Teachers Rejuvenate with Writing, Inquiring, and Strategy-sharing at Lincoln Summer Institute

Summer Institute Participants

Some Nebraska teachers head for the beach to relax after the school year, yet this summer 14 new teachers discovered writing, inquiring, and strategy-sharing as their method of rejuvenation during the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute held on UNL campus June 6-July 1. The Nebraska Writing Project is one branch of the National Writing Project and both share the mission of developing and sustaining the expertise of our nation’s educators in order to “improve writing and learning for all learners.”

Four women pose with head sculpture outside Sheldon Museum of Art
Summer Institute participants pose outside Sheldon Museum of Art on the UNL campus

Leading the Institute in Nebraska is Writing Project Director Dr. Robert Brooke, with help during the 2011 Summer Institute from co-facilitators Travis Adams, Jess Meyer and Diana Weis, all of whom share a passion for writing and professional collaboration.

One of the core beliefs of the Nebraska Writing Project is “the best teachers of writing are writers themselves;” however, many teachers find they engage with their students’ writing more than creating their own. After the Institute, teacher consultant Debbie Beran said she “revels in the time I can write I’ve never done that before. I’ve been inspired by the class to finally do so!”

Co-facilitator Diana Weis decided to take her love of writing and use it to connect with her students by starting a Writing Club. “We have 16 students and three teachers in our club. We began our first meeting with an activity that we did the first day of the Institute. We plan to podcast our writing!” Diana relayed at a recent Institute reunion.

Another core belief of the Nebraska Writing Project is “teachers provide the best instruction for other teachers.” The Institute embraces this belief by having each teacher present an EQUIP, a 60-minute lesson followed by a 30-minute discussion. The EQUIP may allow teachers to present best strategies, but it can also give teachers the ability to further investigate ways to improve and/or build upon what is already in place in their classrooms. After trying some of the EQUIP activities presented in the Institute in her own classroom this fall, teacher consultant Christine Morris said, “Using EQUIPs in class changes the tone. [The teachers] give hands-on activities the kids enjoy and learn from—this works!”

Besides personal writing and EQUIPs, Institute participants also chose topics currently affecting their teaching and/or schools, topics with which they wished to inquire and research further. The burning issues of the summer included: Social Justice and Writing, Thinking Moves and Writing, Motivation in a Writing Classroom, and Peer Revision/Group Response in a Writing Classroom. The institute divided into teams to conquer these hot topics and present their findings to the group. Mike Catron likes how it gives an opportunity to “work with other teachers to re-imagine courses beyond the push of content.”

Even though the Institute ended on the first day of July, many lasting friendships were formed. The small writing group element of the Institute can usually be credited for this. Permanent writing groups are sprung from these (several 2011 Institute members continue to meet to share writing and teaching stories!). The camaraderie of such an organization is a terrific way to end of school year and a great way to start another.

Writers on the dock at Platte River State Park
Teacher consultants and facilitators reunite at Platte River State Park in September

Thirteen of the eighteen teacher consultants and facilitators of the 2011 Summer Institute met at the Platte River State Park on September 10 for a reunion and an opportunity to receive the Institute anthology. Some stayed for a writing marathon while others had to leave for Husker game-day events; however, all were happy to exchange stories about the rest of their summer and the start of their school year. Both were filled with tales of writing and further triumphs past the Institute! All teachers were in agreement that the Nebraska Writing Project was responsible not only for rejuvenating the writer in each teacher, but also the excitement in each of their classrooms.

2010 NeWP Summer Institute Revitalizes Teachers

2011 Summer Institute Participants

While teachers all over the state of Nebraska spent their summertime rejuvenating after a long 2009-2010 school year, 17 new teacher consultants got busy writing, inquiring, and EQUIPping during the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute held on the UNL campus June 7-July 2. The Summer Writing Institute has long been the portal by which teacher consultants from all over the country enter into a series of institutes, professional inquiry, and involvement.

Leading the charge in Nebraska is Writing Project Director Robert Brooke with 2010 co-facilitators Susan Martens, Carol Mertl and Diana Weis, all of whom share a passion for writing and professional collaboration.

“I love being around the number of ideas and talented people,” said Diana Weis. “It reminds me what a gift and art good teaching is.”

Woman Writing

These talented teachers often express their desire to write for themselves, but often say that a lack of time prevents them from engaging in meaningful writing. During the Summer Institute, TCs were again able to focus on their own writing and receive valuable feedback from others.

“My four weeks of immersion into the act of writing increased my confidence as a writer and desire to share my writing with readers,” said Jessica Rivera. “While I know that I need to continue to practice my craft and feed my soul, my affection for listening and sharing stories with people—a feeling once buried in my childhood—has returned.”

