MMS, MHS participate in National Writing Project i3 Grant

Published 4:23 pm Monday, April 1, 2019

On April 18, Middlesboro Independent Schools will share middle and high schoolers’ work with the community in a showcase, Making Civic Arguments, at the Middlesboro Mall from 4-6 p.m. Selected students in Grades 7-12 will present their research, conducted through the district’s participation in the National Writing Project’s College, Career, Community Writers Program (C3WP).

The public doesn’t always get to see what is behind projects like this. Educators are a unique group of people who are entrusted with the care of kids to promote learning and the love of learning.

“This school year, I have had the opportunity to work side-by-side with some of Middlesboro’s dedicated English teachers: Sandy Evans (7th), Wendy Pillion (8th), Beth Fortner (9th), Madison Cox-Branscom (10th), Rhonda Goodman (11th), and Dawn Proffitt (12th). These hard-working educators are a joy to see in action,” said Suzanne Jackson, co-director of C3Wp. “I have had the privilege of watching them grow professionally. It is enriching for me, too, because I am learning so much from our conversations about student work.

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“Your Middlesboro English teachers are insightful and caring teachers who want to empower their students to be involved and thoughtful community members. These teachers are encouraging their students to find their voices and get involved in community issues.”

Jackson said in her position as the Kentucky Writing Project C3WP Co-Director, she works with teachers courtesy of a federal grant implemented by the National Writing Project (NWP) and Kentucky Writing Project (KWP).

“This Department of Education ‘Innovation in Education’ (i3) grant, ‘C3WP,’ has three main goals: Improve teachers’ practice in the teaching of academic writing, with a focus on argument writing; Improve students’ academic writing achievement, with a focus on argument writing; and increase the number of teacher-leaders prepared to facilitate these shifts. This year focused especially on grades 7-12; 4th – 6th grade teachers will be added in 2019 – 2020,” said Jackson.

The mission is to help students develop reasoning skills and to be “thinkers” who know how to communicate views in a civil manner. Because the National Writing Project emphasizes teachers-teaching-teachers, the NWP grant provides over 45 hours of teacher training, including research-based lessons demonstrated in Middlesboro classrooms.

Dawn Proffitt (MHS, 12th grade) and Wendy Pillion (MMS, 8th grade) also recently joined over 200 educators from across the country for additional NWP C3WP training in Atlanta, Ga. These two educators attended sessions and shared insights gained from being part of this important work.

Currently, three additional districts across Kentucky are taking part in this grant with over 3,000 students being impacted by these research-based lessons—Clay County, Bardstown Independent, and Hart County. The initial results of this work in Middlesboro show students’ growth in writing. We expect to match the national study results in which C3WP was shown to have a positive, statistically significant effect on students’ performance in writing.

The level of support is one key to the success of the program; teachers watch a trainer conduct classroom demonstration lessons, often in their own classrooms. Then the instructors teach those same lessons and bring back student work samples to evaluate together.

Instructors use those results to determine the next steps of instruction needed to increase student performance. The staff assess the student work with what is called UST (Using Sources Tool). This measures very specific “moves” good writers make.

Students receive specific instruction in effectively developing a strong claim, in selecting and citing evidence properly, and in drafting respectful, yet persuasive commentary that supports the claim. Along the way, the instructor grows as a teacher of writing, and the students grow in their writing skills.

“This reflective and powerful professional development model can shape teaching practices for years to come,” said Jackson. “Teachers become very skillful at assessing student needs and are provided with engaging research-based lessons with timely and interesting non-fiction articles to use when teaching research and writing skills.

“Our focus this spring has been to support students in entering conversations about local issues and drafting civic arguments. The students are currently, researching, writing, and revising, and will soon be ready to share their results on April 18 at the Making Civic Arguments showcase. We hope the community will come see the efforts of these young men and women.”