Tag Archives: National Writing Project

The Book Whisperer

click here the listen to The Book Whisperer’s keynote address at NWP

I teach college writing students who are presumably already formed as readers. My own kids are already voracious book devourers; it’s a family thing. So why did I feel compelled to read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child?

Because I was fortunate to hear the book’s author Donalyn Miller, give the keynote address at the National Writing Project annual meeting and even though she was speaking about writing, Miller’s voice was so entertaining, so gripping that I wanted more. . .

And more I got. Miller is a sixth grade teacher whose classroom, which requires students to read forty books a year, births a startling number of avid, lifelong readers each year and even though The Book Whisperer is a positive chronicle of how she leads children, pied piper like, to drink at the well of words, it could also be read as something else.
As an utter indictment of the way reading is taught today in American schools, as if the overall goal was to discourage reading in America. I am not cynical or suspicious by nature but when one considers the effects of No Child Left Behind and other mandated educational policies of the last ten years, especially the previous administration, one wonders if a less literate, less educated society of nonreaders actually is the desired outcome.

Just sayin.

Anyway, a few choice quotes:
“Students need to make at least some of their own choices when pursuing learning goals. Learners who lost the ability to make choices become disempowered.”

“Teachers lead the way. If teachers don’t love to read (and many don’t) students won’t love to read either. There is a link between the reading habits of teachers and the reading achievements of their students. It’s an enthusiasm that can’t be faked.” (hmm, works the same way with writing)

Whole class novel reading may be an educational practice that has overstayed its welcome: “Students are not reading more or better as a result of the whole-class novel. Instead, students are reading less and are less motivated, less engaged and less likely to read in the future. . .Reading becomes an exervise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill internal motivation to read.”

“Programs like Accelerated Reader, in which books are assigned a point value and students must complete a multiple-choice test after reading them, are the worst distortion of reading I can think of.”

Amen, sister!

“Endless test prep is the number one reason that students come to my class hating to read. They don’t think test prep is one kind of reading: they think it IS reading.”

And, finally,
“What are we preparing students for? Allowing students to choose their own books and control most of their own decisions about their reading, writing and thinking does a better job of preparing them for literate lives than the traditional—and ubiquitous—novel units, test practices and pointless projects. What are we waiting for?”

The Book Whisperer is an enormously entertaining book, but it should also be required reading for anyone who cares about the education of this nation’s children, especially the policy makers.

Speaking of books, the book fair this year was, as usual, an absolute delight, a splendor of books; I came away with a delicious rolling bag ‘o swag that will keep me and mine reading happily for the foreseeable future:

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I’ve been at the annual meeting for the National Writing Project over the last several days and have lots to report in upcoming posts, but right now, this is imperative: WRITING PROJECT EMERGENCY ALERT-CALL YOUR SENATORS IMMEDIATELY!! On Monday November 29, the Senate will vote on an amendment to ban all earmarks for 2011, 2012, 2013.  This amendment will ELIMINATE FUNDING FOR THE NATIONAL WRITING PROJECT, even though we are a national program which is authorized and accountable to the federal government (i.e. not a traditional earmark). Even Senators who traditionally support the writing project are under pressure to vote for this amendment!! We need you to call your Senator’s office this MONDAY November 22nd and tell them to OPPOSE  Senator Coburn’s amendment to ban all earmarks because it will defund the National Writing Project.  Spread the word on tweets, blogs, facebook and other social media.  Get your colleagues, friends and administrators to show their support of the NWP by calling their Senators as well.  Offices are tallying CALLS, so it is important to make calls instead of writing letters.  Time is of the essence.  Calls MUST be made this Monday. Go to www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm to find the phone number of your senator’s office. Let your voice be heard NOW.   For More Detailed information, see below: URGENT –  Coburn Amendment on Earmarks – PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS IMMEDIATELY ! Dear All,   We need all teachers and site leaders to call their two Senators on Monday and Tuesday, November 22 and 23, to ask that they vote NO on the amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The Coburn amendment  would eliminate all funding for the NWP beginning with the FY11 budget through a moratorium on earmarks.  NWP is considered an earmark even though we are an authorized program in ESEA.   Please forward this email to your TCs and other supporters of your site, including principals, colleagues, and community members, and urge them to also make calls. The timing is crucial.  The vote on the Coburn Amendment is scheduled for Monday, November 29.   We need as many calls as possible.  Other national programs, including  Reading Is Fundamental (RIF),  Very Special Arts, Teach for America, and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, are all in the same situation.   Please contact publicaffairs@nwp.org if you have any questions.  We will be posting additional information to the NWP Works Ning and we will respond to all emails as quickly as possible.  Please also let us know about any responses to your calls!   THANK YOU on behalf of the entire NWP network.   Heather Foote and Kelsey Krausen   Heather Foote Policy Associate National Writing Project University of California 2105 Bancroft Way #1042 Berkeley, CA 94720-1042 Tel:         510-642-8816 Fax:         510-643-1226 Email:     hfoote@nwp.org Web.      www.nwp.org

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Live From Austin II: What We Did

Worked. Ate. Worked. Ate again. Worked some more. Most people worked on their resources; I got to coach a few of them.

