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Perspectives From a:Melanie Farber

Background:

  • 17 Years of Teaching Experience
    • Teaches AP Literature and Composition, and Differentiated English 10
    • Serves as the English Department Chair at North Star High School
  • 3 Years of teaching for Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Honors Academy
  • MA in Educational Psychology with a concentration on Gifted Education from the University of Connecticut, Storrs; 18 additional graduate hours beyond the MA.

Professional Accomplishments:

  • 2007 recipient of State Farm’s Outstanding Educator Award
  • Past Staff Development Instructor and Gifted Coordinator at Lincoln Southeast High School
    Past Advisory Board Member of the Nebraska Association for the Gifted
  • 2003 Co-chair of the Nebraska State Conference
  • Presented at the Nebraska Sate Conference
  • Presenter at the National Association of Gifted Children

Nebraska Writing Project Involvement:

  • Member of the Advisory Board
  • Has been involved with the Writing Project for the past decade
    Participated in the Summer Institute, Literature and Technology institutes
    Served as a co-facilitator for the 2012 Summer Institute
  • In her position as English Department Chair at North Star High School for the past nine years, Melanie has, “made it [her] mission to recruit teachers to take some kind of Nebraska Writing Project institute each summer.”

“The Nebraska Writing Project is some of the best professional development that any of us, as teachers, have ever done because we want teachers that continue to grow personally, as well as professionally. This infuses creativity and critical thinking into your teachers which bleeds down to the kids.”



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Perspectives From a Department Chair

  • Over her 9 years as Department Chair at North Star, she has successfully encouraged seven other members of her department to participate in The Nebraska Writing Project.
  • As a long-time Chair of her Department, Melanie has noticed teachers “come out of the Nebraska Writing Project saying, ‘it was the best experience of my life.’ They’ve loved not only connecting with teachers all over the state, but they’ve learned so much, and they come back the following school year new teachers—totally reenergized, and totally refocused on new ways to approach writing, technology, and literature in the classroom. “
    • Even teachers who work with struggling students, says Melanie, return to school “feeling like they can raise the rigor, they can expect more of their kids because now they have new ideas and new strategies to incorporate in their classrooms.”
  • Teachers in her department ret“Teachers who participate in the Nebraska Writing Project come back reenergized and hopeful about all sorts of new ideas.” urn from the Summer Institute, says Melanie, “talking about having had so much fun and being all excited to share new ideas.” This energy becomes infectious and Melanie has observed that teachers who have not yet been involved in The Writing Project, find themselves drawn to participate, not simply for the credit hours, but because “they wantto do it too.”
    • After a trio of teachers participated in the 2011 Summer Institute, even those who did not attend The Writing Project, are making use of the concepts, such as “thinking moves,” that the Writing Project attendees have shared with department. “We are all trying to find ways to weave thinking moves into our courses as a new way,” says Melanie, “to help students see they can write legitimately even if they don’t write a five-paragraph essay.”
  • As a department chair, Melanie would love to see the Nebraska Writing Project Model infuse the structure of her school’s Professional Learning Communities (PLC) to create a time “where we could have interdisciplinary groups collaborate. Where somebody presents a professional inquiry to the group and we share writing.”
  • Most importantly, says Melanie, teachers who participate in the Nebraska Writing Project “come back more hopeful. There are times during your career as a teacher when you can feel very hopeless about the state of students because so much seems to be about testing. But teachers who participate in the Nebraska Writing Project come back re-energized and hopeful about all sorts of new ideas.”

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Perspectives From a Teacher-Researcher and Scholar:

  • Melanie suggests the Nebraska Writing Project’s “summer institute provides super intense collaborative learning environment, as well as personal development opportunities. I think that has been the hook for a lot of my teachers; not only does the Writing Project offer an opportunity for personal growth, but it promises huge professional growth, as well.”

  • “I think the Writing Project is incredibly rigorous,” says Melanie. “We call it ‘brain candy’ because it provides good intellectual stimulation that you don’t always get working with teenagers.”

