National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 9, No. 1
Date: 2004

Summary: Executive Director Richard Sterling invites you to share your thoughts and ideas about the future of the National Writing Project. Read some of the guiding questions and find out how to send in your comments.


Dear Friends,

It was a thrill to see so many of you at the 2003 National Writing Project Annual Meeting and to celebrate the launch of our 30th anniversary year. It was an extraordinary meeting—the best ever!

As I stated at the meeting, I want to spend this year focused on the future of NWP. In particular, I invite you to join me in thinking about the next five years and what we can accomplish to ensure that all teachers have access to high quality professional development in the teaching of writing and that all students have the opportunity to learn to write well.

In creating a vision for the future, we must focus on growth in two fundamental ways—increasing the breadth of our work by scaling up and the depth of the work by scaling down. For my next three Voice columns, I will be asking questions about aspects of both the breadth and depth of our work. I invite you to respond to these ideas throughout this 30th anniversary year.

The year 2003, as I've written before, marked a milestone for our profession as a whole—the profile of the importance of writing was raised across the nation. One significant event was the decision to require a writing sample on both the ACT and SAT beginning in 2005. This decision follows that of many states that are already asking for a writing sample as part of their assessment of student progress.

Another landmark event has been the publication of The Neglected R by the College Board's National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges. The commission's work in developing this document was assisted by colleagues from NWP and the National Council of Teachers of English. The next step for the commission will be a series of regional conversations with educators, policymakers, and representatives of the business community. The overall goal of the commission is to raise the importance of writing to its rightful place alongside reading and mathematics as an essential component of education in the 21st century.

The commission report outlines some significant challenges to improving the teaching of writing—challenges that you know well. First, teachers need time, and more time, for teaching and responding to writing. Second, there need to be significant and sustained opportunities to improve the teaching of writing for all students, not just those for whom writing comes relatively easily. Third, we need to explore appropriate uses of technology to support the teaching of writing in all classrooms, again not just for some students, but for all students. And, finally, we need to continue to develop multiple approaches to writing assessment—not just one-shot timed writing prompts.

It will take a concerted effort to "place writing in the center of the school agenda," as the report advocates, and to bring about such changes for every student in America. Many of you have been engaged in this work for some time and you know how difficult it is. Increasing demands on teachers' time and expertise, an often fragmented school day, and few opportunities for sustained professional learning have contributed to the challenges of teaching writing on a daily basis in our classrooms. In addition, the challenges of raising funds locally are as great as they have ever been.

How will we answer this challenge? We need to follow the principles that we have developed over time—both scaling up and scaling down to extend our reach and deepen the impact of our work.

With this goal in mind, I want here to repeat the questions I asked at our annual meeting as I believe answers to these questions will help gain the breadth and depth we will need as we continue our work. I asked:

  • What are the most effective ways to continue the growth of teacher leadership?
  • How do we interest new colleagues in directing writing project sites, given the current demands of university life?
  • How do we continue to reach out and build more professional development opportunities for teachers who work in the toughest schools and the most remote areas of the country?
  • How do we reach out to our newest colleagues and those who will be joining our ranks in the next five years?

Share your thoughts and ideas with me and your colleagues as we embark on our next five years of growth. Call me at the NWP office (510-642-0963) or email me at I look forward to both hearing from you and working with you in the coming year. And as we begin a new calendar year, let me say thank you once again for the enormous support you give me in doing this work.

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