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PAWLP’s Summer Institute: A Fresh Look By Janice Ewing

            This year, our Summer Institute has a new configuration. We met on four Saturdays during May and June for virtual sessions and will meet for two weeks face-to-face later in July. Pauline Schmidt and Jen Greene are the co-facilitators, and I have a coaching role, supporting participants as they design their projects.

             The Institute started with an activity in which the three of us, along with the other participants, introduced ourselves via a slide show, using pictures and text to share aspects of our professional and personal lives. We also used Jamboard to share other aspects of our background experiences, consuming issues, and wonderings about the Institute itself. These experiences furthered community-building as well as planting seeds for narrative topics. Participants wrote their narratives during May and June, outside of class time, but there were opportunities for reflection and feedback within the sessions. For example, in response to PAWLP TC Abigail Turley’s presentation about sentence fluency, writers identified short lines that stood out in their pieces, exchanged them with a partner, and then wrote pantoums with each other’s lines. This process provided feedback to each writer as to how their partner interpreted the focus of their piece, highlighted by the inherent repetition of the pantoum format. In another small group feedback session, participants exchanged comments and questions via a “Warm and Cool Feedback” protocol, in which partners offered specific comments about what was working in the piece, and well as “what-if questions” for the writer to consider.

            The virtual sessions were also enriched by presentations from TC Melissa Keer, about writers’ notebooks, and from Matthew Kruger-Ross, a recent TC and Pauline’s podcasting partner, who shared authentic strategies to enhance speaking and listening in the classroom and beyond.

            By the end of the four sessions, participants had decided on topics for their teaching demonstrations and had joined coaching groups based on related topics. In the time period between the last virtual session and the beginning of the face-to-face portion, participants are designing their demos and multigenre projects in collaboration with their groups and coaches.  Those meetings are taking place in whatever format and on whatever schedule meets the needs of the group.

            When we meet face-to-face, the first week will provide workshop time for the demos as well as multigenre and other projects, additional demo presentations from other PAWLP T.C.’s, and a variety of other reading, writing, and sharing experiences. The second week will include presentations of the new demos and book talks, and will culminate in a writing marathon in the West Chester area. Following the two-week session, participants will have additional time on their own to work on other reflections, including a “Letter to Self,” and we’ll meet again at the Institute Celebration in September.

            What will our Summer Institute look like in the future? This is a question that we’ll be exploring this year. In the fall, with feedback from our participants, our observations as facilitators and coach, and input from our larger PAWLP community, we’ll reflect on the outcomes of this year’s format, and look ahead to possible configurations for next year. There is much to consider – the needs and interests of potential SI participants, the essential elements of the program, the variety of options for using time and space, and the readiness to make adjustments as needed.

             In many ways, the pandemic has strengthened our concepts of flexibility and paring down to what is most essential. For our Summer Institute, that includes immersion in writing and reading experiences that promote growth as writers and teachers of writing; building a community that honors all voices; creating conditions that encourage risk-taking and ventures into new topics, formats, and ways of collaborating. What would you add to this list? What does your Summer Institute look like this year? What has changed and what has remained the same?

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Teacher to Teacher: Advice for Writers

By Lynne R. Dorfman

I think the best advice I can give you is to find and honor your process (which may be different from a writing partner or the peers in your class). I am good at thinking on my feet and getting my thoughts down in just the right way the first time. Several of my writing partners prefer time to think things through and let thoughts smolder awhile. (They often jot them down in their writer’s notebook before the fire goes out!) I often use my notebook as a prewrite: “Think before you write!”  My notebook is filled with lists, sketches, graphic organizers, explanations, and examples. Lots of pages have examples taken from a mentor text, an explanation from me as to why I think the author chose a particular craft move, and my examples of imitation – closely imitating in the first attempt, and then moving away from the lines I lifted from the book by making it my own in some small way.

