National Writing Project

Inverness Report Surveys Benefits of Summer Institutes for Teachers and Students

By: Carl Nagin
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 3
Date: May-June 2002

Summary: A report from a survey of summer institute participants confirms that NWP institutes offer "valuable and influential professional development experience to teachers."


How do teachers assess their experiences at National Writing Project summer institutes and the impact of the institutes on their classroom practices? Inverness Research Associates (IRA) surveyed 2,731 participants at 154 writing project sites nationwide, and their findings, published in a December 2001 report, determined that "high proportions of these teachers gained valuable knowledge and skills." Survey respondents included elementary to post-secondary teachers. Most reported that their summer institute professional experiences had led to positive changes in their classroom practices—changes that "benefited their students."

IRA administered two surveys to teachers who attended writing project invitational summer institutes in 2000. The first assessed "client satisfaction" by asking participants "to rate the quality and potential value . . . for their teaching." The second, a follow-up survey conducted in the spring of 2001, asked teachers to reflect on the actual impact of the institute on their classroom practices. The studies, designed in accordance with U.S. Department of Education requirements that federally funded professional development programs examine what participants actually gain from their experiences, found that 97.9 percent of teachers rated the institute as "very good" or "excellent" and that 94.9 percent "judged it to be `better' or `much better' than other professional development activities in which they had participated recently." These nearly unanimous high marks far exceed the 75 percent target indicators agreed upon by Department of Education and NWP.

In other professional development programs evaluated by IRA, participants have generally rated the quality of the activities higher than they rated their applicability to classroom practice. This was not the case for NWP summer institutes. Of those teachers surveyed, 95 percent also gave high ratings "to the institute's contribution to their understanding of the teaching of writing and its usefulness for their own classrooms and students." In the follow-up survey, respondents were asked to explain how. A full 93 percent said the experience had brought them up-to-date with the latest research and practice, and nearly the same percentage said they were motivated to seek more professional development. The institute had also enabled them to improve how they assessed students. In other survey findings, 86 percent said they were better able to teach more diverse students, and 85 percent said they were better able to help their students reach high standards. (See table 1.)

Table 1

The study also showed how the summer institutes influenced changes in specific classroom practices among participating teachers. Changes cited most often included an increased frequency of the following practices: students working collaboratively on writing; students choosing their own topics; students producing multiple drafts; as well as the use of journals and writing in logs. (See table 2.)

Table 2

The report suggests that these increases reflect "the values that NWP teachers hold about the development of young writers—that students work on and talk about writing in a community of writers; that students develop authority and voice by choosing what to write about; that they plan and revise drafts as they work toward a final product. . . ." Planning and drafting, the study adds, are practices correlated with higher achievement on the 1998 writing assessment conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

How did these NWP teachers assess the benefits and impacts of these changes on their students? Across all grade levels, 90 percent of respondents reported that their students had improved their understanding of the qualities of good writing. Additionally, 85 percent said that their students wrote more often, wrote longer pieces, and enjoyed their writing. And 84 percent said their students were better able to explain their thinking and learning across diverse subjects.

The Inverness findings here are consistent with their previous surveys assessing NWP teacher appraisals of the summer institutes. "NWP institutes," the report concludes, "offer valuable and influential professional development experiences to teachers. We can also infer that the NWP supports teachers in emphasizing classroom practices that give students control over writing as a process, as well as practices that ultimately use writing to serve student learning and communication in all curriculum areas."

All research information and tables cited in this article come from the "The National Writing Project—Client Satisfaction and Program Impact: Results from a Follow-up Survey of Participants at Summer 2000 Invitational Institutes" by Mark St. John, Kathleen Dickey, Judy Hirabayashi, and Laura Stokes, with assistance from Allison Murray (Inverness, CA: Inverness Research Associates study, December 2001).

About the Author Carl Nagin is a freelance editor with the National Writing Project. He has worked as a staff reporter for the Public Broadcasting Service series Frontline and has written for the New Yorker.

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