Every time I try to write about my experience with the National Writing Project, I never feel like I quite express its importance to me professionally and personally. But because this organization that means so much to me has had its funding excised from the federal budget, I’m going to try to communicate more fully why NWP funding should be deemed a necessary, even essential federal program.
I’m overwhelmed sometimes by the negative rhetoric I hear about teachers. This rhetoric does not in any way resemble the teachers that I work with. Just today, I visited a school in Dinuba, CA, a small, rural community about 50 minutes away from Fresno, CA. My site, the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project, has had a partnership with Dinuba High School during this school year. One of our long-time, amazing Teacher Consultants, Cathy Blanchfield, drives to the school to spend several hours talking about how to integrate writing instruction into a program the school uses, the Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum.
Cathy is a pro. She has worked at local and national levels of the Writing Project, she has trained many SJVWP teachers to do inquiry projects, and she is in her last year of teaching. She is incredibly smart and well informed about current writing pedagogy–and she is a gifted teacher, both of her students at Duncan Poly and of other teachers. Cathy exemplifies the Writing Project model, that teachers learn best from those who are in the classroom themselves.
At this particular workshop, Cathy addressed how to get writing groups to work within the high school classroom. She had us examine student work, looking at the drafts that students had produced after a series of peer response meetings. In the margins of the essays, we saw the feedback students had given–and, always, students had pinpointed exactly what the writer needed to do to write a better essay. The difference between the first and last drafts of the essay was striking. Clearly, students can be taught to give good feedback–and in the process, they learn how to self-assess their own writing. The teachers in this group were incredibly engaged. They read, they commented, they brainstormed, and they valued what they were learning. I had to leave early, but the group was working towards an understanding of how to structure and facilitate effective peer response groups. I would guess that each of those teachers is going to return to the classroom using what s/he learned, that they will be more willing and better prepared to create strong peer response groups as a means to improving student writing.
I’m certain that Cathy would tell us that the Writing Project helped her stay in the profession of teaching, that she is a better teacher because of her participation in the Writing Project. We need teachers like Cathy to remain in education and to help train other teachers. They have expertise and credibility that corporate trainers and even administrators don’t have.
A recent study by PISA argued that “the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more.” The Writing Project provides continued training for teachers that is invaluable–it also helps already successful teachers continue to learn and grow as teachers, researchers, thinkers and teacher trainers.
I hope that Congress will recognize that the U.S. can’t afford to lose the good work of the National Writing Project and that they will restore its federal funding.