Teachers Hone Writing, Teaching Skills at UMass Amherst Summer Institute

AMHERST, Mass. – While their students enjoy long July days playing sports, going to camp, or swimming in a nearby lake or pool, 12 western Massachusetts teachers are busy writing and sharing classroom strategies at a month-long institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The program, offered by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (WMWP), brings together teachers from elementary through college levels and a variety of subject areas to engage in personal writing, to present demonstration lessons, to research professional literature, and to learn about educational technology. It runs through July 30.

“We’re here because we all value the process of learning to write and writing tolearn,” said Victoria Blackmore, who teaches at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

Participants in the Invitational Summer Institute, as the program is known, completed an application and interview process in the spring and gathered for an orientation meeting in June. After the institute, they will become WMWP “teacher-consultants” and may be called upon to offer professional development workshops for other teachers in the region.

The overall goals of the program, according to WMWP site director and alumnus Bruce Penniman, are to build teacher leadership and to improve the teaching of writing in all schools.

“Writing deserves a moresignificant place in the teacher-training curriculum,” said participant Jenny Kirley, a fifth- and sixth-grade resource room teacher in Orange.

WMWP is one of 185 sites of the National Writing Project, a widely acclaimed federally funded program based in Berkeley, Calif., which operates on a “teachers teaching teachers” philosophy. Each Writing Project site offers an Invitational Summer Institute as well as a number of school-year programs for teachers and students.

“This program is different from other courses because it focuses on strategies that we can take back to the classroom and use,” said Carrie Doherty, a teacher at Monson High School.

At the WMWP institute, participants spent the first several days gearing up for the program. On Tuesday, July 6, they learned strategies for presenting effective professional development workshops. All day Wednesday was devoted to a “writing marathon,” during which small groups of teachers spent time writing and responding to each other’s work at a variety of locations around Amherst. On Thursday the focus was research, including an introduction to advanced research tools at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.

“Not only do I get to developprofessionally but also personally through my writing,” said Blackmore.

The institute will conclude on July 30, after four weeks of writing, responding, researching, and presenting. Each teacher will contribute to an anthology of institute writings and compile a portfolio of professional materials. The final day will include a celebratory luncheon, to which participants will invite colleagues and school administrators.

WMWP is sponsored by the University of Massachusetts English Department and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.