When Rose Cappelli and I wrote the books about mentor texts for Stenhouse Publishers, we collaborated by sitting at the table in her sunroom. At first, we did some writing separately, but as time went on, we did more and more together. We just found that collaborating on ideas helped us better say what we thought teachers needed to hear. Rose and I seemed to fall into a comfortable rhythm, and I think actually created a new process for working together. However, there were still parts that we worked on separately. That’s where the notebook came in handy. We set aside some days we would write together and then before we left we decided on the part each would work on, whether it be writing, gathering books, collecting student samples, or even just thinking. We would write this all down in a sort of checklist so we knew what we needed to do. We always were jotting down thoughts and ideas. 

When I am composing, I do a lot of oral rehearsals, writing a narrative, poem, or speech in my head and even saying the words aloud before I even pick up my pen. And yes, I like to draft with a pen, preferably a pen with purple, green, or even pink ink before I go to the computer. The movement of my hand as I half-print/half-write the words seems to kick my brain in gear. It’s magic – once I am engaged and have written something on a page of my notebook, I am on my way to working hard until I finish my initial draft. Of course, if I need to establish a stronger foundation of background knowledge, I do tons of reading and research before I get started.

Of course, if you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Writers have to be preoccupied with time-management. Carve out a time for writing every day – even if it is only ten to fifteen minutes to begin with. You must make a commitment to writing – like it is your job – and try to stay true to your schedule just as you would do for feeding and walking the dog, exercising, arriving to work on time. No excuses!  Daily writing will help you maintain the flow – get into the writing zone where distractions are not noticed and time moves quickly.

Find the joy within your work, even if that means looking in the most unexpected places. Find the joy within your process and the joy of finishing a piece and finding the perfect audience to share it with. Find joy in elevating yourself to a conscious level of “I am a writer.”

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project, a stop on June 15th at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in the Write Across America writing marathon offered by NWP. Use this link to register for this free writing experience and plan to participate whenever you are able: https://lead.nwp.org/writeacrossamerica-a-virtual-writing-marathon/

Lynne loves to write poems, read mysteries, and garden. Right now, pink roses fill vases in her home, cut from a section of her garden. Lynne visits Longwood Gardens regularly to walk and take photos of the blooms and trees that make the grounds a magical place to visit. Often, Lynne takes her writer’s notebook along. The garden’s beauty inspires her to write.

PAWLP Social Justice Group – Time for Reflection

By Janice Ewing

            This school year has amplified ongoing challenges and created unique ones as well. Now, as the end of the school year approaches, many teachers do not know what the fall will look like. More than ever, teachers need supportive communities in which to learn, grow and refuel. One such community is PAWLP’s social justice study group. As we’ve shared in previous posts, this group challenges us to examine our biases and assumptions, to place them in a larger historical context, and to translate our new understanding into action within our schools and communities. Along the way, we find that a corollary to learning and growth is discomfort. The willingness to sit with discomfort has led us to a deeper refueling, based less on restoring equilibrium than on finding new ways to see and to navigate the world around us, personally and professionally.

            Our social justice study group continues to meet on the third Saturday of each month. When we meet on May 15th, we will finish our discussion of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua. Of course we are never really finished with a book, because the ideas and reflections that we have shared from and in response to the book are ongoing.  Still, each book that we complete offers a natural stopping point for reflection, and that process leads into the selection of the next shared text. In the past, we have also used the summer months as a time for members to choose individual texts and share their new learning with the group. We’ll talk that through and make that decision at our May meeting as well.

Along with This Bridge Called My Back, we have also been reading The Tradition by Jericho Brown. One of the reasons that we chose to read this poetry collection is that it is as the One Book/One Philadelphia selection this year. This led us to set up a collaborative book talk session with the Philadelphia Writing Project (philwp.gse.upenn.edu), which will be held virtually on May 12th (You can find details about this event and our study group at pawlp.org).

