Collaboration Aims at Improving Reading, Writing, and Math Instruction
Butler’s College of Education (COE) is the new organizational home of the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers (IPYW), which offers professional development for reading and writing to teachers in grades K-8. IPYW has also moved its headquarters into the Indianapolis Public Schools/Butler University Laboratory School, a cooperative venture of IPS and COE.
Thousands of teachers representing 90 public and private schools in nine counties have received IPYW training since Susan Adamson became director in 2001. The non-profit also offers web-based teaching resources, customized in-school coaching, outlets for sharing student writing, and a Visiting Scholar series that brings nationally recognized specialists in literacy education to Indianapolis to collaborate with teachers.
“Partnering with IPYW, the college gains access to national experts we wouldn’t be able to bring in on our own,” said Dean of Education Ena Shelley.
COE and Lab School faculty receive free registration for IPYW workshops and Visiting Scholar conferences; COE students may attend at significantly reduced cost.
Author Kathy Collins will address effective reading coaching for grades 1-5 in an IPYW Visiting Scholar conference Nov. 9 at the Lab School. Collin’s book Growing Readers is one of the texts used in COE’s Block A elementary education program. Upcoming Visiting Scholar Peter Johnston wrote Choice Words, which COE chose for this year’s college-wide book study.
“Our undergraduates will remember that they saw these leading names in education while at Butler,” Shelley said.
IPYW’s collaboration with Butler expands the program’s outreach and reputation, said Adamson, who is now in her second year as a COE professor specializing in the teaching of reading and writing in the elementary education program.
“We can make more connections with the community,” she said. “The University will help us grow, do even better work.”
Recently, COE Professor Ryan Flessner led IPYW’s first math workshop for teachers. Teachers and even a couple of principals snapped up the 30 workshop seats quickly, indicating interest in the topic, Adamson said.
“Ryan has done this kind of introductory workshop on teaching inquiry-based math many times before,” she said. “Now he’s interested in building a series of presentations that can move teachers further along in their understandings about math workshop teaching.”
Modeled after the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, IPYW strives to move writing instruction beyond punctuation and grammar, Adamson said. “We help teachers understand what real writers do, so they can help their students develop identities as writers.”
As the Lab School does in its Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum, IPYW favors inquiry based learning, “where students are not memorizing rules of punctuation, but thinking about a writer’s decisions to use punctuation in particular ways,” she said. “Real, published writers don’t follow a narrow set of rules. They might create run-on sentences, or use a variety of punctuation to keep a story flowing and readers reading.
“Letting students know they can do the same makes writing so much more meaningful and fun,” Adamson said. “Writing is a gatekeeper in our culture, so knowing how to do it well is important. Writing gives kids a voice; they’re engaged and feel empowered in learning. We do teach [spelling, punctuation, and grammar], but authentic learning is key.”
Data from IPYW’s first 10 years indicated direct correlation between teachers participating in its program and measurable improvements in their students’ writing abilities and standardized test scores in writing.
IPYW will remain a self-sustaining operation, supported mostly by grants. (“COE is not footing the bill for us,” Adamson said.) Major support has come from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and the Indiana Commission on Higher Education’s Teacher Quality Grant program.
In the past 10 years, IPYW has used the grants to provide free workshop registrations for 66 IPS public school teachers (including Lab School teachers) each year, some of whom also participate in IPYW’s in-school coaching sessions and leadership groups. Group members network with each other on writing and literacy issues, and mentor other teachers.
Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson