Saturday, February 8, 2020

Writing about Understanding at the Mid-Year Meeting in Dallas

Our team of teacher leaders working on the i3 grant that funds a scale-up of C3WP (College, Career, and Community Writers Program) in North Dakota is in Dallas February 6-9th to learn about changes to the C3WP professional development program in teaching argument writing. We are practicing the principles of the National Writing Project--one of which is the belief that in order to teach writing well, we should engage in our own practice as writers. That means we write into the day and out of the day and in response to reading. One text we read an excerpt from Collet's (2019) Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional Development about the nature of understanding. We read and  annotated this excerpt, made two-column notes about what understanding is and is not, and then wrote a short piece using this format for a kernel essay:

Here is what Kathy Rueger (Instructional Coach for the Langdon area) wrote:

First, I thought writing could be taught with a formula of one size fits all.  If the grammar was perfect and the paragraph structure was correct, then we had a sufficient piece of writing. Then I learned how much writing is a reflection of who we are, what we have experienced, what we have read, and how we internalize the information presented to us.  We put our hearts into our writing  even if it is expository nonfiction; the things we select for inclusion depend on the previously mentioned elements of who we are. Now I understand that I lead, not direct, the instruction of writing.  It is a journey that is guided by the student writers as they navigate sources, experiences, each other, and the world around them. 

Our North Dakota C3WP Team writing together in Dallas. Kathy Rueger is in white. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

National Day on Writing: Climate Change Workshop Offered at Turtle Mountain High School

Turtle Mountain Community Schools teachers Siri Johnson, Jacqueline Frederick, and Kathy Rohlfing partnered with the Red River Valley Writing Project at NDSU to provide a free, four-hour climate change workshop for teens in celebration of the National Day on Writing (October 20, 2019). RRVWP 2019 Summer Fellow Nicholas Miller was one of the breakout session leaders. The workshop was funded by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a non-profit that runs the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Teens did free-writing about climate change in response to photos showing how climate change affects the wildlife and environment around the globe and learned about particular effects of climate change in North Dakota. Turtle Mountain High School student Sunni Parisien wrote,"I loved the engaging environment. It allowed for me to create work, while being interactive."
Sunni (on the left)  and Clayton write about climate change
Students made cultural connections with the North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings and expressed their thoughts and experiences on climate change through art and writing with the support of NDSU undergraduates from Professor Kel Sassi’s “Methods of Teaching Writing” class. Turtle Mountain High School student Clayton Houle said, "I liked how down to earth and friendly the NDSU students were."
NDSU English Education students Katie Breidenbach (L), Amanda Nelson, Tanisha Topinka and Liberty Colling, listen to Darrick talk about his writing
Students engaged in writing poetry, editorial cartoons, personal reflections, and more. Turtle Mountain High School senior Darrick Frederick said, "I learned about a lot of new types of writing." 

Students learned about the national One Earth Award, sponsored in part by the Salamander Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation, which provides four students whose creative works address the pressing issue of human-caused climate change with $1,000 scholarships. Turtle Mountain teen

Friday, September 6, 2019

Library has been updated!

If you are looking for some new ideas--as well as tried and true strategies--for teaching writing, come on over to the RRVWP office, and check out the books about teaching writing available for check out. You can browse the list here:

The RRVWP office is located in 316E Minard Hall on the NDSU campus in Fargo (the closest visitor lot is T-2 on Bolley Drive), and is open Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm while NDSU is in session. 

