Ed. Note: The following is an article written by Diane Hughart, NVWP Teacher Consultant (1993). Diane recently enrolled in a new NVWP course through a partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools, the district in which she teaches. Fairfax has long-offered half-semester and full-semester non-credit courses for their employees. FCPS publishes a listing of these courses three times a year and names the selection the “Academy.” Any district educator may sign up for these Academy courses through the county’s professional development online registration and receive recertification points in return for their participation. All Academy courses are free of charge for FCPS employees.
Diane was pleased to see “Writing Across the Curriculum for Struggling Writers” in the Academy listing as she works in the FCPS Interagency Alternative Schools system and needed new ideas for her neediest writers. Yet, what made her sign up was the note in the description that this was a course led by a NVWP Teacher Consultant. Diane said, “I have always credited the NVWP classes, the Invitational Summer Institute, and the Language and Learning Conferences with teaching me how to teach English.” She knew the course would be high-quality and reflect the positive encounters she had experienced with the Writing Project in the past.
Diane knows high-quality instruction when she sees it. One of the first teachers in FCPS to become National Board Certified, she credits her reflective stance to what she learned from the Writing Project. In addition, she continually renews her own writing and teaching by attending the NVWP’s Language and Learning Conference each spring. Read on to hear about Diane’s latest evolution using a new program designed by her professional home, the Northern Virginia Writing Project.
–Kim Sloan, Co-Director for Professional Development, the NVWP
When I sat down in the first session of the “Writing Across the Curriculum for Struggling Writers” class last fall, I immediately had a feeling of being “at home.” It felt comfortable to find myself in a class taught by Nikki Lehman, a Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP) Teacher Consultant, and as she explained the way the class would function, I felt the day’s stress and my anticipation worries melt away. We would have time to read, reflect, write, discuss, share ideas, and learn from several NVWP Teacher Consultants who would come and speak. In Writing Project fashion, we would experience the activities the same way our students would when we introduced the new writing lessons back in our classrooms. I knew that I was really going to like this class
Being in class with teachers from all grade levels and all subject areas was refreshing. The class offered something for everyone. Teachers ranged from a few who had participated in the NVWP Invitational Summer Institute and needed to be renewed and inspired, to teachers who wondered where to begin to teach writing and how to get students to write. We were teachers of English language learners, special education students, reluctant learners, and perfectionists. Together we compiled a list of questions, including these and many more:
- How do I get low-level writers to be enthusiastic about writing?
- How do we “improve” writing?
- How and when do I teach the writing process? Where do I start?
- How do you help writers through all the steps of the writing process for an extended piece of writing without consuming all the instructional time for an extended amount of time?
- How do I reach the needs of the struggling writer, especially in the special education setting?
Each week we completed writing to learn activities, discussed articles, and did hands-on activities presented by Northern Virginia Writing Project Teacher Consultants. I appreciated having time to read all of Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers and part of his newer book, Write Like This. After each weekly class, I incorporated at least one new idea into my lesson plans for the rest of the week. Sometimes it was something as simple as writing a quote about writing on the board and discussing it when students came to class. Other times, I tried a new teaching technique, as I did when I started focusing grammar instruction on what is right, rather than what is wrong.
By the end of the 15 classes, our group of teachers had found answers to all of our initial questions and more. Just the act of taking this class and spending three or more hours per week really concentrating on teaching writing had a very positive effect on my writing instruction. I realized that I had slipped away from a writing focus that I had used regularly in the past, and I made time for my students to write daily again.
My prediction that I would love the class was correct. To quote from my final portfolio: “I have appreciated so much about the class—the instructor and my classmates, the speakers, the numerous great ideas, and the opportunity to reflect on my own writing and my teaching of writing. Instead of taking time away from my planning and teaching (as classes sometimes do), this class strengthened my daily lessons and my long-term planning. I believe that I have been a better teacher this year because of this class. The best part is: I have a folder full of lesson ideas to carry me forward.”
–Diane Hughart, NVWP TC
To learn more about Academy courses through NVWP, visit our professional development page.