By Kat Riddler, Editor-in-Chief,
Summer is usually a time when students and teachers are out of the classroom. The Gateway Writing Project (GWP) puts teachers back in the classroom to work on honing their own writing skills and changing the focus of how to use writing in their classrooms.
Graduate students at GWP come from all different teaching backgrounds, experiences, and teaching methods to discuss research projects and pedegogies they can bring back to their students in the fall. The class meets Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., alternating between the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus and the Harris-Stowe State University campus during an intensive four-week period in June.
Fawn Ponzar, graduate, English, said, “GWP has been refreshing and relieving. I am excited to get back into the classroom and try out the ideas I’ve received from others and from what I’ve read. I also love the openness and friendliness of the other students. Everyone has been very welcoming, accepting, and willing to help.”
Students work on a variety of projects during the condensed course. These include creating a portfolio of their own writing to reflect on, demonstrating a lesson used in their classroom where writing is the central aspect, creating or modifying a syllabus or 10 lessons with writing as the centerpiece, and an inquiry project based on individual interest to create an annotated bibliography and reflection sheet.
Emily Hutti, graduate, English, said, “I like GWP because it is making me come out of my comfort zone. Even though I am an English teacher, and therefore a teacher of writing, I myself do not write very often. Being able to write and express myself with other teachers has been very powerful.”
The class focuses on writing individually, in small groups, and in large groups. Individuals and groups do not just stay in the classroom during the breakout sessions; they go outside, to computer labs, lounges, cafeterias, and more. Writing prompts at the beginning and end of class stimulate thought, and sharing ideas around the classroom becomes beneficial to others’ individual projects. The class also sets itself up so that individuals can receive and share input on their writing to improve that particular piece or their writing skills as a whole.
Victoria Modenesi, graduate, English, said, “As a teacher and as a student, you spend most of the time producing papers/lesson plans, etc. on your own. The whole collaborative workshop idea has pushed me to work on my listening skills as well as ways to negotiate meaning. This is important for me because as a future teacher of composition, I feel that being able to listen to our students in their concerns or in their writings is crucial as well as negotiating meanings with language that allows us to question/inquire/ investigate, rather than elicit countless comments or pointing out mistakes.”
Two teachers who have gone through the GWP lead the class. Sioux Roslawski is in her third year leading the GWP, but has been an active teaching consultant (TC) and committee member since 2000. Roslawski remembered her favorite part as a student in the GWP, “As a student, I think the really cool parts were the mindblowingness of it. It is meeting people you don’t know and almost instantly you develop a rapport because of the writing and the sharing and the risk taking you are doing as a writer. The methodicalness—I know that’s an invented word—where you are really looking at yourself as a writer and what you need as a writer.”
Tracy Brosch, the co-teacher for GWP, has been a tech liaison for GWP and an active TC for over five years since she was a student. This is the first year Brosch has been a teacher of the GWP. Brosch remembered her favorite part of GWP as a student and a leader. Brosch said, “I had a really strong small group and we have stayed connected to this day— 6 years later. They built me as a writer. I went back into the classroom as a writer, and I think that changes how you treat students and
what you do with students.”
There is also a way to stay connected after the class is over as each member becomes a TC of the GWP. There are events held throughout the year that TCs can attend: networking opportunities, book clubs, writing clubs, leadership roles, and committee roles, depending on how involved the members want to be. Brosch said, “Once you leave, it’s not over. It is not just a class. If you choose you can stay connected to this community. There are book clubs, there are opportunities to stay connected and talk to other teachers not in my district.”
The GWP has a long history. It was founded in 1978 and is sponsored by UMSL and Harris-Stowe State University. The GWP is part of the National Writing Project and the Missouri Writing Projects Network. Nancy Singer, co-director of the GWP and GWP TC since 2002, explained, “I had been aware of the National Writing Project for probably 10 years before that. The National Writing Project has been around since 1974 and the Gateway Writing Project since 1978. In education, few organizations have that staying power. That the writing project is still going strong is a testament to the value we put on professional development that matters to teachers and that has real applicability to their day-to-day practice.”
Singer has directed the Gateway Writing Project since 2010. She described how the program has grown and why it is such a success. Singer said, “The writing project might start with a summer institute experience, but it continues long after that. Teachers rely on GWP for professional development and renewal. It is great to see teachers intersect with the writing project at various states of their careers.”
“One of the hallmarks of the writing project is the principle of ‘teachers teaching teachers.’ Likewise, teachers’ word of mouth is our best advertising. It’s difficult to describe the summer institute, but once a teacher has come through, he or she can usually help us tap another teacher to experience what they had,” Singer added.
For many participants, the GWP is a turning point in their careers. As Roslawski observed, “That’s what I always say, [GWP] is life changing. It changes you as a writer. It changes you as a teacher. It changes you as a member of this learning community.”
A similar observation was made by Brosch, echoing in her own words, “[The GWP] changed my life as a teacher. It just did. It made me who I am. It made me love teaching. It made me understand teaching.”