There's a clipboard with a hard copy of the list in the office. Just write your name next to the book you are borrowing and cross it out when you return the book. Returned books are to be put in the box labeled "Return Books Here." Many thanks to grad student Lavanya Ramakrishnan for updating our inventory list and arranging the books by category and then alphabetically within categories. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

NWP Midwest Conference 2020 CALL FOR PROPOSALS

2020 (Re)Vision: Looking Backward, Looking Forward, Acting Now!
July 31-August 2, 2020

“If [people] are unable to perceive critically the themes of their time, and thus to intervene actively in reality, [they] are carried along in the wake of change. They see that the times are changing, but they are submerged in that change and so cannot discern its dramatic significance. And a society beginning to move from one epoch to another requires the development of an especially flexible, critical spirit.”
~ Paulo Freire

Join Midwest teachers and writers in Fargo, North Dakota, the homelands of the indigenous Dakota and Ojibwe people, for the 3rd Annual NWP Midwest Conference, and nurture your critical spirit with guest speaker Cornelius Minor, who believes that “[a]s educators, we know that we find much of our power in collaborative work. When our ways of seeing children, planning for them, facilitating opportunities, and reflecting on those experiences are informed by what we learn from each other, all kids benefit” (Minor, 2019, p. xiii). This year’s theme, “2020 (Re)Vision: Looking Backward, Looking Forward, Acting Now!” invites us to (re)vision the work we do (pedagogical, collaborative, community-oriented) by critically perceiving the contradictions “between the ways of being, understanding, behaving, and valuing which belong to yesterday and other ways of perceiving and valuing which announce the future” (Freire, 2005, p. 6).

Looking backward

What do we need to know about our past to fully understand the issues involved in teaching and learning in the present? What do we want to hold on to from our past work at our writing project sites and in our communities? What conversations from previous NWP annual meetings, the Madison and Minneapolis Midwest Conferences do we want to continue? Or change? Why do we seem to have the same conversations over and over again, like those about race and colonization?

Looking forward

In announcing the future, the National Writing Project approaches its 50th anniversary, which occasions several critical questions around the implications for NWP sites, its teacher-leaders, and the communities served. NWP director, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, will join us in thinking through these implications as well as questions around the nexus of the NWP national network and local communities. In this way, we can collectively act now in our looking backwards and looking forward.

Acting Now

Our call to “Act Now!” acknowledges that what is needed are not just methods, practices, techniques, but dialogues, collaborations, and emergent pathways that engage rigorously with the idea that “to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (hooks, 1994, p. 13). As with any National Writing Project event, all teachers and their expertise are deeply respected.

Proposal Themes

We seek proposals of 300 words or less that attend to the theme’s holistic (future-past-present) as well as its specific points of inquiry (historicizing, strategizing, praxis). Points of inquiry we urge you to consider but to which you are not limited, include:

· equity and empowering change through literacy

· student-centered approaches (empowering student voice, “survivance,” trauma & grief writing, strategies for healing & redress)

· emergent teaching and learning practices

· civil/civic discourse/argument

· professional growth & development (thriving as an educator, networking, reading widely, teacher-as-learner)

· rural education

· the construction of what counts as knowledge.

· interdisciplinarity (cross-disciplinary teaching & collaboration; disciplinary transgression)

· classroom ecologies and engaged pedagogy (cultivating engaged classroom ecologies)

· geopolitics of knowledge: power, place, pedagogy

· writing process/writing as craft (the subject of writing/the writer as subject)

· site work (how to re-vision our work, making connections with community and outreach, recruiting
teachers, integrating different groups of writers into site leadership)

· understanding the consequences of neoliberalism in education & environments of learning

· Issues of educational “safety” vs. “security” (to what extent do they diverge and why?)
Session formats

Conference sessions are 75 minutes in length.

Teaching demonstration: One or more educators model a lesson from their current teaching practice, engaging participants in the activities and reflecting on how such lessons might work in different contexts.

Roundtable discussion: These sessions feature 3-4 speakers and a moderator, with a discussion organized around a specific topic or question. After presenters speak, the moderator facilitates a discussion among presenters and audience members.

Individual presentation: 15-minute presentation on some aspect of one's teaching, research, and work in education. NOTE: Individual presentations will be grouped together by the conference planning committee and given a moderator to create a full 75-minute session.

Panel: A team of 2-4 educators present aspects of their teaching, research, and work in education organized around a shared topic or theme, engaging the audience in Q&A.

