THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF FOUR TEACHERS PARTICIPATING IN A WRITING PROJECT
CAROL P. HARRELL
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1997
Carol P. Harrell
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A B S T R A C T ............................................................................................. v i
1 BA C KG R O U N D ........................................................................ 1
Background for Study .............................................. 2
Statement of the Problem .................................... 3
Significance of the Study .................................... 6
O v e rv ie w ...................................................................... 1 1
2 REVIEW OF RESEARCH ........................................................ 13
Staff Development ................................................... 14
National Writing Project ...................................... 20
Project Connection to Research ........................ 37
3 METHODOLOGY ........................................................................ 42
S ite S e lectio n ............................................................ 4 4
S u b je c ts ....................................................................... 4 6
D ata G athering ........................................................... 5 1
A nalysis of D ata ....................................................... 6 4
Theoretical Frame .................................................... 73
4 MS. ROTH--TEACHER WHO WRITES ................................ 76
S chool C ontext ........................................................... 7 6
Personal W riting ....................................................... 8 3
Writing Instruction ................................................. 87
Ms. Roth--Writing Project ................................... 103
P rofessional R ole ..................................................... 1 13
5 MRS. HAMMOND--TEACHER OF WRITING ...................... 116
S chool C ontext ........................................................... 1 16
Personal W riting ....................................................... 12 2
W riting Instruction ................................................. 12 7
Mrs. Hammond--Writing Project ....................... 145
P rofessional R ole ..................................................... 15 0
6 MR. MCNEW--WRITER WHO TEACHES ............................ 155
School C ontext ........................................................... 15 5
P ersonal W riting ....................................................... 16 1
W riting Instruction ................................................. 16 6
Mr. McNew--Writing Project ............................... 184
P rofessional R ole ..................................................... 19 1
7 MR. MARRIET--TEACHER/WRITER ................................ 193
S chool C ontext ........................................................... 19 3
Personal W riting ....................................................... 2 0 2
W riting Instruction ................................................. 2 0 7
Mr. Marriet--Writing Project .............................. 233
Professional R ole ..................................................... 2 4 1
8 THEORETICAL ANALYSIS ................................................... 244
Berlin's Three View s .............................................. 245
Blau: Stages of Development .............................. 252
Nelms: Patterns of Response ............................. 254
Placement of Participants within Existing
C ategories ......................................................... 2 5 7
Teacher M aturity ...................................................... 2 63
Individual Response to Writing Project and
Connection to Staff -Development
P rincip le s .......................................................... 2 6 6
Emerging Categories for Writing-Project
T e ache rs .............................................................. 2 7 5
9 C O NC LUS IO NS ......................................................................... 2 7 9
Participant Sum m ary .............................................. 279
Im p lic a tio n s ............................................................... 2 8 4
Direction for Future Research ............................ 290
APPEND IX-INTERVI EW QUESTIONS......................... 292
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH......................................... 307
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF FOUR TEACHERS
PARTICIPATING IN A WRITING PROJECT By
Carol P. Harrell
Chairman: Ben F. Nelms
Major Department: Curriculum and Instruction
One of the most respected staff development programs today is the National Writing Project designed to improve student writing by improving writing instruction. That improvement usually places an emphasis on teaching writing as a process and puts teachers in the role of active participants working with students during their writing. This active role is different from the one teachers assume in traditional writing classrooms where they act as givers of assignments and graders of final papers but interact minimally with students as they work on their writing. Although teachers in traditional writing classrooms may realize that their instruction does not produce improved student writing, changing from traditional, prod uct-oriented instruction to process-oriented instruction is difficult.
To help teachers make this pedagogical change, substantial
support during the period of transition is necessary. Implied in that level of assistance is an understanding of how teachers transform their current pedagogy to accommodate what they learn, but currently little discussion of what individual teachers experience during this pedagogical change is forthcoming.
The purpose of this research project was to explore the
responses and implementation processes of four teachers as they traversed the process of pedagogical examination and the eventual incorporation of the offerings of a writing project into their practice. The findings suggest that teachers at different levels of professional maturity respond differently to the process of pedagogical change and that follow-up assistance should reflect those differences.
What a writing-project inservice is and what it teaches is well studied and well documented (Gomez, 1988; Scriven, 1979), but the process through which teachers pass as they apply what they learn during the writing project is relatively unexplored. This leaves a gap in understanding how to assist teachers during the transition period that follows their writing-project experience. Swensson (1992) says that plans need to be developed to help teachers overcome inhibitors as they implement instructional changes initiated by writing-project participation. Knowing how to help teachers presupposes knowledge about how they deal with their process of change. Some researchers have studied teachers' implementation of the writing-project spirit in individual classrooms (Blau, 1993; Zbikowski, 1991), but currently little is known about the individual teacher's critical response to and subsequent implementation of new writing instruction techniques. This research project is designed to explore the responses and implementation processes of four teachers as they traverse the process of examining their own pedagogy during the year following their writing project experiences.
Background for Study
During the last 25 years, a dichotomy of sorts has emerged in composition instruction. Although traditional writing instruction continues, an increasing number of teachers choose to teach writing in new ways. By far the largest vehicle for teacher retraining is the National Writing Project (NWP), an innovative staff development program designed to broaden teachers' understandings of writing instruction. This grass-roots staffdevelopment program uses what is currently considered best about composition pedagogy as the foundation for preparing teachers to become better at their instructional tasks and to become trainers of fellow teachers in proven methods of writing instruction. The pedagogical focus is usually on teaching writing through a process which places teachers in the role of active participants working with students throughout their writing. This active role is different from the one teachers assume in traditional writing classrooms, where they act as givers of writing assignments and graders of final papers but interact minimally with students as they work on their writing.
Determining the reason that teachers offer a minimum
amount of guidance to students is relatively simple. In the past teachers themselves were taught this way; they were given little instruction on how to teach writing in their teacher-preparation programs, so by default they taught with the same methods they encountered as students. Although teachers may realize that their current practice does not produce better writing, it may be
difficult to change their approaches. Swensson (1992) points out that altering any behavior is difficult but that the change from traditional, prod uct-oriented pedagogy to process-oriented pedagogy is a major change, and this sort of turn-around is difficult indeed. What seems to follow, then, is that when teachers are presented with the writing-project approach to pedagogy, a logical next step in the instruction process is substantial support during the period of transition. Offering teachers support and guidance through the transition requires knowledge of what is inherent in that change, but currently little discussion of what individual teachers experience during this pedagogical change is forthcoming.
Statement of the Problem
Stotsky (1993) expresses concern over the lack of the
teacher voice in the issue of pedagogy in particular and in other issues generally. She says that "it's as if highly touted pedagogical ideas cannot be criticized or evaluated by K-12 teachers until university researchers or scholars begin to criticize or evaluate them" (p. 14). Stotsky urges professional organizations to encourage on-going critical dialogues by K-12 teachers about pedagogical beliefs and practices. Gomez (11988) notes the paradox that while the NWP is based on a body of pedagogical knowledge determined by practitioners, their voices are not often heard in literature about the writing project.
The concern over the absence of the practitioner's voice in the dialogue acts as the opening statement for this present
research project, which is designed to allow a few practitioners to speak from their personal experience as they navigate a writing project, deal with implementation of pedagogical strategies, and analyze the writing-project experience as it applies to their teaching. Both Stotsky and Gomez argue for the teacher voice, unfiltered by university-sponsored research, but that voice is currently not heard; therefore, this research acts as a bridge until the teacher voice is directly heard.
A bibliography recently produced by the NWP shows over 300 entries since 1976, and this list by no means includes all that was written during the period. In this extensive list, however, fewer than 10 references are directed toward teachers' experiences following the project. While one researcher describes the support group used by teachers as they began changing their teaching styles, no researcher attends to the individual teacher's progression through the difficult process of changing pedagogy.
Ultimately, the purpose of this staff development program is to improve student writing, but before that can occur, individual teachers must reorder their philosophy of writing instruction. Between the end of the writing project and the expression of that experience in the classroom, individual teacher must personalize the ideas presented. Provision needs to be made for this transitional period. Blau (1993) says that the key to helping teachers is a follow-up program that allows teachers to stay up to date with developments in the field and keeps them exposed to the spirit and character of the learning environment
established in the writing project. Though follow-up programs are an essential part of the writing project experience, presently the focus is on teachers as part of a group rather than on their individual progress after participation. What needs to be added to the current body of knowledge is the individual teacher's experience through the process of pedagogical assimilation and change.
Much can be accomplished by way of support for the writing project graduate through a group, but ultimately the individual deals with the dissonance that results from a redefined educational philosophy. Guidance and support are offered during this period, but a detailed record of what occurs during the process is needed. This study is designed to examine the individual teacher's experience of assimilation and implementation. The teachers' experiences detailed in this research project act as only one part of a critical dialogue; a few voices are hardly representative of all teachers, but this research project is a beginning.
One major question and several subquestions guided the investigation: How did the teachers in this study develop professionally during the year following their participation in a writing project?
(1) What do teachers report as their beliefs about writing
and the teaching of writing?
(2) What is their theory of writing instruction?
(3) How do these teachers classify their practices of
(4) What connections do these teachers report between
their beliefs about writing and the teaching of writing,
their theory of writing instruction, their practices in writing instruction, and the experience of the writing
(5) What do teachers report they gained, if anything, from
the summer writing project?
(6) What other factors appear to influence teachers as they
Significance of the Study
For scores of teachers, the NWP is an important source for professional development. As these teachers mature, they reflect and speculate on traditional methods in ways that challenge existing theory and suggest new pedagogical possibilities (Blau, 1988). They focus not on student writing errors but on the reasons behind these errors and on the meanings of the errors; their interest is on how students might learn and how students think (1988). At the institutes held each summer, selected teachers work on personal writing, critique each others' writing, share writing instruction practices that have worked effectively for them, and discuss research about writing and the teaching of writing (Marsh et al., 1987). This summer experience is a validation of teacher knowledge during which professionals who claim an area of expertise and successful classroom practice come together to train and learn from each other (Nelms, 1979). The instructional strategies for writing that these teachers
share with each other are not techniques from a generic stateadopted textbook curriculum or from a curriculum passed down by earlier generations of teachers; rather, what is offered reflects the needs of the teachers' student writers.
Teachers who attend a writing project share their best practices, which means they return to their classrooms with a cadre of new instructional strategies. As positive as that outcome is, figuring out how to assimilate the strategies and finding colleagues in their school who might assist this process are not simple tasks, especially since "institutional requirements and conditions often militate against excellence in the teaching of writing" (Nelms, 1979, p. 133).
Nevertheless, over the past decade the number of teachers using the process approach to teaching writing, an approach that includes teacher and student involvement throughout the writing process, has increased steadily. Moss (1990) reports that according to a survey done by Applebee and presented at the meeting of the National Reading Conference, 40% of the English teachers surveyed reported they use the process approach in teaching writing. While much is known about the broad subject of process writing because of the work done by the Center for the Development of Writing associated with the NWP at Berkeley, not as much is known about the work of individual teachers in classrooms. The Applebee survey and others like it are informative, but studies like these summarize information from groups of teachers rather than analyze information from the individuals who make up the large groups. Although the group is a
vital vehicle in support for teachers as they mature professionally, the individual teacher is the essence of successful pedagogical change. The guiding of teachers, new to the practice, through the process of change demands intimate knowledge of the experience.
Newly acquired knowledge rests in a precarious position until firmly embedded in long-term memory. When humans assimilate new knowledge, learners must practice "elaborative rehearsal" during which they take new information and do something with it (Bourne, Dominowski, Loftus, & Healy, 1986). Writing teachers learning new teaching strategies are no exception. Typically, writing project participants experience each presenter's practice as the presenter's students would, which offers some rehearsal but not elaborative rehearsal. Then, the participants return to their classrooms to use the teaching strategies they learned during the summer project.
This service model has generated positive feedback.
Teaching is considered lonely work, but the NWP offers an what Gomez calls the "potency of the group experience" (1988, p. 12), so that a teacher's connection to a writing project goes beyond just learning new teaching techniques for professional enhancement and includes belonging to a group of like-minded colleagues. Marsh (1987) commends the project for being effective without following staff development models exactly, and says the NWP enriches staff development literature with a successful variant. The Fellows, as the writing project teacher participants are called, praise the unique effectiveness of this
teacher-directed service project. One teacher wrote a letter to her colleagues and described her experiences at a summer institute. "After five weeks . I'm fired up about teaching composition, and I'd like to share some ideas" (Sears, 1981, p. 45). Marashio, a curriculum coordinator for a school district in New Hampshire, commented on his writing experiences in a summer writing project. "A sense of pride rushed through me at my first attempt to think poetically." He reports that his writing project colleagues share his feelings. "Our enthusiasm remained high . [and] we all gained from the experience" (1981, p. 465). Moffett describes teachers as "fired up after attending a summer institute in the NWP" and goes on the declare the NWP "the best curricular movement" (1985, p. 52) of which he is aware.