  • Melanie argues that we “need our teachers to feel refreshed and renewed and energized and that’s what our summers are for. Most of us spend our summers taking classes and teaching ourselves new strategies--trying to keep up to date with what the latest research says--because during the year we don’t have the time. And that is exactly the type of learning experience the Writing Project provides”

“I think the Nebraska Writing Project helped me feel more confident about what I was doing. I felt more like I could have a voice within my department. I think it made me feel much more like a true professional who could say I know what I’m talking about, I’ve read the stuff, and I’ve practiced it myself.”



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Perspectives From a Collaborator

  • For Melanie, one of the Nebraska Writing Project’s key strengths is the many ways in which it fosters collaboration among teachers at a range of levels. She remembers being surprised at her first Summer Institute to learn that “it was going to include elementary, middle, and high school teachers. It was really eye-opening,” she says, “to get the full perspective of what writing instruction looks like at every single level, because in the educational world people who are secondary and people who are elementary never cross paths. We never see each other, we never in-service together, we never do anything together inside the school district.”

  • She recalls that “what was so cool about my first Summer Institute is that the same people I met ten years ago, I’m still very much in touch with.”

  • The Nebraska Writing Project also provided Melanie with a valuable opportunity to collaborate in a meaningful way with researchers and faculty at the University of Nebraska.

    • “Working with graduate students and professors,” she says, “you feel like you’re part of that academic world. In the Nebraska Writing Project I never felt like I was being preached at or talked down to by the members of the ‘University community.’  Everybody is responsible for a key part of the course.”“Everybody in the Nebraska Writing Project comes to the table saying, I have something to learn, instead of coming as ‘the expert.’

    • “Everybody in the Nebraska Writing Project comes to the table saying, I have something to learn, instead of coming as ‘the expert.’ Everyone comes saying, ‘tell me what you do; tell me what you know.’ You get the sense that even those who’ve been University researchers seemingly forever, come with the same belief in the value of constantly being a learner.”

    • Melanie suggests Nebraska Writing Project helps to create “passionate teachers and teachers with creativity… because it asks teachers to step outside of their building and district, and collaborate with others who’ve had totally different experiences from theirs and totally different ideas about how to approach the same novel or the same assignment. Sharing those ideas with each other makes everybody better!”

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Perspectives From a Classroom TeacherMelanie Farber in front of class

  • The Writing Project and its Technology Institute has helped Melanie “feel more comfortable using technology and integrating technology in her classroom” in order to find “ways, beyond just writing, that kids can express what they’ve learned and what they know.”

    • “I think the use of this technology and new media has been liberating for some students” says Melanie. Her students are excited to learn they “can show you that they really understand something through a much more creative method of sharing their knowledge.”
  • After completing a Summer Institute, explains Melanie, the teachers in her department have come back wanting to share what they’ve learned, so “we decided to incorporate sharing of teaching demonstrations  at our department meetings.”

  • Melanie says, “A lot of what I do in my classroom has been shaped by the Nebraska Writing Project.” After challenging herself in her first Summer Institute to complete the assignments she gives her own students each year, she says, “I tweaked many assignments and stole assignments and revision strategies from other teachers who were there.”“Honestly, I can’t think of anything that I do that hasn’t in some way come from either my experiences or one of my colleague’s experiences in the Nebraska Writing Project.”

    • After the Nebraska Writing Project Melanie adopted the “Praise, Point, Nudge” revision strategy in her own classroom and as a result, she says, “my students have blown me away with how well they have handled this type of feedback.”

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Perspectives From a Writer and ProfessionalStudents working at desks

  • Melanie continues to be drawn to the Nebraska Writing Project because of “the ways it has not only informed me as a writer, but also the ways it has informed my teaching.”

  • Through the Nebraska Writing Project Melanie has gained a deepened understanding of the value of writing, particularly for her English Language Learning students who she feels “need more unique and more creative ways of approaching writing so that they’re not just walking out of high school with the basic drone-like approach to writing.”

  • She says for all of her students writing is a critical skill necessary for success because “You don’t have to become an English teacher to be writing all of the time. Writing is everywhere and you’ve got to be a savvy writer in this world so you need kids  constantly Writing teaches skills in argument; logiv, reasoning, and evidence.  writing ties into thinking skills s much as anything else.being exposed to new ways to write and communicate.” The Nebraska Writing Project produces teachers with the skills and energy to do this kind of teaching.

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