National Writing Project

Annual Site Review 2001 Takes a New Approach

By: Joye Alberts
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 3
Date: May-June 2001

Summary: To make the site proposal review process more useful for sites, new approaches were added to the annual event.


In February of each year, site directors and teacher leaders from various National Writing Project sites join forces to respond to the annual reports from all of the continuing local sites. This annual peer review process allows NWP to communicate with sites about their effectiveness and to learn about interesting work they are doing. Information from the review suggests ways that NWP can provide expanded support for sites and ensure high-quality programs throughout the network. This past February, 45 site directors and teacher leaders from 25 National Writing Project sites gathered in Berkeley. This year's review process followed established patterns, but there were also some innovative differences.

A Typical Site Review Process

As always, reviewers approached their task thoughtfully, taking seriously the responsibility to write helpful letters from the standpoint of a critical friend. And, as usual, by the time the reviewers gathered, the review process had been in motion for several weeks. Long before the review weekend, each of the table leaders had begun reading the set of 20 or more proposals assigned to be reviewed at his or her table. This prepared the leaders to discuss each site's proposal and information package with the individual reviewer, thus making sure that each proposal got a careful reading by at least two responders.

Before responding to a site, a reviewer studied the site materials extensively, looking at the current site proposal, previous review letters, site budgets, and a site profile prepared by Inverness Research Associates. After studying this data, reviewers were able to note areas of strength and challenge at each site.

Differences in This Year's Review

Despite many "business as usual" aspects to this year's review process, veteran review participants did notice changes in the way this year's reading was organized. One such change was the manner in which the reports were distributed over the eight reviewer tables. As part of NWP's ongoing effort to make the review more useful to sites, each of the tables was assigned a particular theme. For example, at one table, all proposals and readers were from rural sites. At another table, urban readers concentrated on urban sites. Some tables looked at site reports from the same region. Others considered sites that were part of state networks. At two tables, "returning reviewers" teamed up to respond again to the sites they reviewed last year. Review planners set up these experiments to study whether it would be useful for reviewers at the same table to focus on a particular category of site.

The planners concluded that the table assignment approach proved useful and worth more exploration. For instance, the team reviewing sites by region found that reading by region allowed them to distinguish between the problems of the region and the problems of the site. In some cases, reviewers were able to refer one site to another site nearby for assistance. Reviewers at the "returning reviewers" tables appreciated the chance to respond to the same site, referring back to the previous year's letter.

This year's review process also boasted the continuation of the "mining team." For the second time this year, a group formed from NWP publications, technology, and program staffs worked alongside reviewers, cataloging "gems"-exemplary programs, ideas, and approaches-they found in the proposals. NWP's leaders are hopeful that many of the successful approaches revealed in these reports can be developed into conference presentations, disseminated through publications, and shared widely throughout the network.

NWP made these changes in an effort to make the review process ever more useful to individual sites. So, following the review, as is customary, each site received a packet of information in response to its proposal-a letter from the reviewer, a site profile prepared by Inverness Research Associates, and information about upcoming professional development and networking events. While much about the review process remains the same, review organizers believe that the changes made this year enhance the quality of the information each site receives and will contribute to the vitality of NWP's sites in the year ahead.

About the Author Joye Alberts is an associate director of the National Writing Project.

Read More:

"NWP Annual Review Unearths Gems," The Voice, March-April 2001

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