National Writing Project

Writing Project Principles at the Heart of San Diego School

By: Art Peterson
Date: February 4, 2011

Summary: Teacher-consultants from the San Diego Area Writing Project have opened a charter school that emphasizes writing across the curriculum, teachers teaching teachers, and a commitment to equity and social justice.

 

student at Global Vision Academy
A typical scene at the Global Vision Academy.

Is there a Writing Project teacher-consultant who, in the exhilarating throes of an invitational summer institute, has not fantasized about starting a school with her talented band of new-found colleagues?

For most, these dreams remain unfulfilled, but for teachers at the San Diego Global Vision Academy Charter School these musings are no longer fanciful.

Christine Kane, co-director of the San Diego Area Writing Project and the fourth grade teacher at the Academy, organized a group of Writing Project teachers who applied for their own charter school with a mission statement focused on making sure that the "design, development, and implementation of writing instruction would be applicable to all content area subjects."

To serve that end, the K–6 charter school of 120 students, which just opened in the fall of 2010, is staffed almost entirely by Writing Project teachers. That includes the administration and support staff. The two credentialed teachers not yet part of the NWP have applied for the San Diego Area Writing Project's 2011 invitational summer institute.

The school also has an academic partnership with the San Diego Area Writing Project to train its staff and guide its writing programs.

Writing is not something that you 'can' or 'can't' do; it's something that you are.

Writing Across the Curriculum—and Across the Globe

Teachers have seen students flourish in a variety of ways as a result of the school's emphasis on writing across content areas.

Second grade teacher Jamie Scott says, "My students have learned that writing is not something that you 'can' or 'can't' do; it's something that you are. They use writing to explain their thinking and reasoning in mathematics, articulate their level of understanding of content areas of science and social studies, and demonstrate their knowledge of language and its many uses in reading and writing."

Third grade teacher Valentyna Banner says that her students "are asked to write and connect their learning before, during, and after reading a selected text. When students share their writing, I hear unique ideas and thoughts that they hesitate to share orally. Writing throughout the process holds every student accountable for engaging and reacting to the new information."

The teaching team has also built into the curriculum a strong service-learning component that includes writing. For example, if there is a beach cleanup, the trip is preceded by relevant scientific study and writing and followed by written reflection on the experience.

The "global vision" in the Academy's name has a writing component as well. As part of this focus the Academy has partnered with Books of Hope , an organization that pairs American schools with sister schools abroad. Students at the Global Vision Academy are creating books for students at their sister school in Uganda.

According to Kane, "These books are not only stories but can also focus on subjects such as science and geography. Students are required to keep their audience much in mind, so that means our students must consider their language choices as well as the relevancy of the content they want to write about on behalf of students living in Uganda."

Teacher Input Guides School

The school staff researches pretty much its every move. Kane says, "Instructional decisions can't be formulated, prepackaged, and simply handed down to teachers to implement without their valued input. Teachers need to learn from one another, try out what they learn in their classrooms, and share what they find out."

Much of this exchange of ideas focuses on matters such as issues of equity in this culturally and linguistically diverse school, but at the core of everything the faculty does is the goal of building a writing community—which includes teachers writing, a passion of Kane's.

According to Kim Douillard, director of the San Diego Area Writing Project, "Over the last five years, Christine has convinced her colleagues that they needed to be part of the San Diego Area Writing Project—and one or two at time they have been accepted to our invitational summer institute, where they have learned about the power of teachers teaching teachers, teachers writing for themselves, and a commitment to equity and social justice with a focus on curriculum."

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