Understanding the Effectiveness of the Writers in the Schools Organization Through the Writers’ Perspectives
Barnhart, Nancy 1960-
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The literary arts organization, Writers in the Schools (WITS), fosters critical thinking through the teaching of creative writing (Brouillette, 2008; Deasy, 2002). Arts education has been marginalized throughout time, and economic and political issues continue to affect the presence of teaching artists in schools. The researcher of this qualitative study interviewed nine writers employed by WITS and used their reflective essays written at the end of their teaching experiences to document their perceptions regarding (1) their personal effectiveness as teaching artists and (2) the instructional effectiveness of the WITS organization in promoting creative writing, and factors influencing each. The findings indicated that the WITS writers interviewed felt that they made an impact in the classroom by building student confidence and making a difference with students in nontraditional ways. WITS writers taught the process approach to writing and taught in a variety of genres. The majority of the WITS writers interviewed taught poetry first to help students gain comfort with writing, and most of the WITS lessons were guided by a literary element. The unique position of the visiting WITS writer in the classroom motivated students. Free from the pressures of getting students to score well on standardized tests, these WITS writers created a curriculum based on students’ needs and interests and focused on self-expression. Therefore, student mastery was defined on an individualized basis, not by whole-class objectives. WITS writers encountered challenges when students were pulled out of their WITS class time for standardized test preparation and when classroom management styles differed from the classroom teacher. These WITS writers believed it was important to bring their unique style of teaching into the classroom, but to work within the parameters of the WITS philosophy and guidelines. They were committed to the WITS organization and the students they taught, and they were effective teachers of writing who made an impact in the classroom. Recommendations for future research are included.