National Writing Project

NWP Teachers Bring #whyiwrite into Classrooms

By: Tiffany Chiao
Date: November 10, 2011

Summary: NWP teachers and their students came together to ponder the force that drives them to pen their thoughts and create stories, essays, articles, scripts—and tweets. They joined a national conversation by tweeting their reflections to #whyiwrite.


On the National Day on Writing, October 20, many teachers saw the NWP's "Why I Write" celebration as an opportunity to get their classes to participate in the online conversations around them and reflect on the writing they do in their lives.

As Larissa Pahomov, who teaches English at Science Leadership Academy, said, "We write all the time at school. It's a very natural and organic thing for the kids—but we don't always step back from our process, or give them a chance to declare for themselves why they do it."

While reflection happened in many forms, from creating podcasts to posting responses on Twitter to writing with pen and paper, teachers were unified in their common goal of letting students tackle the question of why they write and, in the process, learn more about themselves.

Tweeting as Reflection, Dialogue, and Public Platform

The #whyiwrite tweets filled the Twittersphere with rapid fire all day on October 20, with tweets from teachers and students weaving in with those from the likes of authors such as Neil Gaiman, Terry McMillan, and Susan Orleans.

Janet Ilko, a teacher-consultant with the San Diego Area Writing Project who has participated in the National Day on Writing before, said she only started using Twitter recently, but saw how it could be used for creating conversations and exchanging ideas with her NWP colleagues. As a result, she decided to use it for the "Why I Write" project to get her students' writing out to the public.

I wanted my students' voices to be added to the national conversation around the personal value of writing.

"I wanted more immediate feedback for my students, and also wanted to create a sense of urgency, that this work would go worldwide, and be immediate," she said.

Meenoo Rami, a teacher-consultant with the Philadelphia Writing Project who teaches at the Science Leadership Academy, also tweeted out her students' work. She agreed with the value of Twitter in opening up a channel of communication between writers.

"I wanted my students' voices to be added to the national conversation around the personal value of writing and sharing our writing," Rami said, adding, "Some of the work just floored me."

Rami pointed in particular to a poem, "Why I Write," by Douglas Wallace. "I write because I have to/Life issues haunt us all/So instead of picking up a bottle/I pick up a pen and/Let my story begin...," he writes.

Learning in Unexpected Ways

For Pahomov, her classroom came away from the activity with a better understanding of what writing of all types meant to them. One student in her class professed, "I only write because I'm forced to," so she encouraged him to use those feelings as an impetus for writing and saw that he was able to write for the entire period of time.

Though some students expressed discomfort with the idea of having their words posted on Twitter and exposed to an audience, after they received responses and feedback from readers, they started to take more pride in their work and what they had accomplished.

"They understood that having an audience 'hear' the writer gives the piece a little more power than just sharing words on the paper or the screen," said Kevin Hodgson, a sixth grade teacher at the William E. Norris Elementary School and a teacher-consultant with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

Using Twitter in the classroom doesn't end with the National Day on Writing.

"Now that we have the account in place, I can see designating a student as the official Twitter Scribe of the classroom and posting reflections on the writing we are doing in the classroom," said Hodgson.

In addition to getting their students to participate in the "Why I Write" campaign, NWP teachers reached out to their fellow teachers and encouraged them to be a part of the celebration as well, working to raise awareness in their schools about the value of writing in the classroom.

"Our entire faculty at Science Leadership Academy posted their responses to our staff moodle page.  It was a great way for us to share our writing selves with our colleagues," said Rami.

"Our work on the National Day on Writing is just one chapter in our year-long conversations about what writing is and how important various forms of writing can be in their lives," Hodgson said. "The impact of such an activity is not immediate. But I do believe there are ripples over time."

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