Author: Ann Lieberman and Diane Wood
Summary: Is it really “magic” that occurs in Writing Project-related professional development? The authors of this report argue that Writing Projects have visible cultural features that lead to the building of successful professional learning communities. Ask teachers to read and discuss this report after they have worked together over time. Their conversation will support them in demystifying the NWP “magic” and unpacking the cultural features that make for successful professional learning communities as a basis for planning their own facilitation of professional learning experiences.
Original Date of Publication: 2002
Talking to members of the WP community, we invariably heard references to “the work” or “the model” and the importance of being faithful to it while extending it. In time, we realized that our informants tended to use the two terms interchangeably and that both connoted something essential and identifiable about the WP’s unique approach to professional development. More than a set of teaching techniques or a foundational belief system, “the work,” as a national director explained, is the “enactment of a culture” (Int., Sept. 2000). Eager to see what she meant by this, we followed the advice of site directors and observed the summer institutes, the annual invitationals inducting new WP members. As one of them explained, “It all happens there.”
Observing the institutes, we saw firsthand that “the work” is actually a pervasive and powerful set of social practices leading to the creation of strong learning communities (Lieberman and Wood, forthcoming). Three core and recurring activities initiate institute fellows into these practices: teaching demonstrations, “the author’s chair” (The term “the author’s chair” was used in the two sites we studied. Teachers actually sit in a chair in front of the audience to share their writing and get feedback from the group.) and writing groups. Rooted in the WP’s dual commitment to writing-to-learn and teachers-teaching other-teachers, these activities release professional knowledge and establish professional relationships. Each involves teachers teaching other teachers, and each requires public performance with audience feedback. In all three activities, participants alternate between giving presentations and listening to others present. In short, all three stress learning as a social phenomenon (Wenger, 1998).
- “Out of Our Experience: Useful Theory,” Excerpt from Teacher Research for Better Schools
- Teachers at the Center: A Memoir of the Early Years of the National Writing Project
Original Source: The College Board, http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/association/academic/annlieberman.pdf