Nine Secondary Teachers Participate in the Gretna Writing Project Institute

In the Gretna Public School district the practice and teaching of writing is held in high regard. Gretna teachers in all grade levels and across the curriculum have long worked together to discover the best practices in writing instruction and assessment through research, experimentation, and collaboration. The fall of 2016 brought an opportunity for Gretna’s secondary teachers to devote three hours per week in the pursuit of these tasks as participants in the Gretna Writing Project Institute.

Gretna has offered an annual embedded writing institute to its k-12 teachers for several years now, but the 2016 class opened the doors to a new territory when three science teachers joined the six English teachers participating in the institute. Together, these nine educators spent invaluable hours discussing the field of teaching and the craft of writing. Though nearly all participants were initially hesitant to enroll in the institute (We all know that the “We teach! There’s never enough time as it is!” argument is a valid one!) each was glad to have done so by the end of the semester.

It would be impossible to determine which component of the writing institute model is most effective: the EQUIPS, the inquiry projects, or personal writing groups. Each of these facets of the institute inspired lively and heartfelt discussions and helped the teacher participants to unravel their own perspectives on issues facing them professionally and personally. Three small writing groups, made up of three teachers each, were a welcome respite in the hectic shuffle of teaching every week. Personal writing projects that were developed during the institute include poetry collections, a playscript, several chapters of a novel, professional research and writing for journal submission, and even some ancestry chronicling. The relationships formed by sharing these intimate writings with one another are truly priceless.

The EQUIP presentations were also brilliantly planned and executed each week. The addition of the science teachers to the traditional institute dynamic created a wonderfully diverse set of voices in the feedback and questioning portion of each presentation.

EQUIP topics included:

  • Un-Writing: Putting Language to its Best Use
  • Using Film to Promote Writing
  • Stream of Consciousness Composition in the Science and English Classroom
  • Qualitative Analysis and the Use of Imagery in the Chemistry Lab
  • Authentic Writing Experiences in Every Classroom
  • Sensory Observation as a Writing Tool
  • Creative Writing in Science Content
  • Drawing for Analysis and Poetry Writing
  • Imitation Writing: The Book of Qualities and Jue Ju poems

Inquiry presentations were equally diverse and intriguing, featuring research and discussion about multiple intelligences, the brain science behind listening to music while studying and writing, and changing the idea of literature studies to feature more short pieces than novels.

All in all, the 2016 Gretna Writing Project Institute was time well spent. The 2016 participants have been encouraging their professional peers to take the leap and join next year’s institute. Hopefully we will see even more departments working to incorporate more writing into their lives and courses as they are increasingly represented in this powerful program.

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Jennifer Long  |  Nebraska Writing Project

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Prairie Visions Writing Festival

The Nebraska Writing Project in cooperation with Homestead National Monument conducted a Youth Writing Festival at Homestead on September 20, 2016. Nine teachers and 98 high school students, met, attended sessions presented by Dr. Robert Brooke of the University of Nebraska and Director of the Nebraska Writing Project, Diana Weis, board member of the NeWP and teacher at Cather Elementary School, Millard, Nebraska, and Jan Knispel, co-director and board member of NeWP, and adjunct instructor with MidPlains Community College, Valentine extension campus.

After the students viewed the Homestead National Monument video on the history of the Homestead Act and the people who lived in this area over time. Diana Weis lead a student presentation on a quotation from the film regarding ownership “What do you own and what owns you?” Students responded in various writings which were shared at the end of the presentation.

Weis’s second session focused on the idea of journey. This was inspired by Daniel Freeman’s homesteading the land Homestead National Monument now honors. Writers timelined journeys and explorations narrowing theirs to a single moment. The first approach to writing was to speak through the voice and age of that moment. Second, to change perspective and write from second person, speaking to themselves in the moment. Finally, they moved outside of the moment, changing facts in the story to create an altered outcome.

Jan Knispel lead a presentation on oral history. She gave the students an opportunity to hear a repetition of an oral history of her grandmother Bertha Kolbe Newsom, her father James Knispel’s World War II experience which related to the movie Monuments Men or the story of her being born in a famous blizzard. The students chose to hear about her father’s experience.

Activities included Dr. Brooke’s place-based writing experience focusing on immigrant and homestead experiences of the past. Dr. Brooke’s presentation was on writing our own family immigration stories, in connection with the Nebraska immigration stories that are part of the Homestead Act. The idea was to ponder 1) who in our family actually came to Nebraska 2) what they were leaving behind and 3) what they were coming for. We wrote about this, shared our stories with an “elbow partner,” and wrote a list of questions to ask family elders/other informants when we got back home from Homestead.
After a sack lunch outside the Educational Center, students and teachers were put into groups to experience a Writing Marathon led by Diana Weis. Nearly 100 students and their teachers wandered the grounds of the park experiencing the forest paths, and the tall grass prairie. At the end of the marathon, students shared their favorite piece of the day in small groups and then to the large group.

Plans are now underway for a teacher workshop at Homestead National Monument and for another youth writing festival.

Photos by Ranger Ramon Mangual, Homestead National Monument and Diana Weis, NeWP.

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2016 Agate Writing Workshop

Hand holding fossils

Twelve teachers from across the state joined in the 2016 Agate Teacher’s Workshop June 6th through 8th. This two-year partnership between the NeWP and the National Park Service turned its focus to Exploring the Bones of Place. Park ranger and Fort Union museum curator, Fred MacVaugh and NeWP member, Diana Weis lead interpretive sessions and place-based writing activities. Follow the workshop’s story and see participant writing here.

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