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Middle Tennessee WP Weighs Strengths and Weaknesses of Redesigned Invitational Summer Institute

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Feb 27, 2013
Posted by: dmascle

Middle Tennessee Writing Project leadership rethinks the Invitational Summer Institute in response to funding and scheduling constraints and weighs the strengths and weaknesses of a new design.

Due to funding changes and scheduling challenges, the MTWP ISI team made a decision to revamp the format and length of the 2012 Invitational Institute. We felt shortening the block of time for the ISI in the summer and adding more follow-up sessions throughout the year would allow us to use our funding most effectively and to meet the needs of teachers in the region whose calendars vary greatly.

In order to use our shortened time most effectively, we spent considerable time brainstorming the qualities we wanted to develop in Fellows who attend the ISI.  We narrowed these to three “developings”:   the teacher as a personal writer; the teacher as an instructor of writing; and the teacher as a leader.  We also determined we wanted to continue the inquiry emphasis we began in 2011. 

Our final plan included a full day Pre-Institute meeting in May, a two-week Institute in June, and four follow-up meetings throughout the following fall and spring.  Fellows were informed of the number of follow up meetings during interviews and asked to commit to attendance.  Specific dates were chosen during the first week of the Institute, allowing for Fellow input. 

During the Institute, Fellows were introduced to the inquiry process.  By the end of the Institute Fellows had determined an initial inquiry topic, created a timeline of implementation, and collaborated on a list of possible data collection strategies.  The first follow-up meeting was held in conjunction with the annual MTWP Fall Conference.  Fellows attended sessions of their choice, then gathered for a Fellows-only session in which we focused on inquiry and allowed time for Fellow support in individual inquiry processes. The second follow-up meeting was held in November, where the focus and support on inquiry continued. We also used this time to finalize discussions of how the results of inquiry would be presented.  Our third and final follow-up meetings will focus on continued inquiry coaching and inquiry presentations.

We have observed several strengths and a few weaknesses as we have implemented this new approach to the ISI.  By narrowing our focus to three areas, we have been able to streamline our strategies and approaches.  Each planning session involved weighing the proposed approach or strategy with how well each supported one of our three goals.  Our two weeks together seemed more focused and clarified.  In addition, by supporting our Fellows’ inquiry during the ISI and continuing support throughout the year through our follow-up meetings, we feel we have created a stronger action research base than we have been able to do previously.   We also feel our approach to the presentation of the inquiry process will prove more authentic and timely than our previous approach of presenting during the ISI.

An inherent weakness of spreading out the ISI time is the loss of extended time together as a learning community.  Hard decisions had to be made about what to include and what to exclude.  Our foci on reading professional literature and supporting Fellows as advocates for education were not fully realized due to time constraints.  In addition, staying connected as a learning community has proven to be challenge, due to extended time between our follow-up meetings.  We feel this is something we can strengthen for our 2013 ISI by utilizing more technologies, such as discussion boards, Wikis, and other distance learning strategies.  Lastly, maintaining Fellows’ commitments to attend follow-up meetings had been somewhat of a challenge.  While the majority of Fellows have honored this commitment, each follow-up date has involved at least one reminder of the attendance requirement. We are brainstorming ways to circumvent this next year, possible with a more detailed and written attendance requirement.

You can find additional information about the Middle Tennessee Writing Project’s Summer Institute here