Two Étude Group teachers had the opportunity to expand their teaching abilities this summer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Invitational Summer Institute for the National Writing Project from June 22 to July 3.
IDEAS special education teacher Beckah DeYoung said the program “asked professionals to dive in and solve a problem they see in their own classroom and create a workshop to show others how they plan to solve it. The main goal is for teachers to teach other teachers.”
Each teacher selected a topic pertinent to their own classroom for their Teacher Inquiry Workshops [TIWs]. Third grade ESAA teacher Jamie Lohuis chose to study peer feedback for her TIW. “I realized the feedback my students were giving each other was lackluster,” she said. “I wanted them to challenge each other to make their ideas better, not just be copy editors.”
“In order for feedback to be effective, we need to create an environment where students feel comfortable to share,” she said.
DeYoung chose to delve into the importance of thought journals to “document thoughts over a period of time... It’s all about creating thinking routines,” she said.
According to Lohuis, the program “wasn’t just about our professional lives, but about how we can grow personally too.” Every day, those participating in the program were given time to work on a piece of personal writing, which was required along with the TIW presentation and a paper about their TIW topic.
“A valuable piece [of the National Writing Project] was feeling what it’s like to be a writer again,” DeYoung said.
For her personal writing piece, Lohuis told the story of her niece, who has battled cancer. “When I was writing I felt that I was finally able to put my niece's past and what I love about her into words... She is a little miracle and I wanted to attempt to capture (with words) not only that she is a survivor, but also the amazing person she already is and the impact that she has had on my life,” Lohuis said.
“Having something be your heart and soul and then having to share it with others really put me in my students’ shoes again,” DeYoung said of her personal writing. “That will help me guide them through the process in a better way.”
Lohuis said, “It’s important that we engage in professional development because we expect our students to do so much. It’s important that we understand what we’re pushing our students to do.”
DeYoung said the program helped her “model being a lifelong learner,” something she said Étude Group schools push all of their students to be. “Throughout the whole process, I was using all of the Habits of Mind on a daily basis,” she said.