Another component of the Summer Institute is the research-based inquiry project. Teams this year researched a wide variety of topics including Writers’ Workshops, Technology and Writing, Social Justice and Writing, Dual Credit Writing Instruction, and Place-Based/Community Education.

Chairs in shop

“After taking this class, I have a different view on this statement, ‘research-based,’” said Brenda Larabee. “Initially, I looked at the phrase ‘research-based’ as a limiting and constraining item. Now, I look at my classroom as a research space and myself as a researcher.”

In addition to the writing and research, Teacher Consultants presented EQUIP demonstrations—a 60-minute lesson followed by a 30-minute discussion. Not only did EQUIPs give teachers an opportunity to share best practices, it also allowed them the opportunity to participate in others’ demonstrations and add to their repertoire.

“The EQUIP presentations were highly motivating,” said Monique Poldberg. “Although our Institute this summer was mainly secondary teachers, I feel that most of them could be adapted to my elementary writing instruction. I learned so much about different genres of writing and was able to try them out!”

Dr. Brooke hopes TCs take with them “a stronger sense of themselves as writers with something to share, a set of teaching practices and resources that have worked for other teachers, and a sense of being part of a community of teachers who will continue to help each other do our best work” as they depart the Summer Writing Institute.

Woman Writing

The Institute’s small writing groups are often described as one of the most important elements of the Institute.  Friendshipsand close professional ties often emerge as a result. This year was no different. The “Sidewalk Hogs” continue to share their writing on a regular basis.

“Our group [officially named The Divine Secrets of the Tree-Huffing Sidewalk Hogs] bonded really strongly from the very first day and the writing marathon where we had our adventure trying to get into the prop room of the Temple building,” said Susan Martens.

Four women on a sculpture

“We still meet approximately every other week at different locations around downtown [Lincoln],” she added. “We bring whatever we feel like or whatever we are working on, from poems to conference proposals. Mostly we just enjoy seeing each other and talking about what’s going on with our graduate programs. Our group is lucky because we all work in Lincoln and can get together easily.”

Dr. Brooke often witnesses lasting friendships form as a result of the Institute.

“Because everyone who participates in the Summer Institute is an expert teacher with something to share, and because that expertise is valued in every aspect of the Summer Institute, relationships between teachers are easy to build,” said Dr. Brooke. “We’re able to explore our own real issues in our writing and our teaching, without defensiveness, in a context of real sharing.”

As a last hurrah, members from the 2010 Summer Institute gathered at Old Chicago in the Haymarket on Jan. 22 for lunch, fellowship, and to collect their 2010 anthologies. The reunion was short lived, though, as yet another winter storm barreled through eastern Nebraska, sending people home early and causing others to cancel altogether.

Rivera, who worked on the 2010 SI anthology committee and organized the reunion said, “While an impending snowstorm prevented some from joining the lunch, those that gathered enjoyed seeing one another and catching up on our work as readers, writers, and teachers.”

Those who could not attend the reunion should have received their anthologies in the mail.

Technology Summer Institute 2010

Tech Institute Participants

Smart phones. Computers. Televisions. facebook. Twitter. YouTube. This list goes on and chances are, if our kids aren’t at school, they’re using one of these electronic device to access millions of apps. As a matter of fact, most school-age kids use electronics about 7.5 hours a day. Add to that that many are probably multi-tasking and students end up consuming around 11 hours of media content per day! 

Companies update devices (hardware) and applications (apps or software) at lightning speed. So how can we, the adults who educate these tech-savvy youngsters, keep up with all this technology? How can we, the adults dubbed digital immigrants, integrate this technology into our lessons?

The answers to these questions and more are answered each summer during the Nebraska Writing Project Technology Summer Institute. The Institute provides a combination of time to play and explore, prepare lessons, collaborate with colleagues, and engage in thoughtful conversations. (Did I hear a collective sigh of relief?)

Tech Institute Participants
Tech Institute Participants

From June 7-25, 2010, NeWP Technology Liaison Cyndi Dwyer with UNL professor June Griffin and teacher consultant Carrie Copley facilitated a whirl-wind, three-week journey through cyberspace. Teacher consultants explored technology to enhance writing instruction in their classrooms. Much of the time was spent in the “cloud” discovering new ways to reach the 21st century learners of today.   

“When we got our heads out of the ‘cloud,’ we explored software applications (mostly on Macs) to keep up on the newest and hottest trends to hit the world of educational technology,” said Copley.

Caught in the act! TCs catch up on the latest technology

The 2011 Technology Summer Institute runs June 6-24.  The institute will meet daily 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Lincoln Southwest High School in the computer lab.