Despite these glowing reports, the NWP is criticized for ignoring the steps required to move teachers from being recipients of knowledge to users of knowledge. After praising the NWP, Moffett says in the next sentence, "somehow, the means and the occasions for using what they have learned in that summer institute never materialize" (1985, p. 52). Capper and Bagenstos (1984), working for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, said the NWP is an "in-service effort [that] gets teachers to try new approaches and techniques but fails to transfer these skills into teachers' active repertoires, presumably from lack of further reinforcement" (p. 10). They recommend that the service be structured to include schoolyear service programs to enhance what is learned during the summer workshops.
John Mayher (1990) notes that while the NWP has positively changed some aspects of teacher attitudes concerning writing, it has neglected to offer a substantive framework from which teachers can reconstruct their patterns of writing instruction. In essence, these writing project participants take what they learn during the summer institutes and simply add the new techniques to what North (1987) calls the "House of Lore," a pedagogical structure generations of teachers have added onto but have rarely pared. Mayher (1990) says that to break the cycle of accepting unevaluated practice, which causes the house to grow but offers no structure for dropping off ineffective practice, teachers must don the stance of the reflective practitioner and draw on their experience in classrooms, on the best [they] can discover through theory and research about how writers write and how writing ability develops . ." (p. 132). Then, teachers can reflect on their classroom, on sound theory, and on pertinent research to generate practice that works for their student writers.
During a writing project, teachers are bombarded with strategies for teaching writing. Personal reflection on and analysis of teaching strategies presented during the summer institute and structured feedback from others as they implement new teaching strategies (Joyce & Showers, 1980) seem missing from the current writing project agenda. Those of us who are interested in helping teachers improve their practice need to know more precisely what is transferred from the summer institute to the classroom teaching experience, and we need to know more about the process involved in that transfer if we plan
to successfully aid teachers as they implement new teaching strategies. In an effort to more fully understand the teacher's needs during the implementation experience, this research study is designed to offer an in-depth look at four teachers as they progress through this process.
One way to discover the effects of a staff development project upon teachers as they return to their classrooms is to observe and question individuals as they make sense of and apply to their practices what they learned during a summer institute. Obviously, four participants at two writing sites do not represent teachers at all sites, but analysis of pedagogical transfer from the staff development experience to actual practice requires close attention to the experience of the individual. Some work has been done in this area at the high-school level. Zbikowski's (1991) study focused on what a writing project offered its participants. His findings showed that upon returning to their classrooms, the participants attempted to recreate the atmosphere of the project, but none was entirely able to do so. The purpose of the present study is to look more closely at how four teachers synthesize and incorporate the offerings of a writing project into their instructional practices. Through this research, the teachers' voices can be heard as a reflection of their experience in the writing project.
Chapter 2 details the current literature as it converges on this subject, and Chapter 3 explains the methodology used in this
study. Chapters 4 through 7 offer an in-depth look at the four teachers' experiences as they returned to the classroom after a summer writing project. Chapter 8 connects this research to current theory and research, and Chapter 9 provides recommendations for future research and a summary of the present research findings.
REVIEW OF RESEARCH
In an extensive research project including classroom observations in more than 1000 schools, Sirotnik (1983) describes the typical classroom as one where there is
a lot of teacher talk and a lot of student listening, unless
students are responding to teachers' questions; little
corrective feedback and no guidance; and predominantly
total class instructional configurations around traditional
activities--all in a virtually affectless environment.
(p. 2 9)
He concludes by urging educators to disconnect themselves from their mediocre educational processes if they desire to move away from the dismal picture in so many classrooms.
Transforming the classroom from a place of mediocrity to a place of excellence requires change, and staff -development programs are designed to bring about change by altering teacher beliefs and attitudes, teacher instructional practices, and student learning (Guskey, 1985). In this chapter, recent trends in staff development are examined; a specific example, the National Writing Project, is detailed, and finally, the convergence of the two is examined. The literature review is divided into three parts: staff development, National Writing Project, and conclusion.
Generally, desired outcomes from staff development include an increase in student learning (Joyce, Showers, & RolheiserBennett, 1987) while meeting the needs of both teachers and institutions (Love, 1991). In a research summary published by the New York City Public Schools (1991), staff development is viewed as the major strategy for school improvement. While the central purpose for staff -development programs may vary dependent on the needs of the students, teachers, and institutions, they are the foremost improvement technique in today's schools (Fullan, 1990).
Castetter (1986) places staff development in the larger framework of personnel development. His assumption is that staff development ought to be something that teachers do for themselves rather than something they have done to them, and that self improvement, not deficiency, should prompt the personal urgings. Castetter (1986) provides a model to guide staffdevelopment plans. This model includes diagnosis of current and future staff needs, development of plans to meet found needs, implementation procedures, and evaluation of programs and their outcomes. Castetter urges program planners to view the overall school system's expectations as they develop individual school plans in order to promote balance in the system. This dual focus provides guidance in planning school staff development to reflect the needs of the individual teachers working within specific and emerging school district plans. This element is necessary for the overall health of a school district's curriculum so that no staff-
development program stands alone but instead becomes an integral part of the district's curriculum goals.
Determining staff development needs is the beginning point for inservice. Developing worthwhile programs to assist teachers as they learn new pedagogical strategies is also necessary. Joyce and Showers (1980) did a comprehensive analysis of over 200 inservice studies to glean guiding principles for general inservice practice. They categorized their findings into two sections. The first, which they call Levels of Impact, deals with content knowledge acquired from the inservice experience. They note that teachers' acquisition of knowledge progresses through four levels. In level one, awareness, teachers become cognizant of some educational principle. When inservice participants move to level two, concepts and organized knowledge, teacher/learners gain control over the content of an educational principle. In level three, principles and skills, the learners prepare for action, and in level four, application and problem solving, learners transfer the content of the concept to classroom practice. The forth level is critical because application of newly acquired pedagogical knowledge requires teachers to transform principles and integrate and combine these with old teaching strategies so that transfer and practice of new methods is set. Helping teachers traverse through these levels should be a major goal of inservice planning.
Joyce and Showers' (1980) second section in the research synthesis focuses on the principles of inservice training. These principles include the following: (a) present the underlying
theory to support cognitive growth in training, (b) demonstrate the teaching skills presented, (c) provide appropriate practice of the teaching skills, and (d) provide opportunities for structured or unstructured feedback so teachers are aware of their actual teaching behavior. Inherent in the fourth principle are alternative teaching options for teachers facing difficulties with implementation. From their research synthesis, Joyce and Showers found that these elements are essential for service programs if teachers are to transfer newly acquired strategies to successful classroom practice, the point of staff development.
Guskey (1985), like Joyce and Showers, contends that
neither training alone nor training and implementation supply the impetus needed to initiate real change in practice. Guskey proposes that genuine change in teachers' beliefs and attitudes follows an identifiable change in student learning. Guskey's staff -development model has three implications. First, because change is slow and often difficult, service programs should offer well-defined incremental steps toward change and immediate student improvement. In addition, frequent feedback helps teachers see their impact on students' learning process. Finally, Guskey says that support after initial training is essential. Teachers need guidance, support, and an arena for sharing both successes and difficulties during implementation.
Ellis and Kull (1991) used Guskey's staff -development
principles as the basis for a research project. Their study was designed to explore teachers' thinking as they learned a new teaching strategy. Volunteer teachers attended a conference.
They were selected based on school-district commitment to the project, availability of release time for teachers, principals' recommendations, and the teachers' interest in the topic. Through modeling, these teachers were trained to use small-group techniques and discovery learning to facilitate concept development and problem solving. The purpose of the group work was to give teacher/students experiences that forced them to rely on their own knowledge and problem-solving abilities. During the staff -development program, time was provided for the teachers to figure out problems on their own. This experience helped participants to see the teacher as a guide rather than a director of learning. Each of the 21 teachers who attended the service kept a journal to record personal feelings about the staff -development experience. All of the teachers received six weeks of summer instruction followed by two one-day service workshops given during October and March in the following school year. Nine of the teachers were observed and interviewed during the school year. Issues related to teacher selection and observation procedures were not described.
In the final report, the experiences of four teachers were selected for in-depth analysis. These four represented different levels of commitment to the service teaching techniques. Two were model students of the program and implemented the service principles with little difficulty. A third was initially unsure of the effectiveness of group work, but as the implementation period proceeded, so did his ability to use groups effectively, although he never attained the level of success
reached by the first two. The fourth teacher refused to relinquish her role as director of all learning in her classroom.
Ultimately, Ellis and Kull (1991) concluded that these
teachers had periods of growth shortly after periods of intense frustration. They also found that many of the teachers' practices reverted to pre-inservice levels by the end of the first year of implementation. In this case, it appears that most inservice knowledge is ultimately lost. This a major concern when evaluating the usefulness of a staff -development program, but knowledge retention and subsequent implementation of pedagogical strategies was not the focus of the study. Kull and Ellis recommended that inservice programs include follow-up opportunities to supplement and reinforce what is learned during inservice. Their conclusions, though, focus on Guskey's proposal that belief in the learned teaching technique does in fact follow practice and observation of student improvement.
The most current work on staff development places it within the framework of school improvement plans (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1991; Huberman, 1988; Joyce, 1991). Within these plans, the focus is on improving all elements within a school rather than isolating elements of instruction, an idea reminiscent of Castetter's (1986) notion that district-wide improvement should be the ultimate goal for staff development.
Joyce (1991) reiterates the point by stating that
restructuring the school, another name for school improvement, involves several components, only one of which is teacher inservice. Fullan notes:
It is essential to understand both the small and the big pictures. We have to know what change looks like from
the point of view of the teacher, student, parent, and
administrator if we are to understand the actions and
reactions of individuals; and if we are to comprehend the
big picture, we must combine the aggregate knowledge
of these individual situations. . (xi)
Making staff development a part of school restructuring gives authority to the role teachers play in school. Their work does take place behind closed doors, but the impact is felt throughout the school and the community.
Hargreaves and Fullan (1992) say that school leaders are
beginning to recognize that what happens inside the classroom is closely connected to what occurs outside the classroom. Looking at staff development through the single lens of teacher growth limits a school's potential; therefore, personnel development calls for a systematic, continuous program to enhance skills toward some agreed upon goals central to the belief system of the entire organization.
Based on the literature reviewed, several guiding principles for staff development emerge. First, staff development must provide worthwhile educational objectives for teachers, within the framework of the larger context of the school and district. Second, administrative support must accompany any call for changed practice following an service experience. Third, teachers learning new pedagogical skills progress through several stages of understanding and development, and staff development must facilitate that passage. Fourth, worthwhile pedagogical
feedback for teachers must occur during the inservice and also following the program. Fifth, teacher belief in the learned teaching technique is essential.
Placing these principles into the context of an actual staffdevelopment program gives them meaning, for principles without practice are lifeless. Applying principles of staff development to an existing inservice model offers the opportunity to test realistically the emerging principles. One of the most successful staff -development programs is the National Writing Project (NWP) (Capper & Bagenstos, 1987). This program is anything but lifeless. During the last twenty years, teachers from all over the world have attended the summer inservice workshops that Goldberg (1984) claims may be the most successful. The fact that staff -development principles are not consistently applied in this program (Capper & Bagenstos, 1987) offers an interesting possibility for inquiry.
National Writingi Project
Teacher retraining is often the focus of staff -development programs, and one of the most effective programs is the NWP which functions at sites throughout the United States and in several foreign countries (Capper & Bagenstos, 1987). In this staff -development program, teachers encounter an intense inservice experience designed to enhance their methods of writing instruction and prepare them to train other teachers of writing. Simply stated, the purpose of a writing project is to enhance writing instruction in order to improve student writing.
Certainly the issue is much more complicated than this, but as Piano and Tallerico (1990) conclude after a seven-year study of a writing project, the main purpose of the writing project is to prepare teachers to be better writing instructors. Besides improving student writing through improved instruction, the NWP undergirds teachers' professionalism and expands the use of writing from the English classroom into all curriculum areas (Office of Policy and Planning: US Department of Education, 1992). Delineating the overall purpose of a writing project is possible, but determining the specifics is more complicated. James Gray, the project's founder, vehemently refuses to name a theory of writing or writing instruction to which the NWP pays allegiance (Blau, 1988), yet he clearly advocates specific guidelines under which the staff -development project operates. No one curriculum or instructional method undergirds the thinking of a project, but an openness to what is best about practice and teaching is the guiding philosophy. It is not that the philosophy lacks substance but that teachers, their professionalism, and their best practices are the significant elements. As these areas develop, the NWP philosophy is free to embrace new professional directions.
