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NMSU helps area teachers unlock ways to help students read and write

The question used to be, "Why can't Johnny read?" Now that teachers are facing competition from iPhones, texting, video games and other new media technologies, the new question is, "What can teachers possibly do to get Johnny interested in reading or writing?"

Las Cruces Public Schools CrossRoads Program teacher Gail Wheeler presents to participants during the Borderlands Writing Project's annual Invitational Summer Institute that provided area teachers innovative ways to teach reading and writing. (NMSU photo by Donyelle Kesler)

Through the Borderlands Writing Project and its Annual Invitation Summer Institute, New Mexico State University professors showed Las Cruces and El Paso area teachers how to find their own motivation as well as discover what can motivate their students to write.

"We have 18 public school teachers and university graduate assistant teachers who worked through the entire month of June on writing projects for their students and writing themselves," NMSU professor of English and Borderlands Writing Project director Chris Burnham said. "The aim is for teachers to develop a professional development workshop for the teachers they work with or a lesson for their own classrooms."

This year, the summer institute put an emphasis on exploring the opportunities technology can provide to improve student learning.

"We've been working with a lot of new media," said NMSU master of fine arts student Lisa Nohner. "We've been talking about incorporating video into class planning. We've also been working with GarageBand and learning how to produce literary narratives and incorporating new media into different creative writing activities."

The four-week summer course that began June 6 and ran through July 1 was an intensive workshop where participants engaged in inquiry and discussions with fellow teachers on theoretical and practical ways to use writing to improve student performance in all subjects.

"I want to start up a writing workshop as an after-school activity called the Writer's Guild," Booker T. Washington Elementary teacher Pete Olivas said. "I want to teach the kids not only how to write better but to provide an outlet to write out their thoughts and emotions; this has given me some tools that will be important to use."

"I intend to take a lot of the technology that has been introduced and take it back to the classroom," Hillrise Elementary special education teacher Patti Forsythe said. "Hopefully I'll be able to use it to get the students that don't write for me in the classroom to become more interested in writing because they are going to have that technology aspect of it."

The first two weeks of the institute included instruction, writing and presentations by guest speakers. During the final two weeks, participants presented their own projects to their peers and created podcasts about their personal journey to understanding literacy, reading and the power of language.

"We work in three areas," Burnham said. "We work on writing and the writing process, professional development and on literacy and what it means in the 21st century."

The institute also provided teachers an opportunity to receive graduate credit for completing the four-week program. Each participant is given an $800 stipend, which may be applied to tuition costs.

"I have unlimited respect for the work these teachers do during the school year," Burnham said. "I am amazed every summer at how professional and devoted these teachers are; they're scholars at what they do every day."

The mission of the Borderlands Writing Project is to create professional teaching communities to support teachers at every level as they work to improve literacy and learning through writing. The program provides high-quality professional development opportunities to help teachers continuously improve their practice through inquiry, supportive learning communities and personal reflection.

The Borderlands Writing Project also organizes a number of events to sustain and rejuvenate area teachers during the school year including annual retreats, Saturday seminars and workshops.

Find more information on the NMSU Borderlands Writing Project at http://bit.ly/lWGBpQ.