National Writing Project Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project started today in San Antonio. I attended two three-hour sessions: "Writing in a Digital Age" and "The Web as a Tool for Continuity" (see below for presenters' names).

Writing in a Digital Age
looked at writing in digital environments with respect to building online classroom community, professional development, and teacher leadership via a combination of presentation, small-group discussion, and whole-group discussion on successes, failures, and open-ended questions, some of which were:

  • What are the implications for the design of your site’s professional development programs with technology?
  • What are the implications for developing technology leaders at your site?
  • How are professional development experiences affected by technology?
  • How can I engage diverse students who may or may not want to be in my classroom?
  • How can I help all students become better critical thinkers, researchers, and writers?

The Web as a Tool for Continuity
was a session of sharing, discussing, and troubleshooting problems of continuity of Teacher Consultants at writing project sites and ways in which technology can support continuity. Three questions that were discussed were:

  • How can you ensure that this work will stay integral to the site, and not be a distraction or a flash in the pan?
  • Who might be the key leaders of an Internet-enhanced continuity project at your site?
  • What capacity challenges or opportunities might such an initiative contain?

One of the failures of many sites has been trying to use blogs to provide continuity of leadership and professional development. They tend to wither as teachers leave the Summer Institutes to return to the classroom.

The Bay Area Writing Project took another tack and started an e-Zine, Digital Paper, which combines stories, pictures, and podcasts. It has had some success.

The strategy of the Alaska State Writing Consortium was to have an online Open Institute. In it, teachers examined their own work and built a framework for change via activities, such as:

  • audio-conferences
  • web-based posting of documents and data
  • online discussion
  • live chats
  • daily journals
  • discussions of readings

One interesting feature of this Institute was having an ethnographer who looked at the online communications and gave feedback back to the group on what s/he was seeing, noting concerns, noting areas of idea conflict, and so on. And at the end of the Institute, a lengthy report was written on what happened in the class.

As I look back over my notes, the key aspects of building communities seem to be

  • start with a group of 3 or 4 committed people who can share different responsibilities
  • start small projects that don't overwhelm you or participants
  • make it relevant to participants' immediate needs and goals
  • give participants' time to "play" with the technology
  • develop personal relationships with participants

These principles are not new, but it's easy to get carried away with visions of grandeur only to be let down when others don't see as you do. And these two sessions were excellent in terms of being practical, showing us their own applications of and twists on these principles, and of leading us into discussing and thinking about the implications of the presenters' own successes and failures for our own sites' future endeavors.

Writing in a Digital Age
Felicia George, New York City Writing Project
Sarah Hunt-Barron, Upstate Writing Project
Rebecca Kaminski, Upstate Writing Project
Seth Mitchell, University of Maine Writing Project
Jason Shiroff, Denver Writing Project
Laura Stokes, Inverness Research Associates

The Web as a Tool for Continuity
Sonnet Farrell, Alaska State Writing Consortium
Tom McKenna, Alaska State Writing Consortium
Evan Nichols, Bay Area Writing Project
Sondra Porter, Alaska State Writing Consortium
Carol Tateishi, Bay Area Writing Project