Gray and Myers (1978) indicate that a concern about the decline in writing scores in the California schools gave a small group of elementary through college level teachers the impetus to join together to study traditional writing instruction's ineffectiveness. These teachers agreed that one reason for unsuccessful writing instruction was poorly trained writing teachers. Further, this group agreed that in order to improve
writing instruction, service programs were needed to act as a bridge between research and practice (Gray & Myers, 1978). Eventually, these meetings in the early 1970s resulted in calling together successful writing teachers who demonstrated to other English teachers their successful composition instruction techniques.
This grass-roots staff -development movement, devoted to instruction throughout the writing process unified; and in 1974, under the leadership of Gray, the Bay Area Writing Project was formed. Because of the movement's growth across the country, the name was later changed to the National Writing Project (NWP). Gray (1991) summarizes the general assumptions on which the movement is based. University and school personnel at all levels of instruction must work together as partners because the "top-down" tradition is not an acceptable staff -development model. The multi-grade inclusion allows for constant attention to writing all through school. It is possible to identify successful teachers of writing. These teachers should come together to further their own professional development and to be trained to prepare other teachers to be good writing instructors. Training of teachers in an on-going process, thus teachers need to meet throughout their careers to continue their training in writing instruction. Since writing is an essential element in all disciplines, the summer institute should include teachers of all subject areas. Teachers of writing must be writers since they can best understand the demands of the task through first-hand experience with writing. The NWP does not adhere to any single
correct way to teach writing but remains open to instructional possibilities as they are developed by knowledgeable practitioners. Despite the lack of an undergirding theory, local sites gain strength from affiliation with a larger national network and from the ability to meet the specific needs of the local community. Underlying the entire project is the understanding that the goal of the NWP is improved student writing. (Gray, 1991).
Application of NWP inservice principles has been highly successful, according to Goldberg (1984), who visited writing programs across the country and noted that the NWP may well be the most successful inservice program in history. In a joint effort, Binko and Neubert (1984) studied the effectiveness of the NWP but limited their focus to teacher status within the writing project. Working from the hypothesis that to be good, inservice education should include successful classroom teachers working as equal partners training other teachers, Binko and Newbert conclude that the NWP is an effective collaborative effort. Whether the inservice actually improves instruction or learning is not addressed, but they note that the collaboration provides university professors and elementary and secondary teachers opportunities to share responsibility for funding, scheduling, and activity implementation. Additionally, university faculty and classroom teachers are allowed equal association in the staffdevelopment program
This staff -development program revolves around the equalization of university and school instruction toward the
"essentiality of the classroom teacher" (Binko & Newbert, 1984, p. 17). This essentiality of the teacher figures into the formula for professional respect on both the K-12 and college sides of the academic community and may "represent a new professionalism in English--a professionalism that transcends what practicing teachers perceive as the narrow academicism of college English departments and the intellectually suspect pragmatism of colleges of education" (Nelms, 1979, p. 132). Empowering teachers with confidence in their worth prepares them to be the staff -development personnel to whom other teachers will listen. Watson (1981) says that teachers begin to understand their own strengths, intuitions, and needs, and this influences their language which becomes centered on "curiosity, community, intensity, discovery" (p. 97). This is the language of motivated, involved teachers; teachers concerned about the learning of their students; teachers who see their own efforts influence the education community of which they are members.
In a study done by Thompson (1979), teachers were
questioned at the beginning and end of a writing project institute about why they felt students do not write well. At the beginning of the institute, the teachers blamed external factors for their students' poor writing and named things over which teachers have little or no control as reasons for the poor writing. They blamed such things as watching too much television and the decline of writing in society. At the end of writing-project participation, the teachers named factors which they control as the reasons students are poor writers. For instance, they recognized that
students need guidance during the writing process and that they need writing practice without the demands of grades. This shift supports Watson's (1981) conclusion that writing-project graduates see themselves as capable agents directing the educational experiences of their students. The teachers become curious; they wonder how to fashion educational opportunities for students so that optimum learning occurs. They develop a sense of a community of learners during the service experience, and they seek to reproduce that in their own classrooms. They become constructors of knowledge rather than consumers of information. An intensity builds toward leading students to writing and self-discovery along the same paths the teachers took during their service experience. They become teachers who understand that they do influence the learning of their students (Blau, 1993).
This self-discovery and consequential confidence in constructing knowledge has the potential to transform the teaching and writing which occur in classrooms. Olson and DiStefano (1980) studied the effectiveness of writing-project teaching techniques in the classroom and found a substantial improvement in the writing of students exposed to the instruction of writing-project graduates. The findings of this study were not substantiated by the Scriven (1979) study, however. In this three-year study, Scriven and his colleagues found it difficult to sustain a long-term study of writing project effects for several reasons: control groups with equivalent relevant variables are unlikely to occur from year to year;
teacher/student relationships over time are difficult to predict since students change teachers yearly; and consistent assignment of teachers to academic subjects from year to year is unlikely. The results of their study, however, indicate generally poor results from writing samples of students taught by writingproject graduates.
In a later well-designed, quasi -experimental study,
Pritchard (1987) found conclusive evidence that middle school students who had been taught by NWP teachers consistently over a three-year period were indeed better writers than were students taught by teachers not trained in a writing project. Her research project used a pretest-posttest design that consisted of essay topics to which the students responded. She gave a pretest to more than 2000 junior- and senior- high students in the fall of one year. The same students were tested that spring and in the spring of the two following school years. During each posttest, the students listed their English teachers of the previous three years. Students who had received instruction from at least two teachers trained in a writing project were considered a part of the experimental group, and those with one or no trained teacher were the control group. Their writings were holistically scored by trained English teachers from a school district outside the experimental school district, and the results showed that middle school students taught by writing project teachers outperformed students of untrained teachers. While not all studies demonstrate conclusive evidence that NWP trained teachers produce superior writers, it is well documented that writing
project graduates have a solid understanding of writing instruction (Binko & Neubert, 1984; Blau, 1988; Office of Policy and Planning: US Department of Education, 1992; Marashio, 1981; Sears, 1981; Watson, 1981).
Despite these successes, there are those who question the NWP model. In an article based on his experience with a writing project, Newkirk (1983) makes several interesting points about the five writing project assumptions he identifies. (Gray says that teachers of all subject areas should be included in writing projects, but otherwise, the two lists are comparable.) Newkirk begins by supporting two of what he considers five essential NWP assumptions: teachers should be writers, and teachers of all grade levels should participate equally in the writing project. While generally agreeing with the three remaining assumptions he identifies, Newkirk addresses ways he thinks each might be enhanced. One of these assumptions is that teachers who attend the writing project are expert teachers of writing and that each teacher has some knowledge about writing instruction worthy of being shared with other teachers. Newkirk contends, however, that some teachers come to the writing project as good writing teachers but with expertise in areas they have begun to question. Their attendance is geared toward change rather than continuation of practice. When this is the case, writing-project leaders should take more responsibility for the project curriculum and lead participants in new instructional directions rather than expect the teachers to share teaching techniques they no longer believe are pedagogically sound.
Another NWP assumption questioned by Newkirk is that no theoretical model should be imposed on the participants. Newkirk's philosophy is that those who attend a writing project need to share a common theoretical base so that informed decisions can be made about what should be stressed or ignored in the service.
The final assumption deals with the role of writing project participants after summer attendance. The NWP model is designed around the idea that trained participants will lead workshops to train other teachers in proven teaching techniques learned during the writing project and implemented in their own classroom. Newkirk (1983) disagrees with this notion and defines follow-up specifically as classroom visits by project instructors who are also classroom teachers. These visits include guidance for newly graduated writing project teachers as they work toward successful change in writing instruction. His emphasis is on redefining the way writing-project participants teach rather than on consultant training, the NWP focus. Teachers' willingness to change indicates a desire to support the NWP assumption that professionals are open to what is pedagogically new and sound and Castetter's (1986) assumption that staff development should be designed from the felt needs of the teachers involved. This willingness to continue growth warrants support during the difficult change process, and Newkirk contends that the best place to receive appropriate classroom support is from project instructors.
Mayher's discussion of the NWP parallels Newkirk's. In the book, Uncommon Sense (1990), Mayher directs educators away from assumptions imposed by current practices toward uncommon thinking about what education might be. It is in this context that Mayher questions the NWP. He says that it is appropriate for teachers to share questions and to celebrate their expertise, but
the irony of the Writing Project approach as a basis of
instructional reform is that the approaches and lessons
being shared are inevitably based on the teacher's practice
before they have had the positive writing experience of
the institute. So, for the most part, although not
exclusively since many teachers have been the source
of uncommon sense theories and practices, the lore they share fits comfortably within the commonsense framework. (emphasis his, p. 231)
Thus, a large portion of what is gained in writing-project attendance is domesticated upon teachers' return to the classroom (Mayher, 1990), and while the experience does alter some elements in teachers' beliefs about writing, the NWP experience is not thorough enough to "reform the overall pattern of instruction in uncommonsense directions" (p. 231-232). Before that can happen, says Mayher, educators must come to understand more fully the "theoretical framework which underlies the uncommonsense position on writing, and to sufficiently deconstruct the commonsense framework of schooling to be able to fight against its domesticating power" (p. 232). For these changes to occur, teachers need more than one summer workshop experience.
Zbikowski (1991) studied a writing project and concluded
that the project experience was fruitful and provided the impetus for altered classroom instruction. Implementation of writing strategies learned from colleague presentations was possible, but replication of the writing project spirit, the camaraderie between writers--the essence of the writing classroom--was almost impossible to reproduce during the year following writing-project attendance. Zbikowski says that the question to ask when assessing writing projects does not center on student gains in traditional measures of writing but to what extent the romantici' messages of the writing project make sense in schools as they are. The "romantic" messages (Zbikowski, 1991) and the spirit of the writing project (Watson, 1981; Zbikowski, 1991) are elements critical to the successful replication of writingproject ideas in authentic classrooms. The point of writingproject assessment should, therefore, be effectiveness of implementation of academic strategies and the classroom spirit in which the strategies are implemented.
Stroble and Bratcher (1990) studied how well rural teachers implemented new writing instruction strategies following writing project attendance. They used Guskey's (1985) assumptions about staff development to support their findings related to pedagogical change following writing project participation. Like Guskey, they found that changing a teaching style is a difficult process that occurs over time. In their conclusions they say that the teachers in the study grew in their use of some critical elements in writing instruction, but the
change was not complete after the service, hence the teachers needed continued training and support long after the summer institute ended to enable them to completely implement writing process instruction with their students. Newkirk and Mayher clearly made the same point: teachers may make philosophical changes during the summer institute, but complete pedagogical changes must be well supported over time.
Bayer (1985) did an observational study of five teachers' growth undergirded by group support after a writing project experience. The group which represented four schools included two English teachers, two teachers from other content areas, and one elementary teacher. The focus of Bayer's study was the supportive oral language used by the group as they helped each other during the change process following writing project participation. Like others, Bayer concluded that modifying teaching practice is difficult, and she contended that group support during that process can undergird the change efforts. Results from the study point to the fact that a collaborative group can, through dialogue, help teachers to initiate, clarify, and expand their thinking about writing. Change is difficult and slow, but the study of this group effort shows that a collaborative experience can facilitate growth in a way isolation from colleagues does not allow.
Sharing ideas and understanding writing as a process is often at the heart of teacher change following writing-project participation. McCarthey's (1992) study focused on three elementary teachers' changing conceptions of writing instruction
techniques after writing project participation. She identified the teachers' changing understanding of writing and the actual teaching of writing and how those changes linked to writing project participation. Using three interviews given intermittently during the two-year study, McCarthey traced changing beliefs about the teacher's role in writing instruction.
McCarthey (1992) interviewed three teachers who
participated in the New York City Teachers College Writing Project. The participants were selected because they had implemented some of the strategies learned in their writing project experience. The writing project included ongoing workshops and training designed to aid the teachers in their transition toward using the workshop format to teach writing. In this project, a part of the teachers' training, much like Newkirk suggests, included modeling done in the teachers' classrooms after they attended a writing project so the teach er/lea rne rs could view a lesson in their own classrooms and then discuss the strategy and implementation of the strategy at work in their actual classroom.
The first teacher in McCarthey's (1992) study, Erica, a
fifth-grade teacher, did not enjoy teaching language arts before her writing-project participation, but she did consider herself a writer. During the project experience, her teaching was transformed from lessons that concentrated on ditto sheets and simple routine assignments to instruction that focused on teaching writing as a means to prepare students to communicate.
Elma, who taught sixth grade, was an experienced writing teacher but directed her students' writing rather than guide it toward personal writing experience. Although this teacher did not consider herself a writer before participating in the project, she did afterwards. Her pedagogical growth stemmed from a found belief in the empowerment of writers who use writing for their own needs.
The third teacher, Emily, who had taught both literature and language arts and directed a creative curriculum before participating in the writing project, was a first-grade teacher during the study. She engaged in personal and professional writing and participated in a course designed to offer an overview of process writing several years prior to her writing project experience. Changes in her teaching were less pronounced than Erica's or Elma's, but she did learn that she needed to become more deeply involved in her students' writing process and to teach grammar within the content of the students' papers.
