Learning by writing

Area teachers have spent the past month learning the fine art of writing and teaching writing during the annual Northern Plains Writing Project Institutes at Minot State University.

“The model is teachers teaching teachers,” said Ron Fischer, English associate professor and director of the Northern Plains Writing Project. “It’s teachers sharing with other teachers, ‘This is what worked for me,’ and then showing it.”

The best way for teachers to become good writing teachers is to become good writers themselves, he said.

A typical day started with a writing prompt, followed by the teachers writing for about half an hour. Then they shared their writing and got feedback from other writers.

“When they share their writing, man you should see how they connect,” said Fischer. “That’s what they want to share with their students.”

There are 11 teachers in the program this year. Most get a stipend to help pay for the cost of the classes, said Fischer, which is helpful for teachers who often have to pay for continuing education out of pocket.

“One came from Indiana to be a full-time graduate student in the master of education program,” said Fischer. “Others are from Surrey, Garrison, Mohall, Ray and Williston. It’s a nice mix too. We have high school teachers, middle school teachers and elementary teachers, which means things can really get fun. We have some really creative teachers this year. I loved learning from them.”

Fischer said the group has really bonded because they’re together from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day during the intense four-week session.

The Northern Plains Writing Project Institutes at Minot State University started July 7 and will end Thursday. Earlier this week teachers presented their writing lessons at the North Dakota Council of Teachers of English annual conference in Mandan. Participating teachers also read and discussed “Teaching for Joy and Justice” by Linda Christenson and “Reading in the Wild” by Donalyn Miller, according to information provided by Minot State.

Fischer has been facilitating the Summer Institute since 2006 and became NPWP director in 2009.

“KiMar Gartman, who just graduated with a master of education from MSU is co-facilitating with me,” Fischer said. “She has attended the NPWP Institutes for the last two summers. She really did a wonderful thesis that looked at the needs of international students who have come to Minot. Now, here she is facilitating the Advanced Institute!”

Those who attend NPWP have a chance to travel to Washington, D.C., in November to attend the National Council of Teachers of English Convention. NPWP’s purpose is to help strengthen what the state’s K-12 teachers do in their classrooms.

“NPWP really can change how someone teaches, but the national conferences really give them a sense of how wonderful this profession is,” said Fischer.

Fischer said the writing project receives federal and state funding. He would like to see it receive more funding.