BLTN in New Mexico: Santa Fe Indian School – Bread Loaf Partnership

Sep 28th, 2012 | By | Category: Archives, Campus News, Fall-Winter 2012

Notes on the Santa Fe Indian School/Bread Loaf School of English Writing Workshop, Teaching with Writing: It’s Easier than You Think.”  *

History of the Partnership
In the summer of 2011, sitting knee to knee in a tiny office at the Bread Loaf Santa Fe (BLSF) campus at St. John’s College, Alfredo Lujan, Cheryl Glenn, Jon Olson, Susan Miera, and Ceci Lewis discussed avenues of opportunity for the Bread Loaf School of English to become more of a presence, a pedagogical resource, in the Santa Fe area. Bread Loaf alumna Susan mentioned that the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) was interested in starting a “writing-across-the-curriculum” initiative that would encompass the whole school, grades 7-12. With that mention, the “Teaching with Writing” workshop (described below) had its genesis and eventually became a reality: “Teaching with Writing: It’s Easier than You Think.” Cheryl, Susan, and Ceci emerged as the Bread Loaf facilitators for the partnership.

Description of the Collaborative Project
Once the dates and agreements on this writing conference were established, the emails started flying across BreadNet. Because the facilitators are geographically dispersed (Susan and Ceci in the Southwest, and Cheryl in Pennsylvania), e-mail was the most reliable and efficient method for developing the three-day agenda.

As evidenced by the agenda, evaluation forms, and comments, the original plan was ambitious. Together, the workshop model and the experience of the leaders allowed the three facilitators to remain flexible, responsive to the suggestions of one another as well as to the needs and requests of the participants in terms of time constraints, pedagogical concerns, and learning curves. Such nimbleness proved to be essential for facilitators, teachers, and students alike over the course of three days. (See attached list for Santa Fe Indian School participants.)

Day One, held in the SFIS lecture hall, focused on several interconnected ideas: (1) sparking writing and collaboration among the participants and (2) helping them recognize the full range of writing activities, from self-sponsored and school-sponsored to writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate. The easy combination of lecture, discussion, and exercises seemed to provide a good balance for the participants and facilitators alike. Everyone appeared to learn a great deal about everyone else (whether from SFIS or BL, whether teachers or students) as well as about the processes of writing we all employ. Discussion naturally lent itself to discussions of how to handle the paper load; how and when to respond to student writing; and how to grade/assess writing in language arts classes as well as in the social and physical sciences, practical arts, and fine arts. Much of the discussion on the first day continued to circle back to the synergy and differences between writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate.

Day Two commenced in the SFIS lecture hall with a necessarily extensive feedback/question-and-answer session. It actually took almost two hours! The facilitators were surprised by the amount of attention this session attracted and quickly understood the need to honor each and every participant’s concern regarding the previous day’s events. The rest of Day Two consisted of a “hands-on” approach on how to plan, draft, and rewrite lesson/unit plans that accommodate both writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate across the entire curriculum. This intensive learning-and-doing activity occurred in the computer lab across from the lecture hall. The move was not only a physical move, but clearly a mental move from learning to application. These small-group projects resulted in an exciting, energizing afternoon where diverse teams (diverse in terms of subject area, age, sex, and expertise) collaborated around computers in order to apply the writing-centered principles and pedagogies that had been presented. The day ended with presentations by each of the groups on their initial lessons, followed by participants’ “warm” feedback on each presentation. Day Two ended on a high note.

Day Three, in the SFIS lecture hall, began with another question-and-answer session, one limited to just a half hour. Clearly, all the participants were eager and ready to get back to work anyway. Having ended the day before with the presentations of the “rough drafts,” the facilitators asked the participants to move around the computer lab, stop at each collaboration-station, and read over each group’s project. On note cards, the traveling groups were to write down anonymous peer-review critiques, feedback that would help each group improve their project. Once all group projects had been commented on, the groups reconstituted themselves, reviewed the feedback, and “revised” accordingly. The facilitators then asked for a second presentation of the revised, edited, and proofread lessons. Taking the time for peer-review, revision, and polishing proved to be a highly constructive/productive use of time because every single group project (even those which were fairly strong to begin with) made appropriate and exciting revisions.

The last part of Day Three was devoted to learning about BreadNet, everything from how to get online and set up an account to how to pose pedagogical questions and form partnerships. Again, the BreadNet activity was a hands-on activity, after which the entire group moved back to the lecture hall for evaluation, presentation of certificates, and closing remarks.

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