Ultimately, each teacher's change is as individual as her
background. McCarthey attributes variances to the differences in background knowledge and writing beliefs each teacher brought to the project. These teachers, like the ones to whom Newkirk refers, attended the writing project at a point in their career when they were ready to alter their teaching style rather than continue existing practices.
It becomes evident that the change in beliefs and in
instructional strategies resulting from the service experience is strategic to the outcome in actual classroom practice. To
understand thoroughly the process in which teachers were engaged from their writing-project experience to their practice following their NWP attendance, Zbikowski (1991) participated in a writing project as a Fellow and as an observer. During the school year following the project, he observed in four high-school teachers' classrooms to understand how the participants used writing project ideas in their classrooms. He also questioned students about their reactions to the teacher's writing instruction and found that the writing project offered an ideal unattained in the actual classroom the year following project participation. Nonetheless, the experience energized the teachers and in turn the students. The findings are substantiated by Blau's (1993) synthesis about writing project graduates' progression after participation. In his discussion of teachers' change processes, Blau points out that even the most exemplary teachers require three years to establish a classroom learning community like the one experienced in a summer institute.
Blau tracked the development of writing project Fellows over several years and determined that teachers implementing writing project philosophies in their classrooms progress through three stages which reflect the levels that Joyce and Showers (1980) define in their staff development analysis of the progression of knowledge acquisition. In the first stage, which Blau calls the "show and tell" stage, successful teachers show other teachers what they do and then tell the teachers how they came to do it. In the second stage, which he calls "show and tell why," teacher-presenters begin explaining the principles behind
their demonstrated practices. In the final developmental stage, Blau defines teachers as researchers. Teachers reflect on their own teaching much as a researcher does, and they no longer "focus as much on their own practice or on student behaviors or outcome data as they do on what they can infer from behavior or other data about what is going on in their students' heads" (1988, p. 33). The teachers are more concerned with what or how students might learn or think as a result of instruction. As a consequence of this professional development, Blau contends, the education community has also been revolutionized in that the job of writing teachers has been elevated; classroom teachers are no longer seen as a deterrent to change. Instead, they are "seen as (or potentially seen as) expert practitioners, writers, agents of change, teacher-consultants, classroom-based researchers, contributors to the pool of current professional knowledge, trainers of administrators, curriculum specialists, and publishing authors" (Blau, 1984, p. 35).
These studies support the notion that change comes slowly and that when teachers make changes in habitual behavior they need to see new behaviors modeled (Zemelman & Daniels, 1986). Permission for change and movement away from what Mayher calls common sense notions about teaching is echoed by Zemelman and Daniels (1986), but they call this the "socialpsychological-political context of the schools" (1986, p. 221). This concept is built around the notion of "top-down" politics and requires time and a complete knowledge of the difference between "an 'authority' as one who controls a situation and
authority' in the sense of one who is consulted because she has valuable ideas" (p.225). They argue, and rightly so, that often teachers completing work on "new" approaches to writing instruction simply return to their classrooms to reconstitute the teacher-centered classroom with a few process-oriented writing activities but without the tools necessary to reconstruct their classrooms in schools filled with "a strong institutional grain" (p. 220). These teachers are ill prepared to assume the role that Blau says comes in the final stages of change.
Zemelman and Daniels (1986) suggest that teachers in the throes of instructional change need instruction in areas beyond content knowledge and this includes information of "psychology, sociology, politics, and recent social history of American education" (p. 229). Shulman (1987) points out that "comprehended ideas must be transformed in some manner if they are to be taught. To reason one's way through an act of teaching is to think one's way from the subject matter as understood by the teacher into the minds and motivations of learners" (p. 16). These facets of change resulting from knowledge acquired in a writing project deepen the nature of the staff -development program. Included in the change process is more than just alteration of writing instruction strategies. Integral to these changes are also the issues of the institutional grain, recent social history, and the learner. These issues are vital elements in the process of teacher change.
At this point the individual teacher in the learning process is the key, and the experiences of the teacher are foremost in the
educational cycle. As Freedman, Warshauer, Dyson, Flower, and Chafe (1987) conclude in their directions for future writing research:
We want to understand the literacy demands learners
encounter across time and space as they progress from home to school to university and workplace; we aim to
identify more completely the resources learners have to draw upon to meet these ends and the resources teachers
have as well as they seek to mediate between the learners
and the ends. Thus, although we have reviewed research
in the traditional areas of context, process, and development
(much of which traditionally focused on product), we
propose program areas that focus on teaching and learning.
Viewing the teachers' experiences in the writing project staff development program produces a window into the teacher perspective to which Freedman, et al. refer. The effectiveness of a staff -development program becomes an integral element in that program so that actualization of practices, in this case the emphasis on writing instruction following an experience in a writing projects, becomes the focus.
Project Connection to Research
The writing project as a worthwhile tool to retrain teachers is supported by all those connected to it, even its critics. Writing projects are, however, tools in the hands of human beings, thus permitting questions to be raised about whether particular practices are best in every situation. Research may provide some direction about possibilities for new writing-project options. The purpose of this research project is
to add to examine the individual teacher experience with the staff -development program in such a way as to enhance the opportunities for professionals as they strive toward altering their existing instructional practices.
When applying the five staff -development principles
outlined in the final paragraphs of the staff -development section in this chapter, it becomes clear that the NWP is a well-designed program. First, staff development must provide worthwhile objectives for teachers within the larger context of school and district educational objectives. Writing projects provide this pedagogical freedom and direction as evidenced by the essential element of local projects developing around the felt needs of the teachers involved. As pointed out by Blau (1993), teachers who pass through a writing project are seen as expert practitioners and gain the respect of administrators thus ensuring, in essence, administrative support, the second staff -development principle. Also important to staff development is a belief in the presented teaching technique; the writing project is developed around the notion that good writing teachers have something worthwhile to share with their colleagues and that each will present a successful writing lesson to the larger group. It can be argued that participants believe in the service offerings even before they begin the project since they are unlikely to attend and present unless they believe in the service. The remaining two principles suggest the need for support during traversal through the stages of growth in a new teaching technique. Currently, the writing project functions to enhance writing instruction and to
train teachers to become teachers of teachers who are in search of better instructional methods in writing. The path teachers traverse on their way toward pedagogical change, the fourth principle, is not clearly addressed in discussion of the writing project. Feedback following writing-project attendance, the final staff -development principle, is important but gets little attention in the literature.
Some research has been done in these areas (Bayer, 1985; McCarthey, 1992; Stroble & Bratcher, 1990). Newkirk (1983) suggests that follow-up should come through scheduled classroom visits by program instructors and that this should be geared toward transforming classroom instruction. Blau (1993) advocates the need for follow-up programs to help teachers as they become constructors of professional knowledge; however, Newkirk does not focus on the individual teacher perspective, and Blau reports only the view of exemplary writing-project teachers. The teacher perspective on the process of change and of implementation following writing-project participation needs to be heard, not as a summary of many experiences but as individual reports on the journey. As a result of writing project attendance, teachers change their writing instruction strategies, and students like the approach to writing brought to the classroom (Zbikowski, 1991); but measurable improvement in student writing is minimal (Scriven, 1979; Stotsky, 1993). Perhaps individual teacher's reflection on the writing-project experience may offer insight into writing instruction and writing improvement. The individual is missing from the current picture,
and in a staff -development program designed to meet the everchanging needs of the professionals, this voice needs to be heard.
Sunstein (1994) studied the culture that grows within a writing project and found that participants act as folk groups that possess two defining characteristics. According to Toelken, says Sunstein, folk groups accept a conservative core of ideas, but they also develop dynamic features around growth. The writing project participants in Sunstein's study reflect this acceptance of a core and then, as expected, develop new versions of the old. Although the study reflects the individual teacher in the three-week writing project, it does not reflect the teachers' experiences as they work through the school year following the writing project.
Dialogue exists within the research community concerning the effectiveness and appropriateness of the NWP, and some teacher voices are heard in testimonials. The authentic voices of teachers as they use knowledge gained in the writing project experience are missing, however. A close look at individual teachers as they implement writing project principles in classroom settings after attending a writing project may determine the kind of support, if any, they need. This investigation is designed to focus on the individual teacher. Tracking individuals as they reconsider their practice after attending a writing project might show whether teachers find ways to create a network outside the service that could provide strategies for others who want to do the same. To continue the search for a better way to teach writing, this research project
focuses on the individual teacher as a way to offer a new dimension in writing-project and staff -development research.
This study was designed to examine individual teacher's
experiences with assimilation and implementation of knowledge gained during participation in a summer writing project. Drawing from each teacher the knowledge gained and the articulated implementation of that knowledge requires a research design that allows the individual voice to describe personal experience; thus, qualitative methods are the most appropriate. Learning how these teachers' beliefs about writing and their theories of writing instruction were influenced by the writing project, discovering which of their writing instruction methods were influenced by the writing project, and determining what they believe they learned from writing-project attendance requires intensive research. Merriam (1991) emphasizes that the qualitative case study focuses on "discovery, insight, and understanding from the perspectives of those being studied [and] offers the greatest promise of making significant contributions to the knowledge base and practice of education" (p. 3). She also points out that the case study examines a specific phenomenon where "researchers are interested in insight, discovery, and interpretation rather than hypothesis testing" (p. 10). The emphasis is on depth of understanding surrounding a single focus.
Such an emphasis is needed to support the purpose of this research.
Four subjects were selected for this one-year study. The interview was the major form of data collection because it focuses on "discovery, insight, and understanding" from the subjects, exactly the kind of data needed for this research project (Merriam, 1991). This research used the interview method to discover: (a) the participants' beliefs about writing, (b) their theory of writing instruction, (c) how they thought their beliefs and theory were influenced by the writing project, and (d) how they reported that their beliefs, theory of writing, and practice changed because of writing-project attendance. The nine interviews, spaced over an eleven-month period, were set up to suit the schedule of the participants, and each followed a common interview form--the "person-to-person encounter in which one person elicits information from another" (Merriam, 1991, p. 71). 1 used both formal and informal interview techniques so that insights and information could emerge based on the answers each teacher gave (Merriam, 1991).
Besides the interviews, I observed in each teacher's
classroom and in the writing projects the teachers attended. Classroom observations focused on practice. Having been a classroom teacher, I know that when students are unfamiliar with a teaching method or classroom practice, their behavior and questions are signs that new things are occurring. I used these indicators as a guide to verify that the teaching methods I saw were not just implemented on the days I observed. My
observations focused specifically on writing in the classroom because my interest was in how each teacher engaged in writing instruction. Through observation I saw firsthand what these teachers did in their classrooms (Merriam, 1991). The intent of the writing project observations was to give me a sense of what the teachers experienced during attendance. An account of the research process is detailed in the following sections.
The participants in this research study attended one of two southeastern writing project sites located within 80 miles of each other. I chose to work with graduates of these projects because they were near my residence and were easily accessible. To gain insight into the writing projects that the participants would reference during the research process, I observed one writing project for four days, one day per week during the fourweek writing project. These observations allowed me to view firsthand the writing project my participants experienced. I simply observed one day, and on the other days, I targeted one of the three participants. Each day, I sat with a different participant and then observed the participant's writing group.
I observed the other four-week project two days, once at the end of the second week and once at the end of the third week. As with the other project, one day was devoted to writing project observation, and the other was participant and writing group observation. I spent each of the days fully absorbed in the writing-project experience. This included, among other things,
listening to writing instruction demonstrations given by several teacher r/partici pants and participating in large-group writing activities. On one of the days, I went with the whole group on a field trip to a small museum dedicated to a local writer. I also observed in each participant's writing group and experienced first-hand their writing processes and the discussion of their personal writing. Each of the six writing-project observations lasted about six hours for a total of approximately 36 hours.
The first writing project was founded in 1982 at the state's major university. Throughout the four-week project, fresh flowers decked the tables and tempting morning snacks became the symbols around which the camaraderie of the participants was generated. Three participants attended this project. The second project had been in operation only three years; and while the teacher in this research project initially intended to attend the first project, the project leader and district language arts coordinator convinced him that he could be more influential in his county if he attended the writing project closest to his home school. Like the first writing project, this site focused on the development of personal relationships within the group, but the effort was less noticeable. No flowers decorated the tables and food availability was minimal; nevertheless on the days I observed, the participants appeared to have developed a positive working environment.
Besides the two writing project sites, the schools in which the participants teach were also sites for the research project. The sites where these teachers work are unique; indeed no two
schools are similar enough for a real site comparison. Each, however, allows the participants great freedom in curriculum implementation thus allowing and even encouraging the four teachers to experiment with pedagogical possibilities from their writing-project experience.
