Chippewa River Writing Project Teacher Spotlight: Debbi Meister

Debbi Meister, celebrating her achievement with friends and colleagues during the CRWP holiday event.

This past holiday season brought even more to celebrate this year for Chippewa River Writing Project team member Debbi Meister.

Meister, a teacher at Fellowship Baptist Academy in Carson City and alum of the CRWP 2009 Summer Institute, recently completed her master’s degree program at Central Michigan University.  CRWP team members joined Meister in the celebration during their annual holiday party on December 14th.

For Meister, the conclusion of her master’s work is both exhilarating and edifying.  “It’s a great sense of relief, and a great sense of accomplishment as well,” she confesses with a smile.

However, while the holidays offered her a little time to relax, Meister isn’t about to take a break.  She is currently planning how to integrate her experiences as a graduate student into her own secondary-level classroom.  “I really appreciate that I was able to construct a program that I could use in my teaching because I really wanted practical classes that I could use in high school,” Meister observes.  “I was able to get a really wide variety of classes at Central.  I got a combination of composition, reading, and literature.”

Meister’s culminating paper reflects this integration of ideas.  Under the supervision of literature professor Kristen McDermott, she explored the representation of social attitudes in Jane Austen’s novels as reflected in character response to landscape design.

Motivated by her daughter’s experience with the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Summer Institute, Meister felt certain that the CRWP Summer Institute would offer her a valuable support system as she pursued her graduate work.  This ultimately led to her decision to join CRWP’s Summer Institute in 2009.

“The SI was great for me in terms of encouragement and motivation,” notes Meister.  “Both in light of my role as a writer and in helping me complete my master’s.”

Since her participation in the 2009 summer institute, Meister has stayed actively involved in CRWP work including her trip to the NWP Annual Meeting in Orlando last fall and her continuing participation in continuity and professional development events such as “Be a Teacher and a Published Writer” and the Clare-Gladwin workshops.

All of us at CRWP congratulate Debbi on her dedication and hard work!

CRWP Teachers Share Ideas at Fall Conferences

It has been a busy fall for CRWP Teacher Consultants, as they have been presenting  their classroom research at conferences around the state.  From inspiring students to write their own novels, to engaging them with Shakespeare through music and other media, CRWP teacher consultants have been sharing their innovative teaching practices with audiences of their peers.

Chanda Wekwert,  CRWP 2009  and teacher at Hillman Junior High School near Alpena, presented her workshop, “Writing Without Limits,” at Eastern Michigan Writing Project’s fall conference, “Writing Beyond Expectations,”  at the end of September. Wekwert encourages her students to create extended pieces of fiction as a part of National Novel Writing Month by inviting students to create a muse and reach certain word counts each day.  In celebrating their competence over the course of the month, she invites them to write without limits and better understand narrative structure in the process.

Andy Schoenborn, CRWP 2010  and teacher at Mount Pleasant High School, was the first of three presentations at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Autumn Assembly in late October. He presented his workshop “Writing Into Drama,” where participants  were prompted to recount their own experience learning drama in high school and then explored imagery, music, and lyrics as poetry so they could immerse themselves in productions. Such an approach allows students to make meaningful connections, read with deeper understanding, and use writing as a tool to step into the minds of characters.

Also at MCTE, Rosie Nedry, CRWP 2010 and  teacher at Chippewa Hills Mosiac High School, presented “Imagination Unchained!”  During her session, Nedry invited teachers to think about how to inspire reluctant writers with untapped imaginations. By inviting teachers to consider how to structure writing activities, begin a list of topics, and express their creative side, Nedry was able to share how she inspires her reluctant writers.

Another session at MCTE featured Elizabeth Nelson, CRWP 2009 and teacher at Greenville High School, who shared her work on starting a high school program for at-risk learners called “Getting Them Into Books!”  Her presentation focused on how to initiate and sustain a literacy program at the high school level specifically designed to meet the needs of at-risk learners. From roleplay to book talks and all kinds of writing strategies in between, Nelson was able to provide her colleagues with a variety of activities that they could take back with them to use in their classrooms.

As the Chippewa River Writing Project continues to grow its cohort of teacher consultants, we appreciate the work that Wekwert, Schoenborn, Nedry, and Nelson  have shared with their colleagues through these conference presentations, and we look forward to seeing more presentations at local, state, and national conferences.

CRWP Teacher Livens up the Classroom with Bitstrips Comics

Powell created a gallery to highlight students' creations with Bitstrips.

Shannon Powell, CRWP 2009, and teacher at Central Montcalm Middle School has found a way to breathe new life into classroom projects using a creative technology called Bitstrips for Schools.  The online software acts as an innovative and user-friendly program that allows students to develop and publish their own unique webcomics.

For Powell, Bitstrips offers students the attraction of playing while working.  Many of her most reluctant writers found an opportunity for success using the creative medium of the webcomic.

“My students are addicted to this program,” confesses Powell.  “I could hardly keep them off it, and they were happy to have new assignments and complete them so they could share with the rest of the classes.  Having a purpose in playing really kept them interested in what they were doing.”

Powell’s success with the program was featured in a recent article on Bitstrips for School’s own blog.  Excited by the work her students produced for such projects as a Favorite Books gallery, she encouraged colleagues to try webcomics in their own classrooms, many of whom soon had their own success stories to share.

Tyler's webcomic uses humor to tell about his favorite book by Rick Riordan.

Powell notes the interdisciplinary aspect Bitstrips has to offer when she recalls, “One of our social studies teachers wanted to use the program to make brochures for other countries her students were studying, and math or science concepts could easily be explained through comics as well.”

Formed in 2008, Bitstrips has formed a partnership with the National Writing Project, and is currently available for free download through August 31st to NWP teachers.

CRWP Article from The News@CMU

An article by Tracy Burton featuring CRWP is now up and available on the News@CMU website:

‘Teachers teaching teachers’ focus of National Writing Project site at CMU

After 29 years of teaching high school English, Kathy Kurtze returned to her classroom this fall with a set of fresh ideas and resources she gathered from her experiences with the Chippewa River Writing Project — a site of the National Writing Project now at Central Michigan University.

Kurtze was among 13 teachers representing K-12 school districts, Mid Michigan Community College and CMU, who participated in the first CRWP institute.

“The most exciting part was being introduced to new teaching approaches,” said Kurtze, who teaches at Carson City High School. “The whole aspect of bringing technology into the writing process was brand new to me. Now, I’m excited to bring it into my lessons. I want my students to do podcasts and learn about how this enhances our writing.”

Sharing resources is one of the main goals of the National Writing Project, which operates with the concept of teachers teaching teachers and a mission to improve the teaching of writing and learning among kindergarten through college students.

Kathy Kurtze, an English teacher at Carson City High School, works on a journal entry about a recent writing assignment.

Photo by Robert Barclay
CMU University Communications