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Leadership and Activism

#blog4nwp – Hoosier Writing Project Testimonials

These are teacher-consultants from the Hoosier Writing Project, located at IUPUI, with programs in Indianapolis, South Bend, and surrounding counties.

One of my students wrote in his semester-end portfolio last year, “Some days I hated this class because we had to think too much.”

As a teacher, those were some of the sweetest words I’ve ever heard.

And the reason for those words, and everything else that happens in my classroom, every day, is the National Writing Project. Everything. There is literally nothing that happens in my classroom that is not in some way a result of NWP. My students read everyday, even the ones who claim to hate reading. They write everyday, even the ones who claim to hate writing. And they think (some students would like to argue “think too much”…) everyday. They think like readers, they think like writers, they think like thinkers. My students hit the world prepared: prepared for college, for work, for life. And they do so because the National Writing Project helped me set up the conditions in my classroom for the reading, the writing and the thinking they are asked to do while they are there.

I need the National Writing Project. It helps me become a better teacher each morning when I flip on the lights to my classroom. But my students need it more than I do. They will leave my class one day, and they deserve the opportunity to walk into another NWP teacher-consultant’s classroom. Students in those classrooms learn more, achieve more, succeed more. Study after study after study after study confirms that; it’s indisputable. So let’s say it again: now more than ever, kids need the National Writing Project. If we, as a society, truly value education, if we truly value STUDENTS, then we need to prove it. Keep the National Writing Project alive. It’s the right thing to do.

Joe Akers
Department chair, Noblesville High School

From  1997 until I retired in June of 2010, the Hoosier Writing Project has remained one of the most influential forces in my twenty-five year teaching career. I considered myself to be an effective teacher, always looking for ways to better my craft, working to engage more students.  Through a colleague whose work with students I had unabashedly admired, I was pulled into the writing project and made into an even better teacher.  After that first intensive summer training, I have, year after year, participated in the Advanced Institutes.  These summer sessions fueled  my inspiration and added tools to my teaching work belt that sent me back each August ready to take on the challenges that awaited.  The project’s components reflect what I believe are key to teacher development.   Obviously practicing what one teaches is at the core; reflecting on that practice, learning and applying teacher research strategies, as well as reading and discussing current educational research,  are basic  to the process. Probably most important, however, is the collegial aspect of teaching.  Teachers share practices, texts and support freely. When each of us returned to our own schools, our professional generosity continued.  Some of the most remarkable changes at my school (Penn High School) were driven by fellow HWP teachers and our commitment to the practice of writing and the practice of effective teaching. What appealed to me then, and continues to appeal to me now, is the sound academic basis for the work of the project, the practical nuts and bolts of scaffolding effective learning experiences, and the continued inspiration, the constant goal driven passion that spurs these members to work at their best.   It is not clear to me why those behind educational reform fail to consult this model.   Funding this initiative is vital to educational reform.  It will maintain a professional network that pulses everyday with what is at the heart of educating young people .   The Hoosier Writing Project, as an affiliate of the National Writing project, makes better teachers one summer at a time!

Mary Malloy
Retired Teacher of English
South Bend

Being a part of the HWP opened doors to relationships with incredibly talented and dedicated teachers who willingly share great ideas, great books, new strategies, and steady encouragement. Being part of such a network means that I have daily opportunities to inquire of others, and invite my students to enjoy the challenges of inquiry as well.  Before working through the HWP Summer Institute, I was a teacher who did a few things well, and relied upon those few things — I had found my comfortable niche, and saw no need to move from it.  After 3 weeks of challenge, exposure to research, and extraordinary resources (most of them human), I awakened to just how unsatisfactory my comfortable niche had become — the HWP substantially altered my ways of learning about literacy, writing and true inquiry. Whenever teachers are learning, they become extraordinarily better teachers.  Education must always focus on the next generation of learners — and the NWP must remain a vital component of encouraging, training, and inspiring teachers who have the privilege and responsibility of teaching that next generation.  The HWP profoundly impacted my methods of instruction — my students reap those benefits every day.  Simply the best professional development I’ve ever known — and it doesn’t end after three weeks, because the resources on the NWP website, and the teachers who are now my colleagues and friends are available to me every single day — the HWP really did change my teaching life.

Becky Fields
Heritage School

The NWP and the HWP totally transformed what I do in the classroom.  Experiencing the professional development I found while participating in NWP events made me a data-driven teacher who thinks more about student acheivement and growth than “getting the worksheets done.”  The NWP provides meaningful and relevant growth for teachers and, by extension, their students.  To eliminate funding for the NWP would be a tragic setback for student learning.

