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 kelly.sassi@ndsu.edu 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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Making Student Voice Stronger Through Revising Commentary by Lisa Gusewelle



Heather presenting on revising commentary at the C3WP Mid-Year Meeting in Atlanta, Feb 9-10, 2019
Finding evidence is easy. Having that evidence effectively support a claim is not. Young writers often struggle with interacting with evidence and find it difficult to add more on to what is already an educated response by an authoritative source. However, teaching young writers how to respond to evidence and to use it support their ideas gives them agency to add their own voice and experience, which are always undervalued, to the argument that they are writing.

I really looked forward to the Revising for Commentary mini-unit session led by National Writing Project teacher consultants Jameka Thomas and Heather Payne. I often struggle helping articulate to my students how to write commentary after introducing evidence. My students often want to put, "I agree with [this source]," and leave it at that. They often are unsure of how to bridge the evidence's ideas and theirs into one.

Thomas and Payne led our group in helping us notice and name several moves that writers make when writing effective commentary. My favorite mentioned in the session are students giving personal or hypothetical examples, providing a sense of urgency or explaining how large the problem is, using comparison and contrast or cause and effect. This gives concrete details that I can provide to my students to best support them with the difficult task of writing commentary.

If you are interested in helping your students better articulate their responses to evidence by connecting it to a claim - or even a thesis for an informative paper -, I recommend using this mini-unit. It does take 3 to 5 days to implement, but it provides our students with opportunities to go back and revise their writing to be more purposeful or to have conversations about finding opportunities to further the strength of our writing.

Curating to Counter by Jackie Frederick

Linda Denstaedt, Jackie Frederick (Library Media specialist at Turtle Mountain High School), and Dawn Hawkins (L to R)
Here’s the Issue: Teaching writing is difficult.  Teachers can be very creative at finding ways and excuses to avoid teaching writing, due in part to a lack of confidence in their own writing, and/or the lack of quality writing instruction they received while preparing to teach.


First I thought argument writing was picking a stance on an issue, providing evidence to further support my view, strategically selecting a counter that I could easily bury in a fight, so that I could further prove my position as the “right” one, then finally, summing it all up to again support my view in a dramatic final sweep.

Then I learned from the "Curating to Counter" mini-unit session led by Linda Denstaedt and Dawn Hawkins that curating is the gathering of information demonstrating all sides of an issue without bias for students to learn from.  Unlike curation in a museum, the students will not merely look at the information, they will use the information to share the varying sides of the issue for their reader to make a choice.  The counter will not merely play "devil’s advocate;" rather, it will continue to present information for the sake of informing the reader. If students are given the proper tools, modeling and support, they will be able to present a claim, select solid evidence and a counter for their reader to decide on their own, what position, if any they would take without judgement from the writer.

Now I think my department will have a quicker and more solid buy-in to teach writing using this model of instruction, and the students will have a broader and more successful approach to argument writing.

Making Civic Arguments by Eric Smith

Eric Smith (in blue) points to where his team has been with the C3WP as Jackie Frederick, Cole Marion, Lisa Gusewelle, and Deb Austin (l to r) look on
My first impression of the Making Civic Arguments mini unit led by Casey Olson and Carla Truttman was that students would choose a topic that involved the government, write a letter and send it off.  However, this was totally wrong!  OK, maybe not totally, but really close.  What I found out was that the students do choose a topic that involves the government (hence the title "Civic") and that is where my original thoughts pretty much went by the way side.  The process of writing for making a civic argument is VERY detail-oriented and time-consuming.

Students do make a list of issues of concern to them, narrow it down to about 3-4 and then narrow it down to one topic.  They then follow the C3WP process in argumentative writing by writing a claim and rewriting a claim and maybe re-rewriting a claim.  Next they would find their evidence.  Casey and Carla provided some very great tools and templates (along with student samples) of how to use and fill out the templates.  They also provided another template (with a student sample) of "Planning a Purposeful Argument" that organizes the students' basic evidence sources, topics of discussion and where the evidence will go in the essay.  All of the tools/templates, details and samples really allow the students to put together a well-researched and written piece of argumentative writing that shows the progressive growth of their writing abilities.

The final product doesn't necessarily end there.  Many students send their civic argument letters to the local newspaper, school administrators, school board members and possibly to state political representatives in order to make a positive change within their community.  Some students get to see their hard work put into civic action for the betterment of their community.  

My students have many great ideas about our community that they see as a need for change.  This mini-unit could be a way for them to not just learn about civic duty and responsibilities of a citizen, but to see an issue in our community and really do something for change.  Which is what C3WP is all about! 

Finding Just Right Evidence by Cole Marion

My group's breakout session was "Finding Just Right Evidence" to help support the writer's  own personal claim. Some of the components we discussed were finding evidence that was compelling, debatable, and defensible. We examined several pieces of writing that had all three of these components, and others that only had a couple or none at all. We would rank these pieces of evidence from strongest to weakest then share. 

Dunseith Social Studies teacher Cole Marion and Robert Rivera-Amezola of the Philadelphia Writing Project at the C3WP Mid-Year Meeting in Atlanta Feb. 9-10, 2019
A couple takeaways I got from this session led by Robert Rivera-Amezola was identifying all evidence before constructing a claim and ranking all possible evidence before choosing the best evidence to support your claim. Identifying first all possible evidence before you make a claim is helpful for students because they have all the possible evidence at hand before they put down their final claim. Students can distinguish between both sides of the argument and choose the best evidence that helps supports their claim or thinking. Another takeaway I got was ranking your evidence before choosing which piece you want to implement into your claim. Ranking evidence will help students determine which is irrelevant and which is the best to help support their claim. 
Cole Marion (in plaid shirt at left) working hard to build his knowledge of the College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) with teachers from all over the country.

This is something I can implement into my classroom through modeling and ongoing practice from my students and me. Both support my students in the type of writing they currently do, and it will help students identify just right evidence in our readings.     

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Reflections on the Mid-Year C3WP Meeting in Atlanta: Revising for Commentary


by Deb Austin, Dunseith High School
Jameka, Robin, Lisa, and Deb in Atlanta
During the C3WP Mid-Year meeting in Atlanta Feb 8-10, I attended the Revising for Commentary Breakout Session facilitated by Jameka Thomas and Heather Payne. They started the session with a quote from Joseph Harris, “To understand a text you need, in a way, to rewrite it, to take the ideas and phrasings of its author and turn them into your own. Texts don't simply reveal their meanings to us; we need to make sense of them." This quote resonated with me and made me think of the Paraphrasing Strategy training I had taken years ago. This is the part my students were not getting, instead of paraphrasing they were summarizing.

The Revising for Commentary lesson is best taught after students have experienced the Ranking Evidence resource or during the revision process of a piece of work in which students have created a draft argument. Like all the C3WP resources it is very user friendly and creates thoughtful discussions. After participating in the Breakout, the Role of Commentary made more sense to me. Commentary helps connect to the claim, prove the value of evidence and extending our thinking.

The revising process became clearer as we worked through the process using samples of student work. We also addressed how we respond to someone's writing and how do we support someone in the revision process.  This also reinforced the idea of celebrating student writing and where they are rather than where they aren't.

Friday, February 1, 2019

100 Writing Prompts from the New York Times


With the cold weather we have been having, people might be staying indoors more than usual. They also might be a bit down because of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Writing can be a great outlet both inside and outside the classroom, and it is always nice to get some new inspiration for writing prompts. Check out these prompts about literature and life. Here is just one example. These prompts are related to the following article:

Do You Think Anxiety Is A Serious Problem Among Young People?


Students: Read the entire article, then tell us:
— What details from the article, if any, resonate with your own experiences with anxiety and stress, or in observing anxiety and stress in others?
— Which of the causes of anxiety that are identified in the article do you think are the most harmful? Why?
— Have you observed an increase in anxiety levels in yourself and the people around you over the past few years? If so, to what do you attribute this change?
— What do you think would help people feel less anxious? Explain.
— Whom do you think is in the best position to help young people who are experiencing anxiety—parents, teachers, medical professionals, friends? Why?
— The article suggests that online culture is both a cause of anxiety and a source of relief from it. How do you understand this? What examples you can give to back your ideas?

Students can also read about 40 moderated comments related to the article, and they can even upload their own comment to the New York Times for their editors to review. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The College, Career, and Community Writers Program for Upper Elementary

by Emily Olson

“Mrs. Olson, can I look up for sources at home so I have more evidence?” 
“I saw this advertisement yesterday.  Do you think their claim even makes sense?” 
“Which piece of evidence do you think works best here?”
These thoughtful questions from my sixth grade students are, I believe, a direct result of the C3WP work we are doing in my classroom.  I teach three sections of 6th grade Language Arts, and so far this year, I have taken students through two different mini-units from the upper elementaryinstructional resources.  The first unit, “Identifying Arguments and Entering Conversations,” had undergone a few revisions from when I worked with it last year, but it was still pretty similar. I really love starting the school year with this unit because it sets the stage for civil discourse in the classroom.  It gets students looking for argument in the world around them and has created so many opportunities to push students to explain their thinking about why a billboard is convincing, why a meme is funny, or why any given argument is effective.
By the fourth week of school, I took all my language arts classes through the second upper elementary resource unit, called “Joining a Conversation in Progress.”   This unit had also been revised to use a different text set, but it retained one of my favorite writing frames from C3WP:  “At first I thought. . .then I learned. . .now I think.”  As students unraveled different aspects of civilian drones in society, we took time to pause and write about what they thought, what they were learning, and how it was affecting their thinking.  Most of the time students did not make a drastic change to their opinions, but hearing them acknowledge new viewpoints or push back against ideas using things they were learning was really quite thrilling.
Most recently, I worked through the “Organizing an Argument” unit with my homeroom group in our Social Studies sessions.  This unit, which has a text set focusing on youth competition, really pushed my students to choose the evidence that best fit their claim and organize all the pieces of their argument.  I watched students soften to ideas about competition that didn’t match their own, struggle through the process of how to organize the ideas they wanted to share, and even gather additional evidence on their own in order to clearly make their point.  The most exciting part of this unit was the progress students made in revising their claim into something clear and concise and, for some, even pushing themselves into nuanced claims.  Here are just a few examples from my students this year:
“I think Competition is good because it teaches kids to work hard in life.”
“I realize that families have to make their own decisions, but I believe that youth competition is a good and healthy thing for kids.”
“I think all kids should have the choice to be in youth competition no matter their age or their size, but I also think kids are taking it way too far.”
So many of my 6th graders are taking on the challenge of discussion and argument writing with a renewed passion.  I really can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds for these students. 
For more information about the Atwoodian Table that the students are showing us in their notebooks, check out Angela Hase's blogpost from August 12, 2018.