            In a year that was filled with challenges at all levels, this group has provided a valuable space. Some of the participants have commented that they didn’t know what to expect from meeting virtually, whether the atmosphere of sharing and trust that we had been cultivating as a group would flourish. We were gratified to find that it did. In spite of some people feeling over-Zoomed from their weekday schedules, this group flourished as a time and place for growth. In addition, as in many groups, our experience was enriched by the participation of members from other geographical areas, who would not have been able to join us face-to-face. We’re grateful for these new relationships and hope they will continue.

            I invite you to reflect on the groups or communities that have sustained you this year.  How have they provided sustenance?  Have they also opened the door to discomfort and struggle? How have you changed? Thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.            

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague, Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Re-Imagining Romeo and Juliet: Providing Students with Strategies to Help them make Better Choices and Live Healthy Lives

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

“It’s about two teens who fall in love and kill themselves in the end.”

When my 9th graders learned that we would be reading Romeo and Juliet, this was the first reaction I heard in every class.

Once my planning began for this whole-class text, I knew I wanted to do some re-imagining. How could I make this play more relevant for my students? How could I leave them with knowledge that would help them? I vowed to myself that by the time my classes finished reading Romeo and Juliet they would take away more than a sad love story of two star-crossed lovers.

In class we watched and read selected scenes from Stratford Festival‘s pre-recorded play. A colleague of mine recommended the resource–it is amazing! For homework, students were invited to either watch the scenes or read the summaries we were not looking at as a whole class.

Students also read articles that addressed issues present throughout the play and relevant in today’s world. I split the articles and topics into separate days. Students chose at least one article to read, analyze, connect to, write about, and discuss. Day 1 focused on topics related to the first half of the play. The following week, after finishing Romeo and Juliet, students completed similar work for a new set of articles listed under Day 2. I encouraged students to select a topic and article that spoke to them or they found most interesting.

  • Day 1
  • Conflict resolution
  • Peer mediation
  • Ways to control/work through anger
  • Negative peer pressure
  • Mob mentality
  • Day 2
  • Problem solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Brain development
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Strategies to clam down
  • How to manage stress
  • Mental health resources

The connections students made included text-text, text-self, and text-world. I asked them to consider how the information in these articles would have helped Romeo and Juliet had they had the resources and how these resources might help teens today.

Also, we read the article, “How to Help a Friend” from the National Alliance on Mental Health as a class. I reached out to my guidance counselor who recommended it.

In thinking about our world today and the struggles that many of my students experience, I wanted to provide resources for the issues that come up in the play. My hope for the unit was to help my students move beyond their initial ideas of Romeo and Juliet, make better choices, and live healthy lives.

A few weeks after the unit, I was speaking with one of my student’s parents who thanked me for the way I approached the content of the play and the resources I had provided. In the end, I am glad I re-considered how to teach Romeo and Juliet.

Consider the Summer Institute

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Do you want to have a unique experience with a graduate course that will change your life as a teacher? One that will change your students’ lives as writers?  An experience that will help you imagine the possibilities? The annual writing institute brings new teacher leaders into our large K – university network of educators who have something in common – they want to learn and grow as teachers of writers.

This year, the summer community begins with virtual Saturdays in spring followed by two weeks in July and a final celebration in fall (Contact pschmidt@wcupa.edu or cpilla@wcupa.edu if you want more details).  It offers six graduate credits for a total of 14 dates!  The teachers-teaching-teachers model is the heart of the Project’s foundation.

The writing institute offers lifelong friendships. I have often asked for guidance from the friends I’ve met through myriad opportunities that PAWLP has offered its fellows. Many of us have become graduate course facilitators or teachers for our Young Writers & Readers summer programs. We’ve posted on PAWLP’s blog – write.share.connect – and contributed to our literary magazine, Around the Table. Some of us take on weeks of tweets for the Project, lead Continuity sessions, or are active members of our writing group or social justice group. We often submit proposals to NWP and PCTELA as a group and enjoy the conference together. As you can see, we stay connected throughout the year.

