Thursday, November 23, 2017

National Writing Project Annual Meeting 2017: Part Two, Thursday Morning Sessions

8:30am-10am Round A: Advocating for Your Site in the Age of ESSA
With my program, name badge, and new NWP Journal, I am ready to "write, learn, lead," as the journal's embossed design reads. 
I started the NWP Annual Meeting by attending a session about ESSA, the law that has replaced NCLB. Bob Jobin, Program Associate of the NWP, led this tremendously helpful session, and he mentioned North Dakota as one of the first states to have its ESSA plan approved and funded (our state is receiving $11.2 million).

Ellen Fern, of Washington Partners, said ESSA is an example of democracy at our best. It is bipartisan and was worked on by a wide range of education groups. The major shifts are that states are much more empowered than they were under NCLB. AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) has been eliminated, as have the requirements for highly qualified teachers. The linking of teacher evaluation systems to student test scores has also been eliminated.

Bob Jobin and Ellen Fern encouraged writing project sites to read their state’s ESSA plan. The North Dakota plan was discussed at our last leadership meeting on November 11th and can be found here. Warning: it is 427 pages long! We looked at the sections pertaining to writing and professional development.  States will be determining evidence-based interventions to implement in the lowest performing schools. What this means for writing project sites is that our work clearly meets the designation of evidence-based. Here are two examples: 1) The 2010 report that found that student writing of teachers who had participated in a National Writing Project Summer Institute was better than that of students whose teachers had not participated, and 2) The 2015 report that found positive gains in four measures of student argument writing when teachers had received professional development in the College, Career, and Community Writers Program.

We need to remind North Dakota ESSA decision-makers that the National Writing Project is the longest-running professional development organization for teachers and the ONLY one that focuses on the teaching of writing.  Furthermore, the NWP fosters local control of sites through a teachers teaching teachers model. We do not bring in outside experts—we invest in developing local expertise to meet local challenges in innovative ways. For example, the Red River Valley Writing Project responds to the specific, local needs of our teachers in the following ways:
1)   changing the focus of our summer institute to meet each year’s specific educational challenges, such as changes in standards or new writing tests
2)   offering an invitational leadership institute specifically for rural teachers
3)   embedding our professional development at specific high-needs schools, such as the 2011-12 writing assessment institute at Standing Rock and the 2014-2015 institute at Circle of Nations
In other words, the Red River Valley Writing Project is well poised to help North Dakota with its enactment of its ESSA plan.

Plenary Session 10:30am-noon

As if I weren’t fired up enough from the first session, I moved on to the Plenary. As usual, the NWP lifted me up further. Despite the bad news about future annual meetings, National Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl found a way to inspire the crowd by showing us an engaging video of when a person has found a WHY to go with their WHAT.

She said we have always known our WHAT. What the National Writing Project does is in our mission statement:

She said the plenary was all about exploring our WHY. She posed this inquiry question—How does our common work inform our WHY?

The next presentation provided a deep and meaningful answer. Sondra Perl and Jennifer Lemberg of TOLI (The Olga Lengyal Institute for Holocaust studies and human rights) introduced three people doing tremendous local work. Brenda Johnston, a member of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana shared all the things she did not learn in her K-12 education about U.S. history, as it pertains to Native people and then shared videos of her students performing poems in two voices—one voice a Nazi and one a U.S. Cavalry member during “westward expansion.” The similarity of their statements was chilling and thought-provoking. It demonstrated the power of student voices.  The next presenter was Tracei Willis, who introduced us to the Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world.” After going through the Institute with Sondra and Jennifer, she came back to her classroom and supported her students in writing about the stereotypes that others apply to them as a step toward leaving those stereotypes behind and re-defining themselves. Again, the power of student voice really stood out. The last presenter was Michelle Sadrena Clark, who is
Co-Director of the Deeper Learning Hub, whose mission is to spread deeper learning practices and ensure more students are achieving deeper learning and sharing it through student-centered practices like exhibitions, student-led conferences, and presentations of learning. She finished the presentation with a rocking slam poem “for the parent we make angry by teaching about social justice.”

