Summer Writing Program for Teachers Celebrates 30 Years

July 20, 2009 — The Central Virginia Writing Project, housed at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, wrapped up its 30th annual summer invitational institute for teachers Friday.

The program features both a month-long program and a two-week advanced institute and emphasizes writing and teaching skills for the 21 participants who represent a range of grade levels, subject areas and teaching experience.

"We embrace a 'teachers teaching teachers' model of professional development, whereby teachers share their tried-and-true practices with colleagues while honing their own writing skills and expanding their teaching toolboxes," said Jessica Matthews Meth, director of the Central Virginia Writing Project and an assistant professor at the Curry School.

Professional writers come in to help improve the participants' writing and the teachers share lessons that have worked in their own classrooms. The teachers write every day, give each other feedback and revise articles for journal submission.

"We believe writing teachers should themselves write, so we engage in the writing process under the guidance of mentor authors before exploring practical strategies for getting kids to write more effectively," Meth said.

This year, the institute has focused on analysis of students' writing samples in the spirit of identifying areas of strength and weakness and developing instructional goals for the coming year. Based on an inquiry focus, each fellow generated a research proposal designed to track which practices work best in their classrooms, for whom, and under what circumstances. They plan to present their findings at a Writing Project Spring conference at the Curry School on March 27.

Tina Goode, who teaches at Burley Middle School in Charlottesville, described the research-based program as enriching and comprehensive. "It fills in a lot of the gaps of teaching today," she said.

Teaching can be an isolating profession, Meth said, and the summer institute helps build camaraderie among the area teachers.

"I used to believe that I could be a solitary writer, but now I understand the strength of collaboration and a shared community of writers," Goode added.

The institute also collaborated with the U.Va. Young Writers Workshop this year to share writing and teaching expertise.

After the summer session, the participants reconvene throughout the school year to share updates about progress in their own classrooms.

Allison Hoover, a Curry graduate who teaches English at James River High School in Chesterfield County, said she has learned a lot from the other teachers this summer and reignited her love of writing poetry.

Looking forward, Meth said the Central Virginia Writing Project will conduct a study aimed at evaluating the impact of the Institute on participating teachers' self-efficacy as well as their students' growth as writers in targeted areas between September 2009 and March 2010.

— By Laura Hoffman