Being asked to complete a writing assignment for class can be an intimidating, or even scary, task for some students. Often, before a student puts one word to the page, grammar rules, quality of content, and comparisons to “better writers” can overshadow creativity and create a lifelong aversion to writing. The National Writing Project aims to change that by first getting teachers comfortable with the notion that they, too, are writers.
“The National Writing Project (NWP) is a big movement across the country,” said Sally Crisp, Director of the Little Rock Writing Project (LRWP) and faculty member in the Rhetoric and Writing Department. “Many teachers do not consider themselves writers, but writing is a human activity like reading. They, too, can write.”
The NWP began 30 years ago in Berkeley, California, with the mission of improving student achievement by improving the teaching of writing and improving learning in the nation’s schools. Today, there are nearly 200 university-based writing project sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The NWP model begins with local leadership through an annual summer institute at each site, led by university faculty and K-12 teachers. The idea is for the teachers to take their expertise in teaching writing back to their schools and districts. The local NWP site, the Little Rock Writing Project, began 11 years ago and has thus far worked in partnerships with schools in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, Beebe, and Haskell, providing professional development for teachers and/or activities such as Young Writers Camps. “In our school partnerships, we hope to see schools move toward a writing culture,” said Crisp. “A writing culture leads to a spirit of inquiry and, of course, widespread use of writing in the school.”
Each summer, UALR hosts the Summer Invitational Institute for K-12 teachers. According to Crisp, the four-week Institute is intensive. The application process is competitive, yet yields enormous pay-offs for those chosen to attend. “Teachers who attend the Summer Invitational Institute can earn six hours of graduate credit, with their tuition, fees, and books fully paid for through our grant funding. We keep the Summer Institute small enough for in-depth teaching demonstrations and lots of collegial interaction among the teachers.”
These interactions and experiences create a community of teachers who are excited to take what they have learned back to their schools and to other schools as “teacher consultants.” “The effectiveness of the Summer Institute is that it results in teachers teaching teachers,” Crisp said. “These are the folks on the ground in the classroom, so to speak. Thus the Little Rock Writing Project is a year-round endeavor.”
Stephanie Moon teaches Advanced Placement English at Sheridan High School. She heard that participation in the Summer Institute was a life-changing experience both professionally and personally. “The benefits from the LRWP are endless,” said Moon. “What I have learned is that the ‘word on the street’ about the LRWP is true. This has been the greatest professional development and growth I have ever experienced in my teaching career.”
2008 participant Amanda Brucks has been teaching 7th and 10th grade English at Perryville High School for one year. The new teacher is already reconsidering her lesson plans. “I have completely changed the way I look at grading and teaching writing assignments,” said Brucks. “I am totally revamping my curriculum for the coming school year.”
For more information about the LRWP – the Summer Invitational Institute or school-year partnership possibilities – contact Crisp at 569-8022 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the LRWP’s website at https://rhetoricandwriting.ualr.edu/lrwp.