Amy Rasmussen – High School English teacher
How has the NSTWP experience impacted your teaching?
I’d been teaching three years when I attended my Summer Institute, and while I thought I was doing a pretty good job, I knew I needed help with writing instruction, and I knew that I needed to do better at getting my high school students reading. Attending an SI so early in my career was a blessing that helped me figure out the things I knew were lacking in my practice. Every day we read and wrote and shared. I’d never been a part of such a thoughtful learning community. Twelve teachers with different levels of experience, different teaching assignments, and different perspectives all focused on one thing: becoming better teachers. I learned the importance of allowing students choice when it comes to reading and writing instruction. I learned the value of giving students time to think, plan, research, and write. I practiced these things myself, and I grew as a writer–exactly what I want my students to do. Recently, a teacher hero asked: What is your teaching soul? Prior to my involvement with NSTWP, I had no answer other than I want my students to learn. Now, my teaching soul is clear: I want my students to trust me to help them be better thinkers, readers, writers, and citizens, and I build this trust through developing and fostering a classroom community that puts my students thoughts, feelings, and needs as the focal point.
What are your beliefs about writing?
Writing helps us figure out who we are. Good writing can help others figure out who they are. Since I’ve changed the way I see myself–no longer an English teacher, although that’s my title, but now a writing teacher who writes, I’ve become much better at teaching writing. I’ve always known the importance of helping my students figure out who they are as individuals, but with powerful writing instruction I can help them develop into accomplished writers who help others figure it out, too.
What is a book on writing or the teaching of writing that you would recommend and why?
The teaching book that’s made the biggest difference for me and my students is Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle. I confess, I rarely read this type of book cover to cover. Bits and pieces have always been useful, but I’ve read this one book a few times now–always noting new things to practice in my classroom. I especially like the idea of “studying the moves of one writer.” Finding writers like Rick Reilly and Leonard Pitts, Jr, who write engaging and thought-provoking columns that students like, has made a big difference in my AP Language class. In Write Beside Them, Kittle shows how to use the writing of columnists like this as mentor texts. Since I’ve done so, the voices of my students have been truer, and their styles have become more interesting.
Molly Adams – High School STEM teacher
How has the NSTWP experience impacted your teaching?
I am a better and more effective teacher because of NSTWP. It gave me colleagues and a community with whom I share ideas, lessons, practices, inquiry, and my own written work. It also provided me with a framework that not only teaches good writing and helps students blow away a standardized test, but it also provides me with so much more: students who are inspired and care about each other, a method for developing culture and community in my classroom grounded in creativity and trust, and a foundation for my own confidence to share with my fellow teachers, faculty, and administrators with passion about what works with writing. And Carol, Joan and Leslie are truly some of the greatest writers and most wonderful role models and mentors I could have ever dreamed of having. They continue to inspire me, right down to frayed handouts from ago when I was younger and had no idea what I was doing, and they took their time and gifts to teach me something new. NSTWP gave me a passion. I carry the fire now.
What are your beliefs about writing?
I am similar to Natalie Goldberg in a lot of ways on this issue. Please forgive subtle plagiarism!
- You have to keep the pencil moving.
- You can’t do it all on a computer – some of it needs to be felt in your hands.
- Revise, revise, revise. And when you think it’s perfect, read it out loud to someone else, and revise it again.
- Say more with less when you can.
- It has to come alive on the page, even if it’s boring, old research.
- “Go for the jugular.” (that is straight Goldberg – credit her) The truth is usually more interesting and better than any fiction.
- Writing rules can be a suggestion – play with them. Push the boundaries.
- Nothing is ever finished, and that is beautiful.
- Writing never judges you back. Give it everything you got.
- Writing will always be an escape, a counselor, a secret keeper, an entertainer, and a friend. It will never go out of style, fashion or culture.
- Good writing is what we stay alive for, why we read, how we speak, what our heart says.
- Words can change the world.
What is a book on writing or the teaching of writing that you would recommend and why?
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
What You Know By Heart by Katie Wood Ray
Notebook Know-How and Notebook Connections by Aimee Buckner
The Element by Sir Ken Robinson – not on writing but totally applicable
On Writing by Stephen King
How has NSTWP helped solve one or more problems in my own practice?
