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Local teachers note value of NMSU writing workshop

  • By Tonya Suther
  • 575-646-6233
  • suther@nmsu.edu
  • Aug 23, 2013
Woman sitting in the grass.
Women holding hands during a team-building exercise

Common Core, the educational standards used by 46 states including New Mexico, places a greater emphasis on reading and writing this year. To brush up on the latest techniques in teaching writing, 13 area teachers sharpened their writing skills at New Mexico State University's Borderlands Writing Project (BWP) Invitational Summer Institute.

"BWP celebrates writing in the New Mexico and the southwestern region," said Rebecca Powell, a Ph.D. student in the College of Arts and Sciences who has helped run the program for several years. "We want to help teachers see themselves as writers, because research tells us, if you're a writer, you're a better teacher at writing."

At the workshop, teachers participated in a variety of hands-on activities designed to engage students in reading and writing. They wrote in journals, shared their writings, critiqued each other's ideas and held reading circles.

"The institute provides teachers a space for renewal, critical reflection and practice with writing," said Patricia Wojahn, associate department head and director of writing programs in the English department. "The aim is to build confidence among teachers both in their abilities to write themselves and to teach writing."

One of their many activities included a group exercise that took them on a field trip to Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, where classmates walked and wrote for 90 minutes.

"Some people wrote about their surroundings, two people made up an entire child's story and some of us just wrote personal experiences," said Jamie Cooper, NMSU graduate student studying rhetoric and communication. "It was a very different way to run a classroom while still doing class."
Cooper was recently selected as an NMSU teaching assistant for the fall semester and joined the workshop to gain perspective from other teachers.

"It's taught me how to teach," Cooper said. "I came in with very little teaching experience, so having all of this, and having this community that I can go back to if I have problems, will help me deal with my students in ways that I may have not thought about before."

The teachers attending the workshop were a mix of writers. Some wrote intuitively and others relied on organization and format.

"It was really interesting to see that even though we have very similar values, they can be applied in different ways and expressed in different ways," said Emily Katseanes, NMSU graduate student who taught freshmen composition last year. "I tend to think of writing as chunks of information that you can move around, and it was interesting to hear people talk about writing as more expression."

Fifth grade teacher Theresa Garcia, a former high school administrator who attended the workshop, hasn't headed up a classroom in more than 10 years. She returned to teaching this month at Valley View Elementary.

"As I sat and listened and went through the activities, I know that when I work with my students, their struggles, their resistance, I'm going to be able to meet that," Garcia said. "I'm going to be able to talk about it with sincerity and credibility, because I went through this myself, and I'll have my own writings to share."

Hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, the summer institute is part of a national network led by the National Writing Project (NWP) and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Refunded annually, it has been around for nearly 40 years.

"The NWP is the one type of professional development that been proven over and over again to raise test scores on writing," Powell said. "Students of teachers who've been through NWP become better writers and more importantly to education, the teachers who go through NWP are more likely to be a teacher in five years; we don't lose them."

For more information about NWP visit http://www.nwp.org/. For more information about NMSU's BWP summer institute find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Borderlands-Writing-Project/148553590027.