Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

In What Ways Do Teacher Education Courses Change Teachers' Self Confidence as Writers?

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

In What Ways Do Teacher Education Courses Change Teachers' Self Confidence as Writers?

Article excerpt

The National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools, and Colleges (2006) specifies that writing-across-the-curriculum programs (including post-secondary coursework) should be well supported. They also challenge teacher preparation programs to provide opportunities for "teachers already in the classroom to upgrade their writing skills and competence as writing teachers" (p. 65). Yet many classroom teachers do not feel comfortable teaching writing, nor do they feel knowledgeable about how to use writing with students (Murphy, 2003; Napoli, 2001; Street, 2003).

This lack of confidence may be due to the fact that teachers are heavily influenced by their own histories as writers (Mathers, Kushner-Benson, & Newton, 2007; Street, 2003). From Lortie (1975) onwards, research has consistently reported on the powerful influence that teachers' preexisting attitudes about teaching exert on their learning (Clifford & Green, 1996; Florio-Ruane & Lensmire; Grossman et al., 2000; Schmidt & Kennedy, 1990; Shrofel, 1991). Since "teachers enter their professional education already trapped in their own relationship with the subject" (Kennedy, 1998, p. 14), the writing attitudes and experiences that they bring with them to the university may be difficult to change.

The National Writing Project (NWP) is a group that understands this issue, believing that teachers must be comfortable and confident with writing before they can feel a sense of competence with the teaching of writing (Bratcher & Stroble, 1994). As suggested by the NWP, until teachers know as insiders what writing is like, they will never truly be able to teach their students to write well. With this consideration in mind, every attempt is made to immerse NWP teachers in the role of authors, asking them to experience writing from the inside out. As chronicled by Lieberman and Wood (2002), "Core activities during the summer institutes include sharing best lessons or strategies, participating in small writing groups, and receiving peer feedback" (p. 40) from their colleagues.

A substantial body of research suggests that most teachers are not prepared to use writing with their students (National Commission on Writing, 2003, 2006; National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006). When teachers do experience professional development in this area, it is often a single workshop devoted to writing across the curriculum or is not specific to the individual needs of the teacher (Lieberman & Wood, 2003; National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006). This is unfortunate, since teachers serve as a crucial link in the continued move to improve the literacy skills of K-12 students (Allington & Johnston, 2000; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Joyce & Showers, 2002; Instersegmental Committee, 2000; National Commission on Writing, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006; National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006).

Though the need for professional development in writing is apparent, research on models of professional development in this area are sparse. However, the National Writing Project has emerged as one highly effective model of professional development, offering teachers the kind of support that research suggests that they require (Bratcher & Stroble, 1994; Lieberman & Wood, 2002, 2003; National Writing Project, & Nagin, 2006; Raymond, 1994; Street, 2003; Street & Stang, 2008). The NWP model of professional development addresses the issue of how to build teachers' self-confidence as writers in the context of offering them meaningful and sustained professional development.

The NWP realizes that professional development needs to begin where the teachers are, acknowledging that the writing histories of teachers are a vital consideration when working with teachers. As is evidenced from research, the writing histories of teachers play an important role in their ability--or inability--to use writing with their students (Bratcher & Stroble, 1994; Chambless & Bass, 1995; Pajares, 1996; Pajares & Johnson, 1994; Street, 2003; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001). …

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