Denver Writing Project News
By Kyle Crawford
For educators and students, August/September is the real “New Year.” January is just halfway through the year. So Happy New Year! When a new year begins, I often reflect on the previous year, and the Denver Writing Project (DWP) has a lot to reflect on, to be proud of.
We served over 300 local educators in total throughout all of our events and programming. Our continuity events (a fall writing marathon, a winter workshop led by a local professional writer, and a cross-content marathon ran collaboratively with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Colorado Language Arts Society) continue to attract new people to the DWP, as well as re-connect past participants.
The Denver Writing Project ran four youth writing camps, spanning 3rd through 12th grades, serving approximately 200 students this past year. We held two camps on the Auraria Campus: our flagship youth summer writing camp, now in its 12th year, and a new, secondary specific writing camp that addressed issues of social justice through argumentative writing and reading. We held another youth writing camp at Walnut Hills Elementary School and a youth writing camp at the CU South location where students’ writing centered on nature and expression.
We ran two Advanced Institutes this past year. Throughout the school year, secondary teachers worked with the National Writing Project’s “College, Career, and Community Ready Writer’s Program” (C3RWP) in their own classrooms and then collaborated with one another remotely, including on a few Saturdays. They noticed significant gains in their students’ argumentative writing and reading abilities, and of course, documented it all, adding to an ever-growing and ever-impressive body of research surrounding the C3RWP Program. We also ran the Summer Advanced Institute where many Invitational Summer Institute alumni returned for an intensive week working with narrative non-fiction and developing teacher leadership.
Our Invitational Summer Institute saw a record number of applicants and participants. Kindergarten through Post-Secondary levels were evenly represented and a more collaborative approach to teaching demonstrations marked yet another productive, positive, and impactful summer institute.
New hopes, new resolutions are also a part of a new year. We are resolved, as a site, to continue the incredibly important work we do. We are hopeful that our work’s impact will continue to spread and grow. While we will continue to pursue and enjoy new opportunities at the Denver Writing Project this upcoming year, we will face new challenges and new uncertainties as well. It is through our commitment to our work, our writing, our students, and to one another that we will make the most of new opportunities and overcome new challenges.
Writing this letter, reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the year ahead, I am reminded of the last strip that Calvin and Hobbes’ illustrator and writer Bill Watterson created. It was published New Year’s Eve of 1995. Like Calvin and Hobbes, we face a world full of possibilities, so let’s go exploring!
By Rich Argys
As I reflect on another outstanding Invitational Summer Institute (DWP’s 18th), I am reminded of how fortunate we’ve all been to have availed ourselves of the National Writing Project’s simple and ingenious model of professional development for teachers. Dozens of hardworking educators affiliated with DWP deserve hardy congratulations for many jobs well done, including everyone who has participated in and helped to organize our programs over the years.
I also appreciate the tireless work of all four of DWP’s Directors over the years. Running a site, especially a site as multi-faceted and hard working as ours, is a demanding job. Founding Director Rick VanDeWeghe established an infrastructure and group of teacher consultants that enabled us to grow dramatically during our first 7 or 8 years. Rick VanDeWeghe spearheaded a dozen or more programs to enhance our outreach efforts into local schools, and we still reap the benefits of many of those efforts. Michelle Comstock took over the Directorship after Rick’s move back to his native Michigan and led us calmly and intelligently through a difficult financial time in NWP’s (and hence DWP’s) history.
Most recently, Nicole Piasecki expanded our leadership team and helped all of us -- working together -- to find a niche, the blend of programs and efforts that seem to work best in our area. As Nicole transitioned out of the directorship this summer, Kyle Crawford competently and seamlessly took the helm. We all also owe a tremendous tip of our collective hat to Cathy Casper, who works tirelessly behind the lines at the university to make sure all the forms are signed (“T”s are crossed, “I”s dotted) and the right people are kept informed of what DWP does for students and teachers in our area.