I believed it. I thought I really understood it. I hoped it would work. I tried some of it. I didn’t realize that this thing actually changes the world, one student and teacher at a time.
The summer institute got my ideas and inquiry burning. It prompted me to try to publish, after years of being too scared to ever let others read my work. That flame never went out. But until I took a leap of faith this year and actually put the whole of what I learned about using writing workshop into practice, I never knew just how big of a bonfire of creativity, inspiration, and change could occur in my classroom…. at every desk. I never knew how this could really impact test scores exponentially. I never knew how to really reach them and get them to love some level of writing for just what it was and could offer them.
I took some ideas from a culmination of NSTWP meetings and professional development and went back to my distant teachers the writing project introduced me to: Murray, Goldberg, Gallagher, Ray, Fletcher, Kittle. I created my own vehicle and invited my class to climb inside. We used Writing Down the Bones as a “bible” of sorts and we ran with her ideas, creating our own lists of “what we believe” about writing to live by in our classroom/test kitchen/writing community. We used excerpts of whom students liked best as distant teachers, and gave each other feedback about our choices. We wrote, revised, edited, read aloud, peer reviewed, wrote again, revised some more, and published in some way. We presented our ideas to each other; we listend to each other’s work. “We” means all of us, me included. I shared my writing. I sat in the chair. They did, too… even though it took 4 months to do so. And at the end of the year, when I invited them to publish in the next issue of English in Texas on “leading the way,” two of my strongest pupils who experienced the greatest changes on their journey of beliefs about writing and writers stepped up, wrote something amazing, and are being published. Me, too. All of us did the same thing: writing about writing. One wants to be an anthropologist. The other, an engineer. Both say now that writing holds a different place in their values, even if it is just for them, just because they enjoy writing.
That is what we are about: the NSTWP is a movement for change. Change in beliefs about what writing can be. Change in beliefs about what writing can do. Change in the hearts of students (and teachers) who didn’t realize the something they could not resist to do, a journey on which they did not even realize they could evolve.
So yeah, once I believe. Once I thought, hoped and tried. But now I know. I have felt and been victorious, and the sense of confidence and victory on their faces was worth every mile I drove and every second of personal time I sacrificed to be part of NSTWP. It gave me something I could give away.
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Elliot
Laura Slay – Middle School ELA teacher
Before attending the North Star Invitational Summer Institute, I had attended various workshops aimed at developing teachers as reading and writing instructors, where I usually left excited about teaching and armed with a few great ideas and activities to implement quickly in the classroom. But somehow, implementing a writing workshop in my classroom didn’t seem to flow quite as easily as the theory I had heard about in my classes. I needed to know how to sustain a writer’s workshop throughout the year, in spite of “administrivia”, apathy, and assessments.
My experience in the Summer Institute (SI) transformed both my teaching practice and my attitude about literacy and learning. I needed to become the student to understand how to become a better teacher. In the SI, I worked alongside other teachers and mentors, writing and sharing every day, investigating my own inquiries, and finally publishing work designed to teach other teachers. I learned about collaboration and feedback processes by working in a small writing response group. I learned that writing is often messy and sometimes makes the writer feel vulnerable. I learned that although writer’s often write alone, good writing is best accomplished in a community atmosphere.
North Star of Texas Writing Project has become my community. It sustains me through the hard parts, and reinforces my work as a researcher and a teacher who never has enough answers to all her queries. North Star has become my teaching home.
Christal Bloomer – Alternative High School teacher
2010 – 2011 was my third year as a teacher. At the time, I taught four core subjects in a self contained classroom, plus two electives. My students were emotionally disturbed, and would only be with me for about thirty five days (my school is a DAEP). The majority of them had been ingrained with low expectations for years, and were behind on grade level and used to doing the simplest possible work for the shortest amount of time.
Despite that, I found that I was able to engage my students in quality work and get them to take risks they weren’t willing to take before in each subject, in each context except one: writing. Each and every time I gave an assignment that required writing, be it a one paragraph warm up or a response to something we read, students would either write one sentence, two sentences, or no sentences. I was dumbfounded as to why. I sought help through fellow teachers and inservice programs, yet the problem persisted.
