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The National Writing Project of Acadiana
 
 
Overview
 
The National Writing Project of Acadiana (sometimes referred to as the Acadiana Writing Project) was established by an LEQSF grant of $45,000 in 1989. Its founder was Dr. Ann B. Dobie, Professor of English. Since that time it has been annually reviewed and approved as an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a network of writers and teachers around the world that seeks to improve the teaching of writing at all levels of the educational system, K - University.
 
The National Writing Project is a university-school partnership that has three major goals: (1) to improve the teaching of writing at all levels, (2) to improve professional development programs for teachers, and (3) to improve the professional standing of teachers. As a site of the NWP, ULL’s program subscribes to its goals and basic assumptions as stated below:
  • Working as partners, universities and schools can articulate and promote effective school reform.
  • Teachers are the best teachers of teachers; successful practicing teachers have greater credibility with their colleagues than outside experts.
  • Successful teachers of writing can be identified and--while sharing their expertise--be prepared to teach other teachers.
  • Summer Institutes should involve teachers from all levels of instruction and all disciplines.
  • Writing is as fundamental to learning in science, mathematics, and history as it is to learning in English and the language arts.
  • Writing needs constant attention and repetition from the early grades through university.
  • As the process of writing can best be understood by engaging in the process, teachers of writing should write.
  • Real change in classroom practice does not happen all at once, but rather, over time.
  • Effective professional development programs are on-going and systematic, bringing teachers together throughout their careers to examine successful practices and new developments.
  • What is known about the teaching of writing comes not only from research but from the practice of those who teach writing.
  • The National Writing Project, by promoting no single “right” approach to the teaching of writing, allows a critical examination of a variety of approaches from a variety of sources.
 
To put those assumptions into action, the NWP of Acadiana engages in a variety of activities involving area teachers, students, as well as the public at large. Each summer it conducts a five-week Summer Writing Institute for teachers in the Acadiana parishes and an Advanced Institute for its graduates (called Teacher Consultants). Throughout the school year it invites them to participate in numerous continuity activities, and other area teachers are provided with staff development workshops led by the Teacher Consultants. In addition, several activities are open to the public.
 
Summer Writing Institute
 
In early spring the AWP identifies and recruits exemplary teachers for the annual invitational writing institute. The participants are selected from a pool of applicants who provide a writing sample, a professional profile, and a personal interview. The 15 - 20 Fellows accepted into the program are master teachers who have a successful teaching career in progress. For five weeks during the summer they work to improve their own writing and their teaching of writing. Throughout that time they are given opportunities to demonstrate and examine their approaches to teaching writing, consider strategies for using writing as a tool in all subject areas, learn about how to teach writing by writing themselves, study theory and research underpinning best practices in the teaching of writing, and prepare themselves to lead professional development programs in the schools during the academic year. Typical activities include participation in reading-response groups, discussion of recent composition research, and presentation of a 1 ½ hour demonstration of their best classroom practice. At the end of the five weeks they publish an anthology of their work.
 
Continuity Activities
 
Throughout the school year all AWP Teacher Consultants are invited to participate in monthly activities related to writing and its teaching. These occasions typically involve gatherings such as the following:
  • All project reunion meetings, called Coalition Meetings, are held each fall and spring to provide opportunities for Teacher Consultants to share academic experiences with each other. An outside presenter introduces new approaches to classroom pedagogy or shares his/her writing.
  • At the annual Spring Reception, the new Fellows are introduced to the AWP Teacher Consultants. (This event is primarily social in nature.)
  • The Fall Writing Retreat is open to all Teacher Consultants. Scheduled for a weekend at a camp in central Louisiana, the retreat provides the participants with reflective writing time facilitated by a professional writer.
  • The Festival of Writers, held every two years, is sponsored by all six Louisiana Writing Project sites. Like the Writing Retreat, it features a weekend-long series of workshops designed to improve teachers’ writing.
  • The AWP Teacher Consultant Council meets monthly to make policy and plans for the larger body of Teacher Consultants.
  • Writing Response groups are small gatherings of Teacher Consultants who choose to meet on a regular basis to share and critique their writing.
  • Reading groups are, similarly, small groups that meet regularly to discuss professional literature.
 
Professional Staff Development
 
The school year also offers the Teacher Consultants opportunities to share their experience and knowledge with colleagues who have not been through the summer institute. Individual schools or whole parishes invite AWP Teacher Consultants to present series of five or ten workshops on a wide variety of topics, such as Implementing the Writing Process, Using Classroom Portfolios, Evaluating Student Writing, Getting Student Writers to Revise, and The Place of Grammar in the Composition Class. On occasion it presents a day or half day of workshops for area teachers at a central location. For example, on a Saturday morning last November, workshops designed to help teachers cope with the new standards and assessment instruments adopted by the state were offered to elementary, middle, and high school teachers at the ULL Student Union. Over 70 area teachers attended.

Acadiana Writing Project workshops are characterized first by the fact that they are taught by credible teachers--the graduates of the invitational institute. Second, these workshops are tailored to the needs of the contracting school or parish system. AWP works in concert with the school faculty to design full professional development programs with sessions matched to the school, teacher, and student context. Programs are conducted in a series, rather than as one-shot events, so that teachers can receive support as they make changes in their practices. Third, Acadiana Writing Project programs can work through regular school support structures like school improvement committees, grade level teams, or content area departments.

In addition to the professional development workshops sponsored by the schools, the NWP of Acadiana provides a wide array of other programs to serve teachers and schools, including open enrollment summer mini-institutes, teacher research groups, professional reading groups, and support systems for new teachers.

