Denver Writing Project News
Hello Denver Writing Project Friends:
As Nicole said in the last issue, I am transitioning from the Denver Writing Project Leadership Team to Co-Director, alongside Rich Argys and all of you. I could not be more excited. The opportunity to lead an organization I love so deeply comes once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. I am certainly very fortunate to have worked so closely with the Denver Writing Project (DWP) over the last six years and look forward to continuing to deepen that work. I accepted the offer to lead our beloved DWP site immediately with great enthusiasm, incredible honor, and fairly intense trepidation. I said yes, though, for many of the same reasons Nicole did.
I am empowered by the belief in me that the nomination displays, and my trepidation softens every time I remember that belief. My confidence has slowly grown since attending the new directors’ retreat at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting this November, attending new directors’ conference calls, and through the steady and patient mentorship of Nicole, Rich, and Cathy Casper.
I am humbled and inspired by all of the amazing work that happens at our site. I have told many people that being asked to lead the DWP is like being given keys to a Ferrari. I just have to keep it on the road. You are all amazing teachers, writers, and people. My job is to continue to facilitate, empower, and support the incredibly important work you do.
I am certain of the significance and impact our site and our national network have. Having attended three NWP Annual Meetings, I have repeatedly seen the impact our organization has nationally and internationally demonstrated through student work and impact data. The many conversations I have had with teachers in Colorado who have attended various forms of DWP programming all indicate what we already know. Students who come in contact with DWP or NWP tend to be better writers. Teachers who have experiences with DWP or NWP tend to be better teachers, writers, and leaders.
I belong to a local community and national network that makes me a better teacher, writer, and person. As director, I will continue to nurture this community by facilitating a healthy and beneficial relationship with NWP and the University of Colorado Denver. My abilities as a teacher of writing have widely expanded since attending the Invitational Summer Institute in 2011 and subsequently joining the leadership team in planning and facilitating continuity events and the Advanced Institute. My confidence as a writer and my love for the craft have also grown exponentially. I am a fifth generation educator, and the literacy experts, administrators, and writers in the generation before me all believe deeply in the writing project mission. Incidentally, many of the generation following me have teachers who have writing project experience. I am proud to serve an organization that has given so much.
I am committed to continuing the amazing work our site produces and to exploring, thoughtfully, other opportunities for advancing writing pedagogy and teacher leadership through the DWP. In fact, the work already begun by Sarah Woodard, Molly Robbins, Jennifer Henderson, and many others regarding the NWP’s College and Career- Ready Writers Program has already seen impressive results and has opened the door for other opportunities for our site’s teachers and students.
I am here for you. I am very relational. I am a good communicator and am fiercely loyal. I am honored to bring what Nicole calls “humble leadership” to such a valuable organization.
We have some exciting offerings for you coming up this summer, including the Advanced Institute, the Technology Institute, and the Young Writers’ Camps at Auraria and CU South Campuses. Learn more at our website at http://www.denverwritingproject.org.
DWP participated in judging the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards this year. Two participants reflect on the experience below.
"Sometimes it’s Ok to Judge"
By Rich Argys
Hey, Rich, DWP has been invited to participate in judging Scholastic’s student writing contest in January. What do you think?
I don’t know, Nicole. It’s a flattering invitation and certainly tempting, but I’m a little worried. All the teachers I know are swamped reading their own students’ writing, and January is a tough month: back to school from Winter Break, start of spring semester. It’s cold and dark outside most of the time…
Fortunately, Denver Writing Project’s (DWP) Director Nicole Piasecki understands my cautious tendencies well enough now to disregard most of them, and so began our inaugural foray into the world of adjudicating young writers’ work as part of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
The National Writing Project has long partnered with Scholastic in promoting this annual contest and Scholastic’s annual anthology of student writing. So our site had plenty of help available through NWP’s network as needed. Scholastic provided training webinars and fast responses to our email inquiries, all of which made my job of navigating our Teacher Consultants (TCs) through the judging process much easier. Cathy Walker-Gilman stepped up to help me as well, because as a judge herself with access to Scholastic’s writing contest website, she was able to clarify some issues for other judges. (As DWP’s coordinator for this effort, I was tasked with problem solving and answering questions, but since I wasn’t a judge, I had no access myself to the website.) So Cathy helped a great deal, as did others who were prompt and helpful in answering my questions.
