AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: we continue our discussion on an effort to improve writing in American schools.
RS: Elyse Eidman-Aadahl is co-director of the federally-funded National Writing Project.
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "The National Writing Project is a network of local writing project sites where teachers and faculty from colleges and universities come together to think more deeply and prepare to be better teachers of writing. And it was started in nineteen seventy-four at the University of California, Berkeley, and since then has spread to nearly two hundred sites in the United States and several sites abroad -- one in Malta, one in Hong Kong -- and a number of affiliated programs around the world."
AA: "And this is aimed at the college level?"
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "No, it's actually for teachers kindergarten through, let's say, grade sixteen -- K through college."
RS: "How do teachers and therefore their students get involved?"
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "Well, at local writing project sites, the way that they work is that a group of teachers and faculty members at a college or university decide that they want to found a write project. And they scour the service area around the campus and take nominations for really strong teachers of writing, and bring those teachers together to found the site.
"And they start with a five-week-long summer institute where all these teachers teach each other their best practices. They read a lot in the research about the teaching of writing. And they do a lot of writing themselves, so that they can remember what it's like to be on the other end of a writing task or a writing assignment. And they reflect together on that."
AA: "Is there a sort of a common curriculum that guides these projects around the country?"
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "All local writing projects share that same model of founding themselves with teacher leaders who teach each other their effective practices. But the curriculum itself can vary a lot depending on what the local needs and interests are. So although we have a common framework and a common model, it keeps being updated and customized to local interests based on the teachers that are participating."
RS: "So how do they continue to participate -- do they have a Web site in which they engage? Or do they continue to have face-to-face meetings?"
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "They'll do a couple of things after the summer institute. One is that they'll give in-service programs to other teachers. So a local school can ask some of those teachers to come and do a course for them right at the local school.
"They'll also hold what we call continuity programs, continuing education programs. They may do teacher research together. They may have study groups. And certainly they're online with each other. And the interest in having a common social network or Web site has really grown in the last few years. So most writing projects have a way for people to be online with each other.
"And since in the U.S. alone, for example, last year about ninety-two thousand teachers participated in some local writing project programs, if we imagine the impact on teaching practices, that can be pretty significant."
AA: "Now, I know you say the teachers go through five weeks of a summer institute. Are there a couple of sort of major principles, guiding principles, of teaching writing that maybe you can talk a little bit about?"
ELYSE EIDMAN-AADAHL: "First off, it's really important to keep in mind how broad writing is. When we really think about the whole range of ways that people use writing -- to learn, to think, to persuade each other, to communicate in work, in business, in community life -- I would say one principle is that we're actually needing to help every student learn that whole wide range of writing.
"I think another important thing is just to remember that writing is a tool for learning. When we try to write about something, we've probably most of us have experienced that when we try to write about something, we pretty quickly see maybe how much we don't know about a topic when we're trying to write about it."
RS: Elyse Eidman-Aadahl at the National Writing Project. As we said last week, they're currently working with high school teachers on "Letters to the Next President." Students are being encouraged to write a persuasive letter about issues that the next president should address. Publicity campaigns will bring these letters to a national audience.
AA: We're offering an international audience to young people out there who want to give the candidates some suggestions. We'll post letters at voanews.com/wordmaster and we might read your letter on the air. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RS: Or click on the Contact Us link at voanews.com/wordmaster. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.