Past participants rave about the Institute:

“It’s a great time to learn and play and dream with technology.”

“As with all NEWP institutes, this one has been great. The teachers have been fun, friendly, encouraging and helpful. It is a joy to spend three precious weeks with others of like mind.”

“I feel more confident in the use of technology. . . I have a better feel for the language of technology which I desperately needed.”

“Beginning” Teacher Consultants often experience a major learning curve, but others participate to focus on the new and exciting web 2.0 offerings and to gather ideas for classroom use:

“The technologies and thinking about how the technologies can enhance my teaching, meaningfully.”

“I knew most of what we were doing, but the idea of, reason for, and then the application to my classroom was most rich.”

“I’ve honed my skills–I knew basic things before about some of these programs but never had time to play.”

“I appreciated being able to think critically about how to incorporate technology effectively.”

NEWP institutes have a reputation for being meaningful and engaging participants and the technology institute is no exception. Teachers may qualify for a $250 stipend to offset the cost of three graduate credit hours. Applications for the 2011 Technology Institute are being accepted now through March 7 with notification of acceptance by April 18.

Learning Community of Writers’ Institute: A Community Mandated by Law, United through Writing

LCWI Group

It is late afternoon on Wednesday. A group of twenty-three educators, representing nine Omaha area Learning Community districts gather at Educational Service Unit # 3 in La Vista, NE. They teach kindergarten through grade 12, provide professional development for others in their districts, and serve as district curriculum leaders. They worked all day in their classrooms, schools, and districts but gather now with new energy and excitement to share their own writing with colleagues in small groups – the poems they wrote this week, professional writing, beginnings of novels, family stories, classroom stories, and more. They listen and respond to each other, providing encouragement and ideas for revision. They are educators learning ways to improve writing education through shared expertise and resources. They are the first Learning Community of Writers’ Institute (LCWI).

LCWI is a supportive writing and teaching workshop for educators modeled after the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institutes. The three LCWI facilitators, Laura Miller and Kim Larson, Instructional Facilitators with Papillion-La Vista Schools, and Sue Anderson, Director of Staff Development with ESU #3, noticed themes that summarized the impact of LCWI on participants as they reviewed final portfolios and letters of reflection:

  • An excitement for writing, for trying new genres, revisiting pieces written years ago, for talking about their own writing, and revising based on feedback received from others
  • Participants making connections between themselves as writers and becoming better teachers of writing
  • A willingness to become leaders in the area of writing instruction by connecting with other educators, finding ways to share ideas with others in their schools and districts, and show a renewed excitement for learning together.

This was the first professional development experience supported by the newly formed Omaha area Learning Community. The creation and implementation of the Institute was supported by Papillion-La Vista Schools, the Nebraska Writing Project, the Nebraska Department of Education, and the Omaha area Learning Community. If you are interested in knowing more about the Learning Community of Writers’ Institute, please contact Mary Knight at mknight78@cox.net.

I have so many new ideas to take back to my district and use within my classroom. In addition, I’m so excited about the professional connections I’ve made in this group. It has been wonderful to work with others who share the same passion for writing and teaching writing.

I found the EQUIPs presented to be of great value. I’ve incorporated a number of items learned through the EQUIPs in my own instruction of writing. In addition to including my EQUIP in the portfolio, I have included examples of how I have already applied some of the LCWI experiences in my classroom.

My writing group during the institute kept me motivated and assisted me in revising my pieces. Their feedback was supportive and helpful. The institute as a whole has helped me view myself as more of a writer, and my confidence in my abilities as a writer has increased.  The ideas presented, the connections with other teachers, the personalwriting, and the growth I’ve experienced as a teacher and a writer have made the LCWI probably the most valuable professional experience I’ve ever had.  Treating students as writers, honoring what they write helps them love writing and see it as something they can do. The skills and techniques will follow!

Writers write for readers, and one of the things that has been beneficial through the writing project is the feedback from my peers. The thought of someone else reading or listening to my writing motivates me and pushes me to be better. The same is true for kids.

Papillion-La Vista Embedded Institute 2007

The 2007-08 Papillion-La Vista NeWP Institute began Wednesday evening, October 10. Twenty four Papillion-La Vista teachers met at the Central Office to participate in free-writing, writing-generating demonstration/activities, reflecting on ourselves as writers, sharing our writing, and responding to writing.