The most interesting aspect of this process for me is the overwhelmingly positive things our TCs had to say about students’ writing. Most were impressed by the high quality of narration, dialogue, and character development students were capable of. Michael Hoffman reflected:
This [experience] has validated my practice since my students already construct portfolios that showcase a wide range of writings. But it exposed me to other students' writings and gave me a chance to see the different categories that Scholastic included, so there are more writing modes that I would like to include in the portfolios that students already submit in the courses I teach.
This was one of the more eye-opening learning experiences I've been a part of it.
I found Judge Grace Poll’s comment particularly illuminating:
One submission that was really impressive was a memoir about someone's Korean grandmother and her cooking. Its style and content reminded me a lot of Like Water for Chocolate. It had repetitive phrase patterns, cultural insights, and came full circle at the end.
And Blaine Miller speaks directly to those of us familiar with some of the challenges of teaching writing:
It was refreshing to read engaged pieces written by students who cared about the written word. …it is easy to get discouraged over the year if you allow yourself to only see within your own classroom walls. It is good to look at other students and see what they are doing in school.
From my perspective as DWP’s Coordinator and Scholastic Liaison for this endeavor, the reflections and feedback that I have received indicate the experience was positive, instructive, and inspiring for all who participated. I would recommend that DWP participate again if offered the opportunity--even if it’s cold and dark outside.
"Learning About Writing Through Student Work: What I took away as a juror for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards"
By Hayley Schneider
As we all know, students often have a lot to say. Their imaginations and emotions run raw and wild. This passionate abandon became immediately evident while grading submissions for the Scholastic Writing Competition.
When I was co-teaching as the special education teacher in a literacy classroom, my experience grading students’ writing tended to fall around basic proficiency and development of ideas in a cohesive manner. Most of my students needed serious grammar and sentence structure support for their ideas to come through. Don’t misunderstand- - my students and their ideas were amazing. However, it took a lot of effort to understand what they intended to convey in their written works.
My experience as a juror for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards was vastly different. I found that the majority of students submitting work to this competition were extremely proficient with the mechanics of writing. They were also intensely creative. These students took me through alternative worlds, parallel universes, the Holocaust, and the Salem witch trials. Personal experiences with anorexia, mental illness, immigration struggles, and poverty also emerged from their work. Their creativity and vulnerability was inspiring. These students took risks and experimented with their writing, and for the most part, it really paid off in eloquent and provocative prose.
Writing seems to have offered many of these teens a place to be safe and explore the familiar and unknown. They were able to unburden themselves of their struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, abuse, and neglect. They created worlds where terrorism was the rule, not the exception. These students grappled with concepts in a way that was appropriate and just. In a sense, they reported on their everyday lives, what they face, and what they see and do through their writing. Apparently a bully is a bully after all, no matter if you live on planet Earth or planet Caprica.
One piece in particular gripped my attention: I had to reread it to make sure I picked up on all its nuances. The author effectively used suspense, character development, a pivotal turning point, a quick resolution, and intense symmetry and symbolism to weave a sophisticated story. I’m pretty sure it will turn into a script for a science-fiction thriller in the future. It might be the best piece of student writing I’ve ever read, and it was written by a 7th or 8th grader. Mind-blowing stuff here.
One thread I noticed throughout the work was the attention these students gave to character development. Almost all of the pieces exposed truly robust characters, often in very short pieces. These students’ artistry is miraculous. Character development was something I struggled with as an adult writer when participating in the DW P’s Invitational Summer Institute. Let me tell you: I learned a lot about writing from these lads and lassies.
