Young Writers Find New Ways to Grow at the Chippewa River Writing Camp 2011

Summer Institute participants Judy McAlvey (center) and Penny Lew workshop a piece of writing with a CRWC writer.

At a glance, it may seem like just another classroom at Central Michigan University.

A writer stands before an audience of half a dozen people, calmly walking her audience through a software that allows her to upload one of her poems onto her personal wiki.  She smiles as she presses a button, and a digitally created avatar reads off the lines of her writing in a sing-song voice.  The audience cannot help but smile, too.

What makes this classroom unique is that the writer explaining this software is ten years old.

This experience was one of many the young participants of the 2011 Chippewa River Writing Camp have carried away with them at the close of their time together.  For four days, twelve students, aged third to fifth grade, have met daily to laugh, play, and explore with one another just what it means to be a writer in a digital age.

Highlights of the camp included a campus-wide Writing Marathon that brought students from the football field, to a greenhouse, and even a live recording studio.  As they drew inspiration from a variety of settings, students were prompted to support each other through peer feedback and collaboration in a model of “kids teaching kids.”

“There was never a time when they weren’t teaching something,” notes elementary-school teacher and CRWP team member Delia King.  “They were always collaborating.”

Joined by fellow CRWP teacher team members Elizabeth Miller and Bridget Rise, King helped guide the young writers through a variety of digital writing tools, including Vokis, Kids’ Blogs, Glogster, Wordle, and wikis.

Summer Institute participant Marcia Larkins collaborates with a CRWC writer.

“Technology was a big part of the camp,” explains Miller. “It’s part of the writing process and opens it up to a wider audience of writers.”

The writers’ ability to immerse themselves in these new tools often surprised even their mentors.  “They adapted and caught on to the technology a lot quicker than we often do as adults,” notes King with a smile.

The event ended on Thursday, June 23rd with a celebratory reading from the students’ Writing Anthologies, but even as the camp drew to a close, not one of its participants was about to take a break from writing.

“I really, really like wikis and Wordles,” shared one writer, “and I’m going to do them all summer.”

CRWP Continues with its Third Annual Invitational Summer Institute

Penny Lew (right) consults over a podcasting project with Liz Brockman.

Monday, June 2oth marked the kick-off of the Chippewa River Writing Project’s third annual Summer Institute on the Mt. Pleasant campus of Central Michigan University.  For the team of nine teacher participants, the opening week has been just the beginning of an exhilarating journey of self-discovery.  Under the mentorship of leadership team members Liz Brockman, Sue Steffel, Penny Lew, and Kathy Kurtze, participants have had the opportunity to take part in intensive workshopping, lesson development, and collaborative writing.  For writers like Sheri Kuchek, the Summer Institute has been a time for both reaffirmation and renewal.

“I love writing and the opportunity to interact with my peers beyond the classroom,” notes Kuchek, who is currently taking graduate courses through CMU’s English program.  “It’s great for my self-esteem to be able to get positive feedback from my peers.  It reaffirms my talents.”

Alongside collaboration, technology continues to be a key component in the Summer Institute’s overall vision. Throughout their time together, participants gain experience with a variety of digital tools they can take back to their classrooms, including wikis, audio podcasting, video streaming, and Google Docs.

Sue Steffel (left) and Rebecca Conway collaborate over a writing project.

“Technology is a challenge, but it’s a valuable one,” notes Kuchek, in considering what it means to be a writer in the 21st century.  “It’s a struggle that opens up so many new avenues we can use with our peers and our students.”

The greatest value for participants, however, is the opportunity for growth—as both instructors and as individuals cultivating a lifelong love of writing.  Alma elementary school teacher Kristen Case sums up the SI experience best when she notes, “Being immersed in the tech has helped me to learn an amazing amount of new tools that I will use in the classroom, and in my own life as well.”

The Summer Institute will culminate in a celebratory luncheon on July 7th, when participants will share selections from their electronic Writer’s Portfolios and join one another in a screening of their digital storytelling projects.  For more information on the SI 2011, check out our wiki at


CGRESD Writers’ Series Continues Through Spring 2011

Focused on the broad theme of “Teaching Writing for Middle School and High School Students,” the Chippewa River Writing Project’s latest professional development partnership with the Clare-Gladwin RESD continues through the spring of 2011. Over the course of six sessions starting last fall and continuing through May, nearly 20 participants have engaged in conversations and activities about the teaching of writing in an era of the Common Core State Standards.

CRWP Professional Development Coordinator Rita Maddox has headed the CGRESD seminars since their beginning in October 2010.

Facilitated by CRWP’s Professional Development Coordinator, Rita Maddox, the series has been an exciting opportunity for K-12 teachers across nine local districts to explore their identities as teachers and writers.  Focusing on key texts such as Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and CRWP’s Troy Hicks’ The Digital Writing Workshop, sessions have been directed on a variety of topics ranging from assessment, conferencing, and genre study, to digital writing tools such as blogs, podcasts, and wikis. Since its opening session in October 2010, participants have met on a monthly basis to collaborate through discussion, mini-lessons, and workshopping.

“This has really been a unique experience,” notes Maddox. “Even though we’re all teachers, some of us have never had the chance to teach in front of peers before.”

The fact that participants are able to meet and share with fellow teachers from across the district has also contributed to the unique, collaborative feel of sessions. “It’s a nice way to give a regional feel to things,” explains Maddox.

From their inception, the CGRESD sessions have truly been shaped with a collaborative approach in mind, drawing in fifteen guest speakers from across the state to lead discussion on various topics throughout the seminar. Spotlighting key issues has allowed each meeting to take on a unique flavor and approach. The next session, “Grammar Rocks!” headed by CRWP’s Erin Busch-Grabmeyer, will focus on mechanics and peer editing.

“What we teach is changing,” explains Maddox, as she notes the philosophy behind the seminar, “not so much in content as in the depth of knowledge students are expected to achieve and in expectations for critical thinking by students. Standards will have to be unwrapped for educators and then critically examined in order to begin to understand what it will take to achieve proficiency for ALL students. With new instructional practices needed, and more technology requirements in the classroom comes a need for continuing, embedded, meaningful, professional learning for educators.”

For more information on CRWP’s professional development services, please visit our PD page.

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!