English, History Faculty Meet to Discuss Topic of Writing 

Thursday, September 26, 2019
Faculty members review writing samples during the morning session at the faculty writing retreat for English and history faculty members.

Members of the history and English departments at Mercersburg Academy (around 25 total) came together on Friday, September 27, for a one-day retreat around the discussion of writing. 

The Writing Retreat Planning Committee, made up of Michele Poacelli, director of the writing center; John David Bennett, director of curricular innovation and director of Springboard; Allison Stephens, history faculty; Alexandra Patterson, director of the library; and Maggie Howes, English faculty, led the retreat. 

In a planning document, the committee summarized the purpose of the retreat as follows: while history and English courses are not the exclusive domain of student writing, and conversations about writing need to extend to other areas, our courses regularly ask students to write to demonstrate understanding. Stripped to its essence, the question driving our coming together is, What is the current philosophy of teaching writing at Mercersburg Academy, and what are the current practices?” 

“The goal of the retreat is to build trust and communication among colleagues from both departments; put in place next steps for continued collaboration around writing; gain an understanding of our personal writing identities; and get tips, ideas and best practices from colleagues,” Poacelli said. 

Over the course of the day, faculty members viewed examples of quality published writing, recognized the range of style and voice, and engaged in open conversations about the meaning of the language we use to teach writing.  

Additionally, faculty members spent time exploring their own writing identity, talking about what sort of formative writing experiences they’ve had (positive or negative), and discussing what type of biases about writing they bring to the table and how to mitigate that.

Participants chose from three 20-minute breakout sessions in the afternoon, including round-table discussions, a learning session taught by faculty members, and an opportunity to examine student work framed with questions about what participants notice or what they liked or wished for in the sample of writing.

Poacelli said she hopes that a year-long committee, open to all faculty and staff members who are interested in exploring the teaching of writing at Mercersburg, will be formed.

“We work with really amazing, talented, experienced people who have been working at their craft of teaching for a long time,” Poacelli said. “This is an intentional way to come together to learn from our colleagues. I know I’m going to walk away with at least two to three concrete ways to make my writing instruction better."