by Bonnie Butcher

The University of West Georgia’s Cherokee Rose Writing Project recently hosted the 2017 Literacy and Beyond Conference, a day devoted to the latest research and teaching strategies for educators of literacy.

Carolyn Waters
Carolyn Waters

CRWP’s Teacher Consultant Shoney Brice, who teaches at West Haralson Elementary School in Tallapoosa, has chaired the conference for the past two years. She played a large role in beginning the conference from listening to other teachers in the field talk about a need for professional development in the area of literacy.

“I was hearing from third grade teachers in south, east, west, and north Georgia that this is something we need to do,” Brice said. “We need to be encouraged, we need to collaborate and we need to think outside of the box.

“This project started out as a dream,” she continued. “I sat down with Dr. Tami Ogletree and told her what I wanted to accomplish.”

Ogletree, associate professor of reading education at UWG and director of CRWP, encouraged Brice to go forth with the project. As a result, CRWP’s efforts have allowed educators from all around to come together for this conference and learn from one another.

“The Cherokee Rose Writing Project's Literacy and Beyond Conference is an excellent example of teachers coming together to teach other teachers,” said Dr. Ogletree. “CRWP, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, believes that change happens when teachers become leaders in their schools.

“Although writing projects have to be affiliated with a university, the works of the projects are driven and led by teachers,” she added. “The Literacy and Beyond Conference is a prime example.”

Caroline Schmitt, coordinator for K-12 reading and K-5 English language arts for Fayette County Schools, explained that literacy is a district-wide goal for Fayette County.

“We are happy to have an affordable and local option for learning more about literacy,” she said.

The morning and afternoon were filled with workshops covering a wide range of current topics and strategies in literacy education. During lunch, participants were able to relax while listening to the vibrant and passionate words of keynote speaker, Carolyn Waters.

Waters, English language arts program manager for the Georgia Department of Education, shined a light on the evolution of literacy education, offered insight for its future and provided helpful strategies for teachers to take with them.

One idea Waters advocated was the importance of incorporating more collaboration among the different subject areas that students are learning.

“That collaboration is really powerful,” Waters stated. “I used to teach the structure of a sentence using math.

“What we have to do is connect all the dots for these students,” she continued. “Why not let them bring their science brain into your English class? It makes more sense when you can give them the common denominators for learning. It only makes sense when we can connect the dots. This gives them a connection they can understand and believe in.”

Waters kept the crowd engaged and laughing while she shared her own experiences teaching literacy. She ended by encouraging attendees to not lose sight of why they became teachers in the first place.

“I hope the educators who participated today will return to their students re-energized and put in place at least one of the strategies they learned,” said Ogletree.

“I also hope they redeliver the information to their colleagues,” she added. “That is also one of the goals of the writing project. By redelivering, the knowledge continues to spread to more teachers who in turn, impact student learning.”

Posted on February 9, 2017