George and his colleagues (1992) suggest that in a true
middle school the curriculum should focus on thematic units that intersect with adolescent concerns and issues. Usually an interdisciplinary team addresses these issues through a constructivist approach which suggests that students build knowledge from collaborative inquiry, research, and writing, thus allowing students to generate knowledge related to personal needs and experiences. None of the schools in this study could be defined as a true middle school, but each makes some attempt in that direction. These schools use the team approach to enhance student personal growth while continuing separate subject learning. Each does include some interdisciplinary thematic units that typically revolve around some broad topic such as drug use or career possibilities. Each school is briefly described in the following section and fully described in the next chapter.
Four middle-school language-arts teachers, two male and two female participated in the study. Selection was based on their reputation as writing teachers. Inherent in teacher selection for writing-project participation is the idea that teachers who are selected are exemplary writing teachers. In
both of the sites for this study, teachers were recommended by the district-level language arts coordinator, the school principals, and their peers. Final selection for participation was made by the project director. Three criteria were used to select teachers for this research project: (a) participation in a 1992 summer writing project, (b) identification as an exemplary middle school writing teacher according to administrative and peer recommendations, and (c) accessibility to teachers following the writing project. Several other middle school teachers attended this writing project but were eliminated because they were not considered exemplary writing teachers by the university director of the writing project or because the distance to their school prohibited accessibility. I wanted good middle school writing teachers because that is the NWP expectation for writing-project participation. Because it was impossible to obtain an ethnic mix due to the make up of the writing-project participants, I attempted to include some diversity through the status of male/female, years of experience, rural/city, and new and repeat writing-project participation. For the purposes of this research project, the teachers' names have been changed to ensure their privacy.
The participants' teaching experience ranges from one to ten years; two teach in a rural setting and two teach in a midsized city school. The four participants represent four different middle schools. One of the teachers was an English and philosophy major in college and holds teaching certification but was not an education major during college preparation; another
was elementary trained; the third has a degree in creative writing; and the fourth has a degree in English education.
Mrs. Hammond (fictitious names are used throughout)
teaches in a city middle school that caters to the educational needs of upper middle class students. The school has transformed the English department so that all teachers must structure their curriculum around a reading/writing workshop. She reports that a feeling of collegiality exists among the language arts teachers who share ideas and experiences while learning their way through this new approach to teaching.
The year of this study was Mrs. Hammond's seventh year as a teacher. Despite the fact that she held a teaching certificate, she was forced to begin her post-college career in education as an elementary school aide because teaching jobs were scarce. She worked in that capacity for four years. When her family moved, she worked as a permanent substitute in a high school; and when her family moved to their present location, she taught three years in a rural school and then transferred to her current position which she has held for three years. Her educational background was in English and philosophy, not education; but she did add teacher certification to her credentials while in college. A few years ago she attended the school district writing project led by the county language-arts supervisor and several teacher/consultants trained during a writing project. This workshop is not as intense as the summer writing project, but it acts as the county training ground for teachers of writing.
Like Mrs. Hammond, Mr. Marriet also has an undergraduate degree in English, but he completed a master's degree program in English education prior to beginning classroom teaching. During his education training, Mr. Marriet embraced the philosophy that writing is a process and this belief guides his classroom practice. During this study Mr. Marriet completed his second year of teaching.
Mr. Marriet teaches in a newly-renovated middle school
situated at the edge of the mid-sized town in which he resides. During the school renovation, Mr. Marriet's room was outfitted with state-of-the-art computer equipment which he uses daily. Several years ago the principal brought in a consultant who completely restructured the school's scheduling and teaching practices. Rather than the traditional 50-minute class period, Mr. Marriet sees his students for blocks of 90 minutes two times each week and then for one regular 50-minute class period once a week. This arrangement allows the revised curriculum, based on the assumption that reading and writing are interrelated and require extended periods of time for integration and exploration, to be implemented. Mr. Marriet prefers this arrangement but stated that his colleagues are not as satisfied.
Ms. Roth works in a middle school that serves middle-class, rural students. Her room connects physically with her team colleague, but the connection stops at the door. Ms. Roth practices innovative writing instruction, but she says she acts alone--apart from her colleague and apart from the other language arts teachers in her school. Despite the philosophical
differences, Ms. Roth reports that she has a pleasant relationship with her colleagues.
Ms. Roth is trained in elementary education, although she has never taught at that level. Her three years of teaching experience have been in the middle school. She taught one year in a large, city school system before moving to her present position. Like Mrs. Hammond, she attended the school-district writing project led by the county language-arts supervisor and teach er/co ns ultants before attending the summer writing project.
Mr. McNew works in a small middle school. The school is rural, like Ms. Roth's, but the student population is lower middle class. He is one of only two middle-school English teachers at the school, but he reports that his teaching practice is completely independent of his colleague's. They share neither teaching philosophy nor teaching ideas.
Mr. McNew has taught for ten years, but not all of the
teaching experience is in the public school system. He worked three years as a teaching assistant during graduate school. His public school teaching career spans seven years, three in his current position and four in a coastal, tourist community. He attended the writing project for the second time and acted as group leader or facilitator for the small writing group to which he belonged.
The following table summarizes each participant's demographic information.
Age Sex Ethnic # of Years Tchg/ # of Yrs. in New/Repeat Background in Middle Schl. Present Situa. Wtg. Proj.
Roth 27 F W 3/3 2 New
McNew 42 M W 10/6 4 Repeat
Hammond 41 F W 7/6 3 New
Marriet 27 M W 1 /1 1 New
In addition to these identified participants, four minor participants were also included. I conducted a telephone interview with the language-arts supervisors in the two counties where the participants teach and with one of the directors from each of the writing projects the participants attended. The purpose of these interviews was to gain another perspective on the writing-project experience and to validate the writingproject purposes and central themes.
Following approval by the Human Subjects Committee at the university where the research was conducted, related personnel
at the district county office where the schools are located, and the appropriate building administrator at each school, I contacted the teachers and set up observations and interviews convenient to their teaching schedules.
All of the interviews were conducted similarly. I asked several prepared questions to begin the discussion, but then I allowed the issues raised by each teacher to direct the interview as it progressed. When an issue was exhausted, I returned to my prepared questions to stimulate more discussion. The questions I asked were designed to elicit responses of knowledge, opinion, feeling, and teacher personal background, and while they were similar for each teacher, the data supplied during each interview stimulated questions for further interviews (Merriam, 1991).
Classroom observations usually occurred on the same day as the interviews. I sat off to the side of the classroom activity and took notes on what I saw that related to the domain of writing. This included not only teaching and student writing but also any evidence of student writing such as writing folders, work displayed on the board, and indirect references to writing such as reminding students of writing done during a previous class period or discussion of writing techniques during nonwriting lessons. I also searched for verification of what the participants reported in interviews during actual writing instruction and in writing instruction philosophy manifested in teaching practice.
I used in-depth interviews to examine the way teachers who attended the summer writing project made sense of their workshop experience. This technique allowed me to find out from them how they believe they used what they learned in their teaching after attendance. The interviews also acted as a source of information concerning the teachers' beliefs about their personal writing experiences and their beliefs and understandings of writing pedagogy. The main purpose of this qualitative research technique is to gather unobservable information from the participant perspective (Merriam, 1991). Spradley (1980) says informants "speak in their own language . [and] are a source of information[J [1-literally, they become teachers for the [researcher]" (p. 66). Since the purpose in this study was to learn how the teachers made sense of their summer learning experience and how they changed their pedagogical stance following participation, the interview method which allows the source of information to become the teacher and encourages entrance by an outsider into the perspective of another person seemed an appropriate research technique.
My purpose during the interviews was to "discover,
understand, [and] gain insight" (Merriam, 1991, p. 48) from the participants. This purpose places the participant in the role of authority over the criteria established by the researcher. In this emic mode, or insider perspective, the researcher's role is one of information gathering from the expert. This role encourages participants to give personal responses rather than ones they
might feel the researcher wants. Merriam (1991) proposes that the sernistructured interview is more "open-ended and less structured" than the traditional research survey, and provides a guiding framework when "certain information is desired from all the respondents" (p. 74). The questions in the sernistructured interview allow for individual responses, but they are standardized enough so the responses are comparable.
I used this technique in the interviews I conducted. The
discussions were "guided by a list of questions . to be explored, but neither the exact wording nor the order of the questions [was] determined beforehand" (Merriam, 1991, p. 78), which allowed the participant's expertise to lead the discussion under a general framework. As I prepared for each interview, I incorporated not only my inquiries that reflected the guiding questions for the research but also those that grew from previous interviews and classroom observations. In a synthesis of information about good questions, Merriam (1991) notes that different questions elicit different kinds of information. Experience/behavior, opinion/value, feeling, knowledge, sensory, and background/demographic questions are all possible question types. In the interviews, I used questions from all these categories except the sensory which seemed irrelevant to this research. Merriam also suggested the use of hypothetical, devil's advocate, ideal position, and interpretive questions; I used questions from all of these categories (See Appendix).
Each teacher was interviewed between nine and eleven
times. The interview process began during the summer prior to
their writing-project experience and continued until the final month of the school year that followed. Except for interview six, which lasted about thirty minutes, the interviews lasted between an hour and an hour-and-a-half each for a total of 10 to 15 taped hours per teacher. All interviews were audio taped and transcribed verbatim. The typed protocols were between 10 and 18 pages, so that each participant's interviews produced about 120 to 150 pages of text for analysis.
During interview one I attempted to learn about each
participant as a writer and a writing teacher. I prepared ten questions for the interview, but allowed the respondents freedom to discuss a topic in more detail when they guided the interview in that direction. Generally, participants seemed pleased at the opportunity to share their views with a willing listener, and I did not have to prompt their participation. I conducted this interview just as the summer writing projects began. The teachers had been selected for writing-project attendance, but they had not been influenced by the project. I wanted to intrude as little as possible on the participants' summer vacation, but I wanted to capture their understandings of writing instruction and of themselves as writers before the writing project.
During interview two my guiding questions centered on the participants' educational background and on their personal beliefs about what they learned from their summer writing-project participation. I also tried to gain a deeper understanding of their teaching practices and why they selected those practices. Interview three was designed to draw from the participants their
unfulfilled expectations from the writing project and a writing theory on which their current instruction techniques were based.
The focus of interview four was on clarification of information given during the first three interviews and information gained during the accompanying observations. It was at this time that I began to know the participants, and when something I read from the transcribed tapes seemed at odds with my growing understanding of each participant's beliefs about writing instruction, I wrote that down and used that information as the basis for questioning. For example, in one participant's classroom, I observed the students begin a writing in each of three classes; but I never saw what became of the writing, so during the fourth interview I asked the teacher what the students did with their writing after the initial draft. I knew from our interviews and from evidence around the classroom that this teacher spent time guiding the students' writing, but because I had not observed that process in the classroom, the interview allowed me to learn how that element of writing was incorporated into instruction. Therefore, what was unobserved was explained through an interview.
For an in-depth look at the physical arrangement of the classroom, I took photographs during the observation prior to interview five. As the class activities shifted, I took photographs and recorded the activity in which the class was involved. Since none of the teachers used the traditional row configuration, I was curious about why that might be, and I wanted a concrete way to discuss the various physical
arrangements generated by classroom instruction. To do this, I felt I needed examples of changes that occurred in each class to use as prompts for our discussions, so I chose to use photography in this research project in conjunction with and as an extension of the interview.
In quoting Collier, Fang (1985) says photography can "serve as a stimulus during an interview" (p. 13) to prompt further discussion of a topic. Tucker and Dempsey (1990) say that "the verbal interview tend[s] to elicit general perceptions, [while] the photographs shared in small group settings [elicit] more specific perceptions" (p. 5). In his paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Evaluation Network and the Evaluation Research Society, Fang (1985) said that "[p]hotography can be seen as an extension for observation and as a complementary technique for interviewing. As such it is another strategy for collecting data" (p.1 1). He further stated that "[t]hrough procedures similar to content analysis, photographs are examined on the basis of specific themes or events" (p.11). Because one purpose of this study was to explore the in-depth thinking of teachers following summer participation in the writing project, photography seemed a good approach into the teacher thought process which neither an observation nor an interview alone could stimulate.
During interview five I displayed the photographs taken in the teacher's classroom and asked the teacher to respond to what was represented in the pictured learning environment. Then I showed a photograph of a traditional classroom setting to stimulate comparison and expand discussion. I asked several
specific questions about the photographs, but then I allowed the discussion to be directed by the teachers' comments. Each participant eagerly viewed the photographs and used them as a comfortable beginning for discussion not only of their own classroom but also of their own personal experience in school as a writer. I had tried on several occasions to elicit from the participants memories of writing experiences during their school years, but no one was able to draw much to mind until I showed the photographs of their current classroom. Interestingly, the photographs drew from each participant a detailed childhood writing experience, data I wanted but had been unable to elicit through direct questions.
