Deidre Douglas Williams, who teaches at King Interdistrict Magnet Elementary in Little Rock, pauses downtown to jot down some inspiration during a day-long writing marathon during the Little Rock Writing Project’s Summer Invitational Institute for teachers.
Downtown Little Rock is a hubbub for nightlife, food and local culture. No wonder it’s the ideal place for writers to find inspiration.
For the twelve teachers in the Little Rock Writing Project’s Summer Invitational Institute, a day-long writing marathon downtown led to personal essays, a profile of a River Market artist, and poetry.
Sally Crisp, Director of the Little Rock Writing Project (LRWP) and faculty member in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, said the project has two broad goals. “These goals are for the teachers to grow in their theory and practice of teaching writing and for the teachers to grow in their sense of themselves as writers,” said Crisp. “We sometimes have teachers tell us that they don’t feel confident as writers themselves. If they can grow in confidence as writers, then they can more readily teach their students to be writers.”
LRWP is part of the National Writing Project (NWP). The NWP model begins with local leadership through an annual summer institute at each site, led by university faculty and K-12 teachers. “The National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English have said that ‘Writing is the quintessential skill of the 21st century,” Crisp said. “I think we see all around us that this is so: all of us, teachers, students, people of every age and background and in all walks of life, need and want to write.”
The idea for the Summer Invitational Institute, hosted each year by UALR, is for the teachers to take their expertise in teaching writing back to their schools and districts. The LRWP began 14
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.
“I originally applied to the Little Rock Writing Project in 2007 because I desperately wanted some guidance in teaching my students how to be better writers,” said Juliet Stevens, who teaches fourth grade at Pulaski Heights Elementary. “I have stayed connected with the LRWP as the continuity coordinator since that time, because I gain so much insight into fresh approaches about teaching writing. It’s a true professional community.”
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.”
The workshop includes the writing marathon in downtown Little Rock. “We were having a day apart to observe and be inspired and write and share,” Crisp said. “We began our day in the River Market with writing and sharing writing. The day continued with the teachers simply observing and writing. When we closed the day at the Cox Center, we heard each others’ essays and stories and poems.”
Juliet Stevens, a fouth grade teacher at Pulaski Heights Elementary, Anoinette Mims, a seventh-grade teacher at Dunbar Magnet Middle School, and James Steed, who recently taught for UALR and Philander Smith College, take a minute to discuss writing on the steps of the Arkansas Studies Institute.
For Anoinette Mims, the workshop has galvanized a long-held dream. “The LRWP has caused me to rebirth a personal dream of becoming a published writer,” said Antoinette, who teaches gifted and talented and pre-AP classes for seventh graders at Dunbar Magnet Middle School in Little Rock. “It showed me why I need a supportive community of writers to help keep me an active writer, plus it’s given me clear and decisive reasons for why I need to be a professional risk-taker and teach my student-writers in a way that is most powerful for them rather than the ‘hurry up, teach it, and move on’ approach that is all too common in some school districts.”
The NWP began 30 years ago at the University of California-Berkeley, with the mission of improving writing and 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.
For more information about the LRWP – the Summer Invitational Institute or school-year partnerships for professional development – contact Crisp at 569-8022 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the LRWP’s website at ualr.edu/writingproject .