Amanda 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."