CLEMSON — Teachers and students involved with the Clemson University Upstate Writing Project will soon celebrate their success in the National Writing Project College-Ready Writers Program. The Upstate Writing Project will hold the celebration at Saluda Shoals River Conference Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 23 in Columbia.
The College-Ready Writers Program began in South Carolina in 2013 and was made possible by a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education designed to increase rural South Carolina students’ writing achievements and college and career readiness. Rebecca Kaminski, the founding director of the Upstate Writing Project in Clemson’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education, said the results of this ambitious research opportunity deserve to be celebrated.
“The results have already been overwhelmingly positive for both teachers and students,” Kaminski said. “The professional development provided to our teachers has improved both the instruction our students received and their proficiency in complex writing tasks.”
The writing project will use the May 23 celebration to honor teachers and students from Anderson 3, Bamberg 2 and Orangeburg 4, the three districts involved in the third year of the project. These districts were control districts for the first two years of the study and allowed researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of professional development efforts. The Upstate Writing Project will also use the event to honor students with writing awards.
The College-Ready Writers Program provides scaffolded teaching and formative assessment resources that support the development of students’ argument writing and prepares them for careers or further education. The evaluation made possible by the $1 million grant showed the students outperformed those in control districts on content, structure, stance and conventions related to writing. Confidence in their work increased, and their writing samples demonstrate the ability to make an argument and support it with evidence from informational text.
Kaminski said funding also impacted students in additional upstate schools since Upstate Writing Project teacher consultants implemented College-Ready Writers Program strategies in their own classrooms before sharing them with CRWP district teachers. Leigh Unterspan, an 11th-grade English teacher at Travelers Rest High School in the Greenville County School District, serves as a teacher consultant with Upstate Writing Project. She said the true strength of the program springs from the teachers-teaching-teachers concept.
“Through the CRWP, I’ve learned many strategies that helped my students become stronger readers and writers of argument,” Unterspan said. “As a teacher consultant, I was able to share what had worked in my classroom with other teachers around the state.”
The study included Florence 2, Greenwood 51 and Union County districts during the first two years in addition to the three control districts. The Upstate Writing Project usually operates in the geographic area surrounding Clemson University, but Kaminski said the high level of funding allowed this research to include smaller rural districts beyond the Upstate, including those along the I-95 corridor and federal Promise Zone areas.
Remote rural districts in South Carolina are typically characterized by limited school funding and subsequently inadequate professional development opportunities for teachers. The College-Ready Writers Program provided professional development for 70 teachers and more than 4,000 seventh- through 10th-grade students across the state. Cindy Langley, director of instruction and accountability for Union County schools, said the effects can be clearly seen in her district.
“As a result of the project, our teachers are more aware of the resources and strategies available to guide students through the writing process,” Langley said. “Students are writing more frequently and organizing their work more logically in all classes, not just English language arts. Some of our teachers have been identified as teacher leaders and earned state recognition because of their work with the writing project.”
In total, the National Writing Project used the College-Ready Writers Program in 22 school districts across the country. Kaminski said she was selected to be a part of this ambitious program; over the last decade, she has secured over $1.5 million in grants to carry out the organization’s mission. Kaminski looks forward to celebrating with teachers and students in Columbia, but she hopes the program’s focus on impacting student writing outcomes and teaching practices can be sustained in the long term.
“We’ve proven we can achieve what some would have said was impossible; we leveraged teacher expertise so students could succeed in even our most challenged school districts,” Kaminski said. “With that kind of proof it’s clear this kind of professional development for teachers should be the norm.”
This story was written by Michael Staton, Eugene T. Moore School of Education, Clemson University.