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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).

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