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UMPI conference focuses on college and career readiness in writing

Monday, 05 March 2012

The University of Maine at Presque Isle hosted the free daylong conference Improving College and Career Readiness in Writing on Friday, March 2 in the Campus Center, offering area educators, curriculum coordinators and administrators the opportunity to explore ways to better prepare youth for the writing required in college and in their future career fields.

The conference, sponsored by the Central Aroostook Council on Education, featured more than a dozen presenters, including Patsy Dunton, an official with the Maine Department of Education, the 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year Alana Margeson, and local presenters from Presque Isle to Limestone. Registrants from Houlton to Fort Kent participated in the conference.

The event was presented by UMPI and Navigating the Real World, a Maine-based nonprofit organization that helps teens become better informed about the world beyond schooling so that they can make better choices and plans to improve their future prospects. The organization publishes Navigating the Real World, which is distributed to students in all of Maine's high schools, as well as Maine Parents' Guide to Middle School, High School and Beyond.

According to conference organizer and UMPI English professor Dr. Deborah Hodgkins, the event looked into the problem many Maine high school graduates are facing – being underprepared for success in college and careers, especially when it comes to writing. Dr. Hodgkins explained that this under-preparation leads to developmental courses that need to be completed ahead of regular college classes, which can subsequently lead to poor success rates.

"Our experience shows that readiness in writing for both college and careers is not just a matter of command of grammar and correctness, but a larger issue of habits of mind, critical thinking skills, and experiences with writing projects for a variety of audiences. Conversations between college faculty, middle school, and high school teachers, like those we are having today, allow educators to share the essential information that we need to collaborate for student success," Dr. Hodgkins said.

Friday's conference activities included a welcome by UMPI President Don Zillman and an introduction by Tom Tracy, Executive Director of Navigating the Real World. A panel of professionals in a variety of careers outside of education led a discussion on "Writing in a Variety of Careers." Panelists included Margo Dyer from MMG Insurance, Kim Jones from Cary Medical Center, Michael Eisensmith from Northern Maine Development Commission, and Vicki Smith from Katahdin Trust Company.

Other sessions included "The Framework for Success in College Writing" by Dr. Hodgkins and "Lighting Fires: Effective Literacy Strategies in the Secondary Setting" by Alana Margeson in collaboration with Jessica Bell, both of Caribou High School.

A second panel presentation was held in the afternoon, with several area practitioners discussing the theme "Addressing Transitions and Expectations: Curriculum and Student Support at the Middle School, High School and College Level." Panelists included Shannon Sleeper, ELA Teacher, Caribou Middle School; April Flagg, Washburn High School Teacher of English; Jessica Baker, MSSM Teacher of English and Humanities Department Chair; Cherie Black, Coordinator of Caribou High School's Transition Center; Janet Greico, NMCC Instructor of English and Developmental Writing; Laura McPherson, NMCC Director of the Academic Success Center; Karen McCosker, UMPI Instructor of English and Developmental Writing; and UMPI Writing Center Consultant Martha Franklin Wight.

The conference ended with a keynote talk on "The Common Core and Writing" by Patsy Dunton, who assists schools across the state as English Language Arts Specialist at the Maine Department of Education. In this role, she is leading up the state's effort to implement ELA Common Core Standards. A Presque Isle native who grew up on her grandfather's farm on the Houlton Road and graduated from Presque Isle High School, Dunton is often still identified as a "County girl" by those in the know. Previously, she has taught English in New Hampshire and in Maine.

"The Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing" that Hodgkins will be discussing provides a blueprint for writing instruction from the primary grades through college that can be productively connected to the Common Core Standards. According to Hodgkins, "We often use the phrase 'college and career readiness' because these are the skills and habits of mind that individuals need for the workforce and their lives. They are not unique to college."