Aug. 4, 2009
Kansas City Center hosts Northland Writing Academy
The Northwest Kansas City Center helped give educators from three metro-area school districts a chance to practice all the write stuff this summer during two Northland Writing Academy sessions at the center's facility in Liberty.
Organized by the Liberty, North Kansas City and Park Hill school districts for K-12 teachers and instructional coaches, the academy offered 16 hours of professional development training during each of two four-day sessions that served a total of about 60 classroom personnel during June and July.
All sessions were held at the Northwest Kansas City Center, which is housed in an office building adjoining the Liberty High School campus.
"Public schools in the Northland had perceived a need to improve students' writing ability," said Dr. Terry Barmann, a Northwest assistant director of outreach who serves as the Northwest Kansas City Center's on-site administrator. "Northwest saw this as an opportunity to create a partnership with these three districts through their use of center facilities."
Jim Dunn, a former English teacher who now serves as director of professional development for the Park Hill district, said the academy sessions emphasized good writing as a foundational skill essential to all learning.
"Writing is not just an outcome" Dunn said. "Writing actually helps students think about whatever content they are involved with. So it's an important part of any writing academy or project that participants learn how to view writing as a teachable process."
Park Hill Instructional Coach Scot Squires said a major focus of the academy was to lead teachers toward an examination of their own writing, and that this involved taking 30 or so participants through a "full writing process" during each of four four-hour sessions.
Day one, Squires said, involved pre-writing exercises and personal exploration, while day two consisted of "drafting and believing" -- hammering out a rough draft and learning to understand how imperfect drafts improve through revision and editing.
Teacher/writers spent the third day revising their work in response to critiques and insights from other participants and dedicated day four to "publishing and celebrating" finished work, which was read aloud and displayed on walls.
When it comes to good writing, however, both Squires and Dunn noted that "finished" is a relative term, which was one of the main points academy organizers wanted to get across.
It is "critical," Dunn said, that anyone seeking to teach writing must first become a student of their own writing process.
"We explored different models and examples of good writing and presented various strategies and activities," he said. "We also talked about how those might translate into the classroom. I think people began to appreciate how important it is to critique, and that a piece of writing is never really finished."
Over the course of the four-day session, Northland Writing Academy participants were asked to compose "two significant pieces of writing," a poem and an essay based on the "This I Believe" format employed by the popular nationally syndicated National Public Radio feature.
The assignments, said Squires, forced the teachers, who represented a number of subject specialties, to think about writing in different ways.
"We had teachers coming back to the table and saying that these techniques were things they were going to be able to use in the classroom," he said. "People also told us they wanted more of the kind of experiences offered by the academy, which was even better."
Dunn said one reason the academy succeeded was that it took the form of a professional development opportunity organized as a collaborative effort. This allowed for a lot of give-and-take and experience sharing.
"I think we're looking at a larger project down the road next summer," he said.
John Unrein, a social studies instructional coach, described the Northland Writing Academy as simply "a great week of learning."
"The biggest benefits that come to my mind are understanding the importance of the revision process, then going through the revision with peers and using certain writing tools to make a better final draft," Unrein said.
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