Wednesday, October 1, 2014

#OurNWP Means That You Are Willing To Reflect After A 14-Hour Day On Where You Once Were @writingproject

from my LWP XX1 Writer's Notebook
When I returned to school after spending a summer in the Louisville Invitational Summer Institute, my colleagues often asked me, "Did you do the National Doodle Project or a writing project?" In retrospect, I realized I did both (funny. I just returned from teaching back to back classes where my graduate students were encouraged to think visually and beyond text).

When I did the Louisville Writing Project, Kentucky was in the pinnacle of its writing portfolios and teachers in all content areas were expected to submit writing to state portfolios. One result of this expectation was that Kentucky teachers from a wide variety of subject areas and grade levels came to the writing project to think through writing within their content areas. Lucky for me, I sat next to a woman named Mel who asked me, "Why are you always writing in your books? Have you ever thought about the ways art communicates?" She encouraged me to draw.

I suppose I had, but then again I hadn't. My last art class was in 7th grade, I believe, and I hadn't thought about articulating my ideas in alternative ways. Literacy, for me, at the time was defined by literary analysis and papers assigned by English teachers to deconstruct Absolom! Absolom! In other words, literature hijacked what it meant for me to to communicate to others. Literacy defined writing as analysis alone. Writing was trapped to the confines of a very narrow construct.

What a shame! Mel was absolutely right. After meeting her, I began doodling as a means of brainstorming. I realized that arts-based practices were also effective with diverse learners in my classroom. Like a photograph, drawing helps one to remember. From any drawing, I could then write. The truth about being a teacher of writing is that I wanted to help young people to communicate effectively. The artist, Mel pointed out, has a lot to say, too - they just express it differently. Expression was high on my priority list for what I wanted from students. I wanted them to be able to share their thinking with others throughout their life. I wanted them to be conscientious, reflective creatures.

The above photo is doodle of a daisy, a butterfly feeding on wisteria, a man running from a tombstone  that says Hynka, and a quote:
I have seen your eyes and I can see death's disguise hanging on me - Cat Stevens
Behind that doodle, however, are layers and layers of stories. The two most important ones here, however, are the influence of my grandmother and the movie Harold and Maude. My grandmother was my first teacher of writing and although she wasn't a teacher, I consider her one of the greatest educators in my life. She had volumes and volumes of notebooks filled with art, poetry, reflections, and memories. When my sisters and I visited, she took our Crayola doodles and turned them into new masterpieces that she cherished. Harold and Maude, on the other hand, became a pedagogical mission for my colleague and me. No need to detail here, but watch the movie. Once you do, contact me and my philosophy will make more sense. Put the movie and my grandmother together (maybe a memoir one day) and you'll better understand how my mind works.

Another seed planted in 2002 was when teachers in the ISI were prompted to think visually and to create an advertisement. Mine was Millennial Time Travel: Because Yesterday Is Only In The Blink of An Eye - We take you back one horizon at a time. To be honest, I have no clue what I was thinking, but I do know I was attempting to communicate semiotically what might attract me if I was flipping through a magazine. 1-800-EYE-Tour. Go figure.

The point of this reflection is not to make sense of what I meant at the time I doodled, but to highlight how the National Writing Project helped me to see the work I was doing as something larger than the written language that I churned out for others to judge my thoughts, memories, ideas, and arguments. Literacy, I realized from my NWP experience, however, is much, much larger and if I was to reach more of my students in effective ways, I needed to open my instruction beyond the alphabet, alone. I needed to allow for them to use other hieroglyphics to represent their thinking.

From these two images from June, 2002, I crafted 9 paragraphs for this blog post. I didn't comb through my notebook for text; instead, I captured two drawings I might one day explore. From this experience with LWP, the notebooks I encouraged evolved into scrapbooks, yearbooks, photo albums, and pieces of art that my students didn't want to recycle at the end of the year, but wanted to have as keepsakes and memories of their high school experiences. In other words, I chiseled away at the artificial boundary of classroom walls and schools to show them tools for understanding their worlds wherever The Great Whatever led them for the rest of their lives.

#OurNWP has a simple, yet recognizable logo. It is a heart with 40 years written inside of it. All of us involved know it is the work born out of love. Investing in young writers is the investment into the world's souls, ideas, creativity, and innovations of tomorrow. NWP touches the past, the present, and the future.

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