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Grab a pen, it's time to write

Teachers share writing expertise during summer workshop

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Grade school teacher Scotty Clark doesn't hesitate to tell a colleague where her writing belongs: "in the compost pile."

That's how educators here at the Maine Writing Project suggest that someone's work needs to gel, and it's just the kind of encouragement they expect from each other.

The project draws teachers from around the state who spend a month every summer doing what they rarely have a chance to -share techniques, network, and hone their writing skills.

When they're done, they go back to their classrooms with a notebook's worth of ideas and newfound enthusiasm.

"It has reenergized me and refocused me on my role as a writing teacher," says Barbara Malm, a third- and fourth-grade teacher from Blue Hill. "It's been well worth all those July days,and that's saying a lot."

Each summer, K-12 and university educators across the United States grab pens and paper and take part in programs like this one, modeled after the National Writing Project (NWP).

What began in 1973 over concern about the writing ability of incoming freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, has evolved into a nationwide effort to promote good writing instruction -one that has served more than 2 million educators.

All but three states have writing projects; many have more than one. Local educators are in charge of the 161 sites, typically hosted by universities and tailored to meet community needs. The NWP, partially supported by the US government, provides some funding. The rest is supplied locally.

The idea, say organizers, is to improve the second of the 3 Rs by going to the source: getting successful teachers to teach each other what works in the classroom. It's an approach that keeps educators up to date at a time when state standards and student needs are rapidly changing.

"It's always relevant because it's always dealing with whatever's current," says Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, co-director of the NWP, based in Berkeley, Calif.

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