Orientations for the Teaching of Writing: A Legacy of the National Writing Project
by Anne Elrod Whitney & Linda Friedrich — 2013
Background/Context: Founded in 1974 by James Gray and a group of teacher colleagues who came together as the Bay Area Writing Project in California, the National Writing Project is a professional development network that has spread from one site to 197 university-based sites across the U.S. After such a long period of time in operation, it becomes possible to talk about the organization’s legacy—not legacy as in something one leaves behind after death, for NWP surely has not died, but one’s contribution, that which extends beyond its immediate tangible effects and resonates in a wider sphere.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Focusing on the broader orientations (Friedrichsen, Van Driel, & Abell, 2011) developed within the NWP network rather than solely on the transmission of specific teaching strategies, we ask specifically, “How do teachers describe the influence of NWP on their teaching?”
Research Design: This qualitative study uses interview data from NWP teacher-consultants whose involvement in NWP began between 1974 and 1994.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The legacy of the National Writing Project for the teaching of writing is a set of orientations that guide teachers in making decisions about their work and learning about and from that work. First, they clarified or revised their sense of the purposes for writing, primarily as a tool for learning and for developing ideas. Second, participants used writing processes as an organizing idea by which to scaffold students’ writing practices. Finally, participants linked their teaching of writing to their own experience as writers. These findings resonate with Friedriechsen, Van Driel, and Abell’s (2011) sense of orientations in science teaching as a set of beliefs that influence practice along the dimensions of goals or purposes of writing, the nature of writing, and writing teaching and learning. If we conceptualize professional development not as merely discrete events that have a linear and concrete impact, but as a decades-long series of encounters with ideas and strategies, then orientations help the field envision how individual teachers, as well as networks such as NWP, can bring coherence to a fragmented and changing landscape. We also offer this study’s design and analysis as a possible approach for long-term influence of conceptually based interventions.
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