(Story and Photos by Cathie English)
The 2007 Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute was held June 11-July 6. Thirteen teachers, including elementary, secondary, and graduate students, gathered to share their expertise in the teaching of writing. We began with Cathie English's teacher demonstration on the power of teaching place which provided institute participants with a chance to write about their sense of place or community. It also provided us with a chance to consider how we might teach place in our own classrooms. Each day a teacher demonstrated his or her best practice in the teaching of writing. Small groups met and shared writing, and with each demonstration, we were given yet another opportunity to write our lives. We were invited to the tech institute to observe what they were doing with their new technologies or "literacies" and that we had a chance to play with Garage Band to create a podcast. We held the first ever institute writing marathon on Friday of the first week and found our way around the downtown area of Lincoln, Nebraska. We met at a local restaurant for a powerful read around of our marathon writing.
Institute participants also submitted work on a weekly basis to the National Writing Project's annual E-anthology. The Nebraska writers submitted some stellar pieces of writing but also provided many gracious responses to fellow teacher consultants across the country. Throughout the institute we also formed inquiry groups who selected their own area of interests which included social action (or social justice, teaching difference, etc), technology (digital portfolios, digital divide, digital portfolios, podcasting), and peer editing/response groups. Once a week, we had an overnight exchange of writing so participants could get extensive feedback upon their writing. We held two read 'arounds' in the institute; one at the half way point and one at the end. At the end of the institute, we offered participants an opportunity to continue their inquiry or investigations into the teaching of writing through a Level II institute throughout the school year.
The 2007 Summer Institute provided me a chance to rethink and revise my own curriculum. I was truly impressed with the quality of the teacher demonstrations. I plan to take back into my classroom, many of the wonderful strategies I learned from my colleagues. I have given a great deal of thought to the concept of thinking moves, invention strategies, and ways in which students approach writing and how we respond to our students--and how they respond to each other. I never cease to be amazed at the writing each teacher develops throughout the four-five weeks of the institute. I'm also quite fascinated by how quickly small groups bond and share writing that is often very personal. I witnessed some incredible poetry writing in my own small group, and I take back into my classroom a reminder: sharing and writing your own poetry inspires others to do the same.
As a facilitator, I was challenged by the coaching. I wanted to be helpful but I also wanted each teacher to have ownership over their demonstration, too. I wanted each teacher to research, plan, and develop a demonstration that would engage us, transform his or her own classroom, and give thought to how his or her demonstration might be developed into a potential inservice opportunity. I thought this summer's class was a tremendous group, and I'm impressed that so many of them want to continue working together throughout the year, continuing inquires that just began in the four weeks we were together.
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