The first two large group meetings included EQUIP presentations titled Meeting Boys Writing Needs, Raiding the Spice Rack to Conjure Ideas,and Memory Maps. Permanent small groups will begin meeting at our next meeting on November 7 and thereafter at various places around the city PLV NeWP Co-Facilitators are PLV Staff Laura Miller (District Instructional Facilitator), Tessie Boudreau (Golden Hills Elementary Literacy Facilitator), Mary Birky (Papillion-La Vista High School English Teacher). The 2007-08 PLV NeWP Institute will meet approximately every otherWednesday evening from October through April.

Rural Institute at North Platte 2007

Rural Institute attendees on porch

NeWP held its Summer Rural Institute this past summer in North Platte. Sixteen K-12 teachers from 12 Western Nebraska school participated. Sharon Bishop (Heartland Community, Henderson) and Amy Wilson (Aurora Elementary) co-facilitated.

We met for two weeks in June on the campus of Mid-Plains Community College. What a beautiful host site! Anne Schmidt, our community liaison, was a tremendous help to all of us, making sure our food, lodging, and technology needs were met. Anne also invited local authors to our vist our institute and speak with participants. We were honored to have Keith Blackledge and Diane Wetzel, from the North Platte Telegraph, share about their own writing lives and read excerpts from books they have published.

Following the tradition and philosophy of a rural institute, our group went on several field trips. Our goal was to immerse ourselves in the people, places, and culture of North Platte. On the first day, we visited Scout’s Rest Ranch, the home of Buffalo Bill. Later in the week, we wrote and reflected on the banks of the North Platte River at Cody Park — even went on a carousel ride while we were there! We also took a scenic drive to Fort McPherson National Cemetery, toured Lincoln County Historical Museum where we were particulary fascinated by the Canteen exhibit, perused through many shelves and stacks of books at the local A to Z Bookstore, and some attended an evening rodeo event that kicked off North Platte’s infamous NebraskaLand Days.

We look forward to seeing each other again this fall. Our first gathering is scheduled for Saturday, October 13. During this time, teachers will share their EQUIP presentations.

Lincoln Summer Institute 2007

The 2007 Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institute was held June 11-July 6. Thirteen teachers, including elementary, secondary, and graduate students, gathered to share their expertise in the teaching of writing. We began with Cathie English’s teacher demonstration on the power of teaching place which provided institute participants with a chance to write about their sense of place or community. It also provided us with a chance to consider how we might teach place in our own classrooms. Each day a teacher demonstrated his or her best practice in the teaching of writing .

Group writing

Small groups met and shared writing, and with each demonstration, we were given yet another opportunity to write our lives. We were invited to the tech institute to observe what they were doing with their new technologies or “literacies” and that we had a chance to play with Garage Band to create a podcast. We held the first ever institute writing marathon on Friday of the first week and found our way around the downtown area of Lincoln, Nebraska. We met at a local restaurant for a powerful read around of our marathon writing.

Group in front of a Haymarket sign

Institute participants also submitted work on a weekly basis to the National Writing Project’s annual E-anthology. The Nebraska writers submitted some stellar pieces of writing but also provided many gracious responses to fellow teacher consultants across the country. Throughout the institute we also formed inquiry groups who selected their own area of interests which included social action (or social justice, teaching difference, etc), technology (digital portfolios, digital divide, digital portfolios, podcasting), and peer editing/response groups. Once a week, we had an overnight exchange of writing so participants could get extensive feedback upon their writing. We held two read ‘arounds’ in the institute; one at the half way point and one at the end. At the end of the institute, we offered participants an opportunity to continue their inquiry or investigations into the teaching of writing through a Level II institute throughout the school year.

The 2007 Summer Institute provided me a chance to rethink and revise my own curriculum. I was truly impressed with the quality of the teacher demonstrations. I plan to take back into my classroom, many of the wonderful strategies I learned from my colleagues. I have given a great deal of thought to the concept of thinking moves, invention strategies, and ways in which students approach writing and how we respond to our students–and how they respond to each other. I never cease to be amazed at the writing each teacher develops throughout the four-five weeks of the institute. I’m also quite fascinated by how quickly small groups bond and share writing that is often very personal. I witnessed some incredible poetry writing in my own small group, and I take back into my classroom a reminder: sharing and writing your own poetry inspires others to do the same.

As a facilitator, I was challenged by the coaching. I wanted to be helpful but I also wanted each teacher to have ownership over their demonstration, too. I wanted each teacher to research, plan, and develop a demonstration that would engage us, transform his or her own classroom, and give thought to how his or her demonstration might be developed into a potential inservice opportunity. I thought this summer’s class was a tremendous group, and I’m impressed that so many of them want to continue working together throughout the year, continuing inquires that just began in the four weeks we were together.

