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Winter 2014

Write the Self and the World

"The story of self, [Marshall Ganz] calls it. Tell that story well enough, he urges his students, and other people will come to care about these things too. And that's how change occurs, that's how the story of now develops." — February 12, 2011, story about Ganz in The Nation by Sarah Abramsky

What's Your StoryI like to hear young people tell their stories. Again and again, in my work in high school, in college, and in graduate school, I have witnessed, encouraged, and helped students find their voices and tell their stories through the process of learning to write.

I came to the Ed.L.D. Program in 2010 to help change the American education system from within. I imagined developing new and exciting programs and classroom curriculum to answer some of the nation's most pressing educational problems. After much debate and learning, however, I graduated from the program assured that while there is plenty to do from within the traditional system, there is also much to do working from outside of it. And that's where I headed. But the path was winding and circuitous.

While at the Ed School, I had the good fortune to take Adjunct Lecturer Nancy Sommers' writing workshop. Sommers' charismatic teaching, love of writing, and unique insights into the writing process not only connected with my own desire to write, but also reminded me of why teaching writing can be so gratifying. I realized again how learning to write enables identity to grow and flourish. At first, I was Sommers' student; then I returned the following year as her teaching fellow (TF), once more encountering the truth of any committed writer: There's always more to learn. I came away from this experience understanding that I am both a student of writing and a teacher of writing; these two roles flip-flop, vacillate, compete, and nourish each other.

While I was a TF, I met a group of Harvard graduates, including David Weinstein, who had just finished a fellowship at the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, Junaid Mubeen, Ed.M.'12, and Billie Fitzpatrick, Ed.M.'12. The group had formed Write the World, an organization that supports high school writers online. The platform offers students an opportunity to submit short written drafts in response to engaging prompts and then to receive expert review with the chance to resubmit. This platform can be used for tutoring, as supplemental writing support within a class setting, and in a public writing competition format.

This was a perfect situation for me — an opportunity to marry my passion for writing to my belief that online education platforms offer wide open space for young people, all of whom are digital natives, to improve and enhance their learning. Now I serve as education strategist for the organization, which includes directing two key parts of their agenda: creating an app that will work for a teacher distribution channel like EdModo, and deepening the feedback model that is a core part of the application and platform.

Since it started, Write the World has launched two pilot competitions, one with the Berkshire Technical and Arts Charter School in North Adams, Mass., and another with Zoo New England. We have been fortunate to have Ed School students help us review the entries, and we hope to continue that relationship. We are also developing ties to Boston-based schools and nonprofit organizations with strong educational missions, and creating other opportunities to build a buzz around supporting young people as they learn to write. We want to help them to tell their stories as they find their voices and learn who they are.

— Francesca Grossman, Ed.L.D.'13, is recruiting Ed School graduates or students interested in participating as student essay reviewers. Contact her at francesca@writetheworld.com.

Learn more: Listen to a Harvard EdCast with Write the World Founder and CEO David Weinstein.