David Lawson
Department chair, Center Grove High School

I encourage every thoughtful teacher I know to participate in the National Writing Project.  As a result of my own participation eleven years ago, I felt—and continue to experience in advanced summer institutes—a profound effect upon my teaching and my attitude. Writing is, in my opinion, the hardest aspect of language arts to teach; as with all teaching, being good at something personally makes it harder to teach because all the nuances that I understand as a writer do NOT come naturally to student writers, so I have do write and examine what I do in order to help duplicate those experiences for students.  My NWP experience helped me to do that—with the help of my fellow teachers who shared their best lessons to enhance my repertoire of tools to draw upon.

Here’s how the NWP network has helped me:

1.  I have a community of professionals to contact and get immediate ideas from for powerful lessons.

2.  We constantly share resources and methods to improve our lessons.

3.  As a high school teacher, I get feedback from teachers of younger and older students to see where my instruction fits on the continuum.

4.  When I’ve had to seek teachers to interview for open positions, an NWP teacher (or one recommended by an NWP fellow) goes to the top of my list.

5.  I learn of the latest research to apply to lesson design and best results in writing.

6.  NWP fellows are the type of teachers who are willing to go “above and beyond,” so their influence keeps me positive.

The actual experience of NWP is meant to be duplicated in the classroom, so here’s how I’ve changed my instruction:

  • I write with my students so I can show / model the writing process and realize how to make instruction more clear if my directions fall short.
  • Students explore their real questions as we research topics that are meaningful and useful.
  • Students write and develop their writing in peer groups, and I teach them to offer useful feedback so they don’t have to wait on me to be there for all their questions (I have about 1 1/2 minutes per student to offer each day if I work with each student one-on-one).
  • Students’ assessing their own work is recommended as a best practice, so this offers them an opportunity to practice that within groups.
  • I consciously assign writing on all three levels: personal, transactional, and formal; therefore, I am using “writing to learn”  on a daily basis.
  • Students create portfolios of their writing and writing process.  Best practices of  a.) choosing meaningful topics, b.) displaying growth over time (something standardized tests can NEVER duplicate), c.) writing about their writing process/thinking, d.) completing and collecting much more writing than in my former classroom, e.) showing evidence of revision and editing/ multiple drafting, f.) examining their writing weaknesses and strengths, and g.) sharing techniques others in their group use in kid-delivered language.
  • I continuously update reading selections so they are the most engaging and relevant choices for today’s students.
  • Students have a small-group – and later a sharing with the whole class – audience for which they write, and they experience the gratification that comes with others’ admiration for a piece that is well-written.  This creates a cycle of always wanting to improve and write for intrinsic rewards.

I am a professional development junkie.  I have attended local and national conventions and workshops all over the country. NONE has compared with my experience with NWP when it comes to improving my daily instruction.  No other network I have keeps me constantly on my toes when it comes to actively seeking out ways to continually grow as a professional.  No other group of people keeps up my spirits against media criticism, naysayers on my faculty, misguided administrators, or not-in-the-trenches state leaders.  Every summer I attend an NWP advanced institute for one week to rejuvenate my planning for the coming school year.  I consider myself very well-read in research and methodology, but I always come away with pages of ideas, teaching materials, and resources to explore in improving my practice.

My NWP experience has proven to be the one most-valued, profound, growth-producing influence on my professional life.

Connie Bleicher
Inclusion, gifted, honors, advanced placement teacher; literacy coach, department chair

HWP/NWP has provided me with an endless resource for curriculum ideas and innovation as well as professional collaboration and support.

I wrote the entire curriculum for a Creative Writing class, this year, almost solely using ideas and works read through the writing project and suggestions from it!


Kelli Jacobs
Hamilton Southeastern Schools

I did my Summer Institute at IUSB in the summer of 2001.  At that point, I knew I’d been laid off from teaching at Washington HS, but the folks were gracious enough to let me join y’all anyway.  I moved to Chicago, and came back for an Advanced Institute at ND the following summer.  Since moving to Texas in 2005, I joined up with the Heart of Texas Writing Project.  I’m now the associate director, a post I’ve held for going on 3 years.  As a grad student, that basically means I do a lot of the administrative duties, but also get to be in on big decisions about the direction of the project, how we use our energies, and what it is we really value.  I am also serving on the Inservice Leadership Team as we plan for the ELL-focused Inservice Retreat in Cleveland this summer.