Summer Technology Institute 2007

During the summer of 2007, we conducted an invitational technology and writing institute (the NeWP Tech Institute). This workshop was marketed exclusively to past participants in the Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institutes, with the idea that these participants would already share some basic commitments to writing instruction enabling the group to focus attention on technologies that might enhance writing instruction in the classroom.

Facilitators for this institute were Cyndi Dwyer (Southwest High School, Lincoln), June Griffin (Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln), Debbie Minter (Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Dwight Thiemann (Maxey Elementary School, Lincoln). We had 10 participants enrolled in the project. It ran for three weeks in June, with the group meeting together from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM and participants working individually or collaboratively in the afternoons of those weeks.

The work of the institute included guided exploration of the following software and technologies: NeWP Interactive Forums, iLife software (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie), Podcasting (Garage Band software), Inspiration/Kidspiration, ComicLife, Wikis, Blogs, Social Networking Spaces and Social Bookmarking, Powerpoint, ePortfolios in the Schools, and Moodle (a free, open source course management software). Much of this exploration was guided by members of the facilitation team, but some was guided by guest presenters including Dan Schmit (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Evan Trofholz (Eastside Middle School, Omaha); Paul Clark, Bob Goeman and Mark Carnevalo (all of University of Nebraska, Omaha).

Participants were required to produce and share several kinds of work over the course of the institute including: a 3-5 minute digital story, a Technology & Writing Inquiry Project (TWIP) geared toward a particular classroom practice or project, responses to required readings on a number if applications/technologies including Web 2.0, powerpoint, and wikis & blogs. Participants used the interactive forums to post responses to their colleagues’ digital stories and TWIPs, as well as to prompt conversations on topics relevant to the group’s work. In addition, individual participants shared readings that they found useful, some from the NeWP library made available to the group, others from individual participants’ personal libraries.

During the final week of the NeWP Tech Institute, the participants hosted a Technology Fair, inviting participants of the NeWP Six-Week Invitational Institute to visit, guiding that group through the production of a short podcast and then sharing their TWIPs with the visitors.

Literacy Summer Institute 2006

The Nebraska Writing Project Literacy Institute concluded June 23rd. Sharing Our Stories became an encompassing theme as participants explored literature and writing practice across several genre. Literature Writing Inquiry Projects engaged the participants in exploratory activities and kept everyone actively examining classsroom proactice. Featured texts included Witness, Kindred, Criss Cross, Locomotion, Hollering Creek Woman, and Something to Declare.

Pius X High School Embedded Institute 2005-06

Teachers with poet Ted Kooser

Seeing the world through the eyes of a runner, bedtime stories and memories of Christmas past, are just a few of the pieces being created by writers involved in the Pius Embedded Writing Institute.

Writing across the curriculum has been a long term goal at Pius X High School. In order to encourage all teachers to become writers themselves, we are currently in our third year of the Pius Embedded Writing Institute. With the completion of this year’s institute, Pius X will become the first school in the state of Nebraska to have all faculty members and administrators participate in the Nebraska Writing Project through summer and embedded institutes. This year’s participants are exploring ways to add writing to the chemistry classroom, creating best-practice lesson plans for foreign language students and enjoying writing their own personal poetry and narratives about family and faith.

Incorporating Place-Consciousness in a Summer Institute

In the summer of 2005, Pius X High School hosted a unique open Summer Institute. Teachers interested in advancing their writing skills, and those of their students, wrote their own pieces, read professional works and shared their best writing practices with other teachers. Though this may sound like the regular Summer Institute experience, this Institute was unusual because it was a Faith-Based Summer Institute drawing on a sense of “place”for teachers in parochial schools.

Readings were both professionally and spiritually based and offered participants the opportunity to explore their own sense of place. Guest speakers from the area, including Mary Costello, author of Still Full of Sap, and Ted Kooser, author and Poet Laureate, discussed poetry, publishing and producing writing for both teachers who now see themselves as writers and for their students they hope to inspire. Following the National Writing Project’s model, Pius and NeWP TC’s coordinated this unique Institute to the great satisfaction of all involved.

“My overall perception of this past week has been so powerfully helpful for me in the countless dimensions of my life… I could not ask for a more fruitful experience.”

“This writing project has given me confidence in what I write and has opened many doors. I feel I can use many of the techniques we have used to help the student write (prompts, free write, visual and audio images.”

“This institute has opened my writing door more; it was only cracked in the past. Writing is relaxing and satisfying – it frees the spirit. I’m grateful for all the encouragement and sharing.”

Other schools interested in designing an Institute to meet their specific needs, or those interested in an Embedded Institute, may contact Dr. Robert Brooke, UNL Director of the Nebraska Writing Project, for further information.