Equally important as the work we do is the support we receive from CU Denver. We are extremely grateful to Provost Rod Nairn and a succession of deans of the College of Liberal Arts and Science -- Jim Smith, Jon Harbour, Dan Howard, and currently Pam Jansma -- for their unwavering support of our work. The Provost and the deans have continued their support of our site’s work, even when the NWP’s funding was cut from the federal budget several years ago. Many of our fellow sites around the country folded in the absence of the unilateral support of their home universities. DWP’s survival and significant growth during these difficult economic times is due in large part to the generosity of Provost Nairn and the deans of CLAS, all of whom value writing and want to support local school children’s academic achievement. DWP is extremely fortunate and very appreciative to have this type of backing. It means a great deal.
By Alice Smith
Our Advanced Institute once again served as an excellent opportunity for the Summer Institute (SI) alumni to reconnect and nurture themselves as writers. This one-week institute closely mirrors the SI and includes writing into the day, professional demonstrations, studio time, writing groups, a writing marathon, and a book study. One distinguishing factor, however, is the focus on leadership opportunities -- both within DWP and other professional organizations. Participants have the option to produce an anthology submission (using the writing product of their choice) or to submit a conference proposal or application for another leadership opportunity in the field of education.
At the start of the week, we discussed the broad and versatile genre of creative nonfiction since that would be the primary focus of our book study. Lee Gutkind was recognized as the “Godfather of creative nonfiction” by Vanity Fair magazine. Simply stated, his definition for the genre is “true stories, well told.” Others have rephrased the definition as narrative that deals in factual events. Whatever the specific type of writing, the content must be based in reality. We explored this definition through a brief memoir demonstration facilitated by Jessica Keigan.
This definition was further expanded when we joined the SI participants for professional writing, which included demonstrations by magazine writer Drew Bixby and poet Jennifer Denrow. One of the highlights of Bixby's presentation was his discussion of the "ladder of abstraction" as a way to structure creative nonfiction pieces. Denrow led the group through some pre-writing activities for lyrical essays.
Participant Mary Weberg said, "The professional writing demonstrations were creative, fun, boosts to our week... both presenters engaged the group in an exciting, useful manner. I can take what I learned back to a staff meeting or to my classroom."
Later in the week, we engaged in a jigsaw activity using the book Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola. Each participant chose a chapter and then dispersed to read, annotate, and select one or two key activities from the chapter. During our discussion time, each person spent five minutes presenting his/her chapter and describing different writing activities for the group. We had a rich discussion about how we could use these ideas when writing creative nonfiction with our students.
Our week together culminated in a writing marathon at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Though the temperature eventually reached into the 90s, we arrived early, and each writer found a shady spot to relax and write. Some chose to walk around and gather inspiration from the different exhibits and the community garden. Though all writers were provided with a list of optional prompts, most chose to continue working on pieces they had started during their studio time earlier in the week. At the end of the marathon, we met in the cafe at the Gardens and shared our writing. Participants shared excerpts of a sci-fi novel, short stories, poetry, memoirs, lyrical essays, and professional pieces.
"Loved the setting for the writing marathon,” participant Dale Lidicker said. “The smells, the wind blowing between the flora and fauna provided an ideal place for writing."
By Shelly Ballinger
This year’s Technical Institute was focused on creating more time to teach through the use of technology. We presented at the Summer Institute using the Google Classroom platform to foster a collaborative demo that modeled some of the methods we wanted to teach. All methods were aimed at the idea of creating more time in the classroom and content that students can access multiple times, which also provides differentiation.
Using resources developed by Chris Warner, a Malcom Gladwell video, and with a little help from Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams (from Edtopia), we explored freeing up in-class time by providing direct instruction outside of class. The participants at the SI had many questions: What do we do if they don’t do the out-of-class work? Where do we find content? How do we make sure that it is worthwhile and adds to the learning?
