Developing Writing Teachers
eBook - ePub

Developing Writing Teachers

Practical Ways for Teacher-Writers to Transform their Classroom Practice

Terry Locke

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Developing Writing Teachers

Practical Ways for Teacher-Writers to Transform their Classroom Practice

Terry Locke

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The premise of Developing Writing Teachers is this: When teachers of writing identify as writers, it adds a special dimension to their writing pedagogy. Practical and accessible while drawing on a range of relevant research and theory, this text is distinguished by its dual focus—on teachers as writers and the teaching of writing. Part I addresses the question, What does it take for a teacher of writing to develop an identity as writer? Using case studies and teacher narratives, it guides readers to an understanding of the current status of writing as the 21st century unfolds, the role of expressive writing in developing a writing identity, the relationship of writing to genre and rhetoric, writing and professional identity, and writing as design. Part II focuses on pedagogical practice and helping writer-teachers develop a toolkit to take into their classrooms. Coverage includes building a community of writing practice; the nature of writing as process; the place of grammar; the role of information, communication and representational technologies; and how assessment, properly used, can help develop writing. Ideal for for pre-service and in-service courses on the teaching of writing, the Companion Website provides aadditional readings/documents; PowerPoint presentations; assessment resources; and lesson and unit plans and planning guides.

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1 Introduction: Assuming the Identity of Writer

DOI: 10.4324/9780203096451-1
I would not be writing this book if I did not think of myself as a writer. As the reader of this book, here at the start of the journey, you might ask yourself what your answer would be to the question: “Do you think of yourself as a writer?” As you mull over this question, you’ll be aware that this question is different from “Are you a writer?” It’s easier to say yes to the latter, because of the extreme likelihood that you have already written something this very day—a shopping list, perhaps, or an email, or a text, or a comment on a student’s work.
But thinking of ourselves as writers goes beyond recognizing that we engage in activities that require writing. It touches on identity—who we are—a quality of our being.
When I was studying English in high school, I was encouraged by my teacher to write poems and submit them for a school competition. I did so, without success. I still have these writings and am happy to confess that they are awful. I also wrote assignments—long, tortuous essays on Gerald Manley Hopkins and T. S. Eliot. But I did not think of myself as a writer. I was a student who submitted an unreadable poem for a competition and handed in literary essays.
The turning point in my journey occurred when I was studying American fiction in a postgraduate Arts program. My lecturer set us the task of writing a short story in the Hemingway style. The model was the kind of prose that you find in a story like “The Killers”:
The door of Henry’s lunch-room opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter.
“What’s yours?” George asked them.
“I don’t know,” one of the men said. “What do you want to eat, Al?”
“I don’t know,” said Al. “I don’t know what I want to eat.”
Outside it was getting dark. The street-light came on outside the window.
(Hemingway, 1962, p. 224)
I wrote a story about a gang-fight at a youth club I helped run at my local church and produced what I considered to be a fair imitation of Hemingway’s “hardboiled” style. What the activity forced me to do was think very carefully about how I was writing. I became self-conscious and, at the end of the experience, felt that I had stepped into a new pair of shoes—the shoes of a writer. Thinking of myself as a writer was not related to how good my writing was. But it had a lot to do with engaging in the activity and at the same time bringing a degree of reflection to what I was doing. I learned to think of myself as a writer by thinking about my writing as I wrote.

Teachers as Writers

The main focus of this introduction is the “Teachers as Writers” movement that has established a presence in the United States, England and New Zealand in the last four decades. The foundational belief of this movement is that when teachers embrace the identity of writer, their practices as teachers of writing undergo a transformation that enhances the experience of writing and writing performance of their students.
The National Writing Project (NWP) had its genesis in the United States in the Bay Area Writing Project (1973) and is currently a national professional development initiative with many sites. While it has received federal funding, it is a non-profit-making enterprise reliant on funding at local, regional and national level from a range of sources, including sponsors and local educational authorities. Its original and continuing spur was a gap in student achievement between writing and reading, where, according to Richard Andrews, “part of the problem is that teachers of all subjects, and at primary and secondary level, are less confident at writing and at the teaching of writing than they are at reading” (2008a, p. 5).
In a useful overview, Andrews summarizes the basic tenets of NWP thinking:
  1. To teach writing, you need to be able to write;
  2. Students should respond to each other’s writing;
  3. The teacher should act as writer alongside the students, and be prepared to undertake the same assignments as the students;
  4. There is research about the teaching of writing that needs to be considered and applied, where appropriate, in the classroom;
  5. Teachers can be their own researchers in the classroom;
  6. The best teacher of writing teachers is another writing teacher; and
  7. Various stages of the writing process need to be mapped and practiced: these include pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, conferencing (see no 2 above) and publishing (2008a, p. 8).
In the U.S. context, the NWP has had good deal of research attention and commentary, which has confirmed the transformational potential of NWP-type professional development, while indicating that “much further investigation is clearly needed into the specific outcomes of NWP participation for classroom practices and for student outcomes” (Whitney, 2008, p. 151).
Influenced by the American project, a national writing project was established in New Zealand in 1987 with distinct projects based in four urban centres. A report on the project by Scanlan and Carruthers’s (1990) found that:
  • “as the teachers became writers themselves their attitude to the teaching of writing changed;
  • “how the teachers taught writing changed;
  • “student writing improved as a result of these changes; and
  • “teachers demonstrated their new skills and knowledge to other teachers” (p. 14).
The report emphasized the way in which teachers trained in the project were “seeded back into the system to disseminate what they have learned” (Scanlan & Carruthers, 1990, p. 16), a cascading model also characterising the NWP in the United States.
From 1985 to 1988, a National Writing Project also took place in England, with a year’s dissemination from 1988–89. Like its New Zealand counterpart, the project effectively came to a halt in the early 1990s. Both projects were overtaken by a raft of curriculum reforms that changed drastically the nature of teachers’ work and which, with their focus on outcomes and levels, appeared out of step with the thinking behind the Teachers as Writers movement. In both countries, while the United States was soldiering on with its National Writing Project, it was another 20 years before steps were taken to reignite the movement.

