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Project Opens Doors for Teachers

June 26, 2008

By Rob Novit, Aiken Standard, S.C.

Jun. 26–When they’re not grumbling about having to do it, people tend to regard writing as an end product.

But that’s not the mission of the Aiken Writing Project 2008 Summer Institute, said Dr. Lynne Rhodes, a USC Aiken English professor.

She and Ginger Dunker, a South Aiken High School English teacher, are directing a four-week session at USCA for 18 Aiken and Edgefield county teachers. In 2007 USCA received a $30,000 National Writing Project grant to fund the project site at the university. The first session was held that year.

“Writing is a tool,” said Rhodes. “We learn to write but often don’t talk about writing to learn. In this program, writing is more of a process than a product. That’s the concept the teachers will take back to their schools.”

This Summer Institute is not connected to the program of the same name held earlier this month and sponsored by Public Education Partners.

Francesca Pataro and Zeke Miller, both Aiken High School English teachers, called the writing program the best professional development opportunity they’ve experienced.

“This has given me so many great ideas to be more inclusive and authentic in the teaching of writing,” said Pataro. “I want to connect the kids to a larger world — not only to their life experiences but experiences they can share globally.”

Miller, who began his career in 2006, plans to change his own mindset in approaching his students. He’ll focus on their creativity to help them think for themselves as opposed to simply knowing the content.

In addition to English I and English III classes, Miller also teaches a reading assistance course for those students who have yet to the pass the high school exit exam.

“They have little confidence in themselves,” he said. “This is a way for them to express themselves so that it’s not just opening a page and answering questions. They can become better thinkers and have more confidence in what they’re doing.”

Rhodes and Dunker took Summer Institute themselves previously, spending four weeks in barracks at The Citadel. Dunker teaches a creative writing class at South Aiken and serves as advisor of Calliope, the school’s award-winning literary magazine.

“We will teach each other the best practices based on research,” said Dunker in an earlier interview, “providing the schools with teacher consultants who can provide professional development themselves. They will become teachers of teachers and can extend the use of writing in all disciplines.”

Mary Simpson teaches all-girls’ fifth-grade classes in math and science at North Augusta Elementary School. Girls tend to shy away from those subjects, at least initially, she said.

“Girls learn through communication avenues,” said Simpson. “I can teach the girls to be writers, drawing on their communications strengths. This will help me reach them through what they know how to do best. Writing is what bridges all content areas.”

A South Aiken science teacher, Kacee Poppy admits she doesn’t use writing in her classes as much as she should. She plans to adapt a presentation Simpson gave Tuesday on journaling. That kind of writing isn’t just for feelings and thoughts, said Poppy.

“It’s for thinking about how they develop conclusions,” she said. “Maybe they can explain the difficulties they had and any misconceptions about ideas. There’s a lot of learning involved in that.”

Poppy is also intrigued, however, with using poetry in her chemistry classes. Technically, writing is about giving facts but, in the form of poetry, the writing could take on “an aesthetic aspect to make it more pleasing,” Poppy said.

Contact Rob Novit at rnovit@aikenstandard.com.

Staff photo by Rob Novit

Paricipating in a four-week National Writing Project seminar are, from left, North Augusta High School teacher Carol Creamer, directors Dr. Lynne Rhodes and Ginger Dunker and Midland Valley High School teacher Jaye Lindler.

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