National Writing Project

Social Action Workshops Inspire Teachers

By: Ian Boulton
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 4
Date: September-October 2001

Summary: Ian Boulton shares two vision statements created by teachers at the summer's Social Action Workshops in Santa Fe and Baltimore, and also shares some of the participants' messages for NWP


The Centre for Social Action (CSA) and the National Writing Project have exchanged ideas at workshops and site visits in the United States and Britain since 1999. (See "Undrowning: A Rediscovery of the Power of Student Voice" By Nannette Overley, from the January-February 2001 issue of The Voice, and "CSA Offers Teachers Powerful Tools," by Art Peterson, Asali Solomon, and Becky Young in the November-December 2000 issue of The Voice. The partnership continued this summer with two five-day, NWP-sponsored Social Action Summer Institutes, one in Santa Fe and one in Baltimore. A total of 60 NWP teachers formed teams from 22 sites to participate in these advanced summer institutes that offered practical tools for facilitating action projects with young people within a social justice framework. Here, CSA facilitator Ian Boulton, who led the trainings along with fellow CSA facilitator Jennie Fleming, describes the institute experience.--Editors

When Kristina Berdan of the Maryland Writing Project filled out her information form before attending one of this summer's Social Action Summer Institutes, she wrote:

I am a teacher in a Baltimore City middle school, teaching reading, math, and various elective courses to students in grades four through eight. One of these elective courses is "Community Action." Nine students have bonded to become the Youth Dreamers and have written a $3,000 grant, raised over $100 through bake sales, written 12 letters to officials in Baltimore City, etc.—all in an effort to build a youth center in the community!

I attended the [CSA] workshop last summer in Philadelphia and used many of the strategies to begin the community action group. . . . My students are SO commit-ted....We have taken on a HUGE project, and I am hoping to gain new strategies and inspiration to take back to my group!

For us at the Centre For Social Action at De Montfort University in England, the work undertaken by Kristina and other writing project teachers following the two-day workshops in Philidelphia, Tulsa, Sacramento, and San Franciso last year has been an inspiration. The diversity, intelligence, and commitment of the participants in those workshops has been reflected in the nature and substance of the work they have undertaken to try out the social action method.

In Santa Fe and Baltimore, between July 7 and July 19, over 60 writing project teachers came together for two more-intensive, six-day courses in social action. Some of the teachers we had met last summer; a few more of them we met at the annual meetings in Denver (1999) and Milwaukee (2000); most of them, however, were new faces. All of the participants expressed an interest in finding ways that the writing project could address issues of social justice, especially those issues that touch the lives of their students. They were interested in exploring social action as a means to do this.

As with all social action work, the content of the course was provided by the participants themselves with the facilitators providing a structure and a process that allows them to do this in as much depth and with as much creativity as possible. Both groups went through the process of identification, analysis, strategy, action, and reflection and returned to their sites with action plans to be put into effect immediately. They began by negotiating a vision for their week.

In Santa Fe, they stated:

We aim to:

1. experience, understand, own, articulate, apply, and share social action

2. leave here equipped with ideas, stuff, strategies, and tools to open dialogue and to build and sustain relationships among students and the wider community to advance change through literacy

3. establish the means to continue beyond [this institute], using the National Writ-ing Project, technology, each other, etc.

And in Baltimore:

By the end of [this institute], we would like to have:

1. a clear understanding of the social action model, what it means, how it looks . . .

2. identified various applications of the so-cial action model in different settings and have a plan to apply and sustain them

3. a plan for the next steps and networking.

Both groups were able to demonstrate through practice sessions and the thoughtful, realistic, and ambitious action plans they produced that they had succeeded in achieving their visions.

As part of the reflection on their experiences, participants were asked to construct messages for the National Writing Project using the prompts You must . . . Please remember . . . It would be a good idea if . . . and What about trying . . . ? Here are some of their messages:

You must: send me to a follow-up session . . . continue with this project; it is invaluable. . . continue to provide ongoing support and training in social action . . . continue this partnership. . . keep doing this! . . . know how grateful we are for this opportunity . . . continue to address issues of social justice and provide these types of learning experiences for writing projects teachers.

Please remember: we are all at different stages and our needs are not the same . . . we are beginners . . . it is necessary for teachers to come together, to communicate and to have support . . . to maintain and build this collaboration . . . we will do our best to implement this program . . . to put a human face on this work . . . to adapt your outreach efforts to meet the needs of diverse communities . . . people need time to practice the skills they have been exposed to.

It would be a good idea if: we could have an advanced seminar or institute to further develop ideas and foster suggestions. . . . our community could have a follow-up meeting
. . . we continue intersite collaboration . . . there was a session each year at the annual meeting . . . you offered minigrants for actual classroom social action projects.

What about trying: bringing students and teachers together for social action workshops continue to deepen our understanding of the social action principles as they relate to our classroom . . . an advanced filter more of our other work through CSA . . . to publish a book about social action in the classroom include students in an advanced institute next year?

Yeah. How `bout trying that?

About the Author Ian Boulton is a facilitator with the Centre for Social Action, a multidisciplinary organization based at De Montfort University in Leicester, England.


NWP will continue its partnership with CSA through sessions with CSA facilitators Ian Boulton and Jennie Fleming in conjunction with the NWP Annual Meeting, November 15–17, 2001, in Baltimore. Several sites will be developing action projects based on their work at the Social Action Summer Institutes.

Voice Articles Related to This Topic
Undrowning: A Rediscovery of the Power of Student Voice" by Nannette Overley, The Voice, January-February 2001.

"CSA Offers Teachers Powerful Tools," by Art Peterson, Asali Solomon, and Becky Young. The Voice, November-December 2000.

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