One of the most startling if predictable features of a Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute is how consistently it demonstrates the educational efficacy of the Hawthorne Effect. Here's a short description of the study from which this name derives:
That individual behaviors may be altered because they know they are being studied was demonstrated in a research project (1927 - 1932) of the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. This series of research studies, first led by Harvard Business School professor Elton Mayo along with associates F.J. Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson started out by examining the physical and environmental influences of the workplace (e.g. brightness of lights, humidity) and later, moved into the psychological aspects (e.g. breaks, group pressure, working hours, managerial leadership). The ideas that this team developed about the social dynamics of groups in the work setting had lasting influence - the collection of data, labor-management relations, and informal interaction among factory employees.
The major finding of the study was that almost regardless of the experimental manipulation employed, the production of the workers seemed to improve. One reasonable conclusion was that the workers were pleased to receive attention from the researchers who expressed an interest in them. (see research summary)
I've noticed over the years that participants in the writing project's invitational summer institutes tend to exhibit talents as teachers and writers in pretty direct proportion to how genuinely they are regarded as talented in these areas. It was no surprise to me, in fact, when Harvey Daniels and Steve Zemelman admitted in 1985 that they had no criteria at all for selecting the participants in their 'invitational' summer institutes. You were accepted by the simple fact that you were willing to spend five weeks of your hard-earned summer vacation 'talking shop' with your K-college colleagues (A Writing Project: Training Teachers of Composition from Kindergarten to College, Heinemann, 1985).
But the key word here is "genuine." Teachers in general and English Language Arts teaches in particular are a wary and skeptical lot, conditioned by the nature of their work to distrust hollow assertions and false promises. You can't simply tell teachers they are exceptional and expect them to believe it. You have to show them.
My next blog will be devoted to some of the ways we've learned to do this in the San Jose Area Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute. And hopefully by that time I'll have learned from our SJAWP Tech Liaison Todd Seal how to manage links to these blog entries, so it won't take me all morning to type just a few lines, including citations!