Helen's Story

The decision to establish anew a writing project in the New Zealand context was realized in a two-year project, carried out in 2010 and 2011 with the title: “Teachers as Writers: Transforming Professional Identity and Classroom Practice.” Some university colleagues and I approached 13 teachers in four high schools and four primary schools to engage with us in the project as teacher-researchers. Collectively we wanted to find out:
  1. What practices around writing/composing pedagogy (and their attendant discourses) have the potential to contribute to the development of an effective, sustained Writing Workshop environment for teachers?
  2. What Writing Workshop features are viewed positively by teacher-participants as contributing to increased confidence and competence in themselves as writers/text-makers?
  3. To what extent are the self-efficacy profiles of teachers in relationship to themselves as writers/text-makers modified as a result of their engagement in the Writing Workshop experience?
  4. What impact does involvement in the Writing Workshop experience have on the writing/composing pedagogical practices of participant teachers and how do they rate these changes in practice?
  5. What pedagogical strategies have the potential to enhance the motivation and writing/composing performance of students of participating teachers and which of these can be attributable to changes in classroom practice prompted by engagement in the Writing Workshop experience?
Findings in relation to these questions are part of the repository of research data that underpins this book. Helen’s story arises in this New Zealand context. I make no claim for her as either typical or exemplary, but I hope that you find some points of connection with her.
When I first met Helen Kato in 2010, she had been teaching for eight years in New Zealand secondary schools. She was now Head of English at a rural co-educational school with a role of around 470 students, of whom 32% were indigenous Māori and a significant number Pasifika (i.e., originating from a Pacific Island nation). The school drew students from a range of communities, some relatively affluent and others characterized by low incomes and welfare dependency.
Like other teacher-researchers, Helen attended two six-day Writing Workshops in January 2010 and 2011 and a supplementary one-day workshop in April, 2010. As a participant, she engaged in writing tasks in response to a range of stimuli, giving and receiving feedback in small groups, modeling teaching strategies of her own, and taking turns to share her writing with the whole group while occupying the “author’s chair.” In broad terms, she was engaged in a process approach to writing. Among the text-types (or genres) she produced were a childhood memory, a biopoem, a personal narrative, a character poem, a group memory poem and a position statement. (For a detailed account of what happened and teachers’ responses to the workshop, see Locke, Whitehead, Dix, & Cawkwell, 2011).
You’ll notice I’ve been using the term “teacher-researcher.” Teachers like Helen accepted the deal that they would be research partners in an action research project made up of a number of case-study sites. Lytle and Cochran-Smith (1992) usefully defined teacher research as “systematic, intentional inquiry by teachers about their own school and classroom work” (1992, p. 450). As a research partner, Helen was invited to engage in collaborative decision-making around: what she would try with her selected class by way of an intervention; what learning objectives she would plan for her unit of work; the data she would need to collect in order to ascertain what tasks/activities/approaches worked in terms of her objectives; and how these data should be analyzed.
In the reflective profile she wrote as part of the project baseline data, Helen described herself as a writer of emails, reports, letters of various kinds and job applications. She saw herself as confident about composing basic narratives and formal letters, but lacked confidence in “creative” writing. She had never considered identifying as “teacher as writer” and confessed that “writing as pleasurable” was not part of her previous study program. In her classroom writing program, writing was not included for anything other than gaining NCEA credits. (The National Certificate of Educational Achievement is New Zealand’s qualification system and operates in the final three years of secondary schooling from Year 11 to Year 13.) “Writing as personal pleasure is not at the top of the list,” she said.
In 2010, Helen had two Year 12 English classes. The class she chose for her “intervention” was the “least able” of these classes, containing students with a record of truanting, poor motivation and a lack of achievement in terms of NCEA credits at Year 11. The idea of trialling a unit of work based around the writing of poetry had its genesis in the January workshop. She wrote in her reflective journal:
My approach, indeed even my contemplation of teaching a creative writing unit creatively, is most definitely colored and influenced by the Writing Workshop I participated in at the beginning of the year. With some sense of shame I am forced to admit that before attending the workshop, I had little confidence in my ability to teach creative writing. I feel brave, challenged and excited!! The workshop provided a model for teaching writing in a supportive and academically unthreatening environment, and then gave me the opportunity to actually write creatively. It was an indulgence and a hugely rewarding experience. Personally, and as a teacher, I felt enriched.
In what she described as a series of “brief experimentations,” Helen had these students engage in writing freely on such theme as origins, and people and places. Encouraged by the quality of their writing and their enthusiasm, and emboldened by her own growing confidence as a creative writer, Helen decided to implement a poetry unit in the last two terms of the school year. (For a comprehensive account, see Locke and Kato, 2012.)
Helen’s aim was to have her students write poetry on “place” or “character” for enjoyment, sharing and to gain NCEA credits at Level 2. Specifically, she was preparing a unit focused on Achievement Standard 2.1: “Produce crafted and developed creative writing,” an internally assessed standard with an allocation of three credits. Rather than using a standardized national task (there isn’t one for poetry), she herself designed a unit incorporating listening to selecte...