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Hampton Roads teachers spent summer learning

Area teachers headed back to school last week to prepare for this week’s start of classes after the summer break.

Not all school teachers spent those summer weeks catching up on their reading and rays, blissfully blanking out their September duties.

Thanks to the Eastern Virginia Writing Project’s Summer Writing Institute, some of them arrived in school armed with ideas, tools and inspiration to make their pupils better writers.

The institute, held on the campus of the College of William and Mary, is part of a “school/post-secondary partnership that identifies, celebrates, and enhances the professional role of successful classroom teachers at all levels,” according to the project’s website. The mission of the five-week, six-credit-hour summer program is to “improve the teaching of writing and to improve learning in Eastern Virginia’s schools.” According to the institute, “effective teachers of writing need to be writers themselves.”

The writing institute serves seven regional districts on the Peninsula, including Newport News, Williamsburg, James City County and Gloucester. It is open to full-time teachers for grades K through 12 who want to “enhance their knowledge of the theory and practice of teaching writing in their classrooms; learn more about reading/writing connections; (and) develop their personal writing skills.” At the conclusion of the institute, participants become fellows and often share their new-found knowledge and expertise with staff at their home schools.

Participants had lively and packed days, including daily journal writing, group discussions and projects, workshops, and even unexpected inspiration from a published author, said co-director Susan Pongratz. M.H. Herlong, William and Mary alumnus and young adult/children’s author of “The Great Wide Sea” and “Buddy,” was invited to stop by the institute since she was in the area.

Herlong’s 90-minute workshop covered a broad range of topics, from shaping ideas to writing and revisions.

“Using the analogy of an artist, Herlong explained that words—the only thing writers have—are like clay, and writers are the potters who shape, reshape, and sometimes destroy, only to start over again,” Pongratz said via email.

The author’s visit was “generous, illuminating, and encouraging,” she said.

Participants came away with new writing tools, such as Herlong’s writer’s notebook: “the essential tool for gathering ideas, reflections, observations, and even quotations.” The author also offered her advice on what to do with those precious lines and sections that must be cut during revisions: She stores them in a separate folder and they become her “shadow story.”

On the revision process, Herlong shared a presentation illustrating her 18 drafts of “The Great Wide Sea,” a book that was eventually named as one of the Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults in 2010 by the Young Adult Literary Services Association.

When questioned how a writer knows when a work is finished, Herlong replied, “I can’t ever know when it is time to stop—all I can ever know is when it is not time to stop.”

To learn more about Herlong, click here for the author's website.

The Eastern Virginia Writing Project is one of six National Writing Project sites in Virginia and one of approximately 200 across the nation. There is also a Tidewater site based at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Founded in 1979, it is the longest-running externally funded project in W&M’s School of Education, according to James Beers, project director.

In addition to hosting the summer institute, the program organizes a reunion for each year’s class and publishes an anthology of their works produced during the institute. EVWP also assists districts during the academic year with writing curriculum and additional teacher courses. For information about the project, its Summer Writing Institute and other programs, go to the program's website.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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