The Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield Shares Work at National Conference
Last month Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, program director of the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield and assistant professor in GSEAP, was invited to present at both the National Council of Teachers in English and National Writing Project Annual Conventions in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Six teachers from Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, Westport and Redding joined Crandall to share exciting work they’ve been doing to improve students’ writing in southern Connecticut.
The Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, is dedicated to improving literacy by strengthening the teaching of writing, providing professional development programs for classroom teachers, and expanding the professional roles of teachers. Through projects happening during the school year, to summer camps at Fairfield University, Crandall works in partnership with local districts to reach hundreds of Fairfield County students each year. “This is the National Writing Project mission,” said Crandall. “We empower teachers and students by investing in them.”
Crandall, along with affiliate teachers, shared some of their work in Minnesota, including a yearlong professional development program with Newbery-Award winning author Kwame Alexander, a partnership with The CT Mirror entitled Special Report: Education, Diversity, and Change in Fairfield County, and a Literacy4Life project in collaboration with Fairfield University Athletics.
A highlight of presenting at the conference this year was to celebrate the culmination of the LRNG Innovation Challenge Grant completed under the support of John Legend’s Show Me Campaign, the MacArthur Foundation, and the NWP. CWP-Fairfield was one of just 14 programs nationwide to be awarded the $20,000 grant.
CWP-Fairfield met the innovation challenge by encouraging educators to develop curriculum for students inside and outside of school that created more time and space for creative learning. The CWP-Fairfield team included Bassick and Central High Schools in Bridgeport, Global Studies Magnet in Norwalk, Darien High School in Darien, Staples High School in Westport, and Joel Barlow High School in Redding. Together, they hosted We Too Are Connecticut, Writing Our Lives- Digital Ubuntu, a conference that showcased the yearlong work. Ubuntu is a South African philosophy that translates to “I can be me because of who we are together.” Each school implemented technology that helped students connect and communicate in a variety of genres. Author Matt de la Peña and Ted Talk personality Robert Galinsky also influenced the work.
The CWP-Fairfield team was awarded the LRNG grant in November of last year. Through the award they provided over 300 students with technological tools including voice recorders, web cams, microphones and speakers, as well as copies of the young adult novel, We Were Here by Matt de la Peña. Peña’s novel follows a young boy who is sent to juvenile hall and subsequently spends a year in a group home where he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Following the novel’s theme, students were asked to reflect and write responses to the questions, “Why are you here?” What is your Connecticut?”
At the Writing Our Lives-Digital Ubuntu conference students shared original works in formats ranging from TED Talks and web mapping to written pieces published on WordPress or BlogSpot. “The projects were outstanding,” noted Crandall. “It was a day where students shared their writing beyond traditional classroom boundaries. They wrote radio plays and political speeches. They designed talks for the stage and stories about their neighborhoods. More importantly, they interacted with young people from other zip codes and questioned the stereotypes of one another’s community. Young people have a tremendous amount of power when writing together.”
What’s next for CWP-Fairfield? Dr. Crandall has been analyzing the data collected from this work, his time collaborating with local schools, and the redesign of summer programs, including Ubuntu Academy, a literacy lab for relocated refugee and immigrant youth. “One of our young writers came to us last year and said we should bring more of our programs into school,” acknowledged Crandall. “We laughed and told him that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”