They experimented with vocabulary, similes, metaphors, and imagery. These students were working to find their voices as writers and managed to do it while engaging their readers with remarkable stories. The evocative imagery of one piece was astonishing. I felt like I was reading Hemingway; this particular student’s description of a river was breathtaking. While it wasn’t the most developed story I read, the imagery was absolutely stunning.
I left the experience feeling privileged to have read such a vast array of awesome writing. It inspired me to revisit some of my own pieces with regard to character development and creativity. When I return to the classroom, I want my students to have the time and space to become inspired by an idea and run with it.
These students weren’t afraid to be creative. They weren’t afraid to share their personal stories. They wrote these pieces because they had teachers who created safe places for them to not only write but to experiment with their writing. I know many of our students have just as much to say as the students who entered the writing competition, but they don’t always share these stories on paper. I want to create that safe and creative space for my students to disappear into their written work as these students did. I left this experience feeling energized and eager to dig in.
By Miranda Egger
I expected something wild when I landed in D.C. We were there on the day set aside for a House vote on American Health Care Act (AHCA). I imagined weaving through crowds of protestors, angry Americans screaming with their fists held high at the injustice of a new administration intent on dismantling any move made by the previous administration. I may have been projecting. There were protestors, to be sure, but most were like us-- people visiting the Hill with carefully planned rhetorical ammunition. The Senators and Representatives were noticeably more overworked than usual -- taking one call after another and responding with, “I’ll be sure to pass your concerns along to the senator, sir” or “I can understand your concern, ma’am, I am an aide for Representative DeGette, and I’ll be sure she hears your message.” That AHCA vote never happened, but the buzz of energy around the vote threatened to dominate every conversation.
So before we could get these Colorado legislators to continue the fight for a chance to compete for federal funding for meaningful literacy professional development, we had to find a way to bring the topic of education back to the table. The challenge involved encouraging one staffer to tell us stories of his football glory at Mullen to help warm him up and slow him down long enough to hear our message. With Senator Bennet, Sarah’s long-time service to Denver Public Schools (DPS) attracted attention. A letter addressed directly to each legislator from one of Molly’s students, detailing how the arts saved his life, impressed them all and helped focus their attention. We had data too because numbers never fail to impress. Our data show how successful the College-Ready Writers Program (CRWP) has been, and we were sure to open the report to the page that best illustrates how high-quality CRWP professional development has led to student writing scores that were significantly higher on every attribute measured: content, structure, stance, and conventions.
I’d call the visits a success overall. We managed, again, to get DeGette to sign our Dear Colleague letter. Representative Polis thanked us for providing additional data to help fight for the Education, Innovation and Research Program funding (which directly funds CRWP). Senator Gardner’s office was gracious and promised to put the issue before the Senator himself (that’s progress, believe it or not), and Senator Bennet shook our hands and thanked us for enacting the legislation that he’s argued matters so deeply.
If you’re so inclined, feel free to call our Colorado legislators, and thank them for their support or encourage them to carefully consider how important competitive federal funding for professional development matters as they consider their FY 2018 budget priorities (specifically, funding is made possible by Title II-B of ESSA).
Your US Senate contact information:
Senator Bennet 202-224-5852
Senator Gardner 202-224-5941
Your US House contact information:
- District 1: Rep: Diana DeGette | 202-225-4431 | Education Staff: Thomas Woodburn | Staff Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- District 2: Rep: Jared Polis | 202-225-2161 | Education Staff: Bo Morris | Staff Email: email@example.com
- District 3: Rep: Scott R. Tipton | 202-225-4761 | Education Staff: Christian Jorgenson | Staff Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- District 4: Rep: Ken Buck | 202-225-4676 | Education Staff: James Hampson | Staff Email: email@example.com
- District 5: Rep: Doug Lamborn | 202-225-4422 | Education Staff: Brandon Miller | Staff Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- District 6: Rep: Michael Coffman | 202-225-7882 | Education Staff: Steve Linton-Smith | Staff Email: email@example.com
- District 7: Rep: Ed Perlmutter | 202-225-2645 | Education Staff: Christina Winship | Staff Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Alice Smith
On Saturday, February 25th, 30 teachers from more than five different school districts in the Metro area gathered together at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for an all-day writing marathon.
