Expressive Innovation Ignites Education

The Hudson Valley Writing Project [HVWP], a teacher-enrichment program housed and partially funded by SUNY New Paltz, provides pre-school to college-level educators of all disciplines with new skills to apply in the classroom.

The HVWP is one of 195 local writing projects under the umbrella of The National Writing Project which strives to create a cross-disciplinary and multi-level community of teachers to advance the way students express themselves.

The cornerstone of the program is the Summer Institute, a month-long teacher-enrichment program that counts for nine graduate school credits.

“Our model is one of teachers teaching teachers,” Tom Meyer, one of three co-founders of The HVWP and associate professor of secondary education at SUNY New Paltz said.

“What’s cool about a network is that it permits people to move knowledge and skill that we trade in a very reciprocal way,” Meyer said.

Bonnie Kaplan, the other co-founder of the HVWP, said the National Writing Project was founded on the notion that teachers “needed a sense of community.”

“It’s not just about a talking head, it’s a shared mutual collaborative experience,” Kaplan said.

The program works with styles of writing from every discipline, Meyer said. Science and Math educators participate in the institute alongside English teachers.

Kathleen Yeager, who teaches elementary school students in need of academic intervention and is a graduate of the Summer Institute said the first thing that hit her upon entering the program was “these people are serious.”

The variation of the teacher’s subject area and grade level allowed Yeager to consider her work “from a variety of different perspectives.”

“Though this interchange, I came to not only understand the work of others, but my own work on a totally new level,” Yeager said.

According to Kaplan, the HVWP teaches educators to go beyond the written word and teach their students how to express themselves through different media.

Kaplan specializes in educating teachers about “Digital Storytelling.”

“I don’t think you could go into teaching today and not be open to the digital horizon,” Kaplan said. “The cool thing about digital writing is that it allows kids to develop skills on devices they have already fallen in love with…kids are developing a certain mastery, but they still need structure.”

The multi-model learning of Digital Storytelling involves the mixing of writing with music, images, video and other components.

“Once you start adding in images and music, the writing generally changes…every piece of that new project that you’re creating has to be showcased in some way,” Kaplan said. “The kid who moves into Digital Storytelling is taking on a much more sophisticated and complicated experience then you might have with a pen and a piece of paper,” said Kaplan.

The HVWP multi-model approach can take other forms. Rebecca Burdett, a graduate of the Summer Institute program who has taught Pre-K through the sixth grade, said this approach “opened up another genre” for her in the classroom.

“I’m an early childhood person, I’m not one to place my students in front of computers,” Burdett said.

Burdett developed a curriculum that integrated the first stages of linguistic education with her “favorite passion, which is early childhood play.”

“When I think about writing, I think of it as composition, and we compose and create in multiple ways,” said Burdett. She believes that writing is based on expression, which can take on many forms.

Burdett developed a learning program for her first grade students where they create elaborate buildings out of wooden blocks to begin to learn the art of expression. Her students create projects with the blocks, which are then discussed with Burdett. At the end of the week, the creation is “published,” through taking a picture of it, or writing a story, or telling a story about it.

Kaplan and Burdett agreed the feedback given by graduates of the HVWP was exemplary.

“To have that network of peer support, it gives you the ability to broaden your practice in really dynamic way,” Burdett said.