Teachers as Writers: My Five Weeks with the Writing Project

This summer, I had the most transformative professional development experience of my career. My work with the Writing Project was intense, engrossing, and very productive. Five weeks spending each weekday working closely with 22 other colleagues to develop our own writing repertoire and our teaching practices turned me into a thinking writer-teacher machine. It lifted me out of my unemployment murk and up into the world of ideas. I remembered why I love writing and why I love teaching. It’s all about creating and studying and making a change in this world. It’s also about scholarly inquiry and research. I did plenty of each.

The Writing Project gave me the opportunity to really consider my own practice as an English educator, to reflect on what works and why. It also gave me countless pathways to discover how I can make my teaching more engaging, effective, and fitting for the 21st century learner. It made me recommit to conducting a classroom that acknowledges social justice concerns. I learned about dozens of new technology tools and applications. I gained a powerhouse arsenal of teaching resources as each new day brought new things to discover.

The greatest resource of all, though, were my fellow teacher consultants. Each participant had to present a 90-minute teaching inquiry workshop, in which he or she would present the origins and process of research, findings, and practical classroom applications through a hands-on workshop. Through these presentations, I learned fresh new ideas about a wide variety of topics: how the writing process differs between individuals, teaching grammar in new ways, using spoken language in writing instruction, gender differences in writing instruction, use of non-standard dialects, creating rubrics, writing workshop, teaching self-revision, infusing writing with imagery, bookmaking, writing conferences, and blogging just to name a few!  Being able to present in front of the cohort was also one of many leadership opportunities that affiliation with the writing project can provide.

Meanwhile, we were also working tirelessly on our own independent writing products. The final portfolio included 3-4 original pieces in different genres and a polished piece of professional writing in addition to the research document and bibliography for the teacher inquiry workshop. We wrote like fiends for five straight weeks—starting, reworking, abandoning, twisting language in ways that were scintillating, serpentine, or surprising. The sheer joy that I got out of this luxurious time to write freely was one of the biggest payoffs of all the hard work. The supportive network I had of other teacher-writers (not just here but also around the country via the Internet) was also instrumental in creating my original written pieces.

I am certain that my brain gained an additional fold during the five weeks of the Writing Project. My deepest thanks to the facilitators and all the teacher consultants who made my summer into something that will improve my teaching and writing all year long.

Writing Project Work-  My best accomplishments from the summer experience are detailed below. Please comment if you are interested in any of the detailed pieces, and I’ll be happy to speak with you about sharing them with a wider audience.

Teacher Inquiry Workshop:

Workshop Powerpoint <Click to view

Writing With a Camera: Teaching Student Authors to Compose Both in Words and Images <Click to view

This hands-on workshop leads participants to investigate parallels between composing photographs and composing the written word. Explore the world of 21st century texts and come away with ideas for utilizing images and words side by side during writing instruction. This presentation honors the complexities of the technology-savvy student writers that make up our classrooms.

Professional Writing

“Take Compassion out of the Closet.” This social justice activist piece was submitted for consideration to the “Speaking my Mind” section of NCTE’s English Journal.

“Social Justice Teaching: Everything we have Power to Do.”  I collaborated with my reading group to create this color trifold pamphlet on what teachers can do to promote socially just pedagogy. It is a resource ready to distribute.

Original Writing in Four Genres

“Threshold.” This short fiction piece explores the concept of the inner world and what risks we take to find it, ignore it, or embrace it. As the natural and psychological landscapes converge, a misunderstood woman comes face to face with her own unrealized power.

“Grand.” A piece about sibling love and opposition, this personal narrative shows a humorous but profound snapshot of a summer vacation mishap with my younger brother.

“Memory as Time Travel.” This piece is an intellectual essay questioning the influence, origin, and reality of our own memories. What purpose does memory serve in a world of data instantly catalogued by machines?

“Juxtaposition.” Inspired by side-by-side images of a nebula and a couple’s initials on a piece of wood, this poem compares the infinity of the universe to the depth of the human heart.

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