The writing institute gave me confidence to take risks and try new things in my classroom. I explored writing portfolios during my summer institute and read extensively about their use. When I returned to the classroom in September, I was energized to try to use portfolios as a way my students could document their writing skills and growth. I saw portfolios as a way to unlock possibilities for student-driven personalized learning. My institute members all found areas to explore.  Joe hoped to discover an effective management system to hold writing conferences on a regular basis for his high school students; Linda wanted to use poetry writing throughout her social studies curriculum. Jane was eager to fully implement a workshop approach with her fourth graders. Pam, a kindergarten teacher, focused on invented spelling — kids trying to spell words based on what they know about letter sounds —as productive practice with their decoding skills and as a way the teacher and the author could read the stories during a conference or share time.

A transformative experience, teachers who had not linked the teaching of writing with being a writer took on teacher as writer as their mantra. Teachers of writers need to be part of their community by modeling with their own writing and sharing bits and pieces from their writer’s notebook.  Writing institute participants often come to this brave space to turn down the outside noise and tune in to the amplified voices of the writing institute community. They embrace their fears and begin to work together to write, read, share, and grow.

My summer institute ran like an efficient writing workshop, promoting small and whole-group discussion, offering opportunities to confer and receive feedback, providing large chunks of time to write and share each day, and building in time to reflect on our goals and literacy practices.  Today’s writing institute helps teachers promote engagement and a strong sense of community through the workshop method.  With time to reflect upon, describe, and document our teaching philosophy, goals, and achievements, we can prioritize student voice and participation. The writing institute is a place where educators not only gain knowledge but also discover who they are and who they want to be as teachers of writers.


Application forms are now available through the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Deadline is extended to April 17th.   https://www.wcupa.edu/arts-humanities/writingProject/courses.aspx

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow.

The PAWLP Social Justice Study Group Goes to PAWLP Day

By Deanna Gabe

When Pauline Schmidt, the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, asked for volunteers to lead breakout sessions for PAWLP Day on March 6th, I piped up and said, “I guess I could talk about what we do in our study group.” Immediately after she accepted my offer I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” It is a question that I frequently ask myself during our third Saturday study meetings as well because while my tone here is light, the work we do there is not. Critically examining the history and evolution of our own racial identities as well as the historical and current systemic racism that is embedded in the foundation of American culture is heavy lifting

Just like lifting heavy weights makes muscles stronger, doing this deep and challenging work both individually and in community with each other has strengthened our ability to extend our discussion about race and racial inequality outside of our collective and into our institutions. Furthermore, the group provides a network of support and a proving ground to test ideas about how to translate that discussion into transformative action. 

Recently, inspired by the Black Literary Societies we read about in Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad, we challenged ourselves to write a preamble for our little study society. We thought this exercise would be a good way to bring some clarity to our purpose and provide trailheads for further study. These snippets from the working preambles of several of our members give insight into our collective work and the norms that have organically evolved from our shared and divergent identities.

  • Through critical reading, writing, and discussion that centers race, we challenge ourselves and one another to expand our perspectives on issues of race.
  • We question our own biases, assumptions, and intersections of privilege and oppression in order to understand and develop our racial identity.
  •  We apply a critical social justice lens to our own teaching practices, individual schools, and larger systems both in America and globally.
  • We use our study as a catalyst for transformation in big and small ways.
  • We provide support to each other in our endeavors to bring social justice and equity work into our institutions, which can be precarious.
  • We embrace discomfort and vulnerability, and take a stance of inquiry and critical humility.
  • We listen to each other.
  • We take responsibility for educating ourselves about the true history of America and American education.
  • We acknowledge that we are a work in progress and that our understandings and knowledge are incomplete. We commit to speaking out and taking action in this incomplete and imperfect state.

I plan on bringing this spirit of collective inquiry and critical humility to my PAWLP Day breakout session on Saturday, March 6th. If you have already or want to begin a journey of individual or collective inquiry centered on race and social justice, and would like to experience how the PAWLP Social Justice Study Group goes about doing that, I hope you’ll stop by!

Deanna Gabe is an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at West Chester University.