The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



IEI partners for new writing program

John Cameron | Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) at Notre Dame partnered with the Notre Dame Writing Center and local schools to create the Power of Writing Project (POW), a program aimed at improving the writing skills of students grades five through eight.

Joyce Johnstone, director of program development at IEI, said below-average writing scores on state performance tests highlighted the need for intervention in local schools.

“Unfortunately a number of the South Bend schools haven’t made Annual Yearly Progress, AYP scores,” Johnstone said. “A lot of schools just struggle with this. It isn’t that they’re bad, it’s just one of the things they’ve been working on, and sometimes they need external help.”

To enable the POW Project to provide that help, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education awarded nearly $200,000 in funding.

“After hearing what was going on with the schools in the South Bend Community School Corporation, we had the opportunity to bring this Power of Writing idea to the South Bend schools, and we submitted it to the commission to be funded,” she said.

Power of Writing will provide training for local teachers and send Writing Center tutors into the community.

“We’re doing the training in two different time frames, the first of which we just had, training for professional development called the ‘Simple Six,'” she said. “The second will be the extended summer writing curriculum workshop.”

While several local Catholic schools will have teachers undergoing the training, only public schools receive Writing Center tutors.

“The initial work was targeted with the public schools, but because we do have the space we wanted to make sure they [Catholic schools] could have the opportunity to participate,” she said. “The Catholic schools will not have the tutoring, we couldn’t afford it.”

Johnstone said each aspect of the program will require funding, and compensating teachers for the summer work will consume the majority of the award.

“The bulk of the funds are going toward teacher stipends for the summer, that’s a big hunk of it,” she said. “The other parts will go to paying for tutoring time and scoring writing prompts.”

The writing prompts administered to students will be one of the primary ways Power of Writing’s effectiveness will be measured.

“We will have students do writing prompts based on the state guideline prompts and they will be scored by the Writing Center tutors, so the teachers will be able to gauge the effectiveness of it,” she said. “Next Summer they’ll have five different writing samples from each student as authentic examples of the effectiveness.”

Johnstone said IEI hopes an increase in AYS scores coupled with a shift in teacher attitudes will also testify to the POW Project’s success.

“We have been assessing teacher attitudes toward writing. Our hypothesis is teacher attitudes will change for the positive once they’ve had the training and seen the improvements,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone said she sees POW as an expansion of the efforts already taken by local schools and hopes that the additional resources will make the difference.

“They [local schools] know they have a lot of work to do. They’ve been doing some activities at the school level, so this just pushes it forward in a more comprehensive way, so there’s more structure,” she said. “With funding and expertise, we are expanding those opportunities.”