Lots of teams here working on phenomenal resources to enrich the lives of rural sites and rural teachers. I love this network and I love this work. Here’s some reasons why.

Bye y’all,

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Live from Austin I

Part I, in which Wordamour drives to the Crossings in Austin for a National Writing Project Rural Sites Network Resource Development retreat. The idea? Writing project teacher-consultants doing interesting site work at rural sites across the nation come together to begin transforming this work into a resource available for other sites to adapt and use.

Some photos from the Crossings, a lovely zen-like environ outside the city:

The walkway to the dining hall:

The best scones I have ever eaten in my life:


The infinity pool. That’s Austin in the distance.

The hot tub. Haven’t tried the pool or the hot tub since I got here; hoping this might be in my future tonight.

The kitchen garden, where all our delicious healthy meals begin. The chef was out there harvesting this morning but I didn’t have my camera.

Next Up: Live from Austin II: What We Did

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It’s done!

Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Ed has crossed the finish line and is at the publishers so until I get the editor’s comments back, I also have my life back. Not that I’m complaining–I am so happy to be putting this project to bed at a publisher. But for the last month and a half my life has been like a jar of marbles filled with liquid. The marbles represent all my regular commitments, family, job, writing project stuff. . .and the liquid would be the book, filling up every spare crevice, every spare moment, especially toward the end.

And so, I can breathe again. And hang out with my husband and my kids–they’re out of school now–not coincidentally, I had negotiated the book’s deadline for their last day of school. And read a few books not related to creative writing pedagogy. I celebrated by staggering out of the local library with a pile yesterday.

A few on my list: Brazil by Jesse Lee Kercheval (a review copy from the author-one of my faves!), Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt, and the ubiquitous Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (for a long drive).

This weekend, dropping  my son off at DUKE Tip, then the Writing Project starts–yippee!

Bye Y’all,

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Wordamour faces off with Arne Duncan on Talk of the Nation!

Yes, folks, I just got off the phone with Education Secretary Arne Duncan!!!

Duncan was a guest of Talk of the Nation and thanks to the wonders of redial, Wordamour actually got on the last five minutes of the show to challenge Duncan’s plan to dissolve proven national literacy programs like the National Writing Project,  Reading is Fundamental, Teach for America, Even Start and Ready to Learn in favor of block grants to the states. (If this is news to you, you can catch up on the furor by reading here, here and here).

A podcast of the show will be available after 6 pm today EST here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5

I’m the last caller, if you want to fast forward.

Ok, I was more than a little nervous so I probably could have been more articulate (but I could have been less articulate, too).  I told the secretary my concerns about removing funding from proven, established national programs with a national infrastructure (effectively destroying those programs)to give the money to unproven programs that states would apply to, similar to the Race to the Top Competition.  He countered with, “but those programs can compete by joining with the states.”

No, we can’t Secretary Duncan.  If you take away our national infrastructure, you will destroy us. And legally, national programs cannot compete on a state level.

It quickly devolved into a “but you can compete,” “no we can’t,” “yes you can,” conversation.   The truth is, several people within that administration have admitted that they don’t know what to do about programs like ours, programs that are scaled up already and have been serving teachers and students effectively for thirty years!

Once he gave up on trying to tell me we could compete, he started saying, “well, show me you have proven results.” To which I replied, “We do have proven results. Just go to our website.” (see below for the link, dear readers).

I’m not sure, but I may have gotten the last word.

So, I’m a little more composed now (my hands are only shaking a little).  Here is what I would say if I had more time with Secretary Duncan.

Dear Secretary Duncan:

The Common Core you have proposed, setting national standards in literacy K-12 raises the bar for teachers and students nationwide.

As you said in the program moments before our conversation, Secretary Duncan, we must raise the bar on achievement in our schools.

To raise the bar, we need national  professional development in literacy that addresses the needs of all teachers, across the country.

The National Writing Project has provided proven, successful national professional development in literacy for over thirty five years.  Read about it here.

If you destroy our national infrastructure by removing our funding, you will destroy our ability to serve all the states with quality professional development.

You will also destroy one of the best ideas in education to come along in half a century.

