National Writing Project

Writing Project Teacher Blogs for The New York Times

Date: December 15, 2010

Summary: Amanda Christy Brown, a teacher-consultant with the Boston Writing Project, takes daily news articles and transforms them into lesson plans that she blogs about for the New York Times' blog The Learning Network.


In the 13 years Boston Writing Project teacher-consultant Amanda Christy Brown has been teaching English in venues from New York to London to Massachusetts, one aspect of her work has remained pretty constant. Wherever she has taught she has served as the school newspaper advisor.

Maybe that's one reason she has been a good fit for the job she's taken on in addition to full-time teaching at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She is a blogger for The New York Times Learning Network .

It's the mission of the Learning Network to find interesting and creative ways to use Times content for teaching and learning, and since 1998 the Learning Network has posted a lesson every school day in addition to other features such as Word of the Day and a student opinion question.

Brown's responsibility as one of the network's ten bloggers is to create the lesson plan each Thursday for the blog's English Language Arts and Fine Arts Day.

For example, Brown has recently blogged about the following topics:

"I feel like I'm good at what I do in part because I have taught middle and high school in a variety of settings—public, private, urban, suburban—so I'm flexible," she says. "And as a blogger for the Times I think it's key that I am actually in the classroom most of the time—I feel like that gives me some street cred with other teachers who might read my work."

Teaching and Blogging

To those of us trying to live relatively tranquil and uncluttered lives, the way Brown's weekly blog lesson comes into being is a heady process. She works with Katherine Schulten, a Writing Project teacher-consultant with the York City Writing Project, who has been editing the Learning Network since 2006.

Each Tuesday Schulten reads the entire paper and then sends Brown that day's pick "based on what I know we haven't covered in a while, or content I know teachers are regularly teaching," said Schulten.

Brown receives the subject, often with some suggestions about what to do with it, and by Wednesday she has created the draft of a lesson. The editing then begins via email, with Brown, Schulten, and Holly Ojalvo, another ex-teacher friend of Brown's employed by the Times, brainstorming changes. On Thursday Brown's work appears.

"We do align all our lessons with state and national standards to help those teachers who are hemmed in by high-stakes testing," says Brown. "And we always emphasize critical reading, writing, and thinking skills, which will serve any student well on assessment. Many of the lessons can be shortened or drawn out in varying ways."

Writing Project Influence

Both Brown and Schulten are much aware of how their Writing Project experience has influenced their work. Says Brown, "My philosophy of teaching writing is so intertwined with the Project's that I truly don't know where one ends and the other begins."

My philosophy of teaching writing is so intertwined with the Project's that I don't know where one ends and the other begins.

Schulten adds, "When I send out a lesson idea to one of our freelancers I many times find myself beginning with the words, `I first learned this at the Writing Project.' Since I first took over as editor, pretty much every lesson I publish bears some imprint of Writing Project philosophy, technique, or orientation."

Glen Mitchell, director of the Boston Writing Project, with which Brown is affiliated, thinks the Times has made an excellent choice in hiring Brown for the Learning Network.

"Amanda has a generous, collaborative, and nimbly responsive interest in helping other teachers with their professional development needs that includes scaffolding reluctant writers, tiered instruction in content areas, and new media resource opportunities for all students."

Brown herself—who is also a member of NWP's E-Team, a group of teacher-leaders who respond to E-Anthology posts—thinks she is at exactly the right place for herself right now. "Teaching can be really isolating and I love that the Web can help create community among dedicated educators and that I can help facilitate that. There is a bit of missionary zeal in me, when it comes to spreading Writing Project ideas."

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