The plenary concluded with more thoughts from Elyse, like the notion of teachers as first responders—“when something is happening in our society, we run toward it.” She reminded us of our successes as an organization, like raising $143 million to improve literacy in the United States, and the many grants we still have and the work in progress. She encouraged us to support each other and maintain our social connections.
NWP Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl encouraging us at the Plenary Session

She ended the plenary with the news that the National Council for Teachers of English is welcoming us into their annual convention by offering an NWP strand for the 2018 convention in Houston. The strand looks like this:

National Writing Project Strand: National Writing Project Strand proposals focus on research, practice, and innovation at Writing Project sites, including promising designs for professional learning and leadership programs, youth, community, and civic engagement projects, and fresh looks at curriculum and pedagogy in the teaching of writing. These sessions highlight the potential of teacher-leaders, and educators more broadly, to work collectively to improve the teaching of writing for all learners.

I, for one, am happy that my two professional communities will be integrated for next year’s convention. That means this was not really the last Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project. I know from past experience, that by following a strand through a conference, you can see the same people throughout the day and stay connected socially while growing professionally. I’m excited about 2018, and I hope you are too. Please email me if you would like to propose a session! The theme is Raising Student Voice, and information is here, including the call for proposals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“Last” National Writing Project Annual Meeting: Part One, Wednesday Social

With the National Writing Project not receiving the large SEED (Supporting Effective Educators) grant it has received in the past, NWP Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl warned that this would be the last Annual Meeting of its kind. “The NWP Annual Meeting is the one time each year that Writing Project writers/makers, teachers, leaders, hackers, and learners come together in one large gathering of the community that is the National Writing Project to explore connected learning and leadership” (NWP website).  

Many of you got to attend the Annual Meeting when it was held in Minneapolis two years ago, so you know what an inspiring experience it is to hear the plenary speech, to meet people like yourself who are doing similar ground-breaking work on the teaching of writing all over the country, attend break-out sessions on all aspects of site work, find out about grant opportunities for the coming year, connect with NWP friends, and feel supported in the work we do.

Knowing this would be the “last” Annual Meeting, I headed down to St. Louis last Wednesday determined to get the most out of the experience. The meeting kicked off with a Wednesday evening social—I greeted my fellow C3WP leadership team members—Rachel Bear, Tom Fox, Casey Olson, and more. My conversation with one TC took a sad turn, when she revealed she just finished crying before the meeting, knowing this was the last time we would all be together like this. I commiserated, and then filled my plate with more domestic cheeses. While I would have liked to talk longer with the people I already know, I pushed my introvert self to meet and get to know some new people too. When I was new, I always appreciated the openness of other NWP teachers who reached out and struck up a conversation with me, and now that I’ve been around for awhile, I realized, it was my turn to take up this role, even if there would be no annual meeting next year. The room was filled with people, and everywhere I looked, people were highly engaged with sharing the amazing work they do at their local sites. I got a big bear hug from Bryan Ripley Crandall, one of my heroes, who does amazing work with New Americans in Fairfield, Connecticut. 

When the social was over, I went on to a meeting with Mark Dziedzic and our team who has been working on a Midwest Regional Writing Conference since we first met at the NWP social in 2015 in Minneapolis. We were happy that our Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota TCs could finally attend a national conference within driving distance. We then came up with the idea of having a Midwest conference, and after a couple of years of conference calls, our idea is coming to fruition with the first Midwest Summer Conference of the NWP to take place August 3-5th in Madison, Wisconsin. Registration is open, and costs only $125 until January 31st. Dorm accommodations are an affordable $37.23 per night for a double room. Digital Writing guru Troy Hicks is the keynote speaker. Participants can expect to leave with greater expertise in digital literacy and the C3WP program, as these will be strong threads at the conference. 

If your district or institution requires you to be on the program in order to fund your conference, then there is also a link to sign up to be a presenter. I would especially like to encourage those who have received stipends to participate in the C3WP and ILI to pay forward their professional development by presenting at this conference.

Check back on the blog tomorrow for the Part 2 of the “last” Annual Meeting

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Writing Prompt: Newspaper Argument

To continue with the RRVWP’s focus on argumentation, go into a newspaper and find a letter to the editor. Write a rebuttal to the letter by imagining you’re taking another side of the argument. Then, write a compromise between the two sides.