Helping Struggling Writers and English Language Learners – Session 2 of the 2021-22 CRWP Webinar Series

CRWP November 2022 Webinar Cover Slide

Megan Kowalski (@MeganKowalski7) was the second presentation in our line up for the 2021/2022 webinar series. Megan presented on the ways that she helps struggling writers and English Language Learners (ELLs) in both physical and virtual classrooms. Megan has taught a variety of elementary and middle school grade level special education students for Chicago Public Schools.

Megan started her presentation by asking us to define what differentiation is — and what it is not. She had us answer in a Google Doc and share our ideas. Megan’s definition of differentiation is how to match and mesh your teaching style with how your students learn, and she encouraged us to keep “rerouting” until you reach success in the classroom.  Megan’s presentation was rooted in four contentions:

  1. Keep your expectations high and get ready to invest some time
  2. Validate thinking as much as possible
  3. Find opportunities to build fluency and let kids enjoy writing and thinking
  4. Offer a clear prompt and a mentor text (preferably written by you).

She then gave us four tips on how to enact those contentions in our virtual and personal classrooms. Megan talked about the importance of rules and procedures. She walked us through her classroom and how she has set up ways to maximize her learning time and set her students up for success. She made suggestions about how to manage her virtual classrooms by using Google Sites as opposed to Google Classrooms.

Megan also discussed the templates from They Say/I Say as writing structures that help students think critically about what they want to say (many of the templates available in this GDoc). This allows students to focus on all the little stuff and focus on the bigger ideas that they need to showcase in their writing. Then, she discussed the importance of hyperdocs in both virtual and in person classrooms. Hyperdocs help keep students organized, as they are self-paced and they scaffold students learning. Additionally, Hyperdocs are also really easy to modify for struggling students. Megan also stresses the importance of Hyperdocs for teachers as a planning tool as well.

Her last tip is to use pictorials to help students who are struggling with reading. This is helpful for students who are learning to read, ELLs, and/or students who are lower-level readers. Pictorials are picture summaries that allow students to show their understanding of the reading. Megan stressed the idea of modeling and sticking with this strategy, even though it seems like it takes a while; ultimately, she contends that this is a great strategy to get students to really show and build their understanding of the text. This also allows them to help build a “movie in their mind,” since they don’t often make those connections in the way other students do.

Megan suggested the text Rethinking Disabilities by Jan Valle and David Conner and the WIDA Consortium’s resources as additional reading materials to help educators become better at meeting struggling students where they are.

We learned a great deal from Megan, and we hope that you, too, learn from her recorded session or by taking a look through her session slides.  


The Chippewa River Writing Project is a site of the National Writing Project at Central Michigan University. Currently, our site is supported only through grants and professional development work. Teacher consultants involved in the webinar series are donating their time, talent, and energy to these events.

If you appreciate the ideas that these teacher consultants are sharing, and are willing to support our work, please visit <giving.cmich.edu> and select “Chippewa River Writing Project.” If you are interested in having us work with your school or district, please contact our Director, Dr. Troy Hicks <troy.hicks@cmich.edu>. Find out more about CRWP at <chippewariverwp.org>.

Mystery Argument Writing – Session 1 of the 2021-22 CRWP Webinar Series

Cover Slide for Mystery Argument Writing Webinar


Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Becky Schwartz (@Rschwartz702) kicked off our 2021-22 webinar series with a presentation about argument writing in their classrooms. Their unit was inspired by the book Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat. Jeremy has taught this unit in his middle school classroom and Becky has adapted it for use in her high school classroom. Jeremy and Becky discussed the importance of trying to get students to move from the idea that argument writing is less about “winning” or it being a fight, but argument can be a chance to have a discourse to come to a further understanding about a topic or an issue.

Jeremy discussed some of the ideas he’s gained about teaching argument writing from George Hillocks’ text Teaching Argument Writing. Then he invited participants to experience the beginning stages of an argument writing unit using Crime and Puzzlement in his classroom, inviting participants to a breakout room writing activity. After the writing activity, Jeremy guided us through the unit and how it’s centered on discourse and collaboration.

Becky then discussed how this writing unit unfolds in her high school classroom using the idea of making the mystery-solving process an authentic one by giving her students the chance to be a pair of detectives for a few days and solve a crime. Also, building on this idea of collaboration, Becky discussed how she uses this as an opportunity to teach counterargument in an uncomplicated and engaging way.

Both Becky and Jeremy have seen great increases in students’ confidence in their writing, skills, and engagement during this unit. Finally, Troy Hicks (@hickstro) brought in the resources from the NWP’s  College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) and from They Say/I Say’s writing structures to help add some spice into student argument writing (with many of the templates available in this GDoc).

We hope that you, too, can find a way to use their session slides and additional resources in order to solve the mystery of argument writing in your classroom.

