OH NWP at Kent State: Refining the Invitational Summer Institute

Nov 16, 2013
Posted by: nwhitton

Although most sites hold a summer invitational institute and have a format for that work, the National Writing Project at Kent State has provided an innovative guide for this work and its implementation. This description and the attached schedule should give you plenty of ideas to breathe fresh life into your institute.

Our 2013 ISI subscribed to the same design of past years, running daily from 8:30-3:30, Monday-Friday, for four weeks. Fellows took the ISI for six graduate credit hours. We were able to once again offer a 25% discount on tuition through KSU. In addition, we used our grant money to provide a $500 scholarship to each Fellow. We had a total of 16 participants. Our goal was to increase our diversity in several areas: grade levels, ethnicity, and gender, as well as achieve a better balance among urban, rural, and suburban schools—and we were pleased that we had Fellows from several rural areas. As in the past, we hoped to continue to create a community of teacher leaders who would 1) implement NWP practices in their classrooms; 2) maintain a relationship with our site and fellow TCs through participating in book clubs, writing or study groups, presenting at NWP-sponsored conferences, serving on our TC Council, and/or attending NWP sponsored events; and 3) present an in-service for their school or district about the ISI and/or NWP practices. In lieu of the lack of future funding, we especially stressed the myriad ways NWP-KSU could be helpful to these Fellows’ school districts in meeting the new Common Core Standards, as well as performing better on our state’s annual tests. We believe that a major way to continue to sustain our site is through partnerships with area schools.

We used three facilitators for the 2013 ISI: Director Alexa Sandmann, Associate Professor Lori Wilfong , a 2011 TC, and high school teacher Jeff Harr, a 2007 TC. Each of us nurtured a writing group, a coaching (for demonstrations) group, and a research/study group.  Each of us, for one of the four weeks, led the “Grounds for Thought” and “Mining for Gold” activities that began our days, and we shared the fourth week.  We each took responsibility for organizing one of our project-supported lunches.  We believe that Fellows looked at us as equal partners in the enterprise—just what we wanted (although Lori was the instructor of record). Following is a brief explanation of activities that occurred daily. We also had former TCs give guest demo lessons (one/week). (See attached Weekly Schedule.)

            Institute Guide: Our entire institute was guided by the Common Core State Standards. In their interviews, our fellows stressed their desire to become leaders in their districts on the implementation of the standards in their classrooms. To that end, we restructured our weekly schedule. Each week, we focused on a specific strand, or writing type: Narrative (week one), Argumentative (week two), and Informational (week three).  During week four, we investigated the language strand.  Teachers left the institute feeling more confident in their knowledge of the standards, armed with demonstration lessons to share with their colleagues in their home districts.

     Grounds for Thoughts—An inspirational thought, reading, music, or other type of artifact was displayed daily to serve as a general prompt; sharing took a variety of forms throughout the four weeks, from Quaker shares to table groups to table pairs to rotating table groups to whole group shares.  We varied it, depending on what seemed right with that particular prompt on that particular day.

          Mining for Gold—We used samples of our Fellows’ students’ writing to look at writing strengths and “next steps” of students at various grade levels, K-12, and in diverse disciplines. A piece of writing, addressing the writing strand of the week, was placed on the Elmo. After reading it aloud, usually twice, discussions on its strengths and “next steps” took place as a whole group. We have done this for several years and the one thing that Fellows claim each year is how hard it is to remember to look for what is “golden” first—instead of errors—and that this strategy is diametrically opposite to their usual practice. They find it invaluable.

          Individual writing—Fellows wrote in the room or somewhere else around campus during this time, but significant chunks of time (at least an hour and a half per day) were devoted to writing.

          Writing Response Groups—Again in small groups, Fellows came together to share their writing in progress.  Sometimes they simply read it aloud; other times, based on the kind of feedback they wanted, they brought print copies for each Fellow.  We centered the conversations on the kind of feedback the writer requested; each writer came to the group with a specific question and feedback given addressed it—even as global accolades might be given. This writing “family” was critical, of course, to the development of many of the works that were published by the end of the Institute.  We are all proud of the anthology we created, everyone contributing at least one piece, as well as our contributions to NWP’s e-anthology.

           Research, Reading and Reading Activities—To foster the idea of leadership, each leadership team member chose a scholarly article (“pearls of the literacy research”) to use to model how to have professional discussions with colleagues. In addition, we formed small groups based on reading interest. Each leadership team member facilitated a group on a specific text: Pathways to the Common Core (Calkins, Ehrenworth, & Lehman, 2012), Notice and Note (Beers, & Probst, 2012), and Energize Research Reading and Writing: Fresh Strategies to Spark Interest, Develop Independence, and Meet Key Common Core Standards, Grades 4-8 (Lehman, 2012). Each group shared their insights and ideas gleaned from the text towards the end of the ISI. We also gave each Fellow a copy of Grammar Toward Professionalism (Cook, 2006), and invited Dr. Martha J. B. Cook to present on how to use her book. This 88 year old author was an inspiration to us all.

          Demonstration lessons and follow-upsOnce again, we formed coaching groups for the 2013 ISI, beginning at the May 8 orientation. These groups provided support for the Fellows before their demo lesson, and then offered feedback to them after their demo. We also had our former director, Dr. Tony Manna, give a guest demo lesson on the first day of the Institute, but this was because of the topic and scheduling; his topic builds amazing community within the group. So, further scaffolding/modeling occurred early in the ISI in a supportive, not privileged, way. All Fellows saw all teaching demos, which were 90 minutes in length. Demonstration lessons took place in the morning, with additional afternoon lessons as our numbers required. After each demo lesson, a short discussion took place and then Fellows responded in writing to the lesson by completing an Electronic Learning Log on KSU’s private ISI website, recording their takeaways and personal application for each lesson taught. Fellows also filled out a reflection form that gave feedback to the presenter. Meanwhile, the presenter filled out his/her own reflection form about the demo just presented in order to have “notes” when the demo was discussed with his/her coaching group. Further feedback to the presenter occurred the next time coaching groups met.  The presenter led the discussion, sharing what he or she thought were the strengths of the session and the places where refinements could be made.  A discussion followed; Fellows left the conversations empowered, and in most cases eager, to make their presentations again.

          Leadership team and TC presentations—The presentations we did covered topics such as writing assessment, Readers Theater, and technology support for writing. One of our book clubs joined us for lunch and then “fish-bowled” their book discussion of Jasper Jones (author). Fellows were given the book ahead of time so that they could participate in the book discussion.  At the event itself, we also generated a list of “great reads” because all of us are consistently looking for great new books.

            Role of Technology—During their interviews, several Fellows mentioned their desire to further incorporate technology into their literacy classrooms.  To that end, a private course website was created, complete with space for each participant to post their responses to demonstration lessons, post their writing, and read and respond to each other’s writing. In addition, all participants used DropBox to submit all final writing pieces.  Power point, Smartboards, wikis, and GoogleDocs and more made their way into demo lessons and discussions.


What a thoughtfully planned

tracey.flores's picture
Submitted by tracey.flores on Fri, 2013-12-27 15:24.

What a thoughtfully planned ISI with VERY intentional learning activities planned throughout each day.  I like the idea of a private webspace to publish learning and takeaways, plus share TC writing.  This is a great idea as it will open up the TCs writing to not just their "family writing groups," but also to ALL TCs to read at their leisure.  Also, posting learning and takeaways is a great artifact that can be used by the site to discuss growth throughout the ISI and refine activities for the upcoming ISI.  


I'd like to know more about the Write Here, Write Now Conference.


Thanks for sharing!