I took my first workshop in July 2000 and was immediately hooked. I was back the next summer for another workshop, and then I asked Teresa Vilardi about bringing an Institute Associate to my school. At the time, I was chairing an integrated English/History department covering grades 6-12, and often it felt like the sixth grade social studies teacher and the AP English teacher just didn’t belong in the same department. I hoped that the Institute writing practices would help us discover how connected our work really was. Alfie Guy came several times throughout the year and worked with our department during professional development days, and his impact was tremendous. As a group, we connected in ways that were both professional and personal, and as individual teachers, we started implementing the techniques he shared with us. We developed a common language for talking about thinking and writing, and we began to see how that 6th grade social studies teacher was laying the thinking and writing foundations upon which the AP English teacher would depend. That common language began with two words: process writing.
The power of process writing is that it reminds my students that the writing they do, first and foremost, is for themselves. It’s not for me. This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me when I was a student, and it certainly doesn’t appear to be obvious to most of my students today. They often think of writing as something they do so I can give them a grade. Process writing challenges that view. I try to help them develop the habit of using writing as a place to sort through their own ideas and learn to ask questions of themselves and of a text. Bard gave me the tools to do that well.
I find the Institute workshops at Bard to be magical. I should probably say that they are professionally stimulating and fill me up with new ideas about my classroom. And that’s true. But that’s not why I got hooked back in 2000, and it’s not what keeps me coming back. There are a lot of places to get good ideas for teaching—my shelves are filled with helpful books about teaching, and online resources abound. What happens at the Institute is different. Led by top-notch faculty who pick up a pencil and do the process writing right alongside us, the participants of an Institute workshop are people who care about writing not just as teachers of writing but as writers themselves. The Institute is about lifting up the very thing that got me into teaching in the first place—a hunger for human connection, a longing to believe that writing and language can be ways to access our most complicated thoughts, our most nuanced perceptions. The Institute affirms my belief that helping others to think and write well is a noble calling. In every Institute workshop, there is a seriousness of purpose, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. And that’s why I keep coming back, and probably always will. You can never get enough of that magic.
Why IWT Workshops? bardiwt