Interview six occurred just after the winter holidays. I was aware that my interviews took large chunks of the participants' time at school, and so I shortened this interview to give them a respite and to ease them back into the interview schedule following the holidays. In this interview I focused on only one thing: articulating perceptions of the positive aspects from the summer writing project. This was important because few of the writing instruction strategies that were presented by fellow teachers actually made their way into the participants' instruction repertoire. The participants mentioned that the writing-project presentations were interesting but of little value for their own classroom writing instruction. Since the presentations took up a large portion of the writing-project time, but were not useful in their practice, I used the interview to probe for an explanation concerning the variance.
Interview seven was designed to determine how the
teachers were influenced beyond their classroom by writingproject attendance. The next interview centered on how middleschool considerations influenced instruction. During the final interview, I focused on the participants as writers. This theme was repeated throughout the interviews, but I wanted to concentrate on this issue specifically. During this interview I was interested in the participants as writers only, not as writing teachers.
Throughout the interview process I telephoned the
participants and asked them for clarification or expansion on issues discussed during the taped interviews. In this way I validated my understanding of their thoughts as I made decisions about the direction for the research. The interview information is summarized in the following table.
Interview # Date Teachers Involved Interview Focus
one early McNew Information on each as a
June 1992 Marriet writer and as a teacher
Roth of writing
Two mid McNew Educational background/
Oct. 1992 Marriet beliefs about what was
Roth learned in the summer
Hammond writing project
Interview # Date Teachers Involved Interview Focus
Three late McNew Unfulfilled expectations
Oct. 1992 Marriet and personal writing
Four early McNew Clarification from first
Nov. 1992 Marriet three interviews;
Roth photographs taken
Five mid McNew Discussion of photographs
Nov. 1992 Marriet
Six mid McNew Articulation of positive
Jan. 1993 Marriet aspects of summer
Roth project attendance
Seven early McNew How professionalism was
March 1993 Marriet influenced beyond the
Roth classroom by writing
Hammond project attendance
Eight late Marriet Middle school considerations
March 1993 Roth when teaching writing and
Hammond applying ideas learned in
Nine early Marriet Participants as writers
May 1993 Roth
*Because of Mr. McNew's schedule, I spread out the last two interviews over four interview sessions which meant he was interviewed 11 times. His last four interviews were early March, middle March, late March, and late May.
Because the purpose of this research project was to give a
voice to the individual experience of four teachers as they
progressed through pedagogical examination and change following their writing-project experience, the interview acted as the primary data source. However, the teachers in this study are practitioners who--to one degree or another--applied what they learned during the project. Merriam (1991) says that "methodical triangulation combines dissimilar methods such as interviews, observations, and physical evidence to study the same unit" (p. 69). The point of study from multiple directions is to strengthen weaknesses inherent in a single direction of study. As a means of strengthening the interview data and as a way to triangulate the categories emerging from the interviews, I also included observations of each participant's classroom.
Classroom observation began in September and continued through May. I observed each classroom between seven and ten times with each observation lasting one class period. The observations occurred on the same day I interviewed the teachers. I acted only in the observer role; I did not participate in any class activity or discussion. During the observations I noted the nature of the writing done by the students and teachers, the students' familiarity with writing in the classroom, evidence of past and future writing activities, teacher actions and behaviors related to writing, and student actions and behaviors related to writing. In the majority of the classes I observed, student writing was the primary activity. I asked the teachers to allow my observations to occur on writing days since my purpose was to view them as writing teachers. During my observations I recorded everything I saw related to writing. Generally, the typed notes from an
observation were from two to five pages which added 30 to 50 pages to each teacher's data gathered from the interviews.
All of the classes were heterogeneously grouped. Two were seventh-grade classes; the other two were sixth-grade classes. Although the observations did include two grade levels, county curriculum goals for the two grades are similar. The writing goals for both classes include increased fluency, better command of English language conventions, introduction and practice in different writing types with a concentration on the narrative form using a variety of audiences, and possibilities for writing experiences across the curriculum. Grade level is a factor in making choices for curriculum, but for the purposes of this research project, which centers on overall pedagogical examination and change, grade level is less important than the development of the teaching philosophy following writing-project participation.
During the classroom observations I noted and recorded as
much of the teachers' behaviors as possible. I observed both their behavior and their discussions during the classes. I tried to record their words exactly, and most of my notes were as close to verbatim as possible. I recorded information about bulletin boards of student work and learning stations (discussed more in the following section), which gave me information concerning the teachers' classroom practice, prior writing activities, and overall classroom approach; thus, a part of my observation is a description of the classroom. I sat away from the center of activity so I could watch but not intrude on the classroom
activities. During my initial visits the students inquired about my presence, but each teacher explained my purpose and the students quickly forgot about me.
In addition to the interviews and observations, I
investigated several artifact sources. Three of the teachers wrote a position paper about their philosophy of writing and writing instruction as part of the writing-project experience. I was able to copy the papers and use them to check their written expression against their verbalized and practiced philosophy. For the fourth teacher, I obtained a similar written statement of philosophy completed during a graduate course taken the year before the writing project. Further, I received a copy of the handouts the participants prepared to accompany their writingproject presentations, and I made a display of photographs that were used to prompt interview discussion (see Interview section).
I also used classroom artifacts to aid in the "holistic understanding" (Merriam, 1991, p. 169) of patterns and generalizations that emerged from analysis of the interview data. I made careful note of student writing displayed around each of the four classrooms. My purpose was to see whether the practices the participants proclaimed during our interviews were applied in the reality of the classroom when I was not observing. Other important classroom artifact sources were bulletin boards and learning stations. Both reflected the teachers' purposes of
instruction and added to my data several verifiable displays of the teachers' philosophy of writing and writing instruction.
Analysis of Data
According to Spradley (1980), analysis of any kind is a way of thinking which involves systematic examination of the whole to find its components, the relationships among the components, and the relationship between the components and the whole in search of patterns and meaning. Merriam (1991) states that data gathering can become unfocused and repetitious without analysis throughout the process. The principles from these statements guided the work in this project. In addition to the guiding research questions, the focus for each interview and observation was based on what emerged from earlier interviews and observations determined by initial analysis and emerging categories, a process called for by Spradley (1980) and Merriam (1991).
As part of the initial analysis process, I chose to transcribe the taped interviews and hand-written observations. This act can be performed by someone other than the researcher, but I found that the task allowed me to recount in slow motion the experience viewed during the data collection process and provided me with an opportunity for valuable manipulation of the data. In a sense, the words that belonged to the participant during data collection became mine for data analysis. During this etic stage, the point at which data moves from the insider perspective (emic) to the more general and scientific setting (Sandstrum &
Sandstrum, 1995), 1 coded every section of each observation and interview and made choices about direction for future interviews. Merriam (1991) advises identifying the units, defined as the smallest piece of information about some topic that can stand alone, within each document and assigning a code to each. Following this initial identification, the researcher should place these units into categories based on some unifying theme. At this initial point in data analysis, I followed Merriam's advice and named each segment of data. In one interview Mrs. Hammond talked about students who balk at working through each stage in the writing process and related their sense of the writing process to her own by saying, "Sometimes in my own writing it just hits me, and I want to go with it; that's okay." The larger discussion was about student writing, which I labeled as such, but the embedded statement quoted here was about her personal writing, and I labeled that statement to reflect Mrs. Hammond's personal writing process.
Once that initial analysis was completed, I grouped all related references. These initial groups acted as a beginning place for data analysis as I combed through each list and identified more specifically every reference. Under "personal writing," some of Mrs. Hammond's references were specifically about her own writing. She said that she became interested in writing "because my teachers let me be creative, read aloud what I wrote. We got excited about writing." That statement describes her own writing, but in the statement mentioned above, "Sometimes in my own writing it just hits me," the meaning
refers to how her own writing process influences practice. As my data analysis progressed, sharper distinctions of meaning became evident, and this increasing focus guided my coding in more specific directions. In the example found in this paragraph, I changed the category for the second reference from "personal writing" to "evidence of personal writing techniques in practice," while the first reference stayed simply "personal writing."
Spradley (1980) calls the categories "domains" and says
they are composed of three elements: the cover term, the included terms, and the semantic relationship between the two. For example, in data analysis for this research, "personal writing," the cover term, includes several terms such as "early writing experiences," "writing habits," and "reasons for writing" each of which is connected to the cover term by the semantic relationship "are a part of." Together they become "early writing experiences are a part of personal writing," "writing habits are a part of personal writing," and "reasons for writing are a part of personal writing" under the domain "personal writing."
Once the domains are established, Spradley says the next step in analysis is preparation of a domain analysis worksheet which is designed to organize and offer a visual structure for viewing the data. His example places the included terms on the left side of the page, the semantic relationship in the middle, and the cover term on the right side. The next step in my analysis process was preparation of a domain analysis worksheet, but mine looks slightly different from the one Spradley suggests because I constructed it with two purposes in mind: (a) I wanted
to follow the established procedures cited by Spradley, and for this reason I included most of the elements he suggests, but (b) I realized that the sheet was for my use. So, besides the included terms and domains that Spradley suggests, I also included location within the protocols for each domain and included term, but because I had internalized the semantic relationship by this point in my analysis, I did not write out that relationship on each page.
In the next stage of analysis, I began comparing categories based on what Merriam (1991) calls convergence and divergence, which assumes that the investigator will sort the data according to the way units and categories or domains fit together, as well as how the units separate or how they are different. Thus, the focus shifts from a comparison within categories to a comparison among the categories. This kind of analysis focuses the continued data collection so that the researcher can determine areas that need additional data and further develop important domains (Merriam, 1991). Spradley (1980) discusses the process of broadening the perspective of the data by moving the analysis toward finding how the domains are related to an emerging whole. He calls this step a taxonomic analysis. During this stage I established relationships between initial domains and developed general categories. In this classification step, two similar domains, "part of writing instruction" and "purpose of writing instruction," come under a more general title, "beliefs about teaching writing." In another part of analysis at this stage, I found that an important comparable domain showed that the
teachers were not implementing the writing-instruction techniques learned during writing-project participation. Subsequently, a portion of the collection of data focused on this topic, specifically the guiding questions used in interview seven.
Toward the end of my analysis, I began to compare domains among the participants. Significant and similar patterns emerged across the domains that became the basis for the discussion of the participants that can be found in the next chapters. Some of those domains are "personal writing," "practices in instruction," and "experience in and influence of the writing project." What also emerged was that each participant had a significant domain that was not comparable across participants. These unique domains act as the identifying category which allows discussion of the differences among the participants.
The continued analysis of data assumes two levels at all times, Spradley (1980) says, and this analysis provides the framework for the presentation of the findings from this research project. The first level includes analysis of the details and intricacies of the culture; the second includes analysis that expands the first into the broader picture or the holistic view of what Spradley calls the culture or the recurring principle found across several domains. These principles may be tacit or explicit, and they act as a unifying theme among domains. While it may appear that data analysis is a linear process, that is not the case; rather, it is a recursive act that could continue indefinitely but ceases when generalizations about the data cease to offer new insights (Merriam, 1991). The process involves
progressing from data gathering to drawing generalizations from the data into inclusive categories. These categories are then combined and subsumed under themes. From the themes, Merriam (1991) says, come speculations as outgrowth of the data about what might occur in future educational practice. This section of the data analysis is detailed in later chapters.
Validity and Reliability
Kirk and Miller (1986) state that "[o]bjectivity . is the essential basis of good research . [which is] the simultaneous realization of as much reliability and validity as possible" (p. 20). Merriam (1991) writes that for the case study to have any effect on theory or practice, studies "must be believed and trusted; they need to present insights and conclusions that ring true" (p. 164). The idea is that reliability and validity are instrumental in all research and to assess both, the components of the study including the way it was conceptualized and the way the data were "collected, analyzed, and interpreted" (p. 165) must be addressed.
Internal validity "deals with the question of how one's
findings match reality" (Merriam, 1991, p. 166). Merriam uses Taylor and Bogdan's argument that the researcher's job is to present as nearly as possible an honest account of how informants view themselves and their world. Toward that end, six strategies are presented that can guide the researcher to ensure internal validity: (a) triangulation--using multiple investigators, sources of data, or multiple methods to verify
emerging findings; (b) member checks--taking data and interpretations back to the informants throughout the research process; (c) long-term observation--gathering data over an extended period of time; (d) peer examination--having colleagues comment on emerging findings; (e) participatory modes of research--involving the participants in all areas of the research from conceptual ization to writing up the findings; (f) researcher biases--specifying the researcher's views on related areas at the beginning of the research (Merriam, 1991, p. 169-170).
In an attempt to account for internal validity, I have applied as closely as possible Merriam's six strategies. I was the only investigator in the research, and I returned to the subjects throughout the process to have them verify the emerging findings. I also interviewed writing project leaders and district languagearts supervisors as a means of triangulation. Each interview after the first began with questions of clarification and verification of my understanding from the previous interview and observation. In a summative interview, the questions verified my understandings of information from earlier interviews. Classroom and actual writing project observations were also employed as another form of triangulation. Throughout the entire research process my colleagues and mentors offered insight and advice on the direction of the investigation. Biases are addressed in the next section of this chapter.