Performance: A presentation involving theater, music, reading, dance, or something else. This may also be participatory. The performance may take the entire session or may include opportunities for the audience and artist(s) to process in some way.

Submit proposals (word limit of 300 words) to


Erdrich, L. (2003). Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. Washington, DC: National Geographic

Freire, P. (2005). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Minor, C. (2019). We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gallbladders and Gallagher: Report from the NDCTE Conference by Angela Hase

It is a Thursday, in the summer, and my gallbladder is dying. It isn’t even a good death. It isn’t fighting, giving me moments of calm. Instead, it has found my body inhabitable and rather gut it out, it’s giving up. The only thing that is getting me out of bed is Kelly Gallagher. He is the keynote speaker at the 2019 North Dakota Council of Teachers of English this year, and I have missed my last two opportunities to see him, so gallbladder or not, I’m going.

Maybe because I am in the throes of infection and gallbladder bacteria is swimming through my veins
(perhaps even to my brain), I feel oddly connected to Gallagher’s mission. Like my gallbladder, kids
are quitting. They are getting accepted to college but dropping out. They send their thoughts via static
facial expressions in snapped photos across vast internet networks to hosts of “friends” but avoid
face-to-face communications, snuffing out empathy. They read what they are forced to, what they can’t
google, what is enough to answer reading guides but skip everything else. 

So, is it all lost? Gallagher might say a major operation is needed. But, not on kids. On teaching,
specifically on how we teach reading and writing. If we want kids to be successful, we need to give
them more freedom while demanding more: more words written, more words read, more opportunities
for more. 

And less helicoptering. 

We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent”. Most of us can identify these parents by the emails they
send before school starts. Gallagher extends this term to teachers. He states that when we become
“helicopter teachers” (teachers who control all of the reading and writing in the classroom), we take
away the rigor students need to push beyond formulas. If we want students to think deeply about
literature or writing, that thinking needs to come from them. It’s the difference between answering
a question that is guided compared to one that is open. As an example, Gallagher put an infograph
(“10 Companies Control the Food Industry”) on the screen and asked us to look at these two
questions:“What are the three biggest companies in this chart?” and “What argument is this chart

If the teacher is doing the hard work of figuring out what part of a reading is important, which places
to ask the questions, where to direct the focus, how to revise the writing, how to put paragraphs
together, then what work do students do? It is a question worth asking, and one each of us needs
to answer. 

Maybe my gallbladder won’t make it. The antibiotics I’m taking won’t squash the infection and it will
die, threatening to take me down with it until it is cut out of my body and discarded. My DNA or eating
habits or environment will successfully kill it. It’s okay. I can live without it. 

But, I can’t live with my teaching or lessons or control issues killing my students’ futures. Stomping out
their college graduation, cutting off their literary lives, silencing their voices. Gallagher reminds us that
the best teachers in the world try to get 5% better each year. 5%!

Work more. Let go. Embrace confusion. Build stamina. Push forward. 

Continue the fight. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Teens paint atmosphere with imagination and color

by Lavanya Ramakrishnan, 2019 Summer Fellow

It was not a typical Wednesday morning at NDSU. With the school year behind, most classrooms were empty and most buildings showed no sign of people inside during the day. However, one could find a bunch of enthusiastic public school students sporting bright green Red River Valley Writing Project t-shirts listening to a professor’s lecture with rapt attention in Morrill 109. The walls of the room displayed color and imagination, evidently those of the sassy students. The thirteen students were part of a teen writing workshop organized by Jamee Larson, a creative writing instructor at NDSU and Teacher Consultant for the Red River Valley Writing Project (RRVWP).

The students were being taught the importance of tone and descriptions in a personal narrative. Just as the professor Dr. Karl Bakkum from NDSCS finished explaining the concepts, the students began coming up with their own list of adjectives and descriptive words. The words ranged from strong to blunt to whimsical to cheerful.

On interacting with the students who come from different schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area, one can further comprehend their passion for writing in various genres. Emily Gietzen, a seventh-grader, enthused about the new genres she discovered after starting to attend the workshop. Allie Skauge, another seventh-grader, said every one of her peers was here out of interest. This workshop had students come out of their comfort zones by having them try out writing in different genres.

