Reading and writing are the key to learning and succeeding in life, research shows. To improve literacy among students from elementary school to college, the Oklahoma State University Writing Project arms Oklahoma educators with the most effective teaching practices and strategies to carry into their classrooms.
“The best teachers in writing are those who write,” said Shelbie Witte, Ph.D., OSU associate professor of secondary literacy education and the Chuck and Kim Watson Endowed Chair in Education and OSU Writing Project director.
Since 1992, OSU has offered teachers an intensive, two-week OSU Writing Project Summer Institute to learn best practices of successful reading and writing instruction, she said. This summer’s institute was at OSU-Tulsa.
Thirteen teachers from Claremore, Cleveland, Owasso Tulsa, Sand Springs, Union and universities including OSU, Langston University, Oral Roberts University and Cowley Community College in Kansas participated in the summer institute that ended last week. Summer institute directors are Shanedra Nowell, OSU assistant professor of secondary education, and Ben Bates, associate professor of English for Langston University.
The teachers worked together exploring best practices and current research in writing, with a social justice focus. Each teacher made a presentation outlining a classroom plan of action based on what they learned during the program. And most importantly, they wrote.
“Teachers wrote daily with short journaling prompts or essays focused on teacher lore or social justice,” Nowell said.
She said the summer institute taught teachers ways of integrating writing into their curriculum, whether they teach kindergarten, music, special education or other subjects.
Lynn Schroeder, director of special education and federal programs at Sequoyah Public Schools, said the institute helped broaden her understanding of how writing can be used throughout the educational platform.
“The exposure to writing was uncomfortable to me. As the class progressed, I became more comfortable with the task and will be incorporating writing in my daily practice,” she said.
Schroeder said the interaction with other teachers of various disciplines was also beneficial.
“Obviously, a teacher teaches. But before we are teachers, we need to be learners – learning from our students, learning about our profession and learning about ourselves,” said Kristy Hamilton, who teaches elementary school English Language Learners (ELL) at Union Public Schools. “I was a self-proclaimed reluctant non-writer and I teach English Language Learners to write. Now, I am a writer. I now have a mindset of a writer and will take that to my classroom and my students.”
OSU is among 200 universities in the country participating in the National Writing Project, which was launched in the 1970s at the University of California in Berkeley. The OSU Writing Project recently completed a three-year multi-million-dollar grant project called the College-Ready Writers Program, which offered additional professional development in argument writing for several school districts in Oklahoma. In a three-year study of the NWP’s impact on students, researchers found significant gains in writing performance among students of teachers who have participated in NWP programs, including Oklahoma students.
“This is the best and largest teacher professional development program that exists and it has had a lasting impact,” Witte said.
And in a difficult budget environment, this year’s participants have found ways to improve teaching and engage students without spending more.
“The OSU Writing Project Summer Institute has allowed me to learn different ways to do more with less in my classroom,” said Suzanne Stowe, who teaches sixth-grade reading at Cleveland Middle School in Cleveland, Okla. “With many of the strategies we have learned, we only need our writer’s notebook and a pen.
Keith Gogan, assistant professor of English at Oral Roberts University, said the experience enabled him to slow down and examine his teaching methods and practices.
“I will walk away from the summer institute convinced, more than ever, that teaching is indeed the most important vocation in our society,” he said.