I was able to connect to the NWP community through HWP and it has been such a wonderful experience.

Ann David
UT Austin
Language & Literacy Studies
Doctoral Candidate
HTWP Associate Director

Participating in the NWP summer workshop seven years ago helped me to understand that as an English teacher, writing is the most important part of my curriculum.  The workshop gave me both an overarching philosophical approach to teaching writing and specific strategies to use with students in the classroom.  Continued contact with the Project since my first workshop has inspired me to work toward an M.A. in English and view professional development as an essential, on-going aspect of my teaching career.

I feel lucky to be associated with the organizers of the Hoosier Writing Project and look forward to the crucial role they will continue to play in my professional life.

Michael Armbruster
Arsenal Technical High School

My experience as a member of the Hoosier Writing Project has had a huge effect on who I am as an educator. From watching other educators demonstrate how they teach, I have learned how to be a better educator. Through having a chance to be a student in a Hoosier Writing Project class I have gotten to see what it is like for a student sitting in my class, facing the challenges of writing. Finally, participating in such a rewarding example of professional development has given me skills I can bring back to my fellow educators to make our common planning time and meeting more effective. In short, not only has HWP helped me, but it has helped the other teachers at my school who have never attended an HWP class.

Erik Catellier
John Marshall High School

I completed the summer institute after my first full year of teaching (back in 1993) and that experience, along with ongoing NWP related networking with knowledgeable and reflective TCs, ongoing professional learning opportunities and ongoing professional leadership opportunities, has been, hands down, the most important and lasting professional development work of my career in education.

As I now complete a graduate degree and apply for jobs in both schools of education and educational consulting, I routinely note in application materials the profound impact that the NWP had for me in tuning my attention to the diverse needs and powerful capacities of student writers.  This is no time to reduce support for NWP; it is time to employ it more broadly as a way to engage and support teachers of writing (all teachers).

Beth Lehman
Teaching consultant
Ph.D. candidate, IUPUI

I can’t begin to explain the positive impact the National Writing Project summer institute has had on me as a university faculty member and on my students over the past eleven years.  I would need to write an entire book to list all the outstanding results of my having been a participant and consultant.  Here are just a few highlights:

  • I better understand teacher research and have presented/published my results to share outcomes with colleagues both locally and nationally
  • I employ engaging pedagogies in my classroom that were developed from the summer institute for which my students benefit
  • My students and I have access to all the excellent resources available from the National Writing Project
  • I continue to interact with a network of highly-dedicated and competent faculty across the State of Indiana and around the U.S.; this network provides strong professional development opportunities on an ongoing basis

Writing teachers and their students have come to rely on the excellent guidance and resources of the National Writing Project to provide quality educational practices to strengthen students’ writing skills nationwide.  Employers consistently report that good communication skills, including effective writing, are and will continue to be imperative for a viable 21st Century workforce.   I can think of no other program as well designed to provide educators with sound and useful strategies for teaching writing to our future workforce; the National Writing Project must continue to be funded to ensure our national prominence as a leading economic power.

David J. Sabol
Faculty, Department of English
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)

The experience of the summer institute had the greatest impact on me as a writing teacher.  The purpose of the summer institute is two-fold:  to develop teachers as writers themselves and to extend teachers’ ability to assist students in growing as writers.  How can one teach writing without the experience of being a writer and a member of a writing community?  After the summer institute I was able to go back and help my elementary level students see themselves as writers, enhance their writing skill, and thoroughly enjoy the process!

Ann Giddings

Without NWP, I never would have had the courage to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing, which, in turn, has opened up so many opportunities for my students, through our partnerships with Second Story and other writers. Before NWP, it never would have occurred to me to partner my students with real writers, but because of NWP, I realized that the most authentic instruction of writing comes from experiencing what real writers go through… the panic, the starts and stops, and ultimately, the growth, instead of focusing on a final product.

Carrie Gaffney
Middle School Teacher
Center for Inquiry at School 2, Indianapolis

In my 24 years of teaching, the National Writing Project has been the single most important professional development in which I have been involved.

Since 1993, I have been involved with the Hoosier Writing Project, first as a fellow in their invitational summer institute (ISI), and then as a co-director of the ISI.  Through facilitating the 17-day institute, I have met hundreds of teachers from throughout the state who are passionate about their work and focused on their students’ achievement.  I have had the privilege of working with my former students who have gone on to be teachers; this special relationship humbles and awes me.  In turn, the teachers I work with in the summer go on to teach hundreds of Hoosier schoolchildren, kindergarten through college.  In this way, my Writing Project work replicates and duplicates, kind of like DNA.

