The five papers in this portfolio examine different facets of the C3WP and use the C3WP as a case to illuminate enduring qualities of NWP work. The papers can be read in any order. However, reading them in the order below will help readers new to the NWP (or new to the C3WP in particular) gain a more coherent view.

See below for background and data sources.

Serving Colleagues and Connecting Professionals (2017) examines how and why the design of the C3WP — within the culture of the NWP — worked for teachers in isolated high-poverty rural schools. The paper unpacks key contributing features: the collegial stance taken toward participating teachers, the content and design of teacher learning opportunities, and the efforts made to support teachers who emerged as leaders and to broaden their professional horizons.

Deep Changes in Classroom Practice (2017) illustrates, through teachers’ voices, the changes in their practices and beliefs that resulted from the C3WP, and examines how those changes came about. The paper aims to look “below the waterline” of the quantitative results to unveil critical contributors to teacher change.

Reflecting on the Critical Role of Generative Structures (2017) asks the question: What is it about NWP professional development that makes teachers’ experiences of learning so often transformational? The paper defines and illustrates the concept of generative structure, a key distinguishing feature of NWP design present in the iconic Invitational Summer Institute demonstration and, decades later, in the instructional resources developed for the C3WP.

Teacher Leadership as the Scaling of Teacher Learning (2017) uses cases from the C3WP to explore how leadership, teaching, and learning interact and sustain one another, all generated by a deep human desire to learn and to share learning. Illustrative cases focus on a rural district teacher new to the NWP and an experienced NWP teacher leader, selected to portray initial activation and ongoing development of teacher leadership. We look at our conception of teacher leadership in light of key findings from other studies of teacher leadership.

The Role of Educational Improvement Capital in the Success of The National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program (2017) takes a more “macro” look at the reasons why the C3WP not only succeeded in its two-year trial, but then was able to scale up and reach 96 sites in 44 states within five years. We argue that the NWP network is an improvement infrastructure that continuously generates educational improvement capital enabling it to form networked improvement communities that solve important problems of practice at large scale.

Background and data sources

In 2012, the National Writing Project (NWP) won a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) validation grant, enabling it to launch the College-Ready Writers Program. Twelve local NWP sites participated, serving 22 high poverty rural districts in 10 states over a two-year period, 2013-14 and 2014-15. The program was designed to improve teachers’ ability to improve students’ skill in writing arguments based on nonfiction sources — a skill central to college and career readiness as well as preparation for informed civic engagement.

An independent intent-to-treat randomized controlled study conducted by SRI found that the C3WP achieved statistically significant positive results in supporting ELA teachers in changing their classroom practices and improving students’ skills in all four attributes of argument writing that were measured: content, structure, stance, and conventions. In particular, C3WP students demonstrated greater proficiency in the quality of reasoning and use of evidence in their writing (See Gallagher, H. A., Arshan, N., & Woodworth, K. (2017). Impact of the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program in high-need rural districts. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 1-26.)

The program was renamed the College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) to more accurately reflect its broader vision and mission. From 2015-16 through 2017-18, the C3WP program served 22 more districts with the initial i3 grant and made use of subsequent federal SEED and i3 grants to support teacher leadership development and in-service programs for high needs schools. Ultimately, C3WP activity scaled up to 96 sites in 44 states.

Inverness Research served on the evaluation team for the initial i3 grant. In that role, we collaborated with SRI on collection of qualitative data and preparation of formative briefings for the C3WP national leadership team. Qualitative data collection included more than 300 interviews with district teachers, 50 interviews with local NWP site leaders (directors and teacher leaders), more than 140 classroom observations, and nearly 50 professional development observations. Additionally, we interviewed all members of the NWP leadership team and the five experienced NWP site leaders who served as thinking partners at a national level. Throughout data collection, we kept in mind the purpose of identifying best cases that could illustrate important features of the program and its outcomes. We then collected additional data targeted on those cases, extending data collection through 2016 and 2017. The five papers in this portfolio derive from these best cases, with the full qualitative data set serving as background. Individual papers identify specific data sources.

In addition to data from the C3WP study, we draw from our experiences of studying the design and work of Writing Project for nearly 30 years. Thus these papers offer our interpretations of C3WP case data through the lens of our prior studies. We hope these papers offer insights that are valuable for educators both within and outside the NWP.