Friday, March 18, 2011

Blogging to save NWP

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.

The NWP undoubtedly deserves to be saved. (from Cooperative Catalyst)

This, a rebroadcast of the first post of this blog, is RRVWP's contribution to blogging about the National Writing Project to save NWP. (The blogging project was initiated by Chad Sansing at Cooperative Catalyst.) The history of RRVWP is a testament to the power of the National Writing Project and how that power contributes to learning in a particular region of this country.

The Red River Valley Writing Project (RRVWP) is one of over 160 sites serving teachers from all geographical regions, at all grade levels, across all content areas. As site of the National Writing Project, the RRVWP receives federal grant funds which are then matched by funds from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, the University of North Dakota College of Arts and Sciences, and the University of North Dakota Department of Teaching & Learning within the College of Education and Human Development. The goals of this project are to create a network of teachers who can share their success in teaching writing, to develop a community of teachers who are also writers, to encourage professional growth in the teaching of writing, and to improve the writing of students across the curriculum at all levels.

RRVWP's beginning is not unlike that of the NWP...a few people coming together to try to improve the teaching of writing in schools. At the University of California at Berkeley, in 1974 Jim Gray and a handful of colleagues established the Bay Area Writing Project, a university-based program K-16.

In East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1999, a handful of colleagues established the Red River Valley Writing Project, a University of North Dakota-based program. UND English professor the late Dan Sheridan, his wife Judy, then an English teacher at East Grand Forks HIgh School, and Nancy Devine, a Grand Forks Public School English teacher, talked and met and talked and met some more. Ellen Brinkley and Carol Tateishi, representing NWP, came to the area to get these three teachers and a young writing project site up and running in 1999.

In just a little over 10 years, RRVWP has held summer invitational institutes, open institutes and advanced institutes, planned and implemented professional development, and sustained book clubs. But print hardly captures the relationships, laughs, sorrows, triumphs of our site, founded in 1999 by the late Dan Sheridan.

RRVWP is certainly about learning to be better teachers of writing as well as becoming better writers. But it's also about making it possible for teachers across content areas and grade levels (K-16) to connect so that they can do the essential, albeit difficult, work in our classrooms.