National Writing Project inspires area teachers, impacts students
Thirty-seven local school teachers converged upon UWF’s Pensacola campus June 10-27 to participate in the fifth annual UWF Emerald Coast National Writing Project, a professional development opportunity for teachers.
The National Writing Project is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities, serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. One of only four locations in the state of Florida, UWF was established as a National Writing Project Site in 2015.
Area K-12 teachers joined a group of 167 NWP teacher consultants and shared part of their summer bouncing writing strategies off other teachers in their schools and districts. One teacher, Susie Forrester, attended the program this year for the third year. Known as Mrs. Forrester to her eighth grade students at Ferry Pass Middle School, she learned of the program three years ago from another veteran teacher at her school.
“I was an editor for newspapers before I began teaching so I always knew what good, clean writing was,” Forrester said. “But I was looking for ways to promote more interest in writing among my students. Making writing interesting to eighth graders can be a hurdle, but this program helps writing be more accessible for any student. Sometimes it just starts with a list of ideas or facts.”
Forrester said she has introduced her students to writing strategies such as decalogues, a list of 10 items, and simple haikus. After attending this year’s program, she plans to incorporate using couplets as a vehicle to provide answers to questions in the same beat or rhyme scheme, an idea from one of the training sessions this summer, among others.
“These practices show students the beauty of words, how each word is important, each word contributes,” Forrester said.
NWP has a strong presence in her classroom.
“This program targets students who look at a blank sheet and panic; or the really advanced students who always start their essay the same way,” Forrester said. “It has helped me to help them not be afraid of writing—as well as to take chances.”
Forrester has learned that different writing formats can help students who struggle with organizing their thoughts before writing. She uses thinking maps as assessments at the beginning or end of writing assignments and finds the ‘I am’ poem structure to help students understand different perspectives after reading a class-assigned book.
“This format helped students focus and they did really well,” Forrester said. “When students could step inside the persona of characters in a book, they read and write from their others’ perspectives, they really excelled.”
This year’s guest speakers included award-winning authors Matt de la Peña, Jeff Zentner, Kimberly Willis Holt, Dr. Rose Brock, Carol Jago and Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall.
Dr. Susan Densmore-James, associate professor in the College of Education and Professional Studies and director of the project, brought the program to UWF. She said it’s the single most fulfilling venture of her career.
“Sharing my love of writing and reading and then seeing the teachers implement what they learn during the institute is like watching magic in the classroom,” James said. “This three-week institute ignites passion in the teachers, which spreads like wildfire throughout their classrooms.”
For more information about the UWF Emerald Coast Writing Project, visit uwf.edu/ecwp.