Through a series of happy accidents, I joined NSTWP Summer Institute in June 2011. For one month, I received support, instruction, and guidance unlike any I’d had before, or since. I discovered what was lacking in my classroom not because someone told me, but because I was shown research based authors and mentors who had struggles like my own. Through them, and through the atmosphere set by NSTWP, I was able to develop solutions that work for my situation, and felt inspired to keep growing and learning.
Anytime an opportunity arrives, I encourage colleagues to attend NSTWP professional development sessions. The support and instruction they give is an oasis for teachers who feel stranded on an island of questions. The beauty is that they don’t give you a boat and paddle, they help you notice the tools at your disposal to create your own.
Juanita Ramirez Robertson – Elementary Bilingual coach and teacher
My experience with NSTWP… can I just say WOW! I had never considered myself a strong writer until last summer when a friend encouraged me to join a summer institute. This experience not only confirmed what I thought about writing, it changed the way I view writing and how I work with students. You often hear people say “Model what you expect” and this experience with NSTWP has taken my teaching to a new level. Every day I get the opportunity to write alongside my students as developing writers and have many opportunities to write with colleagues who are passionate about writing. Every day is a new experience to share, to teach, but most of all to learn from fellow writers of all ages and abilities. Through my involvement with NSTWP I have also received the opportunity to grow as a leader in literacy with a community of supportive colleagues in a nurturing environment. I hope to reciprocate what I have learned through NSTWP with my students and fellow educators.
NWP and Ducks by Sandrella Bush
Imagine the DAWN dish washer liquid in the commercial with the ducks that are consumed by oil from a spill. These ducks are covered by a potentially lethal substance but somehow DAWN comes in and, after a few washes, helps them to be clean and go back into the ocean. Entering the teaching profession can be quite harmful: long days, low pay, and very little authentic help to the forward movement of teaching and writing. Fortunately, NWP came in very early in my teaching career and saved my perspective on teaching. I was always a creative writer but I didn’t have the ability to transfer that to my students. Then, my then partner in crime recommended me for the writing institute. Those four weeks opened my eyes to how writing could be authentic and relevant to what I was doing. For example, poetry is an easy subject but hard for students to understand beyond just a simile and Robert Frost. After collaborating with the Summer Institute partners, I was able to challenge what I considered to be right and wrong AND create a poetry lesson that brought in Robert Frost and Tupac. “Hard core” thugs in my class create lyric poetry that can make me cry. It also ended with an awesome poetry slam where students were able to display their talents and their thoughts and beliefs. I accredit National Writing Project for giving me the opportunity to step outside the teaching box and become an octagon.
Amanda Goss – High School teacher
At my campus, I am often assigned to work with underrepresented students that have not passed state exams. I want my students to pass the test, but I need them to leave my classroom as readers and writers prepared for the literacy demands of their future. My participation with the North Star of Texas Writing Project has allowed me authentic learning experiences as we inquire about effective literacy instruction for adolescents. As I learn through asking questions, reading widely, synthesizing in writing, and sharing with a supportive community, I have a model for what I want to happen in my classroom. Through writer’s notebooks, mentor texts, discussions, and conferences I invite students to participate in projects and units that not only help students prepare for state exams but also allow them to surpass identities as “failures” and embrace identities as readers and writes with something valuable to share with the world.
Carol Revelle, UNT Teacher Education teacher
I came to the North Star of Texas Writing Project (NSTWP) after a particularly hard year teaching writing. Assigned 180 students I was worn out and discouraged by the burden of responsibility I felt for the success of my students that would hardly lift a pen if a grade wasn’t being assigned. Participating in NSTWP helped me reflect on my practices to better understand the classroom dynamics that were a barrier to both my students’ and my success. I finished the summer institute rejuvenated and ready to take a new approach in my English classes. I started the next year with a strong focus on community and built better relationships with my students before engaging them in authentic writing tasks that they shared in a safe and encouraging environment. I soon found my students were not only engaged in their writing assignments, but they also started supporting their peers in a classroom environment that was warm and welcoming. Our classroom was a place that students worked for real purposes and audiences. At the end of the year, I was astonished when several of my students shared their writing portfolios with me. They needed me to see that they had made tremendous progress with their writing and they were proud. Several students were published in the school poetry anthology and others signed up for creative writing and journalism after they discovered hidden writing talents and the joy of written expression.