External validity, concerned with how well one study can be applied in other situations, does not fit the purpose of this work, which is aimed toward "understanding, extension of experience,
and [an) increase in conviction in that which is known" (Stake, quoted in Merriam, 1991, p. 176). My purpose is understanding thoroughly decisions for classroom practice and articulating the authentic teacher voice through a believable research process.
Reliability in a research design "is based on the assumption that there is a single reality which if studied repeatedly will give the same results" (Merriam, 1991, p. 170). Generally, qualitative research will not yield the same results upon replication, if in fact replication is even a possibility. Merriam notes that "rather than demanding that outsiders get the same results, one wishes outsiders to concur that, given the data collected, the results make sense--they are consistent and dependable" (1991, p. 172). It is my plan to carry the reader carefully through my research and analysis process in order to substantiate interpretations and lend credibility not only to the work done but also to the conclusions drawn. Toward that end, I followed Merriam's structure for investigators to ensure that results are dependable. First, she calls for the investigator to explain the assumptions and theory behind the study (See Chapters 1 and 2), and to include the basis for and description of participants, both of which are detailed in this chapter. Second, Merriam states that triangulation should be used in the work; those methods are explained in this chapter. Finally, Merriam urges researchers to detail how data were collected and analyzed, the organizing focus for this entire chapter.
Validation and Safeguards against Bias
Initial interviews and observations grew from the research questions, but over time both were guided by things seen and heard in earlier observations and interviews. Having been a middle school classroom teacher and a participant in a writing project several years ago, I realized I had some preconceived notions about both and that I needed to be aware of my biases at all points in the research. McCracken (1988) warns against active listening which would encourage the researcher to "read" hidden meanings into either spoken or body language. In place of active listening, the researcher should design interviews to encourage the participants to tell their own stories. He suggests the use of structured prompts, but the problem with strict adherence to specific questions is that the "humanness," the essence of the participant story, can be missed since set questions leave little room for personal variance. Merriam (1991) offers a solution to this dilemma. The researcher needs to be a reflective listener which includes more listening than talking with occasional rephrasing to check for clarification and understanding. The researcher does not put words into the participant's mouth but makes certain the words heard are the ones meant. In this project I followed this advice by using a semistructured interview process.
Additionally, I followed Merriam's (1991) advice during the interviews. She states that the interviewer can minimize distortion of a respondent's message by "being neutral and nonjudgmental no matter how much a respondent's revelations
violate the interviewer's standards" (p. 75). 1 made every effort to allow the participant to answer with as little direction as possible from me. I kept an audit trail, documented throughout this chapter, (Guba, 1980) to act as verification of my research process. Merriam (1991) says that "for an audit trail to take place, the investigator must describe in detail how data were collected, how categories were derived, and how decisions were made throughout the inquiry" (p. 172). In order to accommodate this need, the interviews were audio taped and transcribed. Each was dated and labeled according to the place of the interview. Observations were likewise labeled and dated. My research notes were kept in conjunction with the interview or observation that prompted them. All of my data analysis worksheets are kept with the participant's notes and data analysis and my entire research process is explained in this chapter.
The use of various data sources and interviews with
participants, writing project directors, and county language-arts supervisors act as elements of triangulation, and as the work progressed during data gathering and during data analysis, I presented tentative findings to the participants as well as to colleagues as a way to gauge whether I had correctly captured the essence of each participant's voice.
Three theoretical perspectives converge in this research: writing project theory, composition theory, and staff development theory. Two considerations for teacher development
following writing-project attendance (Blau, 1988, 1993, & Nelms, 1991) act as a framework for discussion of how the teachers in this study relate to the larger population of teachers who have attended writing projects. To discuss these teachers only in terms of writing project theory, however, negates two important areas related to this research. The first is the connection between the teachers and the larger issue of writing instruction as an element within composition theory (Berlin, 1988). The participants in this study attended a writing project and they are teachers of writing, but to fully explore their experiences in the writing project, a connection to both writing project and composition theories adds depth to the discussion. Finally, in analyzing how the composition teachers in this study are affected by their writing-project attendance--a highly regarded staff -development program--it is important to consider how their experiences offer insight into the third theoretical perspective that drives this research--staff development theory.
The next four chapters summarize and report the
information gathered in this study; they are organized in a casestudy format with separate chapters devoted to each teacher. The information on these teachers is drawn from my observations of their classrooms, interviews with the participants, and interviews with project leaders and county language arts supervisors. The interviews with project leaders and language arts supervisors were designed primarily to corroborate and triangulate the data that I collected from observations of and interviews with the participants. Furthermore, these data were
supplemented by examination of writing samples from students in each teacher's classroom and by my reading of written products from the participants' writing project folders.
Each chapter begins with a brief description of the context in which the teachers act out their beliefs about writing and the teaching of writing. This is followed by a detailed description of one sample class observation. Next is a description of the teachers as writers with the understanding that their own experiences as writers, their writing processes, and their attitudes toward writing may influence their teaching of writing. Zancanella (1988) found that this was true of teachers in the teaching of literature.
Following the personal writing are sections devoted to the practices and principles of writing instruction. Then the description moves from the individual stories of the participants as writing teachers to the story of each one's involvement in the writing project and the subsequent professional development with particular attention to the roles they assume as teach er/co nsu Itants or teacher/leaders in their own school districts and elsewhere.
MS. ROTH--TEACHER WHO WRITES
Ms. Roth teaches in a rural middle school which has a slight cosmopolitan air. Many of the students are from farming families, but some are from professional families because several upper-end neighborhoods feed the school's population. The school is located at the edge of a large campus next to beautiful spreading oaks native to the area. Grades five through eight are housed in the building, but the fifth grade is separated from the other grades. Ms. Roth's classroom is on the back wing and has a wall of windows facing the woods. On the adjoining wall is a chalkboard, and the adjacent wall has an unused coat rack and the teacher's desk. Behind that is a classroom sink and a door which connects Ms. Roth's room to the next classroom. The fourth wall has two closet doors. A large carpet remnant for class gatherings is in front of those doors. Student writing and projects hang from the ceiling and from the walls, and the student work areas are individual tables placed together in groups of four so the students face each other. Nanci Atwell (1986) advocates what she calls "discussion around the dining room table," and Ms. Roth's class exemplifies this concept. On her
desk sits a small lamp and a soft pillow lies in her chair. While the students do not actually sit around a table to talk, Ms. Roth gathers her students into a comfortable "dining room discussion" offering each student the opportunity to join the writing and reading family which develops during the school year. The following section contains a detailed description of one day in this classroom.
When I arrived Ms. Roth was bustling around the room
preparing for the day. She gave me a brief review of the class schedule so I would know what was going on during the class period. Then she explained that at her school the students wait outside the classroom before school starts. This allows the teachers some planning time. Then she left the room to get her students. I could hear them quiet down as Ms. Roth began talking. She led the group back inside. All of the students entered quietly, removed their chairs from the tables, sat down, and began work on the daily "Caught 'Ya."
I attend Northside Middle School. this is my second year in
Ms. Roth may have told them to begin work on the Caught 'Ya while outside because when they entered she did not have to explain what they were to do. They all started to work, and Ms. Roth walked around the room. She stamped the students' papers indicating that they had corrected the mistakes in the Caught 'Ya.
When she completed her rounds, Ms. Roth and the class went over the Caught 'Ya. The sentences were projected onto a screen in a corner of the room. Ms. Roth began the work by asking, "Okay. What's the problem today?"
"The T at the first of the sentence needs to be a capital letter," one student answered.
Ms. Roth said, "RightH What's the rule that supports that?"
Another students said, "All sentences begin with a capital letter. Always!!"
"You've got it! Now anything else?"
"The 'middle school' in the second sentence doesn't need capital letters," answered a third student.
"Wow! You guys are great this morning. I haven't heard anything but right answers. I'm going to have to make these Caught 'Ya's harder. That's right--no capital letters in the second sentence. Now who knows why? Maybe I'll stump you here."
"Because that's not a major noun."
Ms. Roth corrected the student by saying, "Well, that's close. Very close. Who can tell her what we call those major nouns?"
Several students responded by saying, "Proper nouns."
"That's right, but that's not how we answer. Just one of you at a time. Okay? Well now. We've had a pretty good start to our day. What is the rule about proper nouns and common nouns--the name of nouns that don't need a capital letter?"
This time the students raised their hands, and Ms. Roth
called on one who responded, "Proper nouns need capital letters.
They are about particular things, but common nouns aren't. They are just about anything."
"That's right. Does everyone understand that rule?
Particular places, things, and people are proper nouns and use capital letters to begin the words. Common nouns are just any place, thing, or person and they begin with small letters. That's a very important rule. Let's try to use it and not forget it."
With the Caught Ya completed, Ms. Roth moved the students to their next activity. "Okay. It's time to move into our minilesson for today. Are you ready? You can all answer this time."
"Yes! Yes!" came the reply.
One thing I noticed throughout the day was that Ms. Roth
called on all of the students. If one did not know the answer, the student was allowed to say so and then call on a classmate to answer. This technique seemed to include everyone in the class discussion. No one was put on the spot, but all students knew they might be called on and so they needed to give some attention to the discussion.
The day's mini-lesson was on the symbols for the statusof-the-class technique Ms. Roth uses. The idea came from the book In the Middle (1986) by Nanci Atwell, and the purpose of the symbols is to give the students and teacher a common language so they can discuss the progress of student writing. Ms. Roth simply explained the purpose of each symbol: TS--topic search, Dl-First draft, D2--Second draft, SC--Self conference, PC--Peer conference, TC--Teacher conference, PC Di--Peer conference on
first draft, SE--Self edit, PE--Peer edit, TE--Teacher edit, PC-Polished copy, P--Publish.
At the end of the mini-lesson, Ms. Roth explained to the students that each day they wrote she would call roll, and they would answer by calling out the letters that corresponded to the status of the writing they would do that day. After the simple explanation, Ms. Roth and the students tried out the process. She asked, "Okay. Are you ready?"
All of the students replied "Yes!!"
"Now, when I call your name, call out--using the status-ofthe-class letters--what you will work on today when we write. Now we will try to do this in 90 seconds. I'll set the timer. Let's see if we can beat the timer. On your mark. Get set."
And she began calling out each student's name. I thought
they did very well. The students were not confused by the letter codes, and they knew what they would work on during the writing time. Eventually the time ran out before they had completed the roll call.
"Oh!! We didn't beat the timer, but we did a very good job. I'm so proud of the way you handled that. That was hard and you went through that like pros. Do you understand what we are doing?" asked Ms. Roth. The students replied that they did.
"Okay. During our next writing time we'll do that again, so
don't forget how to run through the status-of-the-class. And next time, I'll bet we beat our time! Don't you?" The students responded confidently that they would. Time seemed very important to Ms. Roth. Later she told me that the object of timing
the class is to teach the importance of time. When she and the students did an activity, they tried to beat their last time. This was training for the remainder of the school year because Ms. Roth wanted the class to be structured tightly to move smoothly from activity to activity.
At this point Ms. Roth sent the students to do their writing. Each knew what writing needed to be accomplished during the writing time. Some went to a carpet area for quiet writing while others stayed at their desks to write. A group hovered over the baskets filled with pictures for topic ideas. Two students went to a conference corner to discuss their work in progress. The students were completely free to go work wherever they wanted. I was impressed with how quickly they began working and how intent they were on their writing.
The students were quiet and well behaved. From my experience with this age students, I think they were also independent. The ones in conference corners whispered and seemed to be discussing a writing. Ms. Roth made contact with several students. At one point she spoke to a student close by me.
I see on my status-of-the-class roll that you are working on a first draft. What is your topic?"
"Well, I want to write about the trip my dad and me took on Saturday. I went with him when he bought two cows. We ate at a really neat restaurant on the way there. They made a lunch for us to take with us because we couldn't stop on our way back because we had the cows. I had fun and want to write about that," explained the student.
Ms. Roth replied, "I like the sound of that story. That's a
wonderful experience you had with your dad. You should save it in your writing. Try to remember what you saw, how the food tasted, the smell of the place where the cows stayed. Think of the details and include them. Take your chair outside under that tree. Think about what your senses experienced that day and let that lead your writing. See what you can do to create a picture of what you and your dad did. I can't wait to see how the day really looked to you." She gave the student some direction for the writing without dictating what had to be included.
Toward the end of the class Ms. Roth called everyone to the carpeted area in the front of the room. She sat on a chair, and the students sat around her. I was reminded of circle time in elementary school.
"While I was walking around the room talking to you today, I noticed that one student was ready to share with us. Honey, would you like to read now?" Ms. Roth directed the question toward a young lady in the class.
The student said, "Sure, I'm ready," and she read her paper about one of her good friends. Included in the text was a description of the friend's physical appearance and the friend's home, several experiences the two shared, and a final paragraph that explained how important the friend is to the reader. When she finished the reading, the students were supportive of the writing.