One of the most effective forms of professional development provided by the AWP has been delivered through Project Outreach, a program funded by a grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Readers Digest Foundation. AWP is one of eighteen sites of the National Writing Project to be selected to participate in this effort designed to improve teaching in schools whose students are primarily drawn from low-income communities. For three years the team of eight Teacher Consultants has gone into such schools in the Acadiana area to offer assistance by providing teacher workshops, professional materials, and curriculum consultations. Such help has been ongoing and sustained in Washington Parish and Acadia Parish for over a year at no cost to the schools or teachers receiving the support.

Professional development is also provided for the Teacher Consultants themselves. In addition to the continuity programs discussed above, which are primarily group activities, help is also available for individual or paired Teacher Consultants who wish to attend conferences. Over the years the NWP of Acadiana has sent teachers to professional meetings of the National Council of Teachers of English, Global Conversations in Language and Literacy ( held in Oxford, England; Heidelberg, Germany; Bordeaux, France; and Utrecht, The Netherlands), and the Louisiana Council of Teachers of English. The Project Outreach team has attended workshops at the Chauncey Center of the Educational Testing Center in Princeton, New Jersey, University of California-Berkeley, and Lake Tahoe. Three years ago AWP sent a Teacher Consultant to work with a Pennsylvania NWP site for two weeks. For the past five summers it has sent representatives to the NWP professional writing retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Forr the past several years AWP Teacher Consultants have attended Rural Sites Retreat and Rural Sites Institutes, initiative sponsored by the National Writing Project in different locations across the country.

In addition, each summer the NWP of Acadiana offers an Advanced Institute for its Teacher Consultants. Lasting only one week, over the years it has provided them with the opportunity to read, discuss, and learn about such topics as ethnographic research, the new state standards and assessment instruments, the relationship of reading and writing, and using folklife materials in the composition classroom.
 
Public Interaction
 
Some activities of the NWP of Acadiana are open to or even directed towards the general public. Recognizing that our responsibilities involve more than classroom tasks, the Teacher Consultants have devised several ways of working with non-academic groups. Some of those projects are the following:
  • “Yeah! You Write!” is a two week summer writing institute for children in grades 4 - 8, with assistance from students in grades 9 - 12. It is housed at a local school and taught by two AWP Teacher Consultants, who have directed it since its inception eight years ago. The students pay tuition to attend, but full funding is provided for free lunch for the students. The children write in response to various prompts and stimuli, including dance and creative movement, art work, storytellers, and nature walks. They produce, at the end, an anthology of their stories, poems, plays, and drawings.
  • “Yeah, You Write, Too!” was begun in the summer of 2003. It is held on the campus of Episcopal School of Acadiana and is attended primarily by children from Iberia Parish.
  • AWP also manages a Young Writers Camp funded by the Lafayette Parish School Board. It operates in much the same way the tuition driven camps run, but children are not required to pay to attend.
  • Each year AWP participates in the Deep South Writers Conference by presenting a two-hour showcase of the writing of Teacher Consultants. This event is open to the public.
  • When the featured presenter at the Festival of Writers, held every other year, is attractive to the general public, an invitation to writers outside of Acadiana Writing Project teachers is extended. For example, when novelist Tim O’Brien gave a half-day workshop in 1996, almost 100 people from Lafayette and surrounding communities were in attendance.
The Role of the University
 
Since the inception of the Writing Project at USL the University has supported it by providing space for the Summer Institutes, paying the summer salary of the director, and providing access to equipment (overhead projectors) and books (in Dupre Library). For the past year it has provided office space to house the AWP library, which consists of around 1000 books about writing and the teaching of writing that are used by Summer Fellows during the Writing Institute and by Teacher Consultants year round. AWP equipment, such as tape recorders and a “boom-box” are also stored there. All such books and equipment have been purchased with grants made to the AWP. They are, however, made available to ULL students in English and education.
 
Goals
 
In April 1999 the AWP held a revisioning conference for the purpose of doing strategic planning and goal setting for the next several years. The conference was led by an outside facilitator, Dr. Sherry Swain, Director of the Mississippi Writing-Thinking Institute. The discussion centered around designing more effective staff development, delivering workshops to more teachers, expanding and developing teacher research projects, documenting and evaluating our work, increasing the diversity of Summer Fellows (reaching more minorities and males), and continuing the work of Project Outreach. Several specific projects have been carried out as a result of establishing goals dealing with serving minority students, evaluating our efforts, improving inservice, and involving parents.
 
Evaluation
 
Most of the evaluation of the work of the NWP of Acadiana is anecdotal. There are, for example, dozens of testimonials from Teacher Consultants about the positive effect it has had on their professional lives. It is not unusual to hear comments such as, “The Summer Institute was the single most important experience I have ever had as a teacher.” The fact that several members of the first Institute, held in 1989, are still active in AWP is evident of its ongoing viability.

Success is apparent in other ways as well. There are indications that AWP teachers produce students who have generally higher levels of literacy skills than do their counterparts from the classrooms of teachers who have not been part of AWP. Beginning studies of students who have had AWP teachers for at least three years in middle school and high school, tracking them as they move into college work, seem to show significantly greater success on the part of the students who have been in Acadiana Writing Project teachers’ classrooms. Conclusions about their achievements are drawn from their infrequent placement in English 90 and by their final grades in English 101 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
 
The Current Situation
 
At this time the future of the NWP of Acadiana seems particularly bright. Federal funding has been substantially increased over the past few years, solving one of the biggest problems it has faced up to this time.
 

Document last revised Wednesday, September 13, 2006 12:11 PM

Copyright 2003 by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette
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