None of these questions has a single answer, but we talked about the value of exploring collaboratively in an effort to create more equitable learning environments for students.
We feel like we are at the beginning of this journey as both facilitators and learners, which makes us even more excited for the coming year. We will model ongoing reflection with a YouTube video blog on the Denver Writing Project channel. The purpose will be to reflect on our own experiences using technology to create time, as well as provide resources.
Next year, we look forward to a week-long institute where we can collaborate and use technology to create more time in our classrooms. Even more so, we look forward to having the time to play, learn, and create with all of you.
By Lauren Hyclak
Facilitators: Christy Hillbrand and Lauren Hyclak
This summer kicked off the inaugural year of the Denver Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) Young Writers Camp. Nineteen inspiring teenagers embarked on a writing journey with the focus on civic action and social justice. These young minds spent eight days exploring their place in the world around them, deciding what social issues were important to them, and learning about different formats in which their writing could have an impact.
On day one, we had the privilege of having Amal Kassir lead a two-hour workshop diving into civic action and social justice. As a Muslim American, she was able to speak from her experiences about the importance of action and standing up for one’s beliefs. She guided us through activities in which we wrote and spoke about our insecurities, what builds us up, and what our causes (in regards to civic action/social justice in our world) were. Not only was this activity an incredibly moving icebreaker, but it also brought to the forefront the focus of this camp on day one in a powerful way.
Suzi Q. Smith, an African-American poet and the Executive Director of Poetry Slam, Inc., led a workshop that allowed students to try and define their identity only to realize that there are a lot of gray areas within our identities. Ultimately, she helped them to look at their world and find their place in it. Smith told students that writing came from one of two places -- the void or the excess. We write either because no one is talking about the topic and you become responsible for being that voice or because the topic is filling you so much it’s overflowing and has to get out. She left the kids inspired to present their voices to the world.
Our last main presenter was Adrian Molina (aka Molina Speaks), a Hispanic instructor at Youth on Record, opened our young writers’ minds to the idea of platform, making students think about the way they would present their writing. He presented us with spoken word, letter writing, songwriting, and documentary filmmaking. He inspired our writers to be a presence and present their work to the world in the most effective way. The importance of purpose in writing shined through, allowing these young adults to seek out new ways to express their opinions.
Along with our three main presenters, we welcomed several DWP alumni to present to our writers. These instructors furthered the work on identifying topics of social justice and preparing them for college-level argument writing, reading, and speaking. Through a variety of activities, students were able to take a more academic approach to the powerful writing they were doing.
Finally, we wanted to get our writers outside in their environment and working together. Our writers worked through workshopping protocols to get feedback from their fellow writers. Their goal was to polish at least one piece for our camp anthology. Along the way, we did a writing marathon in order to get inspired by our surroundings. We also wanted to inspire others by using sidewalk chalk to write positive haikus around campus.
After two weeks with a group of amazing young writers, I think “inspired” is the one word that would best describe the DWP C3WP’s Young Writers Camp.
By Facilitators Mary Derbish, Jennifer Henderson, Denise Huber, and Elizabeth Maloney
“It was a fun experience and a good way to learn to write. My favorite part was going to the exhibits and getting to watch an IMAX movie. I made new friends. My dad loved the poem I wrote him for Father’s Day.” -- Laurel Bunger, 4th grade participant --
The Denver Writing Project’s Young Writers Camp at CU South Campus was a big success with over 50 participants in grades 3-12. This year our guiding question was: How do writers get inspired?
In addition to using DWP core activities like “Write into the Day,” studying mentor texts, and bringing in talented writers like Jovan Mays, a local slam poet, to coach our students, a unique aspect of this camp is that we are able to utilize the Wildlife Experience exhibits. This setting meant kids were always constantly moving and engaging in the writing process. Below are some examples of the writing we did using the Wildlife Experience as a working space:
• We used our senses in the Globeology Exhibit.