One student said, "I liked the way you described your friend's room. It sounds like a nice room."
Another said, "My favorite part was the way you told about how you have been friends for your whole life. Here at school and at church."
And a third responded, "Yeah, and the part where you two got into trouble because you didn't take your brother with you when your mom told you to. That made me smile."
After the reading and comments from the students, class time was almost over. To close the class Ms. Roth said, "Good comments from you today. The paper was full of real experiences. That's part of what made us like it. Thank you for reading. And thank you, audience, for being so attentive during the reading and for your comments. They showed you were really listening. Good job!! We need to prepare for leaving class. Let's get the room ready for the next class. That's the right way to listen. Good work today. Have a good day."
As important as the instructional setting is, its purpose and direction are defined by the educational leader in the classroom. Ms. Roth leads her class, but a part of who she is as a teacher is determined by who she is as a writer. Personal writing began for Ms. Roth in fourth grade. Her teacher gave the students time for writing, an element Ms. Roth believes is critical to writing development. The teacher pushed Ms. Roth at times, but an atmosphere of trust developed between the two of them and Ms. Roth says, I was free to do what I wanted, and I did it." She wrote on topics that pleased her, and she read and wrote about
the books she read. I remember sifting under a desk on a piece of carpet. I felt so free. I could do just what I wanted. The experience of being able to write where I wanted to write and what I wanted to write was important to me." This teacher nurtured Ms. Roth as a writing student and as an individual. Besides the writing instruction, another important element in that writing classroom was the interaction between Ms. Roth and her teacher. "What I can remember is this fat lady putting her arm around me and squeezing me real tight. I remember that." This meaningful classroom experience was the only time Ms. Roth felt a teacher actually taught her how to write, and Ms. Roth attributes her growth in writing to the connection between reading and writing and ample time for writing. She says that the fourth-grade teacher provided books for the students to read. Then she allowed each student to select interesting titles for personal reading; and finally, the teacher scheduled "so much time to write and we were allowed to sit on the floor and chat with our friends about our writing." Ms. Roth did not mention any particular elements of writing that she learned, but this classroom experience offered her the opportunity to discover reading and writing at her own level and then progress from there.
As an adolescent she says she escaped from the realities of the world through writing. "I went to the park to write. That was the only quiet place to go." Ms. Roth says she wrote pages and pages of poetry, which "are my life." They tell her who she was then, and they offer direction for her as she works with
adolescents today. She posts some of her early work on the bulletin board in her classroom each year so that her students can begin to know her as a writer and as a person. She says of those pages, "When I read those things I wrote, it helps me know what my students need in our class."
In college she wrote and did fairly well, but she does not feel she "knew how to fix the writing" she wrote. She says that academic writing "was stressful sometimes because I waited until the last minute. . If I'd been graded on process writing in college, I'd have failed" because she usually wrote only a single draft. Writing was also stressful because she knew so little about writing. "I wrote one research paper in high school. Luckily [in college] I had a few friends who told me some things. 'State your thesis here and do this here.' Basically they said this is the five-paragraph essay, and I plugged that in every time." Eventually, however, she says she discovered how to write because teachers offered feedback on papers done incorrectly. Presently she uses the writing process as her writing guide. "I use a modified process of writing like the one I teach my students. I don't go through the process exactly like I show them, but I want them to have that so they will know how to fix their own writing. I wish someone had shown me that earlier." She says she does not always write down her brainstorming process. Instead, she deliberates over what to say and then goes straight to the drafting stage. This saves her time and allows her to focus more on her ideas.
Ms. Roth says that when she writes now and "really gets
into the writing," the feeling she gets is like the athlete who is "in the zone." Everything is working together and the world is tuned out so that when she returns from this "writing zone" it is like waking from a dream. The experience of meeting herself as a writer is the most exciting part of writing for Ms. Roth. This experience is so important to Ms. Roth that she mentions it several time during our interviews. At one point she struggles to clarify her thoughts, perhaps as much for herself as for me, but she says that the interior rewards of writing stem from "the power of writing." She goes on to say that the "power that comes from the experience of writing" is based on "reliving what you've done or living what you are creating. [When writing] you may go anywhere you want to go and do anything you want to do. And that's a powerful thing." One aspect of this power was difficult for Ms. Roth to explain, but she did say this:
You are writing about an experience, but that process . .
of writing it and doing the thinking that's connected [with
the writing] and the remembering that's connected [with the writing] --having the sensory images in your mind as you're writing--so that whole experience . [of] writing
and the reading or sharing of your writing or whatever you
do with your writing when you're done--that whole
experience, not only the experience from which it came
but the experience of getting it down on the paper and
doing whatever you do with it. When that experience
changes M somehow, then you are a writer. . For some
reason it clicks with you and it makes a significant change
in you as a person, I really feel like [then] the writer
senses the power of writing (emphasis hers).
Right now, time constraints keep Ms. Roth from doing all the writing she would like and from experiencing the rewards
available to her through writing, but the desire to write is strong. "I would like to do more [writing]. . Those feelings when I've written something good can't be taken away from me or from anybody. That's a powerful feeling. . When you take the time to [write] and you do it regularly and you make it become a habit, and your writing gets better and better, that's the best." These are the feelings she'd like to foster through more personal writing.
Ms. Roth is a developing writer; it is not her life, but she does enjoy the work and actively pursues personal writing. She says that "I'd have killed to have had a writing class like mine," when in school--a class that offered her time to pursue her own writing. The fourth grade class came close, but that was only one year. She desired more school time for writing and structures her class around this need.
This section is devoted to Ms. Roth's practice in writing instruction. To look carefully at her work, this topic is divided into three areas. In the first section, her actual classroom practice is explored. In the second section, principles underlying her practice are detailed; and in the third section, the areas within instruction that reflect qualities of practice unique to Ms. Roth are described.
Practices in Instruction
Ms. Roth is concerned that her students have ample time for their writing and that she has worthwhile instruction for them
during their time together. She does her own search for appropriate strategies for instruction within that writing time. One place she looks for direction is from the district-level, middle-school curriculum guide. She says, "I was really surprised at how nonspecific it was. In a way . it really scares me that a student is not required to accomplish a certain skill and we're not held liable to that in a real specific manner." Although the lack of direction bothers her to some extent because teachers are not held accountable for their writing instruction, she has learned to live within that structure, or lack of structure, and makes curriculum decisions based on her understanding of what best constitutes a good writing classroom. Because Ms. Roth feels that students "need time to write and an opportunity to express themselves and to find different ways to express themselves," she uses a writing-workshop environment for her instruction. She carefully leads her students to understand that one part of their job as writers includes behaving and working appropriately in the writing workshop. When describing the importance of the learning environment, Ms. Roth says:
I spend the first two to three months working on the
procedures for writing workshop. And if we don't get it
right, we do it again and again. It's a temptation to let
something small go the wayside; I want to get some writing done today. But, I know if I do not hold them
responsible, it will never be done right. I can remember [one day] after the mini-lesson. They went to the writing
areas noisily. I asked them "How do we go to the carpet and get the clipboard and do our thing? We do it quietly
and don't run." So I made them go back to their desks.
"We've got to do that again." There are days when we do
that three, four, five times.
Ms. Roth is convinced that the environment is a predecessor to a well-run writing classroom and works with her students until they understand exactly how the classroom should operate.
Within that writing environment, Ms. Roth instructs through the use of the mini-lesson. Because she writes with her students, Ms. Roth is able to show the young writers by word and deed that she believes in writing as a process. She shares her writing process with the students as a model, but then she uses class time to teach that process so it can become the students' own. In class the emphasis is not "about that final piece, it's about how . we get to that final piece." The point is to "make sure they understand the process." Simply teaching the students the steps in the writing process is not the goal.
To assist students as they work toward understanding writing as both a product and as a process, Ms. Roth puts the students in charge of their work by asking them questions about their writing such as, "What are you doing here today? Why did you make that choice? Where are you going with this piece? What do you think you need to do next?" These questions require student ownership of the writing. Ms. Roth is not telling the students what they must do to repair their work, but she guides their thinking and offers questioning techniques that they can later apply to other pieces of writing.
Their work begins with prewriting, where the "point is to
put words on paper." Ms. Roth says the students are not to "worry about punctuation or capitalization, only getting words on paper."
They must write. "I'm pretty structured with them [at the beginning of the year] because I feel they need that structure at f i rst. Writing scares them." For example, ideally, writing topics may come from within the writer; but for students having trouble deciding on a topic, Ms. Roth consistently gives support. She says, "I set up lots of topic search centers in my room. I change them every six weeks" to help students find subjects of personal interest for their writing. During my observations I saw the students use these centers. Often there were pictures for students to browse through, but there were also poems and seemingly simple sayings that could prompt student thinking. Newspaper articles and cartoons were available once, and another time Ms. Roth had placed an empty construction paper frame on the window with the word "Look" above it. Students could gaze out the window at the beautiful scenery for writing inspiration. Besides the individual search possibilities, Ms. Roth also guides students toward topic selection during teacher-student conference time. Even after topics are selected and students are well into their writing, Ms. Roth continues to offer her guidance and support. She remembers what it was like to be a young writer. "I can remember the feeling when I didn't really know what to do with a piece of writing, so I put some structure to this [writing classroom] by helping them with their process," not just at the end by writing comments on final drafts but also at other stages in the process.
When Ms. Roth describes herself as "zig zagging" around the room, she means that she constantly moves about from one
student to another, not as a distraction but as the educational leader. During my observations I never saw her relax. She knows what each student is doing because of the status of the class report completed at the beginning of class; so when she stops to work with a student, she and the student can begin work immediately. Perhaps because she works with the students individually almost daily, Ms. Roth knows each one's needs as a writer and can focus comments toward particular student needs. She is convinced that she "can do more teaching with a short lesson directed [toward] the individual." When we discussed this curriculum choice she said that whole-group instruction would probably be sufficient for high-school students but that "this age group needs my whole attention, and I can't do that if I talk all d ay. "
In order to allow a sufficient amount of time for writing during the class period, Ms. Roth teaches writing techniques, mechanics, and usage through daily mini-lessons. These lessons, which last "twenty minutes tops," are designed around the needs of the students as demonstrated in their writing and from their questions about writing. She says that "after reading the first set of papers this year, I saw some things we needed to work on like-- how we write an introduction, how we summarize a piece we read, how we narrow a topic, and how to add more description." During my observations I saw the content of the mini-lesson presented several different ways. Ms. Roth used the overhead projector to demonstrate an English convention; during another observation I saw her use an oral reading to introduce a
possible writing topic; and I saw her use a handout she had prepared with examples of a particular skill to support student practice before application to individual writing. Ms. Roth also uses a technique called Caught 'Ya designed by a colleague in her district to teach mechanics. This teaching tool allows Ms. Roth to keep students aware of the conventions of language while avoiding repetitious drills often present in English classrooms. As in the mini-lesson, she uses student errors as the basis for the Caught 'Ya and says that "hopefully over the year I'm going to see those skills transfer into their writing. That's the main reason I use it. When we get to that polished copy stage, I'm going to begin seeing those skills transfer over."
The students in Ms. Roth's class spend time discussing their writing with the teacher, but they also spend time talking about writing with their peers. One corner of the room is set up for the students so they can go there and feel free to talk about their writing. I watched several groups of students use that corner. I expected them to spend their time talking, but I was not sure that I would find them working on their writing, since their teacher was often in another part of the room. What I found was that although Ms. Roth was not standing right by the conference corner, she kept a close watch on the area. The students seemed to know that they were supposed to discuss their writing. All of the groups that I saw went prepared to talk about writing. They took their current draft, sat quietly, and appeared to take notes from what their partner offered as suggestions. Ms. Roth says that these discussions are vital to developing student writers
because "they give students time to learn what writers say about writing." The students also discussed their writing with Ms. Roth as she walked around the room, and from time to time I saw her go to the conference corner with several students. She and the students sat on the floor and discussed their writing just like the students did. Once I saw Ms. Roth ask for help with a piece of her own writing. Later she told me that she sometimes uses that technique with students who have trouble talking about writing. These students go to the conference corner reluctantly and offer few suggestions. She says that when she takes a student to the conference corner, she can "give the student some ideas about what writers might talk about."
Ms. Roth works with her whole class on writing techniques through the mini-lesson and the Caught 'Ya, but when the students go into the writing portion of the class, each student writes as an individual. At the beginning of each grading period, Ms. Roth and her students specify goals for the coming nine weeks. Students are accountable for their work and decide how they will achieve their writing goals. She says that her goal is to have a writing class
where everybody in my room is working on something that
is of interest to them. I don't need to say a word to
anybody. I can look up at any time and see that everybody
is on task, that they know how the procedures of writing
workshop work. No one needs to ask me if they can get up
and go to a conference corner to conference with so and
so. I don't hear a voice louder than a conference voice,
and I have kids coming up to me saying, "Hey, Ms. Roth. I want to work on this." Telling me what they want to do.