National Writing Project

Missouri Sites Implement Literacy Academies

Date: July 2007

Summary: Michael Muenks, the Missouri Department of Education's director of assessment, needed a professional development program to help boost literacy in underperforming middle schools. He welcomed the three-year program developed by the Missouri Writing Projects Network.

 

In December of 2005 Michael Muenks, the Missouri Department of Education's director of assessment, was looking for a professional development program to help boost literacy in the state's underperforming middle schools. He wanted a multiyear program—one that made the connection between reading and writing—that could be made available to struggling middle schools throughout the state.

Even though it was already the end of 2005, he wanted these "literacy academies" up and active by summer 2006.

"We Can Do This"

When Diane Scollay, director of the Gateway Writing Project (GWP) at the University of Missouri, St. Louis heard about Muenks' needs, she knew the Missouri Writing Projects Network (MWPN) was the group to tackle this challenge. She presented the idea to all the other MWPN directors—Jane Frick of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, Katie Kline of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project, Amy Lannin of the Missouri Writing Project, and Keri Franklin of Greater Kansas City's Ozarks (Springfield) satellite—and their excitement matched hers.

If we had not built our state network over the last six years, there is no way that these Literacy Academies would have happened.

Says Scollay, "We had experience in providing multiyear programs in school districts, and our network had been meeting each summer for six years. We had already exchanged materials and made presentations to each other, and our sites had been involved in in-state exchanges through NWP's Teacher Exchange program. The binder of materials that was used for the literacy academies was already about 75 percent finished."

Scollay met with Muenks and told him, "We can do this." She had plenty to back up her claim. She showed him resources the state network had developed and a proposal for professional development the Gateway Writing Project had done in a school district. She also gave him NWP materials and a copy of Because Writing Matters (2006).

Muenks was interested, and he asked for a concept paper that would describe a three-year program. He also wanted to see research to demonstrate that writing project programs were effective. Here Scollay was able to present him with the Local Site Research Initiative report (National Writing Project 2006) that included a Gateway site study.

Firming Up the Concept

Making use of phone conferences and emails, Scollay and her MWPN colleagues went to work on the concept paper.

Year one, they decided, would focus on building teachers' professional knowledge and skill in the teaching of reading/writing. Year two would continue to focus on knowledge and skills but would center primarily on teacher inquiry. Year three would continue the same themes but would go more deeply into teacher inquiry and teacher leadership.

The concept paper convinced Muenks, and he authorized the development of a grant that would pay for the literacy academies. Once the grant was approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the MWPN directors were notified and final preparations began.

In subsequent meetings, MWPN agreed there would be "givens" that would anchor work in all academies, but that it would also be necessary to build in flexibility so that the academies could respond to varied audiences. However, in all the academies teachers were to write on a range of topics and in a variety of genres, experience an array of strategies that promoted the writer's craft, plan lessons that incorporated writing, examine student work with protocols, and develop the first stages of professional portfolios.

The Academies Go To Work

In the summer of 2006 each of the sites offered 15 to 32 participants a weeklong program that gave a foundation in best reading/writing practices. Participating teachers did the same kinds of writing their students were expected to learn, advancing their own skills by writing, sharing, revising, and editing.

Stacia Studer, an eighth grade teacher at Bode Middle School in the Saint Joseph School District, speaks to the value of this approach. "I experienced the same instructional processes as my students, so I could take what I experienced right back into my own classroom. Plus, I was given a treasure chest of lessons and ideas for how to teach reading and writing. After this academy experience, I was eager to dive right back into the classroom, loaded with instructional tools."

To complement these experiences, teachers explored ways to enhance learning across content areas through the use of reading and writing strategies that promote acquisition and retention and through authentic assessment of student writing coupled with sound instructional decisions based on assessment results.

During the summer program, teachers also developed instructional plans for the school year. For instance, Mark Staten, a sixth grade teacher in the Tarkio R-I School District, made plans for teaching his students to keep writer's notebooks, using them for getting thoughts on paper, keeping lists of important concepts, taking notes and reviewing learning from other core classes, and sharing communication between student and teacher.

An Endless Summer

The literacy academies did not end with the summer. There were four days of follow-up during the school year, which built on the content and skills introduced during the summer and gave participants time to explore issues and raise questions, discuss the success of lessons they had planned during the summer, and develop more plans. Leaders spent time modeling how teachers could look at student work, using protocols produced during a study of the NWP by the Academy of Educational Development.

So teachers not only left the summer program with instructional plans for improving their teaching of writing and reading; they also left knowing that the literacy academy was a year-round program. They knew they could count on continued support.

According to Kem Smith, a teacher at Cross Keys Middle School, "the best part was the follow-up during the school year. Other one-day workshops cannot compare to this."

In addition, with partial support from an NWP State and Regional Networks minigrant, site directors, literacy academy facilitators, and teacher-consultants—sometimes as many as fifty strong—met in a series of year-round leadership meetings. They shared strategies and approaches for learning from student writing, using technology to improve learning and writing, creating inquiry communities in professional development programs and in the classroom, and supporting English learners and their teachers.

The How and Why of Success

Scollay comments, "I would say that what distinguishes the literacy academies from other professional development activities is that these teachers will work together for three years. Evaluations have been extremely positive, and we are told that that the Department of Education will continue the program as planned.

"But if we had not built our state network over the last six years, there is no way that these literacy academies would have happened."

References

National Writing Project. 2006. Local Site Research Initiative Report: Cohort II, 2004–2005. Berkeley, CA: Author. Available at http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2283.

National Writing Project and C. Nagin. 2006. Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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