Oregon Writing Project file photo
Through hard work and dedication, federally funded program for teachers is growing its inservice offerings and partnering with other groups to provide professional development in rural Oregon
Donald Wolff | Oregon Writing Project Director | (541)962-3527 | firstname.lastname@example.org
8 April 2008
LA GRANDE, Ore. (EOU) - The Oregon Writing Project, (OWP), at Eastern Oregon University has generated more than a million dollars in federal grants and matching funds since its inception in 1991.
OWP is a federally funded program for teachers, kindergarten through university levels. Over the years, OWP has been awarded $395,262 in grants, through the National Writing Project, (NWP), housed at the University of California at Berkeley. Over the same period, OWP has matched those federal dollars with another $652,604, much of it graduate tuition dollars at Eastern Oregon University.
Most of the federal dollars support teachers throughout Eastern's service region. The support includes fellowships to OWP's three summer institutes in Pendleton, Ontario and Bend. Nearly 200 K-12 teachers have attended OWP Summer Writing Institutes, with an additional 30 Eastern faculty from across the curriculum.
"Teaching in a rural school can be challenging because often there is no one with whom to 'bounce ideas' and share teaching strategies," said Norma Barber, OWP co-director and language arts teacher at Ukiah High School.
"I serve as the department chair, the curriculum director and the assessment director for my discipline. OWP offers to teachers who might be teaching alone the opportunity to talk to other teachers, learn from them, teach them, and collaborate with them as they develop plans for their students. At the conclusion of a Summer Institute, I am armed with a notebook filled with new ideas that have been tested in real classrooms, and have had a chance to try my own ideas and receive feedback from practicing teachers. The experience has made me confident that the education I offer students in my small, rural school is comparable to the education offered anywhere in the country," Barber said.
All this work has a direct effect on student performance. Independent studies have confirmed that the students of NWP teachers consistently score higher on nationally normed and state mandated writing, reading and critical thinking tests.
"My students come back from college and tell me their composition classes are a breeze because I taught them how to write. I give credit to the writing project that taught me how to teach writing," said Katie Leatherwood, OWP co-director and English teacher at Summit High School in Bend.
In addition to language arts teachers, OWP summer fellowships have been awarded to art teachers, social science teachers, math teachers, science teachers, high school counselors, librarians, special education teachers, drama teachers, music teachers, and a shop teacher.
"What all these teachers have in common is a commitment to teaching, learning and reflection, and a remarkable enthusiasm for what they do in their classrooms," said Nancy Knowles, OWP director. "They are true professionals. More than a few OWP Teacher-Consultants go on to become principals and district administrators."
Dixie Lund, EOU president, recognizes the value of the emphasis on writing across the disciplines.
"I am so proud of the EOU faculty who have made the OWP such a success," Lund said. "I especially appreciate the broad range of teaching disciplines that the OWP Institute attracts. Effective writing doesn't come easily for many of us, and I'm most thankful to know that numerous teachers and their students have been greatly helped over the years as a result of this Oregon Writing Project."
Donald Wolff, founding OWP director and professor in the English/writing program at Eastern states, "It has been remarkable to see the growth of the project over the years. We have worked closely with teachers from throughout the region, supporting their efforts to improve the teaching of writing and reading in their classrooms. By federal statute, at least 90 percent of the federal dollars we receive must go directly to classroom teachers for improvement in teaching literacy. We are proud of the fact that we average over 95 percent of our funds going directly to teachers, with less than 5 percent going to administrative costs. Of course, we couldn't do that without the support of the Eastern's administration."
By the same token, Eastern's administration recognizes the extraordinary amount of work needed to sustain OWP and its importance to the college's service region. Marilyn Levine, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at EOU, commented on the spectacular successes of the Oregon Writing Project.
"It is very easy to praise round numbers like one million dollars, but it represents years of constant diligence and dedication," Levine said. "Professor Wolff and Professor Knowles have benefited young people through this educational project throughout a dozen counties and they are as assiduous to detail as they are to the quality of their work."
