Let’s use the hashtag #blog4NWP. If you post before or after this weekend’s window, please let me know and/or use the hashtag to make sure I pick up your article for inclusion on the #blog4NWP archive post. Please also consider sending your writing as an email to your local and state representatives in federal government.

Peace (in the NWP),


PS — Here is an ongoing collection of posts during the #Blog4NWP effort (Chad is keeping the full list at his blog):

#blog4nwp Posts

Kate Willaredtsave the NWP

Mary Tedrow – Mourning in America

Joseph Kahne – Congress Decides Literacy is a Bridge to Nowhere

Delaine ZodyDo you teach writing?

Susan R. Adams – How a Teacher Becomes a Writer

Leslie Morton – I started thinking numbers…

Ellen SheltonWhy the National Writing Project Matters

Jeromy Winter#blog4nwp

Kristin H. TurnerThe Best Gift I Gave Myself – NWP

Bryan Crandall – In Support of the National Writing Project

Pam MoranI Write for Savannah

Chad SansingA student voice in games-based learning

Britton Gildersleeve#blog4nwp

Paul OhWriting is Thinking

Lisa @teachingfriendsWhy We Need to Save the National Writing Project

Chad SansingTo President Obama

Kathee GodfreeThe Value of the National Writing Project