• In the gallery, art was a jumping off point for writing.
• The outdoor trail allowed us to reflect on nature in our writing.
• We were inspired by the Imax movie about our National Parks.
Students were also able to experiment with multiple genres; reflect on their own beliefs about writing; and publish, share, and celebrate their pieces with a supportive parent audience. It was a busy week that seemed to fly by!
I just wanted to thank you for your work with the young writers this summer. Evelyn loved it so much, and I was just in awe with the amount of writing she accomplished in just a short week. It was amazing to see her personality come shining through and the passion with which she spoke about her writing. Thank you for inspiring and encouraging young authors -- don't be surprised if her first book is dedicated to you! -- Gratefully, Kellie Randall, parent --
By Shannon Hanschen
Facilitators: Raylene Kaufman, Danielle Hunter, Joe Dillon, Shannon Hanschen, Tiffany LoSasso, Jennifer Henderson, and Beth Chisholm
For the last seven years, I have started my summer out so right: teaching inspired young writers at DWP’s Young Writers Camp. Y’all, these kids are mighty. They are inspired and are inspiring. They write and write and write and share and share and share. These young writers are in the flow, and we as adults are so awe struck and happy to be a part of their jam.
For me, this year was different as I abandoned my usual role as group facilitator and instead designed and guided a workshop I dubbed “Mining the Truth.” I had the opportunity to hang with all three groups as both workshop facilitator and jolly bud. I witnessed and supported each group of writers as they learned from professional writers, master teachers, and one another throughout an active week of camp.
As always, the workshops facilitated by master teachers were relevant and engaging. Joe Dillon led writers through LRNG, an online platform to share writing and receive feedback. Tiffany LaSasso explored the question “Are there no new stories?” and had students consider basic plot structures. Through her workshop, Jenn Henderson gave students’ permission to rant about life’s injustices -- minor and major. In my workshop, I led students through an activity where they condensed a few pages of their own creative nonfiction down to a short, personal poem. Raylene Kauffman added some drama to camp with her workshop on Performance Writing. Students performed their own pieces by the end of the workshop. It was a camp favorite. These workshops gave writers the opportunity to play in diverse genres.
This year’s professional guest writers did not disappoint. On Tuesday, we were joined by young adult author Jenna Lincoln. She guided the group through story mapping using interesting visuals. Students were eager to share their work with one another and the larger group. After Lincoln’s presentation, the elementary and middle-level writers lined up for autographs. This rock-star treatment continued with all three of our guest writers. On Wednesday, poet and playwright Whitney Gaines empowered students to notice the details of setting by considering color and the multitude of ways we name it. Our last guest writer for the week was a YWC favorite, slam poet Jovan Mays. He returned this year with another highly-engaging poetry workshop in which students generated a lot of writing but then sifted through it to crystalize a piece. Young writers left that afternoon with many pieces to choose from to share at the next day’s celebration.
Friday morning, students spent time in their writing groups revising and polishing work to present to their families later that afternoon. All three sections of camp were abuzz with final revisions, conversations, and presentation practice. At the afternoon celebration, students shared a piece or more of their writing with an audience of mostly strangers -- a scary endeavor that these mighty students faced masterfully. These same young writers shared diverse genres, show-casing the workshop model that camp provides so that all kinds of writers can practice and improve upon their craft. When there is freedom to choose, incredible products result.
Aside from the camp writing celebration, a group picture is taken each year of all campers in their camp t-shirts. On the back of this year’s purple camp t-shirt is written, “Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” -- Louis L’Amour --
It is certain that Denver-area young writers have their faucets on. Full blast, babies. Full blast!
By Cathy Walker-Gilman
Facilitators: Cathy Walker-Gilman and Lauren Zuiker
It’s the last week of July. The air is heavy with the smell of freshly cut grass. A symphony of katydid songs explodes from the camouflage of trees, falling silent every time a rowdy group of kids whirs past on their bikes headed for the neighborhood pool. The sun beats down mercilessly even at nine in the morning.