In addition to the summer institutes, the NWP model insists on school-site inservice. Over the years, OWP has worked with hundreds of teachers throughout eastern Oregon in various inservice venues. Last year alone, OWP provided inservice for 90 teachers, totaling nearly 600 contact hours. Contact hours for the year, for all of OWP's programs, totaled 3,684.
OWP is currently growing its inservice offerings by partnering with other groups to overcome the shared difficulties of providing professional development in our rural region. For the second year in a row, OWP is collaborating with the Umatilla/Morrow Educational Services District, (UMESD), to provide inservice. This year, it has nurtured its partnership with the UMESD by pooling needs information, tailoring inservice to those needs, participating on leadership teams, and acting as a resource at other inservice meetings with teachers.
Currently, OWP has an ongoing inservice series in partnership with the district to enhance professional development not only in Umatilla and Morrow Counties, but also in Union, Baker, and Wallowa Counties, where the UMESD serves in an advisory capacity. One of this year's inservice series, hosted at Milton-Freewater's McLaughlin High School and involving K-12 and library educators, employs an inquiry-based model where teachers are exploring their chosen topic of student motivation. The Milton-Freewater area is a high-needs region, where a majority of students are from homes at or below the federal level of poverty.
In 2006 OWP was able to obtain an additional Project Outreach grant from NWP, allowing more OWP teachers to provide leadership in researching the professional development needs of the region.
"What is perhaps most awe-inspiring about Project Outreach work for me is seeing OWP teachers move from participants to site leaders to leaders on a national scale who network with peers across the country to understand data and develop programmatic responses and then market those responses to other experienced NWP site leaders," said John Remington, project coordinator and drama teacher and Pendleton High School.
"Where I once saw the Writing Project magic work without fail to turn teachers into writers, I am now starting to see the potential of the Writing Project to shape teachers into inspiring leaders. I look forward to more work in this area. Our effort so far has been beyond gratifying," Remington said.
In addition to working with teachers, OWP runs a writing group for the community. The Blue Mountain Writers' Group in La Grande has been very successful, maintaining an ongoing group comprised of teachers, students, and community members, several of whom are currently working through the book proposal process.
NWP federal funding cannot be used to directly teach students because the focus of the grant is on teacher development. Nevertheless, OWP has been running a successful Student Writers Workshop each spring for the past fifteen years. More than 2000 students have participated. Often supported by their school districts, students have come to the Eastern campus for a day of writing from as far away as Burns, Sprague, Huntington, and Washington state.
Every March, the OWP hosts the Student Writers' Workshop, a Saturday conference for writers in grades 3 through 12. The event includes a keynote presentation, concurrent sessions in grade-appropriate groupings, an open mic, and an anthology of student writing. Through this program, the OWP inspires young writers, models effective practices for their accompanying teachers, and increases visibility of OWP programming in the community. This program also brings young people to a college campus, many of them for the first time, which may contribute to their ability to envision themselves as future college students.
In their workshop evaluations, students often wish the day were longer so they could do more writing. Last year answering the question "Generally, what did you like about the workshop," a younger student wrote: "We got to write." To the same question, several high school students simply said, "Everything." Asked what she would change, a tenth grader wrote, "More time for writing and feedback. We need it."
OWP director Nancy Knowles states, "By any measure, OWP has been a great success. We are recognized for our work, which is often highlighted at important national conferences devoted to teaching in rural areas. With Eastern's repositioning and restructuring, the directors and teachers in OWP devoutly hope that the program continues to enjoy the support of Eastern's faculty from across the curriculum and from the administration.
"We have plans to expand OWP's capacity to reach more teachers in the region and to support the leadership development of those already connected to the project. I am continually amazed, although I should be used to it by now, at the ability of our Teacher-Consultants to address the literacy needs of their students both programmatically through professional development and as teachers in their classrooms. There is good teaching going on throughout our region and it is OWP's mission to identify best practices and make those approaches available to an ever-growing audience of educators. Everyone associated with OWP is energized and heartened by the work our teachers do."
The National Writing Project, whose model OWP follows, is considered the best professional development program for teachers in the country, with nearly 200 sites in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. There are four other sites in Oregon at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, at the University of Oregon, at Southern Oregon University, and at Willamette College in Salem.
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