Ohio Writing Project adapts to teaching and learning changes amid COVID-19

Written by Allison Haeger, CAS communications intern

For the 41st summer of Miami University's Ohio Writing Project (OWP), the obstacles created by COVID-19 have not curbed efforts to continue focusing on two core ideas: the best teacher of another teacher is a teacher, and teachers who partake in the subjects they teach will become better instructors.

Founded in 1980 as a branch of the National Writing Project (NWP), OWP is committed to continue offering its professional development program amidst the pandemic, utilizing technology to keep classes in session remotely and stay connected to K-12 teachers across southwest Ohio.

OWP has offered 9 different credit workshops across the course of the summer 2020 term, all of which can count towards the 32-hour Master of Arts in Teaching program that is mainly designed for working K-12 teachers.

Beth Rimer hosts a discussion in the Teaching of Writing workshop on a Zoom meeting.

"The innovative design supports practicing teachers as they work alongside their peers to reflect on their practice, conduct teacher research, and make an impact on their school," said Beth Rimer, instructor and co-director of OWP. "Teachers who leave our program change their classrooms, become leaders in their districts, present professionally across the state, and write novels."

Teaching of Writing Workshop

Of the workshops offered, one of the most popular courses is the 6 credit hour Teaching of Writing workshop. This summer, the month-long workshop has transitioned to an online format.

"This workshop specifically seeks to encourage teachers to focus on their own writing so they remember and can be intentional about how composition works from the writer's side," said Rimer.

The daily schedule provided three learning opportunities throughout each day: sacred writing time, morning learning and discussion, and afternoon learning and demonstration time. The coursework covers learning how to conduct book clubs, peer groups, and discussions, while simultaneously preparing students for their future as remote instructors in their classes.

"I truly feel like I have a good grasp on what is to come with the Covid school year," said MAT student Nicole Ehler who teaches at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio. "This workshop tells me that it is possible to make a positive learning environment through remote learning."

The workshop also offered many different synchronous teaching demonstrations held by the students themselves, allowing participants to walk through successful lessons from their classrooms or explore new teaching methods.

"By forcing me to put myself in my students' shoes, it has taught me that without practicing writing yourself, you can't teach writing to the full extent," said Ehler.

"The workshop provided so many opportunities to share writing with like-minded colleagues, to challenge one another, and develop new lessons," said MAT student Sarah Johnson, who teaches at Centerville High School in Centerville, Ohio. "The writing is valuable, the conversations indelible, the connections genuine."

Additional Classes and Sources of OWP

A student in the Teaching of Writing workshop shares her writing with the class over a Zoom meeting.

While the Teaching of Writing workshop is one of the biggest productions OWP has going on over the summer term, 8 other course options are offered during this time. Students can choose from multiple options to expand their knowledge of teaching without becoming overwhelmed by taking on too many courses. Classes range from lasting a few days to a few weeks and are from 1 to 3 credit hours.

"The staggering of classes really helps," said OWP instructor Annie Swingle, who also teaches at Lakota West High School in Beckett Ridge, Ohio. "There is an excitement to incorporate everything into your personal classroom, but there needs to be some time for each teacher to sit back and prioritize what will actually work."

Swingle teaches the Fitting It In: Innovations & Foundations workshop, which lasts three weeks and typically focuses on teaching how to fit innovations into the classroom. Because of the pandemic, the direction the workshop took changed a bit.

"Discussions really revolved around how important it is during this very uncertain time to always focus on what we as teachers know is best practice and most important to us," Swingle said.

Teachers also connect through the OWP's free annual MAT and teaching conferences. Because of the success workshops have had in the online format this summer, Rimer said she is hoping the 2020 OWP MAT Conference and Teachers Conference will be offered online.

"The conference highlights recent OWP MAT graduates and their teacher research as well as other OWP teachers in the area as they share practical classroom strategies and practices," said Rimer.

Because coronavirus has separated many people from their daily teaching and learning routines, OWP is utilizing social media and online platforms to provide content in areas lacking stimulation.

The program hosts weekly Sunday online conversations about relevant topics and also offers a podcast, Write Answers!, featuring conversations with local and national teaching voices with host Noah Waspe.

"There is a new feeling of we're in this together," said Rimer. "You see this when a question is asked and multiple people support each other, not just waiting on the instructor."

The changes created by the pandemic have only strengthened the comradery between members of the program.

"OWP is amazing," said Swingle. "I don't know how to explain it, but teachers teaching teachers is the best model for any program I have seen."

"I am so proud of the way teachers and instructors in the OWP workshops have moved to support remote learning," added Rimer. "Our new incoming OWP director, Jason Palmeri, has called our program the most inspiring professional development workshop space he has ever seen."