Leslie Patterson, Co-Director, NSTWP
In North Star of Texas Writing Project, I see teachers asking important questions and looking for answers together. Not only do they search for answers, but they bring those answers to life as they take action in their classrooms and communities. Some North Stars are trying to figure out how to best support their English learners in challenging academic tasks. Another has an article coming out about collaborating with a math teacher colleague about using whole-group discussions as a teaching tool. Another one is leading a study group with their faculty colleagues. Others are leading summer writing camps for 9th and 10th graders. Another one has published two books this year–one children’s book and one a memoir about her family. It’s all about asking important questions, searching for answers, and then putting what we learn to work in our classrooms and beyond. Oh, yes. And we also write.
Janelle Bence – High School Project-Based Learning teacher
The North Star of Texas Writing Project has transformed my practice by:
- Increasing my capacity as a professional development creator and facilitator. I was fortunate to serve as one of the facilitators of a 5-day Writing Institute with Dallas ISD teachers. The connections made with other educators were both reaffirming and empowering. To see the number of educators committed to doing what’s best for our students in terms of literacy instruction refocused us as a site. It allowed us to walk into an urban district in dire need of teaching rejuvenation, and secondary teachers left with a sense of hope, revitalization, and most importantly, they understood the importance of being writers. It left me with a renewed sense of urgency to share the strategies and ideas of NWP with others educators.
- Inspiring my belief in educators to take the lead in advocating for the continued improvement of our craft. The ability for NWP and NSTWP to ignite a sense of agency in educators is amazing. This reminds us of the why and the purpose of literacy skills. We must continue to develop strong literacy skills in our learners to make a positive impact in the world. These skills are necessary in making any change, and NSTWP has not only reminded me of the importance of this, it has also fostered a sense of responsibility to give back to the profession through advocacy.
Marla Robertson – University professor and previous elementary teacher
My experience with North Star of Texas Writing project reaffirmed my beliefs about writing and writing instruction. I had moved to Texas from Utah and was struggling as a teacher with finding likeminded colleagues who believe in the importance of authentic, relevant writing instruction. The summer institute and my continued association with NSTWP has provided me with practical classroom applications, opportunities to present about writing instruction at local and national conferences, and chances to collaborate with passionate writing teachers from many diverse contexts – teachers of various grade levels, teachers who are passionate about technology and its applications in the classroom, teachers from rural, suburban and urban school districts. I have been provided many opportunities to develop teaching skills as well as leadership skills. The support of my NSTWP colleagues gives me confidence to practice my beliefs about writing instruction and to always “stand in inquiry” about my teaching practice. I feel rejuvenated and ready to continue to learn and grow as a teacher educator because of my association with these inspiring educators.
Why NSTWP was and is important to TC’s?
By cultivating the parts of my academic self that I was passionate about (reading young adult literature, teaching writing, writing for pleasure), I remembered the importance of time, choice, and authenticity for all learners. ~ Audrey Wilson-Youngblood
I learned that great teachers do not grow in isolation. We only grow by being connected to other teachers. Before my summer institute, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to when I had concerns or issues in my classroom. I would seek for answers on my own and had some success in that, but when I was able to undertake the inquiry process surrrounded by a supportive community of professionals then I was really able to find what I needed to become a teacher who can create powerful writers. – Joanna Damron Bromfield
I needed to grow, but traditional models of professional development exhausted rather than empowered me. ~ Jennifer Isgitt
For one week, we met with writers from middle and high school (and two elementary students), exploring all the facets of the writing process, diving into their collective imagination and swimming out to individual waters. – Christal Bloomer
NSTWP deeply respects teachers as professionals, as writers, and as leaders. In our work, we invite and support teachers and administrators to build their leadership capacity for supporting student learning in the classroom, campus, district, and beyond. We like to collaborate with districts and campuses to meet local needs.–Leslie Patterson
The support of my NSTWP colleagues gives me confidence to practice my beliefs about writing instruction and to always “stand in inquiry” about my teaching practice. I feel rejuvenated and ready to continue to learn and grow as a teacher educator because of my association with these inspiring educators. –Unknown
Perhaps supporting your students’ writing in all of its “ishness” will allow them to experience the joy that comes from writing! — Carol Wickstrom
In the end, writing is about finding one’s voice and then figuring out how to use it to communicate ideas in the multiple literacies available to writers today. — Laura Slay