As a writer myself, I look forward to the summer institutes to spend time on my craft.  During the year, I jot ideas in a notebook so that when I have the luxury of time during the Writing Project, I can develop my thoughts.  I am a better teacher of writing because I experience the process of writing myself; I know what it is like to wrestle with words.  My students are better writers because I write.  I write because the Hoosier Writing Project gives me the time to do so.  Writing is an essential skill for the 21st century, and my work with the National Writing Project allows me to help my students become stronger writers.  Please restore funding to this premiere educational professional development program.

Mary B. Nicolini
Writing Center Director
Penn High School, Mishawaka

My first opportunity to participate in discussions and workshops about the teaching of writing, with teachers of writing, came when I was a graduate intern with the Hoosier Writer Project.  The dedication to teaching that I encountered there was contagious, and it was impossible not to be inspired by it when I first began teaching my own classes.  During my first fall teaching at a community college, I found my time with HWP to be of equal value to the theory I had encountered in grad school.

Teaching at a community college that offered little professional support, the NWP conference I attended that fall provided me with many of the practices I implemented in the classroom.   It is likely that without my experience with the HWP, my first semester of teaching would not have been the positive experience it was—and without this positive experience, I’m not sure that I would have continued to pursue the teaching of writing as a career.  In addition to the professional support and encouragement provided by the HWP, I have found the knowledge it offers about the teaching of writing at various levels (K-14) to be incredibly useful in the college classroom.  I now teach at IUPUI, and knowing the types of writing instruction my students have encountered in the past allows me to better understand their experiences, knowledge, and needs.  Through the annual NWP conferences I have attended, I have been able to maintain these relationships with instructors at various levels, and I continue to use this knowledge to shape my pedagogy.

Keith Brown
Associate Faculty, IUPUI

The HWP was one of the most renewing experiences I’ve had as a teacher.  I completed my Master’s degree shortly after graduating from college and a Teacher Leadership Academy right after that.  Both of those experiences were informative and helpful, but they weren’t focused on how to make my students better readers or writers.  They didn’t help me become a better reader and writer either.

Having time each and every day for nearly three weeks to sit with other practitioners of my craft creating, sharing, honing, and demonstrating was the highlight of my educational experiences.  I learned from amazing professionals that I continue to share ideas with via the listserv, emails, get-togethers, and workshops.  I was given an opportunity to read some of the best literature about my profession to garner further ideas and better understand the research behind best practices.  It helped me to become more masterful of my craft.

The most amazing thing about HWP was that we all came from different walks of life–urban, suburban, rural; Caucasion, African-American, Asian-American; young and old; elementary, middle school, high school, and college.  Yet at the end of each day, we were family that lifted one another up in our writing small groups and cheered each other during author’s chair.  And at the end of three weeks, we walked away renewed and committed to doing the best work for our students.  We went back to our own schools and created the same family of writers that we had at HWP.  That is more beneficial than any standardized test score in the world!

Renee Vanlandingham
Fishers High School

I have been a member of the National Writing Project since 2005. For years, I found myself teaching composition by using different philosophies and ideas. They worked for me and helped to engage my students. While my methods also helped me to develop a rapport with my students, there were few colleagues that acknowledged or agreed with my teaching style. That is where NWP came in. After attending my first conference, my colleagues took me in, made me feel like one of them, and corroborated and affirmed my teaching methods.

The advantage of attending the yearly Summer Institute is two-fold. Not only do I get to revisit old friends and meet new ones, but we get to gather together and share teaching ideas. We also discuss and dissect some of the old ones that didn’t quite pan out. Attending the SI is also a chance for me to write . . . something we all should continually practice as we expect that of our students. My one week in the SI serves as a time of learning about new things, and rejuvenating my sometimes “old” spirit.

As an African American maneuvering my way through the educational and teaching process, I am often the “minority” at various organizational events and conferences. The NWP was one of the first organizations, of which I belong to, that addressed this. We have not only looked at the issue, and worked to recruit teachers of color, but we are constantly looking at new approaches to acknowledge, teach, and address race and equity for teachers, students, administrators. I hope that funding for this project is continued for the sakes of all involved.

Sylvia Cunningham
Lecturer, IUPUI, Indianapolis

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