Iowa Writing Project

Director's Blog

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Originally written by Dr. James S. Davis in September, 2008

Multilingual writing research and the experiences of adept teachers suggest that new language writing develops in ways similar to the development of first language writing, thus approaches known to benefit early writing of native English speakers should help those learning to write in English. Immersing English language learners in writing as soon, yet as sensitively and gradually as possible, will encourage their development in oral and print uses of language. One effective approach to such immersion is through a process conscious writing workshop.

To read more about this, open the full Iowa Writing Project Perspective document.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ah, a New Year: Iowa Report

Originally published on February 17, 2017 by Lu Ann McNabb in Literacy & NCTE

This post is written by NCTE’s Iowa P12 policy analyst James Davis. 

In November and December, education organizations prepared for a daunting 2017; while not prescient, their work was warranted. Iowa’s November elections had substantial implications for pre-K through higher education, especially for teacher retention and recruitment. Legislative targets include dismantling a collective bargaining law in effect since 1975 (health care, contract arbitration, and job-performance grievance procedures are at risk); limiting fiscal responsibility to the public employee retirement system; teacher licensure and credentialing.

Many educators, including those in teacher preparation, see the last-mentioned–an attack on teacher licensure and credentialing–as something that could lead to lower quality staffing (including the possibility of long-term substitutes), and ultimately, to privatization of schools. Budget shortfalls, even with the existence...

Friday, December 9, 2016

April 17, 2014 Education Week

A bill under consideration would end the use of school spankings and paddlings in [Missouri].

April, 1969 (approximately)

Introduction: As an early career teacher in a larger high school in southwest Missouri, I was well supported and mentored in a fine, veteran English department, and well frustrated by an autocratic administration and school operation. The superintendent held high rank in the National Guard, and the High School Principal served as a strategic lieutenant. He was the second principal I experienced; the first retired at the end of my initial year. Fortunately, curriculum seemed largely a faculty and department matter, and we were able to do good work, developing a creative design in the early days of phase electives. I had become department head after my second year, and certainly must have been seen as pushing too much too soon, advancing too quickly.

One day as I walked past, the principal told me to step into his office; a smallish freshman boy trembled in a straight-backed chair on the east wall, facing the dominating desk and expansive west windows, there to be punished – three whacks with a paddle as I recall – for some infraction about which I was not informed. I was there to serve as a witness, and probably for my own lesson in the allocation of power. I did not think of that at the time.

The paddle, about 2 feet long, made from a 1x4 and shaped with a 6-8 inch...

Friday, December 9, 2016

A version of this segmented essay was presented at NCTE Atlanta, 11/19/2016.

Ozarks; late summer; early 1960s.

Introduction: You roam the hills and hollows. An intense summer followed the trouble you got into at the end of junior year. In this respite between double shifts at the chicken plant and your senior year, you need to be outside and alone. You have wandered south from the house, as you often do, across other farms, past the cabin site where the confederate soldier was killed, along the stream by the bluff where you no longer explore the old mine shafts, since one of them caved in. Just heading west up the valley, you jerk left toward the creek when you hear the scream. Terrified, mortal, too human, it echoes against the bluff and rebounds, but you can’t locate the source. You walk the creek bank a bit, hear it again, this piercing cry in an otherwise somnolent day, and then you see. Across the creek a frog, as big as your fist, is being swallowed from behind by a snake, its cotton mouth showing around the frog’s body, by now only the head and front legs protruding, feet paddling in a futile effort to escape. Screaming…

But is it too late? You could intervene – startle the snake to release its catch – kill the snake if necessary. But wait, isn’t this nature? Snake being snake, frog being frog? What right have you to intrude? What authorizes human intervention here? Of course, you...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Curriculum Development: IWP Principles in a Common Core Era
Dr. James Davis

When participants entered Bartlett 0034 at UNI for this 2016 IWP workshop, a white board held three questions:

  • What will constitute curriculum for your students?
  • From what you know and believe, what are your curricular non-negotiables?
  • What foundational learnings or principles in English education ground your curriculum?

