The Value of the National Writing Project

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.


  1. Chris

    It’s amazing that Writing Projects all over the country continue to change the lives of all the teachers who participate – and at the same time, those of us who call ourselves writers (and for me, that’s largely due to my work with Winthrop Writing Project and National Writing Project) struggle to put words to exactly how important NWP is to us. Recently I grabbed a bunch of professional books off of my shelves – Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), Kelly Gallagher (Readicide), Janet Allen (Yellow Brick Roads) – all were Writing Project Teacher Consultants. Is there any other single experience in which so many of us have learned and grown?

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  3. Cathy Blanchfield

    Kathee, you have expressed what we all feel about the writing project. Thanks for your high praise, but as you know my expertise would be so much less without the SJVWP. I have participated in study groups, writing groups, discussion groups, workshops, and so many other types of collaboration opportunities that have enhanced my teaching in ways I could never name.

    In the name of politics, to cut funding for such an important endeavor is beyond my comprehension. I realized today as I was driving to Dinuba, this might be my last presentation for the writing project. I truly believe in the teachers teaching teachers model, and after June, I will no longer be an active teacher. This saddens me, but I also know how so many younger TC’s are ready and willing to continue the work.

    I truly enjoyed working with Dinuba. These teachers are truly a PLC, not because someone organized them into one and set an agenda for them, but because they truly respect each other and want what’s best for their students. The kids at Dinuba High are fortunate!

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