The Gateway Writing Project, a National Writing Project affiliate since 1978, provides professional development programs dedicated to improving literacy learning in St. Louis area schools. To promote both teacher and student learning, we work with districts, schools, and teachers to craft a sustained professional development program that is connected to the everyday practice of teaching and relevant to the district’s curriculum and teachers’ professional needs.
GWP believes strongly in developing school-based leadership. We work to develop the capacity of departments and schools to examine their own practice and to develop a cadre of teacher leaders who will help build a sustained, systemic writing program for the district. The following components of our model are designed to support these goals. Not all of these components will be implemented in the first year of work, but all are a part of a long-range program. Featured, is an overview of professional development services offered by GWP.
Build teachers' professional knowledge base and skills
Beginning with an assessment of teachers’ prior knowledge and experience, GWP consultants work to develop teachers’ knowledge of the research on best teaching practices, to build the vocabulary needed to talk about improving reading and writing, and to create a consistent approach to writing in the school. In group meetings during the school day and at other mutually determined times, GWP consultants engage teachers in discussions of current theory, demonstrate strategies, and provide opportunities for teachers to practice them.
Areas of focus are targeted to schools’ and teachers’ needs; however below are some common topics addressed:
- Identifying principles of good writing
- Evaluating strategies for success in standards driven writing
- Implementing writing workshop / process writing approach
- Teaching argument writing
- Teaching information writing
- Using mentor texts to support writing improvement
- Writing to promote reading comprehension
- Reading and writing in all content areas
- Teaching mechanics in context
- Conducting writing conferences with students
- Assessing student reading and writing achievement
- Enhancing the teacher’s own writing
Facilitate inquiry groups
GWP consultants work with teachers to identify targeted questions and/or problems of practice to explore within the context of their own teaching. Working collaboratively with consultants and colleagues, teachers develop action plans, including examination of professional literature, adjustments to teaching practice, and methods for evaluation. Through cycles of action and reflection, teachers are able to examine their own practice and its effectiveness.
Assess student work
Since looking at student work with colleagues is one of the most powerful strategies for improving writing achievement, we use examples of current student work whenever possible. Teachers look for strengths and weaknesses in student work, determine what the student work indicates they should teach, and reflect on the success of their lessons and assignments. The GWP consultants help teachers assess student progress, revise scoring guides, and determine areas of concentration.
Provide individualized coaching
During release-time/team time sessions, GWP consultants work with individual teachers or grade-level teams to promote student learning aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards and the district’s curriculum. Coaching sessions are collaborative and based on the professional needs of the individual teachers/grade-level teams. Examples of coaching activities include:
- Developing of specific lessons or units of instruction
- Assessing students’ prior knowledge, determining whether or not students are learning, and consider future instructional strategies
- Analyzing and understanding district curriculum guides/Missouri Learning Standards, as well results from summative and/or diagnostic assessments
Provide classroom demonstration lessons and/or observations of practice
Gateway Writing Project consultants teach lessons on best writing practices in the classrooms so that teachers can observe how writing might be taught to their students. They will also observe teachers and provide feedback. Alternatively, we facilitate teacher demonstration lessons with peer observation and feedback.
Keep “field notes” of teaching experiences and professional learning
Teachers are encouraged to periodically record what they observe as a result of their teaching. Writing down their observations and reflections helps solidify understanding and demonstrates the power of writing as a tool for thinking.
Develop professional portfolios
To help teachers develop a systematic approach to data collection, each teacher develops a professional portfolio that includes samples of lessons and student work. The portfolio includes teacher reflections about what they are realizing about their teaching and their students’ progress.