National Writing Project

Orientations for the Teaching of Writing: A Legacy of the National Writing Project

By: Anne Elrod Whitney, Linda Friedrich
Publication: Teachers College Record
Date: July 2013

Summary: In a qualitative study using interview data of NWP Summer Institute participants between 1974 and 1994, education researcher, Anne Elrod Whitney, and Director of Research and Evaluation at NWP, Linda Friedrich, conclude that NWP's influence on teacher-consultants over time and across settings is a set of orientations toward the purposes of writing; students' abilities and responsibilities as writers; and the relationships between ideas and form that govern a teacher's choices about how best to structure writing opportunities for students.


The legacy of the National Writing Project for the teaching of writing is a set of orientations that guide teachers in making decisions about their work and learning about and from that work. These findings resonate with Friedriechsen, Van Driel, and Abell's (2011) sense of orientations in science teaching as a set of beliefs that influence practice along three dimensions: 'beliefs about the goals or purposes of science teaching, beliefs about the nature of science, and beliefs about science teaching and learning' (p. 373); where here orientations were found to center on goals or purposes of writing, the nature of writing, and writing teaching and learning.

These orientations—toward the purposes of writing and the value of students' ideas, toward supporting students through the writing process, and toward coherence between one's writing life and one's teaching life—at times recommend specific strategies and certainly inform specific decisions about strategies but also transcend any particular set of lessons or strategies a teacher might use to constitute an overall stance. This fact sets the NWP apart from many other professional development models—and has made it difficult to conduct research on NWP in a way that both captures the ideas that matter to its participants and capture observable changes in classroom practice (Rogers et al., 2011). Understanding orientations matters, not only for the National Writing Project, but for those concerned with professional development and its long-term influences. We argue that orientations establish a framework for teachers to organize and synthesize new knowledge and practice that they encounter over the course of their careers. For example, through a case study follow-up, we learned how one Legacy study participant who taught English Language Learners used these three orientations to focus her instructional practice and integrate new research and strategies over the course of her 30-year career (Meyer, 2009a). If we conceptualize professional development not as merely discrete events that have a linear and concrete impact, but as a decades-long series of encounters with ideas and strategies, then orientations help the field envision how individual teachers, as well as networks such as NWP, can bring coherence to a fragmented and changing landscape. We also offer this study's design and analysis as a possible approach for long-term influence of conceptually based interventions."

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About the Authors
ANNE ELROD WHITNEY is Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State University. Her research addresses written composition, the teaching of writing, and professional development. This work has included studies in elementary, secondary, college and professional development settings, all sharing a particular focus on the relationships between writing and learning. Her work has recently appeared in journals such as Research in the Teaching of English and English Education.

LINDA FRIEDRICH is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Writing Project. Her research interests include teacher leadership, the role of professional development and teacher learning in improving student learning, and collaboration between teachers and researchers. With Ann Lieberman, she is the co-author of How Teachers Become Leaders: Learning from Practice and Research (Teachers College Press, 2010).

Copyright ©2013 by Teachers College Record. Reprinted with Permission.
Whitney, Anne Elrod and Friedrich, Linda. "Orientations for the Teaching of Writing: A Legacy of the National Writing Project." Teachers College Record (2013): 1–37

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