Clearly formidable work faced these teachers who had responded to a promise of time to plan and design curriculum that meshes their classroom aspirations with the reality of the current educational landscape. Opportunities to engage in collaborative talk and relevant professional reading, to research personal curricular interests, to create lesson plans/handouts/units and to share their work enticed them to sign on for the challenges of deep learning. One said, I need to find my own “why”?

Meeting for two days in August and four Saturdays during fall semester, seven teachers read and discussed and learned more about foundational IWP concepts, models and principles and their implications for teachers conceptualizing and designing curriculum – in whatever increments (strategy, activity, lesson, unit, course, etc.). Exemplary teachers want and need a longer, more professional perspective than compliance. Using a Plan-Act-Reflect (PAR) cycle, each...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Closing an Institute on Teacher Leadership: A Charge (6/23/2016)

Introduction: This charge to teachers in an Iowa Writing Project Advanced Institute, two-thirds of them in a UNI MA: Teaching English in Secondary Schools program, builds upon two book reviews, shared with participants shortly before the comments were made: “On Atul Gawande’s Better,” which explores the difficulty of improving, especially when changing engrained habit is necessary in order to do so; “On Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence,” which explores the challenges and the necessity of cultivating an ethic and self-concept grounded in doing quality work. (The reviews were carried from the workshop as recommendations for continued/extended reading and reflection.)

Peter Block’s assertion, It is a misuse of our power to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others. (Stewardship, 1993) blended with some attributes of leaders (Empathy, Compassion, Humility, Wonder) posited by Peter Senge (Don’t they work in combination? Does humility make empathy possible? Isn’t wonder the basis of curiosity?), underscored by occasions during the institute (Qualities like humility matter most when they are most difficult to practice. Leadership Freak), suggested an initial element in a charge might be to reflect on one’s persona as...

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Introduction: Long a full-time elementary classroom teacher in western Massachusetts (25 years when the book was published) who also worked summers, vacations and some weekends as a carpenter, Berger is now Chief Academic Officer for Expeditionary Learning. In the classroom or on the building site my passion is the same: if you’re going to do something, I believe, you should do it well. (p.1) He sees “craftsman” as a high compliment connoting integrity, knowledge, dedication and pride in work. I want a classroom full of craftsmen. The introduction sets up his approach – and the approach of his school & colleagues – to cultivating craftsmanship in all students. I have students whose lives are generally easy and students with physical disabilities, and health or family problems that make life a struggle…In the end, they need to be proud of their work and their work needs to be worthy of pride. (p.2) He attributes remarkable & demonstrable success to a hard earned culture of the school that instills an ethic of excellence. I don’t believe there’s a shortcut to building a new culture. It’s a long-term commitment. It’s a way of life. (p.4) Some points:

  • The key to excellence is this: it is born from a culture…Once children enter a culture with a powerful ethic, that ethic becomes their norm…what they know. 1

  • …the process of schooling itself imbues...

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

 Introduction: From his junior resident experience with a dedicated senior resident, Gawande generates a key question: What does it take to be good at something in which failure is so easy, so effortless? (P.3) Later he suggests complex dimensions of success: Lives are on the line. Our decisions and omissions are therefore moral in nature… It’s not only the stakes but also the complexity of performance in medicine that makes it so interesting and, at the same time, so unsettling. (P.4) 1 (Also true in teaching?)

In medicine, as in any profession, we must grapple with systems, resources, circumstances, people – and our own shortcomings as well. (p.8) 2

The core requirements for success in medicine or in any endeavor that involves risk and responsibility:

Diligence – giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles – central to performance & fiendishly hard. 3

Doing right – despite working in a fundamentally human enterprise, therefore troubled by human failings, it is difficult to know when “right” is to keep striving and when it is to stop. (Reason for sustained reflection?) 4

Ingenuity – thinking anew is not a...