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October 29, 2012

2012 National Day on Writing

(Today’s blog post comes from Christina Bethel, PhD candidate and graduate teaching assistant in the department of English. Christina teaches primarily first-year writing courses; in her research, she investigates identity and the impact of identity performance on student writing practices.)

by Christina Bethel

A picture of Chris Bethel, PhD Candidate in ECU's English DepartmentIn Fall 2011, the Tar River Writing Project, in conjunction with the ECU English and Education departments, hosted the first National Day on Writing celebration at ECU, attended by around 200 local public school students and teachers. The event was such a success that we decided to expand the celebration. The Tar River Writing Project’s mission for this event is to engage local K-College students and teachers, as well as community members, in fun and enriching writing experiences. This year, the TRWP joined the University Writing Program, Joyner Library, and the Department of English in sponsoring the 2012 National Day on Writing @ ECU.

At the K-12 level, we brought over 500 students to campus on October 19, 2012. During the half-day field trip, students participated in three writing activities. For elementary and middle school students, we offered two new activities:  a scene writing workshop, led by Hector Garza (Theatre & Dance), and a Halloween-themed writing workshop, facilitated by English department faculty Randall Martoccia and Jenn Sisk. We also offered our two most popular activities from last year:  a digital writing studio (led by Stephanie West-Puckett and Rob Puckett) and a graffiti wall (led by former ECU art instructor Cynthia Gibb). In our exit survey, students wrote that they enjoyed rapping about their favorite foods, expressing themselves through words and art, sharing their writing aloud with others, and getting to hear what great writers their peers and classmates are!

We also asked for suggestions from students for next year’s celebration. Some students commented that they would like to see and experience more of the campus, to have opportunities to take pictures, and to perform and/or share more of their writing. For the second year in a row, one of the top student requests was for more time to write, an exciting request that I rarely heard from students during my years as a high school teacher.

One of the most powerful and poignant sets of student comments we received was from a middle school student who listed the scene writing activity was her favorite “because I did something that meant a lot to me, and I talked about an issue [equal rights] that matters.” In response to what she wished she had the chance to do, she said she would want to have more time to write “and act out the play [I wrote] because I want equal gender rights.” The depth of the comment inspired me as an educator:  how amazing it would be if we expected, encouraged, and empowered our K-12 students to engage more deeply with topics like these through writing in the classroom!

We recognize that strong K-12 educators share this dream but often struggle to achieve the reality in their classroom communities. Another of Tar River Writing Project’s goals is to work with local teachers to build meaningful professional development activities where they can learn strategies and create curricular materials that will engage their students in more meaningful ways.

To add a new layer to our National Day on Writing celebration, this year we invited K-12 teachers to participate in professional development while substitutes, chaperones, and volunteers attended the activities with their students. Caitlin Ryan (COE), Kerri Flinchbaugh (UWP), Stephanie West-Puckett (English), and Danielle Lewis (a local middle school teacher) collaborated to make two amazingly successful sessions. As one teacher wrote in her evaluation, “I can count on one hand how many really useful staff development opportunities I have attended that were actually worth my time during my 28 years in the profession. This is one of the top 5!”

But National Day on Writing isn’t just about students and teachers; it’s about celebrating writing in our communities as well. This year, we added two community events:  an open mic night at The Sojourner on Friday night and a family literacy activity at Barnes and Noble on Saturday morning. At The Sojourner, graduate students and community members shared moving poetry and prose while enjoying free snacks. Not only did Michelle Jenkins, the owner, agree to host this celebratory event, but she also embodied the spirit of the day by sharing several of her own poems.

At Barnes and Noble, two local elementary school teachers (Debra Pagona and Rebecca Bulvanoski) led a fun and inspiring activity in which families explored the neighborhoods where they grew up through drawing, sharing, and writing. They concluded the activity with a social poem to which each family contributed lines.

I’ve only mentioned a few of the people who made this event a success, but we appreciate each and every one of our attendees, volunteers, ECU faculty and staff, and community members who contributed time, effort, and money to the Tar River Writing Project’s second annual National Day on Writing celebration.

For more about Friday’s events, including a more detailed list of contributors, pictures of engaged students and teachers, and a video of one group of students performing a rap about “favorite foods” (I think this one is about Gummy Bears), click the following link: http://www.trwp.org/2012-national-day-on-writing-a-success/.

If you’re reading this article, we would love to include you in our celebration next year. We have multiple ways for all members of the community to contribute to the success of future celebrations. If you want to join the fun, we welcome volunteers and participants. If you prefer to stay behind the scenes, we’re always seeking suggestions for activities and locations to host them. As a non-profit organization, we also appreciate monetary and material donations.

If you would like to contribute time, materials, money, and/or suggestions for next year’s events, please send us a message using the Contact Us page of our website.

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