CRWP 2021-22 Webinar Series

Close-up of second-grade girl behind protection shield. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Close-up of second-grade girl behind protection shield. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimagesCreating the New Normal In Our Classrooms (October 2021 – May 2022)

View our flyer on Smore.

As we embark on another year of historic changes in education, we find that we have been given ( or maybe thrust is the more accurate word) the opportunity to create what the new normal in our classrooms is going to look like. In the quest to do what is best for all of our students, every day, the Chippewa River Writing Project seeks to explore what that looks like and can continue to look like. We do this the only way we know how, with teachers teaching teachers.

The Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP) has a PD series to help you (and us) discover what the new normal looks like this year. We invite you to join us for a new monthly webinar series running from October 2021 until May 2022 that will help ground yourself in your classroom despite everything going on. This free webinar series will be held once a month on the Tuesdays listed below from 7 pm to 8 pm (EST) on Zoom.

Register here to be included on an email list for any of the sessions listed below!

  • October 19, 2021
  • November 16, 2021
  • December 14, 2021
  • January 18, 2022
  • February 15, 2022
  • March 15, 2022
  • April 19, 2022
  • May 17, 2022

All sessions will occur from 7 pm to 8 pm on Zoom. Due to account limitations, this means only 100 people can attend them live. If you happen to not be one of the first 100 people to join live, know that a recording with a hyperlinked recap will be coming your way within a few days! We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us:

  • Troy Hicks (CRWP Director) – hickstro@gmail.com
  • Jeremy Hyler (Webinar Co-Facilitator ) – almaballer40@gmail.com
  • Becky Schwartz (Webinar Co-Facilitator ) – raschwartz702@gmail.com

CRWP Announces Fall 2021 Leadership Institute

CRWP 2021 Group Photo

CRWP Fall 2021 FlyerCRWP will set out once again to offer a fall leadership institute in the tradition of the National Writing Project‘s mantra, “Teachers Teaching Teachers.”

We plan to welcome 12 educators to learn from each other through collaboration, renewing our practices as teachers of writing, adapting those practices for remote learning, and demonstrating our lessons for one another. Participants will work both synchronously and asynchronously for approximately 9-12 hours per month, meeting via Zoom on Saturday mornings throughout the fall.

Last year’s fall leadership institute resulted in thoughtful conversation across the country, as participants joined us from Georgia, California, Illinois, and Michigan. Teachers from K-12 through college met regularly to share best practices and survival stories, and to simply decompress from the challenges of the week. This fall, the challenges facing us are still unknown, as policies governing schools and public health across the nation are erratic and polarizing. But our conversations between colleagues in the leadership institute will be uplifting and inspirational, reminding ourselves that we are part of a thriving community of dedicated educators.

Participants in the fall leadership cohort will:

  • Participate in regular, virtual workshops with CRWP teacher consultants and dedicated colleagues.
  • Develop leadership skills by analyzing teaching demonstrations and providing feedback to other educators.
  • Lead an individual teaching demonstration designed in conjunction with an experienced CRWP teacher consultant.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to respond to teaching demonstrations and explore best practices in writing instruction.
  • Prepare a final collection of materials suitable for professional purposes (including a conference proposal submission, and a professional blog post.).

Each participant will create and present a teaching demonstration for the cohort and, optionally, for a larger audience during CRWP’s winter virtual conference in 2022. In addition, participants will be encouraged to write professionally for the CRWP blog, adding their voices to the rich conversations happening throughout the National Writing Project. Participants who successfully complete all components of the Invitational Leadership Institute will become CRWP teacher-consultants and will earn the NWP Teacher-Consultant microcredential/digital badge for engaging in the six social practices for NWP leadership development.

We are excited to continue to grow our teacher-consultant community and to lift each other up with thoughtful collaboration, mindful pedagogy, and deliberate equity.


Registration Costs and Guidelines:

36 SCECHs will be available as part of the registration costs (pending MDE approval).

The institute can also be taken for 3 graduate credits. The total cost for CMU’s graduate application and the three credits will be $1500 plus a $50 application fee. For participants interested in joining the institute as graduate students, please do NOT complete the form below. Instead, contact Dr. Troy Hicks.

Enrollment is limited to 12 participants, so sign up now using our secure web form where we will ask for your contact information, and then you will be asked to click through to CMU’s Quik Pay system for billing.

Screenshot of Registration Form for Remote Literacy Learning

  • Registration cost, before September 10: $225 (reflects a 10% discount)
  • Registration cost, after September 10: $250
  • Registration closes at 11:59 PM EST on September 19.
  • Cancellations before September 19th at 11:59 PM EST will be refunded, minus a $25 processing fee.
  • After September 19, registrations are transferable, but not refundable.

Questions?