The National Writing Project is one of the world’s leading professional development networks. Our methods are proven through extensive research. Students of writing project teachers perform better than students in other classrooms. So why would our NWP site stop delivering professional development?
Perhaps I could not field one more phone call from a desperate administrator interested only in raising on-demand test score before I committed violence of some sort. Perhaps I saw the wild-eyed look in my teachers’ eyes when I asked them to take on such drudgery. Perhaps I decided life was too short to spend on pointless tasks.
Yes, I said it. A three-hour or full-day workshop teaching teachers nifty strategies for teaching on-demand writing is not going to raise student test scores. Test scores might go up but it is not because we taught students some handy new brainstorming or graphic organizer technique. It could just as easily be because there was corn at lunch. Did you check the lunch menu for the day your students tested? Did chicken nuggets outperform pizza?
The simple truth is that focusing your teaching on such simplistic, inauthentic writing as on-demand test prompts will not produce better writing, but you know what does? Helping your students become writers. Yup, it is that simple (and yet challenging). If your students are confident writers experienced in handling a variety of complex writing challenges then they can handle anything that a standardized test throws at them, but if you only prepare them for standardized writing tasks then they will never be prepared. This is why students of NWP teachers do better on tests and other assessments, because NWP teachers develop writers and don’t focus on the writing.
But NWP teachers do not become NWP teachers overnight either. We need more than three hours and we need to focus on these key NWP goals:
- Teacher as writer
- Teacher as reflective practitioner
- Teacher as researcher
- Teacher as leader
We know that writers are not made by graphic organizers and rigid writing processes. We know that writers are made through time, space, and support (time to write, space to explore and experiment with that writing, and support to improve) – all commodities in short supply in today’s schools where too often phenomenal writing teachers must steal minutes to give their students a chance to write something other than on-demand essays. We didn’t want our name associated with that type of writing and we certainly didn’t want anything to do with perpetuating the idea that writing can be taught in this rigid formulaic way. So now we just say no.
Instead we make writers the old-fashioned way through our Summer Institutes, Summer Writing Camps, Writing Studio Program, and Saturday Writing Camps. Instead we celebrate writers at our Writing Eastern Kentucky Conference, Teen Writers Day Out, and Writing Retreats – in fact whenever we gather we celebrate writing – our own and that of our students. Instead we are giving our teachers the opportunity to inquire into the practices of real writers engaged in real tasks and we share those findings (rather than the latest graphic organizer). Instead we give our teachers the opportunity to lead real writers in real writing and we share and we celebrate the power of language. We have become subversive by showcasing our methods and our strategies at these events and inviting educators to come in and witness the magic and power of real writers writing. Often educators are captivated by the power and energy our young writers bring to their writing and once they have witnessed this awesome display we have them where we want them.
And so, the Morehead Writing Project doesn’t deliver professional development any more, but we are still changing teachers and writers in powerful and magical ways through our own writing revolution here in Eastern Kentucky. Will you join us?