Participants began at 8:30 AM in a classroom attached to the Space Exhibit. For writing into the day, they used the spark word "exploration" and spent 10 minutes accessing memories and expanding upon that idea. There was a short amount of time for sharing in small groups, and then teachers spent the rest of the day exploring different exhibits and writing in unique and interesting spaces throughout the museum.
Though they were supplied with a variety of optional write-to-learn prompts, many teachers chose to write from observations they made: kids playing on a giant lady bug, a group of toddlers digging for fossils, a young couple taking their blood pressure in the health exhibit.
Andrea Duran from Sky Vista Middle School spent part of her day writing about the polar bear pictured above from the Wildlife Exhibit.
"This fellow was poised to embark on an adventure, just like the writers who found inspiration in every nook and cranny of the museum," wrote Duran.
This event was a success largely due to some of DWP's partnerships with other local organizations. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science provided the classroom space and waived the entrance fee for our participants. Also the Colorado Language Arts Society partnered with us to plan and cross-promote the event. Hopefully, we can continue to foster these relationships and partner together more in the future.
Teachers from all contents and grade levels enjoyed spending the day writing through the museum. When we reconvened at 1:45 PM, it was easy to spend the remainder of our time together sharing writing and reflecting on the experience. Dr. Meredith Collins, an 8th grade language arts teacher noted, "There's nothing greater than being able to come together with other writers and spend the day writing, reflecting, and sharing. What a wonderful experience! I look forward to the next one."
The 2017 Invitational Summer Institute will take place June 12 – June 30, 2017 on the Auraria Campus.
For three weeks in June, roughly 15 institute teachers gather on the Auraria Campus to learn proven methods for teaching writing; to study research, theory, and pedagogy for teaching writing; and to work on their own self-designed writing projects. Regular activities include interaction with guest writers who are published authors, demonstrations of teaching best practices (by teacher participants), discussion of common texts, and time to focus on their own writing and work with a writing group.
Institute fellows will complete two or three pieces of self-sponsored writing (memoir, poetry, teaching statement, short story, digital story, This I Believe, etc.). One of the pieces should relate to the teaching profession.
For more information on the program, visit DWP’s website: http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CLAS/Centers/denverwritingproject/Pages/Summer- Institute.aspx
By Jessica Keigan
This summer, the DWP is excited to offer its annual Advanced Institute. This weeklong program is geared towards fellows of the Denver Writing Project or teachers who are hoping to hone their skills as professional leaders and writers.
Each summer, the Advanced Institute focuses on a particular genre of writing. In 2016, participants practiced writing scenes and adding sensory or dramatic details to their writing. This summer, participants will explore the genre of literary nonfiction. As a key component of the K-12 literacy standards in Colorado, this particular genre is broad and encompasses a variety of styles, such as travel writing, personal narratives, narrative essays, memoir, commentary, and critique. Over the course of our week together, we will hear from professional writers and teacher leaders who will provide insight into crafting these kinds of pieces, as well as techniques for teaching students how to write and publish their own work.
Each day of the Advanced Institute is scheduled such that participants will spend time in the morning participating in interactive demonstrations that allow them to collaborate with peers around different topics. The afternoons offer ample time to enjoy being on the beautiful Auraria Campus while spending time writing, reading our shared professional text, and meeting with small writing groups. As is our tradition, we will end the week by exploring downtown Denver through the eyes of a writer by engaging in a writing marathon and celebratory luncheon.
