Saturday, July 09, 2011

Initial Reflections on the Northern Virginia Writing Project

I’m participating in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute at the moment. It runs for four weeks, full days four days a week. So far I’ve been through three days and I’m exhausted. It is a good exhaustion.

Our days are pretty structured. We begin each morning with 30 minutes of ‘morning pages,’ writing time. Everyone just writes. I’ve never dedicated that kind of time in my daily life for writing before.

After that we have two presentations. Every participant does a presentation on something about teaching writing. We chose our topics, which allowed us to focus on things about which we are passionate. The presentations are scheduled to last just over an hour. They involve a lot of writing, participation and discussion. We’ve had five so far and they’ve all been fairly different. Wonderfully so.

After that we take an hour break for lunch. I’ve noticed, after just three days, that it isn’t really an hour. First of all, we’ve often run over from the morning presentations. Secondly, we all tend to talk to one another and discuss our thinking from the morning before remembering we need to eat.

Twice a week, after lunch, we meet in reading and writing groups. These are groups of five people who all bring their own writing to share and discuss. We spend time reading each others’ work and discussing it. We might share how we felt as readers during it, lines or phrases that really struck us, or ways to improve the writing. This is about two and a half hours of our time. So far we’ve only done it twice and it was powerful.

In my reading and writing group I’ve taken some poetry. I don’t tend to write a lot of poetry and I certainly don’t share it often, but I started a project years ago that I’d like to work on and hopefully finish. So far my group has not only significantly helped me begin revising two poems but they’ve helped me look at my poetry differently and I’ve begun revising others.

Other afternoons, when we aren’t meeting with our groups, we have outside presenters or group discussion time. We’re a small group this year, there are only about twelve of us. That’s about half the size of the group in past years. I’m grateful for this. I’m looking forward to really getting to know everyone in this institute and being a smaller group makes that easier.

There are teachers here from all levels. I think, as a first grade teacher, that I teach the youngest students. There are third and fifth grade teachers, middle school and high school teachers, and a couple of teachers from our local community college. It is so amazing to have all of those perspectives. I believe it is easy for teachers to do a lot of learning while staying within their comfort zone. I could read and talk only with elementary educators and not even begin to exhaust the resources available to me. However, I would be missing some important ideas and perspectives if I limit myself in that way. So it is a goal of mine to spend a lot of time talking to those teachers not working in elementary schools.

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