And, you will destroy our nation’s ability to meet the bar you have set.

Secretary Duncan,  on behalf of teachers and students across this country, I urge you to reconsider. It’s not too late.

Stephanie Vanderslice


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Merci, Blanche Lincoln!

Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln has signed the bi-partisan Senate Dear Colleague Letter supporting the Writing Project. Our other senator, Mark Pryor, cannot sign because he is on the appropriations committee. But we believe we have his support.

Meanwhile, the NWP and RIF and their funding battle were profiled together in a New York Times article you can read here, including words from and a picture of our fearless leader Sharon Washington.

The fight goes on!

Bye y’all,

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Wordamour & Son Go to Washington


We’re here!  Yesterday was our first full day in DC and the big day on the hill.  It was incredible!  Lots of good news to report–
we met Senator Blanche Lincoln and Representatives Snyder and Boozman–3 out of 4!  Not bad–and definitely better than last year’s status, especially given it was voterama on the health care bill (yes, apparently voterama has a definition).

Ya think it was an election year or something?

The best part was that they really seemed to get it about the danger the National Writing Project is in with Secretary Duncan’s plan to destroy consolidate national programs (the other 4 in the same boat with us, RIF-Reading is Fundamental, EvenStart, PBS’Ready to Learn and Teach for America!).  Vic Snyder signed on to our House Dear Colleague letter (a shout out to Little Rock NWP site director Sally Crisp, who badgered his aide via email until he did).  Senator Lincoln listened VERY intently and said, “I’m sure a compromise can be worked out to save these programs.”  Mark Pryor’s aide was very attentive.  And Representative Boozman, when learning it was too late to sign the House Dear Colleague letter (he couldn’t have signed anyway, apparently the Republicans have taken some sort of oath not to sign these things) promised to actually contact the sub-committee the program falls in under Appropriations and pledge his support for us.

Best of all, Wordamour’s son got a total insider’s tour of DC. In fact, we were late getting from Lincoln’s office to Bozeman’s, so an Intern (who had just graduated from UCA in December!) put us on one of those “Members Only,” underground trains.  Then when we got to Bozeman’s, he had just left for a series of votes.  So we actually got into the House while they were voting on the healthcare bill and Bozeman came out and met us in the hallway between votes.

We were traveling with the NW Arkansas writing project site (check out their awesome new website) who are a GREAT bunch of people.  Wordamour’s son thought they were totally hilarious–I knew he would; they are very funny people who know how to have a good time and get the work done.  They were very tolerant of having a 13 year old along for the ride but–proud Mama moment here–they were also very complimentary of how well he handled himself during the rounds of meetings.  He really did!

Today–meetings all day and then the Spy Museum tonight. Check out some more pictures:

Bye y’all,


Wordamour’s son was intrigued by this


“Ridin that train. . .”


“Senator Lincoln and the Arkansas Delegation”

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The Bright Future of Publishing is. . .


This brief video is an absolute MUST SEE–and you have to watch all the way to the end.

In give away news, I’m a little late with the last drawing, but it’s coming soon.

Wordamour and her 13 year old are going to DC this week to lobby for the National Writing Project. We have a stack of letters written by his eight grade classmates, all of whom have the most AWESOME writing project teacher this year, and he will hand deliver them to Senators Lincoln and Pryor, possibly Rep. Snyder although his office is being slow about getting back to us, as they are every year.

Can you tell I’m excited about the meeting and the mother-son trip?

In other news, Wordamour has just become a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. I guess I traveled Amtrak enough times that I got on their mailing list and I have to say, I’m pretty chuffed, as my UK friends say, to be a member. I even get 10% off my rail travel. And yes, that’s how we’re getting to DC, it being spring break and all, we have the time. . .and you should see the first class rail lounge in Chicago.

For an awesome flash animation view of how the rail system in the US could look if we expanded the right way, click here

Hoping to blog more about the trip. . .

Bye y’all,

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Something to be Happy About, More About Saving the Writing Project and the Giveaway

Jason Pinter has a terrific essay in the Huffington Post about why we should be optimistic about publishing here. Read it and grin!

The National Writing Project has put out a web resource for any of us who want to continue lobbying congress to keep it in the budget. You can find it here.

Several of you have written me to let me know you’ve written your legislators. Yet another thing for me to be happy about! But there’s still time to write and enter the drawing for a hardcover copy of Writing to Change the World.

I’ll have two drawings: one on February 28 and one on March 18. The February 28 drawing will have two winners (the early bird gets the book); while the March 18 drawing will be for the last copy.
So you still have time. Keep writing those letters, emails and faxes and making those phone calls! And if you’re new to the crisis, you can read about it here.

Bye y’all,

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