Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing Institute helps teachers – and students, too!

Forty elementary and secondary Spring Branch ISD teachers spent three weeks in June learning how to be better writing instructors as part of a unique, professional development workshop that included a companion writing camp for students.

SBISD teachers who attended the three-week Abydos Institute, formerly known as the New Jersey Writing Project in Texas, focused on writing, reading and literacy. The institute was held from June 9-27 at Treasure Forest Elementary School, 7635 Amelia Road.

Nearby, many of the teacher’ sons and daughters worked on their own writing and literacy skills during the Camp Karl Kolbe Workshop, which was conducted at the elementary school concurrent to the teacher writing sessions.

Camp Karl Kolbe was named after an early Spring Branch founder. The Kolbes were one of the area’s original farming families.

The combined children’s camp and teacher writing workshop followed a series of discussions on literacy and professional development. Patti Pace, district Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, and Diane Fanning, the district’s Lead I-Coach for Elementary Language Arts and Social Studies, helped organize and then run the workshop and camp. Literacy Instructional Specialist Alana Morris led the workshop for teachers.

High school volunteers and teachers helped Fanning run the summer program on writing and reading for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. In all, about 100 elementary school and educators’ children attended Camp Kolbe.

The free childcare option boosted teacher enrollments for the summer institute by more than fourfold over previous years, organizers said.

Teachers enrolled in the Abydos three-week institute for educators were ecstatic about what they learned and how happy their children were in the writing camp held in the school library and in several nearby classrooms.

“My youngest daughter, who didn’t like to write, in just three days has not only written an article, but now sees herself as a writer and is begging to stay here all summer,” said Michelle Grant-Arastu, a Memorial Middle School teacher and a former SBISD Teacher of the Year.

“I am truly honored to work in a district where they respect me enough to give back in a most important way to me – through my [own] kids and Camp Kolbe,” she also said.

Carol Salva, a Bilingual Dept. teacher on special assignment who is also a former SBISD Teacher of the Year, had similar praise for the joint programs. While Carol attended Abydos sessions, her two children, Angelica and Nicholas, took part in camp activities. Her oldest, Tony, a seventh-grader, was a junior counselor.

“My own kids love the camp. They talk about it nonstop on the way home, and not just the fun crafts and games they do. They are super proud of their writing. That is what they talk about most. And my son is a reluctant writer!” Carol said.

For teachers, the Abydos/NJWPT sessions offer a high quality program in writing, reading and literacy. Writing theory and pedagogy, or the art and science involved in teaching writing, are essential foundations of the well-known institute.

Teachers write for up to an hour or more daily, resulting in the publication of their own reflexive essays or narratives. Research-based topics included prewriting strategies, genre, grammar and punctuation, reading/writing connections, time management and brain theory, to name just a few.

During the institute, teachers worked in small groups when not writing on their own. “I like the atmosphere created in this room – collaborative, professional and inquisitive,” Michelle Grant-Arastu said.

“This class is highly engaging because I feel like I am learning, and it is worth my time,” she added. “My students will benefit from my time spent here. Most importantly, this course and its presenters coincide with my beliefs about what constitutes great writing instruction – real writing that prepares kids for ‘the test,’ but, most importantly, for college and beyond.”

Writing – even for adult teachers employed in the field – can be difficult work.

“Teachers will go through the experience of remembering what the process of putting words on a blank piece of paper looks and feels like. . . . And it can be emotional. We help many teachers find their own writing voice, which in turn helps our students find their own writing voice,” district Specialist Alana Morris reports.

Several newly hired teachers praised their June learning sessions, too.

 “I knew that the intensity would be high, and that writing for an hour a day was anxiety making for me,” said Jennifer Mireles, who will teach fourth-grade science at Pine Shadows Elementary this fall.

“But when we talked about what we wrote, and our fears about writing, it set me at ease. By the second day, I felt like I could write about anything. I believe that just by having [my students] write, and then having them go back over their writings, I will see fourth-grade students say, ‘Hey, I can write. I can do it.’”

Today’s students are encouraged to read and to write deeply in technical areas like science, which will be included in state and national assessments.

Patricia Mendez will teach third graders in the One-Way Dual Language Arts and Social Studies programs at Cedar Brook Elementary School this fall. It will be her first full year of teaching, and she feels confident as a writing instructor.

“I feel very prepared with hands-on activities and strategies through this program,” she said. “I’m a better writer today. The Abydos Institute taught us how to write with meaning. So often, we don’t know the questions to ask in order to communicate properly through our writing.”

Her published writing focused on personal issues dear to her own heart, including domestic violence and abusive relationships. Abydos-trained teachers publish one or more works in the anthologies that are given to participants, principals and area school libraries.  

“It was three weeks, but I would love to do it again. It’s that good!” Patricia adds.
Her two daughters attended the children’s camp, and she believes that it changed them, too. “They are more open to communicating what they feel now, I think.”

Separately, Diane Fanning and other district specialists have created a summertime children’s newsletter called Branching Out, which is being mailed out to students enrolled at several elementary schools as part of a separate literacy outreach effort.


Post a Comment

Do you have feedback? Tell us.