We Need More Writers… What are you going to do about it?

All, Education, Teaching, Writing

 I know it is more popular to focus on STEM – especially science and technology – but the truth is that we need artists and creative thinkers now more than ever as our world continues to change at an ever-increasing pace. I agree with Henry Doss’s idea of an innovative SEA curriculum that embraces science, economics, and arts as a much better idea, but whether you embrace STEAM, STEAM, or SEA, one fact has remained true under both old and new curricula – we need more writers.

Communicative abilities continue to be essential to employers and important for citizenship as my guru Clay Spinuzzi argues frequently when he writes about knowledge work (see The Way We Work Is Changing). Here in Kentucky, where we are all about college and career readiness, writing is an essential skill – for learning and working and participating in our global economy and community. I believe we are not unique in this need for more writers.

This is why the work of the National Writing Project is even more relevant today than it was four decades ago when the first Summer Institute was held in Berkeley. We need more writers and we need more educators to support their development. The process of developing writers is challenging and time-consuming. There are no easy fixes (see You Can’t Teach the Writing Process) but there are amazing resources and mentors out there (NWP has nearly 200 sites to make both easily accessible to teachers throughout the US).

The National Writing Project supports the teaching of writing by working with teachers at every level of education – from primary through post-secondary – across disciplines. Our network is unique because we cross boundaries that restrict others. We span the entire K-16 spectrum as well as bridge disciplines. This allows our teachers to teach and learn together in ways that are unique to the NWP experience. NWP recognizes that literacy needs to happen across the curriculum to best set students on a successful trajectory with tools they can carry forward on whatever life path they choose. Essential to this success is helping students become confident, self-regulating writers, but this is only possible when they are taught by confident, self-regulating writers. Far too many teachers are not confident writers so how can they create them? Focusing on teacher as writer is the founding principle of NWP and the primary goal of our Summer Institutes as well as the core of our ongoing mission.

The goal of the National Writing Project is to improve the teaching of writing. Born of the literacy crisis which sparked the Newsweek article “Johnny Can’t Write,” for 40 years NWP has been a grassroots movement focused on that one simple goal. Our methods are simple and we focus first on teacher as writer because we believe, quite fiercely, that writers make better writing teachers. This is because the writing process is not something that non-writers can really understand or teach effectively. We believe that everyone can become a writer and that transformation to writer should be our primary focus – rather that specific genres or writing tasks. Writers have the skills and confidence to tackle a variety of tasks, but if you have not helped your students become writers with a growing toolbox then most will continue to struggle every time they are faced with a new task or genre or writing situation – and many will fail to succeed.

Writers are created in a community that gives them a voice, helps them make connections, and offers a wide range of writing experiences. There are no shortcuts, worksheets, or graphic organizers to make writers – writers are made through writing.

And so I ask all educators: what are you doing to help us create more writers? Are you a writer? Are you involved with the National Writing Project? Are you supporting writers in your classroom? What are you willing to do to help us make more writers?

Note: If you happen to be in Lexington, Kentucky, this weekend you can learn more about these ideas during the Kentucky Council of Teachers Conference at the Morehead Writing Project session: Bridging the Writing Gap.

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