Teachers of Writing, Writers, and Students Learn Best Practices

Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award honors Dr. Janet Swenson and Red Cedar Writing Project

  • Janet A. Swenson, Ph.D.
  • Associate Professor, Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
  • Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education
  • College of Arts & Letters

Janet Swenson knows that effective communication depends on far more than simply the written word. Over the past few years numerous powerful and inexpensive communication technologies have become available to the average user. Cell phones enhanced with camera, video, and keyboard capacities, along with fully functioning, highly portable mini-notebook computers, have emerged in conjunction with Internet-based social networking and collaborative writing opportunities.

Since 1993 Swenson has directed the Red Cedar Writing Project (RCWP), an educational outreach program and professional development network that serves teachers of writing at all grade levels. RCWP is also MSU's site of the National Writing Project, which aims to improve student achievement across the United States by improving the teaching of writing and improving learning. Keeping pace with emerging technologies is one of the ways that RCWP does that.

Honored for university-community collaborations

OSCP Award Winners (from left to right): Mitch Nobis, Toby Loftus, Renee Webster, Andrea Zellner, Janet Swenson, Troy Hicks

The university-wide Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award was bestowed on Swenson and the Red Cedar Writing Project by MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon at the Awards Convocation on Tuesday, February 3, 2009. RCWP co-directors Toby Loftus, retired Detroit middle school teacher; Mitch Nobis, North Farmington High School teacher; Renee Webster, Perry Elementary School teacher; Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University assistant professor; and Andrea Zellner, former Southfield-Lathrup High School teacher represented the more than 250 teachers affiliated with the project and share in the recognition for the award.

During the past 16 years Swenson and RCWP's efforts have focused on improving the teaching of written communication, in both traditional and newer forms.

Effective tools for teachers of writing

“What sets RCWP apart is their willingness to meet the needs of local schools within local contexts, and the results of RCWP's research, scholarship, and service have had a significant impact on our teachers' teaching as well as our students' writing,” said Sue Stephens, coordinator of curriculum and instruction for the Shiawassee County Regional Education Service District.

Swenson's enthusiasm has resulted in the development of a wide array of RCWP auxiliary projects, facilitating many unique programs for teachers, students, and community members annually. Among them:

  • Spartan Writing Camp, which attracts more than 300 elementary school students each summer;
  • Dine and Discuss Book Club, where local teachers gather socially to discuss professional texts;
  • Teachers as Writers, a peer response group meeting for teachers who wish to continue developing as writers; and
  • Greenrock, a residential writers' camp for high school students.

In 2007, RCWP planned, developed, delivered, assessed and revised 113 programs that involved approximately 1,900 participants.

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and a current political science and journalism adjunct instructor at North Central Michigan College, said, “The Red Cedar Writing Project has brought a new and higher professional level of lifelong learning to northern Michigan that otherwise would not exist.”

Colleagues have high regard for Swenson's research identifying and defining characteristics of “transformative teacher networks” that help facilitate the development of additional teacher networks. She has also contributed to significant development of a new protocol for analyzing and improving episodes of teaching, known as Collaborative Responses to Teaching Demonstrations.

Keeping pace with technology and providing leadership

As so many teachers, students, parents, and employers know, computers and high-tech devices have produced tectonic shifts in the way we communicate. Swenson's work analyzing the influence of emerging technologies on teaching and related public policy concerns has been presented in a keynote address to educators from 46 countries, and published in several journals, including a special edition of English Education.

The Red Cedar Writing Project has received funds and support from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, the Michigan Department of Education, Carnegie Foundation, DeWitt Wallace Readers Digest, and local school districts.

To learn more, visit the Red Cedar Writing Project Web site.

MSU's Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award is bestowed annually and provides University-wide recognition of highly engaged community-based research collaborations that positively impact both the community and the scholarship of MSU faculty work.

Learn more about current and past recipients of the Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award.

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photograph by Derrick Turner, University Relations

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