Education Opinion

Raising Our Voices in Support of the National Writing Project

By Donalyn Miller — March 19, 2011 3 min read
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Looking over my past blog entries, I think that I remain consistent in my beliefs and my point-of-view about teaching reading. I suppose that’s a good thing. I revisit topics on my blog often--why adults should role model reading lives, why we should promote reading choice, why test prep and reading management programs shortchange children, but it saddens me to realize that I have written about why we should save federally funded programs like the National Writing Project (and Reading Is Fundamental) for the third time in two years. In spite of successful grassroots efforts to lobby for continued funding for these powerful literacy initiatives, these programs receive temporary stays of execution, only to appear on lists of funding cuts the next go around. As an American taxpayer, I know that we need to hunker down and make difficult cuts. It seems logical that we should dedicate our limited resources to educational programs shown to improve teacher performance and increase student achievement--programs like the National Writing Project, a successful professional development initiative for the past three decades.

This fall, I was the keynote speaker at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting--one of the most amazing experiences of my life. In my speech, I shared my quest over the past few years to become a better teacher and my journey to find my confidence as a writer--a love letter to the NWP and its profound influence on my life. In large part, I owe my success as a professional writer and speaker to my National Writing Project experiences. I know that I am better teacher, too, because I attended the North Star of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute. Not only did I learn about the pedagogy behind good writing instruction, I learned to live a writing life alongside my students. The research proving the effectiveness of the Writing Project is well-documented, but I only need to talk to my colleagues to know that this is true. Every teacher I know who has participated in NWP institutes and training credits the NWP with improving their teaching and their professional lives.

When I consider English and reading instruction, a significant number of the thought leaders in our field have affiliations with the National Writing Project, too. Folks like Troy Hicks, Carol Jago, Kelly Gallagher, and scores of other professors, researchers, administrators, and effective, incredible classroom teachers are NWP teacher consultants and site leaders. We lose a vital source of leadership if we silence the NWP.

Chad Sansing and Pam Moran, teacher leaders in their own right, have organized a blog event this weekend, #blog4nwp, asking NWP teacher consultants across the country to share their NWP stories and show their support for the Writing Project. If you have an NWP story to share, I encourage you to write a post and send the link to Chad, so he can add it to his blog roll.

Reading through the #blog4nwp posts, I wondered how my voice could add to the heartfelt, intelligent testimonials written by my NWP family as they recount their teaching and writing experiences.

Then I remembered the most important lesson I learned as a Writing Project teacher consultant, my voice matters. I take this lesson into my classroom every day and show my students that their voices matter, too. Through writing, we can make our voices heard.

It seems counterintuitive to me that policy pundits and politicians rant about improving teacher quality, while cutting programs like the National Writing Project, which is proven to do just that. In practice, it seems the only skill these so-called experts value in education these days is students’ ability to bubble choices on computer-scannable documents. When will my students use that skill in their adult lives? I can only think of one instance--selecting political leaders on ballots when voting. Hmm. Perhaps, this skill has value after all...

Meanwhile, I have written letters to my state representatives in support of both NWP and RIF--an authentic writing purpose if there ever was one. I implore you to do the same.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.