For students and teachers, school is both a distant memory and an inevitable event lurking on the horizon.
But for some, this time is a chance to transition gently into the year by participating in a Denver Writing Project DWP) camp. Every morning of this week, thirty students from 1st through 8th grades join two instructors for an immersive writing experience at Walnut Hills Elementary School.
The younger participants spend the week exploring the power of words. They write about their hopes and fears, their triumphs and missteps. They write more than they have ever written before. They collaborate and giggle. They learn to believe in themselves as writers. They write about the loss of grandparents and pets, the adrenaline rush of crashing a bike and breaking a bone, the sweetness of ice cream, and the complicated job of being a kid.
The older crew curl up in corners and under tables – any safe space – to experiment with trusting their writers’ voices. They critique and confess, reveal and bury in a communal explosion of words. Some work on fantastical novels; others craft difficult autobiographies in 3rd person as though to distance themselves from the past. One decides to write a murder mystery in verse. Another pens a comprehensive analysis of the actions of Aaron Burr. In a stripped down classroom, they each discover new and unique talents as writers.
On the last day, almost every writer takes the stage in the courtyard in front of the building. Parents, siblings, and grandparents settle on the damp grass to hear some amazing stories. Surrounded by a captive audience, even the softest voices are heard. Each writer takes a risk and reads a piece that resonates with them somehow, words that emerge from deep inside them and escape through their fingertips. With every reading, the kids become bolder, their voices cutting through the heavy air. As the sun climbs over the roof of the building, the writers’ shadows stretch across the concrete, reaching for the audience.
Then it’s over for another year. The kids disperse to enjoy their last few days of freedom before the new year begins. But their words still echo in the empty classrooms. Our hope, as teacher-writers with DWP, is that every student carries a story with them into the year and has the confidence to share it with a teacher or a classmate. Because writing in July is not a form of torture, it’s an opportunity to let go of the past and move softly into the future before the frantic energy of the school year overwhelms us.
Writing in July is a gift to be opened and explored before the world begins again.
The Denver Writing Project has several upcoming events:
Cross-Content Writing Marathon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Join the Denver Writing Project for a Saturday at the museum where you will have the opportunity to work on writing projects of your choice as you move through the exhibits.
When: Saturday 2/10 9:00am - 3:00pm
Where: Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Registration: Available November 2017
*Certificates for 6 hours of professional development available upon completion
SUMMER OF 2018 WORKSHOPS
The Advanced Institute for Teacher/Writers 2018: Join the Denver Writing Project for a week-long writing and pedagogy institute where you will have the opportunity to work on self-sponsored writing projects, engage with guest speakers, and work in writing groups. The institute runs from June 11-15th, 2018 on the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver.
More info is available on our AI program page. In 2018, the AI is open to all teachers from any grade level and subject area. Administrators are also welcome to participate.
The Technology Institute for Teachers 2018: Join the Denver Writing Project for a week-long writing and pedagogy institute where you will have the opportunity to work on a self-sponsored technology pedagogy project with the support of other tech-savvy colleagues.
When: June 2018 *exact week TBD
Where: Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado exact building and room TBD.
More information about TechMatters is available on our Technology Institute program page. This program is open to all teachers from any grade level and subject area. Administrators are also welcome to participate.
Sign up for our email news updates to learn about other professional development opportunities.
Get your writing out into the world! Below are some opportunities:
- Creative Nonfiction seeks nonfiction on rotating themes. Check out their latest submission opportunities at http://www.creativenonfiction.org/submissions
- Parent Co. seeks essays, humor, and research writing on parenting and lifestyle topics. Read their full guidelines here: https://www.parent.com/write-parent-co/
- Copper Nickel reads poetry, fiction, and essays from September 1 through March 1. Read more guidelines here: http://copper-nickel.org/submit/
- 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