We’ve just finished the first week of the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project’s Summer Invitational Institute (SII) 2008. It’s been such a great week. Imagine a group of accomplished, intelligent, generous, kind, collaborative teachers–that’s what we have this year. Each of our 14 fellows has already contributed so much. From day one of our Pre-Institute, I was sure that this would be a special group.
Over the first few meeting days, the leadership team (Joanne, Karen, Kathy and I) and guest teacher consultants laid a strong foundation for the summer. Jeana, Leah, and Eric gave teaching demonstration lessons as models for our participants who will teach demonstration lessons once during the summer. Jeana’s energy, Leah’s creativity, and Eric’s engaging and well planned lesson made for compelling models of writing instruction. It’s so rewarding each year to see the light bulbs go off in our K-16 teacher participants as they excitedly talk about how they could use the modeled strategies in their classes.
Molly and Linsey gave our first Fellow teaching demonstration lessons. Both seemed at ease and enthusiastic about their lessons. Molly had gone to a friend’s class so she could try out the lesson she had developed on adding descriptive detail to writing. And Linsey presented curriculum which she had used effectively with her third grade classes. In addition to learning new strategies, I also learned that planets must be round, have their own orbit around a star, and that the orbit must have a circular shape. Poor Pluto. I think I need to repeat third grade!
Our participants also wrote their first of four essays this week and participated in writing groups. Sandra was so proud of her work that she asked to read the final draft to us on the day it was due. She’s a science teacher who felt she’d benefited greatly from her writing group. Her essay was a moving exploration of her evolving sense of identity using shoes as its organizing metaphor.
We also work to help participants see the underlying theoretical positions of writing curriculum. This week, I did a workshop on approaches to writing instruction, and Karen presented on backwards design (planning curriculum with the end assessment in mind). Personally, I want our teachers to become more strategic about their writing instruction. I want them to understand how to scaffold curriculum, how new activities fit into what they are trying to accomplish with their writing instruction, and how they can best help their students learn to enjoy and feel proud of their writing.
Reading groups, socials, discussions about teaching, collaboration–these are all important components of the Summer Institute. Participants sacrifice a month of their treasured summer to do this–evidence of their commitment to teaching. It’s a busy, sometimes overwhelming experience. But when I finished the SII in 2006, I felt rejuvenated . . . I think I’ve been a better teacher ever since. I think that will be true for our participants this year, too, if the first week is any indication of their passion and intellectual energy.