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CCSD English teachers create online resource to share information, innovation

englishblogscreenshot.jpgAmanda Wahlborg was looking for a way to communicate.

She's had plenty of practice. As a secondary literacy coordinator for the Cherry Creek School District, Wahlborg's daily duties see her working to convey information. A former middle- and high-school English teacher, Wahlborg's professional background is rooted in eloquently and effectively getting messages across.

But Wahlborg faced a very specific challenge at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, when she helped launch an online resource aimed at the district's English teachers. Wahlborg was one of the creative minds behind a blog site titled "For Teachers of Writing From Teachers of Writing," a resource geared specifically toward 6th- to 12th-grade writing teachers. The purpose of the blog was simple: to share the most effective strategies for teaching adolescent writers. Specifically, Wahlborg and her colleagues wanted to find a way to share ideas in a district of more than 54,000 students.

"When you have so many high schools with such huge English departments, we wanted to find a way to communicate what's working," Wahlborg said. "How do we share from high school to high school what is working? How do we spur ideas? How do we share that in a district this big?"

The site features input from eight high school writing teachers from across the district. The group tackles a wide variety of topics that includes assessments, synthesis writing, narratives, literacy and technology and comparative analysis. The blog also includes feedback geared toward specific tests and assessments.

"We pick a topic that seems really relevant to writing teachers. We research it and we come together and talk about the practical applications of the research," Wahlborg said. "We combine the research and our own experiences to address the issues in a teacher-friendly voice."

The result is a dynamic resource that's constantly evolving, Wahlborg said. The site's authors have come together to share notes on prompts and assignments. The English teachers have taken turns writing their own content, using state assessments as their guides. The blog offers a synthesis of firsthand experience and the latest in academic research, and the result is a wide-ranging resource that's constantly expanding.

"As I observe and I'm in different buildings, if I see someone doing something really smart with writing, I ask them to do a guest post," she said. "What I'm trying to do now is broaden it to middle school teachers. When I see things working, I want to be able to capture a snapshot of that."

A quick scan of the site's contents shows the impressive scope of the authors' ambition. Recent topics include tapping into students' "video literacy," translating experience teaching Advanced Placement exams to the PARCC test and growing self-awareness in teens through writing.

"Teachers can see how eight different minds did the same task. They're not all the same, and that's OK," she said, adding that the site has garnered about 3,000 views since its launch in the fall. "It's helpful to see the practical thinking that's going into the trenches of doing the work."

Posted 4/7/2015 8:51 AM

“We pick a topic that seems really relevant to writing teachers. We research it and we come together and talk about the practical applications of the research.”

-- Amanda Wahlborg, CCSD secondary literacy coordinator 

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Cherry Creek School District No. 5 does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in admission to its programs, services or activities, in access to them, in treatment of individuals, or in any aspect of their operations. The lack of English language skills shall not be a barrier to admission or participation in the district’s activities and programs. The Cherry Creek School District No. 5 also does not discriminate in its hiring or employment practices. This notice is provided as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Questions, complaints, or requests for additional information regarding these laws may be forwarded to the designated compliance officer: District Compliance Officer or directly to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Region VIII, Federal Office Building 1244 North Speer Blvd., Suite #310, Denver, CO 80204.

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