Ms. Larson said this teen workshop birthed out of a conversation with Dr. Kelly Sassi, Director of the RRVWP, and a professor in the same department. Larson was pleased that the teens kept up their enthusiasm all day from 9 am - 4pm on all four days the workshop ran. She said her biggest goal was to encourage their writing interest.

Looks like her goal was achieved, as on the last day of the workshop, there was a semi-public showcase in Morrill 110 that saw students reciting their poems and reading out excerpts from their fiction, monologues and scripts with great poise. Their parents and friends also got to see the walls in the lobby decorated with colorful graphic stories and poetry with the proud authors’ signatures.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Writing Meeting in Nashville: RRVWP Site Leaders and Belcourt/Dunseith District Leaders Attend the C3WP Summer Partnership Meeting

Deb Austin, Shay Statz, Heather Troy, Kathy Rueger, Jennifer Yellowbird, Cole Marion, Ben Scallon, and Kelly Sassi (not pictured) writing into the day at the Nashville Meeting

Red River Valley Writing Project site leaders and district partners met with teacher leaders
from 14 other states at the National Writing Project’s C3WP Summer Partnership Meeting
in Nashville, Tennessee, June 24-27, 2019. Deb Austin, Shay Statz, Heather Troy, Kathy
Rueger, Jennifer Yellowbird, Cole Marion, Ben Scallon, and Kelly Sassi started with writing
into the day to the prompt, What does it mean to teach students to write to and for their people?

The group got to experience some new resources for teaching argument writing, plan their
August launch, revise their year-long plan, brainstorm with other sites, dig deeper into C3WP
instructional resources, and sample some local food and music.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Great representation from the Red River Valley Writing Project at the 2019 NWP Midwest Conference

The proposal acceptances are rolling in, and it looks like we are going to have a great crew representing the Red River Valley Writing Project and NDSU at the second annual National Writing Project Midwest Conference in Minneapolis August 2-3! This is great because the 2020 Conference will be hosted by the RRVWP in Fargo on the NDSU campus. Included in this year's Summer Institute is travel to the 2019 conference, so we can see how it is done before we host in 2020.

We will be looking for conference organizers to help us choose a theme, publicize the conference, organize the conference, review proposals, and prepare. Please let know if you are interested in contributing in some way.

Congratulations to the following teachers for having their proposals accepted for 2019:
Dave Binkard "Storytelling and Video Game Design" 
Angela Hase "Making Moves with Evidence in the ELL and AP Classrooms"
Ben Melby "Student Satire: Tearing Down Power, Privilege, and Fallacy”
Kelvin Monroe  "The Theater of Unbecoming: Writing Race and 'States of Emergency'”
Kim Rensch "Using Text Sets to Inspire Argumentative Writing"

Kelly Sassi "Why the Writing on Demand Unit in C3WP is a Tool for Equity"

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Introducing the 2019 Summer Institute

The Summer Institute Flyer is now available! 2019 Summer Institute Flyer

Who can participate?
Teachers of any subject, at any grade level, in
eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota
may apply. Since National Writing Project summer
institutes are invitational, all participants must apply
directly to the RRVWP.

How can I apply?
By April 22nd, fill out the online application and
make sure your administrator or supervisor has
completed an online recommendation.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards State Ceremony

On Saturday, March 9th, the Plains Art Museum hosted the 2019 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of North Dakota in partnership with Plains Art Museum. Unfortunately, a big winter storm with heavy snowfall made it hard for people to get to the event. Those who arrived the day before had the easiest time traveling. There was still a sizable crowd at the event, and spirits were high with the sounds of the Boppin' Jazz Quartet playing in the Atrium.

Kelly Sassi greeted educators and judges. Kim Rensch and Olivia Edwardson greeted students.

Enrico Sassi took on the role of preparing students for their moment on stage, filling the