Ecosystems, Spaces, The NWP Way, and Learning Connectedly

The Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University just completed its first week of the Invitational Summer Institute where we began to make summer, to connect our learning, and to question what digital writing actually is. There were a few changes made with this summer’s programs, however, for very specific reasons.

  • The Young Writers’ Institutes hosted at our campus have grown robust and through a Bank of America grant we have been able to offer fellowships to youth who have not traditionally attended. This summer, too, we offered a Young(er) Writers’ Institute for elementary-aged students. The pilot, which lasted only a week, proved successful. One young man told his mom when she picked him up on the last day, “Man, this isn’t good at all. I want to live here.”
  • Through support from NWP, we also hired Shaun Mitchell – Bridgeport City Schools Teacher of the Year – to act as a digital connector between the teacher and young writers’ institutes. During his first week, he built a Facebook presence, established an @CWPFairfield Twitter account, created a YouTube page, presented the power of technology to teachers, adolescents, and kids, and accomplished the task of creating a WEEK ONE podcast that featured the youngest writers (the Week Two podcast will focus on adolesent writers, the Week Three podcast will highlight teachers, and the final, Week Four podcast will culminate the entire summer’s work – hence, #makesummer).
  • My role shifted a bit. Instead of being at the helm of the ISI or the YWIs, I act as the man with the thread who is sewing together the summer’s work. I have presented demonstrations to the teachers, conducted workshops with the adolescents, and created poetry with the youngest writers. I’ve arranged special guests, coordinated lunches and snacks, and overseen the incredible work of all three. This, I must admit, has been different. In fact, it has reminded me of the importance of TRUST. The model works…we can trust NWP teachers.

These changes have reminded me of the research I did as a Masters student at the Kentucky Institute of Education and Sustainable Development on ecological literacy (Orr, 1991) and ecological theories (see, e.g. Bronfenbrenner). At the time, I watched Drs. Alan Dittmer and David Wicks work with the North American Association for Environmental Education where I made the analogy that they, as leaders, were a spool of thread who sewed together a nation of individuals that were interested in ecology, the earth, and nature. This week, I’ve been thinking that I, too, have become a thread bearer like most of the seamstresses and tailors of the National Writing Project. My role patches together the best writing ecosystems that I can. Like the Connected Learning movement in an ever-growing, digital ecosystem, CWP-Fairfield’s work needs to be equitable, social, and participatory because:

  • The work is production centered and, in this summer’s design the goal is to bring youth and teachers to the outcomes they desire as writers (motivated by purpose, given the “write” tools, establishing rules that work for all, dividing labor so that everyone plays an important role, and most importantly, building community – UBUNTU matters. This is an activity system (Cole, 1988; Engeström, 1987; Russell, 2010) and for this reason, connected learning is also academic.
  • Interests are key. Without tapping into the inquiry and passions of teachers and students the ecosystem fails. We are the curriculum rather than the curriculum forcing us to be like it!
  • We have a shared purpose of tuning writing and using multiliteracies to communicate what we know.
  • A peer culture is paramount and the NWP model creates a culture of writing peers.
  • Connected learning is openly networked and transcends the parameters of a closed, traditional classroom (as Womogo teacher, Colette Bennett, shared with our teachers this week).

Next week, the summer work folds in young people from a summer scholars program on campus, a literacy team from a High Needs school, and several UPWARD BOUND students already working on campus. The Fairfield University ecosystem for writing during the summer is alive and well, sometimes stormy/sometimes calm, and everchanging. This is the nature of the work and our space within the tremendous ecosystem of NWP.

Cole, M. (1988). Cross-cultural research in the sociohistorical tradition. Human Development, 31, 137-151.

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Orr, David. Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. New York: SUNY Press.

Russell, D. R. (2010). Writing multiple contexts; Vygotskian CHAT meets the phenomenology of genre. In C. Baserman, R. Krut, K. Lunsford, S. Mcleod, S. Null, P. Rogers & A. Stansell (Eds.), Traditions of writing research (pp. 353-364). New York: Routledge.