National Writing Project Continues to Inspire Pensacola-Area Teachers

Pensacola — Twenty-five teachers from Santa Rosa County and 25 teachers from Escambia County recently participated in the National Writing Project Invitational Institute at the University of West Florida.

The three-week program is designed to highlight writing activities that educators can use with students throughout the school year.

“It’s a passion of mine to give students the tools that they need,” said Ordeane Lamar, who teaches fifth grade at Brentwood Elementary School in Escambia County. “I want to be a better teacher of writing so that I can teach students the importance of their own words.”

This is the third summer in a row that the University of West Florida has been an official National Writing Project site.

“Not only are teachers provided with engaging writing instruction that is relevant to today’s world, but they also spend much time writing themselves,” said Dr. Susan James, an assistant professor of teacher education and educational leadership in UWF’s College of Education and Professional Studies.

James is the director of the UWF National Writing Project.

“It is critical for teachers to feel comfortable with their own writing, as students need their teachers to be models of good writing,” James said. “Teachers have a strong need for this type of intense training and knowledge of creating a community of writers.”

Many of the teachers who attended the National Writing Project seminar in past summers return to instruct.

“I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s session, and you couldn’t keep me from coming back,” said Susie Forrester, who teaches eighth grade at Ferry Pass Middle School in Escambia County. “Some of the practices and strategies I put into play in my classroom include quick reflection and haiku. I want to show kids that writing is fun so it will take some of the fear and worry out of having to write for grades.”

During the 80-plus hours of professional development that is the National Writing Project, teachers, who work in elementary, middle and high schools in the Pensacola area, discussed and practiced using everything from prepositional phrases to poetry based on the five senses.

“We want to engender a love of writing in reluctant writers and help all students realize the value of writing,” James said.

At the same time that teachers are trying to learn new methods to inspire students to be good readers and writers, they also spend time at the National Writing Project seminar figuring out how to cover G.U.M.S. in writing lessons. That stands for “grammar, usage, mechanics and spelling.”

“Our teachers are fully aware of the mounting rigors of literacy in the 21st century, and many of them look for ways to best prepare students,” James said. “Creating a community of educators that can rely on each other for support and ideas is a main thrust.”

Lori Ziegler, who teaches sixth grade at Holly Navarre Elementary School in Santa Rosa County, was thrilled with the concepts she learned during the National Writing Project this summer.

“So many of our students have a fear of making mistakes,” Ziegler said. “I want them to throw everything down on paper and learn that writing is a messy process and there isn’t one right way to do it. Being around teachers with similar ideas makes me excited to go back to my classroom and try new things.”