Registration is now open for this invigorating week of professional growth. All alumni of the Denver Writing Project Summer Institute are welcome to join us in addition to teacher leaders who have (or plan to) lead professional development workshops in your school or district or teachers who have engaged in a life of writing outside of their classrooms through the regular production of and/or publication of writing.
If you have further questions about this opportunity, feel free to contact the DWP Director, Kyle Crawford (email@example.com) or Advanced Institute Facilitators, Alice Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Jessica Keigan (email@example.com).
By Shelly Ballinger
I still remember being in a pickup headed back from our National Reading Initiative’s snowshoe hike listening to Nicole Piasecki and Jason Shiroff talk about this new institute that they were going to call “Tech Matters.”
I joined DWP’s Technology Team the fall after my 2007 Summer Institute (SI). Jason and Nicole had been my site work mentors from the beginning. As a new teacher, I was continually awed by their ability to envision, organize, and implement learning opportunities that empowered teachers and students through technology. When I first joined the technology team, we focused on teaching teachers how to use specific platforms, like Wiki or VoiceThread. For Tech Matters Institute, we combined that focus with the intention to create a supportive hands-on environment for taking risks and developing new skills.
As Jason, Kevin Brooks, and I worked together on building a plan for our first Tech Matters Institute for the summer of 2010, we said things to each other like, “Well, what if they don’t use email?” That was a realistic concern. We held the first Tech Matters Institute at Jason’s school to ensure we’d be able to offer computers to everyone.
Over the years, Tech Matters evolved with the technology. Being the experts on specific platforms made less and less sense. In part because there were so many options, all of which may or may not be approved by a particular district, but also because we had a wealth of other experts in the room. Tech Matters became more collaborative. Joe Dillon and Molly Robbins, though committed to other site work, contributed unconferencing and Edchats to our structure.
After the 2014 Tech Matters Institute, Jason announced he was taking a break from DWP leadership and leaving the technology team. Though I’m happy to be heading the team now, I miss his professionalism, optimism, and thoughtfulness more. Molly and I were blessed to have Audra Binney join us. She has been a key leader in envisioning and organizing our work.
Last year began as the most unstructured Tech Matters Institute. We’d even moved into using an “untext book,” a collection of links that evolved into a collaborative resource built by the participants. However, we accidentally found a group catalyst in the concept of “flipping the classroom.” The essence of the idea is to deliver some content knowledge though technology in order to free class time for the application activities where students need more teacher support and facilitation.
I was originally going to title this article “Full Circle” because this year we are doing intentionally what we’d done accidentally last summer—support each other in learning how to make screen casts, find effective videos, and build the rituals and routines that will ensure students access them in rich ways. However, upon reflection the spiral was a better metaphor. It’s the way things grow in nature and how we develop as learners and leaders—a little building, a little change of direction, always moving, always discovering, and every year a little something new.
The DWP will be hosting several Young Writers’ Camps in the Summer of 2017 to give young writers a chance to work on their craft. Participants spend a fun-filled week of their summer with other young writers exploring and developing their own creative writing abilities. The camps are offered at different locations in the Denver area and feature visits from guest writers.
For more information and to register, visit the DWP website at: http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CLAS/Centers/denverwritingproject/DWPcamp/Pages/default.aspx
Set some goals for submitting your writing this summer! Below are some opportunities:
- We are Teachers: A teaching-related website looking for inspirational, funny, or practical teaching stories. They pay $100. More details on submissions are at: https://www.weareteachers.com/write-for-weareteachers/
- The Rumpus: A respected literary site that publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Read more guidelines online at: https://therumpus.submittable.com/submit
- Beyond Your Blog: This website has a huge database of submission opportunities broken down by subject, and the site itself takes submissions related to writing. The listings on the site also note whether or not a particular market pays. Look through the listings here: http://www.beyondyourblog.com/opportunities/
- DWP Newsletter: We are always looking for writing submissions reflecting on teaching or writing to share in the newsletter. We are also interested in hearing any alumni news. Send any news or submissions to Julie Vick at Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org