In the Gretna Public School district the practice and teaching of writing is held in high regard. Gretna teachers in all grade levels and across the curriculum have long worked together to discover the best practices in writing instruction and assessment through research, experimentation, and collaboration. The fall of 2016 brought an opportunity for Gretna’s secondary teachers to devote three hours per week in the pursuit of these tasks as participants in the Gretna Writing Project Institute.
Gretna has offered an annual embedded writing institute to its k-12 teachers for several years now, but the 2016 class opened the doors to a new territory when three science teachers joined the six English teachers participating in the institute. Together, these nine educators spent invaluable hours discussing the field of teaching and the craft of writing. Though nearly all participants were initially hesitant to enroll in the institute (We all know that the “We teach! There’s never enough time as it is!” argument is a valid one!) each was glad to have done so by the end of the semester.
It would be impossible to determine which component of the writing institute model is most effective: the EQUIPS, the inquiry projects, or personal writing groups. Each of these facets of the institute inspired lively and heartfelt discussions and helped the teacher participants to unravel their own perspectives on issues facing them professionally and personally. Three small writing groups, made up of three teachers each, were a welcome respite in the hectic shuffle of teaching every week. Personal writing projects that were developed during the institute include poetry collections, a playscript, several chapters of a novel, professional research and writing for journal submission, and even some ancestry chronicling. The relationships formed by sharing these intimate writings with one another are truly priceless.
The EQUIP presentations were also brilliantly planned and executed each week. The addition of the science teachers to the traditional institute dynamic created a wonderfully diverse set of voices in the feedback and questioning portion of each presentation.
EQUIP topics included:
Un-Writing: Putting Language to its Best Use
Using Film to Promote Writing
Stream of Consciousness Composition in the Science and English Classroom
Qualitative Analysis and the Use of Imagery in the Chemistry Lab
Authentic Writing Experiences in Every Classroom
Sensory Observation as a Writing Tool
Creative Writing in Science Content
Drawing for Analysis and Poetry Writing
Imitation Writing: The Book of Qualities and Jue Ju poems
Inquiry presentations were equally diverse and intriguing, featuring research and discussion about multiple intelligences, the brain science behind listening to music while studying and writing, and changing the idea of literature studies to feature more short pieces than novels.
All in all, the 2016 Gretna Writing Project Institute was time well spent. The 2016 participants have been encouraging their professional peers to take the leap and join next year’s institute. Hopefully we will see even more departments working to incorporate more writing into their lives and courses as they are increasingly represented in this powerful program.
Jennifer Long | Nebraska Writing Project