—Story by Heather Camp
A tired but committed group of Nebraska writing teachers wrapped up the 2004 NeWP summer institute on July 8th after spending five rigorous weeks of writing, workshopping, and sharing classroom practices with each other. This year's institute was facilitated by Deborah Minter, UNL professor; Kris Kuhn, English teacher at Seward High School; Dwight Thiemann, 4th grade teacher at Ruth Hill Elementary; and Heather Camp graduate student and teaching assistant at UNL. The facilitators were joined by fourteen enthusiastic K-16 teachers who represented a wide range of area schools, including UNL, Concordia, Lincoln High, Pius X High, Seward High, Omaha Central High, Morton Middle School, Bennet Elementary and Millard school district. Though their teaching backgrounds were diverse, participants were united in their desire to reflect on and improve their teaching and to develop as writers.
Throughout June and into July, teachers met Monday through Thursday mornings to free write, workshop their writing in small groups, and share EQUIPS that showcased best practices or invited inquiry into teaching problems. Of these routine practices, sharing writing in workshop groups became one of the most highly valued procedures, giving participants an opportunity to experiment with purpose, genre, and style in their writing and to receive feedback from peers who were invested in their work. This allowed some teachers to make room for the kind of writing that they always wanted to do but never seemed to have time for. Praising this aspect of the institute, Whitney Douglas explained, "The institute gave me the space and impetus to really dive into the personal writing that I usually neglect during a busy school year. My writing group was a receptive audience, and supported me through each of my writing endeavors with encouragement as well as constructive criticism that helped me rethink and revise my work."
EQUIP presentations were another component of the institute that participants valued. EQUIPS allowed teachers to draw off each other's expertise to infuse new ideas into their teaching and to examine problems that they were having in their classrooms. Topics that were teachers addressed during the EQUIPs included multi-genre writing, revision, taking student writing public, journaling, body mapping, working with ESL writers, and using writing to discuss bullying concerns. Eric Turley pointed to the EQUIPs as a highlight of the institute, commenting, "I really enjoyed thinking about the teaching practices that were shared. It's amazing how writing practices can be translated across many grade levels." In addition to EQUIPs, speakers were also brought into the institute to discuss topics that interested the participants. Visiting speakers discussed topics such as place-based writing, the PreK-16 Language Arts/English Task force, and technology in the classroom. Reflecting on the summer institute as a whole, Deron Larsen, shared the following: I [felt] enlivened and invigorated to share myself and feel the trust of others sharing themselves in this rough circle of rhombus-topped tables. Sitting, staring, hearing, looking deeper. . .Wow! I am grateful. I am inspired."